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Maharajah Duleep Singh

From Lahore to Elveden. (1838-1893)

The first years of Duleep Singh‘s life were played out against the rich background of the court and the lavish palaces and gardens of Lahore. He enjoyed falconry and had the best horses and elephants to ride. He received a royal education with two tutors, one for Persian and one for Gurmukhi. He was taught to shoot guns and bows and trained in command. The love of his mother surrounded him. It must have seemed a kind of heaven for the boy, but the brutalities of politics soon invaded.

Following the defeat of the Khalsa Army in 1846, Duleep Singh‘s kingdom was reduced to half its size and a British resident installed in Lahore. Despite the apparent generosity of the peace treaty, in reality the British began to dismantle the Sikh State.

As the second Anglo Sikh war concluded, the British entered Lahore and removed Duleep Singh into exile to a town called Fatehghar. He left behind his throne, his palaces, much of his personal fortune and his country, never to return. Fatehghar, an admired centre of Christian missionary activity in Northern India, was where Duleep Singh became a Christian.

A year later Duleep Singh set sail for England, 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 Duleep Singh during one of his numerous stays at Buckingham Palace.

The Maharajah lived in Scotland throughout his teens and into his twenties. Naturally, the young man quickly became the centre of attention there, the locals referring to him as "The Black Prince of Perthshire". His reputation grew with the lavishness of the receptions, shoots and entertainment‘s he held which became ever more popular as the years passed.

In 1860, the Maharajah returned to India to rescue his mother her from political exile in Nepal. This visit was particularly unsettling for the young man who had not expected the enthusiastic welcome from ex-courtiers and Sikh soldiers whilst enduring the curtailment of the British Government. Mother and son returned to London. For the next four years they were a regular sight in the society scene, then in 1863 she suddenly died. She had, however, made him remember the past.  Once again, the Maharajah returned to India, this time to cremate his mother. He did not return home alone, he chose as his wife a part Ethiopian, part German, Arabic speaking girl from a Cairo mission school; Bamba Muller.

He took her home to his newly acquired home at Elveden, selected and purchased for him by the India Office, and transformed the run-down estate into an efficient, modern, game preserve and the house into a semi-oriental palace. With halls decorated in the fashion of a shish mahal and dominated by the huge oil paintings of Ranjit Singh in durbar or at the Golden Temple, of his brother Sher Singh in regal splendour and with sculptures of past glories and cases of jewels, the whole place was a powerful reminder of his former status.Duleep Singh loved Elveden and rebuilt the church, cottages and the school. His fame as a game shooter that he gained during his days in Scotland was to be relived in the grounds of the great Elveden Estate. He invited the Prince of Wales to his highly successful shoots.

Duleep Singh and Bamba had six children at Elveden, Victor Duleep Singh, Frederick Duleep Singh, Bamba Jindan Duleep Singh, Katherine Duleep Singh, Sophia Alexandra and Albert Edward Duleep Singh between 1866 and 1879.  Despite his English education, royal life style amid European glamour, the rebellious Sikh spirit, that had tasted sovereignty, was hibernating in some remote recess of the sub-conscious mind of Maharajah Duleep Singh who on gaining self-awareness underwent a metamorphosis that turned him into a rebel. In 1886 he made up his mind to return to India and place himself as the prophesised moral head of the Sikh people, but was arrested at Aden from where he returned to Europe.

With his innate political acumen, he glanced over the international horizon, established secret contacts with the Punjab, Irish revolutionaries, and the Russian government. Before his intended march to India, Duleep Singh had been reinitiated into Sikhism by taking amrit pahul.

In the proclamations issued by him, he asserted himself to be "the lawful sovereign of the Sikh nation". But the destiny willed it otherwise. His health broke down and he suffered an epileptic fit in a lonely room of the Hotel de la Tremouille in Paris. It seems, a belated realisation that his second wife, Ada, was, perhaps, a planted spy for monitoring his intentions and activities caused a mental shock that hastened his "dark and mournful end" on October 22, 1893.