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Shah Alam II and His Court: A Narrative of the Transactions at The Court of Delhy from The Year 1771 to The Present Time

Shah Alam II and His Court: A Narrative of the Transactions at The Court of Delhy from The Year 1771 to The Present Time


Item Code: IDG334

by Antoine Louis Henri Polier Edited by Pratul C. Gupta

Hardcover (Edition: 1989)

The Asiatic Society

Size: 8.5" X 5.5"
Pages: 116 (B & W Illus: 1)
Price: $15.00
Discounted: $11.25   Shipping Free
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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 documents 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 "Delhi, 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 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 intimate 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 across 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 true 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 present 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 manuscripts. 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 Alam 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 date 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 preserved. It is curious that "A Narrative of transactions in Delhy", which is otherwise a very full account, hardly mentions 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 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. It 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.


1. Some account of the celebrated adventurer Sombre or Samroo93
2. A view of the present situation of the Emperor Shah Alam97
3. Some account of the transactions in the Province of Oud105
4. Note on Picture111

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