Prince of Punjab and Perthshire: Remembering Maharajah Duleep Singh
SIKHS AND Scots will gather at Kenmore tomorrow to remember a young Indian prince and his infant son, who is buried in the village churchyard, writes Billy Briggs.
In a tiny graveyard in Perthshire tomorrow, a piper will play a lament and the gathered crowd will pay homage to an infant Indian prince who died more than 150 years ago. For the first time in its history, the parish church of Kenmore will be the focus of an international pilgrimage and those paying their respects will include Sikhs from around the world and members of a famous Highland clan. The following story is somewhat remarkable as the child buried in Kenmore churchyard was heir to an Indian kingdom and the son of the last Maharajah of the Sikh Empire who became famous throughout Scotland as the Black Prince of Perthshire.
According to the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trust (ASHT) – organiser of this week’s event in Kenmore – the tale stretches back to the mid-19th century when, at the age of 13, Maharajah Duleep Singh was exiled to Britain after being dethroned and his country was annexed by the British East India Company. Singh was the youngest son of the legendary Lion of the Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who became the first ruler of the Sikh Empire which was based in the Punjab region of Northern India and existed from 1799 to 1849.
During the early years of Duleep Singh’s life in Lahore, he enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, learning falconry and military skills and riding the best horses and elephants. But realpolitik soon shattered the dream and following the defeat of the Khalsa Army in 1846, the Sikh Empire he ruled was reduced to half its size by the British East India Company, which ruled large areas of India with its own private army. As the second Anglo-Sikh war concluded in 1849, the British entered Lahore and removed Singh from his throne, palaces and fortune and the ruler was exiled to a town called Fatehghar, never to return to his seat of power.
Harbinder Singh, of ASHT, says that during his time in Fatehghar – a centre of Christian missionary activity in Northern India – Singh became a Christian and decided to leave his homeland for Britain.
“He was separated from his mother and encouraged by his guardians to become a Christian, and a year later he set sail for England, where he quickly gained a royal audience and was an immediate success with Queen Victoria. She commissioned the best portrait painter of the day, Franz Xavier Winterhalter, to paint him during one of his numerous stays at Buckingham Palace.”
Singh’s friendship with Victoria – he presented her with the Koh-i-Noor diamond – led to the former Indian royal moving to Scotland in 1855 where he was awarded an annual pension and was officially under wardship of Sir John Spencer Logan, who leased him Castle Menzies, near Aberfeldy, as a home.
Singh later rented a house from the Earl of Breadalbane at Auchlyne and he also lived on Grantully Estate, near Aberfeldy. He was the first Indian prince to visit Scotland and was soon afforded the moniker the Black Prince of Perthshire, a colourful character known for his love of the good life and game shooting, and it was said he liked to dress in Highland costume. In 1860, Singh returned to India briefly and rescued his mother from political exile in Nepal and they later moved to London where they lived until she died in 1863. Singh returned to India after her death to cremate the body and it was there he met his future wife, an Arabic-speaking woman called Bamba Muller, who returned with him to Scotland. Duleep Singh died in Paris in 1893 but his body was taken to Elveden in Suffolk, where he is buried in the churchyard.
Harbinder Singh takes up the story: “Duleep Singh and Bamba had six children. On 4 August, 1865, their first son was born, but tragically the baby only lived for 24 hours and was not named. As Singh and his wife were Christians, their child – who would have been heir to the throne – was buried in Kenmore, so it is now is a place of historical significance for Sikhs worldwide.”
Tomorrow, he will be joined in Kenmore by fellow Sikhs for what will be the first official ceremony to mark the resting place of the child. Despite its geography and the fact the ceremony will be relatively small, the event is both significant and poignant for Sikhs. There will be sadness at the death of such a young child who was destined to inherit the Sikh kingdom which at that time was the size of Great Britain. According to Harbinder Singh – who will be travelling to Perthshire with a contingent of Sikh friends from England – the death of the child compounded the tragedy of the fall of the kingdom to the East India Company.
Other guests attending will include Glasgow’s first Sikh councillor, who was elected to his post in June where he represents people in the north east of the city. A businessman, Sohan Singh says the Kenmore ceremony will be a “great moment” for Scotland’s estimated 50,000 Sikhs.
“It will be a tremendous honour to attend as Duleep Singh is a very famous name in our history. He was the heart and soul of India, especially in the Punjab in Northern India – for Sikhs, Muslims and Christians – and he is famous also in Pakistan.”
Local people are also being encouraged to attend and to watch the unveiling of a restored, gilded gravestone to mark the spot where the Sikh ruler’s child was buried. The ceremony has been organised in association with Kenmore Parish Church and Kenmore in Bloom and is part of a month of celebrations organised by ASHT for the months of September.
Harbinder Singh says the newly-restored headstone will be added to the Scottish Sikh Heritage Trail, of which there are already nine locations noted by ASHT around the country. These include the National Library of Scotland and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum at Stirling Castle which documents Scots-Sikhs military links.
Following the annexation of the Punjab by the British in 1849, for example, many Sikh soldiers fought alongside the Argylls and individual accounts in letters and diaries written by soldiers reveal the existence of a strong rapport between the Indians and Highlanders. In 1937, Lieutenant General Harbaksh Singh served a one-year attachment with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and he went on to win the Veer Chakra – the third-highest military decoration in India. There are two photographs of him on display in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum with accompanying information.
Another part of the Sikh trail is a monument in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park to Lord Roberts (1832-1914). Born in India, Roberts commanded British forces in Afghanistan from 1881-1882 and went on to become commander-in-chief of India from 1885-1893. ASHT said he was a highly-respected officer and the memorial is significant because of the frieze around the base of the statue which depicts the 300-mile march from Kabul to Kandahar on which Lord Roberts led his troop of Sikh, Gurkah and Highland regiments.
ASHT’s main aim is to promote a greater awareness of the shared heritage between Sikhs and Britain, and in Perthshire the connections between Scotland and India are enduring. Among those attending the Kenmore ceremony will be members of the Rattray Clan including James Rattray whose great grandfather raised a famous army battalion in India during the mid-19th century. The regiment became known as Rattray’s Sikhs and is still a part of today’s Indian army.
“The Rattrays were Jacobites and fought at both the battles of Killiecrankie and Culloden,” says James Rattray. “After the Jacobite rising ended the first of my ancestors went to India in 1749 and the Rattrays stayed for 200 years. My father was the last one in 1947. My great grandfather Captain Thomas Rattray was an infantry officer with the Gurkhas and he commanded the viceroy’s cavalry and he was asked to raise a regiment of Sikhs. He recruited soldiers by challenging men to wrestle with him on the condition that if they lost they must join the 1st Bengal Military Police Battalion, which later became Rattray’s Sikhs.”
His great grandfather was said to have trained and developed the unit into an elite corps of infantry and cavalry which was later taken into the Bengal Native Infantry as the 45th (Rattray’s Sikhs) Native Regiment of Infantry. Captain Rattray’s son, Haldane Burney Rattray, commanded the 45th Rattray’s Sikhs in 1916- 1917, and his grandson Peter Hugh Rattray (James’ father) was the last British commanding officer of Rattray’s Sikhs in 1947, who had the honour of handing over command to the first Indian officer after India gained its independence. Today, the regiment is the 3rd Battalion Sikh Regiment (Rattray’s Sikhs).
James Rattray says: “We have worked closely with ASHT in the past because of our links to India. They brought across some Sikhs from America a few years ago and we took them to plant a tree at Castle Menzies where the Maharajah once lived.
“It is incredible how this bit of history between Scotland and India still survives today. Every four years we invite a delegation from 3 Sikh Rattray’s Sikhs to our International Clan Rattray Gathering and the event this week at Kenmore will be a pleasure to attend.”