Whitby’s Royal Indian Connection

This anecdote involves a Maharajah, a pair of elephants, and one of the world's largest cut diamonds. It begins with a curious photograph of a pair of elephants on the beach beneath the battery at Whitby.

On the A174, between Sandsend and Whitby, stands a unique and interesting property ordered built in the 1860s by an Indian Maharajah. This former toll house raised its barrier for the final time and collected its last fee in 1925. The house, now a private residence, is barely noticeable, seldom catching the attention of passing motorists.

The Maharajah Duleep Singh
The Maharajah Duleep Singh

Duleep Singh, the last Maharajah of the Sikh Empire was born in September 1838. Shortly after his fifth birthday, by dint of the assassination of his four predecessors, he took up his title and position.

Ruling an empire is a tall order at the best of times, let alone for a five-year-old, so the lads' mother stepped in to rule as regent on his behalf. However, this lasted but three years, until the British deposed and replaced Maharani Jind Kaur, after the First Anglo-Sikh War in 1846.

Under strict instructions from the British, the young Maharajah was to be Anglicised ‘in every possible way’. Separated from his mother, he was kidnapped, and sent to Fatehgarh in Uttar Pradesh, where he was placed in the care of Dr. John Login, a highly devout Christian.

Elephants on Whitby Beach
A photograph of elephants on Whitby beach from a travelling circus.

Nurtured by his two closest friends, a pair of English Missionaries, by fifteen Duleep had converted to Christianity. Exiled to Britain in 1854, he soon became fashionable at the royal household. Maharajah Singh, a regular guest of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, was often sketched playing with the royal children.

In 1858, after a stint at playing laird in the Scottish Highlands, stalking deer across the moors during lavish hunting parties, Duleep returned to England to take up a lease on Mulgrave Castle, just outside of Whitby.

Dubbed “the Black Prince of Perthshire”, for his exploits across the border, the Maharajah continued to enjoy the finest things life could afford. It is said that during his time at Mulgrave, along with his retinue, he travelled across the beach into Whitby riding on the back of elephants.

At this time it was said that the Maharajah became increasingly concerned for the elephants. He believed that sand from the beach was getting between the toes of his charges. With that, he ordered a road to be built to make the journey more comfortable for the beasts.

Romantic as this sounds, with trunks trumpeting across the beach, there is no proof that the Maharajah of Mulgrave ever kept elephants or rode them into Whitby. The photograph of elephants at Whitby beach? A travelling circus!

What is true though, is that Duleep Singh, the last Maharajah of the Sikh Empire, son of the Lion of Punjab, handed to Queen Victoria the Koh-i-Noor.

In 1849, the British forced the Maharajah to sign an amendment to the Treaty of Lahore, ceding all claim to sovereignty and giving away the largest cut diamond in the world. He was just ten years old.

What do you think about Whitby's royal Indian connection? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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