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  • Sikhpoint 2016 Calendar Cover

    Sikhpoint 2016 Calendar Cover


    General of the Sikh Army and Military Governor of Peshawar


    General of the Sikh Army and Military Governor of Peshawar


    Personal Physician to the Maharaja of Lahore


    General in the Sikh Army and Governor of Dera Ghazi Khan


    Botanist at the Court of Lahore

  • HENRY JOSEPH de FACIEU 1824-1893

    Captain in the Khalsa Army

  • HENRY JOSEPH de FACIEU 1824-1893

    Captain in the Khalsa Army


    Royal Artist at the Court of Lahore


    General of the Artillery in the Sikh Army

  • Alexander Campbell Gardner 1785-1877

    Colonel of the Sikh Artillery

  • Order of Merit

    Order of Merit

  • Order of Merit

    Order of Merit

  • Back Cover and Sponsors

    Back Cover and Sponsors


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January 2016

General of the Sikh Army and Military Governor of Peshawar

Jean Francois Allard was born in St. Tropez, in the south France. Aged eighteen he enlisted himself in the ‘23rd Regiment’ of the French army, later transferring to the ‘Neapolitan Regiment of the Dragoons’ for active service in Spain. Elevated to the rank of Lieutenant in the ‘Imperial Dragoons of the Old Guard’, when Napoleon Bonaparte landed at Golfe Juan near Antibes with 600 men in March 1815, he was fortunate to have escorted Napoleon to Paris. In 1818, he arrived in Persia and served Prince Abbas Mirza for four years and with his comrade Jean Baptiste Ventura arrived in the dominions of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1822. The Maharaja offered him the task of reorganising the cavalry and he ordered that the battalion under Colonel Sheikh Basawan be transferred to the control of Jean Francois Allard to raise a regiment of dragoons and one of lancers. In 1829, he raised the Fauj-i-Khas or the Royal Brigade comprising of infantry, cavalry and artillery units, which was 6000 strong under his direct command. The standards of the regiment were the tricolours of the French flag inscribed with the motto ‘Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh’ (Victory of the Almighty) with each regiment depicting the Imperial eagle. The Sikh cavalry under General Allard achieved a high level of efficiency that his ‘Cuirassiers’ were now the finest noble looking troops of the Sikh army. In 1826, he married, according to the local customs of the Punjab, a young princess Bannu Pan Dei, the daughter of Raja Menga Ram of Chamba. In 1834, he was officially granted permission to return to France along with his growing family. The Maharaja endeavoured every means of dissuading him from leaving, who even at the last moment quoted “At least leave your children with me then I will be assured that you will return for them”. After a short stay in France he was back in Calcutta in 1836, bringing with him a consignment of arms and other munitions and was ecstatically received by the Maharaja. But sadly on the 23rd January 1839, he suddenly died from chronic heart failure in Peshawar. His body was interred, as he wished, in the mausoleum of his infant daughter Marie Charlotte in the rear garden of his mansion in Lahore.


February 2016

Personal Physician to the Maharaja of Lahore

After setting up several medical practices in Jerusalem and Damascus, Dr. Honigberger arrived in Baghdad and learnt of certain French officers who had been serving in Persia ready to embark for the Punjab where Maharaja Ranjit Singh was enlisting various European officers into his services. Having arrived in Lahore in 1829, his first patient was Achilles Allard, the adopted son of General Allard. While in Punjab, he also had the rare opportunity to witness the wedding of the Maharaja with Rani Gul Begum at Amritsar. In 1833 feeling homesick he decided to return home overland via Afghanistan. While in Europe, having learnt that the Maharaja was severely ill, he hastily returned back to Lahore via Egypt in the company of Colonel Francois Mouton. On his arrival he found the Maharaja in a very critical condition, only able to communicate with hand gestures and signals but treated the Maharaja until his death in 1839. It is interesting to note that during the first Anglo-Sikh war, Dr. Honigberger treated several British casualties that had been taken prisoners by the Sikh army at Buddowal. In recognition and appreciation for his benevolent services the Government of India awarded him a pension of 500 rupees to be paid in Europe which he enjoyed till his death. He was respectively known as ‘Martin Sahib’ by the court nobles and the ‘Personal physician to the King of Lahore’ had died from weakness of old age at his ancestral home in Brasov, now situated in Romania.


March 2016

General in the Sikh Army and Governor of Dera Ghazi Khan

The Van Cortlandts have descended from one of the noblest families in Holland whose ancestors migrated to America. Henry Charles was born in Meerut and educated in England. Arriving in India, he entered the services of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the Muslim Battalion on a salary of 250 Rupees per month in 1832. Serving in several campaigns and was present at the Battle of Jamrud where he witnessed the death of General Hari Singh Nalwa. By 1841, during the reign of Maharaja Sher Singh he took part in the siege of the Lahore fort and assisted the British campaign during the Afghan wars in the Peshawar valley. He was absent during the assassination of Maharaja Sher Singh and during the outbreak of the first Anglo-Sikh war of 1845. After the termination of the Sikh wars he returned to Lahore and was employed by the British army as a political agent. Known to be a favourite amongst the prominent Sikh chiefs at court, he was duly promoted to the rank of general and married an Anglo-Indian lady Susanna Turner in Karnal. His services were so highly appreciated by the British Government that he was created a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) and lived out his retirement in London where he spent most of his remaining life reminiscing about his years at the opulent Sikh court. General van Cortlandt was one of the few officers to be decorated at the Court of Lahore for his wisdom and loyal services firstly by Raja Lal Singh, Prime Minister of the Sikh Kingdom and later by Maharaja Duleep Singh. He died from pneumonia aged 73 in London.


April 2016

Botanist at the Court of Lahore

This versatile diplomat studied law at Heidelberg University and later served in the Austrian army as captain during the Napoleonic campaigns of 1813-14. He then left the army to devote himself to the study of natural sciences leading to an arduous journey through Europe and the Far East. In 1832, the Baron arrived in India and travelled throughout the remote regions of southern India. The Baron’s first encounter at the Sikh court was with General Ventura at his residence where later a reception was hosted for him by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1836. He described General Ventura’s residence as splendours of the east blended with the comforts and ambience of a European dwelling. He vividly described his meeting with the Maharaja especially his flamboyant courtiers Raja Dhyan Singh, Raja Khushal Singh and Raja Suchet Singh all profusely dressed in jewels and the finest silks. The Baron remained in the Punjab for nearly two years and compiled vast data on plants and species in Kashmir. He met General Hari Singh Nalwa at his splendid mansion in Gujranwala as well as the Governor of Wazirabad, General Paolo Avitabile where he halted en route to Kashmir. He praised his host Maharaja Ranjit Singh as a genius and was impressed with his secularism. In 1837, he founded the Vienna Horticultural Society and thus became its first president. He might not have served the Maharaja but his contribution in the field of botany made a huge impact later in Europe. He was a brave soldier, an able diplomat who described vividly the grandeurs of the opulent Sikh court.



May 2016

Alias Count de Mandi
General at the Court of Lahore

General Ventura served in the Armata d’Italia (Italian army) under Viceroy General Eugene de Beauharnais in the regiment ‘Drogoni Della Regina’ where he fought alongside the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte against the Austrian army at the Battle of Leipzig. By 1818, he served the Shah of Persia Mohammad Ali Mirza who had decorated him with the title of ‘General of the Order of the Lion and the Sun’. In March 1822, along with his comrades he arrived on the outskirts of Lahore, where eventually he became one of the leading personalities at the Court of Lahore. Along with General Allard, he raised the Fauj-I-Khas (Royal Brigade) that included four battalions which formed the elite unit of the Sikh army. In 1825, he married an Armenian Anne Marguerite Elisabeth Moses in Ludhiana. The Maharaja not only arranged a lavish ceremony but he was presented with 10,000 rupees in cash and gifts from his own nobles amounting to 40,000 rupees. In an expedition to Kamlagarh Fort near Mandi, he suppressed a revolt by Raja Balbir Sen of Mandi. With a force of 1200 men his troops stormed Kamlagarh Fort and subjugated the entire hill state on behalf of the Lahore Durbar For his distinguished services, he was bestowed with the title of ‘Count de Mandi’ by Prince Sher Singh, a title he later used regularly in Europe. By 1856 General Ventura had retired to an estate in France comprising of 23 acres aptly titled ‘Chateau Mandi’. During his life he had been decorated by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and later received France’s highest recognition ‘Grand Officer de la Legion d’Honneur’ by King Louis Philippe. The charismatic ‘Count de Mandi’ - General of the Khalsa Army died from a painful illness in Toulouse.


June 2016

HENRY JOSEPH de FACIEU (1824-1893)
Captain in the Khalsa Army

Colonel Jean Louis Alexis decided to quit France hoping to escape from his enemies and hastily embarked on a voyage to India accompanied by his son Henry Joseph. Arriving in Calcutta he invested in an indigo plantation before seeking new opportunities and arrived in Punjab in 1839. Here he entered the services of the Lahore Durbar during the reign of Maharaja Kharak Singh with the rank of Colonel of the Cuirassiers of the Sikh army. His son Henry Joseph, served as captain in his father’s regiment on a salary of 700 rupees per month. They do not appear to have been active in any military engagements during their brief tenure in the Punjab. After the assassination of Maharaja Sher Singh, Colonel Jean Louis Alexis suffered from chronic dysentery and travelled to Ferozepore for treatment but when no cure was found he died in 1843. After the death of his father, Henry Joseph was promoted by General Ventura in commanding the ‘Sher Regiment of Dragoons’ in Ventura’s own brigade but abandoned Lahore in 1844. Later he served the Burmese King Mindon, raising three armies of cavalry, infantry and artillery for the Burmese government. Joining the civil service of British Burma at Rangoon he rose to Superintendent of the Land, Revenue and Agricultural Departments. When he retired he acted as the French Vice Consul in Rangoon and died peacefully in his armchair having suffered from aneurysm of the heart aged 68.


July 2016

Alias Jakman Sahib Bahadur
Traveller and Naturalist in the Sikh Kingdom

During his youth Victor studied at the ‘Lycee Imperial’ before entering the College of France to study scientific studies in chemistry in 1817. In 1822, he entered a course in medicine at the ‘Faculty of Medicine’ whilst being employed at the ‘Jardin des Plantes’ in Paris. Then he received an invitation from the director of the ‘Natural History Museum’ to undertake a scientific survey of the Himalayas in India. In May 1829, he arrived at Calcutta where he was received by the Governor General Lord William Bentinck. After a brief stay with the Maharaja of Patiala he arrived at the British outpost of Ludhiana on the banks of the Sutlej River in 1831. Here he was escorted by General Allard’s troops across the Anglo-Sikh frontier and was later received by Generals Court and Ventura on the outskirts of Lahore. Here he was entertained in the Sikh capital by Generals Allard and Ventura with pomp and lavishness. The Maharaja gave him permission to travel within his dominion and he continued with his travels to the salt mines accompanied by Raja Gulab Singh. Victor compiled descriptive information on the flora and fauna of Kashmir, seen as a scientific challenge including the geological exploration of Kashmir and collected thousands of plants and specimens of the region. Although Victor Jacquemont never served the Lahore Durbar he was known as ‘Jakman Sahib Bahadur’ and described the Maharaja, who he met on several occasions, as a miniature version of Napoleon Bonaparte possessing similar qualities. He was an astute observer describing vividly the Sikh Kingdom under Maharaja Ranjit Singh as the best cultivated land of northern India.


August 2016

Royal Artist at the Court of Lahore

In 1840, Auguste Schoefft along with his wife arrived in Bombay and the following year reached Punjab during the reign of Maharaja Sher Singh. The court physician, Doctor Honigberger cordially invited him as honoured guest of the Maharaja. In Amritsar he was nearly caught red handed by the fanatical Akalis for smoking a cigar in public that his life was barely spared. He initially sketched Bhai Gurmukh Singh, the influential Sikh priest of Amritsar and the resemblance was so striking, Maharaja Sher Singh immediately ordered him to portray his leading chief courtiers. The painting of Maharaja Sher Singh seated grasping a sword was his best work as the Maharaja had personally agreed to sit for his own portrait between having counsel. Having sketched all the surviving leading personalities of the Sikh court during his visit to Lahore, on his return to Europe, he portrayed the entire grand durbar of Lahore on one colossal mural later exhibited at the Vienna exhibition of 1855. Declared bankrupt by 1875, he endeavoured to revive his fortunes in California in 1881, but sadly unable to revive his riches he returned to England penniless. Although he died from injuries sustained from tumbling down the stone steps of an institute, his works enthralled his contemporaries during the Vienna exhibition of 1855 where his amazing Sikh collection was displayed. Schoefft will always be symbolic with the paintings he embellished at the Lahore Durbar and his name might not be reverberated in the art world today but he has bequeathed us a lasting legacy by depicting the grandeur of the Sikh court through his mesmerising masterpiece the Court of Lahore.


September 2016

General of the Artillery in the Sikh Army

This temperamental officer was born in the village of St. Cezaire in the South of France and studied at the military academy of ‘Ecole Speciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr’ (Special Military School) in 1812. He served in two campaigns for the French army as a sub-lieutenant serving in the 151th ‘Infantry Regiment of Line’ at Halle (Germany) where he was shot and wounded. Prior to his arrival in Punjab, he served Mohammad Ali Mirza of Persia in 1818 before entering the services of Maharaja Ranjit Singh with the rank of colonel of the artillery, on a salary of 500 rupees per month. He was responsible for training the artillerymen and reorganizing the batteries and produced the first brass shells at the Lahore foundry jointly with Sardar Lehna Singh Majithia. The Maharaja offered General Court 30,000 Rupees for the first shell to be exploded and a further 5000 Rupees for the actual fuses. The arrival of his brigade during the ‘Battle of Jamrud’ in May 1837 further salvaged the Sikh army from utter destruction by the invading Afghans. In 1841, General Court’s regiment became alarmingly turbulent and mutinied. Troops from his own regiment not only ransacked his residence but his life was barely spared and for the safety of his family he fled to Ferozepur in British territory without taking formal leave from the Lahore Durbar. General Court returned to Marseille with his family and lived out his retirement till his death in Paris in 1880, outliving all of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s foreign officers.


October 2016

General Paolo Crescenzo Martino Avitabile (1791-1850)
Governor of Wazirabad and Peshawar

This Neapolitan mercenary was born into a large family at San Lazzaro, near the town of Agerola in Italy. Having spent six years in Persia he acquired the rank of colonel and was decorated with the orders of ‘Two Lions and Crown’ and ‘The Lion and the Sun’. On his arrival at Lahore he was offered employment by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the arsenal foundries on a salary of 700 Rupees per month in 1827. Remaining active in military service till 1829, he was then employed purely on civil administration duties becoming the Governor of Wazirabad in 1830. General Avitabile was instrumental in controlling the entire volatile region of the Peshawar valley with an iron hand especially after the death of General Hari Singh Nalwa in 1837. The following year he became Governor of Peshawar until 1842. By September 1843 after the assassination of Maharaja Sher Singh, he resigned in disgust from the services of the Lahore Durbar and finally left Calcutta for the last time reaching Naples in 1844. Here he was received by the King of Naples who honoured him with the ‘Cross of St. Ferdinand’ and the title of ‘Honorary General of the Neapolitan Army’. He was one of the few European officers that amassed a huge fortune during his tenure as Governor of Peshawar. One evening he was heard muttering that he had been poisoned and before the village doctor had arrived ‘Abu Tabela’ was already dead. He was buried in the church of San Martino and a brief obituary of his death was published in the Times Newspaper on the 13 April 1850.


November 2016

Alexander Campbell Gardner (1785-1877)
Colonel of the Sikh Artillery

This colourful character was born on the shores of Lake Superior in the Duluth/Superior area of what is now the state of Wisconsin to an Irish/Spanish mother and a Scottish surgeon. In 1817, his adventures drifted him to Afghanistan where he took up service under Amir Habibullah Khan, the nephew of Dost Mohammad Khan. The following year he was summoned to Lahore where he became an artillery officer in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army with the rank of colonel. Gardona Sahib, as he was popularly known, served in several military campaigns when Raja Dhyan Singh Dogra took him over from the Maharaja’s service and placed him in full command of his own artillery. This colourful character witnessed all the intrigues and assassinations that continued after the demise of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, eventually bringing the mighty Sikh Empire to an abrupt end. However, he had been retained by Rani Jinda as Garrison Commander at Lahore and discharged from the Lahore Durbar in 1847, but returned to the services of Maharaja Gulab Singh of Kashmir as commander of his regiment of infantry and artillery. He passed his final days meeting old Khalsa army soldiers reminiscing the glory days of the Sikh reign. His career had been seriously challenged by contemporary historians, describing him as a fake, who never really occupied any position of consequence in the Sikh army and drew upon his imagination woven with fictitious narratives. Yet, Gardona Sahib, the last of the European officers died in Jammu at the age of 92 and was buried at a military cemetery in Sialkot.


December 2016

Order of Merit

The official history of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s reign records his curiosity concerning the medals worn by the English Governor Sir Henry Fane, when he arrived at the court for the marriage of his grandson Prince Nau-Nihal Singh in 1837. General Jean Francois Allard, the French general in Ranjit Singh’s service, wore the Legion d’Honneur. These European decorations seem to have intrigued the Maharaja.

Discussions took place about Fane’s suggestion that medals be introduced at the Sikh court and it was decided to make three fixed awards. The highest was reserved for the princes, the second for the ‘relatives and brotherhood’ of the Maharaja and the third rank would go to high dignitaries, colonels and those providing honourable service. The European practice of awarding service medals was also discussed at length with the British representative, Captain Claude Martine Wade, in April 1838. This seems to have led indirectly to an order that henceforth the uniforms of all his platoons should have their own identifying mark.

Medals were given out to a range of royals and other individuals including General Allard, General Avitabile and General Court, Faqir Aziz ud-Din, Raja Hira Singh and Lehna Singh Majithia. It was also known as the ‘Star of the Prosperity of the Punjab’ instituted in 1837. The award was said to have been owned formerly by Maharaja Duleep Singh, Ranjit Singh’s youngest son and the last Sikh Maharaja of the Punjab, who lost his territory when the Punjab was annexed by the British in 1849.

The medal is of gold, and has a flat pendant with 10 projecting rays set with pale beryl on the front. The back has an enamelled ground of translucent green, decorated with white flowers that have opaque pale green leaves set in rock crystals. The front is set with a circular portrait of Maharaja Ranjit Singh sitting on a terrace with a white balustrade against a blue background holding a bow and is facing right. The upper domed section hangs from a circular ring and is enamelled in white and translucent red with green.

This particular item was bought from Christie’s auction, London, Lot No.25 – ‘Objects of Vertu’ on the 24 February 1981, by the V&A Museum London.



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About Bobby Bansal

Bobby Singh Bansal is a British born Sikh historian, writer and filmmaker who studied Business Management and Economics in England. After completing his studies he joined the family clothing business until 1990. Then in 2001, he founded an import company ‘Capital City Imports’, which he sold off in 2008 solely to concentrate on his hobby – researching and writing about Sikh History. He is married to Harvinder, an artist from Himachal Pradesh and has two sons – Aman and Reuban Singh.

His interest in Sikh Heritage and Culture has allowed him to interact with the Sikh diaspora all over the world. He has attended a number of major International Sikh and Indian conferences and has given numerous lectures on the theme of Sikh Heritage and History in Canada, France, United States, Scotland, Singapore, India, Sweden, Italy, Australia, Norway, Malaysia and Pakistan.

The reign of the ‘Lion of the Punjab - Maharaja Ranjit Singh’, remains a subject close to his heart, so much so that he has been a frequent visitor to Pakistan since 1989. He is a passionate advocate of promoting Sikh Heritage and Culture on a global scale, becoming President of the Sarkar Khalsa Foundation, an organisation that has been recognised with the conservation of historical Sikh monuments in India and Pakistan. The restoration of the tomb of Maharaja Sher Singh in Lahore is one example of his work that has been proudly acknowledged by various government institutions and organisations. Furthermore, he has been active in raising awareness on the political landscape of issues related to the plight of the Sikh communities with the provincial authorities of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Bobby Singh Bansal has been the recipient of numerous accolades and awards, some of them are, the Mighty Pen Award (Los Angeles 2010) - Asian Achievers Award for Media, Arts & Culture (London 2011) - Outstanding Achievements in India and Pakistan presented by Law and Health Minister Veerappan Moilly (New Delhi 2011) - Outstanding Achievement in Arts and Culture presented by Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, Maharani Praneet Kaur of Patiala and General J.J. Singh (New Delhi 2011) - Contributions to Preserving Sikh Heritage (London 2011) - Glory of India Award (New Delhi 2012) - Sikh Centennial Gala Award (Toronto 2013) - Sikh Appreciation Award for Afghan Sikhs (Toronto 2013) and Sikh Heritage Award (England 2014).

In 2010, his maiden publication, The Lion’s Firanghis – Europeans at the Court of Lahore, which charts the careers of European officers at the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, was received positively by critics and audiences worldwide. His other notable works include the award winning but poignant documentary The Sikhs of Kabul which was screened at the British Houses of Parliament and voted best factual documentary at the Guanajuato International Film Festival in Mexico City in 2013. This was then followed by The Road to Mandalay – the Burmese Sikhs released in 2014, which gave a rare insight into the lives of the elusive proud Sikh community of Myanmar. His forthcoming publication Remnants of the Sikh Empire – Historical Sikh Monuments in India and Pakistan is due for release along with the documentary Kapurthala: A Glowing Heritage in 2016.

All images ©2015 Bobby Bansal. All rights reserved.