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Painting the fall of Sindh: Depictions of the Battle of Miani

Painting the fall of Sindh: Depictions of the Battle of Miani

Why our own art schools have ignored this aspect of art. None of the art teachers have focused on historical paintings or battle paintings.

Zaffar Junejo

Might I start this article with a question: “Is there any thesis or art work on the Miani battle of 1843?”

Is it an out-of-the-box question? Or is it at all a difficult question? In either case, let me rephrase it: “Could you tell me about any academic work, painting, or fiction on the battle of Miani produced in our universities or by artists or writers?”

You might say ‘maybe’ or ‘perhaps.’ I myself am not too sure: for I was only able to think of Hosh Muhammad Sheedi’s statute installed in Hyderabad, some miniatures, and disarrayed commentary and poems on the battle.

I emailed the above question to my historian friends. But I focused my question on the painters who have depicted various wars fought by the East India Company. I got around three dozen names of artists who have depicted battle scenes in which the Company soldiers’ confidence, motivation, determination, resilience and loyalty was shown.

Now I narrowed the question and emailed one of my art-history expert friends about the East India Company’s battle scenes in Sindh: the Miani battle of 17 February 1843 and the Miani (Duabbo) battle of 24 March 1843. He mentioned the names of Edward Armitage (1817-1896) and George Jones (1786-1869), who have worked on the battles.

I was totally blank about them and their works on the Miani battles. Therefore, I contacted organizations such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, Royal Collection Trust and Art UK to know more about the artists and their works. The information provided by them helped me in preparing the artists’ profiles, and to reflect on the paintings.

Edward Armitage was a famous English painter of the Victorian era. He was popular for his work on historical, biblical and classical scenes. He also worked on themes of society’s transformation, adventures and the industrial revolution. He was trained in Britain, France and Germany.

Edward Armitage returned from Paris to London in 1843 and enrolled himself in a competition for the decoration of the new palace of Westminster, London. The Royal Commission stipulated that artwork should be made in fresco and it should depict themes from British history, Milton, Shakespeare or Spencer. The competition also invited suitable designs or cartoons. Armitage was among the winners: he won the first three prizes of about $300 for the cartoon. The title of his submitted cartoon was “The landing of Julius Caesar in Britain.”

Later in 1847, again, he was a winner for his oil painting titled “The Battle of Meeanee, 17th February, 1843.”

The painting depicted infantry and cavalry engaged in combat and used both foreground and background for details. The commander riding a horse is seen on raised ground in the background, on the 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 warriors in the dried-up bed of the Phulleli River. According to a narrative, the mounted persons on the riverbank were Lieutenant Colonel William Battle (Commanding the 9th Bengal Light Infantry), Lieutenant Colonel J. L. Pennefather (Commanding the 22nd), Major P. McPherson (Military Secretary to Sir Charles Napier), Sir Charles Napier and Ali Akbar (Charles Napier’s interpreter). At a distance, Kattree village is seen – which was considered the Talpur troops’ resting place. Sadly, the painting was criticized for the fact that it depicted ‘fact’ rather than ‘history.’ The war historians commented that the paining had failed to justify the historical battle, but it merely showed rage and violation.

In 1867, Edward Armitage was elected as an associate of the Royal Academy. He became a full member in 1872 and later became a professor of painting. He lectured at the Royal Academy.

Jones, George, 1786-1869; The Battle of Meeanee, 17 February 1843
Jones, George; The Battle of Meeanee, 17 February 1843

George Jones was the second painter who worked on the Miani battle. In 1801, he at the age of 15 became a student at the Royal Academy. He had his first exhibition entitled “Biblical scenes” in 1803. Afterwards, he was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy. In February 1812, he joined the Royal Montgomery Militia. After the war he resumed his artwork, with a focus 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 keeper 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 in support of his brother, who at that time was being criticized that he imposed war on Sindh just to further his personal ambitions. George Jones painted several scenes of the battle. “The Mianee Battle, 17th February, 1843” was the first painting in the series of “Scinde Paintings.” The other paintings in it were “The Battle of Hyderabad, 24th March, 1843,” “Battle of Trukee” and “The Destruction of the EmaumGhur (Imam Grrah) Fortress.” However, before initiating the work, he wrote a letter to William Napier, expressing his resolve that he wanted to paint Charles Napier’s military engagement as a tribute.

Armitage’s painting was criticized for the fact that it depicted ‘fact’ rather than ‘history.’ The war historians commented that the paining had failed to justify the historical battle, but it merely showed rage and violation

The first painting of the Maini battle shows the 22nd Regiment at the front. It also prominently portrays Charles Napier’s figure, where he stands on a small elevated spot in the center. The painting also depicts East India Company Indian soldiers fighting alongside British soldiers. However, the deployment of the troops gives the impression that the Company’s soldiers were highly organized in comparison to the Amirs’ warriors.

Jones, George; The Battle of Hyderabad, 24th March 1843
Jones, George; The Battle of Hyderabad, 24th March 1843

In 1854, George Jones’s painting “Battle of Hyderabad, 24th March, 1843” was exhibited at the Royal Academy Exhibition, London. The exhibition’s catalogue text stated that Lieutenant General Sir Charles Napier is on the height – under the colors of the Queen’s 22nd Regiment and with his aide-de-camp Lieutenant Colonel McMurdo – having succeeded in leading the 22nd to storm the battery at the top of the second ravine (nallah).

It was hand-to-hand fight in the nallahs, and in the dry bed of the Phuleli, which forms the foreground. On the rear of Napier, parties of H.M. 22nd, led by Major George, are seen to be making their way through the nallahs and over the ramparts. In their rear, on the plain, the brisk movement of the 25th, 21st, 12th, 8th and 1st regiments are shown. On their left, Colonel Leslie is leading the artillery into the dry bed of the river, to cross and rush up the opposite bank to attack the Talpur troops. In the front, the Pone Irregular Horse (in green uniform) are shown and in the rear are the 9th Bengal Light Cavalry, led by Major Storey and Captain Tait. Surgeon Tuener is with the 9th. At the height, where many of H.M. 22nd have fallen, is Major Poole, commanding the brigade. Below him is Colonel Leslie on a white charger, accompanied by Captain Rowan. On their left is Lieutenant Smith, mortally wounded; and in the rear, Trumpeter Phelan, taking a large standard from a Baloch. In the center of the picture, Major Conway leads the light infantry of H.M. 22nd. Behind him is Corporal Kelly, seizing a silver standard. Captain Cooke is forcing an ensign from a Baloch, in front of Sir Charles Napier. Hyderabad city is shown in the distance. In both paintings, Sir Charles Napier has been prominently shown. George Jones’s first painting gives makes complete sense, when it is viewed along with “The Battle of Hyderabad, 24 March 1843.”

Terence Cuneo: Battle of Hyderabad, 24th 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 artist for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Lately, he also painted “Battle of Hyderabad, 24th March, 1843.” The painting focuses on the Bombay Horse Artillery 1st Troop, under the authority of Major Leslie (mounted in the foreground), galloping across the front of the Cheshire Regiment. He brings his guns into action, and orders Lieutenant Smith to move forward to capture new gun positions. But he is shown being cut down by the enemy on the left of the picture.

Sir Charles Napier always mentioned that the battle had been won due to swift 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 asked 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 used to teach at the Fine Arts Department, University of Sindh. Nowadays, he lives in Texas, USA. I contacted him and asked him about any art thesis or work on the Miani battle, 1843. He paused for a while and told me that roughly three decades ago, the Sindh Culture Department commissioned him to paint the battle. He did the artwork and submitted it to the department but he had no idea about its whereabouts. He also said that some non-artistic and poorly drawn Miani battle drawings might be found in Hyderabad Pako Qilo or Faiz Mahal of the Khairpur Mirs.

He was of the view that prominent personalities and historical and political events–Raja Dhahar’s war, Dodo Soomro, Duleh Darya Khan, Miani, Dubbi, hanging of Pir Sibghatullah Shah Al-Rashidi, Hemu Kalani, Zulifkar Ali Bhutto, the struggle for Sindhi language, Sindhyani Tahreek’s activism, 4th March, the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) struggle, etc. – should be drawn and painted. However, he was of the view that these paintings should be panoramic and museum-standard works. 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 telephoned Professor Saeed Ahmed Mangi at the Institute of Arts and Design, University of Sindh, Jamshoro. He flatly told me that none of the art teachers have focused on historical paintings or battle paintings.

Surely there would be some reason for this neglect? Perhaps, the paintings of the battlefields require an understanding of geographical knowledge, map-making techniques and superb skills at sketch-drawing that could show troops’ formations, their strategic deployment, advancement of horses and heavy weaponry, etc. And all of this, of course, requires extensive background reading and a keen study of earlier paintings on such themes.


Dr. Zaffar Junejo- Sindh CourierDr. Zaffar Junejo has a Ph.D. in History from the University of Malaya. His areas of interest are post-colonial history, social history and peasants’ history.

Courtesy: The Friday Times Lahore