This month I’m digging  ever deeper into the history of Birkavia: “the land between the pylons and the turbines” with an unlikely but true story of a link between Breadalbane and the Punjab.  It concerns the Maharajah Duleep Singh who was born in Lahore in 1838 and came to the throne of the Punjab at the age of 5. 
Dulip SinghWebHe was born into the lavish palaces, courts and gardens of Lahore; he enjoyed falconry and had the best horses and elephants to ride. He received a royal education and was trained in command.
However, the end of the second Sikh war saw the British enter Lahore, placing Duleep Singh into exile.  He left behind his throne, his palaces and much of his personal fortune, never to return to his country.
In 1854 he arrived in England.  He was an immediate success with Queen Victoria and she commissioned the best portrait painter of the day, Franz Winterhalter - a 19th Century Rolf Harris - to paint his portrait during one of his numerous stays at Buckingham Palace.
The Maharajah lived in Scotland throughout his teens and into his twenties and, naturally, became the centre of attention.
He took up residence at Castle Menzies in 1857 and lived there until the following year.  He had a lavish lifestyle and held regular shooting parties. He became known as ‘the Black Prince of Perthshire’ and was somewhat of a local celebrity, being the first Indian Prince to visit Scotland.
In 1860 he returned to India to free his mother from political exile in Nepal and after she died in 1863, he came back to Britain with a wife.  She was a part-Ethiopian, part-German, Arabic-speaking girl from a Cairo mission school and her name was Bamba Muller.
They had six children and, showing how much they had integrated, named them: Victor Duleep Singh; Frederick; Bamba Jindan; Katherine; Sophia Alexandra and Albert Edward.
In 1886 he decided to return to India and place himself as the prophesised moral head of the Sikh people.  His plans were shattered, however, when he was arrested and returned to Europe.
Showing some innate political acumen, he established secret contacts with the Punjab, with Irish revolutionaries and with the Russian government.  In the proclamations issued by him, he asserted himself to be “the lawful sovereign of the Sikh nation”. But destiny willed it otherwise. His health broke down and he met what is described as a “dark and mournful end” in 1893.
But going back to the Perthshire years, on 4 August 1865 Bamba gave birth to their first son. The couple were in Scotland at the time as Duleep Singh had brought his heavily pregnant wife here to relax while he took part in some sport. 
Tragically their son passed away the day following his birth and was buried in Kenmore Churchyard.  It is now officially part of the Scottish Sikh Heritage Trail and you can see the gravestone there today. 

Alan Brown


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