Gardner, Alexander Haughton Campbell
Scottish Soldier in charge of Sikh Artillery (1785-1877)
Son of a Scottish immigrant, was, according to an autobiographical account, born in North America in 1785. As a boy, he learnt Italian, Spanish, Latin and Greek, and proceeded in 1807 to Ireland to train for a maritime career. Returning to America, he set out on a journey to Astrakhan where his elder brother was in the Russian service. In 1817, he left Russia and after wandering for many years in Central Asia, drifted to Afghanistan where he took up service under Amir Habibullah Khan. When in 1826, Amir Dost Muhammad became master of Kabul, Gardner fled and reached Peshawar in 1831 to be appointed commander of artillery by Sultan Muhammad Khan Barakzai, a tributary of the Sikh government.
In 1832, he was summoned to Lahore where he became an artillery officer in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army with the rank of colonel. Gardona Sahib, as he was popularly known in the Sikh army, served in several military campaigns until 1836 when Raja Dhian Singh took him over from the Maharaja’s service and placed him in full command of his own artillery. He successively served Hira Singh and Gulab Singh.
Details of his experience as a traveller and soldier, as recorded in the Memoirs of Alexander Gardner (edited by Major Hugh Pearse, London, 1898), have been seriously challenged. C. Grey, author of European Adventurers of Northern India, 1785 to 1849, for instance, describes him as a fake, who never occupied any position of consequence in the Sikh army, and as one who took his incidents, adventures and travels from the books of the period, and drawing upon his imagination, wove a fictitious narrative.
Gardner, however, claims to have firsthand knowledge of many of the tumultuous events which overtook the Punjab after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Hugh Pearse records that he was an eye-witness to the series of assassinations planned and executed by the Dogra minister, Dhian Singh. He, for instance, witnessed the murder of Chet Singh in the royal palace on 9 October 1839. He, likewise, narrates in his book how Maharaja Kharak Singh was slowly poisoned to death; how Kanvar Nau Nihal Singh was killed in November 1840; how Maharani Chand Kaur’s head was crushed with stones in June 1842; how the Lahore Fort was stormed by Kanvar Sher Singh in January 1841 and how he, as Maharaja, and his young son, Partap Singh, were slain on the same day; how Dhian Singh met his death followed by the killing of the Sandhanvalia sardars; how Suchet Singh was finished off by his nephew; how Hira Singh and his adviser, Pandit Jalla, were punished by Sikh troops; and how Wazir Jawahar Singh was brought down from his elephant and done to death.
Gardner was dismissed from service along with other European officers during the time of Pandit Jalla’s ascendancy, but he somehow lingered on at Lahore serving Maharani Jind Kaur. He did not take part in the first Anglo-Sikh war. On the formation of Council of Regency in December 1846, Raja Tej Singh had him expelled from the Punjab. Gardner thereupon entered the service of Gulab Singh who gave him command of Kashmir artillery and a battalion of infantry.
Gardner died at Jammu on 22 January 1877 at the age of 92 and was buried at the military cemetery at Sialkot.
Soldier and Traveller: Memoirs of Alexander Gardner
Edited by Major Hugh Pearse, with an introduction by Sir Richard Temple, was first published in 1898 by William Blackwood and Sons of Edinburgh and London, and was reprinted by the Languages Department, Punjab, in 1970.
Alexander Gardner (1785-1877), a European adventurer of Scottish extraction horn in North America in 1785, came to the Punjab in 1831, and after a short spell of service as commander of artillery under Sultan Muhammad Khan of Peshawar, tributary of the Sikhs, was summoned, in 1832, to Lahore where he was appointed an artillery officer in Ranjit Singh’s army with the rank of a colonel. He served in various expeditions until 1836 when Raja Dhian Singh placed him in full command of the artillery which belonged to him and his brother, Gulab Singh. After Dhian Singh’s death, he served Gulab Singh and died a pensioner under his successor, Maharaja Sir Ranbir Singh (1857-85), at Jammu on 22 January 1877 at the ripe age of ninety-two. His body was buried in the cemetry at Sialkot, now in Pakistan.
That Gardner had been keeping notes of his travels and adventures is evident from the fact that, as early as February 1853, an abstract of a portion of his travels appeared in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. When during the summer of 1864, a British officer, Frederick Cooper, deputed to Kashmir to look after the interests of English visitors to the valley, met Gardner at Srinagar, the latter mentioned to him that a whole volume containing an account of his travels in Kafiristan had been borrowed from him by Sir Alexander Burnes before proceeding to Kabul from where he never returned (he was assassinated in 1841 at Kabul where he was serving as political resident). Cooper realized the value of Gardner’s notes and verbal recitals and intended to prepare from these an account of his travels. But he did not live long enough to accomplish the task. After his death his’ unfinished work and Gardner’s own manuscripts were lost. Around 1894, they accidentally came into the hands of Major Hugh Pearse who pieced them together and had them published in book form.
The 290 page Memoirs is divided into 16 chapters, the first nine of which deal with the history of the manuscript and early life and travels of Alexander Gardner before He came to the Punjab. As such, they are not directly relevant to the history of the Punjab under Sikh rule, although they do contain a vivid description of the geography of the western extremity of the Himalayan range and of the characteristics and customs of the tribes inhabiting it. Chapter X and XI relate the events of Ranjit Singh’s reign from 1832 onwards. Chapters XIl to XV deal with the intrigue and anarchy following the death of Ranjit Singh. The last chapter relates to Gardner’s sojourn in Kashmir. In the 60-page appendix, Pearse gives biographical sketches of 42 European officers in the service of the Sikh sovereign.
In his account of the events to which he had been an eye-witness, Gardner has been fair and objective. He is sympathetic to Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the administration he had established. He blames the Dogra brothers for the downfall of the Sikh kingdom.. He gives a high estimate of Ranjit Singh’s qualities as a ruler, but portrays Gulab Singh in the worst colours.