Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Duleep Singh - The Fall Of The Rebel Prince

In the article Duleep Singh - The Last Maharaja of Punjab, we discovered how he grew up. Celebrating the tenth anniversary of this blog, this sequel will examine how events transformed him later in life.

Through the following articles, the reader is encouraged to note the rebellious streak in
 Sikh painter Amrita Sher-Gil and her father Umrao Singh Majithia and compare it with Duleep Singh's change of heart:

1) The Artistic Youth Of Amrita Sher-Gil
2) The Fantastic Growth Of Amrita
3) The Dramatic Death Of Amrita Sher-Gil

The repercussions of saying no to the Queen

Maharaja Duleep Singh was quite in his senses when he rejected Queen Victoria’s offer to make his sons hereditary peers of the British aristocracy in exchange for the loss of the Koh-i-Noor and other famous jewels looted from the Punjab treasury.

The Maharaja conveyed the refusal during a conversation through George Campbell, the Duke of Argyll and one-time Secretary of State for India.

Aristocratic titles did not carry any cash benefit but guaranteed access to the monarch, elevated social standing and the right to sit in the House of Lords. Had Duleep Singh accepted the offer, his sons and their children would have become the first non-white peers of the British Empire. In rejecting the Queen’s offer, Duleep Singh boldly explained, “I thank her Majesty…but we must remain Sikhs.”
Duleep dressing Prince Arthur in Indian costume, c.1854
What the Queen had in mind is contained in a memorandum prepared by the Reverend Osborne Jay, a British Foreign Office aide, who was invited to be a witness to the historic meeting with the Secretary of State for India hosted by the Maharaja at his 17,000-acre estate of Elveden Hall.

Commenting on Duleep’s response, the Duke of Argyll noted how he ‘had never seen truer dignity or more real independence of spirit. I have reason for believing that the Queen, when told of all this, shared his opinion.’

Up until then, only one other Indian had been offered hereditary peerage, Satyendra Prasanno Sinha. He was made Baron Sinha of Raipur in 1919. The title is currently held by his great grandson Arup Kumar Sinha.

Queen Victoria wished to make Duleep Singh’s elder son, Victor, a Marquis, and the younger one, Freddie, an Earl. The British made several attempts to placate Duleep and persuade him to remain a loyal subject of Queen Victoria but the man had other plans.

Inspired by the Royal Family’s masonic connections, Duleep succumbed to becoming a member of various gentlemen’s clubs such as the East India Club. In 1861, he was admitted into Freemasonry in Lodge No. 67 'Star in the East' of Calcutta.

Back to Sikhism

In 1883, Thakur Singh Sandhanwalia, Duleep Singh's cousin, was summoned to England. He convinced Duleep about the truth of a Sikh Guru's prophecy and begged him to return to his original faith because the Kukas in Punjab, who were fighting against the British Empire in India, broadcast the following prophecy:
Queen Victoria's signature

"When the Russian troops invade the country, agitation will prevail in London and the British army will march to India. A Sikh martyr will be born and will reign as far as Calcutta. Duleep Singh will shine among the Khalsa and will drive his elephant throughout the world".

Convinced of the Guru's prophecy, Duleep wrote an impassioned appeal to an Indian newspaper. Addressing his countrymen, he declared his intention to take upon himself the responsibility for the fate of his people—the Sikhs. The 25 March 1886, paper read:

"I beg forgiveness of you, Khalsa-Ji, for having forsaken the faith of my ancestors for a foreign religion. It is my fond desire to take the Pahul again on reaching Bombay".

Deceived and disappointed

The British continually reneged on their promise of yearly income in exchange for his allegiance. Duleep became particularly resentful of Queen Victoria's theft of Koh-i-Noor from his kingdom. He was seen meeting with ‘Irish Fenians and Russian revolutionaries, who were considered part of an international web of intrigue to destabilise British power.’
Sikh Holy Site: The Golden Temple of Amritsar (India)

Dreaming of a permanent return to Punjab to regain his throne, Duleep closed down Elveden Hall and sold all the contents to fund a final journey home. The Anglo-Indian Government considered his moves as 'disloyalty to England', and his planned voyage to India as a 'threat to security'.

Duleep was first dissuaded not to visit India. After weighing the political implications, the British then refused Duleep permission but finally relented. He, along with his wife and six children, boarded a ship on 30 March 1886. At Aden a terrible message awaited him:

“The British Viceroy has changed his mind and that he [Duleep] must turn back.”

The group was detained there on 21 April 1886. Before being arrested and sent back, Duleep was readmitted into Sikhism through Khande Di Pahul initiation on 25 May 1886. After rejecting the allowance granted to him by the British Crown, he found the passage to India blocked. After a few days his wife and children returned to England, and Duleep never saw them again.

On the 3 of June 1886 he left Aden for Paris. From Suez he sent a letter to the newspaper 'Times of India', in which he wrote that though the English Government did not allow him to go to India, it was not in a position to close for him the road to his motherland, and he would somehow come to India.
Duleep as an English gentleman
Russians in Paris

In Paris Duleep Singh made friends with several Russians; the most important among them was Dr. Cyon, a doctor by profession who was very close to a leading journalist-publicist Mikhail Katkov who promised to support the Maharaja using his association with the Czar’s court.

Duleep soon found himself involved in European politics. Russia at that time was an ally of Germany and Austro-Hungary, but there were Russian politicians, military men, and journalists who wanted Russian foreign policy changed to favour France.

Cyon and Katkov were among them, and hated Great Britain for granting political asylum to nihilists and bombers. Duleep was considered by them as a person whose friendship with the Russians would greatly irritate the British and lead to him being treated as a threat to the security of the British Empire in the east.

Duleep first approached Russian ambassador E.E. de Staal and requested him to issue him a Russian Passport. Staaal did not respond. Duleep then wrote to Kotsebu, the Counsellor of the Russian Embassy in Paris:
Victoria's statue displayed on Lahore's Mall until 1974

“Since then though I was the most loyal subject of the Queen Victoria, I have been insulted and imprisoned at Aden (from where I have just returned) by the British Government at whose hands I have suffered great injustice. As the Indian administration has branded me with disloyalty, when I was not disloyal to them, therefore I now seek revenge.

While a prisoner on parole at Aden I re-embraced the faith of my ancestors. Therefore, I have the support now 8,000,000 of my coreligionists and some 14,000,000 other inhabitants of the Punjab over the greater part of which both my father Ranjit Singh and I myself when an infant ruled.

I now desire to pay my homage to His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Russia in order to lay my service at his disposal. For I am in rank one of the highest Princes in India. Besides the Government of India fear me as they would not allow me to enter India. Besides all the Indian Princes would rise if they had the least encouragement from the mouth of one of themselves, backed by Russia.”

Duleep received neither an official answer nor a Russian passport.

Playing the Russian roulette in Moscow

By the end of March 1887, Duleep was living in Moscow under the name of Patrick Casey, the Irish revolutionary (Fenian) with whom he was well acquainted and who gave the Maharaja his papers. The Russian public disapproved of violence leading to revolution because it remembered the murder of Alexander II, the father of the ruling Czar. There were several murderous attacks on Alexander III; the last one took place on 13 of March 1887 just before the arrival of the Maharaja.
Russian Czar Alexander III

Dreaming of an armed conflict between Russia and Great Britain, Duleep offered assistance to the Russians in conquering India. He wished to meet with Alexander III but then his helpful friend Mikhail Katkov suddenly died. Duleep found himself alone and penniless. Thus, ended the Maharaja's support from unofficial non-governmental circles.

The newspaper Moskovskiye Vedomosti (Moscow Gazette) published several articles about Russian politics in Asia; one of them opined:

"Russia does not have any grounds to aspire to an invasion of India and our forces may proceed to the frontiers and within the boundaries of Afghanistan, only when it will be provoked directly by the activities of the English. Russia has never made threats either on the front or at the rear of England". 

Another article was written in connection with the arrival in Petersburg of Lord Randolph Churchill who was a member of the House of Commons and former Secretary for Indian Affairs:

"...during his stay in Russia His Lordship would succeed in fully satisfying himself of the absolute "absurdity of the alarmist theory of the English jingoists according to which Russia is a constant threat for the English Empire in India. He would find from us not even a trace of such a theory. In Russia it is known that India is the heel of Achilles of England. It is also known that against its will Russia would be compelled to threaten India only in a case where England appears to be an obstacle to Russia's accomplishing her centuries-old historical mission, which is as essential for her as the domain of the Indian Empire is essential for England. But if England does not interfere with Russia in Europe in that case none among us will even think of marching to India. Lord Randolph can see it with his own eyes."

All eyes on Duleep

Duleep moved to a cheaper hotel and wrote to the Czar in order to kindle his interest in a campaign to India:

“I guarantee an easy conquest of India. For, besides the promised assistance of the Princes of India with their armies, it is in my power to raise the entire Punjab in revolt and cause the inhabitants to attack in their war the British Forces sent to oppose Imperial Army.

Duleep Singh (by Sir Leslie Ward)

My loyal subjects would also destroy all railways, telegraphic and other communications and blow up bridges and cut off all supplies while the revolting Princes would harass the British Troops left behind as a reserve. England is only strong at sea but she has no army. She has only some 100,000 Europeans and about the same number of native soldiers in her service in India. Out of the latter some 45,000 men are Punjabis who are the best soldiers that England possesses in India.

All those are loyal to me will come over at once to the side of Russia (provided I be permitted to accompany the Imperial Army of invasion) should they be sent to confront the Russian troops or they will attack the opposing British Forces in their rear should these Sikhs be left behind. Under these circumstances no British Army could hold its own however powerful it might be (which it is not) being attacked both in front and behind”.

The dream of the Maharaja to liberate India with the help of Russian troops remained unfulfilled. In Moscow, Duleep wrote several letters to the Czar but was denied an audience. In a detailed letter of 10 May 1887, he boldly asked for help in liberating India and referred to his Guru's prophecy. This tactic only elicited remarks that Alexander III pencilled on the top of Duleep's text:

"The Prince will get the official reply within a few days. I have no objection to his staying in Russia wherever he wants to live. I have read the report with great interest and of course sometime or other he would be useful for our dealings with the English in India".

Duleep despatched his emissary, Arur Singh, to India with letters of revolt addressed to Indian princes. He also wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, but to no avail.
St. Basel's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow
The Russians neither knew how to deal with Duleep nor make strategic use of his stay in Moscow. It was Duleep's bad luck that he was late in asking Russia to march to India. In 1878 there was a short period when such an action was feasible. After the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878, Great Britain and Austro-Hungary refused to accept the Peace treaty of San Stefano.

The Russian Empire was facing a new war in Europe and in order to escape it, Russian military authorities decided to arrange a march of the troops of Turkistan military region towards the borders of British India. The troops were stationed near the border of Bokhara Khanate but after the Berlin Treaty was signed, the threat of war was over. The troops were withdrawn and returned to their headquarters. That was probably the only right moment to initiate the march of Russian army against the British Raj.

In Moscow, Duleep was under strict surveillance of British diplomats who sent all their reports to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, India House or to the Queen. They remained very interested in finding out the details of the activities of the Maharaja.

On 14th November, 1887 the English Ambassador at St. Petersburg, R. Morier, wrote to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Marquis K.G. Salisbury:

“Although it is not likely that Dalip Singh will be able at Moscow to do us any mischief, I have thought it advisable not to lose sight of him, and have instructed our Vice-Consul in that city to keep me informed from time to time of his proceedings.

Mr. Hornstedt reports in a private letter received today that Dalip Singh, now residing with "Madame" (whether his wife or a mistress is meant is not clear) 10 at the Hotel Billo, a cheaper and more unpretending establishment than Dusseaux's where he formerly stayed. He visits a few Russian families, but lives in a very retired and quiet way”.

Greater damage was caused by Duleep's young outspoken wife, Ada Wetherill who was friends with the wife of Katkov’s secretary, an Englishwoman. Ada sometimes gave away Duleep’s deep secrets.

Tavis, the American double-agent

The worst betrayed came from American informer General Carrol-Tavis, a ruthless double agent who pretended to be an anti-British sympathizer but was appointed to ‘look after’ the Maharaja by the British government.

The two had met in Paris and struck a friendship that allowed Tavis to report everything about the Indian Prince to London who was by then a
 self-proclaimed ‘Sovereign of the Sikh nation and Implacable Foe of the British Government’. Tavis copied each and every letter written by Duleep and sent it to his British mastersDuleep's thoughts and movements were in the government archives and which prevented a Sikh uprising in India using Russian assistance.

For public consumption, Duleep boasted that ‘ninety percent of Indian princes as well as the Russian government were behind [his] plan to oust the British’.

"In less than three years—in less than two perhaps—I and my 250 million fellow-countrymen will have driven them [the British] out of India."
— Duleep, to a British journalist in 1888 after the failed attempt to visit India

The attitude of Russians towards the Maharaja was clearly expressed in a secret letter dated 28 November 1887 of the Minister for Foreign Affairs N.K. Girs to the Governor General of Moscow V. A. Dolgorukov:

“All his statements compel me to conclude, that Duleep Singh absolutely misunderstands his status in Russia and his relation to the Imperial Government, and so it is necessary to explain to him these misunderstandings.

The Maharajah arrived in Russia without soliciting prior permission under an assumed name, and for crossing through the border he had to avail himself of the guarantee of a stranger. Arriving in Moscow he petitioned for permission to settle anywhere in Russia as a private person under the patronage of the Imperial Government, and to this petition His Majesty, our Sovereign Emperor, was gracious to express his approval on condition, that the Maharajah would not violate the law of the Empire by his conduct.

In view of these circumstances, Duleep Singh cannot be regarded a subject of Russia, and also to count him among our citizens seems to be all the most undesirable as, afterwards he may regret his quarrel with the English Government, and desire to return to England, in order to again avail himself of the highly substantial amount of pension which he used to receive earlier, though in his opinion it was insufficient, and the loss of which we are not in a position to compensate. We know too little about the Maharajah to disregard the possibilities of such change in his views, which is why even from the point of view of the dignity of the Imperial Government, it would be far better not to associate Duleep Singh with Russia but to carry on regarding him as an honourable foreigner, who is compelled to seek asylum with us.

The political objective pursued by the Maharajah for the liberation of India from the dominion of England with assistance from Russia… the project, as outlined in the letter received by me from him, seems to lack seriousness. The Maharaja insists that for the success of this affair it is enough to send a small sized Russian detachment to the border of India, to which he would have to be appointed as adviser and this provides reason to conclude that either he has a completely false idea about the state of affairs in Asia, or as a shrewd Asian he is calculating on our insufficient acquaintance with India and hopes to excite us to undertake a hostile demonstration against England, to make the British realize the disadvantages of their quarrel with him.

In the present political situation it would be absolutely futile and even imprudent to enter upon any negotiation with Duleep Singh on the topic of the aforesaid proposal and taking into consideration the above stated reasons the Sovereign Emperor was pleased to consider it necessary to entrust Your Excellency to clarify matters with him..."

This was the official answer, approved by the Russian Monarch, to Duleep Singh’s proposals.

Symbols on the plaque (Thetford Norfolk, Butten Island, England)

Good-bye Russia

Duleep Singh was allowed to live near Kiev, not as a citizen but as an honourable foreigner. In May 1888 he left Moscow for his new home. The Maharaja was not satisfied with a new quiet life in the provinces and 
left for France on 10th September 1888, never again to return to Russia.

Duleep's emissary, Arur Singh, was captured in Calcutta, and during an interrogation he revealed all the secret plans of his master.

Thakur Singh Sandhanwalia acted as Maharajah's Prime Minister-in-exile. He was based in Pondicherry, the French colony in India. He died (some believe poisoned) while the Maharajah was still negotiating his terms with the Russian Czar. His family jagir (estate) was confiscated by the British. The aspirations of the Khalsa in Punjab were aroused by the proclamations of Duleep Singh but nothing concrete was achieved except all round frustration.

In 1890, Duleep suffered a stroke and became partially paralyzed.

In 1891, at a final audience with Queen Victoria for a Royal pardon, he wept uncontrollably at her side—or so they claim.

Commemorative plaque (Thetford Norfolk, Butten Island, England)

Going to Paris to die

"When good Americans die, they go to Paris".
— Irish poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde, who in 1900 died a destitute in the dingy Hôtel d'Alsace of Paris

Duleep had finally realized the mistake of converting to Christianity. He was a born-again Sikh, still heartbroken and in ill-health. In this state he married his latest love, chambermaid Ada Douglas Wetherill.

It was the inability of the British to keep their promises that drove the Maharajah to foreign powers. From his Indian servant, Arthur Singh, and his mother he had already learnt what it meant to be a Royal Sikh.

The injustice of the Crown and fondness of the high life expedited Duleep's demise. By age fifty-five, our chivalrous Knight, Maharaja Sir Duleep Singh, was deeply in debt, separated from the family, and in the loving clutches of a chamber-maid wife. Bamba, his first wife never recovered from this desertion, took to imbibing alcohol, and died in 1887.

In 1793, King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette lost their Royal heads under the guillotine; a century later, on 22 October 1893, Duleep died in a rundown Hotel de la Tremouille (Paris). He was refused cremation and instead buried as a Christian in England.

The wish of the 'son of the Lion of the Punjab' to be buried in India was not honoured by Queen Victoria who was by then—thanks to Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli's noble gift—the ‘Empress of India’ who feared unrest arising out of resentment for British rule.

A Royal lineage 'brought to an end'

"I am the son of one of my father's forty-six wives".
— Duleep Singh in an 1889 interview with the French journal Le Voltaire (according to
Khushwant Singh)

Duleep's eldest son, Victor Albert Jay married Lady Anne Alice Blanche, the youngest daughter of the 9th Earl of Coventry. Queen Victoria was pleased to instruct Lady Anne, "You must never have any children with the prince". The couple were ordered to leave England and complied; they never returned. The prince died issueless on 7 June 1918 in Monte Carlo.

It will be useful to compare the longevity and fertility records set by the British royals with those of Duleep Singh’s children who died young and without producing any offspring. Did the same ancient God, whom the British subjects frequently implore to ‘save’ the Queen', render childless and penniless the descendants of Maharaja Ranjit Singh?
Tampering with food, genes, DNA etc.

A fanciful prophecy soon sprang up according to which the Sikh dynasty suffered because of the ‘curse of the tenth spiritual leader Guru Gobind Singh, who had a golden box of treasure buried on his death and said that whoever touched it would vanish from the light. Because Ranjit Singh dug it up to build a monument to the holy man, that is why all of Duleep Singh's children died childless.'

"When we were children our English cooks at Elveden Hall were British spies who would put substances into our food so as to make us infertile."
—Princess Bamba (to members of Lahore's Fakir family, whose ancestors were ministers in Maharaja Ranjit Singh's court)

Whether they are the Kennedys of America or the Bhuttos of Pakistan, it is an observable fact that an illustrious family's first generation works hard to build something, the second one enjoys the fruits of such labour, while the third one squanders everything. Hence, whatever Maharaja Ranjit Singh built, his son Duleep Singh fully enjoyed, and the grandchildren lost in entirety.

©Tahir Gul Hasan, 2019

COMING SOON: Princess Bamba Sofia Jindaan Duleep Singh (the story of Duleep Singh's daughter)

Articles related to this story
1) Duleep Singh - The Last Maharaja Of Punjab
2) Ranjit Singh - The Lion of Punjab

If I were to list all the references the old-fashioned away right here, this article would be twice its current size. If I were to list all the references the old-fashioned away right here, this article would be twice its current size. Included in the text are some web links (URLs). Just click on the words in blue colour and you will reach those other pages that contain either the text used (after laborious editing) or more information. I visited hundreds of web sites while researching for material on Maharaja Duleep Singh. Omissions, if any, were unintentional. I thank those from whom obtaining permission to use some images was either impossible or who did not respond to my requests.

No one must misconstrue the information presented here about any character as disinformation or insults. All the information was meticulously collected and cross-checked from numerous sources on the internet (without the use of proxy servers). Please email your suggestions (with believable references) if you feel something requires correction.

Further reading & references
1) Maharaja Duleep Singh’s Russian Connection: A Threat to the British Raj? (T. N. Zagorodnikova)
2) Queen Victoria and the Maharaja Duleep Singh (A. Martin Wainwright)

Words: 3,898 [edit 110919: text colour formatting, re-titled headings]