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The grave of Joseph Davey Cunningham who is said to be the first Sikh historian has been located in Ambala district of India’s Haryana province. He died in Ambala in 1851.

A team of Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) recently located the grave of Joseph Davey. He was an engineer with the British Army and was buried at the Christian Cemetery (European Cemetery) on Jagadhari Road in Ambala Cantonment.

This discovery comes at a time when the CWGC, New Delhi is carrying out restoration work at the site with the help of the Cemetery Committee since February this year, but was disrupted due to the second wave of the ongoing pandemic, reports Indian’s English daily Hindustan Times.

Many graves and the site across 20.84 acres have been restored and beautified.

Father Anthony of the committee said the team found the grave during its cleaning drive recently, when the Commission’s Indian subcontinent manager Amit Bansal visited the site to monitor the task at the cemetery.

As engraved on the headstone of the grave, Cunningham was working as a Captain with the Bengal Engineers of the erstwhile British Empire and died at the age of 38.

Historians believe he was the eldest of the five sons of Allan Cunningham, a noted poet and playwright and after getting education from Britain, he had moved to India in 1832 and 1837. He was appointed as assistant to Colonel Claude Wade, who was the political agent of the British Government at Ludhiana for the Punjab-Afghan relations.


Cunningham lived among the Sikhs for eight years, and during a important portion of their history, he had at the same time got free access to all public records on the affairs of the frontier.

“In 1844, he drew up reports on the British annexation. He conceived the idea and felt that he had the means of writing first-hand history for the people,” a history account read.


Dr Paramvir Singh, professor at the department of Encyclopedia of Sikhism at Punjabi University in Patiala, said Cunningham’s book ‘A History of the Sikhs – From the Origin of the Nation to the Battles of the Sutlej’ that was published in 1849 in London, is considered the first authentic English account of the Sikh history.

“He was an eyewitness to the Anglo-Sikh wars fought between the British and the Sikh forces at Bhaddoval, Aliwal and Sabhraon. He produced his book from the original British sources and got it published while posted in Bhopal. The nine-chapter book is divided into four and five chapters, where in the first part he explains the religion, the Sikh gurus and the transfer of power between them. In the latter part, the whole war is theorised along with the British-Sikh relations,” the professor said.

Dr Singh says the most important thing he wrote in his book was that the British won the war and they had precipitated but could have lost it, if they hadn’t done lobbying with the Dogra ministers of Raja Ranjit Singh.

“According to Cunningham, the British won the battles against the Sikhs because Raja Lal Singh, Raja Tej Singh and Gulab Singh (commander-in-chief) of Lahore Darbar betrayed their own army. Due to this reference, he faced severe criticism and wrath from his superiors, was dismissed from political service and shifted to the Meerut division. But soon after, he died in Ambala in 1851,” he observed.

About the author:

SIKH NATIONS SIKH NATIONS is a platform of Sikhs living across the nations. It covers the diaspora in Punjab and also those who have moved from the heartland and have settled in the nations of the world, and have earned a name for themselves. We bring to you news, views and analysis related to day-to-day developments in the community and document the vibrancy, love for life, enthusiasm, hard work, commitment and the Sewa.

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