The Saviour of the 5th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon

                                                         With a Note O

                             Prince Victor Duleep Singh’s Army Years

                                                By William Cross, FSA Scot

 

The First Sikh Settler in Britain

Lord George Carnarvon’s perpetual companion, Prince Victor Duleep Singh, was the grandson of Maharajah Ranjit Singh of Lahore, the Lion of the Punjab and the founder of the great Sikh empire, who died in 1839.  Victor’s father Maharajah Duleep (sometimes recorded as Dilip or Dhuleep) Singh was born in 1838 and died in Paris, in 1893, he was deemed the last Maharajah of the Indian state of Lahore, in the Punjab, although he lived most of his life in Scotland and England, and later in semi-exile in Paris, France.

Today, Prince Victor’s father Maharajah Duleep Singh is regarded as the first Sikh settler in Britain  This is because he was brought to Britain, as a boy in 1854, after his country,  the Punjab was annexed by the East India Company in 1849.

Prince Victor Albert Duleep Singh

Who was Victor Duleep Singh? The last Maharajah’s eldest son Prince Victor, whose full name of Victor Albert  Jay Duleep Singh was born in Britain. His godmother was Queen Victoria, who stood as sponsor for him in the Private Chapel at Windsor at his baptism in 1866. 

The Prince was brought up an English gentleman; he was regularly at Court and dined with the Queen and other members of the Royal family.

With his handsome appearance of being half- Indian, half -European,  (he had a white mother) Victor stood out as an attractive male figure in Society circles.  His mother, Bamba Muller was the daughter of a German merchant named Ludwig Muller of Alexandria, Egypt. and an Abyssinian- Egyptian, Sofia. Bamba had married Victor’s father at the British Consulate in Alexandra on 7 June 1864.  Queen Victoria approved the union, but there had been discussion of the Maharajah marrying a Princess from one of the Royal families of Europe.  Bamba, who died in 1887, had three sons, the other boys being Prince Frederick and Prince Edward and also several daughters. The Maharajah married again and had further issue.

Prince Victor Duleep Singh and Lord Carnarvon

Victor and Frederick were close siblings ( their brother Edward died at aged 14 ). But Victor’s dearest friend outside his family circle was George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, who was also born in 1866. The boys were deeply attached to each other, almost inseparable companions.

In their development years they were virtually co-joined.  Victor attended Eton College with Lord Carnarvon, and later Cambridge University, with Lord Carnarvon. At this time Carnarvon was known as Lord Porchester, or as              “ Porchey”.  by family and friends.  Like Porchey, Victor was not scholarly. Also like his friend he adored his mother, the Maharanee, Bamba. Sadly Porchey lost his own mother, Lady Evelyn Stanhope, 4th Countess of Carnarvon, in 1876, when he was only nine years old. It affected his emotional development.

Porchey failed to get into the army as he was not considered robust enough, by virtue of suffering various childhood illnesses, but both he and Victor had tried to map out this as a future, simply to be together.

Victor won a place at Sandhurst and was eventually commissioned in the 1st Royal Dragoons. Bertie, Prince of Wales, took an interest in him, as he requested to do so by the Queen.  

Prince Victor’s Mother Protects her Son “Vickie”

Bamba painstakingly guarded the inner weaknesses of her son  “Vickie” especially when he was young against the temperamentally, highly charged figure of the Maharajah, who, as Victor was growing up, rebelled against his handlers, the British establishment, and left Britain (with his family in tow) vowing to return to the Punjab and to incite his former people against the British. He was stopped en route to India, at Aden, with an arrest warrant issued by the Viceroy of India, and fled to Russia to seek aid, but was later obliged to apologise to Queen Victoria for disloyalty.  In the interim period Bamba was given permission to return to England, with her children.

 Victor and Porchey Carnarvon Sow Their Oats

Lord Porchester shared with Victor a domineering father figure in the background of his entire childhood.  The 4th Earl was clever, at times humourless and almost always unwilling to compromise.

Victor’s father  (much like Victor himself) had an eye for the ladies, the Maharajah “ dallied with courtesans” and set up several mistresses from the chorus line of the variety theatres of London and Paris he frequented.  Porchey was awkward, shy and clumsy with women. Victor delighted in leading his weaker, inexperienced, disinterested friend astray, indeed even into indulging in “ wild ways”. The preferred course was for visiting common prostitutes, who were available ( and tolerated ) on the Continent and in Egypt, although the host of diseases these women carried put young men in danger of being blighted for life. Whilst at Cambridge, both men formed all male – but more social associations – their contemporaries included the notorious “Prince Eddy”, Duke of Clarence and Lord Francis Hope- of the Hope diamond fame- but there is no evidence either Victor or George was deflected into seeking carnal pleasures in the company of these  sometimes darker fellows.

In Europe and Egypt the boys continued to sow their oats, although Carnarvon’s experiences were  dismal failures. But such an outcome did not apply to his zeal for maintaining his gambling habit. The Carnarvon heir and the young rakish Prince Victor both furiously played the gaming tables of Paris and Monte Carlo. Alas, neither was good with money, both quickly spent their allowance, in Victor’s case from the Indian Office, and ran up huge debts. Porchey received an alloance from his father, until 1887, when he came of age and inherited his mother legacies, including the Stanhope pile of  Bretby Park, but  Porchey’s father called a halt to his son’s excesses and the two boys were parted when Victor was obliged to settle down into army life.

Victor’s Chequered Army Life

Victor enjoyed a chequered army life. He was gazetted to a cavalry regiment in 1888, the same year his first bankruptcy petition was issued although this was dropped after the underlying debts were cleared. In April 1889 the Prince returned on leave from Canada and “resumed a merry round of festivities with his friends” This meant extravagant eating and running up bills that generally went unpaid, taking part in card and gambling schools and attending horse racing events.  Victor shared with Carnarvon a profound loathing of opening up letters that had the faintest resemblance to being bills. The 6th Earl reflects on this about his father in his Memoirs, No Regrets

The boys missed each other and sneaked meetings. In 1889 Victor missed seeing and dominating Carnarvon’s plans in England.  In February of that year Porchey went on a tour through Egypt and Africa. He was absent from England for several months.   It is suggested that Carnarvon only went to Egypt  “ for the gambling” but he adored Egyptian art. 

Victor was eventually posted to Halifax Nova Scotia on the staff as ADC to General Sir John Ross, the Commander of Queen Victoria’s forces in British North America. He spent much of his time frequenting the fashionable resorts. Whilst staying at Newport on the East Coast with businessman Lawrence Turnure, it was said he had proposed to his host’s attractive daughter named Jeanne. The family denied any such involvement.  A few weeks afterwards Victor fled back to England in deep debt leaving behind numerous dealers’ bills.  One unpaid item for $368 was  “ a writ issued by Adolph Chariviere and Rodigiere for a “T cart ” and a toboggan.”

The American papers portrayed Victor unromantically as “ short and stout”. His eating and drinking habits were gargantuan. When cornered he also lacked integrity. And often the chips were down. He absconded to great embarrassment so the Army authorities that made good his defaults.  In the hurry and scurry of fleeing Victor had still been able to dispose of five ponies.

In turn the English papers portrayed those enraged amongst the aristocratic society of Halifax as “ being duped by their love of titles and turf hunting propensities..”

Another particularly embarrassing case involving Victor was an action in Westminster County Court by Houghton and Gun for a debt of £16 for stationery supplied to him. A description of the debtor (for whom a warrant and order of committal was issued) included this:

“ the royal defendant lived in a sumptuous manner at a fashionable hotel, and he kept several male servants, whose keep he paid for upon a liberal scale. He was a member of two of the leading clubs, had a private hansom cab and held the position of lieutenant in the army.”

The Prince of Wales, who was at times in trouble with his parent over his own behaviour, intervened as Victor excused his caddish behaviour as he said he, was under pressure owing to the illness of his father who was living in exile in Paris after a paralytic stroke.  The old man the Maharajah Singh had become reconciled with Queen Victoria who excused his early escapades in stirring up anti-British feelings.   On his father’s death Queen Victoria wrote to Victor of “ a great comfort and satisfaction …that I saw Maharajah Duleep Singh  ( in 1891 ) at Grasse and that all was made up between us.”

Victor attempted to resign his Army commission.  The outcome was that Victor was not required to rejoin his regiment for duty. He was designated a “ supernumerary Captain” with a continuing right to wear its uniform. 

It is difficult to find evidence that Victor ever sacrificed anything keynote to be at his father’s bedside in the old Maharajah’s final years.  Viscount Cross wrote to Lord Lansdowne, his successor as Indian Viceroy saying that  the Maharajah’s  “ eldest son has been over to Paris once or twice, I am sorry to say. They will not do each other any good; The son has committed an act of bankruptcy; I cannot pay his debts again, but I mean to keep him in the army if I can. He is, however, a thorough oriental extravagance.” 

The Death of the Maharajah Duleep Singh in Paris in 1893

As already recorded, Victor was never at ease with his papa.  The Maharajah had also sold or pawned everything off to pay for his campaign against the Crown. The disposal of the family estate at Elvedon Hall in Norfolk (which had been considered by the Prince of Wales before finally deciding on Sandringham as a Royal site) was another regret for Victor as it offered some of the best shooting in the country.  Even the sale of a substantial hoard of diamonds had produced a poor return to the Maharajah.  A second wife and a second family added to the old man’s burden. He was a broken man.

When the Maharajah died in 1893, Carnarvon ( who had succeeded to the Earldom in 1890) and Victor were playing away together on a pleasure trip to Berlin. The Singh death, and also at this time  that of his younger brother, Edward ( at aged just 14 )   temporarily curbed their gallivanting.

Carnarvon Forced to Marry To Pay Off  His Debts

As Carnarvon’s huge debt mounted, his creditors required him to seek an early bail out plan.  He was forced to marry someone with money.  But in no state for matrimony, physically or emotionally he agreed to make Almina Wombwell his Countess, simply because she had access to Rothschild money. 

Carnarvon liked gazing on the images of actresses, or music hall types, and was content being a passive voyeur.  As a boy of nine, gazing on the beautiful dead body of his beloved mother had arrested his desire towards real women.  He found Almina repugnant, he was tall and thin, and she was small and foreign and endlessly spoke French. Almina was swept into the marriage deal not knowing the Earl’s incapacity, or that his manner and temper were vicious and thus of the inevitable doom to follow.  The Earl rudely shunned Almina almost as soon as they became engaged – he announced he was leaving Britain on a long yachting holiday with Victor to South America.

Almina’s Disappointment with  Lord Carnarvon

Naturally Victor was Lord Carnarvon’s best man.  Almina (who was barely aged 17 when engaged and only aged 19 at her marriage) was inexperienced with men, although her mother guided her into keeping herself alluring and mysterious but coy. She loved clothes and shoes it was said spent upwards of five hours a day trying on and taking off her trousseau.  But Almina was disappointed in Carnarvon’s coldness and remoteness. Even once married, Carnarvon showed little familiar interest in her, and merely issued orders, only Victor showed her any kind of attention as a young girl on the threshold of seeking a man’s love and for a glimmer of romance.

Victor’s creditors were also closing in on him. Like Carnarvon he needed a rich wife. He continued to act the playboy; however he was now obese and not as attractive a catch.  He was regularly sighted lingering in Cannes, Monte Carlo, Wildbad and Baden Baden. Carnarvon gave him money and shelter and allowed him to lie low at Bretby Park and Highclere.   He usually accompanied the Earl and Almina around their world, including trips to Scotland for the shooting rounds (a passion he always shared with Carnarvon), London season rituals,  and he travelled or met up with them on the Continent for the horse racing.  Almina soon stepped out as the Countess of Carnarvon and quickly gained confidence, including finding sanctuary below stairs at Highclere. She knew she could be a dazzling hostess, a show wife and proved this in the first year of being Chatelaine of Highclere, by entertaining the Prince of Wales and his party, to great admiration. Almina also realised Lord Carnarvon’s faults were deeply rooted, he was incapable of loving. Victor helped explain everything since he’d been there at Carnarvon’s side for almost already two decades.

So there were in effect three people inside the Carnarvons’ loveless marriage.  Almina was unhappy with her husband.  She offered no objections to having Victor around, even in residence, she encouraged him to visit and to stay as long as he desired. Carnarvon cherished having his beloved chum Victor at hand. The Earl had very few other same basis friendships.

Almina  agreed to help Victor secure a wife. Victor already had his eye on someone, Lady Anne Coventry, daughter of the 9th Earl of Coventry of Croome Court, Worcestershire. A pact of sorts began between Almina, 5th Countess of Carnarvon and  Prince Victor Duleep Singh, involving dangerous liaisons   that would have incredible results for all the parties.  One consequence was that Almina fell pregnant, and had a son, Henry, in 1898. He  became heir to the Carnarvon titles and entailed lands, in 1923, after the death of Lord Carnarvon from the famous insect bite.  The paternity of the boy, Henry, Lord Porchester, 6th Earl of Carnarvon  is a ” grey area” .  ( See the Epilogue to ” The Life and Secrets of Almina Carnarvon” A candid biography of Almina, 5th Countess of Carnarvon. by William Cross, FSA Scot ).

Victor’s Move to Marry Lady Anne Coventry

Victor’s finances were never in good shape. He raided the family treasure cabinets to fend off his creditors and give an outward appearance of stability to Lady Anne’s father the Earl of Coventry.  His intentions over Coventry’s daughter were long formed he was aware of her through her brother Viscount Deerhurst who was a contemporary with him and Carnarvon at Eton and Cambridge. 

Christies sold a collection of Singh’s porcelain including a piece of old Dresden ware 8 inches high representing a man and woman embracing, which raised 235 guineas and a set of four vases pierced with trellis design which brought him a further 190 guineas.

Victor was not home and dry in winning Lady Anne’s hand. He wrote to Queen Victoria appealing for her intervention in respect of obliging the India Office to give assurances about his allowance.

“ Lord Coventry only permits the engagement subject to satisfactory financial arrangements being made.” 

But all this was turned round. The first week of 1898 saw the marriage of Victor, (described as a Captain in the Royal Dragoons), to Lady Anne Coventry, the third daughter of the 9th Earl and Countess of Coventry.  The match (whether it was love or merely convenience based) between Victor and Anne was not without opposition all the way up the establishment to the Queen herself. Anne’s parents, and Viscount Deerhurst were against it. Race, colour and religion were cited as being incompatible. In the end all the objections ceased, they were married. The honeymoon was first spent in Monte Carlo and later in Egypt.

The Carnarvons Join the Singhs on Honeymoon in Egypt

The Carnarvons joined the Singhs in Egypt during their honeymoon. Anne had just told Victor they could never ever make love. It was a promise she  made (or indeed they both made) to Victor’s god mother, Queen Victoria, in exchange for receiving Royal consent to the first inter- race marriage of a English girl with a Sikh.

Here in 1898,  although almost two years married, Almina had already lived without love.  The Earl’s idea of lovemaking was to compliment her on the production of a good dinner table after a long day’s partridge shooting.  And so, not surprisingly the anguished and displaced partners of these two deadlocked relationships  other’s arms.

Almina’s first baby was christened, in late 1898, Prince Victor Duleep Singh  was one of the god parents.  The young Carnarvon heir’s godfather  passed on his remarkable shooting skills to the boy.  A ring, given by Lord Carnarvon to Victor as a token of their long  friendship was passed in Victor’s will to Henry, to regard as a family heirloom.

Victor’s Inevitable Bankruptcy

By 1900, Victor was in grave peril. His creditors were closing in on him. This time he was finally emasculated. According to one assessment:

 “…he owed a staggering £17,721 of which £7277 was due to bookmakers and money lenders including debts with Messrs Goodson Fry and O Connor, bookmakers to the gentry”.  

To attempt a reversal of fortune he spent January to February of 1900 playing the tables at Monte Carlo.

In 1902 it was the worst of times for Victor. He was now officially bankrupt. A Receiving Order was made against him on 4 September 1902. He was described as 36 years old lately residing at Hockwold Hall, Brandon, Norfolk.  Since 1 September he had been living in Paris.

Later  Mr Registrar  Broughall sat on 17 October to conduct his public examination.  However Victor was lying low in Paris. His state of his affairs was grim. He had liabilities of £100,141. 5s 5d with securities valued at £85,461, 5s 5d, unsecured liabilities were £19,058.13s.9d. Curiously Victor stated his assets amounted to £607,682 11s 6d, of which £600,000 was a claim he had outstanding against the India Office. Victor’s income was given as an allowance of £7000 a year from the Indian government and his wife received additionally £2000. He attributed his failure to an inadequacy of the amount of his allowance and he admitted losses through Stock Exchange speculations and betting.  The hearing was adjourned until 9 December.   

Since Victor did not attend on 9 December a further adjournment was made compelling him to attend for his public examination on  10 February 1903. He complied and swore to fight on. But he lost all his claims against the Secretary of State ( taken up by his trustee in bankruptcy) and eventually accepted his fate to be exiled to Paris for the rest of his life.

Prince Victor Duleep Singh’s Loyalty to the Carnarvons

In the years that followed Victor saw the Carnarvons regularly. He was ever loyal and ready to be there if and when they needed him.

In 1913, Lady Almina Carnarvon reached her wits end. Her beloved mother, Marie Wombwell, the only parent she had ever known was dead.  It was a tragic, debilitating death. The woman was always close. Almina nursed her dear mother to her very last breath. Understandably, as Marie’s life slipped away, Almina felt completely alone in the world. Almina’s only and much loved older brother, Frederick Adolphus Wombwell, had died the previous year, at the age of 42.

The one man whose sympathy and comfort Almina cherished most at this critical time was not her husband, Lord George Carnarvon, and it was not her guardian, Baron Alfred de Rothschild; at this terrifyingly hellish moment in her life Almina’s saviour was  Prince Victor Duleep Singh. 

 He had been there as an unrivalled companion and mentor for both Lord Carnarvon and Almina in their good times, and horrendous times.  One important example of the bad times being in 1909, when Lord Carnarnon met with a serious motorcar accident in Germany. Then it was Prince Victor Duleep Singh who rushed from London, the very next day, using a rapid combination of rail and ferry and road transports to be at the Earl’s bedside in order to offer first hand support to his much loved friends, the Carnarvons.

By 1913, although long exiled in Paris, Victor acted with the same speed, as he had done for the Earl four years earlier. Upon hearing of Marie Wombwell’s passing, Victor travelled especially to England to offer Almina his considerable-sized shoulder to cry on. 

Leaning on Victor’s shoulder was something Lady Almina had done many times before.  In a strange way Prince Victor Duleep Singh held the Carnarvon marriage together from the very start. He was far closer than Almina was to her often cantankerous husband, yet he was placed closer still to Almina, closer even than any parent or sibling, or  her husband.

If there was ever a moment when Almina felt capable of deserting Lord Carnarvon it was this desolate time following her mother’s death. Almina’s financier guardian,  Alfred de Rothschild could see that Almina was suffering under the strain, and whilst Marie lay dying he took a let of Castle Ashby, Northampton as an ample house with beautiful gardens, where Almina could retreat.  

Victor had been Almina’s knight in shining armour, often. The Prince’s life in Paris was a lonely, lazy but often leisurely one. He played the tables and occasionally travelled, with his wife, Lady Anne (whose title was Princess Duleep Singh), to the German and Swiss Spas and gambled at Monte Carlo, but his health was crumbling from a past wave of physical and dietary excesses.  He persuaded Almina to return to her full place at Countess of Carnarvon.  Soon the Great War changed both their lives, Almina became a nurse, and Victor continued to live in Paris through the war and died of a heart attack, aged 52, in his adored Monte Carlo, in 1918. Lady Anne, Princess Duleep Singh returned to England and died in 1956.

Prince Victor Duleep Singh’s godson Henry, Lord Porchester, became the 6th Earl of Carnarvon  in 1923 and died in 1987.

 William Cross, FSA Scot is the author of ” The Life and Secrets of Almina Carnarvon” : A Candid Biography of the 5th Countess of Carnarvon of Tutankhamun fame.

For further details about the book please contact the Author at williecross@aol.com

William Cross, FSA Scot

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For more details about the book please see the following web sites :

http://lifeandsecretsofalminacarnarvon.yolasite.com/

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Note on Sources : Sources used to compile this article include various  files at National Archives, Kew, newspapers and journals at the British Library Newspaper division and the excellent  books on the Duleep Singh family by Peter Bance. However  the article is wholly the work of William Cross, FSA,  Scot. Any errors  and inferences made are his and his alone. He would be happy to correct anything that is known to be incorrect by interested viewers. He would also welcome additional information known to anyone about the relationship between Prince Victor and the 5th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon.  Please e-mail Will at

williecross@aol.com

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