Harking back: Colourful past that lives in the names of our roads

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Aug 30, 2015

As we live in and walk the streets of Lahore, most of us never know who our roads are named after. It seems we have no interest in our past. It is the moment-to-moment survival that preoccupies our thoughts, which has probably been the case for almost a thousand years.

Now that we are ‘free’, it seems we have fallen into a state of limbo in which we hate our past. Our behaviour patterns depict this. Are we really ashamed of our past? Are we ashamed that for 1,000 years foreigners have invaded our land and ruled us, exploited us, virtually starved us? Even if that was the case, we cannot ignore the fact that we have to live with it. It is a sign of maturity when people are comfortable with their past, which rest assured is a most colourful one.

Let me walk you through Beadon Road, on to Egerton Road and then to Mayo Road, now renamed Allama Iqbal Road.

Mind you every British-era road has been renamed. Thankfully the people of Lahore just laugh off the changes. So we have Beadon, Egerton and Mayo. For starters who was Mr. Beadon? This gent’s full name was Sir Cecil Beadon and he belonged to British aristocracy, the son of Richard Beadon and grandson of Bishop Beadon of Bath and Wells. His mother was the daughter of the Baron of Heytesbury, the chairman of the East India Company, and Cecil was educated at Eton and Shrewsbury School.

At the age of 18 when his uncle, Lord Heytesbury, was nominated by the EIC as Governor-General of India in 1835, he managed an appointment in the Bengal Civil Service. But before he could leave his uncle’s nomination was cancelled. But then this did not affect his appointment. He reached India the next year. After serving various administrative posts, he became the magistrate of Murshidabad. Once this was secure it seems his aristocratic connections in London’s worked wonders and soon he ended up as Under-Secretary to the Bengal government. His promotions were rapid, and by the time the events of 1857 came around he was the Home Secretary of British India. It was Cecil Beadon who ran the affairs of British India, in office matters only, during the 1857 War of Independence.

After the strife of 1857, he rose to become the Lt. Governor of Bengal from 1862 to 1866. It was in this period that the Great Bengal Famine came about, and he was blamed for not handling food distribution that led to the famine. For this he was removed from his post and returned to England. He died aged 65 in July 1880.

After the events of 1857 a lot of construction started in the new colonial Lahore that was being created, and as he had played a major role in events, Beadon Road was named after him. As a schoolboy once when my father was asked who Beadon was by the owner of Amritsari Sweets, my father laughingly remarked that he was ‘Cecil Sefarshi’. So till recent the educated people of Lahore did know who the persons behind these road names were.

Another major player in Lahore during the events of 1857 was Sir Robert Eyles Egerton, the Deputy Commissioner of Lahore. Born in 1827 he was educated at Exeter College, Oxford, and at the East India Company’s Haileybury College. He served in India from 1849 to 1882, and was very well-versed in Punjab affairs. He spoke Punjabi like a ‘local’. He went on to become the Lt. Governor of Punjab (1878 to 1882). His was a major role in the construction of colonial Lahore, and he encouraged the Italian hotelier Faletti to build a beautiful hotel in Lahore. The road in front was named after him.

The last road name we will mention in this piece is that of Mayo Road, now renamed after Allama Iqbal. Happily, the hospital named after him retains his name. Lord Mayo was the Viceroy of India from 1869 to 1872, and his tenure ended because he was stabbed to death by a Pathan from Tirah Valley in the Khyber Agency at Port Blair in the Andaman Islands where he was serving a life sentence for murder. The name of this convict was Sher Ali Afridi. But more on Sher Ali later.

Lord Mayo’s real name was Richard Southwell Bourke, the 6th Earl of Mayo in Ireland. He was a politician and member of the Conservative Party from Dublin, Ireland, where he was born. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and is said to be an outstanding academic. He rose to be Chief Secretary of Ireland in 1852, a post he held three times. In 1869 he was appointed the 4th Viceroy of India with the title of Lord Mayo.

Once in office he worked on consolidating the frontiers of British India, reorganised the finances of the Empire and set about promoting irrigation and railway works, aggressively pursued the planting of forests, and set into place local governance. He ordered the first census of India in 1872. One report blamed him for “always siding with the natives of India”. His achievements in education and health can still be seen in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In Lahore he started the Mayo Hospital, promoted the setting up of Aitchison College, and set in motion the building of the railways, and Lahore’s grand railway station. For all these, and much more, the road from the railway station towards the Lahore Canal was named Mayo Road.

But the end of this amazing Irishman came at the hands of an Afridi tribesman serving a life term at Port Blair in the Andaman Islands prison. While Mayo was on an inspection tour Sher Ali leapt from behind a bush, dagger in hand, and fatally stabbed him a number of times. On Lord Mayo’s request his body was taken back to his home and buried in the medieval church in Johnstown in Country Kildare. Afridi was hanged and buried in the Andaman Islands in April 1873.

Who was Sher Ali Afridi? He was a sepoy from Tirah Valley working in the Punjab Mounted Police and worked with the Commissioner, Peshawar. In 1857 he joined a cavalry regiment and served in Ambala, Rohilkhand and Oudh. The British trusted him and classified him a ‘loyal subject’. He became a mounted orderly of General Reynell Taylor, the commandant of the Corps of Guides. For his efficiency and good manners the general presented him with a horse, a pistol and a certificate of excellence. Sher Ali also took care of the general’s children.

The murder for which he was sentenced was a family feud in Peshawar in broad daylight. He was sentenced to death in April 1867, but on appeal a British judge reduced it to life imprisonment. Sher Ali maintained that the killing was “merely a blood feud”, and vowed to kill any colonial officer he could lay his hands on. The concept of ‘blood money’ the British did not believe in.

It is clear that the names of the three roads described above all have colourful and important roles in our colonial history. There is no need for us to run away from it. If anything there are a lot of lessons in it so that our future is better than the present.


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