THE RESIDENCY: A BURNING CHAPTER IN THE REVOLT OF 1857

You know… for a common traveler, Lucknow is the City of Nawabs. For them it is mostly about the Imambara, Bhul Bhulaiya, Lucknow Chikan and ofcourse…. mouth savoring delicacies. Now let me ask you a question…. have you been to The British Residency or simply The Residency of Lucknow?? You might wonder why I am asking you to visit any embassy sort of thing, as the name suggests so! But if I tell you that The Residency I am talking about is the one whose siege was one of the most notable events of the Great Rebellion of 1857 then it might ring a bell in your head! Yes... in today’s travelogue I will share with you the story of The Residency and my experience of visiting the place.

THE HISTORY OF RESIDENCY

Located in the Qaisarbag area of Lucknow, The Residency was once the residential complex of the British Resident General who served as a representative of the East India Company in the court of the Nawab of Awadh. The construction of Residency started during the rule of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula in the year 1775 and was completed by the year 1800 when Nawab Saadat Ali Khan ascended the throne of Awadh. It was originally built over an area of 33 hectares.

This place was meant to serve as the residential quarters of the British Resident General, but eventually it became an administrative centre of the British as the East India Company gradually expanded their control over the various states of India. A few years later, Siege of Lucknow and the attack on The Residency became one of the most notable events during the Great Revolt of 1857!

THE SIEGE OF RESIDENCY

During the year 1857, the state of Awadh (or Oudh as pronounced by British) was annexed by the East India Company and the then Nawab of Lucknow, Wajid Ali Shah was exiled to Calcutta (Kolkata). Meanwhile, a revolt broke out amongst the ranks of Indian soldiers serving for the East Indian Company over the issue of cartridge (the main cause for the rebellion of 1857). The fire that was set by Mangal Pandey in Barrackpore (West Bengal) gradually spread throughout the country as more and more Indian soldiers turned hostile towards the British.

On 30th May 1857, the Bengal and Awadhi troops of the East India Company stationed at Lucknow broke in to open revolt. The actual siege of Residency began on 30th June and continued till 27th November 1857. The Indian Sepoys under the command of Begum Hazrat Mahal and led by Barkat Ahmad surrounded and trapped the British inside The Residency. What followed was a prolonged battle between the Indian soldiers and the British which caused numerous casualties on both sides. The British forces eventually succeeded in evacuating the civilians and the surviving forces from The Residency after two attempts. During the entire period of the siege, The Residency was in the receiving end of relentless firing by the Indian soldiers and had suffered sustainable damage. Hence, after the evacuation it was left abandoned.

The siege caused death of 2500 people (including Soldiers and civilian men, women & children) in the British camp which included deaths many notable British officials like Sir Henry Lawrence (British Commissioner at Lucknow), Major General John Englis and many others. However, the exact numbers of death in the Indian side is unknown. The Siege of Lucknow was eventually unsuccessful due to lack of able leadership in the Indian part. The Revolt of 1857 was eventually subdued and the British Government took over the control of India from the East India Company shortly afterwards.

WHAT TO SEE?

I actually came to know about the Residency from a famous detective novel ‘Badshahi Angti written by the renowned writer director Satyajit Ray. Since then I had made up my mind that once I travel to Lucknow, I will surely visit The Residency. At present you can see the abandoned buildings standing in the complex displaying their battle scars caused by firing of the Indian soldiers. Once inside the complex, you will come around these buildings:


· THE BAILLIE GUARD GATE -This is the entrance gate of the Residency and was named after its first resident Col. John Baillie.

The Baillie Guard Gate

· THE TREASURY – The next structure you will come across is the ruins of the treasury building. During the course of the war this building served as a store house. It was completely ruined by the shelling and gun firing. You can still find prominent bullet and canon ball marks on its ruined walls. On one of the walls you will also find a marble plaque displaying names of the soldiers who fought and died for the British.

The Treasury

· THE BANQUET HALL – Next to the treasury is ruins of the Banquet Hall. It was originally meant for hosting ballroom dances and parties. During the war, it served as a make-shift hospital. This building was also heavily damaged during the war.

The Banquet Hall with Bullet and Cannon Ball marks
A memorial for the Soldiers who died protecting The Residency

· Dr. FAYRER’S HOUSE – After the Banquet Hall, you will come across the house of Dr. Fayrer. He was the resident surgeon of the Residency. During the war, the basement of the building was used to hide the women and children. It also served as a temporary hospital.

Dr. Fayrer's House

· THE RESIDENCY BUILDING – This was one of the key buildings in the complex. The Residency building served as the main administrative building of the East India Company in Lucknow. During the war, this building suffered heavy damage as it was attacked with cannons. In front of the building is a huge memorial cross dedicated to Sir Henry Lawrence.

The Residency Building
The Name Plate depicting The Residency
Sir Henry Lawrence Memorial

· THE 1857 MEMORIAL MUSEUM – Exhibited in different galleries of this museum are the historical records of The Residency, artifacts of the war of 1857 and many rare documents and pictures of Lucknow during that time. There is a room in the museum where Sir Henry Lawrence, Chief Commissioner of Awadh, died due to bullet wounds.

The 1857 memorial Museum

· OTHER NOTABLE BUILDINGS – The other notable structures you would come across are the Brigade Mess, Begum Kothi, The Mosque and Imambara and many other buildings. Most of them are in dilapidated condition as they suffered heavy firing during the war.

Sir John Englis Memorial
Begum Kothi
The ruined Brigade Mess

SOME IMPORTANT INFO:

  • Trip to The Residency is generally a part of the Lucknow city tour. If not included in the itinerary list please ask for the inclusion as it is a must visit place.

  • Tickets cost Rs.20 for Indian Nationals and Rs.250 for foreign nationals. Opening time is from 6 A.M to 6 P.M. The museum is open from 10 A.M to 5 P.M. No separate entry fee for the museum.

  • Bus, Autorickshaws and Taxis can be hired to reach The Residency in case you decide to visit it separately. The location of Residency is almost in the middle of the city and it is situated only 5.3 Km from the Charbagh Railway station and 2 Km from the Qaisarbag bus stop.

  • As always, I would request everyone not to litter the surroundings and refrain from etching names on the building walls.

  • Guides are available but I found no ASI authenticated guides. Hence, information provided by them may not be accurate always.

Standing inside The Residency complex I had a mixed feeling. I felt that these ruined structures have a lot of stories enclosed within its walls, some known and a lot unknown. What I saw in front of me was a building complex which once symbolized the pride of the British. It also made me wonder the valor of Indian soldiers who fought and sacrificed their lives in the war. Both sides fought for their pride, the Indians for the pride of their Motherland, the British for their own pride. It’s a pity that our historical record does not even mention names of the Indian soldiers who became martyrs during this war! I would request you to take a minute or two and pay tribute to all those nameless martyrs who sacrificed their lives for their motherland. I wonder, had the Great Revolt of 1857 been successful, the history of India’s Independence would have been written differently.

I definitely recommend you to visit The Residency as it is a very important part of our First War of Independence.

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