Princess Bamba Sutherland (nee Duleep Singh)

Princess Bamba was born on the 29 September 1869 in London, a year after her brother Prince Frederick. She was baptised Bamba Sofia Jindan Duleep Singh, named after her mother and grandmothers respectively.

Her only known courtship was that with Lieutenant-Colonel David Waters Sutherland.[i] He was a doctor in the Indian Army, and he later became the principal at King Edwards Medical College, Lahore, from 1909 to 1921. In 1915, Princess Bamba at the age of 46, decided to tie the knot with David Sutherland. She frequently visited India during the days of the British Raj, and made several short trips to India, but was forced to settle at Lahore for longer than she had anticipated in January 1941, as she could not get passage back on account of the war. In 1942 the tragic news of Princess Catherine’s death arrived. Princess Bamba was stranded; she could not be present on her sister’s last rites. It was a terrible shock to her, especially as she had not been well herself for some months.[ii] As her stay was to be a long one, she bought a house in Lahore, which she named ‘The Gulzar’, at No. 16 Jail Road. She returned to England in September 1946, and a year later India became independent, which resulted in the formation of Pakistan. The Punjab suffered the greatest with the border between the two nations split right down the middle of the territory of the Punjab. Princess Bamba’s beloved Punjab and the kingdom of her forefathers was no more in existence.

After her husband David Sutherland’s death some years earlier, and her sister Princess Sophia’s death in 1948, Princess Bamba became very lonesome. Her health began to fail further after the death of her little sister but she kept herself going by keeping busy and moving from one of her homes to another. Princess Bamba gave up the ‘grace and favour’ home at Faraday House in Hampton Court[iii] and began to share her time between Penn and Blo Norton. She took Princess Sophia’s ashes to India as per her sister’s last wish, for burial. ‘A flight is quite easy to obtain but this time I came by land as I brought my darling sisters ashes with me, she did not like flights,’[iv] she told Pritam Singh on her arrival. Her next trip was to Kassel, where she arrived in 1949 unexpectedly at the house of Dr Schafer, an unmarried female medical doctor and relation of Fraulien Schafer. A fellow guest of Dr Schafer recalled ‘Bamba arrived from nowhere bringing in her luggage Princess Catherine’s urn, telling us it had been Catherine’s last wish to be buried in Kassel.’

Back in England, Princess Bamba began styling herself as the Queen of Punjab. She had her father’s rebellious nature and seemed the more aggrieved one.[v] On visiting a high Street bookstore in Norwich, she demanded her driver George Davey to park outside the store, which caused traffic. A policeman requested ‘Madam, please move the car’, she replied in her stern voice ‘Do you know who you are talking to? I am the Queen of the Punjab’.[vi] The grumpy Princess would dress in her finery when visited by her Sikh countrymen at Blo Norton, who had started migrating in the early 1900’s. She would sit and take in all the attention she could get from them.[vii] During this period she was also visited by her cousin Karl Wilhelm[viii], grandson of Ludwig Muller, at Hilden Hall, by which time she was already dreaming of going back to India in order to die there.[ix] In his memoirs Karl Wilhelm referred to Princess Bamba as ‘the true heiress of Ranjit Singh’ meaning that she was most conscious of the actual desperate situation of the whole family. ‘She considered the Punjab and Kashmir as the lost possession of her family and was absolutely furious when the border between Pakistan and India was drawn right across the Punjab.’ In Princess Bamba’s eyes, Pakistan or India did not exist, there was just the Punjab and its capital Lahore.

In-between her grievances, she would also call in at the municipal offices at the ‘Guildhall’ in Thetford, to inspect her brother’s portrait collection, and at the same time give an ear bashing to the staff. ‘I would walk with her to the Guildhall so that she could satisfy herself that the portraits were still on display’ remembers the town clerk. The staff would not look forward to her irregular visits. By the 1950’s the rooms where the paintings were displayed were being used for public functions, dances, and other events, and were not very safe there. Paintings were being damaged and in some case stolen from Prince Frederick’s collection. Around 1954 they were removed to an attic for safe storage because of damage from smoke pollution and vandalism, but this only further deteriorated them in the damp and unventilated store. In 1956 she unexpectedly visited the Guildhall. Princess Bamba was not amused. ‘My brother gave these portraits to the town on condition they are displayed so people can see them’[x] she fumed.

On the 10 March 1957 Princess Bamba died of heart failure at the age of eighty-nine. She had outlived her entire family and the final chapter of a tragic family was completed and finally laid to rest. Her funeral was conducted in a Christian ceremony in Lahore. Her rites witnessed by a select few Pakistani dignitaries. But due to the sensitive relations between India and Pakistan at the time, there were sadly no Sikhs present at Princess Bamba’s funeral.

[i] Lt-Col Sutherland MD.FRCP.MBC., was born in Buningyong, Victoria, Australia on the 18 December 1871, the son of John Sutherland, a miner at Allendale and his wife Wilhelmina.

[ii] Sandhawalia Family Papers, Letter from K Baksh to Pritam Singh, dated 18 November 1942

[iii] Faraday House at Hampton Court was given back to the Crown Estate Commissioners in 1955

[iv] Sandhawalia Family Papers, Letter from Princess Bamba to Pritam Singh, no date

[v] Bruce Reeves, (1997)

[vi] Bruce Reeves, (1997)

[vii] The Journal newspaper, ‘Temple in the Woods’, 18 October 1968

[viii] Karl Wilhelm Alexander Muller (1899-1999)

[ix] Karl Wilhelm Muller

[x] Ellis Clarke, Thetford Town Clerk 1950-74