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Malika Kishwar boarding the train at Southampton

November 20, 2021
Mirza Firuz Shah
Scenery and Places
Humayun II 1858-1877

Malika Kishwar boarding the train at Southampton



Malika Kishwar enters the pages of history in the tumultuous events following the annexation of Awadh in 1856. The British author and noted Lucknow historian Rosie Llewellyn Jones, in her book ‘The Last King in India’ writes about how the Queen Mother Malika Kishwar, kept abreast of political developments and when the news of annexation reached her, she had immediately sought an appointment to meet the British Resident James Outram. Despite being in purdah, she did meet the British envoy in Lucknow to seek justice for her son and save the kingdom. But it was too late. King Wajid Ali Shah had refused to sign the annexation treaty. He was aware he did not have enough military force to oppose it, and hence had decided to leave Lucknow as well, in a dignified manner. It is believed that he had hoped to win back the kingdom through diplomacy and dialogue directly with Queen Victoria. He left Lucknow with 500 men and landed in Kolkata with this hope of returning one day, but that was not to be. The long river journey to Kolkata had made the King very sick, so he aborted his plans of heading the diplomatic mission to England. It was decided that instead of him, his mother, brother and son would go to England.

The fascinating details of Malika Kishwar’s mission to Europe to meet Queen Victoria are described in Rosie Llewellyn Jone’s book ‘True Tales of Old Lucknow’. The royal party left Calcutta on board the SS Bengal on 15th June for the transit port of Suez, on the mouth of the Red Sea. From there they intended to travel overland to Alexandria and then take one of the regular steamships that travelled to Southampton. However, a minor disaster struck the party at Suez, when a box containing 50,000 pounds worth of jewels, intended as gifts for Queen Victoria, slipped into the sea while disembarking at Suez. Despite this ill omen, the party landed at Southampton aboard the SS Indus, on 21st August 1856. 

The arrival of this exotic entourage created a sensation in Southampton and was even covered by the popular British newspaper, The Times. Accompanying the Queen and her party were her nine maids, 110 attendants, several soldiers acting as bodyguards, and seven eunuchs. They took over the entire Royal York Hotel , which they had hired for ten days, for a sum of 100 pounds. 

At the end of August 1856, the entire party decided to travel by a special train. The problem was how to get Malika Kishwar, who was in strict purdah, from her closed carriage to the train. The station master refused to close the station to the general public. Finally, the servants formed a human corridor , holding up calico sheets between the carriage and the train, enabling the Queen mother to board. An illustration of this incident was widely circulated in the British press . 

The party moved into a house just off London’s Marylebone road, where they stayed for the next 13 months. During the entire duration, the Queen Mother’s visit was relentlessly covered by the British press. She was the fodder for the paparazzi as her purdah and royal Indian entourage evoked curiosity and satire. The then famous Punch magazine even published satirical verses. One can only imagine her discomfort with all the attention, while her agents were trying to capitalize on the attention to generate sympathy for the Queen and the Awadh Kingdom. Ironically, the very men who had sealed the fate of the Awadh kingdom, the directors of the British East India company, entertained the male members of the Royal party at their head office. They were taken on a tour of the Company’s museum and a banquet was thrown in their honour. Finally on the afternoon of 4th July 1857, Malika Kishwar met Queen Victoria at the Buckingham Palace. In her daily journal, Queen Victoria writes about this meeting

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Ismail Mazari

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Very good information.


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