SOLDIER AND TRAVELLER: MEMOIRS OF ALEXANDER GARDNER
SOLDIER AND TRAVELLER: MEMOIRS OF ALEXANDER GARDNER, edited by Major Hugh Pearse, with an introduction by Sir Richard Temple, was first published in 1898 by William Black wood and Sons of Edinburgh and London, and was reprinted by the Languages Department, Punjab, in 1970. Alexander Gardner (1785-1877), a European adventurer of Scottish extraction born in North America in 1785, came to the Punjab in 1831, and after a short spell of service as commander of artillery under Sultan Muhammad Khan of Peshawar, a tributary of the Sikhs, was summoned, in 1832, to Lahore where he was appointed an artillery officer in Ranjit Singh`s army with the rank of a colonel.
He served in various expeditions until 1836 when Raja Dhian Singh placed him in full command of the artillery which belonged to him and his brother, Gulab Singh. After Dhian Singh`s death, he served Gulab Singh and died a pensioner under his successor, Maharaja Sir Ranbir Singh (1857-85), at Jammu on 22 January 1877 at the ripe age of ninety-two. His body was buried in the cemetry at Sialkot, now in Pakistan. That Gardner had been keeping notes of his travels and adventures is evident from the fact that, as early as February 1853, an abstract of a portion of his travels appeared in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.
When during the summer of 1864, a British officer, Frederick Cooper, deputed to Kashmir to look after the interests of English visitors to the valley, met Gardner at Srinagar, the latter mentioned to him that a whole volume containing an account of his travels in Kafiristan had been borrowed from him by Sir Alexander Burnes before proceeding to Kabul from where he never returned (he was assassinated in 1841 at Kabul where he was serving as political resident). Cooper realized the value of Gardner`s notes and verbal recitals and intended to prepare from these an account of his travels. But he did not live long enough to accomplish the task. After his death his` unfinished work and Gardner`s own manuscripts were lost.
Around 1894, they accidentally came into the hands of Major Hugh Pearse who pieced them together and had them published in book form. The 290page Memoirs is divided into 16 chapters, the first nine of which deal with the history of the manuscript and early life and travels of Alexander Gardner before he came to the Punjab. As such, they are not directly relevant to the history of the Punjab under Sikh rule, although they do contain a vivid description of the geography of the western extremity of the Himalayan range and of the characteristics and customs of die tribes inhabiting it. Chapter X and XI relate the events of Ranjit Singh`s reign from 1832 onwards.
Chapters XII to XV deal with the intrigue and anarchy following the death of Ranjit Singh. The last chapter relates to Gardner`s sojourn in Kashmir. In the 60page appendix, Pearse gives biographical sketches of 42 European officers in the service of the Sikh sovereign. In his account of the events to which he had been an eyewitness, Gardner has been fair and objective. He is sympathetic to Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the administration he had established. He blames the Dogra brothers for the downfall of the Sikh kingdom. He gives a high estimate of Ranjit Singh`s qualities as a ruler, but portrays Gulab Singh in the worst colours.
1. Fauja Singh, ed.. Historians and Historiography of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1978
2. Khurana, Gianeshwar, British Historiography on the Sikh Power in Punjab. Delhi, 1985