La Martiniere

(Detailed write-up including, Maj Gen Claude Martin’s)

La Martiniere (Constantia) painting by Seetram

La Martiniere (Constantia) painting by Seetram

On approaching Lucknow via Faizabad this imposing edifice is the first to attract the attention of the traveller.

In the distance appear other buildings but none vie, in the majestic grandeur, with Martiniere, which forcibly reminds the traveller that he is entering the renowned “City of Palace.” In front of the building there stands a lofty fluted masonry column said to be not unlike the monument to the Duke of York, 123 feet high.

The wings or the either side of the mansion, now used as class-rooms and dormitories, were constructed after the death of the General. These are built in a semi-circular form on either side of the central platform, each wing consisting of two stories.

The main building, which faces east, stands on an elevated basement forming a platform partly paved with stone in front of the entrance hall and approached by a broad flight of steps. The super structure is surmounted with the life size figures of men and women and the several faces are flanked with circular towers, whose crenellated tops are raised between rampant lions. The interior of the building is elaborately ornamented with arabesque decorations and the ceilings of the halls with bas-reliefs illustrative of classical subjects.

La Martiniere, also known as Constantia (From the school motto, “Labore et Constantia”), was built in the time of Nawab Asaf-Ud-Daula by General Claude Martin who was apparently his own architect. When the building was under construction, the Nawab seeing elaborateness of the design, expressed a wish to purchase the palace, and offered millions sterling for it. The Nawab’s death occurring shortly after put an end to the negotiations; and the General dying before the building was finished, director Mr. Joseph Quieros, the Executor of his Will, to complete it out of the funds he left to endow a College there. This gentleman accordingly took in hand the completion of the three upper stories of Constantia which were left unfinished at the time of General’s death, 13th September 1800.

The college was opened in 1840, and is entirely supported out of funds bequeathed by the founder, who is buried in vaulted chamber in the basement, eighteen feet below the central tower.

La Martiniere, Lucknow

His tomb is a sarcophagus standing on the floor of the vault and originally had, at each angle, the life size figures of a soldier in uniform, standing with musket reversed in an attitude of grief.

During the Mutiny these figures were destroyed by the rebels, who also dug up the tomb and scattered the bones which were afterwards, however, restored to their original resting place.

In the central vault is to be seen the great bell cast by the General in 1786.

Diameter of Bell, 3 feet.

Circumference of the rim, 9 feet.

Height from crown to rim, 2½ feet.

In the garden on the west side of the main building is a bronze cannon having the words “The Lord Cornwallis” inscribed on it. This gun was cast in the year 1786 in General Martin’s foundry and lent to the British Government, Lord Cornwallis using it as the storming of the Seringapatam, in the third Mysore war, (A.D 1790-92), against Tippu Sultan. During the year 1872, by permission of His Excellency Lord Northbrook, Governor-General of India, this cannon was set up in the college garden as a Memorial of the founder.

To the south, on the road-side, are the tombs of Captain Da Costa, of the Ferozpur Sikhs, and Major Hodson, of Hodson Horse (Captor of the King and Princes of Delhi) who was mortally wounded on the 11th March 1858, at the storming of the Begum Kothi (Now Janpath Market), and was carried thence Hayat-Baksh Kothi (Governor’s House) where he expired the next day.

Claude Martin: The Founder

Claude Martin was a French man. He was born in the year 1735 at Lyons, where his father carried on the business of a silk manufacturer. It was intended that he should follow the same calling, but his adventurous spirit would not submit to so tame and career, and running away from home at an early age, he enlisted in the French army. He soon distinguished himself by his activity and energy and was advanced from an Infantry to a Cavalry Regiment. In 1757 Count de Lally was appointed to the Government of Pondicherry, and requiring volunteers for his bodyguard, Martin made application to be enrolled and was accepted. Accompanying Lally to India, he arrived there in 1758, but had not been long in the country before he began to experience trouble. Lally’s ideas of discipline were inordinately severe, and his behavior and manners towards his subordinates harsh and tyrannical. His treatment might have been necessary, for a large portion of his bodyguard had been recruited from military criminals and deserters under sentence, who were drafted into it as a punishment. But Lally’s sternness had the effect of increasing rather than diminishing the insubordination, and when, a little latter, Coote advanced and laid siege to Pondicherry, the whole of the Governor’s bodyguard deserted en masse to the English, by whom they were well received. On the return of the British troops to Madras, Martin volunteered to raise a corps, chasseurs from amongst the prisoners of war, for service under the Company’s flag. His proposal was entertained, and he received a commission as Ensign. Shortly afterwards he was ordered to Bengal with his corps, but, during the voyage, the ship in which he sailed sprang a leak, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that he saved his men in the boats, and eventually landed them safely in Calcutta. In due course he was promoted to the rank of Captain, but in 1764 his men mutinied, not withstanding his exertions to keep them faithful, and the corps was broken up, Martin’s conduct on this occasion was greatly commenced by authorities, and, being an able draughtsman, he was rewarded by an appointment in the North-Eastern Districts of Bengal, where he was sent to survey the country. His work was so satisfactory that, on its completion, a similar appointment was found for him in the Province of Oudh.

This was the turning point in his carrier, which had hitherto been more eventful than profitable. Having fixed his headquarters at Lucknow he employed his leisure in exercising his ingenuity in several branches in mechanics, and, amongst other things manufactured. “the first balloon that ever floated in the air of Asia.” This brought him under the notice of the Nawab, who conceived so high an opinion of his abilities, and especially his skills in gunnery, that he solicited permission from the Bengal Government for the Martin’s services to be transferred to him, and this been granted, the adventurer was appointed Superintendent of Nawab’s park of Artillery and Arsenal.

Martin did not neglect the opportunities thus opened out to him, and speedily ingratiated himself with his new master, whose confidential adviser he became. In the many political changes that took place in Oudh during next twenty years the Frenchman always contrived to remain on the right side, making himself indispensable in negotiations between the Nawab and the Company. At the same time he was careful not to push himself forward into public notice, preferring to remain the power behind the throne; and although he seldom appeared in Darbar he had more real influence than the Nawab’s ministers in shaping the course of events.

Martin’s salary was largely increased, and he enjoyed, in addition, expensive sources of emolument, such as were always open to men in positions of confidence in the Native Courts. He became the recognized channel for petitions from all who desired any favour from the Government, and in this capacity enormous sum of money and presents of great value found their way into his hands. He educated the Nawab into an appreciation of the products of Europe, and then acted as his agent in procuring them.

He established extensive credits with the Native Bankers, and so obtained a large share in the profitable public loans made to his master. Finally his position at Court was esteemed so secure that, in a country distracted by war and internal troubles, he soon became a sort of “safe deposit” for the valuables of the Nawab’s subjects, charging a commission of 12 percent. For the custody of articles committed to his care. By these and similar methods he acquired an immense fortune during his long residence at Lucknow.

Martin’s pleasure in Life seems to have been limited to the mere accumulation of riches, for he derived none from them. In his peculiar way he was sufficiently hospitable, but his table was not calculated to attract guests, either by the elegance of the entertainment or the geniality of the host. Of his private bounty during his life very few instances are recorded, though it is known that from time to time he assisted his family at Lyons. The principal of his ambition or vanity seems to have been the attainment of Military rank, a fact the truth of which is emphasized by the epitaph he wrote for his own tomb. During the time he resided at Lucknow his promotion in the Company’s service continued; for although he relinquished his pay and allowances, he retained his Commission. In 1790, at the commencement of the first war with Tippu Sultan, he presented the company with a number of fine horses to mount a troop of Cavalry, and in return was gazette to the rank of Colonel, thus achieving the object for which the gift was made. Six years later, when the Company’s Officers received brevet rank from the King, Martin’s name was included in the Gazette, and to his infinite satisfaction he became a Major-General. Lord Teigumouth described him in 1797 as a man of much penetration and observation, whose language would be elegant if it corresponded with his ideas; but he talked very broken English interlarding every sentence with “What do you call it?”- “Do you see?”

Amongst the most remarkable points connected with the Martin was his house at Lucknow , which was a castellated edifice built on the banks of the River Gomti designed for defence if necessary. It was constructed strictly on hygienic principles, for it contained a series of rooms-or flats, as we should call them in these modern days -adapted to varying temperature of different seasons of the year. Thus in the hot season he resided in a subterranean suite of chambers, which were always cool and sheltered from the fierce glare and heat outside. When the rainy season came on, he ascended to an upper story high above the ground descended to the ground floor. The house was fitted with many curious mechanical contrivances for comfort; the ceilings of the different apartments were formed of elliptic arches, ornamented most elaborately, whilst the exterior decorations were equally fanciful and florid. The furniture was on a par with the building and the walls of the rooms were covered with glasses, prints, and pictures, estimated at many thousand pounds in value. Not the least curious feature in this building-which was called Constantia, from the motto Labore-et-Constantia carved on its front – was a room containing a vault designed for Martin’s place of sepulcher. He built this because the Nawab refused to pay him the price he asked for the edifice; whereupon, in a fit of pique, he declared that his tomb should be handsomer than any place in the Kingdom. His subsequent interment therein had the effect of desecrating the place in the eyes of the Mahomedan, for no followers of the Prophet can inhabit a tomb.

For the last fifteen years of his life Martin suffered greatly from stone. He cured himself once by a successful though crude and painful course of treatment; but a recurrence of the disease terminated his life in the year 1800 at the age of sixty-five. On the 1st of January of the same year, he executed an extraordinary Will, which he drew up himself. It constrained over forty clauses, and began by acknowledging with penitence that self-interest had been his guiding principle through life. His fortune, amounting to nearly half a million sterling, he bequeathed in innumerable legacies. Amongst them were three to the poor of Calcutta, Chandernagore, and Lucknow, the interest of which was to be doled daily at certain fixed places, distinguished by tablets bearing an inscription in English, French, or Persian, according to the location and notifying that the alms distributed were the gift of General Martin and to be so disbursed in perpetuity, He left a large sum in trust to the Government of Bengal for the establishment and endowment of a school to be called La Martiniere, which still exists, and where on the anniversary of his death a sermon was to be preached, followed by a public dinner, at which the toast of “The Memory of the Founder” was to be drunk in solemn silence. To his relatives and the town of Lyons he bequeathed large legacies, and two separate sums to that city and Calcutta, their interest to be devoted to releasing poor debtors from gaol on the anniversary of his death. He left directions that his house Constantia should never be sold, but serve as a mausoleum for his remains, and he committed it to the care of the ruling power in the country for the time being. Such were the elaborate precautions taken by this eccentric man to keep his memory alive and hand it down to posterity.
The thirtieth clause in his Will was perhaps the most remarkable of all. It ran as follows: – “When I am dead, I request that my body may be salted, put in spirits, or embalmed, and afterwards deposited in a leaden coffin made of some sheet lead in my godown, which is to be put in another of sissoo wood, and then deposited in the cave in the small round room north-east in Constantia, with two feet of masonry raised above it, which is to bear the following inscription :-

Born at Lyons, 5th January, 1735.
Arrived in India as a common soldier, and died at Lucknow
(the 13th of September 1800) a Major-General;
And he is buried in this tomb.
Pray of his Soul.”

His wishes were faithfully fulfilled, and when Lady Fanny Parkes visited the tomb in 1831 she mentions that a bust of the General adorned the vault, lights were constantly burning before the tomb and the figures of four soldiers, as large as life, with their arms reversed, and stood in inches at the side of the monument. In the centre of the vault was a large plain slab bearing the inscription above recorded?

Perchance it sufficiently summarises Martin’s life, and after the lapse of nearly a hundred years, one cannot help reflecting on the achievements of the man epitomised in the few terse words. Dynasties have died out, thrones have tottered and fallen, kingdoms have crumbled into dust and been forgotten since this private soldier sought to perpetuate his name; and it is not an unpleasing thought that the atonement of his testamentary charity still keeps alive the pious memory of the founder of La Martiniere.

The Tourists’ Guide to Lucknow (Various) – Extract from a particular account of the European military adventures of Hindustan, from 1784-1803.