Welcome to SPN

Register and Join the most happening forum of Sikh community & intellectuals from around the world.

Sign Up Now!

Joseph Cunningham, The First British Historian of the Sikhs

Discussion in 'History of Sikhism' started by spnadmin, Jan 23, 2011.

  1. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
    Expand Collapse
    1947-2014 (Archived)
    SPNer Supporter

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2004
    Messages:
    14,551
    Likes Received:
    19,200
    Madan Singh

    Joseph Cunningham spent many years in the Punjab and was witness to the Anglo-Sikh wars. His History of the Sikhs is a monumental work.

    One man who has fascinated me is Joseph Davey Cunningham( 1812-51).His ‘history of the Sikhs’ is a monumental book and deserves the highest praise. I for one have found it as an excellent source of reference. The book brings to the fore an exciting period in Indian history. Who was Cunningham ? People read his book, but know little about the man whose life was closely intertwined with the History of the Punjab at a tumultuous time in Indian History.

    Early life

    Cunningham was born at Lambeth in 1812 and showed a marked aptitude for mathematics. Joseph’s father was advised to send the boy to Cambridge, but he preferred to join the Military. He joined the engineering branch of the British East India army and after passing out from Chatham he joined the Corps of Sappers and Miners in the Bengal Army. All this was mundane stuff, but his real rise was when he was appointed in 1837 as assistant to Colonel Sir Claude Wade, who was the political agent at Ludhiana and officer-in charge of British relations with the Punjab and with the chiefs of Afghanistan.
    Political Agent

    For the next 8 years he held various appointments under Colonel Wade and his successors, and was, at the time of the outbreak of the first Anglo-Sikh war in 1845, political agent in the state of Bahawalpur. He was present, as political officer, with the division of Sir Harry Smith at the battles of Baddoval and Aliwal. At Sabhraon, he served as an additional aid-de-camp to the Governor-General, Sir Henry Hardinge. His services earned him a brevet and appointment as political agent to the state of Bhopal. Thus Cunningham had first hand account of these battles.


    In 1849, appeared his 'A History of the Sikhs' which he had written while at Bhopal and which his brother had got published in London. His severe criticism, in the book, of Lord Harding’s Punjab policy led to his being removed from his political appointment and sent back to regimental duty. He took the disgrace to heart and, soon after his appointment to the Meerut division of Public Works; he died suddenly at Ambala in 1851.

    Analysis of the ‘History of the Sikhs’

    'A History of the Sikhs from the Origin of the Nation to the Battles of the Sutlej', by Cunningham, is generally recognized as the first serious and sympathetic account of the Sikh people ever written by a foreigner. Cunningham spent considerable time and studied the available materials. In addition he acquainted himself with the Sikh scriptures and all connected manuscripts in Persian and Punjabi. Cunningham was greatly influenced by Sikhism and as per him his main endeavor was "to give Sikhism its place in the general history of humanity, by showing its connection with the different creeds of India..."

    His first four chapters cover the history of the Sikhs from its beginning to 1764. He traced the growth to their religious faith, which he inferred, was the main motive force of their history. He felt that Sikhism appeared at a time in India when the historical situation needed it the most. He felt there was great excellence in Guru Nanak's message. An important feature of Sikhism, in Cunningham's eyes, was its spirit of freedom and progress.

    The last five chapters covered a period of which Cunningham was himself a witness. He made use official and secret records of the government of the East India Company for these chapters. A large part of these five chapters dealt with Ranjit Singh's rise to power, his achievements and his relations with the British. Of these, the last chapter entitled "The War with the English," was a scathing criticism of Governor-General Lord Hardinge who, as per Cunningham, had precipitated the war. He paid the price for that criticism.

    Last Word

    According to Cunningham's analysis, the British won the war, but could very well have lost it as well. As per him the British won because of the treacherous role of Raja Labh, Raja Tej Singh, the commander-in-chief and Raja Gulab Singh, who had betrayed their own army at crucial points of the campaign. He was all praise for the fighting qualities of the Sikh army.

    For his analysis of the Sikh history Cunningham deserves greater accolades as a man and writer than is conferred on him.

    References

    History of the Sikhs from the origin of the Nation to the battles of the Sutlej- JD Cunningham Oxford press ( originally published 1849)

    Read more at Suite101: Joseph Cunningham, The First British Historian of the Sikhs http://www.suite101.com/content/jos...-historian-of-the-sikhs-a336379#ixzz1Bq5E5MZl
     
    • Like Like x 1
  2. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
    Expand Collapse
    1947-2014 (Archived)
    SPNer Supporter

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2004
    Messages:
    14,551
    Likes Received:
    19,200
    Read History of the Sikhs online at this link from Open Library
    http://www.archive.org/stream/cu31924024154308#page/n7/mode/2up



    CUNNINGHAM, JOSEPH DAVEY (1812-1851), the first British historian of the Sikhs (his A History of the Sikhs was published in London in 1849), was the eldest of the five sons of Allan Cunningham, a noted poet and playwright. Born at Lambeth on 9 June 1812, Joseph had his early education in private schools in London where he showed such a marked aptitude for mathematics that his father was advised to send him to Cambridge. But as the young boy was more keen on becoming a soldier, a cadetship in the East India Company`s service was procured him through the good offices of Sir Walter Scott.

    He received his military training at Addiscombe and professional training in engineering at Chatham. Towards the end of 1832, he reached Delhi and joined the Corps of Sappers and Miners in the Bengal Army. In 1837, he was appointed assistant to Colonel (afterwards Sir) Claude Wade, the political agent at Ludhiana and officer in charge of British relations with the Punjab and with the chiefs of Afghanistan. For the next eight years he held various appointments under Colonel Wade and his successors, and was, at the time of the outbreak of the first Anglo Sikh war in 1845, political agent in the state of Bahawalpur.

    He was summoned to the battlefront and attached first to the staff of Sir Charles Napier and then to that of Sir Hugh Cough. He was present, as political officer, with the division of Sir Harry Smith at the battles of Baddoval and `Aliwal. At Sabhraori, he served as an additional aiddecamp to the Governor General, Sir Henry Harding. His services earned him a brevet and appointment as political agent to the state of Bhopal. In 1849, appeared his A History of the Sikhs which he had written while at Bhopal and which his brother had got published in London. His severe criticism, in the book, of Lord Hardinge`s Punjab policy brought upon him the wrath of his superiors.

    He was removed from his political appointment and sent back to regimental duty. He took the disgrace to heart and, soon after his appointment to the Meerut division of Public Works, he died suddenly at Ambala in 1851. A History of the Sikhs from the Origin of the Nation to the Battles of the Sutlej, by Cunningham, is the first serious and sympathetic account of the Sikh people ever written of them by a foreigner. Cunningham explored the available materials with the rneticulousness of a scholar. Besides official despatches and documents and the earlier English accounts, he went to the original sources and acquainted himself with the Sikh scriptures as well as with relevant manuscripts in Persian and Punjabi.

    The emphasis in Cunningham`s History shifted from his predecessors` concern with the assessment of Sikhs` political and military strength or the description of the manner of their court to the identification of the ingredients of their moral and religious inspiration and of the driving force behind their rise from a religious sect to nationhood. The book is also significant for its account of the geography and economy of the Punjab and for its analysis of the social milieu in which Sikhism was born. Elaborate footnotes and appendices show the minuteness and range of Cunningham`s learning.

    Cunningham had aimed at achieving two objectives in writing his History. His main endeavour was "to give Sikhism its place in the general history of humanity, by showing its connection with the different creeds of India..." Secondly, he wished "to give some account of the connexion of the English with the Sikhs, and in part with the Afghans ..." His first four chapters, covering the history of the Sikhs from its beginning to 1764, traced the growth of "a nation" animated by a living faith. Their religious faith, he inferred, was the main motive force of their history. That was both because it had appeared at a time when the historical situation needed it the most and because of the "excellence" of Guru Nanak`s message.

    An important feature of Sikhism, in Cunningham`s eyes, was its spirit of freedom and progress. The last five chapters were a contemporary history of Cunningham`s own times, based on the official and secret records of the government of the East India Company. A large part of these five chapters dealt witli Ranjit Singh`s rise to power, his achievements and his relations with the British. Of these, the last chapter entitled "The War with the English," which detailed the immediate circumstances leading to the AngloSikh war of 184546 was, however, a scathing criticism of Governor General Lord Harding who, said Cunningham, had done nothing to prevent the earlier mistakes from continuing to add to the distrust of the Sikh army from feeling suspicious of British intentions, in which situation the war was an inevitability.

    According to Cunningham`s analysis, the British won the war they had precipitated but could have as well lost it. What really contributed to the success of the British was the treachery of the Lahore leaders who had instigated it. Raja Lal Singh, Raja Tej Singh, the commanderin chief and Raja Gulab Singh had played a treacherous role and betrayed their own army in varying degree. Besides having Cunningham dismissed from the political service, Harding who had taken grave umbrage at the publication of the book, prevailed upon J.W. Kaye, an acknowledged authority on Indian history, to write a detailed review of it. This review, published in The Ca]cutta Review, mostly attempted to rebut Cunningham`s thesis. Kaye`s review started a controversy which continued throughout the nineteenth century. Some looked upon the book as the outpourings of "the apologist of the Khalsa." But today Cunningham`s History is commonly recognized as a standard, responsible work.

    References :

    1. Fauja Singh, ed.. Historians and Historiography of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1978
    2. Khurana, Gianeshwar, British Historiography on the Sikh Power in Punjab. Delhi, 1985
    3. Darshan Singh, Western Perspective on the Sikh Religion. Delhi, 1991
    4. Grewal, LS., From Guru Nanak to Maharaja Ranjit Singh; Essays in Sikh History. Amritsar, 1972

    http://www.thesikhencyclopedia.com/...rs-and-officials/cunningham-joseph-davey.html
     
    • Like Like x 2
  3. jnanavan

    jnanavan
    Expand Collapse
    SPNer

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2010
    Messages:
    26
    Likes Received:
    44
    All sikhs should be thanking this gora for his contribution to sikhi. Guru fateh to mr cunningham.
     
    • Like Like x 2
  4. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
    Expand Collapse
    1947-2014 (Archived)
    SPNer Supporter

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2004
    Messages:
    14,551
    Likes Received:
    19,200
    And it seems there is not one picture of him to be found on the Internet. Perhaps because he suffered rude treatment by life. I have searched and searched. What did I find? Even booksellers are looking for his picture. It makes me think how vain we are to worry what the Gurus looked like, how tall, how short, how elegant, how sturdy. Cunningham preserved their message, and it is almost symbolic that we don't know what he looked like --nor exactly what they looked like -- all that fades.. And the message has not.
     
    • Like Like x 3
  5. jnanavan

    jnanavan
    Expand Collapse
    SPNer

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2010
    Messages:
    26
    Likes Received:
    44
    very true, i find it very interested how he died shortly after publishing the book. Makes me think of the matrix 2's main message

    "we are all here to do , what we are meant to do"
     
    • Like Like x 2

Share This Page