There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Lucknow (2), La Martinière College, the British Residency and the Indian 'Mutiny' 1857: Part 8 of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh

I heard the unmistakable sound of a mosquito during the night. It was zizzing right beside my ear, as they always do, and I made a grab for it, as I always do. I have yet to catch one.

In the morning I was smearing anti-histamine cream on a couple of bites when Lynne drew the curtains. Monkeys were swinging in the tree outside and chasing each other over the building opposite; it is worth the odd itch to start a morning like that.

When Sanjay arrived we headed south to Constantia, once the country pile of Claude Martin and now the home of La Martinière College.
La Martinière College crest
The motto ‘Labore et Constantia’ (by Labour and constancy) incorporates the name of the building

Born in Lyons in 1725, Martin first joined the army of the Compagnie des Indes as a common soldier but later accepted service in the army of the British East India Company, rising to the rank of Major-General. His organisational abilities led him to be recruited by the Nawab of Awadh and he arrived at the time Asaf-ud-Daula was moving the capital to Lucknow. He became a confidant of Asaf-ud-Daula, using his architectural skills to build much of the new capital and his business skills to amass a huge fortune.

Martin was a complex man. He never returned to France, though he kept his French citizenship all his life, and he never married though he had long term relationships with several mistresses. His only child, a daughter, died in infancy and is buried in an ornate tomb inside the entrance to La Martinière College. Wikipedia claims the tomb is of his favourite mistress, Boulone, a woman thirty years his junior whom he allegedly bought when she was nine years old. Boulone died forty years after Martin, so it is unlikely the tomb was built for her, but maybe she lies there with her daughter.

The tomb of Claude Martin's daughter, La Martinière College, Lucknow

Martin was a soldier, administrator, art collector and philanthropist. In his will, he divided his fortune between the poor and the foundation of schools in Lucknow, Calcutta and his home town of Lyons. Legal wrangling meant La Martinière Boys’ School in Lucknow did not open until 1845, 45 years after Martin’s death, and the girls’ school 24 years later. He made no stipulation concerning the race of the students, but in the 1850s the 150 boys were all European or Eurasian. Today there are over 4000 students, including some boarders, overwhelmingly the sons of the wealthier citizens of the Lucknow area.  The school has carefully maintained the ethos of an English public school and boasts many illustrious old boys including politicians, Bollywood stars and industrialists.

Constantia, La Martinière College, Lucknow

We arrived just before break and from the reaction of the pupils – or lack of it - they are used to strange foreigners wandering round their school. All smartly dressed in blazers, white shirts and ties they largely ignored us, though one boy approached carrying a large bag of sweets, said it was his birthday and offered us a chocolate éclair – the school is obviously doing something right.

La Martinière College is expensive by Indian standards but the single classroom we looked  into - which may not be typical - was basic; bench seats, old wooden desks, no air-conditioning and chalk and blackboard the only equipment on view.

The library, too looked small for a school of its size and standing. We met the librarian who was keen to raise money for improvements and we bought two coffee mugs bearing the school crest.

The Chapel, La Martinière College, Lucknow
Many schools, including the one I attended, have memorials to old boys who died in two world wars, but La Martinière may be unique in having a memorial to students who participated in a military engagement while still being at school. I will come to the events of 1857 shortly, but the boys (and staff) of the college played their part in the defence of the British Residency.

Roll of Honour of the staff and students at La Martinière College
who defended the British Residency, Lucknow 1857

And if that does not make the school unique, having their founder's grave in the crypt below the chapel, surely does. Claude Martin shares this quiet spot with a small flock of bats.

The tomb of Claude Martin
La Martinière College, Lucknow
Constantia is now within the city boundary but was built as a country house and a landmark was constructed to help visitors find it. We have become so used to the metaphorical use of ‘landmark’ that we (by which I mean I) have almost forgotten that it has a literal meaning.

Landmark, La Martinière College, Lucknow

Dilkusha Gardens are two hundred metres from the school and it was here that the Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Awadh wound up the British by exercising his troops. In 1847 he had ascended the throne of a very different Awadh from the one Claude Martin had known. A treaty of 1801 had given the British East India Company half the kingdom in return for military assistance. As part of the treaty the Nawab had accepted that his government must be reformed for the benefit of the people. Wajid Ali Shah assumed power with an ultimatum on this issue already hanging over his head.

The remains of Wajid Ali Shah's military buildings, Dilkusha, Lucknow

The new Nawab liked to rattle his sabre but was more interested in dance, music and courtesans than in politics. The British lost patience with Wajid Ali Khan in 1856 and assumed direct rule of Awadh. The ex-Nawab spent the rest of his life in exile devoting himself to the arts.

His parade ground is now a garden dotted with the remains of his military buildings. The largest ruin, though, is of the Dilkusha Kothi. Built in 1800, it is a country house designed by the British Resident, Major Gore Ouseley, in the English baroque style and intended as a hunting lodge and summer residence for the Nawabs. Like nearby Constantia, it was shelled in the rebellion of 1857, but unlike Constantia, it was never restored and for many years was left to rot.

Dilkisha Kothi, Lucknow
The design is reputedly based on Seaton Delavel Hall, Northumberland
Back in town we visited the British Residency, the focal point of the events of 1857 – known, in my schooldays, as the 'Indian Mutiny'. This term is rarely used today, partly because of its colonialist overtones and partly because it was much more than a mutiny. The Indian government prefers 'First Indian War of Independence' but the ‘first’ upsets many in Kerala and Punjab who would make that claim for earlier risings in their states. Sanjay further pointed out that the events were confined to the Gangetic plain of northern India, that there was as yet no all-India consciousness and the word 'independence' had little meaning to the common people. I will use 'Indian Rebellion' which is, I hope, politically neutral.

The Gates to the former British Residency, Lucknow

The rebellion did, however, start with a mutiny among Indian soldiers in the army of the East India Company. When I was twelve we were told the cause was the introduction of new greased cartridges that needed to have the top bitten off before insertion into a musket. The truth is, as always, more complex; the rebellion resulted from a build-up of resentment over time not a single issue. The cartridges, though, provided the spark, and it is a measure of how bad things were that Hindu soldiers believed the cartridges were greased with beef fat, and Muslim soldiers believed it was pork fat.

After the initial mutiny, there were risings all along the Ganges from Calcutta to Delhi, including in Awadh, which was fertile ground after the recent removal of the Nawab.

The first British Commissioner in Awadh – as opposed to ‘Resident’ – was the tactless and inept Coverley Jackson. Six weeks before the rebellion broke out he was replaced by Sir Henry Lawrence who attempted to calm the situation while preparing the British Residency for the possibility of a siege.

That possibility became reality on the 30th of June 1857. The Residency building was the centre of a complex covering some 13ha, but at the start they also tried to defend some detached outbuildings amounting in total to some 24ha. Inside were 855 British officers and men, 712 Indian soldiers who had remained loyal to the company, 153 civilian volunteers and 1280 non-combatants, mainly women and children. Outside were 8000 Indian soldiers and the retainers of several local landowners.

The Residency Annex looks relatively unscathed and now houses the 1857 Memorial Museum which among other exhibits has a model of the complex as it was at the time and a diorama of the siege.

The Residency Annex, Lucknow
The Residency itself, once three storeys high and with two turrets, is a ruin after being heavily shelled. Women and children were sheltered in the relative safety of the basement but Sir Henry Lawrence was fatally injured while sitting in the library on the 2nd of July, the third day of the siege.

The former British Residency, Lucknow

He was taken to the house of Dr Fayrer, the residency surgeon and died two days later. He appointed Major Banks as the Civil Commissioner but he was killed within a week by a sniper and Colonel John Inglis, the military commander, took overall control.

The remains of Dr Fayrer's house, Lucknow

The attackers attempted to storm the residency and to gain entry by mining but the defenders held out. Surrender was unthinkable; a similar but much briefer siege in Cawnpore in June ended in surrender and a promise of safe passage. The promise was not kept and women and children were massacred along with the defenders.

By late September only 300 British soldiers, 300 Indian soldiers and 550 non-combatants remained. The 25th of September saw the arrival of a relieving force led by Sir Henry Havelock. Unfortunately he lost a significant number of men fighting his way in and they were not strong enough to get everybody out. The siege continued.

The treasury building, which had only been completed in 1851 became an ordnance factory; predictably, little remains.

The Treasury, former British Residency, Lucknow
The loyal Indian soldiers held the Baillie Guard Post where there is now a memorial to them.
Memorial to the Indian soldiers who remained loyal to the British
former British Residency, Lucknow

St Mary’s church was razed,.....
The remains of St Mary's Church
former British Residency, Lucknow
....but many of the defenders were buried in the churchyard,.....
St Mary's churchyard and memorial
former British Residency, Lucknow
 ...including Sir Henry Lawrence with his rather double edged epitaph.

The grave of Sir Henry Lawrence who 'tried to do his duty',
former British Residency, Lucknow
With the rebellion beginning to falter, the siege was eventually lifted on the 18th of November and the Residency was abandoned.

The aftermath of the rebellion was brutal. The British ‘army of retribution’ stamped out the insurrection, but it did nothing to address the original causes. The Rebellion brought about the end of the Mughal Empire, but it also finished off the East India Company, which was dissolved in 1858 transferring its ruling powers to the crown. Queen Victoria became Empress of India and so began the British Raj.

These events are important to Indians because although they started the Raj, they also contained the seeds of its destruction. My précis of the events has been entirely from the British point of view because, ironically, that is the only information that is available – even in Lucknow today.

We returned to our hotel via a long detour to see the 43ha Ambedkar Memorial Park. Largely constructed of red Rajasthan sandstone, the park is dedicated to the memory of Dr B R Ambedkar, the father of the Indian constitution, though it is actually a vanity project of Mayawati Kumari, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, on and off, between 1995 and 2012. She spent 7 billion rupees on a project that has been described as ‘world class’ by some and ‘politicised stone work’ by others. Sanjay was ambivalent and we could not judge if it works as a park as it was not open at the time – but it certainly looked odd.

Dr B R Ambedkar Memorial Park, Lucknow

After showing us the dubious wonders of the park Sanjay had finished for the day.

We lunched, again at Coffee Day, and spent the afternoon shopping; the RE department at our former place of employment had requested a Hindu god or two - there are several thousand to choose from - and we are always on the lookout for spices which are a touch fresher than at home, and a touch cheaper, too.

Much of the next morning passed in similar style though many shops were closed - everybody we spoke to denied it was a holiday. We found a Sikh-run bakery that was open and bought supplies for our train trip and then tried to photograph a cow walking the wrong way up the outside lane of a city centre street, but with limited success. The picture below, in which the cow is (just) visible among the traffic, is a reminder that nine of the world’s ten most polluted cities* are not in China as I would have expected but on the Indian subcontinent. Delhi has the world’s worst air quality, while Lucknow ranks tenth. It was time to cough and move on.

Cow and traffic, Lucknow

We reached the station in plenty of time for our train and found our way to the appropriate coach which was classified as 'second class air conditioned' though it only had ceiling fans. It looked tatty but the seats were comfortable enough and we left on time for our scheduled seven hour journey to Agra.

Lucknow North East Railway Station

We pottered along pleasantly and after four hours we were only twenty minutes behind schedule. Then we had a long stop at a red signal.

We fell into conversation with Sashi, the guide of a small Turkish group in the same carriage. 'Maybe we have spoken before,’ he said, telling us that he used to work for Barclays call centre. He had given it up to be a tour guide which was, he said, better paid though the hours were irregular. It was his wedding anniversary and he would rather have been at home than accompanying tourists to Agra. When he eventually arrived back in Delhi, he was going straight out again with a party of 32 British tourists.

As the sun set, our progress involved stopping, re-starting, crawling through the gloom and stopping again in an irregular cycle. IST officially stands for Indian Standard Time, Sashi informed us, but on the railways it is Indian Stretchable Time, and our only option was to be patient.

We sat for an hour at a dark and deserted station. On the side of the embankment someone had painted in English in large red letters the word 'ABANDONED'.  I understood how the station felt.

Eventually we moved on, finishing the journey with an hour at barely more than walking pace. Sashi offered his assistance if there was no one at the station to meet us, but we had every faith in whoever had been deputed to be there.

We arrived not at 8.30 as scheduled but at 11.30, but Solanky was there with a driver waiting to transfer us to our hotel. Well done them.

* Pollution measured in terms of particulates in the atmosphere

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