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Martyr's Memorial Applique, Cawnpore, India

 

Text of the original inscription around the pedestal

 

Seraph detail

 

History of The Martyr's Well Memorial Applique, Cawnpore, India

Photo: Entire framed applique
Higher definition also available on request.

51cm X 61cm

This item commemorates a fundamental change in Indian Colonial history which is still relevant up to the current conflict in Afghanistan. The Cawnpore Massacre changed a Continent.

This applique has a personal and a historic importance. As a child, I lived my first five years in a colonial bungalow in Cawnpore, now Kanpur, where my father was stationed during the War. Our compound bordered the Martyr's Well into which were dumped the victims of the Cawnpore Massacre of British women and children in the Indian Mutiny of 1857, now the Indian First War of Independence.

My parents had a watercolour of the Martyr's Memorial which was built over the Well, but when I asked why it had lettering on it, I was told that it was not a painting of the Memorial itself, but of a tapestry of the Memorial, which was dismantled in 1948. Possibly only photographs and this applique now exist as a record.

I believe the painting is now lost, but I accidentally came across this applique on ebay which matched the watercolour and I bought it. It is mounted in a glazed frame.

This personal history is also mirrored by the aftermath of the Mutiny or the War of Independence. British reprisals for the Cawnpore Massacre and other atrocities were severe, especially against the Muslim community. The British East India Company which then ruled India had inherited a high level of inter-faith tolerance between the many religions of the Indian Subcontinent, but this came to an end when power was transferred to the new British Raj in 1858. At this point the British became conquerors rather than trading partners.

The perceived suppression of Muslims by the Christian Raj led to the radicalisation of Islam in the Subcontinent and the setting up of hundreds of madrasas, Muslim religious schools, which received funds from Wahhabi Muslims in the Middle East and were located mainly in present day Pakistan. There followed a radicalisation of Sunni Islam with strong links to the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia.

When Russia, the old enemy of the British Raj, controlled Afghanistan in the 1980's, we backed the Mujahedin opposition which we now refer to as the Taliban. In practice, there has always been a poorly defined border between Afghanistan and Pakistan with no-go areas in the "Tribal Areas" where the Pakistani police and military could not venture. The reason the West knew about the Taliban training camps we bombed in Afghanistan, is because we paid for them.

In the present day, the Wahhabi/Saudi backed madrasas are still active in Pakistan, producing radical activists in a continuous progression, from the reprisals which followed the 1857 Cawnpore Massacre to the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It cannot be stated that if the Cawnpore Massacre had not taken place then the present day conflicts would have been avoided but there is a continuous historical connection between the current hostilities and the subject of this applique.

The Martyr's Well Memorial Applique, Cawnpore, India Mounted in a gilt wooden glazed frame 51cm X 62cm most likely made before 1944.

Embroidered title:

"THE MEMORIAL WELL CAWNPORE INDIA"

Partial inscription embroidered around plinth:

"SACRED TO THE PERPETUAL MEMORY ... ... LOW ON THE XVth DAY OF JULY MDCCCLV"

The wording on the original Memorial inscription is reproduced on a note included at the bottom of the frame:

"SACRED TO THE PERPETUAL MEMORY OF A GREAT COMPANY OF CHRISTIAN PEOPLE-CHIEFLY WOMEN AND CHILDREN-WHO, NEAR THIS SPOT, WERE CRUELLY MASSACRED BY THE FOLLOWERS OF THE REBEL NANNA DHOONDOPUNT OF BITHOOR, AND CAST, THE DYING WITH THE DEAD INTO THE WELL BELOW ON THE XVTH DAY OF JULY 1857"

(Note the date discrepancy)



Copyright © 2010 David Brinicombe

Last updated September 2010