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Anglo Sikh Wars

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Tombs of English officers at Guzerat
The Illustrated London News - 27/8/1864

The pain and horror of war must always be avoided at all costs, to briefly examine the question whether crossing of the Sutlej by the Sikhs did constitute an actual invasion of the British Territory in India. The scope of this narration does not permit a detailed examination and we may therefore only quote the opinions of a few British Officers then closely connected with Punjab affairs..

Major G. Carmichael Smyth of the North Western Agency wrote
"Regarding the Punjab war, I am neither of the opinion that the Sikhs made an unprovoked attack, nor that we have acted towards them with great forbearance. If the Sikhs were to be considered entirely an independent state in no way answerable to us, we should not have provoked them-for to assert that the bridge of boats brought from Bombay, was not a causa belli, but merely a defensive measure, is absurd; besides the Sikhs had a translation of Sir Charles Napier's speech (as it appeared in the Delhi Gazette) stating that we were going to war with them; and as all European powers would have done under such circumstances, the Sikhs thought it as well to be first in the field. Moreover they were not encamped in our territory, but their own."

"......and I only ask, had we not departed from the rules of friendship first ? The year before the war broke out we kept the island between Ferozepur and the Punjab, though it belonged to the Sikhs, owing to the deep water being between us and the island."

"......But if on the other hand the treaty of 1809 is said to have been binding between the two governments, then the simple question is, who first departed from the rules of friendship ? I am decidedly of the opinion that we did".[1]

Even more emphatic on the subject is Sir George Campbell, who was then posted at Kaithel (a Sikh state escheated by the British). He wrote:
"It is recorded in the annals of history, or what is called history, which will go down to posterity, that the Sikh army invaded British Territory in pursuance of a determination to attack us. And most people will be very much surprised to hear that they did nothing of the kind. They made no attack on our outlying cantonments nor set foot in our territory. What they did do was to cross the river and to entrench themselves in their own territory". Memoirs of my Indian Career, p. 78.

Even Cust, Personal Assistant to Major Broadfoot, the British Agent at Ludhiana at the time of break of hostilities, refers to the advance of the British force as "the first British invasion of the independent kingdom of the Punjab." Linguistic and Oriental Essays, v, 46-47.


[1]Ganda Singh, The British Occupation of the Punjab, Sikh History Society, Amritsar-Patiala, 1955. pp. 76-77.

 

 

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