Volume: 11, No: 03 ; March-2017
Prince Albert Edward (Bertie), Queen Victoria’s eldest son, set sail from London on 11 October 1875 on the royal ship HMSS Serapis, and arrived at Bombay in India just under a month later, on 8 November. There were altogether fifty men in the party, the next highest ranking to the Prince being the Duke of Sutherland, followed by Sir Bartle Frere. Chosen to record the visit were the Prince’s Honorary Private Secretary, William Howard Russell (1820-1907), who reported on it for the Times, and the artist Sydney P. Hall (1842-1922), who was responsible for the illustrations in Russell’s subsequent book about it. During the next seventeen weeks the Prince made an extensive tour of the country, meeting the colonial elite, being entertained in style by the native princes, bestowing honours, attending functions of all kinds, receiving costly gifts, participating in animal shoots and sporting events, dallying with one or two English belles, and so on. As Russell would note later, by the time he left, the Prince knew “more Chiefs than all the Viceroys and Governors together and [had] seen more of the country… than any living man”. The tour was as extensively covered in Britain as it was extensive, but it is not much discussed now. Yet it demonstrated the surprising strengths of the future Edward VII, and had very significant repercussions for the Raj.
Lucknow and Kanpur too were on the itinerary. Cawnpore (Kanpur). The stop at Lucknow was special. Here, the element of gorgeous and spectacular entertainment gave way to poignant and stirring memories of the famous siege and its relief, during the 1857 Mutiny. A Celtic cross had long since been raised in the Residency garden in memory of Sir Henry Lawrence and the European officers and men who died then; now the Prince laid the first stone of a monument outside the garden, to the Indians who also died with them. It was surely the most emotional ceremony in which the Prince took part in India. In the presence of the assembled troops, the English flag was raised outside the battle-scarred ruins of the old Residency. Trumpets sounded, salutes were made, drums rolled and cannon fired.
The salute over, the Prince desired that all the survivors of the defence might be presented to him. The picture… was touching in the extreme. Some two hundred old warriors filed past. First came the officers…. They were followed by sixteen native officers and non-commissioned officers who had taken part…. and lastly, and on which all eyes turned, was a mixed band of decrepit warriors, and young men who, as mere boys, had done their duty nobly within the walls…. In some cases their bodies were supported by friends, and their palsied arms were with difficulty made to give a last salute…. Several veterans came forward in the old stiff uniforms of the East India Company’s service, and having swords covered with the rust of twenty years. During the scene, many ladies, some of whom had lost sons in the relief, were in tears. Every one was affected. [Wheeler 227-28]
The Chief Commissioner for the region of Oude (later Awadh) declared, in the speech that followed, that the behaviour of the sepoys at Lucknow, who voluntarily stood by the British during the siege, “was simply without a parallel in the annals of the world”. Amongst the other sights that the Prince was shown in Lucknow was the “square grey tomb, with a shelving stone on the top” of Major Hodson, whose elaborately carved monument can be seen in Lichfield Cathedral.
The royal party then set off for Delhi, with a couple of hours’ pause in the evening at Cawnpoor (now Kanpur), where the Prince paid his respects at the spot of perhaps the most notorious of the atrocities committed during 1857 on both sides, when two hundred or so British women and children were butchered and thrown into a well. Here stood Baron Marochetti’s The Angel of Pity memorial. Marochetti loved to design and sculpt angels, and this is one of his finest. “I cannot describe the effect of the bright moon’s rays on the white marble work – or how the whole memorial stood out in its lonely grandeur on that delightful night,” wrote a member of the party. The Prince also inspected the Memorial Gardens and the only recently completed church there, now called the Kanpur Memorial Church, to which the monument has since been moved.
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