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Victor Jacquemont - Experiences in Maharajah Ranjit Singh's empire.


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Victor Jacquemont (8 August 1801 – 7 December 1832) was a French botanist and geologist who visited Panjab during the early part of Ranjit Singh's reign (he met him). His journals were translated into English and published as PUNJAB, A HUNDRED YEARS AGO, after his death. The work was translated and edited by H.L.O. Garrett, and first published in 1935 by the Punjab Government Record Office, Lahore. Here are some excerpts: 

Jacquemont,_Victor.jpg                       Ranjit.jpg

 

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Meeting Ranjit Singh

After a mile or so around the city (Lahore) over bad roads and through gardens, fields and ruins, we arrived at a camp of regular infantry; this was Ranjit's bodyguard. We alighted near some beds of poppies, larkspurs and wall flowers which surrounded a cottage made of straw in the Chinese style with a little tent of red and white stripes in front of it; this was rajah's headquarters. Group of sikh officers and servants were seated in this rustic garden; we were conducted to the seat of the King which was no more magnificent than that of the rest. Ranjit was seated on a cushion in the sun on one of the garden paths; a servant standing behind him chased away the flies with the end of his waistband. on His right and left were a dozen of sardars squatting on a Persian carpet near rajah. I saluted him when some paces away raising my hand to my forehead and he replied in the same manner but with rising. I advanced to the carpet and presenting a nazzar of 21 ducats was commencing a complimentary speech, when he bade me sit down quite near him; and, without waiting for the end of my discourse, asked me how I was and if I was not tired by the journey, and assured me how pleased he was to see me. He spoke in Hindustani which I understood very well, and he quite understood all the fawning phrases which I had prepared for the commencement of the interview e.g." I had often heard of his renown, his courage, and his wisdom. I had often seen Bonaparte and I for some time I had desired to see Bonaparte of the east (here Ranjit bowed most affably). All my desires were fulfilled in finding myself in his presence."

 

 

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A description of Ranjit Singh's appearance

The rajah bore no mark of his rank except his place of the centre of the circle and the cushion on which he was seated. He is a thin little man with an attractive face, though he has lost one eye from smallpox, which has otherwise disfigured him little. His right eye, which remains, is very large, his nose is fine and slightly turned up, his mouth firm, his teeth excellent. He wears a slight moustache which he twists incessantly with his fingers and a long thin beard which falls to his chest. His expression shows nobility of thought, shrewdness and penetration and these indications are correct. He wore a little turban of white muslin rather carelessly tied, a kind of long white tunic with a little cape falling over his shoulders, like a French riding cloak, tight trousers with bare feet.

His clothes were of white Kashmir tissue with a little gold trimming on the collar, cuffs and sleeves; of a very comfortable and old fashioned cut it seemed to me. For ornaments he wore large round gold earrings with pearls in them, a collar of pearls and ruby bracelets almost hidden under his sleeves. At his side hung a sword, the gold hilt of which was encrusted with diamonds and emeralds.

 

 


 

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Recorded conversation between Ranjit Singh and Jacquemont

 

M. Ranjit Singh (RS): "I have heard a good deal about the Russians lately. They have been making conquests in Persia. What do the British in India say about them?

Jacquemont (J): They do not worry much.

RS: But, if a Russian army advanced to attack them, what would they do?

J: I was very much tempted to reply truthfully, that is to say "They would make many excuses to your Majesty for the necessity to which they would be driven to invading your Majesty's territory and carrying their frontier from the Sutlej to the Indus." But I made the reply more agreeable to everybody- "It would not matter to them; would not the Russians, in order to invade India, have to traverse your Majesty's dominions? Would your Majesty quietly allow yourself to be dethroned? With an army well disciplined and commanded by able French generals like these gentlemen (Allard & Ventura) who have already fought against the Russians* under Bonaparte and know their tactics, your Majesty would not leave to the British the trouble of driving them away. Without European discipline which your majesty has introduced into your army, it could not offer any effective resistance to the Russians, but if they came tomorrow, your Majesty would, I am sure, give them a warm reception." Whereupon, not in reply to my words, but to an evil thought which had passed through his mind, he affirmed the sincerity of his friendship for the British. "The British and I, said he, have one heart between us." As I was nervous that my words might be repeated in India, I spoke warmly of the immense power and good faith of the British. I spoke as if I were myself British.....

 

 

 

*Jacquemont was wrong, Ventura had previously fought the Russians but Allard had not.

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Another conversation between Jacquemont and the monarch:

 

Ranjit saw from my replies my dislike of talking politics, and changing the subject , he asked abruptly - "Is there a God?"

As I had already said that I knew everything, I did not know what to reply, so I took counsel with M. Ventura who advised me to speak the truth without disguise.

"Without doubt." I replied, relying on commonplaces. "Who has made the heavens and earth and ourselves except God? "

[Ranjit Singh]"But who made God himself?"

[Jacquemont]"My scientific knowledge does not cover these matters. All the priests of Europe could answer your majesty better."

[Ranjit Singh]"The priests of this country would not stop like that. As for me, I do not believe their stories and prefer to remain in ignorance. But do you not believe that there is another world, another life?"

"We shall know that later on; but no one has ever come back from that country if it exists, with the result that no one knows anything about it."

[Ranjit Singh]"Are you all of the same caste in Europe?"

"By no means; there are two sects among the Christians as among the Mussalmans."

[Ranjit Singh]"Do you eat together?"

"Yes, as the Mussalmans do."

[Ranjit Singh]"Do they eat beef in France?"

M. Allard had put me up to this beforehand so I made a grimace at this question.

"Eat beef; I cried, kill so useful an animal! No certainly not in France, where in any case little meat is eaten."

[Ranjit Singh]"But the British eat beef?"

"Oh!, the British, Yes certainly."

And the rajah and his Sikh friends showed themselves shocked, though this was no news to them. However the scandalous behaviour of the British so overcame them that there was a pause in the conversation.

 

 

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France, a redundant Moghul emperor and wages.

He asked me how many soldiers there were in France; how many guns, fortresses , cavalry, the scales of pay etc. I carefully refrained from telling him the pay of the generals, for he would have certainly have thought of cutting down the pays of Messrs. Allard and Ventura. He asked me if I has seen the king of Delhi* and, on my replying in the affirmative, enquired what ceremonies took place on my presentation in Darbar. I laughed when I told him of the infinite number of bows I had to make and the absurd picture I presented when invested with khillat#. This amused Ranjit very much.

"But," I continued, "that sort of thing is only done for persons of distinction." And as he appeared a little surprised that the British allowed it to go on, I told him it was the custom in Europe to surround dethroned princes with all their exterior marks of respect in order to console them for their fall, and that these ridiculous ceremonies to which the British lent themselves before the great Mughul did not amount to much, since they were entirely voluntary and the prince merely a prisoner of the British government.


 

 

*Akhbar Shah II, 1806 - 1837.

#These ceremonies were abolished by Lord Ellenborough in 1843.

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Ranjit Singh's sons and the future of his empire and Jacquemont's prediction of an English invasion

 

Ranjit has two sons; the elder Kharak Singh is 26 or 28 and is very like his father to look at, but is very feeble minded. The other Sher Singh, is less than 20 and is not at all like his father but is very intelligent. Both are now in the north campaigning against the Syed. It is likely that the Sikh monarchy will end with the death of Ranjit; the two princess will undoubtedly fight for the throne, and the great jagirdars will arise to assert their independence. If in the confusion that ensues any cavalry pass the Sutlej to plunder the villages in Patiala this will certainly be a pretext for the British to invade the the Punjab, and a legitimate one. The rajah is quite indifferent as to what will happen after his death and takes no measures to ensure a continuance of order. 

 

kharak2.jpg  215px-Sher_Singh.jpg

                      Kharak Singh                                                 Sher Singh

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Wow the Europeans certainly looked after one another. Tho the French and British were rivals, he was careful to not let their plans be known.

Also did Ranjit Singh have no spies working for him? He seems to ask questions about European armies and governments from his guests and believes them!

It would have been harder to have spies because the nations were different ethnicities and easily recognized. And I dont think any European could be bought to betray his country...

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20 hours ago, Not2Cool2Argue said:

Wow the Europeans certainly looked after one another. Tho the French and British were rivals, he was careful to not let their plans be known.

Also did Ranjit Singh have no spies working for him? He seems to ask questions about European armies and governments from his guests and believes them!

It would have been harder to have spies because the nations were different ethnicities and easily recognized. And I dont think any European could be bought to betray his country...

This isn't true. 

I read one account of a British soldier who fought in the Anglo-Sikh wars who said: when they charged the Sikh lines they encountered a bunch of British army deserters in the Sikh ranks who were wearing pagris and kesh, these people begged for mercy but were all murdered by the British soldiers for being traitors. 

Remember the Sikh pay rate for soldiers were greater than the EIC rates. Notice how Jacquemont is careful not to mention the pay rates of European generals in Napoleon's army because he feared his European friends in the Lahore darbar would get a pay cut. If Ranjit asked questions of people, it was probably because he was feeling them out and had a genuinely inquisitive mind. 

Maharajah Ranjit Singh DID have spies, who were often disguised as sadhus or fakirs so they could travel from place to place without suspicion and secretly pass on messages to other chieftains in the British occupied territories. 

Whatever else he might of been, Ranjit Singh was no fool. Why do think they waited for him to die before they attacked? 

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More excerpts:


 

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Akali Nihungs

The akalis, or immortals, are properly speaking Sikh faqirs. Their rule compels them to be dressed in blue and always to carry arms. The sacred pool at Amritsar is their headquarters, but they often spread themselves over the Punjab in large and formidable parties. Ranjit wisely turns their ferocity to his own advantage. He enlists them in his armies and employs them preferably against Mussalman enemies. He has at the moment 4,000-5,000 of them in the army. which he maintains at Attock, ready to march against another fanatic Syed. I have only seen two of them in the streets of Amritsar; it was evening and the matches of their muskets hung ready lighted. I had never seen more sinister looking figures.

 


 

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Allard's battalion's uniform and the use of French battle instructions.

On March 2nd I left Ludhiana and crossed the Sutlej. I rode on an elephant and was escorted by some Sikh troopers from Ludhiana. My elephant was ferried across on a very small boat and my escort crossed in similar ones. On reaching the right bank I was received by military honours by a troop of cavalry, clothed and armed in a uniform half French half Sikh. What struck me most about them was that the words of command were given in French. These men belonged to Allard's own corps.

 

 

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Observation on the general physical appearance of Sikhs made on journey between Phagwara and Jullunder

The people are same in appearance as those on the south of the Sutlej, and their manners and customs are similar.

It is easy to distinguish a Sikh from a Muhammadan or Hindu, although one may find that they are descended from a common ancestern not many generations back.

They are not a people but a sect and quite a new sect. Its adherents, however, devoted for two three generations to one profession, that of arms, and united in one brotherhood, have acquired characteristics that they now transmit to their children. The enormous baggy breeches, tight at the knee and fastened around the waist with a cord are peculiar to the Sikhs.

 

 

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Guest AjeetSinghPunjabi

Do we have any historical record of shaheedi of ninth guru and three sikhs, from a non sikh sourcwe. It would be interesting. Though i would expect it to be mentioned somewhere in Aurangzebs autobiography or something 

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4 hours ago, AjeetSinghPunjabi said:

Do we have any historical record of shaheedi of ninth guru and three sikhs, from a non sikh sourcwe. It would be interesting. Though i would expect it to be mentioned somewhere in Aurangzebs autobiography or something 

None as far as I am aware. The most contemporary source is dasmesh pita's Bachitar Natak. There are some later Persian sources (100 years later) but they make nauvin padshah look like some sort of extortionist apparently.

Anyway, that's a completely different topic to this thread.

 

 

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