Fane, Sir Henry
Commander-in-chief of the British Indian Army (1778-1840)
Commander-in-chief of the British Indian army, who visited the Punjab in 1837 on the occasion of the marriage of Kanvar Nau Nihal Singh, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s grandson. Sir Henry Fane’s visit to Ranjit Singh was an event of considerable interest. He was highly impressed by the extraordinary discipline of the Maharaja’s troops and the splendour of his court. In his several meetings with the British commander-in-chief, Ranjit Singh questioned him on the strength and composition of the British army, on the extent of Russian influence in Persia, and on the ability of the Shah of Persia to give effective aid to the Russians. The Maharaja paraded before Sir Henry his troops for a grand review and inspected the contingent of British lancers and horse artillery, which had accompanied the commander-in-chief to Lahore. The latter was invited to participate in the Holi festival at Lahore and was entertained by a mock battle of the zendnd corps of Amazons. He also saw the Sikh crown jewels including the celebrated Koh-i-Nur which he described as a badly cut diamond plainly set in gold.
Sir Henry Fane made a detailed appraisal of the Sikhs’ military power which, according to him, consisted of 60-70 regiments of infantry, 700 pieces of artillery and innumerable cavalry. His confidential report to Lord Auckland, the Governor-General, contained speculations on the ability of the British to destroy the military might of Ranjit Singh. According to J.D. Cunningham, a young British officer prepared during Sir Henrv’s visit a map of the Punjab which formed the groundwork of all maps used during the first Anglo-Sikh war. One significant event during the commander-in-chiefs visit was the establishment by the Maharaja of the Order of the Auspicious Star of the Punjab with which he decorated his British guest.
Sir Henry Fane died at sea on board the Malabaroff St. Michael’s in the Azores on 24 March 1840.
FIVE YEARS IN INDIA
by Henry Edward Fane, aide-de-camp to his uncle, General Sir Henry Fane, commander-in-chief of the army of the East India Company during late 1830’s, is "a narrative of [the author’s] travels in the Presidency of Bengal, a visit to the court of Runjeet Singh, a residence in the Himalayan mountains, an account of the late expedition to Cabul and Afghanistan, voyage down the Indus, and journey overland to England." Fane had kept an immaculate journal of his travels from the time his regiment got orders to move to Ceylon in June/ July 1835, till he arrived at Falmouth, England, in April 1840. His actual stay in India was of three and a half years, from August 1836, when he arrived at Calcutta, to the end of 1839, when he commenced his journey homeward. The travelogue was published in two volumes, under one cover, by Henry Colburn, London, in 1842. It was reprinted by the Languages Department, Punjab, in 1970 in two separate volumes of 16 chapters each.
Soon after his arrival at Calcutta, Fane accompanied Sir Henry on the latter’s inspection tour of Company’s military establishments spread over the Gangetic plain. Travelling by river and road transport through- cantonments such as Patna, Kanpur, Agra and Aligarh, the General was in the country around Meerut when, in February 1837, he received a letter from Maharaja Ranjit Singh inviting him to attend the marriage of his grandson, Nau Nihal Singh. The commander-in-chief accepted the invitation. Henry Edward Fane, who accompanied him to the Sikh capital of Lahore, provides in his book a graphic description of the visit which lasted from 3 March to 1 April 1837. He describes the
lavish festivities which took place at Amritsar from where the wedding party started and at Atari where the nuptial ceremonies were held. He was deeply impressed by the Maharaja’s personality and character. As he records: "Runjeet, among his subjects, has the character generally of a kind and generous master, and one of the best princes that has ever reigned in India. As evidence of his being a really good and amiable man may be cited his kindness to children… and the fact of his never having, since he conquered the country, put a man to death for even the most heinous crimes…"
Yet Fane was not above the white man’s pride and prejudice. For him Ranjit Singh’s army, though trained by European officers, was no match for the Company’s troops in discipline and perfection of drill movements, and when he witnessed a review of the Sikh troops again in December 1838, at the time of the meeting between Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Lord Auckland at Firozpur, he attributed their better performance on the occasion to "the extraordinary effect that our expedition to Lahore, in 1837, has had upon Runjeet’s troops."
From among the Sutlej Sikh chieftains, the author was most impressed by the ruler of Patiala (Maharaja Karam Singh) whom he describes as "the largest man I almost ever saw, standing, I should think, six feet seven or eight, with bone and sinew in proportion…. He has the character of a good prince, father and son, characters rarely to be met with among the higher princes and chiefs of India."
His disparaging remarks were reserved for the last of the Great Mughals, Emperor Bahadur Shah II, actually a pensioner of the East India Company: "I did not like the General so lowering himself as to stand in the presence of a dirty, miserable old dog like this man, after having been seated in the durbar of Runjeet Singh."
The second volume contains an account of Fane’s travels with the Afghanistan expedition, undertaken to reinstal Shah Shuja’ on the throne of Kabul with a view to checkmating Russian designs, and his return journey to England. He describes his journey from Firozpur down the Sutlej and the Indus to Rohri, and then the march through the Bolan pass into Afghanistan and entry into Kabul, occupying Qandahar and Ghazni on the way.
At Kabul, Fane joined Colonel Wade, the political agent at Ludhiana, intending to travel with him through the Punjab on his way to Bombay. But he changed his plans at Attock where he found another companion with whom he set out by boat down the river Indus, shifted to a bigger vessel at Karachi, and reached Bombay on 11 December 1839. From there he embarked for England on 1 January 1840, reaching his home country on 13 April 1840.