The Black Watch and India

Connections through Culture: Study trip to Delhi and Lucknow

by Nicola Moss, Collections Assistant

Last year, the British Council offered travel grants for non-national museums to travel to India. The purpose of this grant was to encourage museums to develop institutional links with museums in India and so share skills and create joint projects.

The Black Watch Castle and Museum have a number of collections which relate to the time the Regiment spent in India. A number of important events have occurred to the Regiment whilst in India, including the awarding of its first Victoria Cross.

As a significant part of the Museum explores our connection with India, I felt this opportunity would allow The Black Watch Castle and Museum to develop new links with other museums based in India and develop our understanding of the part the Regiment played in India’s history. I hoped this would open a dialogue for possible exchanges of information, objects and ideas, and working together in partnership.

My plans were to visit both Delhi and Lucknow, two areas in which The Black Watch saw action.

Delhi

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I spent much of my first day within the Red Fort. I could very easily have spent the entire trip within its walls! The Fort is vast and includes a number of buildings and museums. The Indian War Memorial Museum is housed within what used to be military barracks. They have a fantastic selection of objects used these to explore the Indian Mutiny and the roles of the British and the rebels.

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Near the Fort sits Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. Parts of the building were destroyed during the 1857 Mutiny, however the vast majority of the building survived unscathed. For five years after the Mutiny, the mosque was under military occupation. Jama Masjid looks over Chandi Chowk which is situated in one of the oldest areas of Delhi. This area was almost decimated during the rebellion by the British forces and the Mutineers. However, many of the oldest buildings were indeed still standing, some of which dated back to the 17th century.

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I also viewed The India Gate which is a memorial to the soldiers of the British Indian Army who died during the First World War. Names of the 13,000 soldiers have been inscribed onto the gate and this now also serves as the tomb for India’s Unknown Soldier.

Lastly, I visited the National Gallery of Modern Art to meet with one of the assistant curators who had introduced me to some of her contacts in India. Her very informative assistant guided me around the galleries to explore the collections from the 1600s to the present day!

Lucknow

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Lucknow gave me the opportunity to witness some of the areas which British forces and rebels would have been involved in including Bara Imambara, La Martiniere, the Residency and Shah Najaf Imambara.

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‘La Matiniere College for Boys’ is a magnificent building which was built as a palace for the Major-General Claude Martin. The building itself saw action during the 1857 Mutiny as it was overrun with Mutineers. The school had plaques created to commemorate those who had died whilst defending the city. The boys who survived were sent to the Residency for safety. La Martiniere was heavily damaged during the uprising and some of the damage was still evident. Outside of the school, I was surprised to see a cannon which was used at the Battle of Seringapatam. The 73rd Regiment, part of The Black Watch, had also been involved in this battle.

P1030267 (360x640)I moved on to the Residency, one of the most important buildings used during the Indian Mutiny. The Residency was built after an officer was appointed as Resident of Lucknow. This was a strategically important area which was naturally defended on three sides. This was used by the British as a ‘safe house’ when the rebels overtook Lucknow.

P1030290 (640x360)Much like the Red Fort, the scale of the area is immense. There were a number of buildings which, although ruined, were still standing. Bullet holes and cannonball holes were still clearly visible in many of the buildings. It was fascinating to see the areas where the British would have been defending their last post. I continued on to the museum. It was fascinating to read the stories of events which occurred during the Mutiny and within that very complex! In one room, there was a hole still in the wall which was left by cannon fire and had killed one of the ladies who lived there.

Shah Najaf Imambara is a mosque that the British stormed during the Mutiny before they moved on to relieve those at the Residency. This was another fascinating piece of history which I was unaware of.

Conclusion

The study trip was informative, interesting and exciting. There was a lot of new information which I picked up in regards to the Indian Mutiny and the way in which museums operate in India. It is my hope that by continuing to develop new partnerships and building new relations, The Black Watch Castle and Museum will be able to provide the best experience possible to its visitors.

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About blackwatchmuseum

The Museum of The Black Watch offers an insight into one of the British Army's if not the world's most famous fighting units. Scotland's Black Watch is an elite military regiment whose history stretches back almost three centuries.
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2 Responses to The Black Watch and India

  1. Roger Kirwin says:

    This must have been a fascinating trip, not only to walk in the footsteps so to speak, but to be on a mission to establish institutional links. Most envious!
    Who owns Matiniere and the Red Fort? Indian State or held in trust by a non-profit?

    • Hello Roger, thanks for reading! It was an incredible experience. The Red Fort is owned by the Archaeological Survey Institute of India while we understood that the Martiniere is owned by the school which is still running.

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