The woman who terrified the British Empire
On 1 August 1863, shortly after 6:15 in the evening, a frail and partially-blind queen who had spent much of her life raging against the British Empire, died in her bed on the top floor of a Kensington townhouse.
It was a peculiar and remarkably quiet end for a woman once the scourge of the British Raj in India. Only 15 years earlier, Jind Kaur, the Maharani of the Punjab, had encouraged the Sikh Empire to wage two disastrous wars against the British which led to the annexation of the Punjab and Jind being torn from her son when he was just nine-years-old.
Adopted by a dour colonial surgeon, that son, Duleep Singh, swiftly shed his Punjabi customs, converted to Christianity and moved to England to live the life of a respectable country squire, shooting grouse on his estate and hosting decadent parties for Britain's Victorian elite.
The "Black Prince", as he was known in London, became firm friends with Queen Victoria, only to fall from grace after he was caught trying to persuade Russia to invade India and return his kingdom to him. His tale has been well documented.
But for the first time his mother's remarkable life has been uncovered by a British historian, Peter Bance, who publishes his findings this week in the book Maharajah Duleep Singh – Sovereign, Squire And Rebel.
While researching a tome on the Duleep Singh family, which lived in exile on a sprawling country estate near Thetford, Norfolk, Mr Bance stumbled upon the gravestone of Jind Kaur in the catacombs of the Kensal Green Dissenters' Chapel. Historians had assumed that the Maharani's cremation occurred in India but here was a simple white marble tombstone in London with her name on it.
As cremation was illegal in Britain at the time it appears that the Maharani's remains were kept in the chapel for nearly a year while Duleep arranged for her to be taken home. The astonishing relic of a person who made no secret of her dislike for the country where she eventually died lay hidden for more than a century.
Mr Bance has dug into who Jind Kaur really was, why she ended up dying in the capital of a country that was once her sworn enemy and how, as her life slipped away in a cold London townhouse, she reawakened her son's royal heritage and inspired him to take back his lost kingdom.
"It's an amazing find because Jind Kaur was only buried in Britain for little over year and yet someone went to the trouble of creating this very ornate gravestone for her," says Mr Bance. "The inscription is partly in English and partly in the Sikh Gurmukhi script and what makes it unusual is that very few people in Britain at the time would have been able to translate Gurmukhi, let alone carve it into marble. She is the first documented Sikh woman in Britain."
To say that Jind Kaur was a thorn in the side of the East India Company would be an understatement. She was born into humble origins, the daughter of the Royal Kennel Keeper at the Sikh court in Lahore, but she was ravishingly beautiful and soon caught the attention of the Punjab's greatest ruler, the one-eyed Ranjit Singh.
Having kept the British at bay for decades, Ranjit's empire began to crumble with his death in 1839. Following a series of bloody succession battles, Jind emerged as regent for Duleep who was less than a year old when his father died.
Concerned about the instability (and attracted to the kingdom's fabulous wealth) Britain began preparing to take the Punjab, goading the Sikh armies into two wars that eventually led to the disappearance of an indigenous Asian empire that stretched from the Khyber Pass to Kashmir.
Jind was instrumental in organising the Sikh resistance, rallying her generals to return to battle and plotting rebellion once the British finally took over the Punjab in 1849.
To halt her influence on the young Duleep, the Punjab's new colonial masters dragged the Queen away from her son and imprisoned her. The British press began a smear campaign against the Maharani, labelling her the "Messalina of the Punjab", portraying her as a licentious seductress who was too rebellious to control.
In a final act of defiance Jind Kaur escaped her jailers dressed as a slave girl and trekked 800 miles to Nepal where she was given begrudging asylum and a place in Sikh folklore as a national hero.
She was only allowed to see her son 13 years later when he returned to Kolkata for a tiger-hunting trip. Duleep asked to bring his mother from Kolkata to England. The British Government decided the last Queen of the Punjab no longer posed a threat and gave him permission.
But a number of historians now believe it was Jind Kaur's brief reunion with her son in the country she despised that rekindled Duleep's desire to take back his kingdom.
"In a way she had the last laugh," says Harbinder Singh, director of the Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail. "When you look at the life of Duleep Singh the moment where he began to turn his back on Britain and rebel was immediately after meeting his mother. The British assumed that this frail looking woman, who was nearly blind and had lost her looks, was no longer a force to be reckoned with. But she reminded her son of who he was and where his kingdom really lay."
In the end, Duleep's attempts to persuade the Tsar of Russia to invade India backfired spectacularly because British spies had followed his every move. Publicly humiliated, Duleep lived his final years in a Paris hotel room desperately seeking the forgiveness of Victoria.
"The whole family's story is desperately tragic," says Mr Bance. "None of Duleep's children gave birth to an heir and his lineage died out within a generation. But what gives me some comfort is the idea that, just before she died, this frail but formidable woman made him remember who he was."
*Mukarram Jah The final Nizam of Hyderabad lives in Turkey. After his kingdom was subsumed by India in 1948, Jah went to the Australian outback. In 1949 he was said to be the world's richest man but much of his wealth was lost in bad business deals.
*Bahadur Shah Zafar The Last Mughal Emperor was exiled to Burma after he supported the sepoys during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Three lineages of descendents survive today.
*Tippu Sultan Called the Tiger of Mysore, his armies fought the British in south India until his death in 1799. His family was exiled to Kolkata.
History of Punjab: Successors of Maharaja Singh
|Kharak Singh In 1839, Kharak Singh, the eldest legitimate son of Ranjit Singh, ascended the throne and appointed Chet Singh as prime minister. Kharak Singh was a man of weak intellect, consumed a lot of opium, and possessed none of Ranjit Singh's diplomatic qualifications. A rumour was set afloat that Kharak Singh had formed an alliance with the British government and acknowledged their league supremacy, to dispand the Sikh army, and to pax taxes to them. Soldiers began to look at Kharak Singh as a traitor and formed a plot to dispose him. On the night of October 8th, 1830, a few soldiers entered his fort, killed Chet Singh, and placed the king in custody. Kharak Singh, who only reigned for 3 months, was permitted to abdicate and retire to his city mansion.|
|Nau Nehal Singh The Royal Prince Nau Nehal Singh, son of Kharak Singh, was proclaimed ruler of the Punjab at the age of 18. He possessed an ambitious and warlike spirit, a keen judgement, and a clear insight into business manners, all qualities perfect for being a king. He detested the British and collected an army to be ready for war with them. One day, he and his friend was travelling back to the fort. As he approached the archway, a loud crash was heard, and it was found that a fragment of the upper wall had falled and crushed the two young men. Maharani Chand Kaur, the mother of the injured prince, beat her head against the gates of the fortress in vain. Two hours afterwards, Chand Kaur was informed that her son had breathed his last.|
|Chand Kaur Chand Kaur was proclaimed queen of the Punjab. The minister Dhian Singh urged the sardars to place Sher Singh as the king, but to no avail. However, the rude Sher Singh was bent on offering her armed resistance. Meanwhile, Chand Kaur appointed Attar Singh as prime minister, and a council of four sardars was established under Attar Singh whose advice was sought in all State affairs. During the reign of Chand Kaur, Rani Jind Kaur, a wife of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, gave birth to a son named Dulip Singh. Sher Singh, according to previous arrangements with Dhian Singh, marched from Mukeria with 300 followers, and after time, the Khalsa soldiery paid their homage to him as the sovereign of the Punjab. Eventually, Sher Singh gathered 70,000 troops and bombarded the fort, causing heavy casualty. Chand Kaur surrendered and gave up her claims to the throne of Lahore. And agreement was made providing Chand Kaur nine lakhs of rupees, and that Sher Singh was to refrain from marrying the queen.|
|Sher Singh On January, 18th, 1841 Sher Singh was seated on the throne of Lahore. Dhian Singh was again installed in the office of the minister. Sher Singh enjoyed spirituous liquors, gave himself up to hunting and wrestling, and sometimes paid little attention to the affairs of the State, which were left entirely to Dhian Singh. Prince Partab Singh, heir-apparent to the Lahore throne, attended by Dhian Singh, met with Governor Lord Ellenborough, which resulted in more friendly relations. However, distrust started to come between Dhian Singh and the Maharaja, and they started to hate each other. Servants and loyal subjects started to assure the Maharaja that Dhian Singh had resolved to place the young Dulip Singh on the throne. The Maharaja then created a document giving authority for the assasination of the minister, but Dhian Singh had Ajit Singh assassinate Maharaja Sher Singh on September, 15th, 1843. Shortly afterwards, the assassins then killed Partab Singh. The city was not in a state of commotion, and the inhabitants afraid of the situation. Ajit Singh arrived at the fort and informed Dhian Singh the job has been done. Shortly afterwards, Ajit Singh betrayed the minister by having him shot dead. Hira Singh was extremely upset about the situation, organized an army, about 40,000 troops, and marched against Ajit Singh. The fort was surrounded and blockaded, and the battle lasted the whole night. Ajit Singh was eventually slained, and the fort was taken over by Hira Singh. Shortly afterwards, Hira Singh declared Dulip Singh as the maharaja, and Hira Singh became the minister.|
|Dulip Singh Dulip Singh was proclaimed Maharaja of the Punjab in September 1843, and Hira Singh installed as the Minister. Hira Singh was well educated, was able to read and write, and knew how to treat the troops. Jawahir Singh and Suchet Singh, in the goal of inflicting a blow to the the Maharaja, complained to the troops of being treated harshly by the royal boy and threatened to seek British protection. The Khalsa troops convened and declared Jawahir Singh and Suchet Singh traiters to the State. Jawahir Singh was placed in close confinement, and Suchet Singh fled to Jammu. Sardar Attar Singh recrossed the Sutlej on May 2, 1844 and maintained a force of 1,500 infantry and cavalry and declared the kingdom of Lahore was virtually the kingdom of Guru Gobind Singh, that Dulip Singh was a child to young of managing his own affairs, and that Hira Singh had proved himself quite unworthy of his position. This rebelion was successfully subdued by Hira Singh, but Pandit Jalla, a friend of Hira Singh, started to give fresh cause of annoyance to the soldiers because of his rude behavior. The troops turned against Hira Singh and Pandit Jalla, and they fled on December 21, 1844. Eventually the two were caught and killed. On May 14, 1845 Sardar Jawahir Singh became the minister. Peshora Singh was now again persuaded to renew his claims to the throne of Lahore and received encouragement from the troops. However, he was treacherously made prisoner and thrown into a dark dungeon, and strangled at night. The troops swore to take vengeance of Jawahir Singh, as the sole author of the horible crime. Jawahir Singh fled with the young Maharaja on his lap, but was killed by the soldiery. Jind Kaur, the queen, mother of Dulip Singh, took over responsibility of the state affairs for a short time. But there was no doubt that the power of the Khalsa army was now at its height.|