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Life in India

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Rajah Randhir Singh of Kapurthala, like many Maharajahs, overindulged in his royal luxuries. In the late 1850s he found himself with an annual income of only 1 lakh rupees, and as a result urged for the marriage of the daughter of an East Indian gentleman who managed his estates. The girl who was named Henrietta Melvina Hodges was a protestant Christian, baptised in 1841 and educated by the American Presbyterian missionaries. Her father, Robert Theodore Hodges was the head writer at Ludhiana, Punjab and tutor to Raja Randhir Singh.


The young Henrietta became the third wife of Rajah Randhir Singh in 1859. She soon had three daughters, princess Melvina R S Ahluwalia who was born in 1860, Princess Victoria Ahluwalia who died as an infant and lastly Princess Helen Marion Ahluwalia who was born in 1864. The Raja was very accommodating for his wife in terms of her religious practises; in 1854 the two missionaries who educated his wife were invited to establish themselves at Kapurthala on their own terms. Unlike Maharajah Duleep singh, Rajah Randhir Singh was known to be the first Indian noble not avowedly a Christian to support a mission amongst his own people.


Despite this, the marriage between the Maharajah and the young Rani was quickly destabilised. After 9 years of marriage, Lady Rundheer sought separation from her husband due to incompatibility and unsettled disputes. The news of the Maharajah’s irretrievable marriage soon reached British and Indian newspapers that were curious about the fate of the Rani and her two young daughters. In 1867, ‘serious differences’ were said to have arisen between husband and wife and Lady Rundheer was described to have ‘well grounded complaints against her husband’, whose treatment has compelled her seek refuge with her father. The true nature of the Maharaja’s behaviour is unclear; however the Rani rapidly sought a divorce and custody of her children and utilised any support available to her to secure her independence.


Lady Rundheer left the Maharajah as soon as the opportunity rose, and took her young daughters with her. Whilst being separated in India, she also exercised her rights to property and wealth from the Maharajah that she so desired. A London merchant who had lived in India for some time, Edward Ebenser Meakin, was asked to interest himself on behalf of Lady Rundheer Singh. He arrived in India to settle matters between the Maharajah and the Rani who were separated at the time, and successfully obtained property for her from the prince. As the Rani maximised her gains and solidified her independence, in 1870 she finalised her divorce and set in motion her plans to settle in England with her two daughters, Melvina and Helen.

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