PUNJAB IN 1839-40, THE, edited by Gaṇḍā Siṅgh and published by the Sikh History Society, Amritsar/Paṭiālā, 1952, is a compilation of selections from the Punjab Akhbārs, Punjab intelligence reports, etc., reproducing stray newsletters of interest from Lahore, Peshāwar, Kābul, Kashmīr, etc., and extracts from the Punjab intelligence reports pertaining to certain events in the Punjab. The Akhbārs, originally written in Persian and translated into English for the benefit of British officers, contain vital information on events in the Punjab during the historic seventeen months they relate to. Besides, they provide sidelights on the administrative system of the Sikhs, the social and economic conditions in the Punjab and on the lives and style of the Mahārājās and their courtiers. References also exist to a number of European officers employed by the Lahore Darbār.
The period covered includes the last three and a half months of the life of Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh, who emerges from these papers as a ruler of liberal vision, firm in his religious faith but treating all his subjects Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs — alike. His illness and death are reported and he is said to have distributed during his last days one crore of rupees in charities in cash and kind. His successor, Khaṛak Siṅgh, is depicted, contrary to the rumour spread by his enemies, as a humane and conscientious ruler, who discouraged excessive drinking by government officials and forbade any injury by the Khālsā troops to cultivation. The widening rift between him and his son Kaṅvar Nau Nihāl Siṅgh is attributed to the scheming of Rājā Dhiān Siṅgh supported by Bhāī Rām Singh and Bhāī Gobind Rām "who recommended Koonwur Now-Nihāl Siṅgh to possess himself of the administration."
The newsletters relate some minor incidents which reveal how relations between the Sikhs and the British had become strained during the first Anglo-Afghān war. They give information about Col Wade's march to Peshāwar with Shahzādā Taimūr, Shāh Shujā's eldest son, at the head of an auxiliary force and the disturbed state of affairs in that region. There is also interesting information regarding the prevalent prices of foodgrains in Kashmīr and Derā Ismā'īl Khān in 1839. In Kashmīrī currency of which 15 rupees were equivalent to 100 Nānakshāhī rupees, the rice sold at 48 seers per rupee, wheat 60 seers and barley 90 seers. However, at Multān, during the same period, wheat was priced at 8 seers a rupee and at ḍerā Ismā'īl Khān the maximum rate was 21 seers a rupee.
The activities of Kaṅvar Nau Nihāl Siṅgh are reported by the news-writers. In March 1839, he was sent to Peshāwar to see Col Wade's force across the Khaibar Pass in fulfilment of the Tripartite treaty. Upon the death of Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh he issued a parwānā seeking deferment of the ceremony for this father's installation until his arrival in the capital. He hastens to Lahore and makes all the sardārs sign a document, confrming him as Mahārājā Khaṛak Siṅgh's successor and his own mukhtār. He is offered 'a jāgīr worth 15,00,000 rupees per annum in the north west, but he insists that the whole of the Doābā territory or Multān should be assigned to him. Kaṅvar Nau Nihāl Siṅgh objected to the growing power of Khaṛak Siṅgh's favourite, Chet Siṅgh, and desired his dismissal.
The Akhbārs also furnish stray information on the various parts of the kingdom —Peshāwar, Kashmīr, the ḍerājāt and the tributary hill states. Intelligence from hills refers to the insurgency of Mīāṅ Ratan Chand in 1840, and measures taken by Lahṇā Siṅgh Majīṭhīā to quell the revolt. The warlike activities of Wazīr Zorāwar Siṅgh, the Ḍogrā deputy in Iskārdū in June 1840, are reported in Kashmīr News. The names are mentioned of some of the feringhee officers in the service of Lahore government — Ventura, Court, Avitabile, Steinbach, Cortlandt and others. Avitabile's rule at Peshāwar was firm, but harsh. "General Avitabile had thrown down a sepoy from a rock and had another sepoy stoned to death." Court was honoured with the rank of General in October 1839. Allard was a commander of Sikh artillery at Peshāwar, while Cortlandt was a battalion commander there. Martin Honigberger was promised a jāgīr for curing Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh. Ventura conducted a successful expedition against the Rājā of Maṇḍī in 1840. He issued a general order prohibiting the sale of hill children and women into slavery. In recognition of his services, the administration of the hill tract of Suket and Kulu was entrusted to him. Other matters of interest to which these news-letters refer are : the description of Sikh flag, the Sikh dāk couriers; punishments for various crimes, the Lahore arsenal, and the existence of a State Library under Munshī Khushwaqt Rāi at Lahore.
B. J. Hasrat