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A Marble Portrait Of Duleep Singh, The Last Maharajah Of The Punjab

2nd June 2023.

A white marble plaque with a bas-relief portrait of the Maharajah Duleep Singh, the last ruler of the Punjab and great friend of Queen Victoria, will be offered in the Summer Fine Sale at Tennants Auctioneers with an estimate of £4,000-6,000 plus buyer’s premium.

The portrait likeness was taken from a famous bust of Singh, sculpted in Rome by John Gibson whilst the Maharajah was visiting the city with the Prince of Wales in 1857, during the happiest part of his troubled life.

Born in 1838 in Lahore, in what is now Pakistan, Maharajah Duleep Singh (1838-1893) was born into the affluent court of the Sikh Kingdom. His mother was Rani Jindan Kaur (1817–1863), and his father was Maharajah Ranjit Singh, the ‘Lion of the Punjab’ (1780–1839), the first Sikh Maharaja of the Punjab and Sikh Empire.

Following the death of his father, and after his successors were killed mysteriously, Duleep Singh was declared Maharaja at the incredibly young age of five years old. However, the British East India Company were quick to exploit this tentative rule, its hungry expansion saw two Anglo-Sikh wars, culminating in the East India Company taking control of the Punjab.   

Upon the East India Company’s annexation of the Punjab in 1849, Duleep Singh was exiled at the age of thirteen. With annexation, came the surrender of the famous Koh-i-Nûr diamond – a symbol of conquest which the East India Company naturally desired. The diamond’s journey to Britain coincided with Duleep Singh signing the Treaty of Lahore (1849), which saw Singh ‘resign for himself, his heirs, and his successors all right, title, and claim to the sovereignty of the Punjab, or to any sovereign power whatever.’

The still young Duleep Singh was moved from the Punjab to Mussoorie, to be placed in the care of a Scottish surgeon Sir John Spencer Login (1809 – 1863) of the East India Company, where he converted to Christianity and played cricket in an effort to become an archetypal English gentleman. Anglicisation was soon followed by his move to England in 1854. Singh’s transcendence into the upper echelons of British society began. Rubbing shoulders with royalty and aristocracy, many of whom he met on frequent shooting trips to Perthshire, and he lived on a pension of £25,000 a year provided he ‘remain obedient to the British Government’.

Queen Victoria was enraptured by Singh. “[He is] extremely handsome and speaks English perfectly… and has a pretty, graceful and dignified manner”, uttered Queen Victorian upon meeting Duleep Singh in 1854. By this time, Queen Victoria often wore the Koh-i-Nûr diamond symbolising British imperial power, so it was with irony that Victoria remarked, “I always feel so much for these poor deposed Indian princes”.

Despite Queen Victoria’s attempts at matchmaking Singh with other outcast Indian princesses, he married Bamba Muller, daughter of a Coptic Christian Ethiopian and a German Merchant, whom he had met in Cairo. The pair lived on a vast and lavish shooting estate, Elvenden in Norfolk, which was modelled in the Orientalist style. Queen Victoria became godmother to three of Singh’s children, Prince Victor and Princesses Catherine and Sophia, and Singh would frequently visit Victoria at Osborne and Windsor Castle.

His later years were restless as he increasingly became disaffected with the British and reverted to his former faith, Sikhism. Despite best efforts to reclaim the Punjab, he died in Paris in 1893 after suffering a stroke, but not without reconciling with Queen Victoria who pardoned him for his hostility towards the British Government in his later years.


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