Bahadur Shah Zafar: The story of the capture of the last Mughal king by the British and the assassination of the princes

When the British recaptured Delhi in 1857, Captain William Hudson set out from the city with about 100 soldiers to capture the Mughal King Bahadur Shah Zafar. By the time Captain Hudson approached Humayun’s tomb, he had not been shot by any insurgents on the streets of Delhi.

William Hudson was probably worried about how the people around Humayun’s tomb would treat him, so he hid himself in the ruins near the tomb.

Amrpal Singh recently wrote a book on the uprising of 1857 called ‘The Siege of Delhi’ and is currently based in London. He writes in his book that “Hudson sent two of his representatives, Maulvi Rajab Ali and Mirza Elahi Bakhsh, to meet Queen Zeenat Mahal at the main entrance of the shrine and to persuade the emperor to surrender.”

King Zafar had not yet intended to surrender. Nothing happened for two hours. Hudson became worried and thought that perhaps his men had been killed inside the tomb, but then Hudson’s representatives came out with the message that Bahadur Shah Zafar would only surrender in front of Hudson and that too at that time. When Hudson himself would repeat to General Archdale Wilson’s promise to him, and that promise was that the king would be killed.

King Bahadur Shah Zafar took refuge in the old fort

The British were confused from the beginning as to who had promised to kill Bahadur Shah Zafar and when.

In this regard, the Governor General’s orders were clear from the outset that no matter how big or small the rebel was, if he wanted to surrender, no condition or limit should be placed on him.

Initially, when the British entered Delhi, the emperor decided to stay in his palace inside the fort. On September 16, 1857, it was reported that the British army had captured a rebel base a few hundred yards from the fort and they were not entering the fort just because they had a small number of troops.

On September 19, the king decided to leave the palace with his entire family and staff and return to the old fort via Ajmeri Gate. On September 20, the British received a tip-off that King Bahadur Shah Zafar had left the old fort and reached the tombs of Humayun.

I asked Amarpal Singh that on the one hand the British were ruthlessly executing the rebels but why were they ready to spare King Zafar?

To this he replied that Bahadur Shah was very old and he was the nominal leader of this uprising. The other British had managed to re-enter Delhi, but fighting was still going on in other parts of northern India and the British feared that if the king was killed the rebel sentiments might flare up. So Wilson agreed that if the king surrendered, his life could be spared.

Bahadur Shah Zafar handed over his weapons to Hudson

William Hudson, in his book ‘Twelve Years of Soldiers’ Life in India’, quoting a letter written to his brother by an eyewitness to a British officer, wrote: Were After him, King Bahadur Shah Zafar rode in a palanquin.

Hudson went ahead and asked the king to surrender. King Zafar asked them, “Are you Hudson brave?” Will you repeat to me the promise you made to me? ‘

Captain Hudson replied, “Yes, the government is pleased to tell you that if you surrender, you, Zeenat Mahal and his son will be killed.” But if you try to save me, I will shoot you like a dog. ‘

The old king then handed over his weapon to Hudson, which he handed over to his army.

Bahadur Shah Zafar’s eyes were fixed on the ground

Upon entering the city, King Zafar was first placed at Begum Samro’s house, and 50 soldiers of the MH61 battalion were selected to guard him. Captain Charles Griffith was one of the officers assigned to oversee Bahadur Shah Zafar.

He later wrote in his book, The Neurotic of the Seas of Delhi, The Tale of the Siege of Delhi: There was nothing dignified about his appearance except his white beard which was reaching to his waist.

The middle-aged king was over 80 years old, dressed in white and wearing a turban. Behind them, two servants were blowing with peacock feathers. Not a word came out of his mouth. His eyes were fixed on the ground.

Three feet away, a British officer was sitting on another bed. On either side of him stood two British soldiers with bayonets. The officer was instructed to shoot the emperor with his own hands if any attempt was made to save him.

Hudson took members of the royal family to identify the princes

On the other hand, a day after the king’s capture, until September 22, General Archdale Wilson could not decide what to do with the surviving princes who were still inside Humayun’s tomb.

Captain Hudson thought he should be taken into custody before attempting to escape. These princes included Mirza Mughal, chief of the rebel army, Mirza Khidr Sultan and Mirza Abu Bakr, son of Mirza Mughal.

With General Wilson’s consent, Hudson formed a 100-strong contingent, led by Lieutenant McDowell, to capture him. The whole team rode slowly towards Humayun’s tomb.

Hudson planned to take a member of the royal family, the king’s nephew, with him. They were promised that if they acted as their representatives and persuaded the princes to surrender, they would be spared.

He was also given the task of identifying princes because Hudson himself did not recognize any princes.

After much effort, the princes agreed to surrender

Hudson stopped half a mile from the tomb. He sent a message to the prince, the king’s nephew and his chief secret officer, Rajab Ali, urging the princes to surrender unconditionally or face the consequences.

Hudson writes in his book that his representatives had to work hard to persuade the princes to surrender. Half an hour later, the princes sent a message to Hudson asking if he had promised not to kill him. Hudson refused to make such a promise and reiterated his unconditional surrender.

Hudson then sent a team of ten soldiers to bring the princes to him.

Lt. MacDowell later wrote: ‘Shortly after, the three princes came out in a small chariot drawn by oxen. Five soldiers were walking on either side of them. Just behind them was a crowd of two or three thousand people.

As soon as I saw them, Hudson and I left our soldiers behind and rode on our horses to meet them. He bowed to Hudson. Hudson also bowed his head and told the chariot drivers to keep moving. The mob tried to follow, but Hudson stopped them with a wave of his hand. I gestured to my soldiers and in an instant they took up position between the crowd and the chariot.

Hudson smoked and gave the impression of being careless

Along with the princes, their weapons and the king’s elephants, horses and chariots were also brought out which could not come out the day before. The princes once again asked if their lives would be spared.

Hudson writes: “I answered ‘no’ and sent them to town under the supervision of my soldiers.” I thought why not search the tomb when the princes have surrendered. There we found about 500 hidden swords. There were also many guns, horses, oxen and chariots.

“His stay there is no longer safe,” said McDowell. Still, we stayed there for about two hours. During this time I used to smoke to give them the impression that I was not upset at all.

Shortly afterwards, Hudson and McDowell met their soldiers, who were escorting the princes into the city under their care.

Hudson fired two shots at the three princes

Both Hudson and McDowell later wrote that they felt threatened when they returned to the city. “When they were five miles from Delhi, Hudson asked McDowell, ‘What do these princes have to do?’ “I think we should kill them here.” McDowell replied.

Hudson ordered the chariots to stop. Hudson told the three princes to get off the chariot and take off their clothes. After taking off their clothes, they were put back on the chariot. Their jewelery, rings, bracelets and swords with jewels were also snatched. Hudson deployed five soldiers on either side of the chariot. Hudson then dismounted and fired two shots at each prince from his Colt revolver. They all piled up there.

The bodies of the princes were placed in a public place

When the princes were told to get down from the chariot, they descended with great confidence. He realized that Hudson could not dare to kill him by force. For that he would have to get permission from General Wilson. He even took off his clothes thinking that maybe the British wanted to humiliate him in the streets of Delhi without clothes.

Shortly afterwards, one of the king’s eunuchs and another man accused of killing several people tried to flee, but McDowell and his cavalry chased after them and killed them.

McDowell later wrote: ‘By then it was 4 o’clock. Hudson entered the city, carrying the bodies of the princes in a chariot. The bodies were taken to a public place and laid on a platform so that the general public could see their fate. There were no clothes on his body. Her genitals were covered with only a few rags. Their bodies lay there until September 24.

Hudson wrote a letter admitting that he had killed the princes

Hudson later wrote a letter to his brother: ‘I told the mob that these are the same people who forcibly killed our women and children four months ago. The government has punished them for their actions.

I myself shot them one after another and ordered that their bodies be dumped on the platform in front of Kotwali in Chandni Chowk. I am not a tyrant but I must admit that I was happy to kill them.

Reverend John Rotten later wrote in his book, The Chaplain’s Narrative of the Siege of Delhi , “The tallest prince was very tall. The other was a little smaller. The third prince will not be more than twenty years old.

A Coke rifle guard was deployed to monitor their bodies. Their bodies lay outside Kotwali for three days. He was then buried in the cemetery with great disgrace. Probably a factor as to why they’re doing so poorly: “Three months ago, the rebels left the bodies of the British in the same condition so that the people of Delhi could see them.”

The rest of the princes were also captured

On September 27, Brigadier Showers was sent with a detachment to capture the remaining princes. On that day, Shawers arrested three more princes, Mirza Bakhtawar Shah, Mirza Mendo and Mirza Javan Bakht. In early October, two more of the emperor’s sons were captured and shot dead. Both had led rebel forces against the British and were accused of massacring the British.

Meanwhile, a strange thing happened. When the princes were being shot by the firing squad, the bullets fired by 60 riflemen and some Gurkha soldiers either did not hit the princes or only wounded them.

But then a provost sergeant shot the princes in the head, killing them. But Colonel EL Omni wrote in his diary that “the Gurkha soldiers deliberately fired shots at the lower part of the prince’s body to inflict more pain on him and he died a painful death.”

At the time, he was forced to wear dirty clothes, but he bravely faced death.

Sikh Risaldar rescues two princes

But Bahadur Shah Zafar’s two sons Mirza Abdullah and Mirza Qawish managed to escape from the clutches of the British.

Delhi’s Oral Stories has been recorded by Urdu writer Arsh Teymouri in his book ‘Highlights of Qila-e-Maali’ in the early twentieth century. It states that the two Mughal princes were placed in the tomb of Humayun under the supervision of a Sikh Risaldar. The same Risaldar took pity on these princes. They asked him, “Why are you standing here?” He replied that Sahib had asked us to stand there.

The Sikh stared at him and said, have mercy on your life. When that Englishman returns, he will surely kill you. Run in any direction you can and don’t stop to breathe. Saying this, Risaldar turned away from them.

The two princes ran in different directions. Later, Mir Qawish somehow managed to reach Adepur in the guise of a faqir, where the Maharaja, under his patronage, kept him with him on a daily salary of two rupees. Hudson tried desperately to find Qawish, but was unsuccessful.

Abdullah, the second son of Bahadur Shah Zafar, also could not fall into the hands of the British and he spent his entire life in extreme poverty in the state of Tonk. The rest of Bahadur Shah’s sons were either hanged or sent to Kala Pani to serve long sentences.

Some princes were kept in extremely difficult conditions in Agra, Kanpur and Allahabad jails where most of them died within two years. The British kept their promise not to kill Bahadur Shah Zafar. He was sent to Burma, a long way from Delhi, where he breathed his last on November 7, 1862, at five o’clock in the morning.

Exit mobile version