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Shah Alam II and His Court

Shah Alam II and His Court


Item Code: NAB801

by Pratul C. Gupta

Hardcover (Edition: 2010)

The Asiatic Society, Kolkata

Size: 8.7 Inch X 5.7 Inch
Pages: 116
Weight of the Book: 275 gms
Price: $22.00
Discounted: $16.50   Shipping Free
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This valuable historical work, the manuscript of which was found in a box, preserved in the Asiatic Society, was first edited by Professor Pratul Chandra Gupta and published by the Society in 1947. It was reprinted in 1989. Considering its historical value it is now being printed for the third time. The biographical sketch of Polier, an Engineer, given in the Introduction, is very interesting. We believe that students and researchers will find this historical work highly valuable.

Preface to the First Edition

In the nineteenth century manuscripts and books were often presented to learned societies and libraries in India by servants of the East India Company returning home after retirement. Some books of Indian history in the Imperial Library, Calcutta, bear stamps of the library of Fort William and names of previous owners. It occurred to me that old manuscripts might have similarly found their way to the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal. About four years ago, a search was made and a box which evidently had not been opened for a long time was found to contain a number of manuscripts on various subjects. One such manuscript which I hoped might be used as a source for the history of North India during Shah Alam II’s reign is published.

In Buckland’s Dictionary of Indian Biography there is a short sketch of Antoine Louis Henri Polier’s career in India. There is a fuller account in a recently published volume of Hodson’s Officers of the Bengal Army. For obvious reasons Polier does not find a place in Dictionary of National Biography, but it is a pity that he has been left out by Philippart. There is, how- ever, a short biographical sketch in the Bengal: Past and Present, 1910. Occasional mention of Polier will also be found in Grier’s Letters of Warren Hastings to his Wife, Hodges’ Travels in India, Rennel’s Memoir of a map of Hindoostan, Broome’s History of the Rise and Progress of the Bengal Army and Forest’s Life of Clive. In recent years, a number of articles appeared in the Proceedings of the Indian Historical Records Commission. When this book was ready for the press, Colonel Phillimore’s Historical Records of the Survey of India was brought out. It contains an interesting note based on official records and Polier’s autobiography published in the Calcutta Gazette, l8l8.

In print, old spellings of the manuscript are retained. It will be seen that some proper names are spelt in more than one way. But the very frequent use of capital letters had to be discouraged and some liberty taken with the punctuation in order to make sense. The biographical sketch of Polier in the Introduction has been prepared mainly from materials in the Archives of the Government of India. All documents referred to in this volume are from the Imperial Record Department, New Delhi, unless otherwise stated.

I am grateful to the Council of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal for permitting me to edit the manuscript. I owe thanks for facilities and help to Dr S N Sen, Director of Archives, Government of India and Mr. H N Randle, Librarian, India Office. I am also indebted to Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Sir Patrick Cadell, Professor Somnath Maitra, Dr N K Sinha, Mr. Sourin- dranath Roy and Mr. Nirmal Chandra Sinha. Mr. N N Das Gupta has very kindly helped me in seeing the book through the press.


In the library of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal there is an English manuscript on the Delhi Empire and Court during the reign of Shah Alam II. It is called "A Narrative of the transactions of the Court of Delhy", and covers nine years of Shah Alam's life from 1771 when he left Allahabad to 1779 when the deputy Wazir Abdul Ahad Khan led an expedition against the Sikhs, The volume containing this manuscript includes copies of other docu, ments of a miscellaneous nature. It is marked as No, 4387. It is now almost impossible to say what this number indicates.

The manuscript is obviously a copy, but from the dates of the other documents it does not seem to be a very late one. The latest document which is included in the volume is of the year 1791. It is not difficult to ascertain when the manuscript on Shah Alam II's Court was originally written. The date "Delhy, 15 August, 1779", which appears at the top of the document evidently indicates the time when it was completed. This is further substantiated by the fact that the last incident reported. in the manuscript is Abdul Ahad Khan's campaign against the Sikhs which began in July 1779. The manuscript does not bear the name of the author. But there are certain clear indications. It does not read like an official report and the author is always free with his Opinion and criticism. One cannot miss the inti- mate nature of the narrative. It was obviously written by one who was personally acquainted with the men and things he wrote about, and it is not unlikely that• he' might have played some part in the story he related.

When I first came actoss the manuscript I found it of unusual interest. I showed it to Sir Jadunath Sarkar and sent a copy of it to Dr. S. N. Sen, Director of Archives to Government of India. Sir Jadunath Sarkar reported to the Asiatic Society that it was written by Antoine Louis Henri Polier, a Swiss Engineer in the service of the East India Company. The manuscript, he considered,' "gives a very t rue account and is far more detailed about the Court intrigues than any Persian or Marathi account" known to him. Dr. Sen informed me that as it was not an official document, the original would not be found in the Imperial Record Department and the documents in his custody would not throw any light on its authorship. But he drew my attention to the fifth book of Scott's Deccan. It first came out in 1794 and in the preface to the fifth book he states, "for the account of the situation of the pre- sent Emperor Shah Aulum from 1771 to 1779, I owe the chief materials to my friend Lieutenant Colonel Polier whose long residence and connection at the Court of Delhy enabled him to obtain the best information of public and private transactions". A comparison of Scott's chapter on Shah Alam II with the Royal Asiatic Society manuscript shows remarkable similarity of language and expression between the two. Many of the phrases which occur in both the works are the same and often Scott merely summarises from the manuscript. The Asiatic Society manuscript undoubtedly formed "the chief materials" furnished by Polier on which Scott built up his account of Shah Alam II. Polier's name is not very familiar to students of Indian History, but some of his writings are fairly well-known. His letters were published in the Asiatic Annual Register of 1800, and later on reprinted in the Bengal Past and Present of 1914. A few of his manuscripts form part of the Orme collection in the India Office Library. Hill's catalogue of the Orme collection (vol. ii, pt. i, pp. 138-39) mentions (i) "Some account of the celebrated adventurer Sombre or Sumroo"; (ii) "A view of the present situation of the Emperor Shah Allum and the territories round Delhy remaining in his possession"; (iii) "Some account of the transactions in the province of Oud from the 1st April to the end of June 1776": and (iv) "Treaty between the Hon'ble East India Company and the Mahratta State at Poorunder". Hill presumed them to be written by Polier, The first two bear strong resemblance to extracts from Polier's letters to Colonel Ironside dated May 22, 1776, published in the Asiatic Annual Register of 1800. Hill also refers to the copy of a manuscript (xix; 10) bearing the same name and date, "possibly by Colonel Polier", which is evidently the same thing as the one in Calcutta. The two copies have been compared and found to be identical except for those differences which are due to the copyist. One does not know if the original is pre- served. It is curious that "A Narrative of transactions in Delhy", which is otherwise a very full account, hardly men- tions the siege and capture of Agra by Najaf Khan. It proved a turning point in Polier's career and cost him his job. On several occasions he had written to the Governor- General explaining his conduct and describing the part he- played in the l siege of Agra. One fails to understand why the whole incident has been dismissed in one bald sentence, "Agra in the interim fell into Nasaf Khan's hands". Polier probably had his own reasons for keeping silent, or he might have mentioned it in the "account of Nasaf Khan" to which he makes several allusions in the present work. The extracts from his letters to Ironside published in the Asiatic Annual Register of 1800 contain a section on Najaf Khan. I t is not clear if this account is meant, for Polier refers to a. distinct narrative and not a letter, and it does not contain any reference to the siege of Agra. It is, however, an extract'. and one does not know what portions have been left out.


Antoine Louis Potier came of a French Protestant family which had settled down in Switzerland. He entered the service of the East India Company in London in 1757 and next year arrived in India.' His uncle Paul Phillipe Polier was also in the service of the Company and became the Commandant of Fort St. George. Towards the end of 1858, he commanded a detachment of the Swiss and died in action against the French near Madras.' Antoine Louis Polier served under Forde at Masulipatam and Carnac in Behar. About the end of 1761, he was transferred to Bengal.



Preface v
Introduction 1
A Narrative of Transactions at the Court of Delhy From 1771 to the Present Time 21
Notes 79
1. Some account of the celebrated adventurer Sombre or Samroo 93
2. A view of the present situation of the Emperor Shah Alam 97
3. Some account of the transactions in the Province of Oud 105
4. Note on Picture 111
Index 113
Claude Martin and his friends -----Frontispiece  

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