A forgotten British Cantonment – Mardiaon
Volume: 10, No: 08 ; August-2016
Many cities in the Indian Sub-continent contained large cantonments of the former British Indian Army including Lucknow, Meerut, Kanpur, Fatehgarh, Jhansi, Faizabad, Allahabad, Agra, Bareilly etc., in the present state of Uttar Pradesh. Cantonments meant quarters assigned for lodging troops, a permanent military station created by the British government in India for the location of military formation away from the civilian towns. Presently there are 62 ‘notified Cantonments’ in India and among all these Lucknow Cantonment has a very rich history which goes back to even before the mutiny year of 1857.
In Lucknow the British Cantonment was initially situated on the north bank of the river Gomti, almost opposite the Daulat Khana, complex then inhabited by Asaf-ud-Daula. This bank was known as the ‘English side of the river’ and the Gomti was crossed by a single bridge over the river. In 1801 Nawab Sadat Ali Khan was forced to cede half his territories as payment for the British troops that Nawab never wanted, and under force, persistence from the Britsih and due to a threat of losing the rest of his kingdom to the British, he agreed to allow a company army of 10,000 to be stationed, but on the outskirts of the capital city of Lucknow. This indeed was a clever move by the Nawab as he knew that the troops would be secluded and at anytime could be cut off from the city, if the only bridge connecting the two sides be cut off. Thus during the reign of Sadat Ali Khan British Cantonment at Lucknow underwent a radical change, when it was transferred from the banks of the river Gomti to Mardiaon (also spelt as : Marion, Mardion, Madiyon, Madiyaon), nearly four miles north of the city, stretching from Sitapur road to Lucknow city. The estimated size of the enlarged cantonment area was about 312 acres.
Here the presence of British troops was something that the Nawab Saadat Ali Khan could not control, but he felt that by putting physical limits on the amount of land granted he could perhaps control their number. Thus a list of the conditions were laid down and sent to Col. Collins in 1807 together with the Nawab’s agreement to the new site, and the Resident’s acceptances of the conditions as under :-
• The Cantonment was only for the British troops and their followers.
• No Ganj (market) was to be erected within the Cantonment for traders or merchants.
• No moneylenders or inhabitants of Lucknow were to reside in the cantonment without the previous consent and approval of the Nawab.
• There was to be no fortified building there, besides the officers’ bungalows and the magazine for artillery.
• The exercising ground was to be distinct from the Cantonment and was to be kept clear and ready for exercising of the troops, and was not to have any building.
• A ditch was to be dug round the Cantonment to define the limits, and no extension beyond that ditch would be allowed.
• An informer, scout, or spy, was to be stationed in the Cantonment to bring news to the Nawab, since the Cantonment was on land belonging to the Nawab.
The Mardiaon Cantonment developed with broad metalled road, had bungalows built in cottage style, each having a garden without offices, stables and servant quarters, a small church, a graveyard, a dance hall, and a commissariat for storing provisions for the troops, a pond for sepoys besides residential quarters for officers and sepoys. There was a park with a band-stand and a race-course nearby. Mr. Ricketts, the then British Resident also stayed here for last three years of his term. Later his house was known as ‘Ricketts Sahib ka Bungalow’. A church too was built here and was good to accommodate about 100 people at a time for service.
A description of Cantonment according to a traveller who visited it in October 1819 :
“The general plan of a cantonment is to have a good piece of ground for the exercise of the troops in front, with a line of small buildings for depositing the arms in the rear. Next to these are huts of the sepoys and in their rear the bungalows of the officers, which are built in the cottage style, very well adapted for the climate, and each having a garden around it, with a range of offices, consisting of a kitchen, stables and servants’ houses.”
In 1856 after the annexation of Oudh there were about two hundred British here and about a thousand native soldiers. Cantonment was the place where the sigh of discontent and rebellion amongst the native sepoys was first noticed. It led to a burst of musketry and fire all around was seen.
The troops remained in Mardiaon while Sir Henry Lawrence transferred his headquarters to the Lucknow Residency. Most of the buildings of the abandoned Cantonment appeared to be destroyed or extensively damaged during the uprising. On June 29, 1857, the British Commissioner Henry Lawrence ordered the abandoning of this Cantonment and entire European population reached Machhi Bhawan and the Residency. It was at this stage that the bloody siege began.
Post uprising a ‘memorial pillar’ was erected in remembrance of the British who gave up their lives. The pillar erected as a memorial by the British at the Mardiaon cantonment proves that many Indian sepoys revolted against the British here on the evening of 30th May 1857. The pillar marks the Residency Bungalow of Sir Henry Lawrence and elaborates that the mutiny was foiled by the British forces and their loyal native sepoys. Finally the Mardiaon Cantonment was abandoned on 329th June 1857, when the forces concentrated in the Residency and the Macchi Bhawan Fort.
In the year 1858, post mutiny Sir Colin Campbell stationed his troops in Dilkusha Palace and due to the geographical advantages of this location British further decided to develop the adjoining areas as a new cantonment that exists even now and serves the headquarters of Central Command.
Today it is hard to locate these historic sites that actually changed the history, but what remains of these is just a memorial pillar on one location and about 2 miles away is a small compound with a few scattered unnamed and named graves this is called the Mardiaon Cemetery. Tragically the full cemetery could not survive due to encroachments and a housing colony being built over it. Only a few in Lucknow would know where these places are and could locate these to flip back the pages of history, while many would believe that the present day cantonment was the first British Cantonment or for that matter Residency was the only epicenter of the siege of 1857.
Tornos organises special visits to the old British Cantonment in Lucknow, retracing the history of the Indian Mutiny of 1857. A special tour visiting the Churches and Cemeteries too is quite exciting and takes guests to the historic churches of Lucknow including the Mardiaon Cemetery that has been discussed in detail in this article.