Sunday, 29 December 2013

General Allards Tomb: Remnants of a forgotten past

Tracing the footstep to the historical ‘Kuri ala Bagh’ in Lahore

After Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and was sent packing to Saint Helena, his army of mercenaries was in disarray. Though Napoleon had lost the war, it did not mean in any way his Army constituted incompetent officers. While most of these veterans settled down in their normal rural lives, the more ambitious set out of France for military careers both to the west and the east to countries like Persia.


The epitaph at General Allard’s and Mary Allard’s tomb.

At least four of these military officers from Napoleon’s Army arrived at the court of King Fateh Shah of Iran at various times after 1815. These included General Ventura, General Allard, General Avitabile and General Court among others. Though these were able officers, the British ensured these French Army veterans did not have a comfortable life in Persia and so, under pressure, these officers had to leave Persia. One after the other, they arrived in Punjab which was still under the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
General Allard sneaked into Lahore along with General Ventura after travelling from Persia to Afghanistan and then through Khyber pass to Peshawar and Punjab. They sought the attendance before the Maharaja who at first was not very happy to see these suspected Farrangees and so he kept them under surveillance for three to four months.

Tomb of General Allard

After assuring himself of their credentials, the Maharaja assigned them the task for reorganising Maharaja’s Special Forces. General Allard was made in charge of Cavalry and General Ventura was to supervise the infantry. Together, the two French men were responsible for the 6000 strong Fauj-i-Khas a kind of elite commando unit.Fauj-i-Khas was a hard core military unit with one of the finest and toughest men on board and earned the respect of the East India Company forces in subsequent battles. The Fauj-i-Khas had uniforms similar to the French military  in style and standard. Some researchers point to old buildings near Munshi chambers in old Anarkali to carry the ‘French Imperial Eagle’ sign engraved on top of them but unfortunately I was unable to find those buildings.

General Ventura and General Allard built a magnificent residence in present day lower Mall next to the Anarkali tomb and set up their headquarters there. In 1847, the residence was taken over by British resident Henry Lawrence in Punjab. Today the Chief Secretary of Punjab has his office in the same magnificent building. Thus contrary to popular perception, the main buildings of today’s civil secretariat were built by French and not British.General Allard appeared to be a family man without any Harem and married a niece of the Maharaja by the name of Bano. Once Allard had a family, he shifted to another residence just outside the Secretariat building. The new site was also surrounded by the Maharaja military establishment, a kind of cantonment. The same area after British conquest of Punjab in 1849 became original cantonment till the new cantonment ‘outside the city and near the shrine of Hazrat Mian Mir Sahib ’ was established.This area corresponds to the present day old Anarkali area and a walk through the streets of old Anarkali makes you appreciate the colonial barrack structures and architecture spread all over.

Inside the monument.

So Allard shifted to the old Anarkali area and apparently built a vast garden. This area corresponds to the present day Custom House, Income Tax House and yesteryears Kapurthala House bordering on the other side by Hazrat Mauj Darya shrine. The area is roughly a square and this was where General Allard resided with his family surrounded by a vast garden.The local climate at that time was not very conducive and young untimely deaths were common as is also evident from the epitaphs of the Christian cemetery opposite Bhaati Gate in old Lahore.The unfortunate General lost one and according to some sources two of his beloved daughters at a young tender age and he decided to bury them right there in the garden.  Apparently the burial of the girls led to naming of the garden as Kuri ala Bagh and even now one can find an odd old man remembering the area by that name.

The good General went to his hometown Saint Tropez in France in 1834 and, after settling his family there, returned as per his promise to the Maharaja to lead the Sikh forces.Known for his military acumen, Maharaja sent General Allard to help General Avitabile to subdue the unruly frontier tribes; however he fell ill in Peshawar and died in 1839. His body was brought to Lahore with full military honour with ceremonies and gun salutes all the way to the destination.

General Allard was buried alongside his daughters in Kuri ala Bagh. Maharaja ordered a simple but elegant burial place for his favourite General with typical Sikh era cupola dome structure on a raised platform. While the good General and two of his daughters are buried in Lahore, his wife and the rest of the family is buried in Saint Tropez.The descendents of General Allard and Bano are proud owners of the memorabilia including relics from Maharaja, old robes, dresses, paintings and shawls.Today, the Kuri ala Bagh is reduced to a small insignificant enclosure surrounded by tall un-impressive buildings. Thanks to people like Majid Shiekh and Raheel Siddique, you can still follow their footsteps to this historical place.

If you walk from Yousaf Faluda shop at old Anarkali chowk towards Jain Mandar, you shall see the Habib Bank Lake Road Branch on your left in the Munshi Chambers building. Turn left before the bank to reach the back of the bank and here you are standing in front of the mausoleum of General Allard and his daughters.The tombstone is in French and translated by dear friend Olivier Ceberio as ‘This grave was built in 1827 by the order of knight-General Allard Sahib Bahadir, for his daughter Marie-Charlotte. May god bless her in Paradise’. The General was to join his beloved daughter in the tomb twelve years later in 1839.The tomb is indeed part of rich heritage of Lahore. It is time we make sure the place is properly kept, maintained and put on the tourist map of Lahore.

Omar Mukhtar Khan, International News, 29 December 2013.

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