Sikhs In The Army

Risaldar-Major Maun Singh, Sardar Bahadur

DNWMedals Maun Singh


Order of Merit, 2nd Class, GGO 274 of 1858, for ‘gallant services against the rebels.’ It would seem that this was a direct appointment to the 2nd Class, not an uncommon occurrence during the mutiny.


Order of Merit, 1st Class, GGO 909 of 1859, ‘displayed conspicuous gallantry at Nawabgunge, on which occasion he received four sword cuts in a close conflict with the rebels.’



Maun Singh, the son of Sirdar Dava Singh, of Ruriala, in the Gurjanwala district, was born circa 1817. A prominent Ghorchurra and ‘brilliant cavalry leader in the Sikh army’, he served Ranjit Singh in his youth and fought in at least one campaign against the Afghans in the 1830’s.


In the First Sikh War he was present at the principal battles against the British. In 1852 he was recruited into the Punjab Mounted Police by Colonel Richard Lawrence, and in June 1857 in response to the request of Robert Montgomery, the Judicial Commissioner for the Punjab, he raised the first risala of horse for William Hodson. Two further risalas were raised; one by Rajah Tej Singh, the former commander-in-chief of the Khalsa, who appointed to its command another distinguished Ghorchurra, Sirdar Bal Singh of Chuhar Kana; and the other by an old ally of General Van Cortlandt (See Lot 60), Nawab Imam-ud-Din, who placed in command a young warrior of blood royal, Mirza Ata-ullah Khan.


Hodson at this time was acting as Assistant Quartermaster General in charge of the Intelligence Department to such forces that the Commander-in-Chief, George Anson (See Lot 64), had scraped together to meet the crisis of rebellion.


By 23 June the three risalas had been formed and, marching from Lahore, they arrived on Delhi Ridge, under Maun Singh, on 12 July. On the 14th, they went in action for the first time, and, with Hodson now in command, successfully cut off on that occasion the mutineers’ line of retreat into the city. Besides participating in the almost daily attacks and counter-attacks on and about the Ridge, Maun Singh took part in the Rohtak expedition in August, in which Hodson inflicted a substantial number of casualties on the hostile Rangurs and completely defeated at Khurkowdah a body of rebels who had come out from Delhi to plunder local villages. In mid-August further newly raised Troops arrived with Nicholson’s Column from the Punjab, and by early September the regiment had evolved under Hodson into a first class, if unorthodox, unit with a fearsome reputation.


Recalling the eve of the long-awaited assault on the city, one of Hodson’s officers, Hugh Gough, late of the 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry, remembered: ‘On the evening of 13 September orders were issued for the assault to take place the next day. The various columns were formed, and great was our excitement. We had been so long sitting before this doomed city, in the most trying heat and with apparently fruitless labour, that the immediate hopes of an end gave us all a most pleasurable feeling. Knowing, as all did that a desperate struggle was at hand, few probably felt anything but intense excitement and delight. I happened that evening to have a talk with one of our senior native officers, Ressaldar Maun Singh - a grand old Sikh, who himself had fought against us in the Sutlej and Punjab campaign, and we discussed the question of tomorrow’s big fight. As the old man was fond of telling the story even to his dying day, to my own boys amongst others, it runs in his own words as follows: ‘’Gough sahib came to me on the day before the assault and said, “Maun Singh, there is going to be a great battle tomorrow, and we are going to take Delhi. Hodson says he is going to ride to Jehannum [hell] after the Pandies. I wonder how it will end.” I said to Gough sahib, “Well, sahib, wherever Hodson goes we’ll all go,” whereupon Gough sahib said, “Well Maun Singh, salaam; then we’ll all go to Jehannum together” ... one and all of us were prepared to follow Hodson to the very death - and I am sure there was not a desponding heart in the whole force.’


The part played by the cavalry brigade commanded by Hope Grant (Ritchie 1-110) in the storming of Delhi was subordinate to that of the other arms, but it required no less determination. An infantry column commanded by Major Reid of the Sirmoor Gurkha Battalion on the far British right, ran into severe difficulties having been delayed in its advance by the late arrival of three guns. Consequently, the Jammu Contingent, leading the assault, attacked unsupported. When Reid eventually led the Gurkhas forward, he was wounded on a bridge in the suburb of Kishengaji. Deprived of their commanding officer, the Gurkhas for once faltered, and were overtaken by the 1st Bengal Fusiliers and H.M’s 61st Regiment. These men became entangled and confused in the hail of musketry poured down on them from the buildings in the suburb. The Jammu Contingent, falling back through their ranks, added to the chaos, and the rebels advanced, threatening to outflank the whole position on the Ridge. At about 7 a.m. the Cavalry Brigade was then suddenly ordered to move rapidly to the front to contain the enemy in Kishengaji, who were about to destroy Reid’s shattered and confused column. On reaching their new position the cavalry were forced to endure a ‘fierce hurricane of lead and iron’ from the Lahore Bastion, for two hours, until it was ultimately rescued by a troop of horse artillery. Surprisingly in this action Hodson’s Horse only lost three men wounded, two horses killed and six wounded.


After six days of fighting the last of the rebel strongholds fell to the British and Bahadur Shah II, the octogenarian King of Delhi, who had somewhat reluctantly found himself one of the rallying points of the revolt, gave himself up to Hodson on the 21st. The king’s sons, Mirza Moghul and Mirza Khizr Sultan, and grandson, Mirza Abu Bakr, however, remained at large. Early on the morning of the 22nd, a spy informed Hodson that the princes were sheltering in Humayoon’s Tomb, an immense building six miles from Delhi, with two or three thousand armed followers in close attendance. He immediately sent a message to his second in command, Lieutenant Charlie McDowell, to ‘Come sharp; bring one hundred men’. McDowell, Maun Singh and the picked men rode out at eight o’clock and met Hodson outside the tomb. A message was sent in to the princes telling them to give themselves up unconditionally. At length, imagining that as the life of the king had not been taken, theirs too would be spared, the princes appeared in a cart. The mob surged forward, but Hodson waved them back authoritatively, and ordered the cart driver to move on to Delhi under escort of ten Sowars. The mob grew increasingly angry, but retired into the tomb. Hodson and McDowell followed and, riding up the steps and through the archway, ordered the crowd to lay down their arms. For the next two hours, Maun Singh and the others, fully expecting to be attacked at any moment, gathered weapons and threw them into a cart, while McDowell smoked to show he was ‘unconcerned’, though he later admitted ‘Our own lives were not worth a moment’s purchase’.


Hodson and his party then set out for the city, followed by the brooding mob. About a mile from the city walls, the bullock cart containing the princes was overtaken and the crowd surged forward. Hodson, believing that a rescue was about to made, ordered Maun Singh and his Sowars to surround the cart and told the captives to strip off their clothes. Then, announcing to the crowd that the princes had massacred British women and children, Hodson took a carbine from one of his troopers and shot all three princes dead. The act of unhesitating retribution delighted the native officers and Sowars who immediately sent up a hearty cheer, at which the leaderless mob dispersed. Controversial though the ‘murder’ of the princes may seem in hindsight, few British officers at the time apparently felt anything but gratification at the sight of their bodies, ‘naked but for their loin cloths’, deposited in the Chandi Chowk, the same spot in which they had alledgedly ‘outraged and murdered women’ four months earlier. The British claim that the princes were shot out of a sudden necessity is said, however, to be ‘fatally injured by an irrefutable scrap of evidence, that later came from the lips of Hodson’s own favourite orderly’. Telling the story in after years, he said, ‘Prince Abul-bakr wore a talisman on his arm; so I said to Hodseyn-sahib, Wait a bit, Huzoor! To kill him with that on will bring ill-luck. I’ll take it off ere we shoot him.’ It is purported therefore that there was no immediate danger to Maun Singh and the rest of the escort and consequently no urgent rush to squeeze the trigger.


On 27 January 1858, Maun Singh was present in the action at Shamsabad with some two hundred sabres of the regiment under Hodson, Lieutenants McDowell, Charles Gough (See Lot 69), and Wise. Prior to the final capture of Lucknow in March 1858, Maun Singh was sent back to the Punjab to raise more men. He returned to the fray with four troops on the 13th, the day after ‘Hodson sahib’ was killed. Hodson, regarded by some as ‘the most notorious looter in the army’ had joined in the final assault on the city without orders, and, while alledgedly in search of plunder, was shot through the liver on entering a room in the Begum Kothi.


On 13 June 1858, Maun Singh was present at the battle of Nawabgunge, where ‘he displayed conspicuous gallantry in charging and capturing three enemy guns and numerous other actions’. He was subsequently mentioned by Sir Hope Grant in his despatch: ‘ ... I would now report the good and gallant conduct of Rissaldar Man Singh and Jemadar Hussain Ali, both of Hodson’s Horse; the former came to the assistance of Lieutenant Baker, and was severely wounded [‘four sword cuts in a close conflict’]; the latter dismounted and, sword in hand cut up some gunners who remained with their guns.’ Already the holder of the Order of Merit in the 2nd Class, Maun Singh was now advanced to the 1st Class.


On 9 March 1866, he was appointed as the first Risaldar Major of the 9th Bengal Cavalry (late 1st Hodson’s Horse), and appointed to the Order of British India, 1st Class, with the title of Sirdar Bahadur, on 25 October 1872. He was appointed an Extra A.D.C. to the Commander-in-Chief in January 1876, but retired in 1877, and was made an Honorary Magistrate at Amritsar. He also became the chief official at the Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ sacred place of worship in Amritsar. Created a Companion of the Indian Empire in January 1886, he was also a Viceregal Darbari and continued to enjoy considerable prestige and the respect of his own people, as well as the British, until his death on 16 March 1892.


Refs: Deeds of Valour of the Indian Soldier (Hypher); Hodson’s Horse (Cardew); Leader of Light Horse (Trotter); Rider on a Grey Horse (Joynson Cork); Companion to the Indian Mutiny of 1857 (Taylor).


Taken from DNW Website