The Princess and The Doc: Ode To an Exiled Princess

Usama Irshad

The ancient skyline of Lahore has many stories to tell. The majestic marble domes of the Royal Mosque speak of the Moguls,the great connoisseurs of art;the imposing structure of Haveli Nau Nihal Singh, where young girls chant times tables these days, speaks of the the ruthless Sikh rulers,their colourful ways and extravagant festivities;the Towering S.Nabi Bux and Sons at the Mall tells the tales of the English that once ruled over this wonderful city,altering it as they willed and pitching crosses where and when they willed. The Lahore skies  recall ,wistfully,the colours of  the kites that used to  bedeck its entire expanse and the thrill and excitement that accompanied every “Boooo-Kataaaa!” cry!

painting from bamba coll darbar of lahore

painting from bamba coll darbar of lahore

Came 1947 and Lahore sat by the River Ravi and cried over the poor souls it lost. The City burnt and with the Great Migration, lost all of its former diversity. Gone were the Sikhs with their radiant turbans and billowy beards.Lahore grieved over the way its beloved son Sir Ganga Ram was desecrated by the ‘freedom-fighters’.Overnight the contributions of the once invincible Sikhs were forgotten as the ‘pious’ Muslims set forth to purge the ‘vermin’ out of this City of Sin and Splendour!
Today only a handful of young Lahorites are acquainted with such names as Ganga Ram,Ranjit Singh or Amrita Sher-Gill when in fact it was the Sikhs who

Ranjit Singh's birth place

Ranjit Singh’s birth place

really  glorified Lahore and gave it all of its religious reverence and sanctity. Ranjit Singh,the iron-willed and brave Sikh ruler brought Lahore such splendour that soon Lahore was the greatest metropolis and the cultural hub of India.Latest fashion trends would spring in Lahore and  would be followed in Delhi and Lucknow.

Soon,however,the iron shackles closed in on the whole of the Indian Subcontinent as the East India Company strengthened and eventually Punjab was captured by the British in 1849,Duleep Singh( Ranjit’s son) exiled to England and the fabled “Koh-i-Noor” diamond pilfered to grace Queen Victoria’s crown.
Ranjit Singh’s successors have largely been ignored by historians and dubbed as ‘puppets’ or ‘weaklings’. While none can question the accuracy of these comments,those last few Sikh rulers were,nonetheless aristocracy and in fact King Edward Medical College(my alma mater)seems to have deep ties with one particular member of these last ‘Singhs’ of Punjab.

Ranjit Singh's elephant

Ranjit Singh’s elephant

It all started with a picture of Princess Bamba Sutherland that I saw on facebook. The name Sutherland rang a bell in my head and a trip to KEMC’s historical Library Hall (and some google surfing) confirmed my suspicions—Princess Bamba Jindan Sutherland Duleep,the granddaughter of Ranjit Singh and the last princess of Punjab  was married to Dr David Waters Sutherland,Professor and Principal King Edward Medical College (1909-1921)! And thus began my passionate quest to find out every thing about this ethereal princess!

Born on  March 29,1869 in London, Bamba was the daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh,the son of Ranjit Singh, and Rani Bamba Mullër. Now the British had invaded Punjab way back in 1849 and dethroned Duleep Singh who was sent to the UK and his mother,the dowager,exiled to different Indian cities. Duleep

Maharaja Duleep Singh

Maharaja Duleep Singh

Singh was brought up in England under the care of a certain Mr Logins and much to the consternation of his mother,he was baptized as a Christian. It is said that he would wake up reciting,”O father who art in heavens!” which would box his mother’s heart.

When after 13 years the Prince was  reunited with his mother Rani Jind Kaur on one of his trips to India,the

maharaja could not even recognize her. It was then that he insisted upon taking his mother to England with him and his wishes was granted. Subsequently the dowager died in Kensington and was cremated and buried in Kensal Green Cemetery in England. Duleep Singh was allowed to bring her ashes to India but he could not gain entrance into the Punjab. It was on his way back from India that while passing through Cairo,the maharaja met his future wife, Bamba Mullër the illegitimate child of a German merchant ,and working in a Cairo Missionary School  and,following a brief period of courtship,married her.The couple later  moved to England and had six children,Princess Bamba being one of them.

Jind Mahrani Bamba Coll

Jind Mahrani Bamba Coll

Bamba means ‘pink’ in Arabic and this particular daughter of Duleep had inherited from him the one feature that Queen Victoria had herself admired in him….his dazzling eyes. Queen Victoria was Princess  Bamba’s godmother and the Queen gifted her the grand three-storey Faraday House in London.

Bamba lived at Elveden Hall with her parents and siblings and finished her schooling at home. Later shewould join the Somerville College in Oxford and finish her studies. It was somewhere in 1887 that Princess Bamba’s sister Princess Sophia caught typhoid and and became seriously ill. The Maharani Bamba(Princess Bamba’s mother) sat by her bedside all night with the corollary that she herself fell ill and went into coma before eventually dying on September 18 1887,leaving her family bereaved.

On May 21, 1889, Maharaja Duleep Singh married Ada Wetherill whom he had met a few years back.They were wedded in Paris. Some years later,in 1883 Duleep, too died. He was 55 at the time of his death.

Bamba now lived in Old Manor House in Buckinham,Old Suffolk,to be near her brother Fredrick who was a fellow of Antiquaries of London and owned a huge collection of rare paintings.It is said that the Prince rented the famous Blo Norton Hall in South Suffolk for his sisters and later bought the famous
‘thatched cottage’ ,too. It was around this time that Bamba became increasingly involved in politics and became a member of Women’s Social and Political Union. She also attended the farewell dinner hosted in the honor of  Mahatma Gandhi at the Westminster Palace Hall.She was also among the group of activists
who went to the House of Commons on November 18,1910 and demanded to see the PM. The delegations was treated very roughly and their demand turned down ignobly.

Bamba was a strong supporter of the Suffragettes,fighting for women’s right to vote.It is said that once she with her sister Sophia Daleep Singh was summoned to the Spelthorne Petty Session for keeping a man- servant,a carriage and five dogs without license and for keeping ‘armorial bearings’.Sophia was livid and protested that she should not have to pay for these things when she didn’t have right to vote.

From Top Left: Princesses Catherine,Bamba,Prince Edward and Princess Sophia

From Top Left: Princesses Catherine,Bamba,Prince Edward and Princess Sophia

Later, the Court of Middlesex sent bailiffs to the Faraday House to collect rents from them which they refused outrightly. The bailiffs forcibly took away Sophia diamond ring in payment which was bought by Mrs Jopling Rowe in an auction and immediately returned to the Princess.

In 1910,Bamba visited India with her sister Sophia and went to see old relatives in Lahore and Amritsar. She was accompanied by Marie Antoinette,a Hungarian lady’s companion who met the renowned Indian painter,Umrao Sher-Gil in India and married him. Their daughter Amrita Sher-Gil was also a notable painter. Eventually Bamba decided to settle in Lahore and is said to have “lived like an alien in her father’s kingdom”.

Lt.Col.D.W.Sutherland

Lt.Col.D.W.Sutherland

It was during her time in India that Bamba first met Lt. Col Daid Waters Sutherland. Sutherland,who was a British Indian Army officer serving as the Principal of King Edward Medical College(presently a university),married the princess after a brief period of courtship. She was 46 at that time.They lived many years at No.16 Jail Road,Lahore. Princess Bamba christened the house “Gulzar”.The couple had no children.

Sutherland,MD,FRCP,MCP, born in Victoria,England was the son of John Sutherland,a miner at Allendale and his wife Wilhelmina. Being a doctor was strictly “middle-class” in Victorian England (as Maggie Smith would say in Downton Abbey) and this only reflects the social status of the Sikh aristocracy under the British Raj.
In 1924 Bamba finally got permission to bury her grandmother’s ashes in Lahore and she oversaw the whole affair herself.The ashes were deposited in the memorial to Raja Ranjit Singh near the Royal Mosque of Lahore. In 1930 Bamba was bereaved once again by the tragic death  ofDr Sutherland.

Now widowed and lonely,Bamba would divide her time between Blo Norton England and Gulzar in Lahore. In 1948 her rapidly failing health was struck a deathblow by the sudden death of her darling sister,Catherine,in England. Unfortunately,Bamba was in India at the time and could not get permission to travel to England and so missed the funeral. When she did go to England,she brought back
Catherine’s ashes to bury them in India,as Catherine had desired. She is reported to have travelled by land on that trip saying,”A flight is easy to obtain,but I came by land this time around as I brought  my darling sister’s ashes with me. She did not like flights.”

Princess Catherine

Princess Catherine

It was in this phase of life that Princess Bamba grew increasingly regal and imperial in her manners. She gave up Faraday House and made Blo Norton her permanent residence in England. She would now style herself as the  “Queen Of Punjab”. She seemed to have inherited her father’s rebellious nature but was far more aggrieved than he ever was. This only added to her hauteur.

On visiting a high street bookstore in Norwich,she ordered her driver to park right outside the bookstore,which unsurprisingly caused traffic havoc. A policeman asked her to remove her car at which she shot back at him,displaying all the aristocratic hubris in her saying in the most Ranjit-ish way,”Do you have any idea who you are talking to? I am the Queen of the Punjab!”

The grumpy Princess would dress in all of her finery and silk and host Sikh migrants in Blo Norton.  Karl Wilhelm,her cousin visited her then and he described her in his memoirs as the “true heiress of Ranjit Singh” in that she was sorely conscious of her lost power and glory.She considered Punjab and Kashmir,the lost possessions of her family and was livid when the border of Pakistan was drawn right through Punjab.

After partition she spent most of her time in England as the Lady of Blo Norton . She would also visit municipal offices in Guildhall Thetford to see her brother Fredrick’s painting collections. She would throw a fit every time she saw a painting damaged and was known to give a piece of her mind to the caretakers of Guildhall.

On 10th March 1957,Princess Bamba Sutherland Duleep Singh passed away quietly in London. The doctors stated heart failure as the cause of death. A Christian funeral ceremony was arranged by the British Deputy High Commission in Lahore. There were a few Pakistani dignitaries at the funeral, but unfortunately no Sikh was present. She was buried in Gora Kabristan (White Graveyard) near Taxali Gate of Lahore,alongside such figures as A R Cornelius and A C Woolner.

Bamba and Catherine Couch

Bamba and Catherine Couch

Bamba was the last living member of the once mighty Sikh dynasty of Punjab. As the last of Singhs,she was in possession of many valuable historical items.She left them with her loyal secretary Pir Karim Baksh Supra. Bamba’s  legacy included priceless masterpieces of art and were later acquired by the Pakistani Government and are now displayed for the general public in the Royal Fort of Lahore as “Princess Bamba Collection”.

The Supras still live in Lahore and in Delhi and just a few years back were hounded by the notorious paparazzi  when a ‘mysterious’ Swiss bank locker was found linked to Bamba. In the absence of any legal heirs many thought that the contents of locker would go to the Supras . Eventually the contents were divided between a number of rightful claimants

Bamba’s death marked the end of a glorious era in Punjab’s history. The fact that she died childless and lonely only lends more credence to the fact that she was sad and evocative of the days gone by.  To many she was prissy and a ‘self-styled’ princess but for many others she was the one true heir to the throne that had once belonged to Ranjit Singh.

Gora Qabristan, Lahore: Headstone Sutherland Bamba 1957

Gora Qabristan, Lahore: Headstone Sutherland Bamba 1957

The epitaph on her grave reads (English translation of Persian distich):

The Difference Between Royalty and Servility Vanishes
                      The Moment the Writing of Destiny is Encountered
                       If One Opens the Grave of a Dead
                       None Would be Able to Discern Rich from Poor!

The author holds a degree in psychology from the University of Cambridge,UK,and is presently a sophomore at King Edward Medical University,Lahore,Pakistan. He tweets @Usama_Irshad

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3 responses to “The Princess and The Doc: Ode To an Exiled Princess

  1. ayesha shaharyar

    A lovely piece and so fascinating! Thank you for enlightening me on a truly remarkable character.

  2. Ranpreet Singh Bal

    Maharaja Duleep Singh’s family scattered, He tried to come to Punjab and become the ruler of Lahore Durbar. But luck was not in his favour.

    • Ranpreet Singh Bal

      Very nice written, it reminds me the struggle of Duleep Singh and his family, their eagerness to achieve the lost kingdom.

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