An old photograph dating back to 1858 took me to the Residency in Lucknow. Taken in the aftermath of the Revolt of 1857, it showed a battered façade of a building, replete with cannonball holes and two men standing with their horses. The foreground was littered with skeletons, said to be of the rebel soldiers who took part in the battle for Lucknow. The more I read about it, the more I got enamoured with the idea of visiting the places that witnessed this battle. What better place than the Residency! There was something so haunting about this story that the first thing after stepping out of the airport, I hailed a cab and asked the driver to take me to the Residency.
A Brief History of The Lucknow Residency
The foundation stones of the Residency were laid in 1780 by Nawab Saadat Ali Khan, the fifth Nawab of Awadh. Meant for the British Resident stationed in Lucknow, the 33-acre complex originally consisted of many buildings including bungalows and other residential quarters, treasury, armoury, stables, a hospital and places of worship including a church and an Imambara. A number of buildings were later built by French Major General Claude Martin (of La Martiniere fame).
The architecture was a mix of the Indo-Persian and European styles with ornate stucco work on the frescos and towering columns. Many houses had underground chambers meant both for storage as well as protection in case of an eventuality.
The Great Mutiny
“Sometimes we have to lose something precious not necessarily to gain something priceless; sometimes, just losing is priceless”
― Shahid Hussain Raja
By the turn of 1857, the once great Mughal Empire was at its terminal stage, reduced to mere nostalgia while the East India Company held sway in the Indian Subcontinent. This ‘cataclysmic’ change of destinies not only impacted the agrarian masses, but also the nobility from the empire and princely states. Already smarting under the new masters from across the seas, they were to be pushed further into a corner by the Company with its high-handed and ill-conceived, policies like Dalhousie’s ‘Doctrine of Lapse’.
छिनी राजधानी दिल्ली की, लखनऊ छीना बातों-बात,
कैद पेशवा था बिठुर में, हुआ नागपुर का भी घात,
उदैपुर, तंजौर, सतारा, करनाटक की कौन बिसात?
जबकि सिंध, पंजाब ब्रह्म पर अभी हुआ था वज्र-निपात।
– सुभद्रा कुमारी चौहान, झाँसी की रानी
Left: Shah ‘Alam, Mughal Emperor (1759–1806), Conveying the Grant of the Diwani to Lord Clive, August 1765
India in the spring of 1857 was
By 30th June 1857, rebels including sepoys from the cantonments of Sitapur and Faizabad has started gathering to the north of Lucknow. An expedition led by Sir Henry Lawrence to oust the rebels from their position resulted in a complete rout of the Company forces and the detachment retreated to the Lucknow Residency, closely pursued by the rebel army.
The Seige of Lucknow had started, and the Residency was its focal point…
The Seige Of Residency
During the Revolt of 1857, the battle for Lucknow was one of the pivotal events that determined the course of the war, and the siege of residency was its epicentre.
Between 30th June 1857 and 14th November 1857, a garrison of 885 British officers and soldiers, 712 India sepoys, 153 civilian volunteers and about 1280 non-combatants under the command of Sir Henry Lawrence were besieged by around 8000 rebels under the flag of Begum Hazrat Mahal. The bloody and bitterly fought siege was ended in the retreat of the rebel soldiers, but not before 2500 British casualties and deaths of an unknown number of rebel soldiers.
After the end of the rebellion, the battered residency was abandoned and left as it stood there in ruins, and hence remains almost in the same state as it was during those tumults days of 1857.
The photograph that brought me to the Residency. However, it is said to be of Sikandar Bagh and not the Residency, but the charm remained nonetheless. Notice the skulls in the foreground. Photo: Felice Beato, 1858.
At The Residency
I was the first visitor to the memorial that day; it seemed that the lovebirds, for which the Residency is notorious, were yet to wake up from their sweet dreams. After a thoroughly suspicious glance at the lone guy with a big camera, the guards let me in. Arriving early was thus good in more than one way, not only was nobody there to disturb, but the wintery mist of the morning added a character to the landscape.
For nearly an hour, I walked between the remains of a turbulent past, tumbled down columns and facades that pointed silently to what must have been a glorious sight in its heydays. It was a partly calming, partly sad feeling, for this place has seen unspeakable misery and simply too many tragic deaths from both sides. It was difficult not to wonder how would it have been then…
Anyway, leaving sentiments aside, let’s take a tour of the place so that we can better appreciate its importance in our history.
The Baillie Gate, named after Colonel John Baillie, an accomplished linguist and one of the earlier Residents in Awadh. The Residency was also known as the Baillie Garad in vernacular lingua, which literally meant ‘Baillie Garrison’.
The treasury is the first building that shows up on your right as soon as you walk through the Baillie Guard Gate. A memorial and a plaque commemorate the officers and sepoys that died during the siege. The marble plaque is specifically dedicated to the native sepoys, underlining the demography of the warring factions in 1857, not all rebels were sepoys, and not all sepoys were rebels.
Work on the Treasury was completed in 1851 and the architecture was a mixture of Awadh and Rajput styles. Some of the stucco work still remains
In front of the Treasury is a pillar in the memory of Colonel Robert H M Aitken. An officer of the 13th Bengal Native Infantry, he distinguished himself during the siege of Lucknow.
Dr. Fayrer’s House
Toward the left on the road from the Treasury is the house of Sir Joseph Fayrer, a resident surgeon. Dr Fayrer well-known in the world of medicine, especially for his research on the treatment of snakebites. His house served both as a shelter, it had an underground
Gone! are ye then all gone?
The good, the beautiful, the kind, the dear,
Passed to your glorious rest so swiftly on,
And left me weeping here.
Into the haven passed,
They anchor far beyond the scathe of ill;
While the stern billow and the reckless blast,
Are mine to cope with still.
– Katherine Mary Bartrum, A Widow’s Reminiscences of the Siege of Lucknow, 1858.
As I read the heart-wrenching account of Katherine M Bartrum, who lost her husband and only child in the mutiny, I cannot help but shiver at the miseries of the war. I cannot stop realising that while the British side was fortunate enough to have their stories are known and memorials erected, the rebels died unknown and mostly unsung. The photograph of Sikandar Bagh is from 1858, the skeletons of the rebels are still lying on the ground where they died, their memories obliterated, their lives and deaths forgotten…
The Banquet Hall
Across the road, behind the Treasury, lied the Banquet Hall or the Dawat Khana. The most imposing building in the Residency Complex, it was built by Nawab Saadat Ali Khan as the place to entertain guests and hold parties. Its high ceilings were once adorned with glittering chandeliers brought from ‘vilayat’ with other expensive decorations. Even today, the remnants of a fireplace and a ruined fountain with ornate marble inlay work can be seen in the ruins. Some of the tall columns of the first floor remain but most of the building was destroyed during the siege and remains more or less in the same way.
Ruins of the Banquet Hall. Only a few people were around, mostly senior citizens taking their morning walks.
The Begum Kothi and Imambara
The Begum Kothi belonged to Malika Mukhdarah Aliya or Vilayati Begum, the British wife of Nawab Nasir-Ud-Din Haider (1803-1837). After the Nawab was murdered, Vilayati Begum, her mother and stepsister Ashrafunnisa came to live in the Residency. Their graves are still present in the compound of the Begum Kothi.
One of the most unique buildings of the Residency is the Mosque and Imambara built by Ashrafunnisa, perhaps the only one built in a purely Awadhi style. Though the Imambara is in ruins as well, its domes and minarets have survived to this date. It has a very forlorn look about it, same as the rest of the Residency. While I walked around its compound, there was nobody to be seen. However, there was evidence of it being used even today.
The Residency Building
Across the pathway, facing the Banquet Hall is the shattered main building of the Residency. It was constructed on the highest point in Lucknow and had watchtowers to get a sweeping view of the entire city.
Of the original three-storied building, only the ground and the first floor remain comprehensible. The entrance was from a portico on the eastern side that led to a large hall on the ground floor, probably meant for gatherings and meetings. The first floor had a billiard room and a library among other amenities. It also had underground chambers that were used to shelter women and children.
During the siege, the Residency building was shelled heavily and many of the casualties such as that of Sir Lawerence were sustained here. Only the annexe to the South West survived almost intact and has now been converted into a museum. Unfortunately, on the day I arrived, the museum was closed for public. Maybe next time.
In the lawn to the front of the building stands a tall cross, designed by C.B. Thornbill in the memory of Sir Henry Lawrence. There is another smaller cross in
The stories of the Revolt of 1857 or the Great Sepoy Mutiny have been ingrained in our minds since childhood. While we grew up on the tales of the valour of Indian leaders like Jhansi Ki Rani, Tantiya Tope and Babu Kunwar Singh, the trials and tribulations of the rebels and the brutal suppression of the revolt, the sufferings of the other side, the British men and women, largely escaped our narrative. This seems to be the exact inverse of the depiction of the Rebellion fed to the English masses by their press and historians, of a savage assault by the Natives on the unusually pious British.
However, there are no Black and White in a War and all we have are different shades of grey. My pride about 1857 had received its first jolt when I had read about the massacre at Satichaura ghat. Slowly, I began to accept that both sides were at fault at one place or another and committed unspeakable atrocities on civilians of the enemy’s side.
Maybe this is why a visit to the Residency can be a very sombre experience, especially if you visit at the right time and are already aware of its story. I read the diary of Katherine Mary Bartrum while writing this post and it just leaves me with so much sadness. So many died within these 33 acres during those days, it just feels so sad. I could not bring myself to visit the cemetery where those unfortunate souls have been interned, it would have been too overwhelming.
The Revolt of 1857 brought forward the anguish of an India long suppressed, and the horrors of the war like never before in our modern consciousness. Its scars in our memory might have healed over time, but they are still visible on the walls of the Residency.
Lest we forget…