“ONE OF THE MOST VALUABLE BOOKS EVER PUBLISHED IN CONNECTION WITH INDIAN HISTORY”: RARE FIRST EDITION OF CUNNINGHAM’S HISTORY OF THE SIKHS, 1849, HANDSOMELY BOUND
(INDIA) CUNNINGHAM, Joseph Davey. A History of the Sikhs, from the Origin of the Nation to the Battles of the Sutlej. London: John Murray, 1849. Octavo, modern full brown calf, raised bands, burgundy morocco spine label. $4800.
First edition, with map of Punjabi political divisions until 1803 outlined in color, color folding map of Punjabi political divisions after the treaty of 1846, and folding genealogical table of the Gooroos, handsomely bound.
Cunningham joined the Bengal Engineers in 1831 and arrived in India in 1834. “In 1837 he was selected by Lord Auckland to join Colonel Claud Wade, who was then the political agent upon the Sikh frontier, as assistant, with the special duty of fortifying Firozpur, the agent’s headquarters. This appointment brought him into close connection with the Sikhs, and, as he spent the next eight years of his life in political employments in this part of India, he was able to obtain that thorough knowledge of their manners and customs which makes his History of the Sikhs one of the most valuable books ever published in connection with Indian history. In 1838 he was present at the interview between Lord Auckland and Runjeet Singh, the great Sikh chieftain; in 1839 he accompanied Colonel Wade when he forced the Khyber Pass, and he was promoted first lieutenant on 20 May in that year; in 1840 he was placed in charge of Ludhiana, under G. Russell Clerk, Colonel Wade’s successor, and as political officer accompanied Brigadier-general Shelton and his army through the Sikh territory to Peshawur on his way to Cabul, and then accompanied Colonel Wheeler and Dost Muhammad, the deposed ameer of Afghanistan, back to British territory; in 1841 he was sent on a special mission to the principality of Jammu; in 1842 he was present at the interview between Lord Ellenborough and Dost Muhammad and the Sikhs… He spent four years on [the History], and on its publication in 1849 it was received with the greatest favor by the English press, a verdict which posterity has ratified, for it is universally recognized as the one authority upon the subject. But though this history made his name as an historian, it brought him into deep disgrace with his superiors. In his last chapter he treated of the history of the first Sikh war, and in it he made use of the knowledge he had obtained while acting as political agent with the army in the field, and distinctly asserted that two of the Sikh generals, Lal Singh and Tej Singh, were bought. Both Lord Hardinge and Colonel Henry Lawrence, who had acted as political agent after the death of Major Broadfoot, asserted that there had been no private negotiations with any of the Sikh leaders; but the confidential position which Cunningham had held, and still more his disgrace which followed, are strong arguments that such negotiations did pass” (DNB). As a result of the controversy, Cunningham was stripped of his authority and ordered to go on regular regimental duty. He lost most of his income in the process and any possibility of political advancement. Indeed, the publication of The History of the Sikhs marked the end of his career. He was known primarily for revealing confidential documents and his great accomplishments were little recognized, The History of the Sikhs having been largely suppressed. Cunningham died unexpectedly in 1851. Indeed, the second edition—featuring Cunningham’s own corrections and additions—was not published until 1853, too late for Cunningham’s reputation to matter.
Folding map expertly linen-backed, interior generally quite nice, binding fine. A lovely copy in fine condition.