First British Sikh historian Joseph Davey Cunningham grave found


AMBALA: In a coincidence on the visit of Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) inspection visit at European Cemetery in Ambala Cantonment on the national highway 444-A (Ambala-Jagadhri road), the grave of first British Sikh historian Captain Joseph Davey Cunningham was found recently on July 8.

CWGC team from New Delhi including its Indian sub-continent manager Amit Bansal had visited the European Cemetery in Ambala to inspect the condition of the war graves present at this historic Christian cemetery. The CWGC is carrying out restoration work of the war graves at Ambala with the support of the cemetery committee.

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Father Anthony of head priest at Holy Redeemer Church, Ambala Cantonment said, “Actually it was the late historian Mr KC Yadav who told us about Captain Joseph Davey Cunningham’s grave at Ambala cemetery. Thereafter we were searching for his grave. It was only a coincidence when we found out that on July 8 during the inspection visit of CWGC team in Ambala of the war graves. They (CWGC) had in fact never heard about Cunningham before. We have about 56 war graves at European Cemetery in Ambala Cantonment.”
Captain Cunningham born at Lambeth on June 9, 1812 and died at the age of 38, who was an engineer in the British Army with Bengal Engineers, and died in Ambala on February 28, 1951, as engraved on his grave.

As per the historic records, Cunningham’s father was the famous Scottish poet and author Allan Cunningham and his brother was the archaeologist Sir Alexander Cunningham.

Cunningham is considered the first British Sikh historian who wrote firsthand accounts of Anglo-Sikh war in 1845.

As per the Encyclopedia of Sikhism by Prof Harbans Singh of Punjabi University, Patiala, “He (Cunningham) was summoned to the battlefront (Anglo-Sikh war) and attached first to the staff of Sir Charles Napier and then to that of Sir Hugh Gough. He was present, as political officer, with the division of Sir Harry Smith at the battles of Baddowal and Aliwal (Ludhiana). At Sabhraon, he served as an additional aid-de-camp to the Governor-General, Sir Henry Hardinge. His services earned him a brevet and appointment as political agent to the state of Bhopal.”

After the battle, Cunningham wrote the book ‘A History of the Sikhs’ in 1849 which he had written in Bhopal and his brother had got published in London, writes Prof Harbans Singh.

“His severe criticism, in the book, of Lord Hardinge’s Punjab policy brought upon him the wrath of his superiors. He was removed from his political appointment and sent back to regimental duty. He took the disgrace to heart and, soon after his appointment to the Meerut division of Public Works, he died suddenly at Ambala in 1851”, reads the Encyclopedia of Sikhism by Harbans Singh.

Haryana Academy of History and Culture director Prof Raghuvendra Tanwar said, “The British had made cantonment at Ambala in 1833-34 and then their cantonment was shifted near Ludhiana (in 1837). They (British) did not cross the Beas River as long as Maharaja Ranjit Singh was alive as they were worried about this. The Sikh wars with British are the last expansionist wars of the British. With these wars, the entire policy of the British including Army or security got influenced by the manner in which the Sikhs fought these wars.”

“The version of Cunningham says that if the Sikhs have had a fair war, the British should not have won. Cunningham established that very high moral ground was of the Sikhs against the British and his versions are very important for Sikh history”, said Prof Raghuvendra Tanwar.

A History of the Sikhs from the Origin of the Nation to the Battles of the Sutlej’, by Cunningham, is the first serious and sympathetic account of the Sikh people ever written of them by a foreigner.

Cunningham’s main endeavour was “to give Sikhism its place in the general history of humanity, by showing its connection with the different creeds of India…” Secondly, he wished “to give some account of the connection of the English with the Sikhs, and in part with the Afghans …”

According to Cunningham’s analysis, the British won the war they had precipitated but could have as well lost it. What really contributed to the success of the British was the treachery of the Lahore leaders who had instigated it. Raja Lal Singh, Raja Tej Singh, the commander-in-chief and Raja Gulab Singh had played a treacherous role and betrayed their own army in varying degree.




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