Victor Jacquemont writes about the Maharaja.

Born in Paris on August 8, 1801, Victor Jacquemont was the youngest of four sons of Venceslas Jacquemont and Rose Laisné. Jacquemont traveled to India in 1828, and remained there for the rest of his life. While he was there he met Maharajha Ranjit Singh at Lahore in 1831. He was a scientist and wrote his observations in the form of letters that were later translated into English. Several plants are named for him, including Acacia Jacquemontii , the Himalayan White Birth (Betula jacquemontii), the Indian Tree Hazel (Corylus jacquemontii), and the cobra lily or Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema jacquemonti) . He died of disease in Mumbai on December 7, 1832.



The following are excerpts from his writing, The Punjab a 100 years ago.




"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 prsenting 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 understood very well, and he quite understood all the frowning pharases 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."
On Nihung singhs in Amritsar whom he calls akalis:

" 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 pol 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."

Allard's battalion's uniform and 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.

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


Fatteh Singh's Muslim wife:

Kapurthala is the residence of a Sikh Sardar, Fatteh Singh, who is now erecting outside the city a very large and fine mansion. Seeing a mosque near it, I asked who had built it; Sha Uddin [one of the important Fakir brothers], told me it was the wife of the sardar. This princess is a Muhammadan lady. They have two children, as orthodox Sikh as possible, I was informed. The city is small, but appears prosperous


The population of Amritsar :

The population is a mixture of different people and religions. Hindus and Muhammadans are less common than Sikhs, in whose hands is practically all of the business, to the prosperity of which Amritsar owes it flourishing appearance. There are also a large number of Kashmiris and Afghans; the former weave or spin, the latter speculate. There is not a single mosque, and the public practice of the Muhammadan religion is forbidden. The Hindu temples are small and scarce. The religion of Nanak admits no rivals at Amritsar.

Jacquemont prevented from visting Harmandir Sahib :

The guardian of the sacred tank at Amritsar is only a rich Sardar and the post is not hereditary in the family. According to my conductor, the present guardian S. Jiwan Singh refused to allow me within the enclosure where this celebrated pool has been excavated, for the possession of which so many battles were fought in the Punjab in the last century. Many times the Mussalmans filled it with the ruins of the surrounding houses and soiled it with the victims of their intolerance. But, when victory reopened to the Sikhs the gates of Amritsar, they carried out bloody reprisals and washed the steps of the pool with the blood of Mussalmans.


Jacquemont's account purports to record a lengthy interview he had during an 'audience' with M. Ranjit Singh translated via Ventura and Fakir Shahuddin. First the maharajah is described thus:

A description of Maharajah 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



M. Ranjit Singh questions Jacquemont about the British reaction to a possible Russian invasion - very telling

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

An interesting conversation. One can get a feel of the famous inquisitive nature of Ranjit Singh from the conversation recorded by Jacquemont. It also subtely highlights the supercillious nature of Sikh-European contact on part of the visitors. Ranjit's skeptical feelings towards the priests in his kingdom are also mentioned.

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

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



We finish with an interesting quote by Jacquemont;

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.