The Residency – India’s Alamo

The year is 1857. The date, May12. Sir Henry Lawrence, British chief Commissioner to the Oudh region looks out worriedly over the ramparts of the Lucknow Residency. He has just received word that Indian soldiers in Meerut have revolted and are marching to Delhi. Sir Lawrence knows his force is small and the area to defend is large. Little does he know that in under two months he would make the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of Lucknow.

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Sir Henry Lawrence

The British Residency was established at Lucknow when the capital of Awadh or Oudh, as it was then called, was shifted to Lucknow from Faizabad in 1775. Construction of the Residency began the same year by Nawab Asafuddaula and was completed by Nawab Saadat Ali Khan in 1800.

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Portrait of the whole Residency building after the battle

Sir Lawrence begins fortifying the Residency and starts amassing supplies. Retired sepoys and artillery men loyal to the British are recalled for the siege. Even staff and students of the historical La Martiniere boys school are called for active duty. The rebellion reaches Lucknow on May 30 which is also the day of the Id festival. At this point of time the garrison consists of 3000 souls including 1280 non combatants.

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Canon preserved on the grounds of the Residency

The ruins of the Residency are surprisingly well maintained and the buildings preserved for posterity. It has a pleasing look with well manicured lawns and a comprehensive 1857 memorial museum. The signs of shelling during the mutiny are still visible and transport us to those times of canon balls and musket fire.

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The Residency  – Present Day

Although the initial outbreak is successfully repulsed, rebellion soon breaks out at Sitapur on June 4 and subsequently in Faizabad, Daryabad, Sultanpur and Salon thereby effectively ending British rule for a few days in all areas of Oudh except the Residency which has now become the symbol of British dominion. Lawrence leads an ill fated expedition to Chinhat on June 30, in the hope of regaining control but is defeated and is forced to beat a disorderly retreat back to Residency with the loss of many lives both Indian and British .

img_1751The Museum building

The Residency Complex today consists of the ruins of several buildings like Dr. Fayrers house (where Sir Lawrence spent the last few hours of his life), Brigade mess, Bailey Guard gate, Aitken memorial, Treasury House, Banquet Hall and the Begum kothi.

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The Begum Kothi ??

The first attack on the Residency is repulsed on July 1 by blowing up the Machi Bhawan palace and withdrawing. Sir Henry Lawrence is fatally injured by Howitzer shell fire on July 2. He is shifted to the surgeons house and succumbs to his injuries on July 4. Major Banks takes over as chief commissioner and Colonel Inglis takes over the defense The death of Sir Lawrence is a great blow, it is written, to the garrison.

July 4th : A tremendous fire all night but no effort was made to storm our position. To the great grief of our garrison Sir Henry Lawrence died this morning about 8 o clock from the effects of his wound. Shortly before his death Mr GH Lawrence while standing in the front verandah of Dr Fayrer’s house was wounded by a musket ball through his right shoulder. “

Eyewitness account by a Staff Officer

Eye witness accounts also say that almost 10000 Indian soldiers have surrounded the Residency at this point.

img_1739Memorial erected by the British troops for Indian troops who fought alongside them

The history of some of the important buildings make good reading. It is said that the Treasury house was finished in 1851 at cost of Rs. 16,897/-. during the revolution a part of the building was used as an ordinance factory for manufacturing the offending Enfeild Cartridges.

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Impressions of Canon Ball fire on the walls

Several attempts are made by Major General Henry Havelock to relieve Lucknow but fail in spite of 3 military victories at Unnao. Then by late September, Havelock defeats Indian troops at Alambagh, Charbagh and Kaiserbagh and finally enters the Residency. By the time of the relief, the defenders of the Residency have endured a siege of 87 days, and are reduced to 982 fighting personnel. However due to extensive casualties during the relief, the Residency cannot be evacuated but the defences are extended to the Chattar Manzil.

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More Canon Ball marks

The Banquet Hall is said to have been constructed by Nawab Saadat Ali khan and was the most imposing structure of the Residency with State Apartments and Spacious Saloons furnished with costly Chandeliers, mirrors and Silk Diwans. It was decorated with inlaid Black and white Marble.

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The Banquet Hall

By September 21, Delhi has been recaptured by the British who go about establishing control up to Kanpur. The final relief of Lucknow is left till adequate forces are mustered and begins on November 14. Indian forces at Lucknow have now grown in number to 30-60,000 troops and the main approaches have been fortified.

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The Bailey Guard Gate

The Begum Kothi initially belonged to Nawab Asafuddaula and was subsequently sold to European businessmen. It was then repossessed by the Begum of Nasiruddin Haider. After her death an Imambara and a mosque were built by her Step sister. This building is built in the traditionally Avadhi style unlike the other buildings in the Residency.

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The Mosque and Imambara near the Begum Kothi

The final relief of Lucknow is led personally by the new Commander in Chief of the British in India, Sir Colin Campbell implying how important this battle has become. On November 14 he advances from Alambagh along the Gomti river to La Martiniere school through Dilkusha park. On November 15 the column crosses the Gomti and Dilkusha canal and is held up at Secundara Bagh. By noon, the Secundrabagh is taken and the Indian defenders eliminated. The Indian troops then regroup in the strong Shah Najaf Mosque. By nightfall this is also breached and Campbell makes his headquarters there.

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Another damaged building on the grounds

The Residency also has a sound a light show at 7 pm. However the officials told us that they needed a minimum of 10 tickets before they would run the show. We waited a while but left in disappointment. Tourist traffic is not high at the Residency especially during work days.

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Collage of the Memorial to the defenders of the Residency

The British slowly withdraw from the Residency starting with the women, children and injured to Kanpur while engaging the Indian offensive all through the route. Havelock dies of dysentery, we are told, at Dilkusha park soon after the siege. The first siege lasted 87 days, the second siege a further 61. The Indian troops are left in control of Lucknow over the following winter, but were prevented from undertaking any other operations by their own disunity and by the British hold on the easily defended Alambagh. Lucknow is retaken by Campbell on March 21, 1858.

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The Aitken memorial

The Residency is a wonderful piece of history. It tells us of the resilience of Indian troops during the mutiny. Studies tell us that they were defeated due to the lack of officers. Any army needs officers to coordinate fire and chalk out strategies. This was sadly lacking and the revolution petered out. The British on the other hand realised that they could not be masters for long in a country not their own. The Residency stands today as a testimony of the rule of that day.

4 Comments

  • Patrick Jones says:

    I salute those martyrs whose sacrifice didn’t go in vain. I am indebted to them for the freedom I enjoy today.

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Very interesting study Patrick. You have beautifully used italics and normal letters to move from past to present and vice versa. 1857 mutiney helped us to get rid of rule of East India Company for which business interests were the sole motive. The following British rule was a shade better as they were accountable to the world and we had a country to deal with rather than a business empire.

    Do I have any sympathy for Sir Henry Lawrence, not at all ? He was defending his interests, which is quite different from mine :-)

    I looked at that who was ruling Oudh at that time and realized that it was Hazrat Begum. I don’t know the truth but one reason that the Residency might have been spared could be that the revolutionary forces were lead by a lady and I feel that she might be sympathetic towards women and kids locked inside. Of course its just a feeling and I did not took any pain to verify it.

    Again Patrick, its a very interesting read that is well supplemented with beautiful photographs.

  • Khursheed H. Zaidid says:

    The place which has been shown as Begum Kothi is not Begum Kothi but Imambara. Begum Kothi is near Imambara. There also stands a mosque.

    Sir Henery Lawrence is a great lesson from history. To be sympathetic or not to be sympathetic does not matter.

    The inexperience of the Indian soldiers and the tendency to loot culminated into failure otherwise the Britishers would have lost the land.

  • Patrick says:

    Thanks Manish – Do pardon me for the laaaaaate reply. Points noted. Thx Khursheed ji – A piece of history is a piece of history…

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