ADVENTURES OF AN OFFICER IN THE PUNJAUB
ADVENTURES OF AN OFFICER IN THE PUNJAB (2 vols.) by Major H. M. L. Lawrence, under the pseudonym of Bellasis, published in AD 1846 by Henry Colburn, London, and reprinted in 1970 by the Languages Department, Punjab, Patiala. The book which is a rambling account, half fact half fiction, of the author`s adventures, provides information about the rise of the Sikhs and about the person and government of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. This is “a dose of history, which the reader may read or not, as he pleases” (p. 236), mixed with scandal and bazaar gossip.
Colonel Bellasis, a soldier of fortune, enters the Punjab with a small suite, arrives at Lahore and meets the leading courtiers of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, including the Faqir brothers, Aziz-ud-Din and Nur-ud-Din. He was introduced to the court by the latter. The Maharaja gave him appointment as subahdar of Kangra. In his book, the author describes some of the men around the Maharaja. For instance, Dhian Singh: ” a fine looking man, of a noble presence, polite and affable, of winning manners and modest speech” (p. 35). Khushal Singh: “a coarse, vulgar looking man… was once sent to assist Kunwar Sher Singh, the Maharajah`s son, in the government of Kashmir, and to recover its ruined finances… recovered some rents, screwed a few lakhs and turned a season of dearth into one of most frightful famine…” (p. 38). Kharak Singh: “the eldest [of the three princes] is an imbecile, and affects the religieux” (p. 53).
Avitabile: ” a wild bull in a net,” he “acts as a savage among savage men” (p. 43). The author draws numerous pen portraits of the Maharaja as well: “Of mean appearance, one eyed, and small of stature…Wholly illiterate but gifted with great natural intelligence, and a wonderfully quick apprehension and retentive memory, he manages, better than those more learned, to transact the current business of the kingdom” (p. 29). Referring to the revenue and the judicial administration of the kingdom, the author observes that the whole country was farmed out, two fifths of the produce being taken by the State. The revenue farmer was also judge, magistrate and often customs master, within his area of jurisdiction. Adalat, court, was another rich source of revenue, fine being the punishment awarded in almost every case (p. 51). Customs brought a revenue of 24,00,000 rupees to the treasury, Amritsar alone yielding 9,00,000