Wednesday 4 May 2011

Memories of Abbottabad

Sir James Abbott in Afghan costume - courtesy National Portrait Gallery
In October 2009 I spent a wonderful day in Abbottabad in the company of friends from the Amaan Ittehad organisation, who had organised a large public event calling for the restoration of democracy and justice in Pakistan. It was my one and only visit to the town - now notorious for ever more as the final hiding place of Osama bin Laden. I was struck by two things - the warmth and friendship of the people there, who did everything possible to facilitate my visit and to make me feel at home; and secondly, the remnants of so many signs of the Raj.
On the hillside, close to what is now Pakistan's premier army officer training school, stands the pretty little church of St Luke's, Abbottabad, while in the centre of the town the barracks can hardly have changed since the days in 1848 when James 'Kaka' Abbott, supported by Hazara and Pashtun tribesmen, drove the Sikhs under Chatar Singh from this area forever.
St Luke's Church, Abbottabad
Abbott was regarded as a hero by the Hazarawals and when he was removed from his post as district commissioner in 1852 for 'going native' he decided to throw a huge party for all the people of the district. It is said he spent everything he had saved to provide food for the party, which was held on Nara Hill, site of his most glorious victories against the Sikhs. According to his replacement, Herbert Edwardes: "And there for three days and nights he might be seen walking among the groups of guests and hecatombs of pots and cauldrons - the kind and courteous host of a whole people." After 18 years of loyal service, he was summarily transferred to the government gunpowder factory in Calcutta. He eventually retired a General and was knighted in 1894, two years before he died.

1 comment:

HistoryHP said...

Dear sir, interesting article, thank you. However I hope to clarify that whilst James Abbott did drive the Sikh forces out of Hazara during the 2nd Sikh War 1848-49, Abbottabad town was founded in January 1853 and St Luke's Church wasnt completed until 1864 October.
Also, according to official correspondence between Lord Dalhousie and Sir Henry Lawrence, available in the British Library, James Abbott wasnt removed for 'going native' but for his highly biased victimisation of some of the Hazara chiefs, who complained to Lawrence in 1852, and the subsequent enquiry found him guilty. Major Wace, in his Full Settlement of the Hazara, also briefly mentions some of the examples in this regard. Thank you.