PUNJAB IN 1839-40
PUNJAB IN 1839-40, THE, edited by Ganda Singh and published by the Sikh History Society, Amritsar/Patiala, 1952, is a compilation of selections from the Punjab Akhbdrs, Punjab intelligence reports, etc., reproducing stray newsletters of interest from Lahore, Peshawar, Kabul, Kashmir, etc., and extracts from the Punjab intelligence reports pertaining to certain events in the Punjab. The Akhbdrs, originally written in Persian and translated into English for the benefit of British officers, contain vital information on events in the Punjab during the historic seventeen months they relate to.
Besides, they provide sidelights on the administrative system of the Sikhs, the social and economic conditions in the Punjab and on the lives and style of the Maharajas and their courtiers. References also exist to a number of European officers employed by the Lahore Darbar. The period covered includes the last three and a half months of the life of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who emerges from these papers as a ruler of liberal vision, firm in his religious faith but treating all his subjects Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs alike. His illness and death are reported and he is said to have distributed during his last days one crore of rupees in charities in cash and kind.
His successor, Kharak Singh, is depicted, contrary to the rumour spread by his enemies, as a humane and conscientious ruler, who discouraged excessive drinking by government officials and forbade any injury by the Khalsa troops to cultivation. The widening rift between him and his son Kanvar Nau Nihal Singh is attributed to the scheming of Raja Dhian Singh supported by Bhai Ram Singh and Bhai Gobind Ram “who recommended Koonwur Now Nihal Singh to possess himself of the administration.” The newsletters relate some minor incidents which reveal how relations between the Sikhs and the British had become strained during the first AngloAfghan war.
They give information about Col Wade`s march to Peshawar with Shahzada Taimur, Shah Shuja`s eldest son, at the head of an auxiliary force and the disturbed state of affairs in that region. There is also interesting information regarding the prevalent prices of food grains in Kashmir and Dera Isma`il Khan in 1839. In Kashmir! currency of which 15 rupees were equivalent to 100 Nanakshahi rupees, the rice sold at 48 seers per rupee, wheat 60 seers and barley 90 seers. However, at Multan, during the same period, wheat was priced at 8 seers a rupee and at Dera Isma`il Khan the maximum rate was 21 seers a rupee.
The activities of Kanvar Nau Nihal Singh are reported by the news writers. In March 1839, he was sent to Peshawar to see Col Wade`s force across the Khaibar Pass in fulfilment of the Tripartite treaty. Upon the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh he issued a parwdnd seeking deferment of the ceremony for this father`s installation until his arrival in the capital.
He hastens to Lahore and makes all the sarddrs sign a document, confirming him as Maharaja Kharak Singh`s successor and his own mukhtdr. He is offered a jdgir worth 15,00,000 rupees per annum in the northwest, but he insists that the whole of the Doaba territory or Multan should be assigned to him. Kanvar Nau Nihal Singh objected to the growing power of Kharak Singh`s favourite, Chet Singh, and desired his dismissal. The Akhbdrs also furnish stray information on the various parts of the kingdom Peshawar, Kashmir, the Derajat and the tributary hill states. Intelligence from hills refers to the insurgency of Mian Ratan Chand in 1840, and measures taken by Lahna Singh Majithia to quell the revolt.
The warlike activities of Wazir Zorawar Singh, the Dogra deputy in Iskardu in June 1840, are reported in Kashmir News. The names are mentioned of some of the feringhee officers in the service of Lahore government Ventura, Court, Avitabile, Steinbach, Cortlandt and others. Avitabile`s rule at Peshawar was firm, but harsh. “General Avitabile had thrown down a sepoy from a rock and had another sepoy stoned to death.” Court was honoured with the rank of General in October 1839. AMard was a commander of Sikh artillery at Peshawar, while Cortlandt was a battalion commander there.
Martin Honigberger was promised a jdgir for curing Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Ventura conducted a successful expedition against the raja of Mandi in 1840. He issued a general order prohibiting the sale of hill children and women into slavery. In recognition of his services, the administration of the hill tract of Suket and Kulu was entrusted to him. Other matters of interest to which these new letters refer are: the description of Sikh flag, the Sikh dak couriers; punishments for various crimes, the Lahore arsenal, and the existence of a State Library under Munshi Khushwaqt Rai at Lahore.
1. Fauja Singh, ed., Historians and Historiography of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1978