The Extraordinary Story Of Begum Samru


It is easy to fall in love with Farzana, or Begum Samru as she is commonly called. The dramatic events in her life are a function of the headstrong choices she made or didn't make. A failed attempt at romance brought out in her a fountain of pragmatism instead of heartbreak. Her overall conduct in life points towards an unnaturally high intelligence and effective leadership. Yet, there is something mysterious about her that keeps her story short of a satisfying read. I wonder about the proceedings that would have taken place deep in her mind and heart, and which like for most of the historic personalities remains in the realm of conjecture.

Her legacy lives today. Though disputed for more than 100 years and reduced to a fraction of what it originally was, it still runs into several billions of US dollars. In its course, it made somebody one of the richest people in Britain but not before enacting a saga of treachery and deceit on her heirs.

It all started in the eighteenth century India. Indian economy at that time was larger than that of all European countries put together. India hence was a natural destination for the dreamers. War being a constant in the subcontinent; it attracted a lot of European mercenaries. William Dalrymple in his books 'White Mughals' and 'The Last Mughal' has enumerated extensively the European migrants in diverse professions settled in India during that time.

One such soldier of fortune was Walter Reinhardt. A German native, he got commissioned as a private soldier into the French East India Company. Due to his somber facial features, he got a nickname of 'Le Sombre' which in time got corrupted to Samru. A man of daring and adventure, he quickly built a reputation for himself and rose through the ranks. His loyalty was not to any king or kingdom, instead he built a private army that fought for whoever could pay. In one such successful campaign in the Delhi region and also because of the masterful politics he played between two of the emperor's generals; he got himself rewarded of a vast tract of land in the Gangetic Doab region. Sumru made Sardhana (22 kms from Meerut) his capital and ruled the land between the rivers Yamuna and Ganga and beyond Muzaffarnagar to Aligarh. His private army comprised mainly of European officers and native soldiers and this tradition was carried forward by his widow - Begum Samru. Sardhana it is said in those times resembled a regular European town with a Diaspora comprising of Frenchmen, Englishmen, Irishmen, Scotsmen, Italians, Portuguese, Germans, Polish, Belgians, Armenians, etc.

In 1765, while Samru was in the service of the king of Bharatpur, he spotted Farzana who was a nautch girl. Her origins are ambiguous, though as per a popular version she was born in 1751 and was the daughter of Lutf Ali Khan, a nobleman of Arabian descent, settled in the town of Kotana near Meerut. The family fell into bad times after the death of her father and Farzana moved between various red light areas of Delhi and Agra to earn a living. At four and a half feet, Farzana was of short stature but possessed features commensurate only with aristocratic beauty. Samru immediately fell for her and even though he was already married and had a son; Farzana and Samru got married and stayed together till Samru's death. Farzana used to accompany Samru in all his campaigns and General Samru taught her well.

By some accounts, after meeting Farzana, Samru felt the tiredness of being a soldier of fortune for long and all his efforts towards securing the land in the doab region were for the larger objective of leading a stable life with his new found love.

Samru's marriage with Farzana was childless. Samru though had a son from his first wife but he was a minor at the time of Samru's death in 1778. Hence, his 82 European officers and 4000 troops petitioned the emperor Shah Alam to declare Farzana as Samru's successor and which was granted. As per an excerpt from SardhanaChurch.org :

"Thus from 1778 began the long and colorful reign of Begum Samru. Here was a woman in a man's role, yet gifted with the qualities of both. Fearless in battle, upright in her dealings, she was gorgeous to those who befriended her and feared by those who offended her."

Three years after the death of Samru in 1778, Farzana became a Catholic. She took the name of Joanna but she adopted a style that allowed her to walk across the world of customs without posing any hindrance or consternation to the larger Muslim nobility of India. By all accounts she was respected and loved even more in the later part of her life. She started getting addressed as Begum Samru in the nobility, later sometimes with her formal title Zeb-un-Nissa that was bestowed upon her by the Mughal emperor.

Her conversion to Christianity is a matter of debate among the historians. It certainly appears that the conversion was by her own volition. However, given the challenges of leading an army made up of European Christians who got motivated more on bravado than any formal military training; the alignment of faith on begum's part was a perfect political move. Also, the rise of British in India was imminent and given that her husband had fought the British all his life; with her conversion, Begum in one stroke became part of both the ruling worlds in terms of comfort of faith and where her friendly overtures had a higher probability of positive social reception.

Begum Samru took part in many battles, some as late as when she was 73 years old. I have yet to come across a battle that she lost except the battle of Assaye in which her troops were under the command of Marathas and in which she was a reluctant loser due to an ensuing tactical alignment with the British. James Baillie Fraser (1783-1856) writes in his book 'Military memoir of Lieut-Col. James Skinner, C. B.' :

"It is a remarkable thing, and much to the credit of the Begum's troops, that some four or five of her battalions were the only part of Sindea's army that went off unbroken from the field of Assaye: they were charged by our cavalry towards the close of the day, but without effect; Colonel Maxwell, who commanded, being killed in the charge by a grape-shot."

He further adds :

"The people in the Dekhan (Deccan), who knew the Begum by reputation, believed her to be a witch, who destroyed her enemies by throwing her chadir (women's veil) at them."

Thomas William Beale, in his compilation 'An oriental biographical dictionary' writes :

"Colonel Skinner had often, during his service with the Marhattas, seen her, then a beautiful young woman, leading on her troops to the attack in person and displaying, in the midst of carnage, the greatest intrepidity and presence of mind."

Her military service to the Indian emperor was unwavering and of the highest order. In 1783 Baghel Singh and his 30,000 strong Sikh army had encamped just outside the Delhi walls (the place still exists in North Delhi and as a result of this incursion by the Sikhs is known as Tees Hazaari, famous for its modern day court complexes). It was Begum's parleys that averted an offensive into the capital. She at one instance in another battle saved the emperor Shah Alam from imminent death in the battlefield. The emperor on his part showered on her various titles among which were the title of 'Most Beloved daughter'. When Akbar Shah ascended the throne of Delhi, he gifted a piece of land to her in a beautiful garden adjoining the head of the Chandni Chowk lane. The palace she built there is known as Bhagirath palace, which still stands, though the garden around it is now a wholesale market for the medical goods. Bhagirath palace which changed several hands after her death in 1836 had a treacherous role to play during the mutiny of 1857.

In 1790 when she was still young and beautiful, a Frenchman, Le Vaisseau, entered her services. He was accomplished, educated and sophisticated. Begum quickly fell for his charms and he for her beauty. He eventually displaced Begum's principal lieutenant, an Irishman, George Thomas, who too was a contender for Begum's affection and who along with Begum was instrumental in saving emperor Shah Alam's life. Le Vaisseau and Begum were married in 1793. The marriage was solemnized by the same priest who had baptized the Begum earlier. Bernier and Jean Remy Saleur, two distinguished French officers of Begum's army were witness to the marriage. An excerpt from SardhanaChurch.org states :

"But the marriage was unpopular. The Frenchman, obviously conscious of his superior upbringing, was arrogant and lacking in tact. His open familiarity with the Begum was a source of endless scandal. Besides, George Thomas, her rejected lover, was so disappointed that he resigned her service and left Sardhana to join the army of Sindhia. All this led to a lot of unrest."

Begum tried hard for her new husband to find common grounds with her troops but she did not succeed. The mercenaries in her army were poles apart when it came to their ruthlessness versus the refined personality of Le Vaisseau. In a moment of dejection, Begum preferred personal happiness over the kingship and decided to leave everything for a quiet life with her new husband.

For all that was there, reign of Begum Samru was a well structured business, business of fighting wars for whoever could pay. The mercenaries in her army were there to make fortunes for themselves and any change in this structure was a direct threat to their livelihood and ambition. It was a difficult business that not just anyone could lead. Hence Le Vaisseau and Begum decided to leave secretly.

Major-General Sir William Henry Sleeman KCB in his book 'Rambles and Recollections of an Indian official' has provided a detailed account of the events that followed. Begum entered into a correspondence with Sindhia to bequeath everything to him except her personal property. They also opened a channel with the British to provide a safe passage to them through the British territory to the French settlement of Chandernagore. In the meantime, George Thomas, Begum's rejected lover who was stationed at Delhi got a hint of this plan. Out of pique against the Begum, he hatched a plan with the Begum's debauch stepson from Walter Reinhardt's first wife. The night when begum and Le Vaisseau escaped, she in her palanquin and he riding a horse ahead of her, they knew that their plan was no more a secret. They hence entered into a suicide pact, to be executed in the event they were to be captured. Begum's troops under the command and influence of her stepson revolted when they heard about her plan to escape and set out to pursue them. Begum and Le Vaisseau had not gone far when Le Vaisseau heard gunshots from behind and desperate cries of the female attendants of Begum's entourage. He rushed to investigate and saw the white cloth covering Begum's breasts stained with blood. Begum, true to her words had stabbed herself thinking Le Vaisseau had been shot; though her wound was not life threatening as the dagger got entangled in her ribs, delivering just a horrendous cut. At this time Le Vaisseau not knowing much about the nature of Begum's wound, pulled out his gun and triggered it against his temple. He could have escaped, he was on a horse.

William Henry Sleeman goes on to write :

"One of the soldiers who saw him told me that he sprang at least a foot off the saddle into the air as the shot struck him."

Le Vaisseau's body was subjected to all sorts of indignities and remained unattended for many days in the open. Begum was brought back and tied to a gun carriage continuously for seven days in scorching sun without food or water. If it was not for the secret ministrations of her loyal maids, she would have perished. The only sane voice in the confusion was of Commandant Saleur, the Frenchman in Begum's army who was also a witness to her marriage with Le Vaisseau. He wrote to Sindhia and also informed George Thomas of the events, asking for his help in return of monetary compensation. George Thomas was shocked and enraged at the indignities Begum was subjected to and true to his British chivalry rushed to her rescue. He quelled the rebellion in Sardhana, freed the Begum and arrested her stepson with whom he had conspired earlier. He worked towards reinstating the Begum to the reign of Sardhana and her stepson was locked in the dungeon of Begum's Delhi palace, where he died in 1803.

Once normalcy returned to Sardhana, George Thomas quietly retreated to where he came from, never to be in the service of Begum again. Indebted by his actions, Begum promised to take care of his wife and children, which she did till her dying day. Begum also left a sum of Rs. 44,000 for his family after her death. George Thomas later went on to command his own fort in Hansi and earned a reputation to be counted among the greatest Generals of the Indian subcontinent. He died young at the age of 46. An interesting article written by H. G. Keene on George Thomas can be found here: George Thomas - The Rajah From Tipperary

Historians debate the whole incident and another version states that it was a deliberate plan on part of the Begum to get rid of her insolent husband. I tend to reject this version due to the sheer magnitude of planning and the ensuing tragedy. There were far easier methods of getting rid of people in those days and certainly not a problem for a powerful woman like Begum Samru.

Begum's experiment with love and personal happiness ended there. She never looked back and devoted herself completely to the administration and growth of her principality. Even though her engagement with Europeans grew over time, she remained rooted firmly in her origin. She did not change her manners, food or dressing habits and effortlessly switched between the Indian and European customs. She veiled herself in the public as was the custom then and carried out negotiations from behind a purdah (screen). However, in the company of the Europeans she would appear unveiled, eat with them at the table and join them in the after dinner smoking sessions when rest of the womenfolk would have retired to their quarters. William Henry Sleeman sums it up interestingly in his book 'Rambles and Recollections of an Indian official' :

"Among all who had opportunities of knowing her she bore the character of a kind-hearted, benevolent, and good woman; and I have conversed with men capable of judging, who had known her for more than fifty years. She had uncommon sagacity and a masculine resolution; and the Europeans and natives who were most intimate with her have told me that though a woman and of small stature, her ru'b (dignity, or power of commanding personal respect) was greater than that of almost any person they had ever seen. From the time she put herself under the protection of the British Government, in 1808, she by degrees adopted the European modes of social intercourse, appearing in public on an elephant, in a carriage, and occasionally on horseback with her hat and veil, and dining at table with gentlemen. She often entertained Governors-General and Commanders-in-Chief, with all their retinues, and sat with them and their staff at table, and for some years past kept an open house for the society of Meerut; but in no situation did she lose sight of her dignity. She retained to the last the grateful affections of the thousands who were supported by her bounty, while she never ceased to inspire the most profound respect in the minds of those who every day approached her, and were on the most unreserved terms of intimacy."

Major Edward Archer who visited Sardhana in 1828, writes in his book 'Tours in Upper India' :

"Here fields look greener and more flourishing and the population of her villages appear happier and more prosperous than those of the (East India) Company's provinces. Her care is unremitting and her protection sure.''

Her army never went out for another campaign after she accepted British protection in 1808. Half of her army was deployed under British command at her expense. Thereafter Begum devoted her life to charitable and religious activities. In the early 19th century Begum Samru started ambitious building projects of a palace for herself and a church. Anthony Regheleni, a military officer in Begum's army doubled up as an architect and built a magnificent church that during Begum's time was a cathedral as Pope had appointed a Bishop for the church. She having spent all her life living in the palace of Walter Reinhardt was able to live only for a year in her new palace before her death in 1836.

Begum Samru's stepson had a surviving daughter, Julia Anne, and she was married to George Alexander Dyce, a Scotsman, who had taken over the command of the Begum's forces. They had three surviving children, Georgiana, David Ochterlony and Anna Maria. After Julia's death in 1820, Begum Samru took her children under her wings. Eventually Georgiana was married to Paolo Solaroli, an Italian officer and Anna Maria to Capt. John Rose Troup, an Englishman, both of whom were in the Begum's service. David Ochterlony Dyce was brought up a Catholic even though he was educated by Protestant missionaries and he was declared the sole heir and successor to Begum's legacy. Begum did try for David to be accepted by the British as the ruler of Sardhana after her death but due to the doctrine of lapse being articulated at that time; British did not agree to the request.

Imperial Britain at that time was not particularly known for its scruples. After Begum's death, her territory was annexed by the British, including some of her private properties like arms and ammunitions, Badshahpur pargana, etc. though David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre still got a large inheritance from Begum's personal wealth.

Few years after Begum's death, David travelled to Britain and spent rest of his life fighting for his rights in the British courts. He spent lavishly and allegedly led a debauched life as per the historical records from the Victorian England. In between he also travelled to Rome and ordered from the best talents available, a monument to be erected over the tomb of Begum Samru, which today can be seen in the left wing of the Sardhana church. He married an ambitious and money conscious lady of aristocratic descent, Mary Anne Jervis, who allegedly had many lovers including the Duke of Wellington (portrait of Mary Anne Jervis when she was 18 years old in 1834). Allegedly, he also bribed his way to the parliament as the first Asian MP from Sudbury. His election however was soon overturned when the loser brought up the charges of corruption. He accused his wife of adultery with various men including her own father and he challenged all of them to a duel. It is alleged that his wife bribed the doctors and had him certified a "Chancery lunatic" so that he was held under restraint. The judgment also blocked his access to his own funds, while his wife continued to withdraw £4000/month. He then made a dramatic escape to France (an interesting account of David's escape to France by Michael Fisher from his book 'The Inordinately Strange Life of Dyce Sombre') where many reputed French and European doctors overturned the diagnosis of insanity but his attempts to reverse the judgment in Britain were continually thwarted, six court cases to be precise.

The intent behind all the tribulations inflicted on David is a matter of conjecture as the Victorian Britain was well known for its racial, cultural and social prejudices. While in France, he wrote a bulky volume of refutation, published in 1849, in order to tell his side of the story. The 582 pages of 'Mr. Dyce Sombre's Refutation of the charge of lunacy brought against him in the Court of Chancery' can hardly be the work of an insane mind. David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre returned to England in 1851 under indemnity from arrest but died in pain from a septic foot - few days before his court case were due to be heard.

His wife, whom he had disinherited, contested his will on the ground that he was insane when he made it and won the case in 1856. She became one of the richest people in Britain. She didn't stay a widow for long and married George Weld-Forester, 3rd Baron Forester in 1862. In 1872, the British government settled the Arms Suit lodged by David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre against illegal confiscation of Sardhana's arms and ammunitions by East India Company in favor of Lady Forester and she got paid handsomely with 12% interest levied since 1836. The Hon. Mary Anne Jervis, later Mrs. Dyce Sombre and then Lady Forester died childless in 1893 and entrusted her fortune to the British crown. Begum's estates and the adjoining garden were put up for auction on Monday December 28, 1896, and were purchased by the Catholic Mission of Agra for Rs. 25,000. Begum's money in various trusts continues to be in dispute.

Walter Sombre's bloodline is still surviving. The Dyce families through David's sisters, the Reinhardt families along with other fortune hunters are in contention for the inheritance. An organization named Reinhard's Erbengemeinschaft still strives to resolve the inheritance issue. Begum Samru's inheritance was assessed to be 55.5 Million Gold Mark in 1923 and 18 Billion Deutsch Mark in 1953 (roughly USD 4.29 billion in 1953).

In 1925, Brajendranath Banerji came out with an excellent work of scholarship - 'Begum Samru'. This blog is largely based on the events recorded in this book though some of the analysis is purely mine. I also have taken divergent views occasionally based on the important traveler accounts and have quoted wherever appropriate.

Sardhana photos in this album are from February 2012. Bhagirath palace photos were clicked on two occasions, November 2010 and April 2014. During the latter shoot I was equipped with a super wide angle lens, though I must confess, it didn't help much; such is the congestion in that area today.

Hope you enjoy this album. Do leave your feedback before you go. Many thanks, cheers!


Sardhana palace of Walter Reinhardt Sombre, Uttar Pradesh

Sardhana palace of Walter Reinhardt Sombre which now is a seminary of the Catholic diocese of Agra. Begum Samru spent most of her life in this palace. The palace has some exquisitely carved underground cool rooms; however, I was not able to access them due to it being closed on a Sunday. When Begum shifted to her new palace nearby, she gave this palace to Paolo Solaroli, an Italian officer in Begum's army who was also married to Begum's great granddaughter, Georgiana. The Catholic diocese of Agra took over the building when Solaroli left for Italy.

Veranda and Patio of Walter Reinhardt Sombre's palace, Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh

Veranda and Patio of Walter Reinhardt Sombre's palace.

Begum Samru's palace in which she stayed just for a year, Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh

Begum Samru's palace in which she stayed just for a year before her death in 1836. The building is now a college and its interiors are partially preserved, particularly the Begum's bathrooms, all in marble with inlaid pietra dura work. I was not allowed access to the palace by the commandant responsible for securing the premises for polling on the eve of assembly elections. However, after having a long chat with him on the historical importance of the building; he was kind enough to allow me to move around the periphery of the palace and also click some photographs.

The characteristic staircase modeled after a water stream is a common feature in the work of Anthony Reghelini, the architect, who was also an officer in Begum's army. Similar staircases are found at the Sardhana church and at one time adorned Begum's Delhi palace too.

The throne room of the palace had some 25 oil paintings of the Begum and her friends, relations and courtiers. Most of them were bought by the local Government in 1895 and were relocated to the Governor's house in Allahabad. Today only two of them survive.

Side view of Begum Samru's Palace, Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh

Side view of Begum Samru's Palace.

Rear view of Begum Samru's Palace, Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh

Rear view of Begum Samru's Palace.

Rear veranda of Begum Samru's Palace, Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh

Rear veranda of Begum Samru's palace.

Sardhana church built by Begum Samru and architected by Anthony Reghelini, Uttar Pradesh

Sardhana church built by Begum Samru and architected by Anthony Reghelini, Begum's Italian officer. It was completed in 1820 and opened to public in 1822 and was consecrated by the Prefect Apostolic of Agra, the Rev. Fr. Antoninus Pezzoni. During Begum Samru's time this was a Cathedral as Pope had appointed a Bishop for the church. There's an inscription in Latin at the front of the church that translates to -

"To God most good and great, the most illustrious Lady Joanna, ruler of Sardhana, raised (this church) from its foundations at her own expense, and dedicated it according to the Roman Catholic rite, under the title and patronage of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, in the year of the Lord 1822".

SardhanaChurch.org has an accurate and detailed description of the entire church.

The altar of the Sardhana church, Uttar Pradesh

The altar of the Sardhana church.

Begum Samru's monument in Sardhana church, Uttar Pradesh

The monument that David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre got built and imported from Italy. Begum Samru can be seen at the top with a scroll of the Mughal emperor in her hand. Remains of both David and Begum were shifted below this monument at separate times. An excellent description of the monument and the depicted personalities can be found at SardhanaChurch.org.

Reghelini's signature staircase modeled after a water stream, Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh

Reghelini's signature staircase modeled after a water stream at the side entrance of the Sardhana church.

Anthony Reghelini's residence, Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh

Called 'Anthon Kothi', this was the residence of the architect of Sardhana - Anthony Reghelini. A native of Italy, Anthony was an officer in Begum's army and doubled up as an architect. This building was not as big when Anthony resided here. It was expanded by the nuns of Jesus and Mary in 1922.

Lady Forester hospital and dispensary, Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh

Now defunct, Forester Hospital of Sardhana built by Lady Forester (The Hon. Mary Anne Jervis), widow of David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre. An inscription on the main building states -

"Her Highness the Begum Sombre, having left a certain sum of money for charitable purpose; the same was applied in the erection and the endowment of this hospital and dispensary by the Right Honorable Mary Anne, the baroness Forester, for the benefit of the poor of Sardhana, Anno Domini 1881."

Brajendranath Banerji in his book Begum Samru writes -

"The Begam in her will left Rs. 50,000 in trust in favor of Anne Mary, a sister of Dyce Sombre. It was stipulated that should Anne and her husband Col. Troup die without issue, the income of the trust would be appropriated for charitable purposes. It so happened that Col. Troup died on 5th July 1862 without leaving any issue, and his wife, after half a decade, followed suit (18 March 1867). Thereupon Lady Forester, with the principal of the trust, viz. Rs. 50,000 created a new trust on 25th April 1876 for the purpose of a hospital and dispensary, which was built at the end of the seventies or beginning of eighties. She herself gave a piece of freehold ground - in all 1,726 sq. yds.- situated at Sardhana, with a house already erected on part thereof, in order that it might be adopted for the purpose."

A ruined European house in Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh

A ruined European house in Sardhana. The warning painted on the building states that it is dangerous to approach the building as it may cave in anytime.

There were many such fine houses in Sardhana at one point of time but most of them were located in and around the Sardhana fort. Today there are only some mud walls and mounds where the fort once stood. When the British annexed Sardhana after the death of Begum Samru in 1836, it appears they dismantled the fort because apart from other things it had all the military infrastructure of Sardhana including the canon foundries. The famed mercenary army of Sardhana was disbanded and the arms and ammunitions were confiscated. It is my assumption that the British obliterated any possibility of the mercenary army's rejuvenation, which everybody including the British took seriously.

Grave of Le Vaisseau, Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh

Grave of Le Vaisseau, the French husband of the Begum. The inscription on the red sandstone has diminished with time. H.G. Keene, who visited the Catholic cemetery at Sardhana in 1880, writes -

"In the very centre of the enclosure a platform with a screen marks the resting place of poor Levassoult, with an inscription in French, recording that he died 18 October 1795, age de 47 ans, and begging the passenger to prier pour son ame (Calcutta Review, 1880)."

Historians however say that Le Vaisseau probably died in late May or early June 1795. October is perhaps the date when the stone was placed on his grave.

Tomb of Franz Gottlieb Cohen 'Farasu', the poet, Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh

Tomb of Franz Gottlieb Cohen. Son of a German-Jewish mercenary, he was a prolific and great Urdu poet of his time having the pen name 'Farasu'. William Dalrymple in his book 'The Last Mughal' has given a detailed description of his tomb, although I think he misidentified Farasu's tomb with that of the Dyce family's. Dalrymple notes about the likeness of the dome of the tomb with Taj Mahal's and mentions that instead of four minarets around the dome there are baroque amphorae. Unless what we see in the picture above can be termed as baroque amphorae, the only other tomb which does have baroque amphorae is certainly that of Dyce family's. Adding to the confusion was absence of any inscription inside or outside the tomb. Hence, based on Dalrymple's narrative, I concluded this to be Farasu's tomb.

Dyce family tomb, Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh

Dyce family tomb. This tomb has the grave of Begum Samru's granddaughter Julia Anne along with her children who died young. Julia Anne was the mother of David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre.

Insides of the Dyce family tomb, Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh

Insides of the Dyce family tomb.

Julia Anne's grave, Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh

Inscription on Julia Anne's grave. She was the mother of David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre. The inscription states -

"Sacred to the memory of Julia Anne, wife of Col. G. A. D. Dyce & daughter of the late Nawab Mozuffur-ud-Dowleh and Julia Anne, who departed this life on Tuesday a.m., June-XIII, A.D. MDCCCXX. Aged XXXI years & V months. Loved & respected by all who knew her & in death deeply regretted. But now she is dead, can i bring her back again? I shall go to her, but she will not return to me. 2nd Sam!XII Chap. 234V. This tomb is inscribed by her disconsolate husband."

Grave of Felix Mitchell, poet of Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh

Grave of Felix Mitchell. He was an Anglo-Indian Urdu poet but not in the league of poets like Farasu. Not much is known about Mitchell except that he was a resident of Sardhana and a pupil of Shore Sahab. There is a small description of his poetry and gazals in the book 'European & Indo-European poets of Urdu & Persian (1941)' authored by Ram Babu Saksena. The inscription on the grave reads -

"Sacred to the memory of our beloved late father Felix Mitchell, who fell asleep in Jesus on 28th September 1935. Gone from us but not forgotten, poet of Sardhana will not come again. Stone laid by J. Mitchell, Lahore."

Grave of Col. Jean Remy Saleur, Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh

Grave of Col. Jean Remy Saleur, the Frenchman who was the witness to Begum Samru's marriage with Le Vaisseau and who was an important player in quashing the rebellion that ensued after Begum's marriage to Le Vaisseau. A gallant officer who had commanded Begum's army on many a battles. The inscription reads -

"Sacred to the memory of Jean Remy Saleur, Colonel Commandant of Her Highness, the Begum Sombre's troops. Born at Nanci of Lorrain in France, who departed this life Sunday, 12 July, A.D. 1812, aged 87 years. He was beloved and respected in life and he died as he had lived, a soldier without fear or reproach."

A long shot of the cemetery with Reghelini tombs, Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh

A long shot of the cemetery. The pyramid-like tombs are of the Reghelini family including of Anthony Reghelini, the architect and soldier of Sardhana.

Watercolor of Begum Samru's Delhi palace (Bhagirath Palace)

Sir Thomas Theophilus Metcalfe, 4th Baronet, KCB was the Governor-General's Agent at the Imperial court of the Mughal Emperor. Between 1842 and 1844, Metcalfe commissioned an artist Mazhar Ali Khan to paint series of watercolors of Delhi's monuments, ruins, palaces and shrines. He compiled an album called 'Reminiscences of Imperial Delhi' for his daughter Emily who was to join him soon. The album has been acquired by the British Library. This image of Begum Samru's Delhi palace (Bhagirath Palace) is from the same album and it shows the artist's rendition of the south and north of the palace as it was in 1843.

Image reproduced on BaadalMusings.com with permission from The British Library. Image Copyright © The British Library Board.

Destroyed Bhagirath palace during the mutiny of 1857, Delhi

Destroyed Bhagirath palace during the mutiny of 1857. Not directly connected with Begum Samru; this palace has an important event in history attached to it. Earlier, in 1847, David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre sold this Delhi palace to an eminent moneylender of Delhi, Lala Chunnamal. George Beresford, a British banker then started a bank in the premises with Lala Chunnamal as his biggest investor. On May 11, 1857, when the mutiny broke out in Delhi, Mr. Beresford and his family along with few clerks were at the bank. A fierce gun and mortar attack began on the bank and Mr. Beresford with his wife and 5 daughters moved up to the terrace to put up a fight. They fought bravely indeed but were overpowered and all of them were slain on the terrace of this building. George Beresford and his family's graves can be found at the St. James' churchyard. Later when the British regained Delhi, they exacted a disproportionate revenge for these killings. The bank later changed hands and Lloyd's bank was an important owner of the building. Today, the building is in immense state of disrepair but the concrete signage added by the Lloyd's bank is still present and prominently visible at the top.

Image Credit - Wikipedia

Veranda at the south end of the Bhagirath palace, Delhi

Veranda at the south end of the Bhagirath palace, 2010.

Ceiling and ancient screens at the south end of the Bhagirath palace, Delhi

Ceiling and ancient screens at the south end of the Bhagirath palace, 2010.

Right side of the staircase of Bhagirath palace, Delhi

Shot in April 2014, I tried capturing the staircase at the south end of the palace as it is today, to make a comparison with Metcalf's watercolor. However, the area is so narrow and congested that even with a super wide angle lens; I could only partially capture the staircase. In any case, the 'flowing water' staircase of Begum Samru's palace is long gone, as have the gardens around the palace. Everything around is a medical goods' market.

Left side of the staircase of Bhagirath palace, Delhi

Other portion of the staircase in continuation of the previous image.

Facade of Bhagirath palace, Delhi

A desperate attempt to capture the facade of the palace, 2010.


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