This is a portrait, believed to be drawn from life by Richard Doyle,
uncle of Arthur Conan Doyle, of the man who stood behind the scenes
and pushed India into war: Azi mullah Khan
Much is known about this shrewd and careful man. How, as a boy from a British charity school, he had to wait on British officers at table, how he harboured his resentment against the British and how he spent every waking minute thinking how he could chase them out of his country. He is also dis credited with getting Tatya Tope, field commander of the rebellion, to give the order for the butchering of over 100 British women and children, an act which made the titular leader of the rebellion, Nana Sahib, totally committed to a break with the British and an act of open warfare.
Nana and Tatya Tope were the official leaders, but the shrewd, ruthless and secretive Azimullah Khan is believed by many to have been the real leader of the rebellion. He visited London in order to try to get a pension for Nana Sahib before the rebellion broke out. He made friends, even feminine conquests, but all the while he was watching for ways he could destroy the British. On his way back to India, he stopped to observe the Crimean war and was delighted to see the British beaten so badly by their Russian foes. The British were starving, wounded and nearly destroyed. An education in their vulnerabilities for the former charity school boy.
He returned to India vowing to destroy his enemies with Nana Sahib as his cats paw.
Once the rebellion started in May 1857, Azimullah Khan disappears from the pages of history. Was he killed? Or, did he flee India with an English woman named, Clayton, as some witnesses were reputed to say?
The riddle of Azimullah Khan is one that has always fascinated me. After researching my book on Lucknow and the British Raj and based on what I’ve learned, there are a few tantalizing possibilities. He may have eluded British troops in the Terai wetlands, he may even have left the country with a woman named, Clayton. I explore these possible scenarios in my book Lucknow Shadows of Empire.
If you want to find out more…