AVITABILE, PAOLO CRESCENZO MARTINO (1791-1850), a Neapolitan soldier of fortune who, starting life as a private gunner, succeeded in obtaining high ranks in two widely separated Asiatic armies of Persia and Punjab, was born at Agerola, Naples, Italy, on 25 October 1791. From 1807 onwards he successively served in the local militia and in Napoleon`s army. In 1817, he resigned from the army and, roaming about various countries, reached Persia in 1820 and joined the Shah`s army.

He attained the rank of colonel and received several decorations. He left the Shah`s service in 1824 and after a brief visit to Italy, he came back to join Claude Auguste Court, a French adventurer, to Lahore, reaching there in early 1827. He took up service under Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Being a gunner and an expert in gun-making, he was employed in the artillery and was also given charge of the Maharaja`s arsenal and foundries. He was one of the few Europeans at the Sikh court given civilian appointments as well. Avitabile was made administrator of Wazirabad in 1829.

He improved the town, kept it very clean and himself lived in dignified style in a palace. In 1834, he was sent to Peshawar of which province he was made governor after Hari Singh Nalva`s death in 1837. He remained at this post till mid1843 when he returned to Lahore and resigned on 17 July 1843. He had proved a stern administrator an4 his rule of Peshawar is often described as one of “gallows and gibbets.” To curb the turbulent and lawless Afghan tribes, he resorted to summary punishments, collective fines and reprisals. Avitabile was an accomplished linguist and could speak Italian, French. Persian and Hindustani with equal facility.He had served in the armies of France, Persia, Afghanistan and Lahore and won laurels everywhere.

He was a muchdecorated soldier. He was awarded Chevalier of the Legion of Honour; the Order of Merit of San Ferdinand of Naples; the Durrani Order of Afghanistan; Grand Cordon of the Lion and the Sun; and the two Lions and Crown of Persia. He received the Auspicious Star of the Punjab medal from Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The Maharaja also awarded him titles of Dilawar Jang Bahadur, Amanat Panah and Amin udDaula. Avitabile left the Sikh service after Maharaja Sher Singh`s assassination. He sailed from Calcutta on 15 December 1843 landing at Naples on 18 February 1844. At home, he was confirmed a general and made a knight. He got married to his own niece in order to keep his vast riches within the family. The marriage being against the wishes of the girl, she is said to have poisoned the general, who died on 28 March 1850.

References :

1. Grey, C. European Adventurers of Northern India, 1785-1849. Patiala, 1970
2. Harbans Singh, Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Delhi, 1980