Squandered fortunes of British Residency
Deccan Chronicle.| Dinesh C. Sharma
A total of 22 lists of items that were taken away from the Residency sold as scrap by PWD
The British Residency, or the Hyderabad Residency building. (Photo: DC)
HYDERABAD: The British Residency, or the Hyderabad Residency building, is one of the most magnificent pieces of architecture in Hyderabad’s history. Built by James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the British Resident in Hyderabad state from 1798 to 1805, this opulent mansion served as the residence of successive representatives of the Crown till Hyderabad was integrated with the Union of India in 1948.
The exquisite building, subsequently, housed the Osmania University College for Women, and some of its past glory has been recently restored. For nearly 150 years, the Residency complex was the seat of the British in Hyderabad and was witness to many a historical event.
The fate of this great symbol of British power remained uncertain in the months following the integration in September 1948. Hyderabad was under military rule, directly under the Central government. A civilian head could be appointed only after the Indian Constitution came into force on January 26, 1950, when M.K. Vellodi was named Chief Minister. The intervening period — from September 1948 to January 1950 — saw the Residency wealth being squandered.
It was a treasure trove of paintings, photographs, custom-made furniture, crockery, cutlery, curtains, carpets, clocks, lamps, lanterns, flower vases and so on. Many of these items were moved from the Residency to offices and homes of military and police officers, military messes, guest houses and offices of ministers in the interim government. Some furniture was moved to Deccan House in Bolaram, which was the residence of India’s Agent-General K.M. Munshi.
The ministry of states (now ministry of home affairs), following internal inquiries, asked the treasury officer of the Central government stationed in Hyderabad and the director of Hyderabad’s Department of Amira to conduct a joint assessment of items missing from the Residency, and ask the errant departments and individuals to pay for the items they had taken. It was a tough task for the officials to assess the market value of the items as most were imported or custom-made for the Residency occupants, and procured from different sources over a long period.
After an extensive exercise involving physical verification, a total of 22 lists of items that were taken away from the Residency were prepared and the value of these items was assessed at over Rs 60,000. Some unusable stuff had been sold as scrap by the public works department. More than half of the furniture and other items were found in the residences and offices of the Military Governor, Chief Minister, ministers and secretaries, according to the report submitted by R.S. Arunachalam, treasury officer to the Central government, in May 1950. The report is part of the declassified documents of the ministry of states. Chief Minister Vellodi sought a weekly report of the progress and it was duly forwarded to the Central government.
Among those in possession of the Residency furniture were the Military Governor General J.N. Chaudhari and ministers and top officers like D.S. Bakhle, C.V.S. Rao, L.C. Jain, P.H. Krishna Rao, Vepa Krishnamoorthy, A. Luthra and Muthuramakrishnan. The military officers on the list were Commander Dhargalkar, Brig. Moghe, Maj. K.K. Singh, Brig. Litchfield and Brig. Ghansham Singh.
A lot of cutlery were silver-plated while some were gold-plated too. Several door and window curtains were made with Himroo silk. The furniture included not just sofas, chairs, centre, dining, side and dressing tables, but teakwood bar cabinets, card tables, ping pong tables, large wardrobes, revolving bookcases, mahogany bow-fronted chest drawers and full-sized rose and teakwood billiard tables.
The Women’s College took possession of large portraits of all the Nizams and photographs of 32 Residents which donned the walls of the Residency, along with the original copy of the ‘firman’ conferring the title of ‘Asmath Jung Bahadur’ on Kirkpatrick and the marble bust of Sir Salar Jung (Mir Turab Ali Khan). The college was later told to transfer the paintings and photographs to the State Museum.
After the verification, many people paid up for the items they wished to keep. They included Mrs Chaudhari (wife of the Military Governor), Women’s College, and military messes. Another question was about the retention of the special officer in charge of the mansion. The Residency came under the jurisdiction of Daroga S.P. Narasimloo, and his services were utilised for the identification and verification of the Residency furniture. The post was abolished in 1950. The experience of the Residency shows that Hyderabad, over the decades, lost not just built heritage but also valuable items housed in them.
The writer a journalist and author based in New Delhi