GARDNER, ALEXANDER HAUGHTON CAMPBELL (1785-1877), son of a Scottish immigrant, was, according to an autobiographical account, born in North America in 1785. As a boy, he learnt Italian, Spanish, Latin and Greek, and proceeded in 1807 to Ireland to train for a maritime career. Returning to America, he set out on a journey to Astrakhan where his elder brother was in the Russian service. In 1817, he left Russia and after wandering for many years in Central Asia, drifted to Afghanistan where he took up service under Amīr Habībullah Khān. When in 1826, Amīr Dost Muhammad became master of Kābul, Gardner fled and reached Peshāwar in 1831 to be appointed commander of artillery by Sultān Muhammad Khān Bārakzaī, a tributary of the Sikh government. In 1832, he was summoned to Lahore where he became an artillery officer in Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh's army with the rank of colonel. Gardonā Sāhib, as he was popularly known in the Sikh army, served in several military campaigns until 1836 when Rājā Dhiān Siṅgh took him over from the Mahārājā's service and placed him in full command of his own artillery. He successively served Hīrā Siṅgh and Gulāb Siṅgh.
Details of his experience as a traveller and soldier, as recorded in the Memoirs of Alexander Gardner (edited by Major Hugh Pearse, London, 1898), have been seriously challenged. C. Grey, author of European Adventurers of Northern India, 1785 to 1849, for instance, describes him as a fake, who never occupied any position of consequence in the Sikh army, and as one who took his incidents, adventures and travels from the books of the period, and drawing upon his imagination, wove a fictitious narrative.
Gardner, however, claims to have firsthand knowledge of many of the tumultuous events which overtook the Punjab after the death of Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh. Hugh Pearse records that he was an eye-witness to the series of assassinations planned and executed by the Ḍogrā minister, Dhiān Siṅgh. He, for instance, witnessed the murder of Chet Siṅgh in the royal palace on 9 October 1839. He, likewise, narrates in his book how Mahārājā Khaṛak Siṅgh was slowly poisoned to death; how Kaṅvar Nau Nihāl Siṅgh was killed in November 1840; how Mahārāṇī Chand Kaur's head was crushed with stones in June 1842; how the Lahore Fort was stormed by Kaṅvar Sher Siṅgh in January 1841 and how he, as Mahārājā, and his young son, Partāp Siṅgh, were slain on the same day; how Dhiān Siṅgh met his death followed by the killing of the Sandhāṅvālīā sardārs; how Suchet Siṅgh was finished off by his nephew; how Hīrā Siṅgh and his adviser, Paṇḍit Jallā, were punished by Sikh troops; and how Wazīr Jawāhar Siṅgh was brought down from his elephant and done to death.
Gardner was dismissed from service along with other European officers during the time of Paṇḍit Jallā's ascendancy, but he somehow lingered on at Lahore serving Mahārāṇī Jind Kaur. He did not take part in the first Anglo-Sikh war. On the formation of Council of Regency in December 1846, Rājā Tej Siṅgh had him expelled from the Punjab. Gardner thereupon entered the service of Gulāb Siṅgh who gave him command of Kashmīr artillery and a battalion of infantry.
Gardner died at Jammū on 22 January 1877 at the age of 92 and was buried at the military cemetery at Siālkoṭ.