Letter from Indian Resistance Hero to be Auctioned at Bonhams

An extraordinary and mysterious letter from a revered Indian hero of the first war of Indian independence (aka The Indian Mutiny), Nahar Singh, to a former Governor General of India, Lord Ellenborough, is to be sold at Bonhams ‘Photography and Travel: India and Beyond’ sale in London on 4 October.

The letter, dictated in English to a secretary, was written on 10 September 1857 – just four days before British troops stormed Delhi in one of their first successful actions to regain control of the country. In the letter, Nahar Singh seeks the protection of Lord Elllenborough, whom he had met as a young man; offers his services to the East India Company; and promises “to explain many unspeakable matters and unsupportable calamities into which India is involved and to spend the remainder of my life in your service.” Singh also refers to earlier correspondence in similar terms with Lord Ellenborough and other senior British figures.

Nahar Singh is now regarded as a key figure in the first war of Independence and pivotal to the defence of Delhi. He acted as right hand man to Bahadur Shah, who had been declared the Emperor of India by the rebels, and had played an active and public role in the mutiny from its beginning. As he was fully committed to the cause of Indian independence, it seems likely that the letter was written as a ruse to deceive the British in the event of his capture. If so, it was unsuccessful. Nahar Singh was taken prisoner and hanged for his part in the mutiny in 1858. Today, he is seen as an heroic figure for his resistance to British rule.

The letter is signed by Nahar Singh as the rajah of ‘independent Ballabhgarh’ and is estimated at £1,000-1,500.

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