When the Maharaja met Ada


How love led Ranjit Singh’s deposed son to rebel against Queen Victoria

“Four things greater than all things are – women and horses and power and war.”

(Rudyard Kipling)

Not so long ago when the eastern bank of once great Ravi River is popularly known to touch the walls of Lahore, here ruled a man who then earned the title of Napoleon of East and later after his death would be popularly known as the Lion of Punjab. The founder of about fifty years of Sikh rule, Maharaja Ranjit Singh reigned over the vast plains of five rivers from the capital city of Lahore with full might and an iron fist. Today, the only remaining remembrance of Ranjit Singh’s times in the city is his officially neglected Samadhi that shelters his ashes. This mausoleum of white domes that are laced with golden threads distinctly stand between the majestic Badshahi Mosque that was consecrated in 1671 and the antique Lahore Fort, which once also inhabited the Sikh emperor from where he must have crafted many of his successful war strategies and endless invasion plans.

But this little tale is not about Ranjit. It is about his youngest ill-fated son, Maharaja Duleep Singh who became the last ruler of the dynasty and was signatory to ignominious instrument of surrender also called Anglo-Sikh Treaty of 1846. The pact dethroned and eventually exiled the last Maharaja to the British Isles and compelled him to cede the whole empire to colonial rulers. The young Duleep and Lahore were also permanently dispossessed of the precious diamond rock called Kohinoor that even today makes the present British Queen appear resplendent and her crown priceless.

Soon after his banishment from Punjab, Duleep was placed under the tutelage of Queen Victoria. The young former maharaja without his own empire lived closely under the royal eye and subsequently married an illegitimate half German girl called Bamba Muller who had a Jewish background. Over the course of many coming years, this dutiful wife bore six children to the Maharaja. Their relationship that started with much affection could not last forever. During her final years, she lived practically separated from her husband and had sole responsibility of the children. It was in 1887 that Bamba died in pain after being completely disserted and left all alone by Duleep, who by then was immersed in a torrid love affair with an English woman, Ada Douglas Wetherill. This late life scandal liberated the Sikh maharaja in many ways and would define him more than any other accomplishment in life.

The stateless Maharaja is likely to have met Ada for the first time in 1884 in London where she worked as a chambermaid in a hotel. The 46 year-old Duleep immediately fell in love with a 16 year-old girl. And so it often happens that those who patronize also dictate life. The Queen, who earlier admired and acted as proxy mother to Duleep, became extremely uncomfortable and bitter about him having a young English mistress. She ordered to put a cut upon the luxuries and comforts available to him. It had little impact. Ada’s mannerisms and charms blinded Duleep to such a level that a moment came when he was no longer reluctant to openly establish his claim on her. Soon, the time came when the son of Ranjit Singh decided to revolt against her majesty and made an attempt to travel back to Lahore to regain the lost empire. The journey proved unsuccessful and the hapless Maharaja was compelled to turn back from midway. This time he returned to Paris where Ms. Wetherill was already waiting for him. Duleep’s obsession with Ada frowned the English Crown even more and so the intelligence agencies were tasked to observe them closely. They did follow the lovers everywhere and reported that it is because of her that the former maharaja is hatching plans to become ‘sovereign of the Sikh nation’, again. There was of course some real credence to these spy reports. From the French capital, Duleep went on to Russia along with Ada in his attempt to convince Czar to design an invasion plan from the northern side of subcontinent and militarily help him to recapture his lost Punjab. The Czarist Autocrats were not impressed and deemed the idea both impractical and ridiculous. After this failure, both of them found themselves stranded in Russian territory. The threat to their lives became apparent and subzero temperatures made living even more difficult. It was during such chilling December that Ada gave birth to a girl in an ordinary hotel of Moscow. By now, Duleep was so much involved in Ada that he wrote to his son from Bamba that they should all consider him dead. The former maharaja’s love would not stop here. He lost much of his wealth but was not willing to abandon Ada in exchange for anything else. When they managed to return to France, Ada was expecting second child from him. At this point, the Maharaja asked her hand to legitimize their relationship. They finally married in May 1889, only a few attended. Duleep’s feelings for Ada were fiery but soon after the wedding, a health crisis struck him severely. The illness was prolonged. So much so that even Ada got fed up of him and the British intelligence reported that “the young wife was incapable of being a good nurse and takes delight in lavishly spending away her husband’s royal riches.” Once again, the frail and helpless Maharaja was found surrendering before the Queen and apologized for not coming up to the royal expectations. Just few years after his wedding to the girl he loved, the last maharaja of Lahore died in Paris with no one – not even Ada – by his side.

The only daughter of Duleep to have returned to Lahore was Princess Sutherland from Maharani Bamba Muller. The Princess named ‘Gulzar’ as her house in Lahore and married Dr. Sutherland who was the then Principal of King Edward Medical College, a prestigious medical seat. She died in 1957 and is buried in a Christian Graveyard on Jail Road. Many iconic stories of love continue to emerge in the erstwhile former kingdom of the maharaja. Some turn successful while others do not. It is said that differences of all sorts vanish in sincere relationships and that selfless love is not accepted by most. Duleep was known as the Black Prince of Perthshire. The only prominent legacy he left was his pronounced love for an ordinary girl, a sentiment more precious to him than all the kohinoors of the world.

Such is life and such is love!

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and can be reached at [email protected]

On twitter: @LegalSubtleties


  1. Tragic story. Maharaja Ranjit Singh's expire was lost due to court intrigues and betrayal. The yound Duleep Singh was probably the worst off in all of this. Truly tragic that he was not able to return home to touch his soil before passing away.

  2. It is said that the British gave slow poison to all the eight off-springs of Duleep Singh from his two wives.

    VK Joshi

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