HARKING BACK: McLeod the ‘cuncator’ who served Lahore well

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Nov 15, 2015

Lahore owes a lot to two Scots, a Maclagan and a McLeod, both former governors of Punjab. Both were involved in setting up the finest educational institutions of Lahore.

My interest in these names is twofold. My grandfather’s two engineer brothers, Sheikh Abdul Rahman and Abdul Majid, both taught in the Maclagan School of Engineering, today’s Engineering University. The engineering school’s original name was Mughalpura Engineering School, which was renamed after Maclagan in 1923. Maclagan was the Chancellor of the Punjab University from 1919 to 1924 when he was the Governor of Punjab. Earlier, he was the Secretary of Education, and went on to be the Chief Secretary. He had a major role in the expansion of the Punjab University.

The wife of Sir Edward Douglas Maclagan was very much the driving force behind the setting up of a girls’ school on Maclagan Road, Lahore. In this school my interest is because my wife was a student of the Maclagan Girls High School, and, happily, 50 years before her, my grandmother, Syeda Begum, also taught there. The school was once Lahore’s finest, but then as times changed it fell out of public discourse. Today the name Maclagan Engineering School does not ring a bell.

But then we surely all know of McLeod Road which runs from The Mall ending at the railway station. All attempts to change its name have, thankfully, failed. Lahore without McLeod Road would just not make sense to a Lahori. Just who were these two Scotsmen? Let me dwell on their lives for we must surely know something of our colonial past, which is an important phase of our history.

First let me take up Sir E.D. Maclagan (1854-1952). It might come as a surprise that this British era administrator of Punjab was an outstanding scholar who could speak chaste Punjabi, Pushto, Urdu, Persian, English and French. His official record in the British Library in London claims he spoke 12 languages. He rose through the ranks of the Punjab administration to end up in 1921 as Governor of Punjab.

But alongside his official work he researched the people, tribes, chiefs and landscape of Punjab like no person had before, or since. His contribution, working alongside H.A. Rose, the Superintendent of Ethnography of Punjab’s Education Department and Denzil Ibbetson, another Punjab Governor before him, is even today considered an outstanding reference book on Punjab, a work which no serious researcher can ignore even today. That book is titled: ‘A Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier’and is available in any decent library on the subject all over the world, especially in good university libraries.

Besides this masterpiece he produced another classic titled: ‘Monograph on the Gold and Silver of the Punjab – 1890’. This brought forth the artistic calibre of Punjab as represented by its treasures. In this book a remark I found most telling. “The etching quality of even ancient pieces, a lot with images of Alexander, depict an ancient people. Surely one day the world will discover this sophisticated civilization far superior to anything we know in Europe”. His foresight was amazing if we consider what followed in terms of archaeological findings.

His other contributions are ‘The Punjab and its Feudatories: A Report on the 1891 Census’, and ‘The Jesuits and the Great Mogul’ (1932). He was also the Editor of the 1902 ‘Gazetteer of the Multan District’. It was in the field of education that the contribution of Maclagan remains outstanding. He was responsible for the expansion of the Punjab University, in the expansion of the Oriental College, and in ensuring the educational upgradation of Aitchison College.

But to my mind his finest contribution was the setting up of central model schools all over Punjab. With his wife he assisted in the setting up of the Maclagan Girls High School, and made sure the quality of women education was second to none. This is a lasting contribution that surely set Punjab, and more so Lahore, on the road of modern education.

Now let me turn to a fierce Scot, if ever there was one. That is the man after whom is named our famed McLeod Road. His full name was Sir Donald Friell McLeod (1810–1872), the son of Lt. Gen. Duncan McLeod of the fierce McLeod clan of the Isle of Syke. The very word McLeod consists of two words, they being ‘mac’ or ‘mc’ meaning ‘son of’ and the word ‘Leod’ is derived from an Old Norse word ‘ljotr’ meaning ‘ugly’. That Sir Donald was a tall, strong and fierce-looking man, therefore, comes as no surprise. But then he was a man with a vision and like Maclagan, who came much after him, with the belief the future of Punjab lay in educating its people.

He joined the East India Company in 1828 at the age of 18, and started his career as an officer in Sagar, moving to Nerbudda and then Benaras. After working his way up at the age of 36 he was appointed Commissioner of Jalandhar, and after Punjab fell to the company he was made Judicial Commissioner of Punjab in 1854. According to Sikh accounts many Sikhs feared this tall, strong ugly-looking Scot with a heavy Scottish accent. One account by Sir John Lawrence calls the Scot a ‘cuncator’, which was a term coined in Lahore when he was in a judicial decision, for he would order the chopping of ears of those opposing British rule. In Lahore he was a much feared man.

When the Uprising of 1857 took place he was in Lahore as the Judicial Commissioner, and was responsible for organising the ‘Punjab Train’ of soldiers to be sent to retake Delhi. The Punjabis trusted him, probably, as a joke went then, out of ‘fear of their ears’. In return he repaid Lahore and Punjab with forcing and providing the initial funds to set up the Punjab University. One account tells us of him standing up and saying with a threatening voice: “Now who is opposed to this Punjab University idea”. No one dared.

He also supported the great Hungarian linguist, Dr. Prof. Gottlieb W. Leitner, in the setting up the Punjab Oriental College as part of the Punjab University. When the debate over the medium of instruction took place, he backed Leitner in wanting Punjabi for Punjab, a policy the British rejected lest the Punjabis rose again against them. In the end Leitner relented and, as one document in the British Library, London, claims, “McLeod drank himself silly and cursed the Hindustani-speaking bureaucrats, and Leitner for being a ‘bawbag’”.(It is a Scottish swear word meaning scrotum). He always maintained this to be a big mistake.

He was Lieutenant Governor of Punjab between 1865 and 1870, when he retired. But a man not to lead a placid retirement he helped to set up the Sindh, Punjab and Delhi Railway and sitting in London was its Chairman. Even in retirement he was thinking of Lahore and while inspecting the new London Underground Rail in 1872 he slipped and was injured. Within a week he had died of his injuries.

It is amazing how these two Scots served Lahore and Punjab with the best weapon possible, by educating the people. That is why Lahore without its McLeod Road will be meaningless. The fascinating and fierce ‘cuncator’ who stood for Punjabi as the means of educating the people in their mother-tongue has a special place in the hearts of the people. One only wishes all governors of Punjab were as educated, fair, fearless and aware of the rights of the people as were these two Scots.


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