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  • Lahore, 1849
  • Anne Murphy (bio)

On 29 March 1849, Maharaja Daleep Singh held court for the final time, to make official the annexation of the independent state founded by his father, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, by the East India Company (Grewal 127). This state was centred at Lahore in Punjab—a cultural/linguistic region now split between India and Pakistan—and was annexed by the British East India Company under the direction of the Earl of Dalhousie, who had recently been appointed Governor General of East India Company-controlled India. This annexation was an achievement for Dalhousie—indeed, it earned him the title [End Page 21] of marquis—and was part of his aggressive and directed drive to consolidate company territory across North India: "I cannot conceive it possible for any one to dispute the policy of taking advantage of every just opportunity which presents itself for consolidating the territories which already belong to us," he wrote, "by taking possession of States that may lapse in the midst of them" (qtd. in Metcalf and Metcalf 94). This drive was controversial, particularly with respect to its implementation in other parts of North India, such as Oudh, in 1856. It is thought to have been a contributing force behind the 1857 Rebellion, otherwise known as either the First War of Indian Independence or the Indian "Mutiny," which broke out right after Dalhousie's departure from the subcontinent. Whatever the larger significance of Dalhousie's actions across the region, the annexation of Punjab brought to an end the first sovereign imperial state in Punjab headed by a Sikh ruler, and "the British colours were hoisted on the Citadel of Lahore, and the Punjab, every inch of it, was proclaimed to be a portion of the British Empire in India" (Dalhousie 62).

At the time of annexation, the toshakhana, or treasury house, of Maharaja Ranjit Singh came into the possession of the East India Company (see Stronge).1 The contents of the toshakhana were dispersed: elements of it were auctioned off, given to the Queen, or selected for inclusion in the collection of the East India Company and eventually for the Victoria and Albert Museum.2 One of the most famous of these, the Koh-i-noor diamond, was given to the Queen, a particular point of pride for Dalhousie. "It is not every day," he wrote on 30 March 1849, "that an officer of their Government adds four millions of subjects to the British Empire, and places the historical jewel of the Mogul Emperors in the Crown of his Sovereign" (Dalhousie 62).3 At this time, Dalhousie exhibited particular interest in a set of objects within this treasury that were said to have belonged to Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708; guru 1675-1708), the tenth and final human Guru of the Sikh tradition before the office of guruship was invested in the Sikh canonical scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib. Dalhousie perceived a dangerous metonymic relationship between these objects and Sikh sovereignty, as embodied in the newly annexed former kingdom of Ranjit Singh. Soon after annexation, when these objects came under his control, Dalhousie noted in a letter to the Court of Directors of the East India Company that "it would not be politic, in my opinion, to permit any Sikh institution to obtain possession ... of these sacred and warlike symbols of a warlike faith" (United Kingdom 236/215). Dalhousie then went on to request them for his own collection (Murphy). This was their fate, alongside a range of other objects.

As the sovereignty of the independent state was dissolved in 1849 by the East India Company's imperial ambitions, its state treasury was thus dispersed into a larger imperial field. Another destination of these objects was the India Museum. It was founded in 1799 and located in East India House, in peripheral areas of a building dedicated to commerce and the coercive force required to conduct it (Davis 168ff.). The toshakhana objects took their place alongside the other spoils of conquest and expansion that filled the company's museum, with [End Page 22] the most "curious" on display for visitors; as Richard Davis has described it "England's most comprehensive repository of Indian objects...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 21-27
Launched on MUSE
2012-06-07
Open Access
No
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