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First Sikh War - 1845-1846

When Ranjit Singh was beginning his career at Lahore the English adventurer, George Thomas, was trying, with the army he had raised, to carve out a little principality for himself in the Sikh states south of the Sutlej. Ranjit was a man of strong will and immense energy, of no education but of great acuteness in acquiring the knowledge that would be of use to him. He soon began to bring all the separate bodies of Sikhs under his control, and to acquire authority over others besides the Sikhs.

After his death in 1839, Ranjit was succeeded by his eldest son Kharrak Singh, he left two reputed sons, Shir Singh and Dhallp Singh, and two adopted sons, Kashmira Singh and Peshaura Singh. When Kharrak Singh made Cheit Singh his chief minister in place of Gulab Singh and Dhuin Singh - the Jammu brothers - Dhuin Singh killed the new minister. And now for a time the history of the Punjab became a history of intrigues and deeds of violence, and of contests for power, which, when gained, could not be kept.

Kharrak Singh's successor, Nau Nihal Singh, was killed by the fall of a beam from the Roshnai gateway of the Huzuri Bagh at Lahore as he was returning from the deceased king's funeral. Shir Singh succeeded, a man addicted, like Ranjit, to intemperance, and he was soon put out of the way by Ajit Singh Sindhanwala. His son Partiib Singh was murdered by Lena Singh Majithia. Raujit's adopted sons, Peshaura and Kashmara Singh, were also killed. Then came the turn of the ex-minister Dhiiin Singh, who was slain by the same hand that had put Shir Siugh to death, and which now placed tho young Dhalip Singh on the throne. Other assassinations accompanied these chief ones. The leading Sindhanwulas were now all murdered, and with the accession of Dhalip Singh the friends of his mother, the rilni, came into power.

Sir Henry Hardinge (afterwards Viscount Hardinge) had been appointed Governor-General; he landed in India in 1844, and left it in 1847- He had greatly distinguished himself in the wars of Europe against the French, particularly in the Peninsular War, and in the battle of Waterloo, where he had lost an arm. The new Governor-General refused to interfere in the affairs of the Punjab, and was sincerely anxious to maintain peace with the Sikhs.

The great Sikh Sardars or Chiefs formed themselves into a Council of State, and the name of the ' Khalsa' (the pure) was given to the whole Government. But in 1845 the disorder was as bad as ever, the Maharani Chand Kaur and the other Sikh leaders were all intriguing for supreme power, while the strong and well-disciplined Sikh army was turbulent and anxious for war.

Ranjit had left an army of 92,000 infantry, 31,800 cavalry, with 171 garrison guns and 381 field-pieces. It was a force which could not be held in the feebler grasp of his successors. When one after another of those in nominal power had been assassinated and the treasury plundered, the army, unpaid and unmanageable, demanded to be led into British territory, and had their way. It is believed that the Sikh leaders induced their army to do this in order to relieve themselves from the fear of its turbulence. Never had a British army in India met antagonists so formidable. They crossed the Sutlej in December, 1845.

Sir Hugh Gough, the Commander-in-Chief, joined afterwards by the Governor- General, immediately marched against the Sikhs, and though much inferior in numbers within a fortnight drove them back across the Sutlej, after two sanguinary battles at Mudki and Firuzshahr,1 both of which places are near Firuzpur and close to the frontier of the Punjab. Unfortunately the English army was deficient in ammunition, in guns, and in stores of all kinds, and consequently Sir Hugh Gough was unable fully to follow up the glorious victory of Firuzshahr. And in the meantime the Sikhs again crossed the Sutlej in great force and with seventy guns. At length, however, Sir Harry Smith was sent forward with a small body of troops. He met Gulab Singh, with a strong force of Sikhs, at Baddiwal, but was unable to attack him, whilst the British troops suffered from the Sikh fire. This was regarded by the Sikhs as a victory; so Sir Harry Smith, having in the meantime obtained some reinforcements, marched out to attack the enemy on January 28, 1846, at Aliwal. The British infantry, by their steady advance, drove the Sikhs into the river; the latter lost fifty-six guns and immense quantities of ammunition and stores of all kinds. Gulab Singh, who had been very confident of the final success of the Sikh arms, now gave up hope, and commenced negotiations with the English leaders; whilst the Cis-Sutlej States immediately declared in favor of the British.

A treaty was made at Lahore on 9th March with the Sikh darbar, the chiefs and ministry who were to hold the government on behalf of the young mahiraja, Dhalip Singh. By this treaty tho Jalandar Doab and the hill district of Kiingra were ceded to the British, also the possessions of the maharaja on the left bank of the Sutlej. In addition the British demanded a money payment of 1,500,000 [$7,290,000]. The services of Gulab Singh, raja of Jammu, to the Lahore state, in procuring the restoration of friendly relations with the British, were specially recognized. His independent sovereignty in such lands as might be made over to him was granted.

The Sikh Government, unable to pay the whole of the money demand, further ceded, as equivalent for 1,000,000 [$1,860,000], the hill country between the Bias and the Indus, including Kashmir and Hazira. Gulab Singh was prepared to give the amount in place of which Kashmir was to have become British, and by a separate treaty of 16th March, 1846, this was arranged. The payment was seventy-five lakhs of Nauakshithi rupees [$3,750,000], and Kashmir was added to Gulab Singh's territory. At the urgent request of the darbdr a British force was left at Lahore for the protection of the maharaja and the preservation of peace. To restore order and introduce a settled administration a British resident was appointed, who was to guido and control the council of regency, and assistants to the resident were stationed in different parts of the country.

Peace was not long preserved.

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Page last modified: 05-08-2012 15:16:38 ZULU