Gouramma and Duleep: Excerpt from Victoria by AN Wilson

  • Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Oct 25, 2014 14:20 IST

Ten days after they heard the news of the Charge of the Light Brigade, it was the Princess Royal’s fourteenth birthday. Throughout this war, happening so far away, the Queen’s domestic life went on undisturbed.

Vicky’s birthday… was spent at Windsor. The Queen spent the day quietly with the children and ‘sketched Gouramma’. This was her goddaughter, the Princess Gouramma, now Victoria Gouramma, of Coorg. Her father, the deposed rajah, driven from his lands in Southern India, had for a while resided at Benares. In 1852, the rajah brought Gouramma, then aged eleven, to London and offered her to the Queen for adoption… the Queen always felt sheepish about the deposed Indian maharajahs whose wealth had been seized by the East India Company.

At first she replied to the rajah that ‘it would not be in accordance with the usages of this Country that Her Majesty should take the charge of his daughter’. The India Board offered to pay for the upbringing of the child and to pay him a stipend while he was in England. Prince Albert suggested giving the rajah £40 per month for the child... the rajah… felt that a ‘lady of rank’ should be found to look after the child. Moreover, the little girl was staying with her father in an hotel… He complained of ‘people lurking in the passages to see her’, and threatened that if she were further ‘humiliated’, he would have no alternative but to put her to death.

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The background was as painful as any colonial story could be. On the one hand, the Rajah of Coorg was getting a very poor deal from the East India Company. He had provided the British with ‘many thousands’ of his own subjects, to act as coolies for the Bombay army; he had supplied ‘upwards of 3,000 pack bullocks… 40,000 bottles of rice, 5 elephants, and 3,000 sheep. For all these supplies the Raja received no pecuniary indemnification.’

There could be no doubt that the rajah had been swindled by the Company. On the other hand, he was no saint. Evidence had been collected of atrocities perpetrated under his regime. Lord William Bentinck had decided, as far back as 1834, that ‘the interests of humanity’ would be served by removing a man who, though open and friendly in his manner and a skilled horseman, performed such cruelties as forcing his subjects to act as human stockades around wild elephants during his hunting expeditions. Anyone who let the elephants escape were put to death. One witness, Richard Royle, ‘himself a half-caste’, said that he had been present when twenty-five heads were chopped off in one session at the rajah’s command, and he knew of sixty families where daughters had been hastily married off to absolutely anyone to avoid their being recruited into the rajah’s overcrowded seraglio.

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Little Gouramma had hardly grown up in the sedate atmosphere of Vicky, Bertie and the other royal children at Windsor. The Queen agreed to stand godmother to the child, who was baptized… at Buckingham Palace on 1 July 1852… The princess was, in effect, adopted by an Indian army couple, Major and Mrs Drummond, who took her riding, read her Gulliver’s Travels and tried to make her have the enthusiasms of an upper-class Scottish aristocrat. To some extent they succeeded, but Princess Victoria Gouramma was neither a demure nor a healthy person. Coquettish from the moment of her arrival in Britain, by the time she was sixteen the Drummonds found her as interested in stable boys as in ponies... At the Juvenile Ball held at Buckingham Palace in April 1856, Gouramma danced merrily with the boys, and clearly attracted the Prince of Wales, but this was the first time she began to cough blood.

The Queen, who was really only a puritan when it came to considering the behaviour of her own children, never lost her affection for the Indian princess, however much of a scamp she was… Some time in 1859, her father gave her (Gouramma) a bag of jewels, before expiring and being buried in Kensal Green. The Drummonds, slightly unable to cope with the princess’s latest attachment (to an under-butler), applied to the Queen, who was entirely unshocked by the girl’s amorous propensities and merely recommended that they take her on a continental tour.

Gouramma was not the only Indian child in whom the Queen took an interest. In 1854, the Maharajah Duleep Singh, the Lion of the Punjab, had arrived in England. He was a charming boy, as Hardinge had observed when bringing the Kingdom of the Punjab to an end, at the close of the last Sikh wars in 1850, and appropriating Duleep Singh’s greatest treasure, the Koh-iNoor... This enormous uncut diamond, the size of a pigeon’s egg, had for generations been passed from conqueror to conqueror as a symbol of power in the Punjab. By stealing it for the Queen, Hardinge made a significant gesture, demonstrating… that the British regarded themselves as lords of the Indian subcontinent.

When Duleep Singh was presented to Queen Victoria in July 1854, she felt decidedly embarrassed, and in later years, when the Koh-i-Noor had been recut, she felt shy of letting the maharajah see it. She was instantaneously enchanted by the boy who was as beautiful as he was charming…

Duleep Singh… had been baptized already.... Until his ‘midlife-crisis’, when he reverted to the Sikh religion, he was a practising member of the Church of England. The Queen’s hope was that Gouramma would marry her new protégé, but Duleep… was too strait-laced for her, and when the pair were introduced, at Lord Normanby’s seat of Mulgrave Castle, it was not a success. At that house party, however, Singh introduced her to a Thackeravian roué called Colonel John Campbell… A child was born to the marriage, but it was not a happy union. Princess Gouramma died of consumption, in not very salubrious lodgings in Jermyn Street. Colonel Campbell was seen slipping out of the house carrying a bag, presumably of the maharajah’s jewels. The Queen kept up with the daughter, whose name was Edith.

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