When in 1826, Amir Dost Muhammad became master of Kabul, Gardner fled and reached Peshawar in 1831 to be appointed commander of artillery by Sultan Muhammad Khan Barakzai, a tributary of the Sikh government. In 1832, he was summoned to Lahore where he became an artillery officer in Maharaja Ranjit Singh`s army with the rank of colonel. Gardona Sahib, as he was popularly known in the Sikh army, served in several military campaigns until 1836 when Raja Dhian Singh took him over from the Maharaja`s service and placed him in full command of his own artillery.
He successively served Hira Singh and Gulab Singh. Details of his experience as a traveller and soldier, as recorded in the Memoirs of Alexander Gardner (edited by Major Hugh Pearse, London, 1898), have been seriously challenged. C. Grey, author of European Adventurers of Northern India, 1785 to 1849, for instance, describes him as a fake, who never occupied any position of consequence in the Sikh army, and as one who took his incidents, adventures and travels from the books of the period, and drawing upon his imagination, wove a fictitious narrative.
Gardner, however, claims to have firsthand knowledge of many of the tumultuous events which overtook the Punjab after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Hugh Pearse records that he was an eyewitness to the series of assassinations planned and executed by the Dogra minister, Dhian Singh. He, for instance, witnessed the murder of Chet Singh in the royal palace on 9 October 1839. He, likewise, narrates in his book how Maharaja Kharak Singh was slowly poisoned to death; how Karivar Nau Nihal Singh was killed in November 1840; how Maharani Chand Kaur`s head was crushed with stones in June 1842; how the Lahore Fort was stormed by Karivar Sher Singh in January 1841 and how he, as Maharaja, and his young son, Partap Singh, were slain on the same day; how Dhian Singh met his death followed by the killing of the Sandhanvalia sardars; how Suchet Singh was finished off by his nephew; how Hira Singh and his adviser, Pandit Jalla, were punished by Sikh troops; and how Wazir Jawahar Singh was brought down from his elephant and done to death.
Gardner was dismissed from service along with other European officers during the time of Pandit Jalla`s ascendancy, but he somehow lingered on at Lahore serving Maharani Jind Kaur. He did not take part in the first Anglo Sikh war. On the formation of Council of Regency in December 1846, Raja Tej Singh had him expelled from the Punjab. Gardner thereupon entered the service of Gulab Singh who gave him command of Kashmir artillery and a battalion of infantry. Gardner died at Jammu on 22 January 1877 at the age of 92 and was buried at the military cemetery at Sialkot.
1. Pearse` Hugh, Soldier and Traveller: Memoirs of Alexander Gardner. Edinburgh, London, 1898
2. Grey, C., European Advent are is of Northern India. 1785-1849 [Reprint]. Patiala, 1970
3. Suri, Sohan Lal, `Umadat-ut-Twarikh-- Lahore, 1885.89