‘Sumru’–Walter Reinhardt

Not only chronologically, but even logically, the first person we should meet, is the person to whom the Begum owes her name and position, her husband, Walter Reinhardt nicknamed Sumru.

Walter Reinhardt's life was a life of adventure. A man of courage and daring, he lived at a time when life was cheap, and people lived by their wits.

He was born round about 1720, a native of Treves or Trier in the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, a small state that lay between France and Germany. In some accounts he is referred to as a native of Strasburg. His lust for adventure brought him out to India in 1754 as a private soldier in the French East India Company. India was the ideal place for an adventurer, who had nothing to lose but everthing to gain. The fast deteriorating Mogul Empire, and the warring foreign powers, produced a situation that held out great promise to those with courage and daring.

When Clive seized the French settlement of Chandernagore in March 1757, Reinhardt was one of the small body of Frenchmen, who under the leadership of Monsieur Law, refused to surrender. This band found service and protection under the Nawab of Bengal, Intrigue and revolution brought Mir Kasim, the Nawab's son-in-law, into power and he was soon appointed Nawab of Bengal by the English in 1760. It was in Mir Kasim's service that Reinhardt rose to distinction. He trained and disciplined the Nawab's troops in the European way of warfare and had a bridge under his own command. He was soon nicknamed `Sumru', a native corruption of `Le Sombre', a name given to him by his European companions because of his swarthy complexion and the sombre cast of his features.

Soon, however, trouble arose between the English and the Nawab over trading privileges, Matters were precipitated by Ellis, the English agent at Patna who attacked the city and captured it. Mir Kasim's force recovered the city and destroyed the English garrison there. This, of course, led to open war with the English. On 2nd August, 1763 they met at Cheria. Sumru was in command of the Nawab's forces. It was the severest attack the English had yet sustained with a native army. The battle lasted four hours. The English line was broken and two of their guns captured, and 84th European battalion well nigh wiped out. But Mir Kasim eventually had to flee to Patna taking with him the English he had taken prisoners. Enraged by the hostile conduct of the English, he killed all the prisoners that he had taken. Sumru is blamed for this massacre. In the Patna Cantonment cemetery there is an obelisk in memory of the English officers and soldiers killed by the ``renegade Walter Reinhardt''. Meanwhile Mir Kasim conspired with Shah Alam II to recover Bengal from the English. But the Battle of Buxar, on the 22nd October, 1764, broke the power of the Nawab and put the whole of Bengal under British rule.

With the English out for his blood and pressurising native powers to seize him and hand him over, Sumru, with three hundred men of different nationalities marched to Bharatpur, a state then far from the reach of the British. At this time the Mogul Empire, shorn of its provinces in Bengal and the Deccan was being torn to pieces by the Marathas, Jats, Rohillas, and Sikhs. Sumru saw his opportunity and raised a body of troops of his own. It consisted of four battalions of infantry, one of cavalry and six guns, officered entirely by Europeans. He hired out these troops of his to any chief who could pay for them. For the next seven or eight years, his daring troops are recorded with many a hard fought battle, mainly in the service of the Rajah of Jaipur and in that of the Jat Chief of Bharatpur.

It was in 1769, while in the service of the Rajah of Bharatpur, then master of Agra and the surrounding territory almost upto the gates of Delhi that Sumru was appointed Commandant of the important fortress of Agra. While at Agra he repaired and embellished the famous church dating from the days of Akbar. This is the church that Akbar built for the Jesuits in 1598, but which Jehangir gave money to rebuild, not being satisfied with it. It was pulled down by Shajahan in 1635, when he declared war against the Portuguese. Later he allowed the Jesuit fathers to put up another building with the material of the ruined church. Holy Mass was said in this new building for the first time on 8th September 1636. A century later in 1758, the Afghan soldiers of Ahmad Shah Abdali sacked the place. It was eleven years after this that Sumru and Fr. Wendell of the Society of Jesus repaired the church. A Latin inscription on the wall over the inner arch of the body of the church testifies to it. Its English translation is, ``At the expense of Signor Walter Reinhardt and supervision of Rev. Fr. Francis Xavier Wendell of the Society of Jesus''. Rightly has this church been called the Cradle of Christianity in Northern India.

During the long absence of the Emperor Shah Alam in Bengal, Najib-ud-daulah, the ``Supreme Agent'' of the Afghan Abdali, governed Delhi and what was left of the Empire. On his death his authority passed on to his son Zabta Khan. But when Abdali died in 1772 and the Emperor returned, he placed the government in the hands of Nujub Khan, a Persian nobleman, who had shared his wanderings. Zabta Khan broke into rebellion. Najub Khan, who had known Sumru when in the service of Mir Kasim, and the fighting qualities of his battalion, sent for Sumru to subdue the rebel, who had retired to the mountains. Sumru laid seige to the strong fortress of Ghose Ghur. Zabta Khan was forced to flee to Oudh after a fierce struggle, leaving all his family and treasures in Pattirgur, to fall into the hands of Sumru.

As a reward, Sumru was given all the adjoining lands of the rebellious Nawab. This vast tract of land stretched in breadth from the Ganges to the Jumna and in length from beyond Muzaffarnagar to the vicinity of Aligarh. This territory yielded an annual revenue of six lakhs, equal today to a hundred times as much. Sumru fixed his capital more or less in the centre of this jaghir, at a village called Sardhana. Thus began, in 1773, what was afterwards known as the Principality of Sardhana.

Sumru had already built himself a very big balance palace while he was Moghul Commander at Agra. The wall around it was octagonal with 8 gates. It was about a mile out of the centre of Agra on the right side of the Road to Fatepur Sikri.

There is hardy anything left of it now as developers are building apartments. In 1997 there were a few well carved sand stone pillars lying around. Fortunately the huge entrance gate in which the guards were housed is still there, because people are now staying in its many rooms. The connecting wall and turrets along the road are still there though the rest of the wall has disappeared.

Above the door of the main entrance is the Coat of arms of Sumru in marble. An urdu inscription gives the date as 1763.

Sumru's battalion now found permanent employment in the service of the Emperor at the suggestion of Najub Khan. His battalion was allowed little rest. It was even used to subdue a former employer, the Rajah of Bharatpur, in a bloody battle, in 1775, at Busana, 60 miles south of Delhi. Later Sumru was sent to protect Agra against the Marathas. Thus for the second time he found himself Civil and Military Governor of Agra. It was while holding this post that he died on 4th May 1778.

He lies buried in the old Catholic Cemetery of Agra. An eight-sided monument has been erected over his remains, which bears an inscription in Portuguese and Farsi.

But the name of Sumru did not die. It lived on and reached even greater heights in the women he loved.

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Basilica of Our Lady of Graces

Sardhana P.O. Meerut District 250 342 Uttar Pradesh, India

Tel: 0123-723-6127
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