Local Historian Recollects Duleep Singh's time in Whitby

12/3/2009 7:47:48 AM

The Maharajah's time at Mulgrave Castle has never been well documented, read of the stories, myths and legends that local researcher Paul Grantham has collected from the elderly residents of Whitby - from riding Indian Elephants on the Sandsend Road to his tragic affair with a local beauty...

"In 1858 Duleep Singh leased Mulgrave Castle from Lord Normanby. The castle is surrounded by extensive woodlands which provided sufficient privacy and space for him to live the life of a true country gentleman.  Surprisingly little hard documentary evidence survives to tell us much about his exploits at Mulgrave and his activities are, of course, well beyond living memory.

Interestingly several folk stories have been handed down through the intervening years, and these remain in circulation amongst both the locals and people interested in folk history. They are, in fact, mentioned in a few old folklore books and confirmation of their existence can be found on several internet websites.

It is told that the Maharajah became a well known and popular character in the local area. He brought his elephants with him to the castle and these he took pride in dressing in their best finery.  He would ride upon them when he went grouse shooting, once being reported to have shot 995 birds with only 1000 shots, a feat which to this day has never been matched. He had his elephants trained so that as they entered the boundary of the woods at the end of a day shooting (or other outside activities) they would all trumpet in unison, thereby alerting his servants and ensuring that his meal was ready immediately upon him reaching the castle.

He was a well known sight as he and his servants exercised his elephants each day, walking them along the nearby sands. Some stories say that his elephants objected to walking on the sands as they didn’t like the feel of sand between their toes, whilst other tales tell that a sudden large inrushing wave resulted in them being bogged down on the wet sand, almost drowning them. Whatever the reason, he decided that a new method of safer exercising had to be devised. This he achieved by building the first road between Sandsend and Whitby. Even today this is still known as the Maharajah’s Road. He also constructed a toll house in order to collect a small charge from others wishing to use this road. The toll house still stands today.

For a short distance south of Sandsend the modern road still follows the Maharajah’s route but, as the cliffs are generally unstable, it suffered frequent collapses into the sea further south and has been replaced by the current road built further inland.

He was well known for his hospitality to the locals, delighting in receiving them into his home and hearing their tales of past great deeds. He was always ready to stop and have a word with both rich and poor alike, which was a well kept local tradition as the grouse shoots relied on local knowledge for both beating the birds and knowing where the best shooting was. Grouse, unlike other birds, are truly wild and cannot be bred in captivity.  They only live on open moorland and it is a labour intensive activity flushing them out of the long heather. This is generally done by the local villagers, so it is important to keep a good relationship with them.

It is also rumoured that he became friendly with a family in Sandsend village, frequently visiting them whilst supposedly out on “estate business”. He eventually had a relationship with the daughter who subsequently found herself pregnant. As marriage was out of the question and there was, at that time, a social stigma in being an unmarried mother, the girl, feeling herself abandoned, ended her life by walking out into the sea. Her body, when recovered, was buried in an unmarked grave on the cliffs, now long since washed away."

Constructing the Mulgrave - Sandsend Road, Whitby



Article compiled and published, courtesy of Paul Grantham, (Historian), Whitby,


  • Warren Davis (Saskatoon, Canada)
    3/22/2014 4:32:34 PM

    Hi. This may seem like a odd comment but please read it. My great, great grandfather Henry Davis & his wife Maria Davis came to Lythe around 1860 and lived next door to the castle. They were from London and both were cabinet makers. Were they working on a project at the castle ? Many thanks from Canada. Hope to visit the area next year.

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