This section considers Important events within Anglo-Sikh history such as early European accounts of Sikhs, the role ofSikhs in the armed forces and pre British Raj accounts.


Anglo-Sikh War 1 - 1845-1846

The First War between the Sikhs and the British


The proposals of Henry Lawrence at Peshawar to entice some Sikh Chiefs and the negotiations of Sir George Clerk at Lahore served a double purpose of the British. They secured active support of the Sikh Government for operations in Afghanistan and bound Gulab Singh and Avitabile to their own political interests in the Punjab. They also drove a wedge between the Ruler (Sher Singh) and his Chiefs. The seeds of division and dismemberment of the Lahore Kingdom were thus sown with the Dogras already dreaming of the accession of their family to the throne of Lahore. This ultimately led to the murder of Maharaja Sher Singh, his son Pratap Singh and Dhian Singh Dogra on the same day (September 15, 1843) at the hands of Sandhanwalia Sardars. According to Sita Ram Kohli's Sunset of the Sikh Empire (page-41) 'Dhian Singh was responsible for a policy whereby the more violent elements in the army, very often Sikhs, were transferred from important military stations to others where scope for making trouble was slighter, and of recruiting new men, mostly non-Sikhs, from Jammu and the other Punjab hills. Between the months of June 1841 and February 1842, some six thousand of these hillmen were formed into 8 battalions of infantry and 3 units of light artillery. This, very naturally, aroused suspicion of him, both as disciplinarian and a Dogra'. This version is also supported by Dr. Ganda Singh in his, Maharaja Duleep Singh, Correspondence, (pages 18--19), when he writes, "This has been confirmed by the Memories of Alexander Gardner, edited by Major Hugh Pearse, 1898. Gardner was a confidant of Raja Dhian Singh who had given to him a wife out of his own house. Through her and living always among the Dogas he knew and had he and a great deal about the intrigues then afoot. According to his Memoirs, pp. 212-13

'This dream was that Hira Singh, the heir of their family, or at least the most promising of its rising generation, might eventually succeed to the throne of Ranjit Singh. Those to be swept away were the male members of the Maharaja's family, and all those ministers, advisers and chiefs who would not join the Dogra party......All these murders were brought about directly or indirectly by the Dogra brothers, Dhian Singh and Gulab Singh, for the eventual aggrandisement of their family in the person of Hira Singh'.

It is thus crystal clear that rather than resolve to try their hand at the British territory after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in June, 1839', Maharaja Sher Singh, true to the treaty of friendship with the British, provided 15,000 Darbar troops to avenge the Afghan treachery and to force open the Khyber pass at a time when their position in Afghanistan was critical, when they could not relieve their besieged personnel at various places in the Afghan heartland without the active support of the Sikhs and when the 'repute of European arms was deeply smitten and the massacre resounded throughout the peninsula'. It is equally clear that while receiving active support of Sikhs in men and material in 're-deeming their name', the British were simultaneously planning intrigues and treachery to subjugate the empire of their saviors (the Sikhs) in Afghanistan.
Let us quote a few authorities in this respect

(a) Henry Lawrence wrote to Mr. J.C. Marshman on April 11, 1842
"The Sikhs were only bound to employ a contingent of 6000 men, but they did the work with not less than 15,000". * Life of Henry Lawrence by Edwardes and Merivale, P. 363.

(b) Writing to Queen Victoria from Benares, on 21-4-1842 Governor General Ellenborough Said,
"The Sikh Army cooperated with that of India by a second pass leading to Ali Masjid and there is no reason to doubt the good faith of the Sikh Government". 1

(c) In the official notification of April 19, 1842, the Governor General wrote
"The Governor-General deems it to be due to the troops of the Maharaja Sher Singh to express his entire satisfaction with their conduct as reported to him and to inform the army that the loss sustained by the Sikhs in the assault of the pass, which was forced by them, is understood to have been equal to that sustained by the troops of Her Majesty and of the Government of India. The Governor General has instructed his agent at the court of the Maharaja to offer his congratulations on this occasion, so honourable to the Sikh arms".2

(d) General Pollock, in his despatch of 14th September, says,
"The Lahore contingent under the able direction of Captain Lawrence has invariably given the most cheerful assistance, dragging the guns, occupying the heights and covering the rearguard. While ascending the Huft Kohtal, and at Tezeen, their long jezails told effectively in keeping the ground."
Life of Henry Lawrence, Edwardes and Merivale, p. 407.

(e) And when the Sikh contingent, after covering 14 miles of rough mountains through a very much narrower defile reached Lala Chand on 6-4-1842, an hour or two later than the British contingent, who had followed the shorter and easier route and covered only seven miles, the Sikhs were accused, for political reasons, of
"holding discreetly back". "What holding discreetly back was there?" asks Major General Sir Herbert Edwardes. "What would have been the condition of the British Column if the Sikh force had not made a diversion in their favour and drawn off large numbers of the enemy?" he asks again. Perhaps yet another massacre and disaster of bigger dimension.

(f) Writing about the help and friendship for the British, Cunningham says "Lord Ellenborough (Governor-General) was also desirous of an interview with Sher Singh, and as gratitude was uppermost for the time, and added a grace even to success, it was proposed to thank the Maharaja in person for the proofs which he had afforded of his continued friendship." History of The Sikhs, page 229.

From the above, the part played by the Sikh forces in the second expedition to Afghanistan in 1842, that is, three years after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, in avenging the Afghan treachery, is clear. How, then, did the Sikhs encouraged by the news from Afghanistan (Massacre of 1841) and restless after the death of their great leader, Ranjit Singh, resolve to try their hand at the territory of the East India Company ?

On the other hand the British plans for the occupation of Punjab, were long since in their mind. Sir Henry Fane, the British Commander-in-Chief, came to Lahore in March 1837, to attend the marriage of Prince Nau Nihal Singh. Writing about him Captain J.D. Cunningham, the illustrious Historian, who had held several important political posts from 1838 to 1846 and who had remained in close contact with Punjab affairs and who later had to pay with his blood for writing History of the Sikhs, says (page 193),
"That able Commander (Sir Henry Fane) was ever a careful observer of military means and of soldierly qualities, he formed an estimate of the force which would be required for the complete subjugation of the Punjab".

Cunningham adds:
"This visit to Lahore was perhaps mainly useful, in enabling Lieutenant Colonel Garden, the indefatigable Quarter-Master General of the Bengal Army to complete a detailed map of that part of the country, and which formed the ground work of all the maps used, when hostilities did at last break out with the Sikhs."

Mrs. Henry Lawrence wrote to Mrs. Cameran from Subathoo on 26-5-1941,
"Wars and rumours of wars are on every side and there seems no doubt that next cold weather will decide the long suspended question of occupying the Punjab; Henry, both in his Civil and Military capacity, will probably be called to take part in whatever goes on".

And again on June 5 she wrote
"Nothing is yet promulgated; but Henry supposes the army for the Punjab will be divided into three columns-the main body accompanied by Mr. Clerk, our Chief, and the other by Henry and Mr. Cunningham an officer of Engineers now acting at Ferozepur." Henry Lawrence by Edwardes and Marivale, pp. 216-17. John Ludlow writes

"The British Agent on the Sutlej had proposed to march on Lahore with 12,000 men to restore order. The Calcutta papers teemed with plans for conquering the Punjab" (British India, ii. 1841).

Within few days of his appointment as Governor-General, Lord Ellenborough, wrote to Duke of Wellington on 15-10-1841
"I have requested Lord Fitzroy to employ him at once in obtaining all information he can with respect to the Punjab and making a memorandum upon the country for your consideration. I am most anxious to have your opinion as to the general principles upon which a campaign against that country should be conducted".3

Four days later, he again wrote to, the Duke
"At present about 12,000 men are collected near Ferozepore to watch the Sikhs, and act if necessary......What I desired, therefore, was your opinion founded as far as it could be upon imperfect geographical information which could be given to you, as to best mode of attacking the Punjab".4

The Duke, in reply referring to an advanced post at Rani-KePul, wrote on 2-4-1842
"This position would be an excellent one from which you could with facility move on offensive plan. I would recommend you to add to the equipment of the army pontoons for the formation of a bridge. It might be desirable to pass the river on a defensive plan of operations at short notice and it would be desirable to avoid the delay of collecting boats to form a bridge". 5

Writing to Lord Fitzgerald on 6-4-1842, when the Sikhs were forcing open the most difficult Khyber Pass for the British during the period of their second expedition to Afghanistan, the Duke of Willington said:
"I am glad to see such good accounts of the Sikh Government. It must be very desirable to maintain its existence in the Punjab. But this I must say, if we are to maintain our positions in Afghanistan, we ought to have Peshawar, the Khyber Pass, Jalalabad and the passes between that post and Kabul".6

The Governor General thereupon started preparations and informed the Duke on 7-6-1842
"I have after communicating with the Commander-in-Chief, issued an order for the assembling of an army of reserve in the division of Sirhind (that is, either at Karnal or Ferozepur) in November. It will consist of twelve regiments of infantry, of which four will be European, or five regiments of regular cavalry (including the 16th Lancers) and of 2 regiments of irregular cavalry. There will be four troops of horse artillery and three batteries of foot artillery. The total force will be 15,000 men". 7

Lord Ellenborough encouraged the Sikhs to occupy Jalalabad at the time of second expedition to Afghanistan in 1842, to which the Sikhs were a party, with a view to placing them in difficult position between the British on the East and Afghans on the West. He wrote
"We shall have placed, an irreconcilable enemy to the Afghans (Sikhs) between them and us, and hold that enemy to the Afghans (Sikhs) occupied, as he must be, in defending himself against them, in entire subjugation to us by our position upon Sutlej, within a few marches of Amritsar and Lahore. They will be obliged to keep their principal force in that quarter, and Lahore and Amritsar will remain with insufficient garrison, within a few marches of the Sutlej on which I shall in twelve days, at any time, be able to assemble three European and eleven native battalions, one European regiment of cavalry, two regiments of native cavalry and two of irregular cavalry and twenty four guns. The State of the Punjab is therefore under my foot."8

According to Cunningham
"It was generally held by the English in India that Major Broadfoot's appointment as Agent in Oct., 1844 greatly increased the probabilities of a war with the Sikhs, and the impression was equally strong, that had Mr. Clerk, for instance, remained as agent, there would have been no war."

George Campbell says
"Several accounts agree that in the period immediately preceding the war when matters were becoming very serious and (Sikh) army had for the most part taken affairs into their own hands, they maintained for a while wonderful order at Lahore and through their punches exercised an almost puritanical discipline in the military republic. The immediate collision was, however, I think hastened by imprudence on the part of the British Frontier Agent Major Broadfoot. I knew of some things done by him which it would be difficult to defend. But he paid the penalty by his death in the actions which followed."

Cunningham again says, "Had the shrewd committees of the (Sikh) armies observed no military preparation on the part of the English, they would not have heeded the insidious exhortations of such mercenary men as Lal Singh and Tej Singh," who goaded them to move to the Sutlej evidently with the knowledge, if not under the instructions, of Major Broadfoot. This view receives considerable strength from the letter of Captain Peter Nicholson, the Political Assistant at Ferozepore, addressed to his chief Major Broadfoot on November 23, 1845
"Knowing that the (Lahore) Durbar and our Government were in friendly relation ... at least, that I had never been told the contrary... and in spite of that relation finding the head of the Durbar (Prime Minister Lal Singh) consenting to a hostile march against its allies and those (Tej Singh and Gulab Singh) supposed to be friendly to us the most active in bringing that march about, the doubt did occur to one whether the Durbar might not be consenting to the march of the army against us with your knowledge..."

It is thus obvious that it were the British who had planned the subjugation of the Punjab during the life time of Ranjit Singh and who manoeuvred and precipitated the Punjab crisis, after his death.

And the plans for occupation of the Punjab were based more on treachery and intrigue rather than chivalry or force of arms. Raja Gulab Singh Dogra had been detailed by Maharaja Sher Singh to help the British in the second expedition to Afghanistan in 1842. Meeting him on the other side of the Indus it occurred to Henry Lawrence in January, 1842 that
"A consideration should be offered to the Dogra Rajas Dhyan Singh and Gulab Singh; for their assistance, they alone in the Punjab being now able to give aid. We need such men as the Rajahs and General Avitabile and should bind them to us by the only tie they recognise self-interest. The Rajahs secured in their territory, even with additions, General Avitabile guaranteed out aid in retiring with his property, and any other sirdars aiding us cordially, be specially and separately treated for." He proposed "that on the terms of efficient support we assist Raja Gulab Singh to get possession of the valley of Jalalabad and endeavour to make some arrangement to secure it and Peshawar to his family." Life of Sir Henry Lawrence by Major General Sir Herbert Edwardes. Having completed the design of putting the Maharaja and the Dogra Chiefs against each other,

Lord Ellenborough, wrote in his letter of 11-5-1843
"General Ventura is with the Maharaja Sher Singh and it is clear to me that, relying on his support the Maharaja will take the first occasion of cutting of his Minister Dhian Singh. This Dhian Singh knows, and is prepared for. The break up of the Punjab will probably begin with murder". 12

On 12-8-1843 he again wrote
"The affairs of the Punjab will probably receive their denouement from the death of Sher Singh". 13

And yet again he wrote on 20-9-1843
"The Maharaja of Lahore is pulling his house down upon his head; the catastrophe was nearly taking place three weeks ago, but it is deferred". 14 Maharaja Sher Singh, his son prince Pratap Singh and even Dhian Singh Dogra were all murdered on 15-9-1843, and the news must have been on their way to Calcutta, when Ellenborough wrote his last letter on 20-9-1843.

Lord Ellenborough again wrote to the Duke of Willington on 20-10-1843
"Heera Singh (the son and successor of Dhian Singh) has no real authority. His best adviser has been Ventura, but he is threatened now. Gulab Singh remains in the Hills, either in sickness, in grief, or in policy. He is securing himself there. Heera Singh will probably soon fly to Jummoo. Then a pure Sikh Government will be formed in the plains and a Rajpoot Government in the Hills and Mooltan may perhaps break loose all connection with the Sikhs. Ventura anticipates a long anarchy, from which the only ultimate refuge will be in our protection. I agree with him. The time cannot be very distant when the Punjab will fall into our management and the question will be what we shall do as respects the Hills."

He however complained,
"that there is, as there long has been, a great disposition, even in quarters not military, to disturb the game". 15
Though otherwise determined to attack and annex Punjab the British were doubtful about their justification in doing so. Sir Henry Hardinge now Governor General of India wrote to Ellenborough on 23-1-45
"Even if we had a case for devouring OUR ALLY in adversity, we are not ready and could not be ready until the hot winds set in, and the Sutlej became a torrent. Moderation will do us no harm, if in the interval the hills and the plains weaken each other; but on what plea could we attack the Punjab, if this were the month of October and we had our army in readiness?"

"Self-preservation may require the dispersion of this Sikh army, the baneful influence of such an example is the evil most to be dreaded, but exclusive of this case, how are we to justify the seizure of our friend's territory who in our adversity assisted us to retrieve our affairs" (in Afghanistan). 16

Even five days after the declaration of war by the British, the Governor General was not convinced of its moral justification. Robert writes
"December 18th I rode behind the Governor General and we sat under a tree to, await the infantry. The Governor General remarked :
"Will the people of England consider this (Crossing the Sutlej by the Sikhs) an actual invasion of our frontier and a justification of war? "17
But by now the die had been cast and they were already in the midst of a war with the Sikhs.

Besides aid in the form of soldiers, the Lahore Darbar had helped General Pollock and Brigadier Wilde in procuring a large quantity of supplies, provisions and draught cattle one item of many being somewhat more than 17,000 camels Cunningham,p.249, footnote
Ganda Singh, The British Occupation of the Punjab, Sikh History Society, Amritsar-Patiala, 1955, p30.
2 Ganda Singh (Ed.), History of the Freedom Movement of the Punjab (Vol. III), Maharaja Duleep Singh Correspondence, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1977, p. 16.
3 Ganda Singh (Ed.), History of the Freedom Movement of the Punjab (Vol. III), Maharaja Duleep Singh Correspondence, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1977, p. 19.
4 Ganda Singh (Ed.), History of the Freedom Movement of the Punjab (Vol. III), Maharaja Duleep Singh Correspondence, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1977, p. 19.
5 Ganda Singh, The British Occupation of the Punjab, Sikh History Society, Amritsar-Patiala, 1955, p35.
6 Ganda Singh, The British Occupation of the Punjab, Sikh History Society, Amritsar-Patiala, 1955, p35-36.
7 Ganda Singh, The British Occupation of the Punjab, Sikh History Society, Amritsar-Patiala, 1955, p36.
8 Ganda Singh, The British Occupation of the Punjab, Sikh History Society, Amritsar-Patiala, 1955, p36-37.
9 J.D. Cunningham, A History of the Sikhs, Ed. H.L.O. Garrett, S. Chand and Co., Delhi, 1955; p. 255.
10 Ganda Singh, The British Occupation of the Punjab, Sikh History Society, Amritsar-Patiala, 1955, p. 68
11 ibid., p. 70.
12 ibid., p. 40.
13 ibid., p. 41.
14 ibid., p. 41.
15 ibid., p. 42.
16 ibid., p. 60.
17 ibid., p. 70.

We may now 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 states cheated 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.

It is significant to state that after the death of Maharaja Kharak Singh and Naunihal Singh in November, 1840, and the dispute for the throne between Sher Singh and Chand Kaur having been resolved, the relation of the army to the state, according to Cunningham had become wholly altered by the middle of 1841.
"It was no longer the willing instrument of an arbitrary and genial government, but it looked upon itself and was regarded by others, as the representative body of the Sikh people, as the 'Khalsa' itself assembled by tribes for centuries to take its part in public affairs. The efficiency of the army as a disciplined force was not much impaired, for a higher feeling possessed the men, and increased alacrity and resolution supplied the place of exact training. They were sensible of the advantages of systematic union, and they were proud of their armed array as the visible body of Gobind's commonwealth. As a general rule, the troops were obedient to their appointed officers, so far as concerned their ordinary military duties, but the position of a regiment, of a brigade, of a division, or of the whole army, relatively to the executive government of the country, was determined by a committee called 'Regimental Panchayat' composed of men selected from each battalion, or each company, in consideration of their general character as faithful Sikh soldiers, or from their particular influence in their native villages".1

An example of how these 'Regimental Panchayats' acted when things went wrong may be quoted with advantage. During the period Hira Singh (son of Dhian Singh Dogra) was the minister at Lahore (September 1843-December 1844) with Missar Jalla as his Chief advisor, great harassment was caused to princes Peshaura Singh and Kashmira Singh (sons of Maharaja Ranjit Singh) besides many other Darbar dignitaries opposed to the Dogra hegemony. This aroused the Khalsa against the Dogras. 'Army Panchayats' held meeting on 21st-23rd March, 1844, when Hira Singh's administration was subjected to a searching examination. They decided, therefore, that unless Hira Singh conceded certain demands he must be forced to resign. Four representatives of these Panchayats appeared before him in the open darbar and claimed they had come on behalf of the Sarbat Khalsa and conveyed to him the 'Hukam'. It said that he must release Jawahar Singh (brother of Maharani Jindan) remove the guard placed on the house of Missar Beli Ram, set free his relations and dependents, raise the siege of Sialkot and Kuryanwala, both garrisons of princes Peshaura Singh and Kashmira Singh and give an undertaking that the princes will not be ill-treated in future. They also demanded the surrender of Missar Jalla, Sheikh Imam-ud-Din and Lal Singh.
"If he hesitated or refused," the delegates added, "The order was that Hira Singh himself be seized".2

Hira Singh judging from the language and temper of the message and the firm manner in which it was conveyed in the open Darbar, readily promised compliance. But using his superb cunning and tact, accompanied of course with the gold at his disposal, Hira Singh manoeuvred to get a breather which postponed his doom for a while.

Again, when Maharani Jindan collected a number of articles of gold and silver to give in charity on the first day of the new month (Shangrat) 12 December, 1844, as was the custom, Missar Jalla questioned her right for such charitable actions. He is said to have even used abusive language for her. The Maharani thus extremely troubled at heart, appealed to the Khalsa for protection. Besides this, Hira Singh and Missar Jalla's actions had offended the Sikh psyche beyond toleration in more than one way, such as the brutal massacre of the highly venerated Sikh Saint Bhai Bir Singh and his devoted associates in thousands in May 1844, when the Saint was reciting the holy scripture, which brought matters to a speedy climax. Accordingly, some of the Khalsa regiments moved out of the cantonment to open space near the fort. Once more they demanded the surrender of Jalla. This was refused. Instead, according to Sohan Lal Suri, the court chronicler,
"In the early hours of 21 December, 1844, Hira Singh and party loaded with cash and jewellery on elephants stealthily left their residence for Jammu. But hardly had they passed the Taxali Gate, when they were noticed by a company of Sikh soldiers". The news was flashed to the military lines and a body of 6000 troopers led by Sham Singh Attari went in pursuit. They overtook the fugitives. Hira Singh and his companions put up a fight but the odds against them were heavy. Among the one thousand slain were Hira Singh, Jalla, Mian Sohan Singh son of Gulab Singh Dogra, Mian Labh Singh and many others .3

According to Cunningham,
"The regimental panchayats sincerely aimed at maintaining discipline among the soldiers and protecting national interests is further provided by the fact that as soon as the decision to mobilize against the British was made, they voluntarily stopped functioning by an agreement with the executive heads of the State, realising, the necessity of unity of counsel in the affairs of war."


And we may now tell the tale of the battles of Mudki, Ferozeshah and Sabraon and the part played by the traitors. Gulab Singh Dogra, Missar Tej Singh and Missar Lal Singh were the three arch traitors whose services had been, through intrigue, secured before hand by the British. The former had been assured the provinces of Jammu and Kashmir and the latter, both mercenaries from Uttar Pradesh and Rohtas had been guaranteed rich fortunes and their offices as Commander-in-Chief and Prime Minister respectively.

Lal Singh was unwilling to cross Sutlej but when forced by his zealous soldiery to do so, he wrote to Captain Nicholson at Ferozepur, "I have crossed the river with the Sikh Army. You know my friendship for the British. Tell me what to do." Nicholson answered, "Don't attack Ferozepur. Halt as many days as you can. And then march towards the Governor General"1

About this incident, Cunningham says, "The object, indeed, of Lal Singh and Tej Singh was not to compromise themselves with the English by destroying an isolated division, (at Ferozepur) but to get their own troops dispersed by the converging forces of their opponents.”2

About this Ludlow says, "Had he attacked, our garrison of 8000 men (at Ferozepur) would have been destroyed and the victorious 60,000 would have fallen on Sir Henry Hardinge, who had then but 8,000. So utterly unprepared were we, that even this treachery of one of our enemies scarcely sufficed to save us".3

About the general temperament of the Sikh soldiers, Cunningham says: "Every Sikh considered the cause as his own, and he would work as a labourer as well as carry a musket; he would drag guns, drive bullocks, lead camels, and load and unload boats with a cheerful alacrity, which contrasted strongly with the inapt and sluggish obedience of mere mercenaries, drilled-indeed, and fed with skill and care, but unwarmed by one generous feeling for their country or their foreign employers". 4

Lal Singh's force comprised of 18,000 infantry, 16,000 cavalry and 85 Guns. Leaving about 7000 men with 20 guns to watch over Ferozepur, he moved towards Mudki on the afternoon of 17th December, 1845. During the course of their march, whether by design or accident, the troops lost their way. After a whole night's wandering, they arrived not at Mudki but at Ferozeshah, in the morning. It was here that he got the message that the Governor General had reached Mudki. Lal Singh moved from Ferozeshah with only half the force with him on the false plea that Tej Singh might require the remainder. Under such circumstances of intrigue and treachery began the battle of Mudki on the afternoon of December 18th, about which Cunningham writes, "Lal Singh headed the attack, but in accordance with the original design, he involved his followers in an engagement, and then left them to fight as their undirected valour might prompt."

The battle lasted for about less than two hours, during which, in the words of Lord Hugh Gough, "the Sikhs fought as if they had every thing at stake". Considering the brevity of the action, the British losses were deemed heavy. General Sir Robert Sale and Sir Joseph Macgaskill and two aids of the Governor General being amongst the 215 killed. On close of the battle, the Sikhs withdrew to Ferozeshah by mid-night.

Battle of Ferozeshah

There was no movement of troops on 19th and 20th though both at Mudki and Ferozepur, the adversaries remained at very close range of each other. The Sikhs used this respite to their best ability by throwing up earth work without guidance from senior officers or expert technicians. Lal Singh conveyed this position to the British through emissary Shams-ud-Din.
The Governor General ordered Sir Littler to bring assistance from Ferozepur. He also sent all his available transport at Mudki to speedily bring the European hilly troops to the scene of battle who were already on their way to Mudki. Even, relinquishing his superior civil status as Governor General, he decided to take part in the battle as second in command to Lord Gough. In view of what he saw of the fighting spirit of the Sikhs at Mudki, he over-ruled Gough and ordered that the attack be deferred till Littler's force from Ferozepur joined the main army. On the other hand, Tej Singh with a force of ten thousand under him, remained idle in the neighbourhood of the battle field absurdly pretending that he was guarding Ferozepur although Littler's force had left the place in broad day light.

Lord Gough the British Commander-in-Chief opened the attack at 3.30 p.m. on 21 st December, 1845, himself led the right, the Governor General the Centre and Sir Littler the left wing of the assailing force. As the British forces came in sight, the Sikh gunners opened fire. Such were the quick volleys of this firing that within ten minutes two hundred British soldiers were either killed or crippled and Sir Littler retired with his force. General Harry Smith who tried to take a Sikh position was also repulsed. Sir Walter Gilbert and General Wallace showed tremendous daring with some success losing 270 men in the exploit. The British now found themselves in a grave position. Half their force under Littler and Harry Smith were outside the Sikh entrenchments but the other half within, unable to advance. Cunningham who was present in the battle gives a graphic description of the battle scene,
"Darkness, and the obstinacy of the contest, threw the English into confusion; men of all regiments and arms were mixed together: generals were doubtful of the fact or of the extent of their own success and colonels knew not what had become of the regiments they commanded or of the army of which they formed a part".

He adds :
"On that memorable night the English were hardly masters of the ground on which they stood; they had no reserve at hand, while the enemy had fallen back upon a second army, and could renew the fight with increased numbers. The not imprudent thought occurred of retiring upon Ferozepur. On the morning of the 22nd December, the last remnants of the Sikhs were driven from their camp; but as the day advanced the second wing of their army approached in battle-array, and the wearied and famished English saw before them a desperate, and, perhaps, useless struggle. This reserve was commanded by Tej Singh, who had been urged by his zealous and sincere soldiery to fall upon the English at daybreak, but his object was to have the dreaded army of the Khalsa over-come and dispersed, and he delayed untill Lal Singh's force was everywhere put to flight, and until his opponents had again ranged themselves round their colours. Even at the last moment he rather skirmished and made feints than led his men to a resolute attack, and after a time, he precipitately fled, leaving his subordinates without orders and without an object, at a moment when the artillery ammunition of the English had failed, when a portion of their force was retiring upon Ferozepur, and when no exertions could have prevented the remainder from retreating likewise, if the Sikhs had boldly pressed forward.”

Lal Singh had spent the day hidden in a ditch; and at night-stole away to Amritsar.5

Col. G.B. Malleson writes,
"Then among many panic set in. The cry of "India lost" was heard from one commanding officer who tried in vain to rally his men. The left attack on the Khalsa had failed so signally that it could not be renewed. The Sikh Army had repulsed the British attack. They had driven back Littler, forced Smith to retire, compelled even Gilbert to evacuate the position he had gained and had thrown the whole British army into disorder. What was more, they had still 10,000 men under Tej Singh. Had a guiding mind directed the movements of the Sikh army nothing could have saved the exhausted British".

Following entry exists in the Diary of Sir Robert Cust, who was present in the battle
"December 22nd. News came from the Governor General that our attack of yesterday had failed, that affairs were desperate, that all State papers were to be destroyed, and that if the morning attack failed, all would be over; this was kept secret by Mr. Currie and we were concerting measures to make an unconditional surrender to save the wounded, the part of the news that grieved me the most".

General Sir Hope Grant who fought in the Anglo-Sikh wars says :
"Sir Henry Hardinge thought it was all up and gave his sword, a present from the Duke of Wellington and which once belonged to Napoleon-and his Star of the Bath to his son, with directions to proceed to Ferozepur remarking that if the day were lost, he must fall".

William Edwards writes :
"Had they (the Sikhs) advanced during the night, the result must have been very disastrous to us, as our European regiments were much reduced in number and our ammunition, both for artillery and small arms, almost expended".

William Edwards, Under Secretary to the British Government, who followed the Governor General in the very thick of these battles mentions having been told by Lord Hardinge soon after the battle of Ferozeshah,
"that the fire (of the Sikh artillery) was even more terrible than at Albuera, for the Sikhs had guns in position of treble the calibre ever used in European Warfare".10

Betrayal of Lal Sing and Tej Singh

Lal Singh and Tej Singh again came to the rescue of the English. The former suddenly deserted the Khalsa army during the night and the latter the next morning (22 December) which enabled the British to turn defeat into victory. The British loss was again heavy, 694 killed and 1,721 wounded. The number of casualties among officers was comparatively higher. The Sikhs lost about 2,000 men and 73 pieces of artillery.

A temporary cessation of hostilities followed the battle of Ferozeshah. The English were not in a position to assume the offensive and waited for heavy guns and reinforcements to arrive from Delhi. Lal Singh and Tej Singh allowed them the much needed respite in as much as they kept the Sikhs from recrossing the Sutlej.

To induce desertions, Lord Hardinge issued a proclamation on the Christmas day inviting all natives of Hindustan to quit the service of the Sikh State on pain of forfeiting their property and to claim protection from the British government. The deserters were also offered liberal rewards and pensions.

A Sikh sardar, Ranjodh Singh Majithia, crossed the Sutlej in force and was joined by Ajit Singh, of Ladva, from the other side of the river. They marched towards Ludhiana and burnt a portion of the cantonment. Sir Harry Smith (afterwards Governor of Cape Colony), who was sent to relieve Ludhiana, marched eastwards from Ferozepur, keeping a few miles away from the Sutlej. Ranjodh Singh Majithia harried Smith's column and, when Smith tried to make a detour at Baddoval, attacked his rear with great vigour and captured his baggage train and stores (21 January). But Harry Smith retrieved his position a week later by inflicting a defeat on Ranjodh Singh Majithia and Ajit Singh, of Ladva, (28 January).

The peace-time strength of Phillaur fort on the right bank of Sutlej opposite Ludhiana, was only one thousand, but in view of the Sutlej campaign it was increased to ten thousand with sixty pieces of artillery under Ranjodh Singh Majithia. Although he crossed Sutlej on 17th December 1845, he failed to take advantage of the fact that since the main British force was concentrated towards Mudki he could have launched a sort of an offensive in which the Sikhs had ample raining and could have laid waste the country in front of him. Also he could have created panic in the British camp and compelled a diversion of their forces from Mudki. Major Carmichael Smyth of North Western Political Agency writes, "Ranjodh Singh ought certainly to have marched direct upon Delhi instead of entrenching himself first at Buddowal and afterwards on the banks of the river; his cavalry might have laid waste the country and his army would have increased like a snowball and easily have got possession of a portion of the siege-train which was on the road without proper ammunition and protection." Instead, he confined himself only to attacking Ludhiana and Buddowal with some success but in the process wasted a golden opportunity which could have turned the scales of war against the British.

Soon after the battle of Ferozeshah Tej Singh met the Governor General. The latter is said to have refused to enter into any negotiations, until the British occupied Lahore. This, Tej Singh and other traitors apparently promised to bring about.

"More dangerous than the treachery of Tej Singh and Lal Singh in the battle field was the political intrigue of Gulab Singh Dogra, who was then conducting negotiations with the Governor General. As the plenipotentiary of the Lahore Darbar, Gulab Singh did not hesitate to sell his country for silver. He had already agreed to the following conditions dictated by the British: (i) that the Sikh Army should be attacked by the British, (ii) that after being defeated it should be abandoned by its own Government and (iii) that the passage of the Sutlej should be unopposed and the road to the capital laid open to the victor".

Luckily for the Sikhs the main hitch still remained : the dispersal of the Sikh Army. Gulab Singh had shown his inability to accomplish this and had left it entirely to the British, whose immediate aim was to drive the Sikhs across the Sutlej by force of arms and secure the unconditional submission of the chiefs and delegates of the army. But a single defeat could not completely disperse so large and well-equipped an army of the brave Khalsa.


Sardar Sham Singh Attari was in Ludhiana District when the hostilities began. As soon as the Sikh forces crossed Sutlej he returned to his village Attari. When the news of defeat reached Maharani Jindan, she despatched ten horsemen to the Sardar with an urgent message. The Attari Chief hurried to the scene of battle to find the shameful part played by the traitors in the hope of being upheld as Ministers of a dependent Kingdom by the grateful conquerors.' When he fully apprised himself of the situation, he hesitated for a while to take command. But in view of the delicate political situation then existing, he decided to follow the course which the legendary Maharaja (Ranjit Singh) had taught them to take when honour and duty to his faith and country was involved. Accordingly he declared his resolve to resist the British and stop them from occupying the Punjab.

The Sikhs dejected at their defeat at Ferozeshah again took heart and were inspired anew by his noble example. Cunningham again describes the scene,
"The dangers which threatened the Sikh people pressed upon their mind and they saw no escape from foreign subjection. The grey headed chief, Sham Singh of Attari, made known his resolution to die in the first conflict with the enemies of his race and so to offer himself as a sacrifice of propitiation to the spirit of Gobind Singh ji and to the genius of his mystic Commonwealth".

By the close of first week of February, 1846, the Sikh Army had constructed formidable entrenchments about two and a half miles long on the left bank of Sutlej near Subhraon. Their batteries were placed about six feet high protected by deep trenches. These defensive works were connected with the right bank with a bridge of boats. Some twenty to twenty five thousand men and seventy guns were placed behind these entrenchments. Nevertheless, the traitors were determined once again to see the Khalsa Army beaten. Lal Singh was again re-imposed on the Army. Two days before the battle, Lal Singh again sent Shams-ud-Din to Major Lawrence with details of its defensive plan. The weakest point in the Sikh line was its right flank where the loose sand made it impossible to build high parapets or place heavy guns there; it was to be protected by the ghorcharas and light camel guns which only fired balls one or two pounds in weight; moreover the command of this wing was reserved by Lal Singh for himself. On the basis of this intelligence, Cunningham writes, "it was arranged that the whole of the heavy ordinance should be planted in masses opposite particular points of the enemy entrenchments, and that when the Sikhs had been shaken by a continuous storm of shot and shell, the right or weakest point of their position should be assaulted in line by the strongest of the three investing divisions, which together mustered nearly fifteen thousand men." Sir Robert Dick's Division was ordered to commence the attack on the right flank with Sir Walter Gilbert's Division in immediate support on the right. Sir Harry Smith's Division was to be close to Gilbert's right to support him.

Sardar Sham Singh, also knowing that 10th February was going to be the day of battle, rose early in the morning, dressed himself in white, and mounting his white mare proceeded to address the Sikh Army. He reminded the assembled Khalsa about their glorious traditions of bravery and sacrifices in the past and begged them, as true sons of the soil, to die rather than turn their backs on the enemy. Since he had himself dedicated his life to the sacred cause, his words had the desired effect.

Dick's Division advanced according to plan and found the defences weak and easily surmountable, as Lal Singh's emissaries had reported. The 10th Queen's Regiment broke through totally unopposed, but when the entire division had penetrated some way it was suddenly fallen upon by the Sikhs and driven back. Sir Robert Dick was himself mortally wounded. 'Rally those men', the Governor-General shouted. Colonel Wood, his Aide de-Camp, galloped to the centre of the line and seizing the colours from the hands of an ensign carried them to the front. In a moment the wavering British troops had rallied and stormed the breastworks simultaneously with the Brigade of Dick's Division, who had also experienced a similar check but had soon recovered their lost ground. Now both Gilbert's and Dick's Divisions engaged in what may be called the deadliest hand-to-hand encounter with the Sikh infantry.

During the first British attack Sardar Sham Singh had been present almost everywhere. He did not allow his men to lose heart as he moved from column to column urging the men to fight on. His action stirred the Sikhs to greater efforts and the British were eventually repulsed. William Edwards, who was present during the attack, has described the scene most graphically :
"Gilbert's troops immediately advanced but finding the centre of the works from their height perfectly impregnable were driven back with very heavy loss. Sir Harry Smith's Division instead of being near the right of Gilbert was on the extreme left of the Sikh position. It also advanced on the works in front and was driven back with great loss."

For some time the issue of the Battle of Subhraon was hanging in the balance as the conflict raged fiercely. Cunningham, describing this contest, writes:
"The round shot exploded umbrils or dashed heaps of sand into the air; the hollow shells cast their fatal contents fully before them and the devious rocket sprang aloft with fury to fall hissing amid a flood of men; but all was in vain, the Sikhs stood unappalled and flash for flash returned and fire for fire". 'The field was resplendent with embattled warriors. Then as Sir Herbert Edwards says, "The artillery galloped up and delivered their fire within 300 yards of the enemy's batteries and infantry charged home with the bayonet and carried the works without firing a single shot. As it was the finest attack, so also did it meet with the most determined hand-to-hand resistance with which the Khalsa soldiers had yet opposed the British." The tide of battle now turned against the gallant defenders and to make its turn irrevocable, the treacherous Commanders, Tej Singh and Lal Singh instead of leading fresh men to bolster up the defences, fled across the bridge of boats sinking the central boat after crossing.

Gilbert's Division led the third charge on the Sikh centre. Mounting on one another's shoulders, the attackers gained a footing on the entrenchments and as they increased in number they rushed at the Sikh guns and captured them. Soon the news spread down the line that enemy troops had won their way through to Sikh positions. Sardar Sham Singh, seeing his army facing defeat, took the final fatal plunge. He spurred forward against the 50th Foot, brandishing his sword and calling on his men to follow him. But soon he fell from his horse, his body pierced with seven balls. He had remained true to his vow to the last. Bravely the Sardar had not only gone forward to defend his own positions, but had pushed deep into the enemy lines. As proof of this his dead body, according to the British Commander-in-Chief, 'was sought for in the captured camp by his followers', who were permitted to search for their dead leader. His body was discovered where the dead lay thickest. His servants placed the body on a raft and swam with it across the river. Three days later the party reached Attari. Sham Singh's widow, who knew of her husband's resolution not to survive defeat, had already immolated herself with the clothes which the Sardar had worn on their wedding day. Her Samadh along with that of her husband is still to be seen outside the village of Attari.

The self-sacrifice of Sardar Sham Singh, the hero of Subhraon, had an inspiring effect. According to Cunningham,
"No Sikh offered to submit and no disciple of Gobind asked for quarter. They everywhere showed a front to the victor and stalked slowly and sullenly away while many rushed singly forth to meet assured death by contending with a multitude.' According to Lord Hardinge who was present in the battle, "Few escaped; none, it may be said, surrendered. The Sikhs met their fate with the resignation which distinguishes their race".

Sardar Sham Singh's courage and determination had turned Sobroan into the Waterloo of India, as according to Malleson, 'victory for the Sikhs would have meant to the English the loss of India'. The Sardar's devotion to his country's cause was unique in an era of betrayals and his fidelity and self-sacrifice shone like a beacon amidst the treachery and selfishness of his contemporaries who sold their country to the foreigners. Indeed Sardar Sham Singh proved himself a prince among patriots and martyrs'.

Further treasonable negotiations and secret understandings between the English and the traitors took place during the first week of February 1846. William Edwards says,
"Emissaries from Lal Singh arrived and gave us valuable information regarding enemy position." According to Griffin, Tej Singh counseled even the valiant warrior Sham Singh Attariwala to run away with him at the first British attack in the battle of Sobroan. Writing about the battle of Subhroan, where he was present, Cunningham says, "The speedy dictation of a treaty under the walls of Lahore was essential to the British reputation and the views of either party were in some sort met by an understanding that the Sikh army should be attacked by the English and that when beaten, it should be openly abandoned by its own government; and further, that the passage of the Sutlej should be unopposed and the road to the capital laid open to the victors. Under such circumstances of discreet policy and shameless treason was the battle of Sobroan fought".

Edwardes says, about the same battle,
"The Sikhs made a gallant and desperate resistance but were driven towards the river and their bridge of boats which, as soon as the action had become general, their leaders Raja Lal Singh and Tej Singh, had, by previous consent broken, taking the precaution first to retire across it themselves, their object being to effect, as soon as possible, annihilation of the feared and detested army."

According to Major Carmichael Smyth,
"Tej Singh ordered up eight or ten guns and had them pointed at the bridge as if ready to beat it to pieces or to oppose the passage of the defeated army".

"The Sikh troops, basely betrayed by their leaders who had come so it was said, and not without some appearance of truth......to a secret understanding with us, fought like heroes"

Smith, Life of Lord Lawrence, 1188. Hesketh Pearson says,
"A British defeat, was again turned into a victory by the convenient flight of Tej Singh who damaged the bridge of boats over the Sutlej on his way and so helped to drown a large number of his countrymen".

Captain J.D. Cunningham, who was present as an additional aide-de-camp to the governor-general, describes the last scene of the battle vividly in his A History of the Sikhs:
...although assailed on either side by squadrons of horse and battalions of foot, no Sikh offered to submit, and no disciple of Guru Gobind Singh asked for quarter. They everywhere showed a front to the victors, and stalked slowly and sullenly away, while many rushed singly forth to meet assured death by contending with a multitude. The victors looked with stolid wonderment upon the indomitable courage of the vanquished....

Lord Hardinge, who saw the action, wrote:
Few escaped; none, it may be said, surrendered. The Sikhs met their fate with the resignation which distinguishes their race.

Lord Gough described Sabraon as the Waterloo of India. Writing to Sir Robert Peel, the British Prime Minister, he paid glowing tribute to the Sikhs
"Policy precluded me publicly recording my sentiments on the splendid gallantry of our fallen foe, or to record the acts of heroism displayed, not only individually, but almost collectively by the Sikh sardars and the army; and I declare were it not from a deep conviction that my country's good required the sacrifice, I could have wept to have witnessed the fearful slaughter of so devoted a body of men." Lord Gough then told the whole truth when he added, "Certain it is that there would have been a different story to tell if the body of men had not been commanded by traitors." The Life and Campaigns of Viscount Gough, p. 108.

According to Secret understanding with the Governor-General, no opposition was offered to the British troops who arrived at Lahore on 20-2-1846. Two days later, a portion of the fort was garrisoned by the British Regiments.

Source:Anglo-Sikh Wars and its Inside Tale - Karnail Singh

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