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Settlement of River Sutlej as Boundary

1808 A.D. to 1809 A.D. - A Recapitulation

From the study of the events of the past few years, we come to know as to how far Ranjit Singh had extended his territories within ten years since the occupation of Lahore. All the important centres of the Punjab, like Lahore, Amritsar, Qasur; Hoshiarpur, Pathankot, Mandi, Suket, Basohli, Jasrota; Gujranwala, Ramnagar, Wazirabad, Sialkot; Jehlum, Rohtas, Pind Daddan Khan, salt range of Kheora; Bhera, Miani; Dhanni - Pothohar and Rawalpindi had been conquered by Ranjit Singh. All big and small Sikh chiefs of Punjab had begun to owe allegiance to him. The powerful Afghan chiefs of Qasur and Multan had been humbled. The hill chief of Kangra had also bowed before the might of the Maharaja. Consequently every single person of the Punjab had begun to look unto Ranjit Singh for his/her safety and prosperity, and was eager to curry favour with him.

Sagacity of Ranjit Singh

Although the Maharaja himself was the government; everything was carried out under his order in writing and in speech and was addressed as sarkar (government); yet Ranjit Singh never assumed royal titles like kings, nor did he designate himself as king in correspondence with other states. As to rank, he was the “Sarkar Khalsa Ji”, and on the royal seal was inscribed the phrase “Akal Saha’i- Ranjit Singh” (May God be with Ranjit Singh). The same words were also inscribed on the seals of Sikh soldiers of the highest to the lowest rank. Ranjit Singh’s object of maintaining such a posture of humility was to emphasize his position within the Khalsa fraternity. By doing so, Ranjit Singh sagaciously tried to keep his successes in conformity with the traditions of the rise of Sikh power.

The Samana Conference

As has been stated earlier, during the past two years the Maharaja had twice visited the cis-Sutlej Sikh states and had received presents and tributes from the chiefs of the Sikh chiefs of these territories. Maharaja’s sway over them had been well established. Therefore when after the death of Tara Singh Ghebah in 1808 A.D., the territories of Daliewalia Misl were annexed all cis-Sutlej chiefs got scared. All of them held a meeting at Samana in Patiala state to decide upon a policy that could ensure the existence of their states. By then, the British had reached up to the river Yamuna and there was every possibility of their advancing further. From the other side the Maharaja had been repeatedly making incursions into these territories and demanding tribute (nazrana). Therefore the cis-Sutlej chiefs found themselves sandwiched between two great powers and the only course left to them to ensure their existence by accepting the suzerainty of either of the two. Some of these chiefs had already been in contact with the British and they had inculcated good relations with them, yet some of them had apprehensions. But all were convinced about the policy of self-aggrandizement being followed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Therefore, after some discussion they decided to accept paramountcy of the British and seek protection from them. Thereafter, the proposal was unanimously approved.1

Relations of Cis-Sutlej States with the British

It would be proper to mention here that some of these chiefs had maintained relations with the British for several years.2 When the British occupied Delhi in 1803 A.D., Raja Bhag Singh of Jind, Bhai Lal Singh of Kaithal and Sardar Bhanga Singh of Thanesar had helped them. This continued to happen intermittently later on, too.3 For this reason, their relations with the British had become more firm. When in 1805, Jaswant Rao Holkar came to seek the Maharaja's help, Raja Bhag Singh had persuaded the Maharaja not to help the Maratha chief. Lord Lake, too, respected these chiefs, because after Lord Wellesley the British governments' policy had changed and they did not think it proper to meddle in the mutual relations of these states. That is why during the Maharaja's visitations of these states, the British had given no help to these chiefs. But they themselves had strengthened their only fort at Kamal as a precautionary measure.

The British Resident

Right at that time an ambassador of the cis-Sutlej Sikh chiefs called on the British Resident and requested him that their states be granted British protection. But the Resident did not give them any encouraging reply. He only promised to send their petition to the Gov­ernor-General and to inform them about the decision.

Ranjit Singh’s Invitation to Sikh Chiefs

When these chiefs returned disappointed from Delhi, the news of these proceedings reached Ranjit Singh. He at once sent his agent to these chiefs and invited them to Amritsar. When they gathered there, the Maharaja met them very warmly and left no stone unturned to reassure them. The Maharaja again met the Raja of Patiala at Akhnur on November 24, 1808 and discussed with him the same matter. Both avowed to remain friends, and Baba Sahib Singh Bedi made them exchange turbans to transform professed friendship into love and affection.

Change in the policy of British Government

Meanwhile, the British government got the news from Europe that Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to invade India with the help of rulers of Turkey and Persia. Those days military strength of Napoleon, Emperor of France, was at its zenith. He had already conquered a large part of Europe and after having signed a treaty with Russia he had become free from wars on that front. The ill-conceived news of the proposed invasion of India by Napolean forced the Governor-General Lord Minto to take preventive measures and he felt the necessity of abandoning policy of non-intervention. Therefore a verbal assurance was conveyed to the states of Sutlej-Yamuna region that if they remained loyal to the British, the British government would naturally like to help them. An accredited emissary; Mr. C.T. Metcalf was sent to the Lahore Darbar. Emissaries were also dispatched towards, chiefs of Sind, to Shah Shuja’ of Kabul and to the court of the King of Persia. These emissaries were assigned the task of befriending the rulers of these countries so that in the event of Napoleon’s invasion their help could be solicited by the British.

Metcalfe's Mission

When Metcalf came towards the Punjab, the Maharaja was camping near Qasur, with his army also assembled there. Probably he intended to tour the region across the Sutlej. Mr. Metcalfe met him at Khem Karan village (now in district Amritsar) on September 11, 1808 A.D. The Maharaja deputed Sardar Fateh Singh Ahluwalia and Diwan Mohkam Chand with about two thousand elegant jawans to welcome Metcalfe. When he arrived near the Maharaja's camp, the Maharaja himself came out of his tent to receive him, and presented to him an elephant, a few horses with golden saddles and several costly garments. Maharaja's sagacious secretary, Faqir Aziz-ud-Din was entrusted with the duty of looking after Metcalfe. On the following day, the British ambassador, Mr. Metcalf visited the Sikh camp, and presented costly presents to the Maharaja on behalf of the Governor-General. Thereafter, he disclosed to the Maharaja the purpose of his visit and the ideas of the Governor- General along with a draft-treaty.

Terms of the Treaty

The terms of proposed treaty spelt out the following objects:

  1. If the King of France ever invaded this country, the British government and Maharaja Ranjit Singh should pledge to oppose him jointly.
  2. If ever a need arises to send the British armies across the Attok or in the territory of Afghanistan to face the enemy, the Maharaja should provide passage to them through his kingdom.
  3. In case the British government felt the need to correspond with Kabul, the Maharaja should ensure safety of the couriers.

The Maharaja did not accept these terms and put forward the following terms of his own:

  1. In the event of war or dispute between the Lahore Darbar and the ruler of Kabul, the British government should ensure no interference on their behalf.
  2. Permanent friendship between the British government and Lahore Darbar should be guaranteed.
  3. Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s sway and authority over all the Sikh possessions (which included the cis-Sutlej states as per the perception of the Maharaja) should be accepted by the British.

The British emissary replied that he did not have the authority to accept these terms and that he would however send both the drafts to the Governor General.

Maharaja's Tour of Cis-Sutlej Territories

It was perhaps difficult for the Maharaja to comprehend that the British were putting forth the proposal for this treaty only to check the French invasion. He, on the other hand believed that all this exercise related to the cis-Sutlej states. He carried a strong desire within his heart to establish a united kingdom of the Khalsa and the thought of Sikh states going under British protection was extremely painful to him. Therefore, he thought of taking advantage of the intervening period of negotiations and contacts between the Governor-General and his ambassador. He ordered a large army to cross the Sutlej, and encamped at a place called Khai. At that time Raja Bhag Singh of Jind, Raja Jaswant Singh of Nabha, Bhai Lal Singh of Kaithal, Sardar Gurdit Singh of Ladwa and many other chiefs were with the Maharaja. At this place, the Maharaja collected tribute from the ruler of Ferozepur and sent Sardar Karam Singh Chahal to conquer Faridkot. On receipt of news of the success of Karam Singh, he himself marched from Khai at midnight and established his police post at Faridkot in 1808 A.D. He then exacted tribute from the Nawab of Malerkotla. After that the Maharaja reached Ambala, captured the fort, established his post (Thana) there and appointed one of his officers, Sardar Ganda Singh Safi, with two thousand horses as its commander. From here, the Maharaja marched forward and reached Shahbad. This place is situated on the bank of Markanda river, in the Central mahal (sector). On one of the sides of this place is Saharanpur, on the other side is Jagadhri, on the third side Thanesar and on its fourth side flows the Yamuna river. Exacting tributes from all these places, the Maharaja returned to his territory and arrived back at Amritsar in December 1808 A.D.

Attitude of the British Government

The British government considered this behaviour of the Maharaja highly improper. Mr. Metcaffe continued to remonstrate against it many a time. The Governor-General took his time to take a decision in the matter, because situation in Europe was still not very clear. However when the Maharja reached as far as Shahabad, the Governor-General got alarmed and decided that there was no other way except to check the advance of Maharaja because otherwise it would be difficult to establish ‘friendly relations’ with the chiefs of the Cis-Sutlej states. Therefore during January 1809, a British army commanded by Colonel Ochterlony crossed the river Yamuna and advancing via Buria and Patiala arrived near Ludhiana. With the arrival of the British army, hopes of the Cis- Sutlej chiefs for British protection, revived. They reconsidered their policy and decided that siding with the British would be better for their well-being. Ochterlony informed the Governor-General of their decision, and with his approval a notification was issued on February 9, 1809, a copy of which was forwarded to Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Summary of the notification (Itlahnamah)

The central point of this notification was that the British government has taken the chieftains of Cis-Sutlej region under their protection; therefore the Maharaja should immediately recall his armed force stationed on that side of Sutlej, and that he should wind up his recently-established posts in that territory. In the event of non-compliance, the British gov­ernment would be compelled to resort to war. As the British army was camping close to the boundary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, it was considered proper that the objectives of the British government be made known to the Maharaja and his sardars. The British government aimed at strengthening friendship with the Maharaja and also providing security for his possessions from any possible danger. Friendship between the two governments could be maintained only on the basis of following terms of the Itlahnamah sent by David Ochterlony.

  1. Kharar Khanpur and other forts situated on this side (Cis-Sutlej) of river Sutlej, which were in possession of the Maharaja's subordinates, be demolished and these places be handed over to their erstwhile owners.
  2. The Maharaja's infantry and cavalry stationed in the Cis-Sutlej territory be recalled to the Maharaja's country across the river.
  3. Maharaja's army stationed at the ferry of Phillaur should go across the river and in future the Maharaja's army should not enter the territories of those chiefs who had accepted the protection of the British government. The British government had established police posts with a small number of soldiers in their protected territories; if a similar strength was kept in the Maharaja's post at the Phillaur ferry, the British would have no objection.
  4. If the Maharaja agreed to these terms, as he had several times indicated in the presence of Mr. Metcalfe, then this proclamation will strengthen mutual friendship between the British and the Maharaja. If there was no sign of implementation of these terms, then it shall be clear that the Maharaja not only ignored the friendship of the British, but was bent upon enmity. In that case the British army would adopt any plan of action for its own security.
  5. The only object of this proclamation is that the feelings of the British government be known to the Maharaja and the reaction of the Maharaja be obtained. The government fully hopes that the Maharaja will consider the terms of this proclamation and will find them beneficial to himself. This will be a clear proof of the British friendship and of the fact that the British despite possessing full strength for waging war, are desirous of amity.”

Ranjit Singh prepares for War

When Ranjit Singh received this notification (Itlahnamah), he felt greatly perturbed and showed no sign to accept it. Ranjit Singh had two options before him. He could either snap his relations with the British government forever or determine river Sutlej as his boundary with the British by concluding a treaty and conquer territories of Kashmir, Peshawar, Afghanistan, Multan, etc., in order to extend his kingdom. Instinctively, the Maharaja liked the first option. He immediately issued orders to his chiefs to reach Lahore with the entire Khalsa army. And he started collecting large stocks of grain, ammunition and other equipment for war. Guns were mounted on the forts. Orders were issued to Diwan Mohkam Chand to immediately move from Kangra to Phillaur along with all the troopers and artillery, and that immediately on receipt of a subsequent order; he should commence war with the British. Similarly orders were issued in the names of all jagirdar troopers and tributaries with strong emphasis that they should reach Lahore without any loss of time, with their respective forces and guns. The fort of Lahore was further strengthened and the ditch around it was further deepened and widened. The newly built fort of Gobindgarh at Amritsar was also strengthened further with guns mounted on its walls. Munshi Sohan Lal writes that within a few days a large army about one hundred-thousand- strong assembled at Lahore, and orders were issued to station it at different places across the rivers Sutlej and Beas.

Retaliatory action by the British Government

When the news of these preparations reached the British, they sent reinforcements to increase the force commanded by Sir David Ochterlony. They took the fort of Ludhiana from the Raja of Nabha4 and established their own cantonment there. While the British government was still busy in its preparations; news was received from Europe that Napolean Bonaparte had got into domestic troubles from which it became clear that he would not be able to invade India for many more years. This enabled the British government to adopt a more firm and aggressive policy and this became evident from the changed tone of their correspondence with the Maharaja. In fact it was made clear to the Maharaja that the British government will not stop short at anything except to demarcate the river Sutlej as the eastern boundary of Maharaja’s kingdom, and that the British would not tolerate any interference by the Maharaja in Sikh states on their side of Sutlej.

Sagacity of Ranjit Singh

This stance of the British was not at all to the liking of the Maharaja because this would thwart his ambition of unifying the Khalsa. On the other hand he also knew the limitations of his own power. His kingdom had not yet crossed even its formative stage, and it was yet not strong enough to face the mighty British. Meanwhile, it occurred to him that if he got involved into a war with the British, there was every possibility that those chiefs who had accepted his allegiance not long ago might try to shift loyalties and those who had not yet been completely subdued, might also seek protection of the British like the Cis-Sutlej chiefs. In that case whatever little chance of establishing a Sikh kingdom, could still come his way, would pass by him.

The Maharaja Consents to conclude Treaty

The sagacity and farsightedness of the Maharaja served him well at this critical moment. He consulted his advisers and well-wishers of the kingdom. After a thorough re-appraisal of the situation, it was decided by Ranjit Singh that it was expedient to come to terms with the British, opposition by a few chiefs notwithstanding. Meanwhile, a new draft treaty prepared after taking into considerations the drafts presented by Metcalfe and the Maharaja was received from Calcutta. This was found to be acceptable and was passed with the concurrence of both the parties. This treaty was concluded on April 25, 1809 A.D. and is famous in history as Metcalfe’s Treaty (Treaty of Amritsar).

The Treaty

This treaty mentions that differences which had arisen between the British government and Maharaja Ranjit Singh, King of Lahore, had since been settled amicably and with the consent of both. The parties desired that friendly relations between them should endure. Therefore this Teaty had been concluded, which shall be binding on the heirs and successors of the two kingdoms. It is also mentioned that the Treaty had been written in the presence of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Party No. I and Mr. C.T. Metcalfe, agent to the British government as Party No. II.


  1. Perpetual friendship shall subsist between the British government and the State of Lahore. Party II, that is, the British government shall count Party I, that is, government of Lahore, among very respectable powers; and the British government shall have no concern with the territories and subjects of Raja Ranjit Singh situated towards the north of river Sutlej (Trans-Sutlej area).
  2. The Raja shall not maintain in the territory under his occupation or close to it5 on the south of river Sutlej, more forces than what is necessary for civil administration, nor will he have any concern with his neighbouring chiefs or their territories.
  3. In the event of breaking any one of the above conditions or on not observing completely the mutual friendly conduct, this Treaty shall be considered to become null and void.

Metcalfe signed this Treaty and gave to Ranjit Singh its copies in English as well as in Persian, and on the second copy Ranjit Singh put his signatures or initials and affixed his seal and handed it over to Metcalfe. Metcalfe promised to get Governor-General's approval of the treaty within two months, and after that this Treaty would be understood to be complete and binding on both the parties. The Governor-General Lord Minto approved this Treaty in his Council on May 30, 1809 A.D., and after putting his seal and signatures on it, sent it to the Maharaja.

Effects of the Treaty

With the end of this procrastination, Ranjit Singh crossed yet another significant but essential phase of his life. Now, there was no doubt that Maharaja would not get an opportunity to unify the Khalsa and that he had to remain bereft of about one half of the Sikh possessions, because six of the Misls were situated in the Cis-Sutlej area and the remaining six were on his side. But all the areas between the rivers Sutlej and the Indus and beyond came under his sphere of influence and there remained no danger to him from the increasing power of the British. On the other hand, with this treaty the British extended their sphere of influence from Yamuna to Sutlej without any loss of life or property. It is true that both parties benefitted from the treaty. Because without it, both would probably have crossed swords. However this treaty presents an excellent example of Ranjit Singh’s perception of events that presented themselves before him.

Fracas between Metcalfe's Shiah Troopers and the Akalis

The parties had not yet signed this Treaty, when per chance the celebrations of the festivals of Moharram and Holi coincided. Mr. Macalfe had been accompanied by some Shi'ah Muslim soldiers. According to their tradition they took out a funeral procession, and when this procession passed near Darbar Sahib Amritsar, riots broke out between the Muslims and the Akalis. Akali Phoola Singh, the celebrated Akali leader led the attack with frenzy. Consequently, there were some causalities on both the sides. But Metcalfe's soldiers trained in drill had at once formed up in British style. Therefore the Akali attack on them could not prove very effective. Meanwhile information reached the Maharaja and he personally hastened from Gobindgarh fort to reach the scene and got the dispute settled. When the Maharaja saw the drill movements of that small contingent and their formations, the superiority of trained contingents greatly impressed him, and this fact forced him to come to terms with the British. It cannot he said with certainty how far did this incident influence Ranjit Singh to sign the Treaty, but it did motivate him enough to appreciate the Western model of military training which he later introduced with full vigour in his own army.

Notification (Itilahnamah) for the Cis-Sutlej Chiefs

The Cis-Sutlej states had come under the protection of the British government since February 1809, but it was important to define their position and relations vis-a-vis the British. Therefore the following proclamation was published and read out in a darbar6 convened for the purpose on May 3, 1809.

''This fact is as clear as day light that the British government had sent British army toward the river Sutlej in response to the intense desire of a few chiefs, and its aim was that, in view of their friendship, the autonomy of their estates be maintained. Accordingly a treaty was concluded on April 25, 1809 A.D. between the British government and Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Therefore the British government now issues this proclamation (Itilahnamah) with the great pleasure for the satisfaction of the Malwa chiefs and for the chiefs and the nobility of bordering areas. Its terms are as follows:

  1. The chiefs of Malwa and the frontier region have come under the protection of the British government. Therefore they shall in future be protected from the oppressive policy of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
  2. No tribute in cash or kind shall be levied on the nobles who have come under the protection of the British government.
  3. The rights and powers enjoyed by these chiefs before coming under British protection shall be maintained.
  4. Whenever the British army, has to pass through the territory of these chiefs for the sake of maintaining peace and order, it shall be incumbent on the chiefs to help the army in every way, i.e. they shall have to provide them grain, accommodation and other necessities.
  5. Whenever an enemy invades this country, it shall be incumbent on each chief according to the principle of friendship to join the British army along with his own army and help them with all his might to defeat the enemy. On such occasions the armies of these chiefs shall act in subordination to the trained British army.
  6. No tax shall be levied on foreign goods imported from Europe for use by British army and passing through their territories.
  7. Whatever number of horses are purchased from the protected territory or from any other country and pass through the protected territory shall be free from any kind of tax etc. Those who purchase or carry these horses shall have written permits signed by the Resident at Delhi or by a British officer posted at the border.”

Consequences of the Notification

As a result of this notification, all contacts of the Cis-Sutlej chiefs and other nobles stood scrapped with Maharaja Ranjit Singh. A British cantonment was established at Ludhiana. Sir David Ochterlony, who in those days was acknowledged as the most efficient civil and military British officer, was stationed at Ludhiana as Commander of the British army. Bakhshi Nand Singh was appointed Maharaja Ranjit Singh's envoy at Ludhiana, and from the British side Khushwaqt Rai was stationed as Akhbar Navis (news writer) at the Lahore Darbar.

Notes & References

  1. Munshi Sohan Lal, Umdat-ut-Twurikh, Daftar II, p. 79. From that day, till to-day, Sikh Sates in the Cis-Sutlej territory have had friendly relations with the British government.
  2. For references see Forster's W. A journey from Bengal to England, 1783-84, vol. I, and Malcolm's Sketch of the Sikhs.
  3. See Cunningham's History of the Sikhs.
  4. Ludhiana was with Raja Bhag Singh of Jind — Ed.
  5. This territory means those towns or forts which the Maharaja had occupied before the arrival of the British emissary at Lahore; and all places conquered after that were to be returned to their former rulers.
  6. It is not clear in the text whether it was the Darbar-i-Khalsa which the author prefers to call Lahore Darbar or the Governor General-in-Council which approved this proclamation or a special conclave of the Cis-Sutlej chiefs.- Ed.