The Tribune - Spectrum

, June 23, 2002

Here walks the ghost of British Resident
K.R.N. Swamy

A view of the Brij Raj Bhawan Palace Hotel
A view of the Brij Raj Bhawan Palace Hotel

THE Brij Raj Bhawan Palace Hotel, a heritage hotel, set in beautiful gardens stands on the banks of the Chambal river, near the city of Kota in Rajasthan in India. It has the only ghost of the Sepoy Mutiny still "active", the ghost of Major Charles Burton, killed by Indians in the 1857 armed revolt against the British.

In 1857, the building was the British Residency and the home of the Resident posted to Kota, Major Charles Burton of the 40th Bengal Native Infantry. He and his family had lived there for 13 years. In May 1857, at the outbreak of the mutiny, Major Burton was summoned (with the Kota troops lent by the Maharaja) by the British General commanding the nearby Neemuch cantonment for the protection of that place. His wife, four sons in their early manhood and a teenaged daughter accompanied him to Neemuch. When Burton was on field duty, the Neemuch garrison mutinied and destroyed the cantonment before fleeing the station. The Burtons and other British families escaped to the small fort of Jewud, where his eldest son was in charge. Burtonís family was there till October, 1857, when the Maharaja of Kota requested him to return. This he did, accompanied by his two younger sons, Arthur, 21, and Francis, 19, while his wife and other children stayed back.


The Burtons arrived at Kota on December 13, 1857, and met with every mark of kindness. All seemed peaceful. Two days later, Major Burton saw a large party approaching the Residency. At first he assumed that some of the troops of the Maharaja had come to pay a friendly visit. But in a moment, the building was surrounded and entered by the soldiers, who had mutinied.

Abandoned by all their servants, except one camel-driver, Major Burton and his two sons took refuge in an upper room with the few arms that they had been able to snatch and waited for help to arrive from the Maharaja, while the house was looted below them. After five hours of firing, Major Burton wished to plead with the mutineers for the lives of his sons, offering himself as a hostage. But his sons would not agree. They then knelt down and said their prayers.

A final plea to the Sikh soldiers, supposedly guarding the Residency, to free the boat on the river below, to enable them to escape, fell on deaf ears. By then, scaling ladders had been placed against the wall, mutineers ascended to the terrace and Major Burton and his two sons, who had retreated to the room below were murdered. The Maharaja of Kota managed the same evening to recover the bodies and have them buried. But he himself was now a virtual prisoner in his palace surrounded by his own mutinous troops. It was only in March, 1858, that Kota was retaken by the British. The bodies of the Burtons were disinterred and buried in the Kota cemetery with full military honours. The plaque (now missing c. 2002) on their tomb recounted the manner of their deaths and concluded chillingly: "This tablet is erected by a broken hearted wife and mother Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord, I will repay". Two years later, two of the Indian leaders of the Mutiny, Jai Dayal and Mehrab Khan, who led the attack on the Residency, were hanged within the grounds of the mansion. After Indiaís Independence in 1947, the above two are revered by Indians as martyrs of the freedom movement and roses and herbacious border cover the memorial spot, where the gallows stood in 1860.

Charles Burtonís ghost still haunts the old building and susceptible guests have complained of distinctly "discomforting and oppressive feelings". In the 1930ís Iris Portal came to Kota. Her father had been loaned by the Government of India to the Maharaja of Kota to do a land settlement in the state. Her parents became great friends with the ruler. That is how at the age of 17, she found herself spending the Christmas at the Old Residency, which had been turned into a state guest house. She was given her room in the first floor, which had one side with four separate entrances, including one from an upstairs balcony and two leading from the roof where the Burtons had made a last desperate stand. That night though nothing was actually seen, it was one of cold fear for Iris Portal, who had been too frightened to sleep. The next day, she requested her mother to remove her to another room.

It was not until she returned to Delhi that Iris Portal learnt the story of the Resident and his sons, who it seems in 1857 had descended from the roofs and were killed in the room she had stayed.

After Independence, the mansion became the private property of the Maharaja of Kota. In the 1970s, the Government of India abolished the privy purses and privileges of the maharajas, and the ex-maharaja of Kota, to minimise his expenses moved into the former Residency, renovating the building and calling it as Brij Raj Bhawan. Today, it is a heritage palace-hotel. Ask the staff and they will tell you that in the still of the night, an English voice has been often heard by the drowsy chowkidars (watchmen) to say, "Donít sleep, no smoking" followed by a sharp slap. The ghost of Burton still patrols the mansion.

The fact that the ghost of Major Burton was active in the 1980ís ó has also been stated by the then Yuvrani (Crown Princess) of Kota. As quoted by Ann Morrow in her book "The Maharajas of India", page 106-107, the Yuvrani stated "As far as we know, he (Major Burton) is an elderly man with white hair and a walking stick. I have seen him myself, because he was murdered in the first floor bedroom, which is now my study. The trouble with Major Burton is that he never goes off duty. He wanders around the palace and if he catches a servant asleep, gives him a quick slap on the cheek. He is the only restless soul around in summer, when it can be like furnace in Kota". The Yuvraj (Crown Prince) her husband said, "The old Major has never appeared to me. We Indians have a belief, that physically there are three types of humans (Deva, Manush & Asura, meaning angelic, human and devilish) and I am of the Deva type. The Deva group are never bothered by spirits. I guess that I belong to that group!" The Yuvrani, a bright lively woman opened the door to Ann Morrow into her study, which was painted pink and full of flowers. "Now this is where Major Burton was killed." The idea did not make her in the least nervous.

But today, as a heritage hotel, in order not to scare away Ďbusinessí, the staff are reluctant to discuss Major Burton with guests, although under promise of anonymity, they agree that his ghost is very much "alive" in the mansion. MF

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