Nawab Nasir-ud-Din Haider

Credit : This is an excerpt from the book (Publisher : Supernova): ‘Lucknow Wandering in the Lanes of History 1700s & 1800s’ by: Nasima Aziz.

Nasir-ud-Din Haider

Nawab Nasir-ud-Din Haider has a coronation portrait painted by the artist Mohammed Azam in which he is wearing the same crown, ermine cape and necklace as his father Nawab Ghazi.

This Nawab is remembered for the 90 acre park and palace complex called Badshah Bagh he laid out across the Gomti which later became the home of Canning College, now the Lucknow University Campus He founded the hospital Dar-ul-Shafa in Chowk for treatment under the traditional Unani method, and the King’s Hospital near the Residency where Dr Stevenson practiced western medicine. The King’s Lithographic Printing Press (p. 140) was ordered to translate English books and print them in local languages.”

Eagerly English

Nawab Nasir-ud-Din Haider was fond of everything English in his private life, and frequently wore formal western clothes. He was enthusiastic about learning English and is quoted as saying: ‘As I have always entertained an ardent desire to know English (a wonderful language) I have studied the usual rudiments of that language. In fact he had five European tutors.

He, like his father, was eager to interact directly with the British Royal family but this was discouraged by the Company. His father Nawab Ghazi-ud-Din Haider had managed to send gifts, which included ‘an elaborate golden bed, curtains, embroidered Lucknow slippers, a Persian sword with jewelled hilt … and sword boxes covered with thousands of jewels to King William IV who had married Princess Adelaide (half his age) in July 1818. Return gifts’ had arrived after Nawab Ghazi passed away which Nawab Nasir was happy to acknowledge. After getting permission from the Company, Nawab Nasir assembled a wonderful collection of gifts and jewellery and dispatched them to London – but on arrival in England the Company confiscated everything and sent it all back, with a few exceptions – the two horses, two elephants and two rhinoceros were gifted to the London zoo, and the very expensive diamond necklace mysteriously disappeared.

Nawab Nasir had a circle of Englishmen surrounding him, but these particular Englishmen- a gardener, a librarian and a barber – were not approved of by the Resident because they were not gentlemen’. Rose Brandon’s first job in Lucknow had been to plan the garden e the British cantonment in Mariaon, which led to his becoming head gardener in the palace of the Nawab. Edward Cropley was the librarian who developed a violent grudge against the Nawab and his Barber. George Derusett came to Lucknow sometime in early 1831, and through a stroke of good fortune arrived in the household of Nawab Nasir. He served at the court for the last five years of the Nawab’s almost ten-year Tule, quickly established himself as the favourite, and became his right hand man and confidante.

George was born ‘George Quigley’ in 1798 in London and took up a career as a hairdresser at an early age. He decided to change his name to something that sounded fashionably French and called himself George Harris Derusett. Deserting his wife Elizabeth and family in 1828, and working on a ship as a cabin boy, he arrived in Calcutta. Ever on the look-out for lucrative opportunities, he combined hairdressing with river-trading which brought him to Lucknow, and a Residency full of clients. Apparently what happened was that one day Nawab Nasir-ud-Din Haider admired the haircut of Dr. Stevenson, the Company doctor, who mentioned the name of the newly arrived barber – which led to an introduction between the barber and the Nawab. Nawab Nasir hired him for the sole purpose of getting his straight hair twisted into curls – his favoured look.

George Derusett had an abundance of self-proclaimed skills and managed to make himself indispensable, to the extent that he tasted every morsel of food (theoretically risking his life from poisoning) before the Nawab ate it- loyalty in the extreme!

George had to organise the shopping for Nawab Nasir’s household and supervise the furnishing of elaborate royal boats and their maintenance. The anniversary of the coronation of the Nawab was celebrated with an annual ceremony, and new coronation robes had to be made every year so he hired a dozen tailors from Calcutta and set them up in a shop- part of his job as Master of the Royal Robes. He supervised the Nawabs menagerie across the Gomti and the royal hunting expeditions. He also took the Nawab’s signature on inflated bills that he presented when the Nawab was happily drunk.

As the work load mounted George sent for his brother William from Calcutta to take over the hairdressing, and brother Charles from London (the Nawab paid the sea passage) to help out with the rest. Charles also brought along George’s son, George Junior. For all this activity he gathered titles, favours, and plenty of cash, and lived in comfort in the Dilaram Kothi, crossing the Gomti on the bridge of boats, opposite Farhat Baksh Palace”

The actual Prime Minister Roshan-ud-Daula was naturally furious that his role and his influence on the Nawab had been usurped by George the Barber, but he still managed to participate in and benefit from the widespread confusion.

An Observatory in Lucknow

In Europe, many exciting discoveries were taking place in the most modern of sciences: Astronomy. The Company had already established an Observatory in Madras (1792), and one in Calcutta (1825), and astronomy was one of the subjects taught at Fort William College by the notable astronomer R. Burrow (1747-92).

It was time to get an Observatory constructed in Lucknow, funded by Nawab Nasir. This was completed in 1832 and was known as the Taron Wali Kothi. The Nawab’s idea was that it would also be the right place to open a school for young men of the nobility to learn astronomy and physics. The Observatory functioned for about thirteen years only (1835-48) under its Director Major Richard Wilcox who shared his observations in Lucknow with the Royal Observatory in London.

Raja Ratan Singh, the astronomer

Lucknow had a brilliant astronomer, Raja Ratan Singh (1782-1851), who Wrote texts on astronomy in Persian, the court Language. He was also a poet, scholar of Arabic, Turkish, Sanskrit and English, and had been attached to the Nawabi Court since 1815, since the time of Nawab Ghazi. It was on his initiative that the dictionary and grammar of the Persian language called the Haft Qulzum was published.

Raja Ratan Singh travelled to England, and on his return he wrote the book A Garden of Astronomy, (Hadaiq-al-Nujum 1837), describing the discoveries and works of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton and others with chapters on comets and nebulae. He described the different kinds of telescopes he saw on his travels and the visit to the observatories in Greenwich and Paris. He wrote about observing Halley’s Comet on 15th October 1835.

Dulari and the Wives-Club

As a young prince Nasir had married Ruqayya Sultana, one of the daughters of the Mughal prince Mirza Sulaiman Shukoh. She had agreed to the contract under extreme duress, then, openly declaring her disdain for the bridegroom, lived in her own apartment in Lucknow, reportedly a virgin for life.

But there was no restriction for the prince to marry again – and again. A favourite wife Sukh Chayn, whose palace name was Afzal Mahal, bad the backing of her mother-in-law, Badshah Begum, the prince’s step-mother. When she gave birth to a son, Munna Jan, he was declared the heir to the throne. However the immediate need was for a wet nurse. The girl chosen for the job was Dulari, a new mother with a baby daughter of her Own, and an older child, a son.

When the prince saw the newly hired wet nurse Dulari’s future changed. The household was surprised as Dulari was not particularly charming or beautiful. But there she was, married to the prince, who gave her the palace name Malika Zamani. Soon after their marriage her husband was crowned the new King and she used her position to promote her own family members and got them salaried positions in the court in various capacities. As for her son – she gave him the high-sounding name Kywan Jah and persuaded her infatuated husband to declare him his heir, to which he agreed, demoting Munna Jan.

But then the tide turned, fresh infatuations occurred and the big question was: Who was the heir apparent Munna Jan or Kywan Jah? ‘Finally the king himself in his personal interview with the Resident told him that neither of the boys, Munna Jan nor Kywan Jah were his sons. This set at naught all the hopes and desires of Malika Zamani of becoming the queen mother.

Nawab Nasir had an English wife, Emma, daughter of George Hopkins Walters, an army man who had married a widow Mrs Whearty. Emma was given the palace name Mukhadara Alia. She knew Persian and Hindustani and encouraged her husband to practice his English. After she was widowed in 1837 she lived out her life in a house located at the edge of the Residency which became known as Begum Kothi. This had a very large walled compound with a small mosque and the Imambara Sharf-un-nissa in which Emma is buried.

Hussainee was the stunningly lovely daughter of a famous prostitute and was tutored in music and dance by her mother. She was just fourteen when she performed at the court with the King seated in the front row Another infatuation, and another marriage. Her palace name was Taj Mahal and there is a description of her beauty in the memoirs of the prolific diarist, Mrs Fanny Parks. She writes:

Oct. 1828 -“A letter just received from a lady, a friend of mine at Lucknow, Is so amusing and novel I must make an extract… “The other day (Oct 18″) was the anniversary of the King of Oude’s coronation, and I went to see the ceremony… The present king’s wives were most superbly dressed and looked like creatures of the Arabian Nights….one was so beautiful … I never saw anyone so lovely, either black or white. Her features were perfect and such eyes and eyelashes, I never beheld before…She was so graceful and fawn-like. Her dress was gold and scarlet brocade, and her hair was literally strewed with pearls, which hung down upon her neck in long single strings… On her forehead she wore a small gold circlet… Her ear rings were immense gold rings; with pearls increasing in size. The beautiful creature is the envy of all the other wives and is the favourite at present both of the king and his mother.”

 There were a lot girls in the Wives Club who were in and out of favour. However each had a proper monthly allowance paid to her more or less regularly, which continued as a ‘pension’ even after her husband was long gone.

Post Script. Dulari continued to make good use of her good luck. Even though she was no longer a ‘favourite, she still had status as the wife of a King. She arranged the marriage of her daughter with a young man whose father would be the next Nawab, Mohammad Ali, and found a match for her son in the family of one of Nawab Mohammad Ali’s brothers. With a generous pension she could keep up a decent lifestyle and became known for her generosity. 300 was spent daily on her kitchen establishment to cook food for distributing to the poor. Sadly her son died of cholera in 1838. She died in December 1843.


Come administrators from Nawab Saadat Ali’s time still held positions in the Court: Raja Bakhtawar Singh was in charge of the Royal Stables, Raja Darshan Singh was Superintendent of Building Works, and Kaptan Fateh Ali commanded the troops.

Munshi Bhola Nath was head of the Royal Treasury, with Lala Ram Dayal as his assistant. The divan was Munshi Raja Ram, succeeded by Raja Bal Krishan. Munshi Hardayal who was an exceptional scholar in Persian and Urdu was asked by the Nawab to make a translation of Firdausi’s Snahnama from Persian to Urdu. The farman nawees was Jaisukh Rai, a well known person from Khairabad who lived in the Naubasti mohalla and stayed connected to the court till the time of the last Nawab.

But this administration was utterly confused! The four pillars of government were the King, the Minister, the Resident, and the Army. The King had cause to be indifferent which reflected on the attitude of his Minister, The Army protected the King – but also the Resident. The Resident’s problem was that the Company did not have a consistent policy. The Governor General would ‘occasionally wave a big stick’ but then instructions were left deliberately vague. A lot depended on the personality of each Governor General and on each Resident


The wave of the big stick’ took place when Governor General Lord William Bentinck (1828-1835) came to Lucknow in early 1831. Lord Bentinck warned the king in a personal interview, and also by written communication, that if his administration was not reformed from within, the task would have to be undertaken by English officers.

The ground was being carefully prepared for a future take-over.

In 1831 Lord W. Bentinck told Nuseer-ood-Deen Hyder, “King of Oudh”- for we had given our puppet that fancy name – that either he must improve his administration, or hand it over to British officials.

Eventually, Nawab Nasir gave in to pressure from the Resident and dismissed the Barber, who, having amassed a great fortune, was ready to go home by now, leaving behind his brother and son. It was December 1836.

Just two months later, in February 1837, George’s brother Charles Derusett and the gardener John Rose Brandon got into a drunken argument with Nawab Nasir and were thrown out of the Palace. They headed back to London taking George’s son with them and the three men, George, Charles and John, had a reunion in London. Soon after that John married George’s daughter Mary Ann. Of these three men only John Rose Brandon would return to India with his wife, and he keeps appearing in this narrative till the end.

Within seven months of the departure of George Derusett, and with no food-taster around, Nawab Nasir, just 35 years old, suddenly died from eating poisoned food, on the evening of 7th July 1837, with the question of ‘who was his heir’ waiting for an answer…

Nawab Nasir-the-Notorious is the central figure in the book “The Private Life of an Eastern King by William Knighton, a sensationalized account of the frivolous life at his Court which was published eighteen years after Nawab Nasir’s death. For anyone who has read this book or even extracts from it, it is nearly impossible to erase Knighton’s clownish portrait of the King, deliberately constructed to damage the image of the whole family.

Badshah Begum – woman extraordinaire

She was the wife of the first Badshah, king, Nawab Ghaziudin Haider.

During her lifetime Badshah Begum lived through the rule of four Nawabs Nawab Asaf, Nawab Saadat Ali her father-in-law; Nawab Ghazi-ud-Din Haider her husband, and Nawab Nasir-ud-Din Haider her step-son. From the height of luxury living, she ended her days in a prison.

Going back to the beginning: When Nawab Asaf was ruling in Lucknow his half-brother Saadat Ali was living in Banaras. There he met a learned gentleman, Mubashir Khan, who had studied science and astronomy and had taught these subjects to his favourite daughter.

Long story short: the marriage of this daughter, who later became known as Badshah Begum, was arranged to Saadat Ali’s son Mirza Ghazi Ka wedding took place in 1795 in Banaras. They had only one daughter. Poti Begum.

In the early days of her marriage, Badshah Begum had suffered the Liter humiliation of seeing a maid servant, Subh Daulat, pregnant with her husband’s child. This child was a boy, Nasir, the heir to the throne, her step-son. She eventually became very fond of him – after getting his mother murdered.

She channelled her hyper-energy in organizing an on-going quasi-religious pageant in the Palace. She lured by paying cash to the parents – eleven young girls to play the role of the wives of the Imams of Shia belief – not for a few hours on stage, but for twenty four hours a day, for an indefinite number of months, living with her in the palace. (She took only eleven out of the twelve Imams, leaving out the highest among them, Imam Ali, the inclusion of whose name may have seemed disrespectful.) Each ‘wife’ was treated with great respect and had servants of her own, fine clothes and gourmet meals. Each girl, since she was ‘married’ to an Imam, was not allowed to marry in real life – she had to remain a virginal touch-me-not – achchooti in local parlance. The birthday of each Imam was a day of special ceremonies and celebrations which Badshah Begum orchestrated in minute detail.

After a particularly bad quarrel with Nawab Nasir, Badshah Begum was asked to leave the palace and was given accommodation in Ilmas Bagh which was outside the city on the road to Malihabad. Here she organised a large band of well-trained armed men to be her ‘guards, claiming that she needed them because she was living in an isolated place. Under pressure from the Resident, she bargained for improved financial aid in return for reducing her ‘army, but secretly continued with the same number of guards as before,

7th July 1837- A Fateful Day

The night of 7th July 1837 when Nawab Nasir lay dead in his bed in Farhat Baksh Palace was a very strange one in the history of our city. The news of Nawab Nasir’s death was conveyed to the Company’s Resident Colonel John Low who went immediately to the Palace along with Dr. Stevenson. Company soldiers were deputed to stand by to ensure law and order and an armed guard was posted at the main gate. More solders were called from the Cantonment at Mariaon.

Colonel John Low sent his Second Assistant, Lieutenant John Shakespeare to contact Nawab Mohammad Ali, their candidate for successor, and get his signature on a document that had been kept ready. The servants were told to wake up the sleeping Nawab, the signature was taken and the Lieutenant departed.

Very soon Nawab Mohammad Ali arrived at Farhat Baksh Palace along with his son Mirza Amjad Ali and other male members of the family, who were received by Colonel John Low.

Just then the news came that Badshah Begum had made an announcement that Munna Jan (grown-up name Faridun Bakht) was the son of Nawab Nasir and heir to the throne! She was leading a parade with her candidate by her side, her two hundred armed guards, and a crowd of enthusiastic followers, and marching into the city. Then the news came that they had gone into the Lal Baradari, seated Munna Jan on the throne and declared him the ruler, with a burst of celebratory firing of guns and loud singing by musicians.

As the sun was rising on the morning of 8th July, the Company’s soldiers entered the Lal Baradari, arrested the Begum and Munna Jan and took them away to be imprisoned in the Chunar Fort. They allowed the Begum to send for some personal belongings she gave them a list – in which a favourite pet parrot was high priority.


Credit : This is an excerpt from the book (Publisher : Supernova): ‘Lucknow Wandering in the Lanes of History 1700s & 1800s’ by: Nasima Aziz.