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PRINSEP, Henry Thoby.

Origin of the Sikh Power in the Punjab, and the Political Life of Muha-Raja Runjeet Singh,

with an Account of the Present Condition, Religion, Laws and Customs of the Sikhs. Compiled... from a Report by Captain William Murray, Late Political Agent at Umbala, and from Other Sources.

Calcutta: G.H. Huttmann, Military Orphan Press, 1834 Stock Code: 139506
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"One of the most authentic works of its period on the life and times of Ranjit Singh"

First and only contemporary edition of this highly authentic account, based on probably the most accurate first-hand report on the life and times of Ranjit Singh. The portrait of the maharajah was taken from the life by a noted Indian portraitist and engraved by the Indian master-engraver of the Calcutta mint. Extremely uncommon on the market, no auction records traced, and here in excellent state in the original cloth.

It was originally commissioned in 1830 by the Governor General, William Bentinck, from Capt. William Murray, "who had for more than fifteen years been employed in conducting relations with the Sikh chiefs on the British side of the Sutlej" (Preface). Bentinck's intention was to obtain a closer understanding of power relations in the region better to balance his management of relations between Britain, Ranjit Singh and the "cis-Sutlej Sikh chiefs who had opted for British protection" (Khurana, p. 32). This was also a time at which "Anglo-Russian relations were at a low key", rousing British anxiety about security on the north-west frontier, which depended "on friendship with Ranjit Singh, and the capacity of the latter to defend himself against an invasion" (p. 37). Murray had produced a "voluminous report containing valuable information on all the required points" but unfortunately died before he could edit it for publication. This task passed to Prinsep, the then Persian Secretary to the Indian Government, widely recognised as "as one of ablest men in the service" (ODNB), and he set about rescuing "from the oblivion of a record-office information calculated to be so extensively useful, and... to do honour to this distinguished and lamented officer, and to lay before his friends and the world a lasting testimony of his worth and talents". In fact Prinsep did more than just edit the work, adding material from a variety of other sources, re-writing the whole of the historical part, and adding the final chapter on the meeting at Rupnagar, accompanied by a plan, "from his own observation". Prinsep attended the meeting as Bentinck's secretary, and was struck by the Maharaja's friendly attitude, coming "to feel perfectly at home in the royal presence. This first-hand personal knowledge of Ranjit Singh lends Prinsep's account... a lively and authentic character" (p. 39).

A contemporary reviewer remarked that the work would be "attractive to everyone who feels an interest in the concerns of British India" (The Asiatic and Monthly Review, XVI, NS, 1835, p. 153). But is is clear that Prinsep's concerns really centred on Ranjit Singh himself, "who was recognised as the determiner of the policy of the Sikhs towards the British... it still remains the first and one of the most authentic works of its period on the life and times of Ranjit Singh" (pp. 46-7). The excellent maps were printed by the Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Tassin, who held a monopoly on such quality cartographic work in Calcutta at the time. The frontispiece is from a sketch taken at Rupnagar by Raja Jivan Ram, a notable Indian portraitist working in the western style, and the engraving is by Kasinath Dass, the master engraver of the Calcutta Mint, no doubt encountered by Prinsep through his numismatist brother James, who was assay master there. A revised edition was published in London in 1846 at the time of the First Anglo-Sikh War.

This copy has the contemporary ownership inscription of J. A. St. John on the title page. James Augustus St. John was one of the many pseudonyms of the one time radical and later miscellaneous author born John James (1795-1875). He was a contributor to, and sometime editor of, Carlile's Republican, but later concealed his early affiliations, writing a political column for the Sunday Times under the pseudonym Greville Brooke, and in the late 1850s running the political department of the Daily Telegraph with his son. Among his various publications was an anonymous two-volume work of 1850, The Hindoos: Including a General Description of India.

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Octavo. Original dark green linen, paper label to the spine.


Lithographic portrait frontispiece, printed on finer paper and mounted, plan of the camps for the meeting at Rupnagar, 1831 and a folding lithographic map of the Punjab by Tassin.


Neatly rebacked with the original spine laid down, label just a touch chipped and scuffed, no loss of text, light browning throughout, a very good copy.


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