A British Sikh historian, author and art collector has loaned his extensive personal collection for a major exhibition on Maharajah Duleep Singh, the last ruler of who was exiled to Britain during colonial rule.
Peter Bance, the UK-based author of ‘Sovereign, Squire and Rebel: Maharajah Duleep Singh & the Heirs of a Lost Kingdom’ among other works, formally opened the exhibition at Norfolk Record Office in Norwich, the eastern England home territory of the Sikh ruler, this week. ‘Maharajah Duleep Singh: Norfolk’s Princely Family’ is described as the biggest exhibition ever curated on the son and heir of Maharajah Ranjit Singh and forms part of the 2022 of East Anglia and Punjab.
“This is the first time that many of these historic objects have been displayed for public viewing, and I hope visitors will enjoy seeing these as much as I have had in discovering them,” said Bance.
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“One of my favourite items is a signed journal by Queen Victoria, which reads: 'To HH Maharajah Duleep Singh from his affectionate friend, Victoria RI, Windsor Castle, March 1868', which is a really intimate and personal inscription referring to the former King of the Punjab as her friend, although his treatment from the British government was far from that. I hope this exhibition will be a springboard for the younger generation of to delve into their history and discover artefacts which are out there,” he said.
It was over 150 years ago that the last emperor of Punjab, Maharajah Duleep Singh, made East Anglia his home when he purchased the Elveden Estate near Thetford on the Norfolk-Suffolk border.
“Elveden Manor in Thetford was home to the last Maharajah of Punjab for many years and Thetfordians are extremely proud of their unusual resident,” notes Seema Anand, a historian and storyteller behind a special ‘Punjab to Thetford’ .
For around a century, the Duleep Singh family continued to reside in the region after young Duleep was deported from India in order to keep him from claiming the Punjab throne.
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According to Bance’s research, the family’s legacy is still present in the area – from the Ancient House Museum which was donated by the Maharajah’s son Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, to the numerous Norfolk churches he saved from closure and restored. Prince Fredrick went on to join the Norfolk Yeomanry and later served in the , and even erected war memorials for those who fell. Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, his sister and the goddaughter of Queen Victoria, is known for her active suffragette work in fighting for the right of women to vote.
“Highlights in the exhibition include the Maharajah’s velvet Indian Jacket; his shooting paraphernalia with which he shot thousands of game at Norfolk parties with the then Prince of Wales; textiles and apparel worn by the princesses; the family’s photograph albums and personal intimate letters,” said Bance, who has been collecting the archive for over 25 years.
The exhibition, on at the Archives Centre in Norwich until September, has been organised by the Anglo Punjab Heritage Foundation and supported by the Essex Cultural Diversity Project (ECDP) and its creative director Indi Sandhu.