Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The Begum Kothi

The Imambara at the Begum Kothi

The Begum Kothi (Lady's Quarters) was a large, imposing building with a lofty gateway and a double range of outer buildings which formed a square within a square, one side of which was the Imambara. An upper room of the Begum Kothi served as the Commissariat store-room, while the house of Mr. Quieros (today labelled the Kitchen) with its adjoining stables was utilised as a canteen and as a liquor store room. As the house and the main guard house behind it, was connected to the Begum Kothi by a passageway they were considered a part of the complex.

Inside the Begum Kothi

 Mr. Quieros' House, today labelled the Kitchen

Side view of the Begum Kothi

Renovations in the kitchen

The mosque attached to the Imambara

From its position and from the mass of its masonry, the Begum Kothi was one of the safest places to be. In spite of this, Mrs. Bartrum, who spent the entire siege in this building, was less than thrilled.

She describes the Begum Kothi as being both uninviting and dirty, with no punkahs to fend off the heat and the flies, and without any furniture. Initially she shared one room with 15 other women and their children, sleeping on the floor on mats though later they did get some charpoys to sleep on, three chairs and a table.

Mrs. Bartrum was a fugitive from Gondah (along with Mrs. Clarke and Mrs. Hale, who shared her room at the Begum Kothi) and had arrived at the Residency with nothing but the clothes on her back and her infant son – her husband, Robert, had remained behind in Gondah. As a lady without any particular rank and lacking influential friends in the Residency Mrs Bartrum was one of the many women left to fend for themselves. Her food did not come out of private stores, she drew her rations from the commissariat stores and when the last servants fled the chaos of the siege, she took it upon herself to keep the room clean -some of the other women were mentally and physically too ill to care. Determined as she was toadd to the comfort of others” she adds rather sardonically, “even if I afford them amusement by giving them occasion to call me servant-of all -work.”  1

For a time, while she was still strong, her child healthy and she was receiving occasional news from her husband, Mrs. Bartum was able to take on the work in a grim but certainly determined fashion. But as the months wore on, her own health started giving way and her son suffered repeatedly from dysentery, she writes, “...I am not inclined to look on the bright side of anything now, all looks so dark and there is no sweet hope…”  2

With few influential friends, Mrs. Bartrum had to rely on the help of strangers – a soldier who cut some firewood for her when her own dinner knife proved to be too blunt, a little milk for her child which she received every day from Mrs. Ousely, and the kind Dr. Darby who did what he could for the young widow, bringing arrowroot and suji to supplement her infant’s diet and lancing the boils that erupted on Mrs. Bartrums’ fingers. It was the kindness of a fellow sufferer – he had left his wife and baby behind at Kanpur.

Mrs. Bartrum did all her cooking on the veranda, her stove was a cooking pot placed upon two bricks, with a small fire underneath. She washed clothes (without soap) and tried to nurse her ailing friends when they became ill and in consequence, comforted their orphaned children. While the firing and discomfort was bad enough during the day, she could keep herself occupied, but at night, without a reliable punkah, the room became terrifically hot, the incessant noise of musketry and shelling keeping her alert, the flies twice as bothersome and rats crawling over the restless children, it is no surprise Mrs. Bartrum’s diary makes for very bleak reading. With very little news from the outside, even from the other posts, she does not speak of the siege in terms of battles and victories. Her husband Robert, who was part of Havelock’s force was killed on approach the Residency and he died without ever seeing his family again. His body was never recovered. Kate's son survived the siege, but died in November, the day before they were due to leave Kolkatta for England. Mrs. Bartrum sailed home alone. For her, there was to be no happy ending.

1, 2, p. 22, p. 49, A Widows Reminiscence of the Siege of Lucknow - Kate Bartrum (1858)

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