Duleep Singh

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Duleep Singh
Maharajah Duleep Singh dressed for a State function, c. 1875.jpg
Maharaja Sir Duleep Singh in 1875, aged 37
5th Maharaja of the Sikh Empire
Reign15 September 1843 – 29 March 1849
PredecessorSher Singh
SuccessorVictor Duleep Singh
RegentsMaharani Jind Kaur
Wazir (Vizier)
Born4 September 1838
Lahore, Sikh Empire (present-day Punjab, Pakistan)
Died22 October 1893(1893-10-22) (aged 55)
Paris, French Third Republic (present-day France)
m. 1864; died 1887)

Ada Douglas Wetherill
m. after 1889)
FatherMaharaja Ranjit Singh
MotherMaharani Jind Kaur
Religionby birth Sikhism (1838—1853)
later Christianity (1853—1886)
reverted to Sikhism (1886—his death)
SignatureDuleep Singh's signature

Maharaja Sir Duleep Singh, GCSI (4 September 1838 – 22 October 1893), or Sir Dalip Singh,[1] and later in life nicknamed the "Black Prince of Perthshire",[2] was the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire. He was Maharaja Ranjit Singh's youngest son, the only child of Maharani Jind Kaur.[3]

He was placed in power in September 1843, at the age of five, with his mother ruling on his behalf, and after their defeat in the Anglo-Sikh War, under a British Resident. He was subsequently deposed by the British Crown, and thereafter exiled to Britain at age 15 where he was befriended by Queen Victoria, who is reported to have written of the Punjabi Maharaja: "Those eyes and those teeth are too beautiful".[4] The Queen was godmother to several of his children.[5] He died at 55, living most of his final years in the United Kingdom.[6][7][8]

His mother had effectively ruled when he was very young and he managed to meet her again on 16 January 1861, in Calcutta and return with her to the United Kingdom.[9] During the last two years of her life, his mother told the Maharaja about his Sikh heritage and the Empire which once had been his to rule. In June 1861, he was one of the first 25 Knights in the Order of the Star of India.[10]

Early years

A young Duleep Singh

After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839, Duleep Singh lived quietly with his mother, Jind Kaur Aulakh, at Jammu ruled by Gulab Singh, under the protection of the Vizier, Raja Dhian Singh. He and his mother were recalled to Lahore in 1843 after the assassinations of Maharaja Sher Singh and Dhian Singh, and on 16 September, at the age of five, Duleep Singh was proclaimed Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, with Maharani Jind Kaur as Regent.

On 13 December 1845 the British East India Company declared war on the Sikhs and, after winning the First Anglo-Sikh War, retained the Maharaja as nominal ruler, but replaced the Maharani by a Council of Regency and later imprisoned and exiled her. Over thirteen years passed before Duleep Singh was permitted to see his mother again.

After the close of the Second Anglo-Sikh War and the subsequent annexation of the Punjab on 29 March 1849,[11] he was deposed at the age of ten[12] and was put into the care of Dr John Login and sent from Lahore to Fatehgarh on 21 December 1849, with tight restrictions on who he was allowed to meet. No Indians, except trusted servants, could meet him in private. As a matter of British policy, he was to be culturally anglicised in every possible aspect. His health was reportedly poor and he was often sent to the hill station of Landour near Mussoorie in the Lower Himalaya for convalescence, at the time about 4 days' journey. He would remain for weeks at a time in Landour at a grand hilltop building called The Castle, which had been lavishly furnished to accommodate him.

Conversion to Christianity

Duleep Singh, aged 16, on the Lower Terrace of Osborne House, Isle of Wight in 1854

In 1853, under the tutelage of his long-time retainer Bhajan Lal (himself a Christian convert), he converted to Christianity at Fatehgarh with the approval of the Governor-General Lord Dalhousie. His conversion remains controversial, and it occurred before he turned 15. He later had serious doubts and regrets regarding this decision and reconverted to Sikhism in 1886.Template:Who said[13]

He was also heavily and continuously exposed to Christian texts under the tutelage of the devout Sir John Spencer Login. His two closest childhood friends were both English Anglican missionaries. In May 1854 he was sent into exile in Britain.

Life in exile


Duleep Singh (1838–1893) in 1854; portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter

Duleep Singh arrived in England in late 1854 and was introduced to the British court. Queen Victoria showered affection upon the turbaned Maharaja, as did the Prince Consort. Duleep Singh was initially lodged at Claridge's Hotel in London before the East India Company took over a house in Wimbledon and then eventually another house in Roehampton which became his home for three years. He was also invited by the Queen to stay with the Royal Family at Osborne, where she sketched him playing with her children and Prince Albert photographed him, while the court artist, Winterhalter, made his portrait.[14]

He eventually got bored with Roehampton and expressed a wish to go back to India but it was suggested by the East India Company Board he take a tour of the European continent which he did with Sir John Spencer Login and Lady Login. He was a member of the Photographic Society, later the Royal Photographic Society, from 1855 until his death.[15]

Castle Menzies

On his return from Continental Europe in 1855 he was given an annual pension of £25,000 a year[16] (approximately £Error when using {{Inflation}}: |index=UK (parameter 1) not a recognized index. in today's value) provided he "remain obedient to the British Government," and was officially under ward of Sir John Spencer Login and Lady Login, who leased Castle Menzies in Perthshire, Scotland, for him. He spent the rest of his teens there, but at 19 he demanded to be in charge of his household. Eventually, he was given this and an increase in his annual pension.

In 1859 Lt Col James Oliphant was installed as Equerry to the Maharaja at the recommendation of Sir John Login. Oliphant was to be a possible replacement should anything happen to the Maharaja's most trusted friend Sir John Login (who did indeed die four years later in 1863).[17]

In the 1860s, Singh moved from Castle Menzies to Grandtully Castle.[18]

Mulgrave Castle

From 1858 to 1862 Duleep Singh rented Mulgrave Castle, near Whitby. [19]

Sir Samuel White Baker

Duleep Singh, in ceremonial dress, 1852, by the English painter George Duncan Beechey

While Sir Samuel White Baker was visiting the Duke of Atholl on his shooting estate in Scotland, he befriended Maharaja Duleep Singh. In 1858–1859, the two partnered an extensive hunting trip in central Europe and the Balkans, via Frankfurt, Berlin, Vienna and Budapest. On the last part of the voyage, Baker and the Maharajah hired a wooden boat in Budapest, which was eventually abandoned on the frozen Danube. The two continued into Vidin where, to amuse the Maharajah, Baker went to the Vidin slave market. There, Baker fell in love with a white slave girl, destined for the Ottoman Pasha of Vidin. Baker was outbid by the Pasha but bribed the girl's attendants. The two ran away in a carriage together and eventually, as Florence Baker, she became Baker's lover and wife and accompanied him everywhere he journeyed.

Reunion with his mother

When he was 18, Singh wrote to his mother in Kathmandu, suggesting that she should join him in Great Britain, but his letter was intercepted by the British authorities in India and did not reach her. He then sent a courier, Pundit Nehemiah Goreh, who was also intercepted and forbidden to contact the Maharani. Duleep Singh then decided to go himself. Under cover of a letter from Login he wrote to the British Resident in Kathmandu, who reported that the Maharani had 'much changed, was blind and had lost much of the energy which formerly characterised her.' The British government decided she was no longer a threat and she was allowed to join her son on 16 January 1861 at Spence's Hotel in Calcutta and return with him to England.[20]

Auchlyne and Aberfeldy

In 1858 the lease of Castle Menzies expired and Duleep Singh rented the house at Auchlyne from the Earl of Breadalbane. He was known for a lavish lifestyle, shooting parties, and a love of dressing in Highland costume and soon had the nickname "the Black Prince of Perthshire".[21] (At the same time, he was known to have gradually developed a sense of regret for his circumstances in exile, including some inner turmoil about his conversion to Christianity and his forced departure from the Punjab). His mother stayed in Perthshire with him for a short time, before he rented the Grandtully Estate, near Aberfeldy. Following the death of his mother and Sir John Login in 1863, he returned to England.[22]

Elveden Estate

Sir Duleep Singh in the 1860s

Maharaja Duleep Singh (as he became in June 1861) bought (or the India Office purchased for him) a 17,000 acres (69 km2) country estate at Elveden on the border between Norfolk and Suffolk, close to Thetford, in 1863. He enjoyed living in Elveden Hall and the surrounding area and restored the church, cottages, and school. He transformed the run-down estate into an efficient game preserve and it was here that he gained his reputation as the fourth best shot in England.[23][24][25]

The house was remodelled into a quasi-oriental palace where he lived the life of a British aristocrat.[26] Maharaja Duleep Singh was accused of running up large expenses and the estate was sold after his death to pay his debts. Today, Elveden is owned by The 4th Earl of Iveagh, the head of the Anglo-Irish Guinness family of brewing fame; it remains an operating farm and private hunting estate.

Re-initiated into Sikhism

In 1864, Duleep Singh married Bamba Müller in Cairo and established his family home at Elveden Hall in Suffolk. He eventually became disaffected and embittered with the British, and he reverted to Sikhism.

While in exile, he sought to learn more about Sikhism and was eager to return to India. Though previous efforts were thwarted by his handlers, he re-established contact with his cousin Sardar Thakar Singh Sandhawalia, who on 28 September 1884 left Amritsar for England along with his sons Narinder Singh and Gurdit Singh and a Sikh granthi (priest), Pratap Singh Giani. He also brought a list of properties held by Sir Duleep Singh in India. All this renewed his connection with Sikhism.[27]

The British Government decided in 1886 against his return to India or his re-embracing Sikhism. Despite protests from the India Office, he set sail for 'home' on 30 March 1886. However, he was intercepted and arrested in Aden, then part of Aden Settlement, where the writ of the Viceroy of India began. He could not be stopped from an informal re-conversion ceremony in Aden, far less grand and symbolic than it would have been in India, done by emissaries sent by Sardar Thakar Singh Sandhawalia, who was earlier planning the Pahaul ceremony at Bombay.[27] Sir Duleep was forced to return to Europe.


Elveden Church 1909: Graves of Maharaja Duleep Singh, his wife Maharani Bamba and son Prince Edward Albert Duleep Singh

Maharaja Duleep Singh died in Paris in 1893 at the age of 55, having seen India after the age of fifteen during only two brief, tightly controlled visits in 1860 (to bring his mother to England) and in 1863 (to cremate his mother's body).

Maharaja Duleep Singh's wish for his body to be returned to India was not honoured, in fear of unrest, given the symbolic value the funeral of the son of the Lion of the Punjab might have caused and the growing resentment of British rule. His body was brought back to be buried according to Christian rites, under the supervision of the India Office, in Elveden Church beside the grave of his wife Maharani Bamba, and his son Prince Edward Albert Duleep Singh. The graves are located on the west side of the Church.

Statue of Duleep Singh on Butten Island, Thetford

A life-size bronze statue of the Maharaja, showing him on a horse, was unveiled by the then Prince of Wales in 1999 at Butten Island in Thetford, a town which benefited from his and his sons' generosity.[5][28]

In an auction at Bonhams, London, on 19 April 2007, the 74 cm high white marble portrait bust of Maharaja Duleep Singh by Victorian sculptor John Gibson, R.A., in Rome in 1859[29] fetched £1.7 million (£1.5 million plus premium and tax).[30][31]

A film titled Maharaja Duleep Singh: A Monument Of Injustice, was made in 2007, directed by P.S. Narula.[32]


The Maharaja and his family used a coat of arms which was drawn up by Prince Albert, despite not being registered at the College of Arms. It contained a coronet, lions, and a shield with a cross, along with the motto "Prodesse quam conspicii" ("to do good rather than be conspicuous").[33]


Photograph of three daughters (Sophia, Bamba, and Catherine) of Maharaja Duleep Singh and Bamba Müller in 1894

Sir Duleep Singh married twice, first to Bamba Müller in 1864, and then to Ada Douglas Wetherill (1869-1930) in 1889. He had eight children in total.

He had seven children from his marriage to Bamba. Their first child and male heir died aged one day in 1865.[34] The others were:

He also had two children from his marriage to Wetherill:

  • Princess Pauline Alexandra Duleep Singh (26 Dec 1887-10 Apr 1941)
  • Princess Ada Irene Beryl Duleep Singh (25 Oct 1889-14 Sep 1926)

All the eight children died without legitimate issue, ending the direct line of the Sikh Royalty.[36]

There is a memorial at Eton College in England to Princes Victor and Frederick, Maharaja Sir Duleep Singh's two sons who studied at Eton in the 1870s.[4]

Maharani Bamba Müller

Maharani Bamba Müller was an Arabic-speaking, part-Ethiopian, part-German woman, whose father was a German banker and whose mother was an Abyssinian Coptic Christian slave. She and Sir Duleep met in Cairo in 1863 on his return from scattering his mother's ashes in India; they were married in Alexandria, Egypt, on 7 June 1864. The Maharani died in London on 18 September 1887.

Ada Douglas Wetherill

Ada Douglas Wetherill (born 15 January 1869 in Kennington, Surrey, the daughter of a civil engineer)[37] had been Duleep's mistress before he decided to return to India with his family, and upon being stopped in Aden by the British authorities he abandoned his family and moved to Paris, where she joined him. They married in Paris on 28 April 1889. She stayed with him through his years in Paris and also travelled with him to St. Petersburg, Russia, where he failed to persuade the Czar of the benefits of invading India through the north and reinstalling him as ruler.[38] She died in Sussex on 6 August 1930.

Queen Victoria and Maharaja Duleep Singh reconciled their differences before he died. Out of loyalty to Maharani Bamba, the Queen refused to receive Ada, whom she suspected had been involved with the Maharaja before Maharani Bamba's death in 1887.[39]


In 1854, Madame Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society, met her Master Morya in England, who was in her words, "in the company of a dethroned native prince". This "native prince" according to general consent was Sir Duleep Singh. [40]

He was a member of the Freemasons and was admitted into the lodge in 1861.[41][42]

On 21 October 1893, the day before Sir Duleep Singh's death, Prince Victor Duleep Singh, the eldest son of Sir Duleep Singh, had visions of his father looking at him through a picture frame. [43]

Duleep Singh remembered his servant James Cawood who died in 1865 with a gravestone in Killin cemetery, Killin, Scotland.[44]

A 2017 film, The Black Prince, by the Indian-born film director Kavi Raz told the story of Duleep and his relationship with Queen Victoria.

Maharaja Duleep Singh's character is featured in Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed: Syndicate game. He is featured as a young Duleep Singh, which based on his real-life struggle as an exiled ruler in Victorian London.[45]

Further reading

  • Sikh History in 10 Volumes, by Dr Harjinder Singh Dilgeer. Published by Sikh University Press, Belgium, 2009–2012.
  • Sir John Login And Duleep Singh, by Lady Lena Login. W. H. Allen & Co., London. 1890.
  • Maharaja Duleep Singh Correspondence, by Dhuleep Singh, Ganda Singh. Published by Punjabi University, 1977.
  • Sikh Portraits by European Artists,, by Aijazuddin, F.S. Sotheby Parke Bernet, London and Oxford U. Press, Karachi and New Delhi, 1979.
  • The Duleep Singh's: The Photograph Album of Queen Victoria's Maharajah, by Peter Bance (Bhupinder Singh Bance). Sutton Publishing, ISBN 0-7509-3488-3
  • The Maharajah's Box: An Imperial Story of Conspiracy, Love and a Guru's Prophecy, by Campbell, Christy. HarperCollins, ISBN 0-00-653078-8 The Maharaja's Box
  • Queen Victoria's Maharajah, Duleep Singh, 1838–93, by Michael Alexander and Sushila Anand. 1980. ISBN 978-1-84212-232-7
  • Duleep Singh: The Maharaja of Punjab and the Raj, by Rishi Ranjan Chakrabarty. Published by D.S. Samara, 1988. ISBN 0-9514957-0-4.
  • Maharaja Duleep Singh: The Last Sovereign Ruler of the Punjab, by Prithipal Singh Kapur. Published by Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee, Dharam Parchar Committee, 1995.
  • Maharaja Duleep Singh, Fighter for Freedom, by Baldev Singh Baddan. Published by National Book Shop, 1998. ISBN 81-7116-210-X.
  • Maharaja Daleep Singh, by Balihar Singh Randhawa. Sikh Literary & Cultural Stall, 1998. ISBN 1-900860-01-5.
  • The Maharajah Duleep Singh and the Government: A Narrative, by Surjit Singh Jeet. Published by Guru Nanak Dev University, 1999.
  • The Annexation of the Punjaub, and the Maharajah Duleep Singh, by Thomas Evans Bell. Adamant Media Corporation, 2001. ISBN 0-543-92432-7.
  • Maharaja Dalip Singh Cheated Out, by Avtar Singh Gill. Jaswant Printers. 2007[46]
  • The Exile, by Navtej Sarna. Penguin, 2008. ISBN 978-0-670-08208-7.[47]
  • Sovereign, Squire & Rebel: Maharajah Duleep Singh and the heirs of a Lost Kingdom, by Peter Bance, Coronet House Publishing, London, 2009
  • The Last Sunset: The Rise and Fall of the Lahore Durbar, by Capt. Amarinder Singh, ISBN 978-8174367792


  1. His name has several alternative spellings. Among them are Dhulip, Dulip, Dhalip, Dhuleep and Dalip, but he used Duleep when writing it himself, although Dalip is the conventional spelling for the Punjabi name. Official British letters and documents sometimes refer to him as Dalip the Ultimate.
  2. Dalip Singh – website Britannica.com
  3. "The Black Prince of Perthshire". The Scotsman. 5 September 2012. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Eton, the Raj and modern India; By Alastair Lawson; 9 March 2005; BBC News.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Royal tribute to first Sikh settler BBC News, July 29, 1999.
  6. Freeman, Henry. East India Company, Beginning to End.
  7. Wild, Antony. East India Company: trade and Conquest.
  8. William, Dalrymple (4 March 2015). "The East India Company: The original corporate raiders". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 April 2019.
  9. E Dalhousie Login, Lady Login's Recollections, Chapter 14, Smith Elder, 1916
  10. "No. 22523". The London Gazette. 25 June 1861. p. 2622.
  11. The tragic life of Maharaja Dalip Singh By Reeta Sharma, The Tribune, February 20, 1999
  12. Duleep Singh Archived July 13, 2009, at the Wayback Machine www.collectbritain.co.uk.
  13. Campbell, Christy (2008). The Maharajah's Box. Harper Collins. p. 100. ISBN 978-0-00-653078-7.
  14. Maharaja Dalip Singh in London Archived July 29, 2008, at the Wayback Machine Victoria & Albert Museum.
  15. Royal Photographic Society. Members: 1853–1901 Accessed 6 July 2014
  16. "Sophia Duleep Singh". Historic Royal Palaces. Retrieved 2021-05-22.
  17. Sir John Login and Duleep Singh
  18. "Grandtully Castle from The Gazetteer for Scotland". www.scottish-places.info.
  19. The Maharajah of Mulgrave https://www.nyma.org.uk/_webedit/uploaded-files/All%20Files/History%20Tree/14%201859%20The%20Maharajah%20of%20Mulgrave.pdf The Maharajah of Mulgrave. {{cite web}}: Check |url= value (help); Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. Login, Lady Lena Campbell (1916). "Lady Login's Recollections". California Digital Library. Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 207, 208 (Chapter XIV). Retrieved 18 July 2014.
  21. On the trail of the Sikh heritage BBC News, September 30, 2008.
  22. "The 'Black Prince' of Perthshire", Highlander Web Archived February 24, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  23. Michael Alexander and Sushila Anand. Queen Victoria's Maharaja: Duleep Singh 1838–93 ISBN 1-84212-232-0, ISBN 978-1-84212-232-7
  24. "The UK's finest country sports publication".
  25. Edwards, Adam (13 October 2001). "All guns blazing". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 2022-01-12.
  26. "Elveden Hall, Elveden, Suffolk".
  27. 27.0 27.1 He prepared the exiled Maharaja to seek to wrest back his lost empire The Tribune, September 21, 2002.
  28. Duleep Singh Statue Archived March 4, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  29. Prince charming of Punjab heads up art sale The Times, March 14, 2007.
  30. Sikh hero bust is sold for £1.7m BBC News, April 20, 2007.
  31. Bust of Duleep Singh went for 1.7 million pounds in 2007 Archived December 8, 2008, at the Wayback Machine Hindustan Times, October 07, 2008.
  32. Maharaja Duleep Singh: A Monument Of Injustice (DVD) Archived July 12, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  33. "Wooden panelcarved coat of arms (panel)". Norfolk Museums Collections. Retrieved 31 August 2021.
  34. "Geograph:: The grave of the son of Maharajah Duleep... © Richard Hoare".
  35. The Swiss Account of Princess Catherine Duleep Singh The Tribune, June 25, 2001.
  36. The lives and times of three generations of India princesses. Edited by Peter Bance Archived July 13, 2009, at the Wayback Machine Navtej Sarna
  37. "Maharani Ada Duleep Singh".
  38. Russia’s onward march; progress in Asia and India is her goal. Native Indians who may help her-- the story of Duleep Singh’s going to Russia. The New York Times, October 9, 1887.
  39. Michael Alexander and Sushila Anand. Queen Victoria's Maharajah: Duleep Singh 1838–93 ISBN 1-84212-232-0, ISBN 978-1-84212-232-7.
  40. Blavatsky, Helena. Blavatsky Collected Writings Online.
  41. "The life of a British Maharaja".
  42. Grand Freemasonry Lodge of India. Some eminent Indian masons Accessed 10 November 2020.
  43. Barrett, William (1908). Occultism and common-sense.
  44. Killin News Apr 1998, P3
  45. "Did You Know This Ubisoft Game Had Maharaja Duleep Singh's Feature In It". Kiddaan. 2021-07-05. Retrieved 2021-07-05.
  46. Maharaja Dalip Singh Cheated Out – Book Review The Tribune, November 25, 2007.
  47. The Exile: A Maharaja's tragic journey Rediff.com, 15 October 2008.

External links

Video links
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Sher Singh
Maharaja of the Sikh Empire
Succeeded by
British Raj