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Duleep Singh (Lahore, 6 September 1838 - Paris, 22 October 1893) was a Sikh ruler of the sovereign country of Punjab and the Sikh Empire. He was the last Maharaja during the Sikh Raj of Punjab. He was the youngest son of the legendary Lion of the Punjab (Maharaja Ranjit Singh) and the Messalina of the Punjab (Maharani Jind Kaur). There are questions about the spelling of his name. Among the possibilities are Dhulip, Dulip, Dhalip, Dhuleep and Dalip but he used Duleep when writing it himself. Official British letters and documents sometimes refer to him as Dalip. Maharajah Duleep Singh, the Maharajah of Lahore and King of the Sikh Empire. He was also known as the Black Prince of Perthshire. He was born on September 6, 1838.
The young Duleep Singh came to the throne of Punjab in 1843 succeeding his half-brother, Maharajah Sher Singh. After the close of the Second Anglo-Sikh War and the subsequent annexation of the Punjab in 1849, he was deposed at the age of eleven by the East India Company and separated from his mother. He was put into the care of Dr John Login and sent from Lahore to Fatehgarh on December 21, 1849. He handed over, in controversial circumstances, the Koh-i-Noor diamond to Queen Victoria as part of the terms of the conclusion of the war and the 250th anniversary of the East India Company on July 3, 1850. His health was reportedly poor, and he was mostly in quasi-exile in Fatehgarh and Lucknow after 1849, with tight restrictions on who he was allowed to meet. No Indians, except trusted servants, could meet him in private. As a matter of British policy, he was to be Anglicized in every possible respect. While no specific information was released about his health, he was often sent to the hill station of Landour near Mussoorie in the Lower Himalaya for convalescence, at the time about 4 days journey. He would remain for weeks at a time in Landour at a grand hilltop building called The Castle, which had been lavishly furnished to accommodate him.
In 1853, under the tutelage of his long-time retainer Bhajan Lal (himself a Christian convert) he was converted to Christianity at Fatehgarh with the approval of the Governor-General Lord Dalhousie. His conversion remains controversial, having been effected in unclear circumstances before he turned 15. He was also heavily and continuously exposed to Christian texts under the tutelage of the devout John Login. His two closest childhood friends were both English, one being the child of Anglican missionaries.
In 1854, he was then sent into exile in England, his 'poor health' also being cited. While in exile, he would seek to learn more about Sikhism and was eager to return to India, but was thwarted by his handlers. Having finally decided in 1886, in no uncertain terms, to return to India and re-embrace Sikhism, and despite protests from the India Office, he set sail for 'Home'. He was intercepted in Aden, where the writ of the Raj began. He could not be stopped from an informal re-conversion ceremony in Aden (far less grand and symbolic that it would have been in India), but was forced to return to Europe. He headed for Paris, where he would die at the age of 55, not really having seen India again after he was 15, except for two brief, tightly-controlled visits in 1860 (to bring his mother to England) and in 1863 (to scatter his mother's ashes).
Life in exile
Duleep Singh's arrival on the shores of England in 1854 threw him into the European court. Queen Victoria showered affection upon the turbaned Maharajah, as did the Prince Consort. Duleep Singh was initially lodged at Claridges Hotel in London before the East India Company took over a house in Wimbledon and then eventually another house in Roehampton which became his home for 3 years. He eventually got bored with Roehampton and expressed a wish to go back to India but it was suggested by the East India Company Board he take a tour of the European continent which he did with Sir John Spencer Login and Lady Login. There is also a controversy saying that Queen Victoria had an affair with Maharaja, and had a son named, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany
On his return from Europe in 1855 he was given an annual pension, and was officially under ward of Sir John Spencer Login and Lady Login, who leased Castle Menzies in Perthshire, Scotland for him. He spent the rest of his teens there but at 19 he demanded to be in charge of his household, eventually, he was given this and an increase in his annual pension. In 1858 the lease expired and Duleep Singh rented the house at Auchlyne from the earl of Breadalbane. He was remarkable in the area as the first Indian prince to visit Scotland, and soon earned the nickname the "Black Prince of Perthshire". He was known for a lavish lifestyle, shooting parties, and a love of dressing in highland costume. (At the same time, he was known to have gradually developed a sense of regret for his circumstances in exile, including some inner turmoil about his conversion to Christianity and his forced departure from the Punjab). His mother stayed in Perthshire with him for a short time, before he purchased the Grandtully Estate, near Pitlochry. Following the deaths of his mother and John Login in 1863, he returned to England .
Duleep Singh bought (or was purchased for him by the India Office) a 17,000 acre country estate at Elveden on the Norfolk/ Suffolk border close to Thetford in 1863. He fell in love with Elveden and the area and restored the church, cottages and the school. He transformed the run-down estate into an efficient game preserve and the house into a quasi-oriental palace where he lived the life of a British aristocrat. Duleep Singh was accused of running up large expenses and the estate was sold after his death to repay his debt. Today, Elveden Hall is owned by descendants of the Guinness family of brewing fame, and remains an operating farm and private hunting estate.
Duleep Singh died in Paris in 1893 and his body was brought back to be buried (according to Christian rites, under the supervision of the India Office) in Elveden Church beside the grave of his wife Maharani Bamba, and his son Prince Edward Albert Duleep Singh. However, the graves are not open to the public; permission is rarely granted to see them. Duleep Singh's wish for his body to be returned to India was declined, in fear of unrest given the symbolic value the funeral of the son of the Lion of the Punjab may have caused, given growing resentment of British rule.
A statue of the Maharajah was officially unveiled by HRH the Prince of Wales in 1999 at Butten Island in Thetford, a town which benefitted from his and his sons' generosity.
A coat of arms was granted as official seal of Maharaja, commissioned by Prince Albert.
Duleep Singh married twice, once to Bamba Muller and another to a French princess, Ada Douglas Wetherill. He had 8 children in total, 6 from his first marriage to Bamba (Princes Victor, Frederick, and Albert Edward Duleep Singh, and Princesses Bamba, Catherine and Sophia Duleep Singh) and 2 from his second to Ada.
Maharani Bamba Muller
Maharani Bamba Muller was an Arabic speaking part Ethiopian, part German girl, her father was a German banker and her mother was an Abyssinian Coptic Christian slave. She and Duleep met in Cairo in 1863 on his return from scattering his mother's ashes in India and married in Alexandria, Egypt on June 7, 1864. The maharani died in London on September 18, 1887.
- "Official" Duleep Singh site
- RoyalArk on Punjab's dynasty, includes extensive bios
- Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail
Aijazuddin, F.S. Sikh Portraits by European Artists, Sotheby Parke Bernet,London & Oxford University Press, Karachi and New delhi, 1979.