Thursday, 28 July 2011

A Guide to the Lucknow Residency- Why?


The Lucknow Residency is in a difficult state - with the exception of the museum building, the rest of the buildings are in a crumbling, some of them have disappeared altogether. However, the Residency remains on the "must see" list of visitors to Lucknow - it is difficult, however, without prior knowledge, or an adequate guide book, what the visitor is actually supposed to look at! The blog seeks to clarify the buildings (or lack there of) and provide the visitor with an interesting tour, rather than a few moments spent gazing at jumbles of rocks and poor explanations. Basing it upon my own numerous visits to the Residency and research through contemporary journals, it takes away the dry, "here is a building" aspect of most tours and allows the visitor time to reflect on the events of 1857. 

The Residency grounds today, for all their tranquility, looked very different at the start of the siege in on the 30th of June, 1857. Where there are now gardens were trenches, stockades, palisades and mud walls. Once the mining and counter mining operations began, the grounds resembled little more than a rabbit warren. It is difficult, in light of the champagne corks and broken crockery displayed in the museum that there could have even really been any true hardship here. After all, the British ended the siege (or scurried off into the night) obviously with champagne enough in their hands.  What remains today is but a fraction of the original 28 buildings and batteries – only six are reasonably intact – Dr. Fayrer’s House, the main residency building, the banqueting hall, the treasury, Bailey Guard Gate and Begum Kothi.  A few, like Ommanney’s House, Martiniere Post and Anderson’s Post are a little more than a few crumbling walls and foundations. The rest have vanished.

In the place of the racket court, indeed the entire area that should have been the Slaughter and Sheep House batteries, there is now a thriving garden center.  A few ruined buildings, including a completely intact tower - which is now used to house gardening implements, are visible yet covered over with a fine display of bougainvillea and other creeping plants. Although it does provide an interesting diversion, a garden center is hardly what one would expect in the grounds of an archaeological site. Brick markers denote the spots of the Slaughterhouse and the Sheep House respectively.

Many of the brick markers, which would give a visitor some idea where a building should have stood, are gone and it takes much imagination to even begin to see where some structure might have stood. That smaller structures like Sago’s House, Post Office and the outlying Saunders Post are no longer visible is hardly surprising – the damage done to these buildings was extensive and it is likely the resulting rubble has either been taken over by nature or carted away for other uses.  In the case of Sago’s and Saunder’s Post, these buildings would have fallen outside the current boundaries of the Residency compound which is smaller than then it had been originally. I have described below some of the buildings which are not on the site plan at the entrance.

Of Germon’s Post a few low walls and a dark chamber under the structure still exist. Even some decorations are still visible on the inner walls. For the confusion which is to follow, mostly caused by the lack of markers, Germon’s Post provides valuable orientation. From here, one can without doubt say that the ruins under current excavation are Anderson’s Post.

What of Anderson’s Post? Undoubtedly one of the most battered buildings during the siege due to its close proximity to the outer walls, the remains are surprisingly intact. Although it would be too much to say that very much besides a few walls exists, the evidence of shell and shot are still distinct, and enough of the walls remain to give a good outline of the building. Perhaps the excavations will turn up some valuable finds.

Much less remains of the Martiniere Post though the plaque dedicated to Captain Fulton and his mine is still visible, but DePrats House has been almost completely erased. What remains is a marker, rubble and some trench like foundations. A rather impressive tree stands where there once would have been the centre of the house. 

Inne’s Post is somewhat difficult to locate. Like some of its compatriots all that remains is a marker and this is located, rather oddly, in what shall one day be a most charming garden. It is only with some patience that one can locate the marker itself – there are no signs pointing in that direction and visitors are most likely never to even walk the road parallel to the churchyard. The most sensible visitor either cuts off his visit and walks from the church yard to the Residency building or perhaps follows the sloping road and comes to what should have been the Redan Battery.

The church and the grave yard have been preserved tolerably well. Very little remains of the church itself but its base and a few walls.  Many of the graves are still intact, with some exceptions. Some bear distinct signs of vandalism, crosses broken off, slabs removed and in the case of the Dashwood grave, totally destroyed. The lettering on many is worn and in some cases missing altogether. Of the 39 graves belonging directly to those who died during the siege, 38 are still visible, 1, besides that of the Dashwood family, is not traceable. On 10 graves the plaques are missing.

The cemetery looks deceptively small and some of the graves relatively new. However the total number of deaths in 5 months was terrible – according to Martin Gubbins, once the Judicial Commissioner of Oudh and one of the besieged, the fatalities of just the fighting force until their relief by Colin Campbell was 1’574.  The cemetery has one large plot in which are buried over 100 people. During the siege however, everyone who died on the same day ended up in one grave and there was no time to give them all markers, nor necessarily the inclination. The newer graves, which reach up to the 1920s, tell a sombre story. Only members of the original garrison were permitted to be buried in the Residency churchyard after 1858, so the burials continued for some time after the events. The Hiltons, the Sequeiras and the Nazareths, to name but a few were all given the honour of burial at a place which undoubtedly gave them little joy during their lives.

The museum, housed in the Residency building, is worth a visit.  The most striking display is the miniature model of the Residency grounds. Each building has been meticulously reproduced and gives a good idea of the site as a whole.

The upper floor has some very well organised copies of lithographs and pictures which are worth studying. There is also a British room, containing among other things, 2 large terracotta wall hangings, both dealing with the injuries sustained by Miss Palmer and Sir Henry Lawrence. Unfortunately the artist was not very knowledgeable on either account. The portrait of Miss Palmer in a dead faint on the floor is fanciful and Sir Henry, was not, as the artist supposes, shot in the heart. He too was the victim of round shot, in the region of the upper thigh and hip. He was lying on a bed at the time and not as portrayed, seated on a chair. These appear to be at first glance minor variations of the truth but these were after all, real people whose deaths are well documented and the terracotta renditions of their deaths are more fantasy than history.

It is not possible to remain untouched by the plaque (and not the terracotta rendition) solemnly declaring that it was here that a Miss Palmer lost her leg to round shot. But who was Miss Palmer? The daughter of General Henry Palmer, she was 19 years old, only recently arrived in India and engaged to a young officer. It was her misfortune on the 1st of July 1857, to have sought shelter from the shelling in that room and not in the tyekhanna. A shell burst in the room and a piece of it struck her, all but severing her leg from her body. She died two days later on the 3rd of July in excruciating pain. There is no mention of her grave– it is probable she was laid to rest in one of the mass graves with the others who had died that day. 

A long winding staircase brings the visitor to the lower rooms or tyekhanna. These underground chambers had been used to shelter the resident during the sweltering summer months and during the siege, provided protection from the shot and shell. Lofty and spacious though they now appear to be, especially as there is ample air conditioning provided, it would be worth the visitors while to close their eyes and try to imagine the very same room on a hot July day, a hundred or so women and children crowded inside, the blast and fury of the siege going on above their very heads. They would have been seated on the floor on every available space, some heavily pregnant, many with screaming infants and terrified children clinging to them. For most part, they would have sat for many hours in the dark; the only light coming through some shafts which would only have increased their terror by transporting the sounds from the outer world with upmost clarity.  If the modern visitor can imagine even a fraction of this while in these rooms!

On a whole a visit to the Residency is something of a test and trial in patience but with many rewards. There is no other place in India that so captures the events of 1857 as this collection of buildings. For students of the subject it remains a must see. The scars of war are still vivid upon the untouched facades, and there is a tinge of melancholy in the air, despite the picnickers and couples. Time perhaps has not stood entirely still here, but guided correctly, a picture begins to emerge, the sounds of battle, the steady thump of cannon and whining of bullets, picking at the buildings piece by piece. It is still possible to visualize actual people, not just names in a book, and not just from their graves. Being so well documented, the Residency still retains touches of humanity. Where better can the visitor literally step into the world of Mr. Gubbins, Mrs. Inglis, the Martiniere boys, Germon and Anderson and stand on the very ground they had beneath their feet for so many months? The Residency should not be an empty tribute to facts and figures but a story of people who wanted nothing more than to live. When the visitor starts to realise that they were not all fighting men, they were merchants and doctors, missionaries and travelers,  they were Indians and they were families with young children, each in their own way convinced that their lives were going to come to swift and brutal end, that the true horror of the Residency becomes apparent.

Stand on any of the ruins and think about the words of L.E. Rutz-Rees, a Swiss merchant, who became trapped in Lucknow by force of events. When it became evident that reinforcements would not come for many months, Rees wrote:

“Our numbers are visibly decreasing. Besides, how do I know whether I shall escape even before the final catastrophe, which, unless our forces come to our aid, must take place sooner or later? How do I know I shall not be knocked over before? That is soon done. A covering to wrap my corpse up in, a dooly borne by sweepers to serve me as a hearse, a shallow hole, a short prayer over it, and half a dozen other dead bodies, and the thing is done, and no one can afterwards tell where my bones are laid.” (Rees, p. 191)

Although this final retreat and the end of the siege could be viewed as a victory in favor of the insurgents, it is a lukewarm one. Nothing significant was gained, the British returned in force to Lucknow as hastily as they had left and by March 1858 they had regained the Residency. Yet the besieged had managed something which even in today’s light seems impossible – against unbelievable odds, had held their own without any help for three months, and another two with marginal reinforcements.  When we take the politics out of Lucknow we can start to see the monument for what it is – a lasting tribute to the endurance of mankind, regardless of race, colour or creed.  It should remind us all that no victory is won without suffering and without faith. Whether that faith is in God, in our selves or in luck, without it, there can be no victories.