Amazing speed of the British after taking Lahore

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, May 24, 2015

How did the British, after capturing Punjab in 1849, consolidate themselves rapidly in the very 100 days of their rule in the capital Lahore? Their well-planned strategy of predetermined objectives makes fascinating reading for students of policy and planning.

As the British formally took over Lahore on the 30th of March, 1849, after the last Sikh maharajah Dilip Singh signed away his kingdom, British forces were already in control of the Lahore Fort. As more armed forces and managers and clerks of the East India Company joined them in the capital, a lot of space was needed to house the numerous regiments and officials of the company. Four major tent villages, call them encampments, immediately came up. These were to the west at Shahdara at and around the tomb of Jahangir and Noor Jahan, and to the north outside the Lahore Fort at what was called ‘Parade Ground’ and much later Minto Park.

To the east a third huge encampment came up inside and outside Shalimar Gardens and nearby along the G.T. Road at different empty buildings. The fourth set of encampments, or a triple arc of encampments as documents call them, were at Ichhara to secure the road to Ferozepur, at Mozang near where we have Mozang Chungi today, and opposite the tomb of Qasim Khan, a cousin of Mughal emperor Akbar. At this place now we have the Governor House and where the encampment existed is what people were to call Company Bagh, later Lawrence Gardens and now Jinnah Gardens.

This set of moves managed to isolate Lahore in case trouble began within the capital of Punjab. Just near the walled city a major settlement of the company troops settled just outside the Old Anarkali in the regimental buildings of the Sikh Army, in and around the house of Gen. Allard, now known as the Punjab Civil Secretariat, and in the various buildings vacated.

The top military and company officials settled down inside the Civil Secretariat building complex. The East India Company clerks and offices immediately set up offices in the nearby Old Anarkali area and immediately, actually on the second day, set up a small post office. Today at that place the huge GPO stands.

But the most interesting move was inside the walled city, from where the company feared trouble. The three major ‘havelis’ that lay in the middle of the old city, namely the massive ‘haveli’ of Dhayan Singh, the exquisite ‘haveli’ of Naunehal Singh and the nearby ‘haveli’ of Kharak Singh were immediately taken over and troops posted there. This plan to consolidate within the walled city, amazingly, had been made three years earlier by the brothers John and Henry Lawrence.

To the north-east of the city three major ‘havelis’ were earmarked. One was that of Nihal Singh Ahluwalia, of Raja Tej Singh and Mian Singh. This was though enough to secure the eastern flank of the walled city. A few words about the owners of these ‘havelis’ is called for.

Raja Nihal Singh Ahluwalia (1837-1852) belonged to the village Ahlwal near Lahore and was the raja of Kapurthala. He fought against the British at Badoval and Alival, and was the first person whose properties were confiscated in Lahore. The area around his ‘haveli’ inside Sheeranwala Gate was then known as Nihal Singh de Chaoni. Later on this family reconciled with the British.

Raja Tej Singh (1799-1862) was a nephew of Jamadar Khushal Singh. Born a Brahman in Meerut and named Tej Ram, he became a Sikh in 1816 after joining the court of Maharajah Ranjit Singh in 1812. After serving in the Sikh Army he was made Raja of Sialkot in 1847. We now know from British records that he was in reality an important British agent and had a big hand in the defeats of the Sikh Army in several crucial battles. When Lahore was officially taken over in 1849, he presented his huge ‘haveli’ in Yakki Gate to accommodate British officers. His role in the defeat of the Sikhs led to the infamous saying about Sialkotis.

Mian Singh de Haveli inside Yakki Gate was taken over by the British in 1849. This modest ‘haveli’ belonged to the Sikh chieftain of the Sukherchakria Misl of Gujranwala, and Mian Singh had a stronghold there which is still named Qila Mian Singh, just near Qila Didar Singh.

All these three havelis were known as military centres of the Sikhs, and the British wanted to secure them to end any chance of local trouble. With the centre and the east secured, to the west there was need to secure two major ‘havelis’ inside the city and two points outside to the north-west were earmarked. All these were known as ‘military interest’ points. So was taken the ‘haveli’ known even today as Manawalla de Haveli inside Taxali Gate and another nearby huge ‘haveli’ of Suchet Singh, the main Dogra influence in the triad Dogra brothers.

Suchet Singh was killed by Hera Singh in a struggle for power outside the Lahore Fort. Outside the walls was the encampment of Mewa Singh to the west of the Badshahi Mosque, as was also a nearby encampment at the ‘mazaar’ of Sultan Mahmood. It is very clear that British intelligence was spot on in their assessment of how to secure Lahore. They did not leave anything to chance, moved rapidly leaving, as one report says, even the residents of old Lahore shocked.

Having secured Lahore, the very first thing the company did was to set up courts. If you read the company record of the period 1845-49 it is clear that the people of Lahore craved for justice, and that is what the British tackled immediately within a week of taking over. Their locations are most interesting. The first court for major offences was located at a ‘haveli’ just off Tehsil Bazaar, the place where in the days of Maharajah Ranjit Singh most foreigners stayed and a small court was already working there. This was originally a French idea.

The second court was set up, of all places, inside the Shahi Hammam inside Delhi Gate. Most probably the shape of the central empty water pool and the seats around it was the perfect design for a Roman-era arena. The British managed to convert this into a small-causes court. This showed them in a positive light to the population, an image that was to help them consolidate.

Once everything was in place, within the first year of consolidation, came the first move to separate the military from civil affairs. In 1851 came a new cantonment at Mian Mir. The now demolished 1951 Barrack, from where the events of 1857 were planned, opposite the Fortress Stadium, came up. Within three years all troops had left the old walled city and its environs. Civil rule, in name, for the first time came to Lahore.



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