1857 The Siege of Lucknow

After exploring the Nawabiyat of Lucknow on this blog, let us go back to 1857 CE. The year of India’s first battle for independence or the Sepoy Mutiny as described by the British Historians. Through a series of more than 50 images let us try to revisit the scene of the battle.

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Bailley’s Guard gate

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It is a beautifully looked after 33 acre campus not too far from the Gomti river that houses these 18th and 19th century British buildings. ASI’s garden division has done an amazing job with the upkeep. After buying a Rs. 15 ticket I entered the complex pleasantly surprised to see so much greenery and flowers around. The first monument one encounters is the Bailley’s Guard gate. The construction of this complex began in 1775 during Nawab Asaf Ud Daula’s reign and was later completed by Nawab Saadat Ali Khan (1798-1814).

Wajid Ali Shah, Nawab Saadat Ali Khan and Nawab Asaf Ud Daula (L-R)

On the right hand side there is a memorial obelisk with a cross and a memorial for native sepoys and European officers who were killed during the siege. Simple columns and balanced arches are the beauty of this style. Also the structural pattern of the red walls brings in a different flavour to these colonial buildings.

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Adjacent to the memorial a large treasury building was made which was converted into an ordnance factory during the siege. According to records, it was built in 16897 Rupees. It is interesting to witness the play of light and shadow and a mix of Indian as well as European arches.

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The Treasury

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A large monument with several arches attracts our attention with its symmetry and balance… simple but elegant. It was the resident surgeon Dr Fayrer’s home. Sir Hennry Lawrence was brought injured to this building and succumbed here later on.

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It was a pleasant walk along well maintained paths. Since it was a residential complex we also find an Imambara with typical Lucknowi aesthetics. Beautiful arches and floral embellishments.

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There are buildings like the Begum Kothi still in good condition. Each building perhaps served as a shelter to various European officers during the siege. It is important to keep a chronicle of visitors to these monuments … However, this temptation can be resisted by the current visitors who enjoy leaving their mark with graffiti.

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There are several obelisks on the campus that have been built as tribute to the martyrs during the war. Some colonial structures that are part of landscaped gardens. Only 2-3 feet high remains of St. Mary’s church can be found inside the cemetery along with other graves and epitaphs.

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Let us have a look at what ASI records tell us – Thus, the attack of the Indian soldiers on Residency forced the British officers and their families to remain captive in the Residency for a period of 86 days. Due to the constant siege by the revolutionaries, epidemic broke out in the Residency, as a result of which more Europeans died of disease than perished in combat. It was only on 17th Nov. 1987 that Sir Colin Campbell forces could establish communication with Residency after four days of constant fighting. The evacuation of the British could take place only on 22nd November via Dilkusha and Sikendrabagh. The withdrawal left the Residency and indeed all Lucknow except the Alambagh in the hands of Begum Hazrat Mahal and freedom fighters and it could be regained only after a year of street by street and house by house fighting by Avadh forces who offered stubborn resistance to the British forces.

The Model Room, a part of the main Residency Building, which housed a model of Residency as it was before the 1857 War, has now been converted into a full-fledged Museum displaying the original model of Residency, old lithographs, photographs, paintings, documents and period-objects, besides a diorama of Residency siege, giving an accurate visual account of the freedom struggle of 1857 in a chronological and systematic way. Besides, a gallery showing the excavated objects has also been added.  The museum in the model room is small but helps us visualize the times of the siege.

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Residency building post siege

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View of Rumi Darwaza

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Susan Palmer killed by sniper fire

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Hennry Lawrence injured

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Before entering the main residency building I checked artillery guns kept on display. They perhaps belong to the Bengal Artillery that has also played a part on the British side during the battle for Srirangapatnam, Bharatpur and here in Lucknow. The main building had a handsome east side entrance with portico and colonnade on the west side. It was a three storied building with lofty windows protected by Italian bars.

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Residency building

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Residency front view

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Canon ball marks

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Indian flag today

The last building I visited was the huge banquet hall. Simple geometry but grand design. Once the epitome of British and Nawabi luxury … today a shelter for love struck couples seeking moments of privacy

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More explorations in Avadh … some other day ….

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