Painting The Fall Of Sind: Representations Of The Battle Of Miani – The Friday Times
May I start this article with a question: “Is there a thesis or a work of art on the battle of Miani in 1843?” »
Is this a ready made question? Or is it a difficult question? In either case, let me rephrase: “Could you tell me about an academic work, painting or fiction about the Battle of Miani produced in our universities or by artists or writers?
You could say “maybe” or “maybe”. I’m not too sure myself: for all I could think of was the statue of Hosh Muhammad Sheedi in Hyderabad, a few miniatures, and messy commentaries and poems about the battle.
I sent the above question to my historian friends. But I focused my question on the painters who depicted various wars waged by the East India Company. I obtained about three dozen names of artists who depicted battle scenes in which the confidence, drive, determination, resilience, and loyalty of Company soldiers were evident.
Now I narrowed the question down and emailed one of my art history expert friends about the East India Company battle scenes in Sindh: the Battle of Miani of the 17th February 1843 and the Battle of Miani (Duabbo) of March 24, 1843. He mentioned the names of Edward Armitage (1817-1896) and George Jones (1786-1869), who worked on the battles.
I was totally blank about them and their work on the Battles of Miani. Therefore, I contacted organizations such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal Collection Trust and Art UK to find out more about the artists and their works. The information provided by them helped me to prepare the profiles of the artists and to reflect on the paintings.
Edward Armitage was a famous English painter of the Victorian era. He was popular for his work in historical, biblical and classical scenes. He also worked on the themes of the transformation of society, adventures and the industrial revolution. He was trained in Britain, France and Germany.
Edward Armitage returned from Paris to London in 1843 and entered a competition for the decoration of the new Palace of Westminster in London. The Royal Commission stipulated that the artwork had to be done in fresco and that it had to depict themes from British history, Milton, Shakespeare or Spencer. The competition also invited appropriate drawings or cartoons. Armitage was among the winners: he took home the top three prizes of around $300 for the cartoon. The title of his submitted cartoon was “The Landing of Julius Caesar in Britain”.
Later in 1847, again, he won for his oil painting entitled “The Battle of Meeanee, February 17, 1843”.
The painting depicted infantry and cavalry engaged in combat and used both foreground and background for detail. The mounted commander is seen on high ground in the background, left. The painting also shows some buildings in the background, in the center. The foreground shows the side of the 22nd Cheshire Regiment and its charge against Talpur’s warriors in the dry bed of the Phulleli River. According to one account, those riding on the bank were Lt. Col. William Battle (commanding the 9th Bengal Light Infantry), Lt. Col. J. L. Pennefather (commanding the 22nd), Major P. McPherson (Military Secretary to Sir Charles Napier), Sir Charles Napier and Ali Akbar (interpreter of Charles Napier). In the distance, the village of Kattree is seen – which was believed to be the resting place of Talpur’s troops. Unfortunately, the painting was criticized for depicting “facts” rather than “history”. War historians have pointed out that the painting failed to to justify the historic battle, but it only showed rage and violation.
In 1867, Edward Armitage was elected an associate member of the Royal Academy. He became a full member in 1872 and later became a professor of painting. He taught at the Royal Academy.
George Jones was the second painter who worked on the Battle of Miani. In 1801, at the age of 15, he became a student at the Royal Academy. He had his first exhibition entitled “Biblical Scenes” in 1803. Thereafter he was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy. In February 1812, he joined the Royal Montgomery Militia. After the war, he resumed his art, focusing on military engagements. He was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1822, and became a full member in 1824, then librarian, and finally its guardian from 1840-1850. George Jones was a close friend of William Napier (brother of General Charles Napier). William encouraged him to paint Miani-themed scenes to support his brother, who at the time was being criticized for forcing war on Sindh just to pursue his personal ambitions. George Jones painted several scenes of the battle. “The Battle of Mianee, February 17, 1843” was the first painting in the series of “Paintings by Scinde”. Other paintings in it were “The Battle of Hyderabad, 24 March 1843”, “The Battle of Trukee” and “The Destruction of the Fortress of EmmaumGhur (Imam Grrah)”. However, before starting the work, he wrote a letter to William Napier, expressing his resolution to want to paint the military engagement of Charles Napier in tribute.
Armitage’s painting has been criticized for depicting “facts” rather than “history”. War historians said the pain did not justify the historic battle, but merely showed rage and violation.
The first tableau of the Battle of Maini shows the 22nd Regiment at the front. It also prominently depicts the figure of Charles Napier, where he stands in a small raised plaza in the center. The painting also depicts Indian soldiers of the East India Company fighting alongside British soldiers. However, the deployment of the troops gives the impression that the soldiers of the Company were very organized compared to the warriors of the emirs.
In 1854 George Jones’ painting “Battle of Hyderabad, 24 March 1843” was exhibited at the Royal Academy Exhibition in London. Text in the exhibition catalog stated that Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Napier rose to the occasion – in the colors of the Queen’s 22nd Regiment and with his aide-de-camp Lieutenant-Colonel McMurdo – having succeeded in leading the 22nd for storm the battery at the top of the second ravine (nallah).
It was hand-to-hand combat in the nallahs, and in the dry bed of the Phuleli, which forms the foreground. On the rear of Napier, groups of the 22nd HM, led by Major George, are seen fighting their way through the nallahs and the ramparts. On their reverse, in the plain, we see the lively movement of the 25th, 21st, 12th, 8th and 1st regiments. To their left, Colonel Leslie leads the artillery into the dry river bed, to cross and rush to the opposite bank to attack Talpur’s troops. In front the irregular horse Pone (in green uniform) is depicted and in the rear is the 9th Bengal Light Cavalry, led by Major Storey and Captain Tait. Surgeon Tuener is with the 9th. At height, where many HM 22nd fell, is Major Poole, commanding the brigade. Below him is Colonel Leslie on a white charger, accompanied by Captain Rowan. To their left is Lieutenant Smith, mortally wounded; and in the back, trumpeter Phelan, taking a large standard from a Baloch. In the center of the image, Major Conway leads the light infantry of HM 22nd. Behind him is Corporal Kelly, clutching a silver standard. Captain Cooke forces an ensign from a Baloch, in front of Sir Charles Napier. The city of Hyderabad is shown in the distance. In both paintings, Sir Charles Napier was prominent. George Jones’ first painting comes into its own, when viewed with “The Battle of Hyderabad, 24 March 1843”.
Another painter relevant to our current discussion was Terence Cuneo (1907 – 1996), a creative English painter. He was famous for his scenes of railways, horses and military actions. He was also the official coronation artist of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Lately he also painted “Battle of Hyderabad, 24 March 1843”. The painting focuses on the 1st Troop of the Bombay Horse Artillery, under Major Leslie (mounted in the foreground), galloping across the front of the Cheshire Regiment. He puts his guns into action and orders Lieutenant Smith to move forward to capture new gun positions. But he is shown shot down by the enemy on the left of the image.
Sir Charles Napier always mentioned that the battle was won thanks to the quick actions of the 1st Troop Bombay Horse Artillery and the Cheshire Regiment.
Just before closing the article, an idea occurred to me: that perhaps my questions that I posed in the first paragraph of this article should be addressed to art teachers rather than historians!
I decided to ask Professor Mohammad Ali Bhatti who was teaching in the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Sindh. Today he lives in Texas, USA. I contacted him and asked him about an art thesis or work on the Battle of Miani, 1843. He stopped for a moment and told me that about three decades ago the Sindh’s culture department had asked him to paint the battle. He made the artwork and submitted it to the department, but he had no idea where it was. He also said that some unartistic and poorly drawn Miani battle drawings could be found in Hyderabad Pako Qilo or Faiz Mahal of Khairpur Mirs.
He was of the opinion that eminent personalities and historical and political events – the war of Raja Dhahar, Dodo Soomro, Duleh Darya Khan, Miani, Dubbi, the hanging of Pir Sibghatullah Shah Al-Rashidi, Hemu Kalani, Zulifkar Ali Bhutto, the struggle for the Sindhi language, the activism of Sindhyani Tahreek, March 4, the struggle of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD), etc. – must be drawn and painted. However, he was of the opinion that these paintings should be panoramic works and museum standards. He lamented that pictorial history and historical paintings are completely neglected in Sindh.
I wonder why our art schools have ignored this aspect of art. So I phoned Professor Saeed Ahmed Mangi from the Institute of Arts and Design at the University of Sind in Jamshoro. He told me categorically that none of the art teachers focused on historical paintings or battle paintings.
Surely there would be a reason for this neglect? Perhaps battlefield paintings require an understanding of geographical knowledge, cartographic techniques and superb sketch drawing skills that could show the formations of troops, their strategic deployment, the advancement of horses and heavy weapons , etc And all this, of course, requires a thorough reading and study of previous paintings on these themes.