MALCOLM, John, Sir.

Sketch of the Sikhs;

A Singular Nation, Who Inhabit the Provinces of the Penjab, Situated Between The Rivers Jumna and Indus.

London: John Murray, 1812 Stock Code: 135209
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A scarce account of Sikhism, with annotations of firsthand encounters

First edition of this scarce account of Sikhism, the cornerstone of later publications on the topic, annotated over four pages by a British Officer who interacted with the Sikhs during his service. This "preliminary effort" (Khurana, p. 22) on the subject sheds some light on the history of the Sikhs, their countries and government, and their religion.

Sir John Malcolm (1769-1833) was a diplomatist and administrator in India. He landed at Madras in 1783 at the age of 14, and soon taught himself Persian and moved into diplomacy. By all accounts an autodidact, he studied the history of India and the formation of the British Empire, "thus, through his conscious effort, young Malcolm came to be a full man" (Khurana, p. 18) who wrote several books, of which his History of Persia, "brought him an honorary doctorate of laws from Oxford" (ODNB). Writing about the Sikh community "at a juncture when the British were actively trying to befriend the Sikhs" (Khurana, p. 20), Malcom's objective was to raise awareness of the Sikh culture and the lack of reliable information about it. Khurana points out that "his taking up of a subject so little known to most of his contemporaries is a contribution in itself" (p. 31). His work not only taught his contemporaries, but also had a "considerable impact on the subsequent writers of Sikh history" (ibid.). More widely, "Malcolm's significance as an ideologue lay in the fact that his works gave a historical consciousness and a rhetoric to the empire-building militarism of the first three decades of the nineteenth century" (Harrington).

Provenance: the annotations seem to be first hand accounts of related events, such as Hodson's exhibition of the King of Dehli's sons on the same spot in Delhi as that where Teg Bahadur's body was exposed, Sir Henry Lawrence's hanging of "the chief of all Bedis Bikrama Singh at Dera Baba Nanuk" and that "no Sikh thought he would dare do it". The note signed "G. A. Williams" recounts that he "was formally and solemnly initiated in 1857 & took the Pahul along with a lot of Sikh recruits going to Delhi. It was administered by two old wounded subedars of 4th Sikhs. Futteh Singh who considered that I had conferred a great favour on them & I took my sip of gourd water as it was passed around in my verandah in Ludhiana in 1857".

They appear to have been penned by G. A. Williams, who served with the 4th Sikh Infantry in 1852-54, engaging in the Second Burmese War during these years. In 1857, he was Colonel Rothney's Adjutant (and the only other British officer with the corps), and as Lieutenant he commanded three companies of that same unit at the engagement in Juno near Ludhiana with 3,000 mutineers arrived from Jullundur calling on the Sepoys of the 3rd Bengal N.I. to rise in revolt. Williams was dangerously wounded during this battle and thanked by the Government, awarded a Medal, and Brevet of Major.

Although well represented institutionally, this work is genuinely uncommon, with only six auction records since the 1950s.

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Octavo (234 x 145 mm). Contemporary half calf, sometime rebacked, titles in gilt on spine, marbled boards.


3 pp. of publisher's advertisements at end.


Late 19th-century marginal annotations in ink. Binding sometime restored, a little wear to extremities, endpapers renewed, repairs to title page with a couple of letters supplied in ink, some foxing to first and last few leaves; an otherwise clean and bright copy.


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