Court, Claude Auguste
General in the Sikh Army (1793-1880)
A General in the Sikh army, honorary general of France, Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, recipient of the Auspicious Order of the Punjab, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of England, and Member of several continental scientific and learned societies.
Court was born at Saint Cezaire, France, on 24 September 1793. In 1813, he joined the French army. After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815 he was dismissed from service. He left France in 1818 for Baghdad and joined the Persian forces which were trained at Kermanshah by a handful of exofficers of Napoleon’s army including Ventura. While in Persia, he met another Neapolitan adventurer Avitabile and together they travelled on to Lahore reaching there in early 1827. Maharaja Ranjit Singh gave Court employment in the artillery befitting his talents and scientific attainments. Court was responsible for the training of artillerymen, the organization of batteries and the establishment of arsenals and magazines on European lines.
The Maharaja had his own foundries for casting guns and for the manufacture of shells. Court supervised these in collaboration with Sardar Lahina Singh Majithta. When Court produced the
first shell at the Lahore foundry, the Maharaja bestowed upon him an inam (prize) of Rs 30,000, and when he produced the fuse, he was rewarded with an inam of Rs 5,000.
Court received a salary of Rs 2,500 per month, besides a jagir. He took part in the expedition of Peshawar (1834) and the battle of Jamrud (1837). He was promoted general in 1836. He continued to serve the State after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. During the struggle for succession after the death of Kanvar Nau Nihal Singh on 5 November 1840, Court along with Ventura sided with Sher Singh who was installed as Maharaja, with their help in investing the Fort of Lahore, on 20 January 1841.
On 26 January, however, Court’s regiments mutinied, accusing their general of being responsible for the reduction of the promised increment of Rs 4 per month to their salary to one rupee per month. The troops ransacked his residence and chased him and his family up to Anarkali where Ventura’s guards stopped them. Court then escaped to the British territory across the Sutlej where he stayed till Maharaja Sher Singh had negotiated his return to his regiments in April 1841.
In January 1842, Court was sent with his brigade to Peshawar where he and Avitabile with their regiments stormed the Khaibar Pass on 5-6 April 1842 to help the British General Pollock to cross over from Afghanistan. Court returned to Lahore in July or August 1843 and after Maharaja Sher Singh’s assassination in September 1843, he fled to Firozpur, in British territory, and, ultimately securing his discharge from the Sikh army, proceeded with his Punjabi wife and the children to France in 1844.
He purchased an estate in the countryside and a residence in the city of Paris where he lived until his death in 1880.
Court had antiquarian interests and contributed articles to the Journal of the Asiastic Society of Bengal, Calcutta, and later to the journal Asiatique in Paris. He conducted several excavations at Manikyala near Jehlum and later at Peshawar collecting coins, artifacts and inscriptions. One of them, the Manikyala Inscription, helped J. Prinsep to decipher the Kharoshti script, and is now preserved in the Lahore Museum. He also wrote his Memoirs covering his travels from 1818 to 1844, from Syria to Lahore. They present a minute description of the countries or provinces he visited, his interests extending from geology to archaeology. The last part of the book is devoted to the kingdom of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.