After Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and was sent packing to Saint Helena, his army of mercenaries was in disarray. Though Napoleon had lost the war, it did not mean in any way that his Army constituted incompetent officers. While most of these veterans settled down in their normal rural lives, the more ambitious set out of France for military careers both to the west and to the east to countries like Persia.
At least four of these military officers from Napoleon’s Army arrived at the court of King Fateh Shah of Iran at various times after 1815. These included General Ventura, General Allard, General Avitabile and General Court among others. Though these were able officers, British ensured that these French Army veterans do not have a comfortable life in Persia and so under pressure from Great Britain, these officers had to leave Persia and one after the other, they arrived in Punjab which was still under the rule of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, atleast for the time being.
General Allard sneaked into Lahore along with General Ventura after travelling from Persia to Afghanistan and then through Khyber pass to Peshawar and Punjab. They sought the attendance before the Maharaja who at first was not very happy to see these suspected Farrangees and so he kept them under surveillance for three to four months. After assuring himself of their credentials, Maharaja assigned them the task for reorganizing Maharaja’s Special Forces. General Allard was made the incharge of Cavalry and General Ventura was to supervise the infantry. Together, the two French men were responsible for the 6000 strong ‘Fauj-i-Khas’ a kind of elite commando unit. Fauj-i-Khas was a hard core military unit with one of the finest and toughest men on board and earned the respect from East India Company forces in subsequent battles. The Fauj-i-Khas has uniforms similar to French military as well as similar standards. Some researchers point to old buildings near Munshi chambers in old Anarkali to carry the ‘French Imperial Eagle’ sign engraved on top of them but I was unfortunately not able to find those buildings.
General Ventura and General Allard built a magnificent residence in present day lower Mall next to the Anarkali tomb and set up their head quarters there. In 1847, the residence was taken over by British resident Henry Lawrence in Punjab and today the Chief Secretary of Punjab has his office in the same building. Thus contrary to the popular perception, the main buildings of today’s civil secretariat were built by the French and not the British.
General Allard was a family man without a harem, and married the Maharajah’s niece, by the name of Bano. Once Allard had a family, he shifted to another residence just outside the Secretariat building. The new site was also surrounded by the Maharajah’s military establishment, a kind of cantonment. The same area would, after the 1849-British-conquest of Punjab, be the original cantonment till the new cantonment ‘outside the city and near the shrine of Hazrat Mian Mir Sahib ’ was established. This area corresponds to the present day old Anarkali area and a walk through the streets of old Anarkali lays out the colonial barrack structures and architectures spread all over.
Allard shifted to old Anarkali area and built a vast garden. This area corresponds to the present day Custom House, Income Tax House and yesteryear’s Kapurthala House, bordered on the other side by Hazrat Mauj Darya shrine. The area is roughly a square and this was where General Allard resided with his family surrounded by a garden. The local climate at that time was not very conducive and young untimely deaths were common as is also evident from the epitaphs of Christian cemetery opposite Bhaati Gate in old Lahore. The General lost one, and according to some sources two, of his beloved daughters at a young tender age and he decided to bury them right there in the garden. Apparently the burial of the girls led to naming of the garden as ‘Kuri ala Bagh’ and even now one can find an odd old man remembering the area as ‘Kuri ala Bagh.’ The General went to his home town Saint Tropez in France in 1834 and after settling his family there, he returned according to his promise to Maharajah to lead the Sikh forces.
Known for his military acumen, the Maharajah sent General Allard to help General Avitabile to subdue the unruly frontier tribes. Allard fell ill in Peshawar and died in 1839. His body was brought to Lahore with full military honor with ceremonies and gun salutes all the way to the destination. He was buried along side his daughters in ‘Kuri ala Bagh.’ Maharaja ordered a simple but elegant burial place for his favorite General with typical Sikh era cupola dome structure on a raised platform. So while the good General and two of his daughters are buried in Lahore, his wife and the rest of the family is buried in Saint Tropez in France. The descendents of General Allard and Bano are proud owners of the memorabilia including relics from Maharaja, old robes, dresses, paintings and shawls.
Today, the ‘Kuri ala Bagh’ is reduced to a small insignificant enclosure surrounded by tall unimpressive buildings. Thanks to people like Majid Shiekh and Raheel Siddique, you can still follow their foot steps to this historical place so if you walk from Yousaf Faluda shop at old Anarkali chowk towards Jain Mandar, you shall see a Habib Bank Lake Road Branch on your left in the Munshi Chambers building. Turn left before the bank to reach the back of the bank and you would be standing in front of the mausoleum of General Allard and his daughters.
The tomb stone is inscribed in French and its translation by Olivier Ceberio reads as ‘This grave was built in 1827 by the order of knight-General Allard Sahib Bahadir, for his daughter Marie-Charlotte. May god bless her in Paradise.’ The General was to join his beloved daughter in the tomb twelve years later in 1839.
A previous version of the article was published in The News on Sunday.