Edinburgh Castle agrees to re-word sign that 'pandered to imperialism'

A sign at Edinburgh Castle that describes British soldiers who fought in the Siege of Lucknow as “heroes” will be replaced with one that is “accurate and balanced”, officials have said.

Thursday, 19th November 2020, 7:00 am

The decision was prompted by a complaint from a visitor who said the sign, next to the India Cross on the Castle’s esplanade, was “too celebratory of the British and dismissive of the Indian forces”.

Vivek Majumder, a junior doctor from Marchmont, spotted the sign while on a walk late last month.

“The description of the battle wasn’t inaccurate, it was more how the belligerents were presented I took issue with,” he explained.

A sign at Edinburgh Castle that describes British soldiers who fought in the Siege of Lucknow as “heroes” will be replaced with one that is “accurate and balanced”, officials have said.

“In my eyes it was blatant pandering to imperialism,” said the 26-year-old.

“It was not the first time I had seen distasteful imperialistic things in Scottish public spaces, but this was the first that painted the British as ‘Heroes’ and that Lucknow was ‘relieved’.”

The Siege of Lucknow followed from a mutiny of most of the 100,000 soldiers in the British East India Company’s Bengal Army, stationed in North India, in 1857.

Sir Henry Lawrence, the East India Company’s Commissioner in Lucknow ordered his garrison to retreat into the British Residency in the city.

The British Residency in Lucknow, India, 1858. The Residency was the centre of the first Siege of Lucknow and the scene of the death of British military commander Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence. (Photo by Felice Beato/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The soldiers survived for 6 months before they were finally reached by a force including the 93rd Highlanders, under the command of Scottish general Sir Colin Campbell.

British Indian Dr Majumder said he was “initially shocked, then infuriated,” when he read the sign.

Just a week after he emailed an official at Historic Environment Scotland (HES), which is responsible for the signs at Edinburgh Castle, officials accepted his criticism, and promised to re-write it.

“I don’t think Britain’s past should be forgotten, nor its attitudes in the past,” Dr Majumder said, “there’s an 8ft stone celtic cross there that needs explaining!

“But I think this is a step in the right direction in how we should explain the past and examine it from a neutral light.”

Dr Crispin Bates, Professor of South Asian History at the University of Edinburgh, explained that in 1857, “the crushing of the uprising was seen in Britain as a great victory of British civilisation over violent and barbaric Asiatics.

“Unsurprisingly, Indians see these events very differently.

“In 1910, Indian nationalist V.D. Savarkar called it 'The First National Indian War of Independence',” he said.

“Many continue to use this term, seeing in the events of 1857 as an occasion when peoples of all classes and faiths in North India came together to fight successfully for freedom.

“The 150th anniversary of the Uprising in 2007 was a major occasion for national commemoration,” Prof Bates added.

Commenting on its decision, a spokesperson for HES said: “We agree the use of the contemporary British description of the regiment as the ‘Heroes of Lucknow’ lacked qualification in the context of the siege and the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

“A fuller context of the siege, including from an Indian perspective, is critical for our visitors to better understand this event and why it led to the erection of the India Cross on the Esplanade at Edinburgh Castle.

“As such, one of our historians is currently undertaking research into the siege and the Rebellion of 1857 to ensure the new content on an updated panel, is accurate and balanced.”

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