Memorial Dinners, Durbars and Obituaries

The first Lucknow Anniversary Dinner was held in London on the 25th of September, 1879 and continued to be an annual event, held on the same day for the next 34 years.

The Lucknow Garrison Dinner, with their Chairman, Lt. General J.J. Mcleod Innes, V.C.

The dinner at the Holborn Restaurant, called “the defence dinner,” on the 6th of June was unique in one aspect – it was the first time the Ladies of Lucknow were allowed to attend. Julia Inglis was present on the occasion with her son Alfred.

Although the dinners would continue for another 13 years, by 1909, Major-General Cook was the only survivor of the of the original garrison present – the others were veterans of Havelock’s force. Although other survivors were still alive old age and ill-health made it impossible for them to attend.
On the 16th of August 1913, the following article appeared in the Examiner:

Interest in Lucknow did not die out with the end of the dinners. In 1934, when Blanche, the daughter of Thomas Kavanagh died, her father’s remarkable story formed her whole obituary!

It is interesting to note, that even in 1934, the children were still being buried with full military honours at the Residency cemetery in Lucknow.

Mercury, 12. November, 1934, pg. 7.

In 1940, Charles Palmer, who, as a young boy had carried ammunition to his brother-in-law Lieutenant Ousley during the siege, was still as sprightly as ever. At the age of 92 he was “pepping-up the war effort in Canada” by forming a group retired officers to do their bit for the war effort. He died in August 1940, the last man to hold the Lucknow medal for the defence of the Residency.

The Delhi Durbar

“We trust that the present occasion
may tend to unite in bonds of close
affection ourselves and our subjects;
that from the highest to the humblest,
all may feel that under our rule the
great principles of liberty, equity,
and justice are secured to them; and
to promote their happiness, to add to
their prosperity, and advance their
welfare, are the ever present aims and
objects of our Empire.”

Durbar message of Queen Victoria to the people of India, 1877
Pomp and pagentry at the 1877 durbar

Known as the Imperial Durbar, these grand and rather pompous assemblies were held in Delhi three times – in 1877, 1903 and 1911. In spite of the regal title, George V was the only reigning monarch to actually attend, and that in 1911.
The durbar was called the “Proclaimation Durbar” – to proclaim Queen Victoria as Empress of India. This was less of a public affair and more of a political show, attended by the 1st Earl of Lytton – then Viceroy of India, and a host of maharajas, nawabs, and other officials. With this durbar the East India Company ended and the power was officially transfered to the British Crown.

By 1903, things had lightened up ever so slightly and the next durbar was held to celebrate the succession of Edward VII and his wife Alexandra as Emperor and Empress of India.
It was a full display of anything and everything the planner, Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, could think of. Two weeks of festivities were planned, at Coronation Park – a large area then just outside Delhi – was turned into a vast tent city, complete with a temporary light railway to bring in the spectators, a post office with commemorative stamp, shops, souvenir guide books and even a Delhi Durbar Medal. It did not end there – fireworks displays, a whole bevy of exhibitions and of course, dances, dinners and and military reviews. It was a public show on a grand scale, intended not just to impress but to stun and awe.
Unfortunately, Edward V11 could not make it. But he did send his brother, the Duke of Connaught instead. This did not prevent maharajas from coming with the vast retinues from all over India, nor did it put a stop to the grand coronation ball, attended only by the highest ranking guests.

March past of the mutiny veterans
See the conquering hero comes!

“The most interesting incident of the whole Durbar was when these ancient soldiers (sepoys who fought for the British during the Indian mutiny of 1857) marched into the arena to the tune of “see the conquering hero comes!” (…) “A thrill ran round the audience as they approached; for these were the Mutiny veterans of Delhi and Lucknow, the men who held India for the Empire on the Ridge at Delhi – through heat and battle and hardships.” (…) “The entire audience rose to their feet and cheer after cheer rent the air for they all felt that but for those hoary, badly dressed old men there would have been no Delhi Durbar at all that day.” – Dorothy Menpes, The Durbar, 1903

The durbar procession of 1903

The 1911 durbar was to be the grandest affair of all but also the last. This extravaganza to mark the coronation of King George V as Emperor of India and was attended by every Raja and Nawab from every princely state. Anyone else who could attend, did, for the biggest seen and be seen show India had as yet witnessed. Taking over a year to organise, it brought together a quarter of a million people from India and across the seas. The tent city was larger than before, and an area of 80 square miles in all was tented, marked,electrified,railed and sanitized for the event. All this for an emperor who expected a people who were not his own to pay him homage for having conquered them. The phrase “animals in a circus” comes to mind, but I leave it up my reader to decide for himself.

“This durbar, which incorporated European music by Handel and Meyerbeer (Barringer 181), had no central theme but contained some surprises: the king announced the reversal of Curzon’s 1905 partition of Bengal and the transfer of the capital from Calcutta to Delhi.[8] The 1911 durbar was heralded as a new starting-point for the future as thousands of school children of all castes and creeds greeted the monarchs (A Brief Historical Memoir of Delhi 61; Historical Record 1911).[9] The Red Fort became the royal seat where the king and queen revived the custom of darshan, i.e., appearing on the fort balcony in full regalia and robes to share their aura, recalling the practice of Shah Jahan (r.1628–58) and Aurangzeb (r.1658–1707). 100,000 people passed to view the king and queen (Hardinge 57). At the investiture ceremony, they sat on thrones in the shamiana in the middle of the arena surrounded by the amphitheater of attendees.”

The reception for the 100 some mutiny veterans was held in the Ridge Pavillion and the picture features Edward Hilton, seated, wearing a bow tie. As at the other durbars, the veterans were cheered as they rode past, perhaps not a jaunty in their step as before.
The next durbar – which would have been held in 1936 for George VI, was cancelled. Growing pressure in England and in India decrying the ridiculous expenditure for a ceremony that was out dated at best and at worst a show of arrogance, held in a country that was facing hunger and poverty. The coming of WWII and Indian Independence put a permanent end to such events and George VI himself never visited India.

Indian Veterans of the Mutiny at the Delhi Durbar of 1911
Not only are they wearing their mutiny medals, they all have the Afghan War Medal of 1878-1880, while three of them have the China War medal and two of these are wearing the Indian Order of Merit (China).

1907 – Fifty years after the mutiny

At the conclusion of Lord Roberts’ speech … the “Last Post” was sounded…Mr Ben Davies then sang “Recessional”, and Mr Lewis Waller recited a commemorative poem by Mr Rudyard Kipling entitled “1857-1907”. The proceedings closed with “Auld Lang Syne” sung by Miss Muriel Foster and Mr Ben Davies..

“At the Albert memorial the commemoration began with a review by Lord Roberts, witnessed by a large gathering of the public. The band of the 1st Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, the old 32nd Foot, the defenders of Lucknow, played a selection of music.

The old soldiers were enthusiastically cheered as they took their places. All wore their medals conspicuously displayed. Many who were lame were tenderly helped by Guardsmen or their friends, but the majority were upright, well-preserved men who bore their years bravely. The last piece of music before the speeches was “The Campbells are Coming” by Piper Angus Gibson of the Black Watch, the only surviving piper of those who took part in the Mutiny.

Curzon made the chief speech and finished to loud cheers with a toast to the surviving veterans among them ‘the hero who was still their hero in 1907, endeared to the nation by half a century of service and sacrifice not one whit less glorious than that of his youth.’ That hero a moment later was on his feet to reply, greeted by prolonged cheers. Modestly he pointed out that those present were mere boys at the time and they must all feel that this commemoration was an honour not paid to them but to the memory of those by whose skill and courage ‘that great epoch’ in our Indian history was brought to a successful close. ” – The Times, January 1907

The Veterans

TO-DAY, across our fathers’ graves,
The astonished years reveal
The remnant of that desperate host
Which cleansed our East with steel.

Hail and farewell! We greet you here,
With tears that none will scorn—
O Keepers of the House of old,
Or ever we were born!

One service more we dare to ask—
Pray for us, heroes, pray,
That when Fate lays on us our task
We do not shame the Day!
- Rudyard Kipling

(Written for the gathering of survivors
of the Indian Mutiny, Albert Hall, 1907).


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