Biographies of Europeans in Sikh History
In 1822, two former generals of Napoleon Bonaparte arrived at Lahore, having traveled eastwards, sometimes in disguise, in search of suitable new employment. They found it at the Sikh court.
Ranjit Singh, the astute military campaigner, knew his army needed European-style tactics to keep the British threat at bay. The French officers supplied the perfect solution. Jean-Francois Allard and Jean-Baptiste Ventura became the first of a number of trusted Napoleonic generals in Ranjit Singh’s service.
They were joined by Auguste Court, who played a key role in developing the artillery, Sikh engineers skilfully copying the cannons presented to Ranjit Singh by the British. The generals settled at Lahore, marrying local wives, employing court artists and exporting fine Kashmir shawls to France.
The British usually visited Lahore as part of diplomatic missions, each side keeping a wary eye on the other and reporting the events in their respective official documents. Artists from both sides also occasionally recorded their impressions, showing that the appreciation of exoticism was mutual. Many of these European visitors later published accounts of their visits, some of them illustrating their stories with prints taken from sketches of the leading personalities they had met at the Sikh court.