In 1854 a lawyer who was travelling in India taking cases as and when was consulted by the Rani. From this account of his meeting is taken the description of her that is found in most books on the Rani. This is his complete account of that meeting taken from his book "Wanderings in India" published in 1861.
Google Books has the complete Wanderings in India available for reading and download.
Lang had taken the trouble to learn both 'Hindostanee' and Persian and so was able to argue his cases in court and to converse with the Ranee without an interpreter.
In the text:
"lacs" is the modern "lakhs". A lakh is 100,000.
The letter 'l' after a number as in 6000l means pounds sterling.
THE RANEE OF JHANSI
About a month after the order had gone forth for the annexation of the little province of Jhansi (in 1854), and previous to a wing of the 13th Native Infantry occupying the country, I received a letter in Persian, written upon "gold paper" from the Ranee begging me to pay her a visit. The letter was brought to me by two natives of rank. One had been the financial minister of the late Rajah. The other was the head vakeel (attorney) of the Ranee.
The revenues of Jhansi were some six lacs (60,OOOl) a year, and after disbursing the expenses of government, and paying the troops in the late Rajah's service, the balance was some two lacs and a half (25,OOOl) profit. The " troops" were not numerous, under 1000 in all, and they were chiefly horsemen. The arrangement, when the country was annexed, was simply this: that the Ranee should receive a pension of 6000l a year, to be paid monthly. The Ranee's object in asking me to visit her at Jhansi was to consult me as to the possibility of getting the order for annexation annulled, or reversed. I should mention that the Ranee had applied to me at the instance of a gentleman of the Civil Service, who had once been the Resident, or Governor-General's agent, at a native court in the upper provinces; a gentleman who, in common with many other officials of rank in India, regarded the annexation of Jhansi "a trumpery state after all" - not only as impolitic, but unjust and without excuse. The facts were briefly these:- The late Rajah had no issue by his only wife (the woman who caused our countrymen and countrywomen and children to be put to death in the fort, and who, according to late advices, has been killed), and some weeks previous to his death, being "sound of mind, though infirm in body," he publicly adopted an heir, and gave notice to the Government of having done so through the proper channel - namely the Governor-General's representative then stationed at Jhansi. In short, all the forms required by the Government to prevent fraud in such cases, had been complied with. The child was taken into the Rajah's lap, in the presence of his assembled people, and in the presence of the Governor-General's representative, and he, moreover, signed a document, duly attested, reciting his act and deed. The Rajah was a Brahmin; the adopted boy was a near relative of his.
The Jhansi Rajah had been particularly faithful to the British Government, and Lord William Bentinck had presented the brother of the late Rajah with a British ensign, and a letter giving him the title of "Rajah," and assuring him that that title, and the Independence attached to it, would be guaranteed by the British Government to him, the Rajah, and his heirs and successors (byadoption). That that treaty (for such it purported to be) of Lord William Bentinck was violated without the slightest shadow of a pretence, there cannot be any word of doubt. In the time of the Peishwah, the late Rajah of Jhansi was simply a large zemindar (landholder), and had he remained entitled there can be no question that his last wishes, so far as the disposition of his property was concerned, would have been attended to. It was the acceptance of the "Rajahship" which led to the confiscation of his estates, and the exchange of 6000l. a year for 25,0001. a year. Strange as that assertion may seem to the reader, it is nonetheless true.
I was at Agra when I received the Ranee's letter, and Agra is two days' journey. Even as I travelled from Jhansi, I sympathized with the woman. The boy whom the Rajah had adopted was only six years old, and during his minority, that is to say, until he had attained his eighteenth year, the Ranee - so the Rajah willed - was to have been the Regent, and the boy's guardian; and it is no small matter for a woman - a native woman of rank, too - to give up such a position and become a pensioner, even on 600Ol a year. Let me detail the particulars of my journey to the residence of the Ranee of Jhansi. I got into my palanquin at dusk, and on the following morning, at daylight, arrived at Gwalior. The Rajah of Jhansi had a small house about a mile and a half from the cantonment, which was used as a halting-place, and thither I was taken by the minister and the vakeel who accompanied me. At ten o'clock, after I had breakfasted and smoked my hookah, it was proposed that we "go on at once." The day was very warm, but the Ranee had sent a large and comfortable palanquin carriage; in short, it was more like a small room than a carriage, fitted up as it was with every convenience, including even a punkah, which was pulled from the outside by a servant, who sat upon a foot-board. In the carriage, beside myself and the minister and vakeel, was a khansamah, or butler, who, with the apparatus between his knees, kept on cooling water, and wine, and beer, in order that, whenever I felt thirsty, I might be supplied at a moment's notice. This enormous carriage was drawn by a pair of horses of immense strength and swiftness. Each stood about seventeen hands high. The )ate Rajah had imported them from France at a cost of 1500l. The road was rather rough in many places, but, on the average, we got over it at the rate of about nine miles an hour. At about two o'clock in the day we entered the Jhansi territory, having changed horses twice, and we had now some nine miles to drive. Hitherto we had been escorted only by four sowars (horsemen), but now our escort amounted to about fifty, each horseman carrying an immense spear, and dressed much in the same way as the Irregular Cavalry in the pay of the East India Company. And along the road, at intervals of a few hundred yards, were horsemen drawn up, and as we passed, they joined the cavalcade; so that by the time we came in sight of the fortress if those old weak walls, surmounted by some nine pieces of old ordnance of inferior calibre, deserved the name - the whole strength of the Jhansi cavalry was in attendance. The carriage was driven to a place called " the Rajah's garden," where I alighted, and was conducted by the financial minister and the vakeel and other servants of state, to a large tent, which was pitched beneath a clump of gigantic mango trees. The tent, which was that in which the late Rajah used to receive the civil and military officers of the British Government, was elegantly fitted up, and carpeted; and at least a dozen domestic servants were ready to do my bidding. I must not omit to mention that the companions or my journey - the minister and the vakeel - were both men of good ability and pleasing manners. They were, moreover, men of learning, so that my time upon the road had been beguiled very agreeably. The Ranee had consulted one of the many Brahmins who were supported by her as to the most propitious hour for me to come to the purdah behind which she sat; and the Brahmins had told her that it must be between the setting of the sun and the rising of the moon, which was then near her full; in other words, between half-past five and half-past six o'clock.
This important matter having been communicated to me, I expressed myself perfectly satisfied with the time of the appointment, and ordered dinner accordingly. This done, the financial minister, after betraying some embarrassment, intimated that he wished to speak to me on a rather delicate subject, and that, with my permission, he would order all the menial servants in attendance on me, including my own sirdar-bearer (valet), to leave the tent and stand at a distance. I complied, of course, and presently found myself alone with only the "officials" (eight or nine in number) of the little native state of Jhansi. What the finance minister wished to ask me was this - Would I consent to leave my shoes at the door when I entered the Ranee's apartment? I inquired if the Governor-General's agent did so. He replied that the Governor-General's agent had never had an interview with the Ranee; and that the late Rajah had never received any European gentleman in the private apartments of the palace, but in a room set apart for the purpose, or in the tent in which we were conversing. I was in some difficulty, and scarcely knew what to say, for I had a few years previously declined to be presented to the King of Delhi, who insisted on Europeans taking off their shoes when they entered his presence. The idea was repugnant to my mind and I said as much to the minister of the late Rajah of Jhansi; and I asked him whether he would attend a levee at the palace of the Queen of England, if informed that he must enter her Majesty's presence with his head uncovered, as did all her subjects, from the lowest to the highest. To this question he would not give me a direct answer, but remarked, "You may wear your hat, Sahib; the Ranee will not mind that. On the contrary, she will regard it as an additional mark of respect towards her." Now this was what I did not want. My desire was that she should consider the wearing of my hat, supposing I consented to take off my shoes, as a species of compromise on her part as well as on my part. But I was so amused with this bargaining, as it were, that I consented; giving them distinctly to understand, however, that it was to be considered not as a compliment to her rank and dignity, but to her sex, and her sex alone. That great point settled, I partook of a very sumptuous repast that was prepared for me, and awaited patiently the setting of the sun or the rising of the moon, determined, however, that I would wear my hat - a black "wide-awake," covered with a white turban.
The hour came, and the white elephant (an Albino, one of the very few in all India), bearing on his immense back a silver houdah, trimmed with red velvet, brought to the tent. I ascended the steps, which were also covered with red was velvet, and took my place. The mahoot, or elephant-driver, was attired in the most gorgeous manner. The ministers of state, mounted on white Arabs, rode on either side of the elephant; the Jhansi cavalry lining the road to the palace, and thus forming an avenue. The palace was about half a mile distant from my encampment ground.
Ere long we arrived at the gates, at which the attendants on foot began to knock violently; A wicket was opened, and closed hastily. Information was then sent to the Ranee; and, after a delay of about ten minutes, the "hookum" (order) came to open the gates. I entered on the elephant, and alighted in a court-yard. The evening was very warm, and I fancied that I should be suffocated by the crowd of natives (retainers) who flocked around me. Observing my discomfiture, the minister imperiously commanded them to "stand back!" After another brief delay, I was asked to ascend a very narrow stone staircase, and on the landing was met by a native gentleman, who was some relative to the Ranee. He showed me first into one room and then into another. These rooms (six or seven), like all rooms of the kind, were unfurnished, save and except that the floors were carpeted; but from the ceiling punkahs and chandeliers were suspended, and on the walls were native pictures of Hindoo gods and goddesses, with here and there a large mirror. At length I was led to the door of a room, at which the native gentleman knocked. A female voice from within inquired, "Who is there?"
"Sahib," was the reply. After another brief delay, thee door was opened by some unseen hand, and the native gentleman asked me to enter, informing me, at the same time, that he was about to leave me. A brief delay now occurred upon my part. It was with great difficulty that I could bring myself to take off my shoes. At length, however, I accomplished it, and entered the apartment in "stocking feet." In the centre of the room, which was richly carpeted, was an arm-chair of European manufacture, and around it were strewn garlands of flowers (Jhansi is famous for its beautiful and sweet-smelling flowers). At the end of the room was a purdah or curtain, and behind it people were talking. I sat myself down in the arm-chair, and instinctively took off my hat; but recollecting my resolve, I replaced it, and rather firmly - pulling it well down, so as completely to conceal my forehead. It was a foolish resolve, perhaps, on my part, for the hat kept the breeze of the punkah from cooling my temples.
I could hear female voices prevailing upon a child to "go to the Sahib," and could hear the child objecting to do so. Eventually, he was "launched" into the room; and upon my speaking kindly to the child, he approached me - but very timidly. His dress and the jewels on his person satisfied me that the child was the adopted son of the late Rajah, and the rejected heir to the little throne of Jhansi. He was rather a pretty child, but very short for his, years and broad-shouldered - like most of the Mahratta children that I have seen.
Whilst I was speaking to the child, a shrill and discordant voice issued from behind the purdah, and I was informed that the boy was the Maharajah, who had just been despoiled of his rights by the Governor-General of India. I fancied that the voice was that of some very old woman - some slave or enthusiastic retainer, perhaps; but the child having imagined that he was spoken to, replied, "Maharanee!" and thus I was told the error of my conclusion.
And now the Ranee, having invited me to come closer to the purdah, began to pour forth her grievances; and, whenever she paused, the women by whom she was surrounded, set up a sort of chorus - a series of melancholy ejaculations - such as " Woe is me!" " What oppression!" It reminded me somewhat of a scene in a Greek tragedy - comical as was the situation.
I had heard from the vakeel that the Ranee was a very handsome woman, of about six or seven and twenty years of age, and I was very curious indeed to get a glimpse of her; and whether it was by accident, or by design on the Ranee's part, I know not, my curiosity was gratified. The curtain was drawn aside by the little boy, and I had a good view of the lady. It was only for a moment, it is true still I saw her sufficiently to be able to describe her. She was a woman of about the middle size - rather stout, but not too stout. Her face must have been very handsome when she was younger, and even now had many charms - though, according to my idea of beauty, it was too round. The expression also was very good, and very intelligent. The eyes were particularly fine, and the nose very delicately shaped. She was not very fair, though she was far from black. She had no ornaments, strange to say, upon her person, except a pair of gold ear-rings. Her dress was a plain white muslin, so fine in texture, and drawn about her in such a way, and so tightly, that the outline of her figure was plainly discernible - and a remarkably fine figure she had. What spoilt her was her voice, which was something between a whine and a croak. When the purdah was drawn aside, she was, or affected to be, very much annoyed; I but, presently she laughed, and good-humouredly expressed a hope that, a sight of her had not lessened my sympathy with her sufferings nor prejudiced her cause.
"On the contrary," I replied, "if the Governor-General could only be as fortunate as I have been and for even so brief a while, I feel quite sure that he would at once give Jhansi back again to be ruled by its beautiful Queen."
She repaid this compliment, and the next ten minutes were devoted to an interchange of such matters. I told her that the whole world resounded with the praises of her beauty and the greatness of her intellect; and she told me that there was not a corner of the earth in which prayers for my welfare remained unsaid.
We then returned to the point - her "case." I informed her, that the Governor-General had no power to restore the country, and recognise the claim of the adopted son, without a reference to England, and that the most prudent course for her to adopt would be to petition the throne, and meanwhile draw the pension of 6000l. a year, under protest that it was not to prejudice the right of the adopted son. At first she refused to do this, and rather energetically exclaimed: "Mera Jhansi nahin dengee" (I will not give up my Jhansi). I then pointed out to her, as delicately as possible, how futile would be any opposition; and told her, what was the truth, that a wing of a native regiment and some artillery were within three marches of the palace; and I further impressed upon her that the slightest opposition to its advance would destroy her every hope, and, in short, jeopardize her liberty. I did this because she gave me to understand - and so did her attorney (and my impression is that they spoke the trutb) - that the people of Jhansi did not wish to be handed over to the East India Company's rule.
It was past two o'clock that night before I left the palace; and ere I took my departure, I had talked the lady into my way of thinking, except that she would not consent to draw any pension from the British Government.
On the following day I returned to Gwalior, en route to Agra. The Ranee presented me with an elephant, a camel, an Arab, a pair of greyhounds of great swiftness, a quantity of silks and stuffs (the production of Jhansi), and a pair of Indian shawls. I accepted these things with great reluctance, but the financial minister entreated me to take them, insomuch as it would wound the Ranee's feelings if I refused. The Ranee also presented me with a portrait of herself, taken by a native, a Hindoo.
The state of Jhansi was not restored to the rule of the Ranee, and we know that she afterwards rivalled that fiend Nena Sahib, whose "grievance" was identical with her own. The Government would not recognise Nena Sahib as the adopted son and heir or the Peishwah; the Ranee of Jhansi sought to be recognised as the Regent during the minority of the late Rajah's adopted son and heir.