Military Secretary to the Governor-General of India
THE COURT AND CAMP OF RUNJEET SINGH
by W.G. Osborne
First published in 1840 in London, is a journal recording events in the Punjab of the period from 19 May to 13 July 1838 and the author’s personal impressions. The journal is preceded by an introduction about the origin and rise of the Sikh people and is followed by a few letters of the author to the Maharaja and one from the Maharaja to the author. The book is illustrated with sixteen beautiful lithographic portraitures drawn by the author himself.
Ostensibly the journal was written "to beguile the tedium of a camp life, and without the remotest intention of publication," but a careful study of the text would reveal that the purpose was to draw the attention of the English people to the state of affairs in the northwest frontier and to the possibility of annexing Punjab after the death of the ailing Ranjit Singh. Osborne’s account of the discipline and efficiency of the Sikh army carries the suggestion that it was inferior to the British army, though superior to the forces of other princes of India.
The book contains a vivid account of the person and character of Ranjit Singh, his habits and idiosyncrasies, and his virtues and foibles. The Maharaja was, observes Osborne, one of that order of men who seemed destined by nature to win their way to distinction and achieve greatness. Cool and calculating by nature, the Maharaja kept a just proportion between his efforts and objectives. Unable to read and write, he was amply compensated for this deficiency by an accurate and retentive memory, an extraordinarily agile mind and fertile imagination. By sheer force of mind, personal energy and courage, he created a powerful nation.
He was by temperament mild and merciful. He "had a natural shrewdness, sprightliness and vivacity, worthy of a more civilized and intellectual state." About men around Ranjit Singh, Osborne has many interesting comments to make. Aziz ud-Din, he says, "is a fine-looking man, of about five and forty, not overclean in his person, but with a pleasant and goodhumoured, though crafty-looking countenance, and his manners are so kind and unassuming that it is impossible not to like him." Comments likewise abound about Sher Singh, Dhian Singh, Hira Singh and others.