Tucked away behind some trees on Butten island in the center of Thetford sits an imposing statue of Maharaja Duleep Singh, the last Sikh maharaja and ruler of the kingdom of the Punjab.
Maharaja Duleep Singh was born in Lahore, in modern-day Pakistan, on September 6, 1838. His father Ranjit Singh was the first Sikh Maharaja of the Punjab and Sikh Empire, in modern-day eastern Pakistan and northwestern India. After his father’s death, a series of successors were killed. Finally, Duleep Singh was declared Maharaja at just five years old.
The British, through their agents in the East India Company, were quick to exploit the unstable situation in the Punjab and after two Anglo-Sikh wars, the Company took control of the region. The Maharaja, just 10 years old at the time, was forced to sign the 1849 Treaty of Lahore and surrender his lands and the prized Koh-i-Noor diamond to Queen Victoria, which is now part of the British Crown Jewels.
Exiled to England in 1854, Duleep Singh was introduced to the British court where he became a favourite of Queen Victoria, who would eventually become Godmother to several of his children.
He spent the following years traveling around Europe with various dignitaries, but after the death of his mother and his mentor Sir John Login, he returned to England.
In 1863, Maharaja Duleep Singh bought (or the India Office purchased for him) a 17,000-acre country estate at Elveden on the border between Norfolk and Suffolk, close to Thetford. He enjoyed living at Elveden Hall and remodeled the house into a palace, where lived the life of a British aristocrat. He subsequently restored the church, cottages, and school, transforming the run-down estate into an efficient game preserve. It was here that he gained his reputation as the fourth-best shot in England. After seasons of poor farming in the 1870s, a downturn in the Maharajah’s personal fortunes, and political tensions in government, the Maharajah left Elveden for Paris in 1886 after being denied permission to return to his homeland in the Punjab.
Maharaja Duleep Singh ran up large expenses and after his death in 1893, the Elveden estate was sold off by the executors to Edward Cecil Guinness to pay for his debts. Today, Elveden is owned by The 4th Earl of Iveagh, the head of the Guinness brewing family.
Know Before You Go
The statue was unveiled by HRH The Prince of Wales in 1999 and is available to visitors at all times.