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Duleep Singh, Princess Sophia Alexandrafree

(1876–1948)
  • Rozina Visram

Princess Sophia Alexandra Duleep Singh (1876–1948)

by unknown photographer, pubd 1913

The Women's Library, London Metropolitan University

Duleep Singh, Princess Sophia Alexandra (1876–1948), suffragette, was born on 8 August 1876 probably at Elveden Hall, Suffolk, the sixth of seven children of Maharaja Duleep Singh (1838–1893), exiled by the British at the annexation of the Punjab, and his first wife, Bamba Müller (1848–1887). Her mother was the daughter of Ludwig Müller, a partner in the German firm of merchant bankers Todd, Müller & Co. of Alexandria, and an Ethiopian woman. Her father, a Sikh convert to Christianity (who later re-embraced Sikhism), was a naturalized British citizen, living on a pension of £25,000 per annum; her mother was Christian. She had four brothers, including Frederick Victor Duleep Singh (1868–1926), and four sisters, two from her father's second marriage. Educated at home, Princess Sophia became an enthusiastic photographer. She lived at Faraday House, Hampton Court, Middlesex, and like her sisters, inherited the sum of £23,200 after the death of her father.

An Indian princess, brought up as a member of the British aristocracy, Princess Sophia none the less retained a sense of Sikh family heritage and pride in Indian culture. This involved her in the patronage of Indians in Britain, and her generous assistance was instrumental in establishing the Lascar Club in London's East End. Her chief activity, however, was campaigning to win votes for women in Britain through the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) and the Women's Tax Resistance League (WTRL). Mrs Blathwayt recorded that she had been converted to the views of WSPU at the home of Una Dugdale, and she became an active campaigner between 1909 and 1914, both nationally and locally, in the Richmond and Kew branch as well as the Kingston and District branch of WSPU. Her sister Princess Catherine Duleep Singh was an active member of the Esher and Molesey branch of the WSPU.

Princess Sophia took a prominent part in the first deputation to parliament on 18 November 1910, ‘black Friday’, heading the deputation with Mrs Pankhurst, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Dorinda Neligan, and others. She played an active role in publicity campaigns, in July 1911 driving in the first cart in the parade of ‘press carts’ delivering copies of Votes for Women to various pitches in London. An energetic fund-raiser for WSPU, in April 1911 she contributed cake and sweets for the opening of the Pankhursts' Streatham tea-shop. Listed as a collector, she was also a regular seller of The Suffragette at her ‘pitch’ outside Hampton Court. Locally, the branch reports are peppered with 'special thanks' for her fund-raising activities. She regularly spoke at meetings of the Richmond branch, and in March 1913 chaired a meeting of the Kingston and District branch.

It was as a tax resister, however, that Sophia Duleep Singh, the sole Indian member of the WTRL, made her greatest impression. Taking her stand on the principle that taxation without representation was tyranny, she registered her defiance on several occasions by refusing to pay her taxes. Refusal to pay taxes and fines levied could lead to goods being impounded by the bailiffs under ‘distraint’ and sold by public auction to recover sums due. In May 1911, at Spelthorne petty sessions, her refusal to pay licences for her five dogs, carriage, and manservant led to a fine of £3. In July 1911, against arrears of 6s. in rates, she had a seven stone diamond ring impounded and auctioned at Ashford for £10. The ring was bought by a member of the WTRL and returned to her. In December 1913 she was summoned again to Feltham police court for employing a male servant and keeping two dogs and a carriage without licence. Her refusal to pay a fine of £12 10s. resulted in a pearl necklace, comprising 131 pearls, and a gold bangle studded with pearls and diamonds, being seized under distraint and auctioned at Twickenham town hall, both items being bought by members of WTRL, the necklace fetching £10 and the bangle £7. Such actions were a means of achieving publicity. Members of the WTRL, by buying articles under distraint, and organizing protest demonstrations and meetings after the auction, generated interest and sympathy in the movement. Sophia Duleep Singh's high-profile stand was thus significant, and an important contribution to women's struggle before the First World War, especially in the Richmond and Twickenham district.

In 1915 Sophia Duleep Singh was part of the 10,000-strong women's war work procession led by Emmeline Pankhurst. After the death of Mrs Pankhurst in 1928 she was appointed president of the committee which provided flowers for her statue. She joined the Suffragette Fellowship, remaining a member until her death. Her passionate commitment to the women's cause continued, as demonstrated by the fact that in the 1934 edition of Women's Who's Who she listed 'Advancement of Women' as her one and only interest.

In 1935 Sophia Duleep Singh lent to the Inverness Museum her brother Prince Frederick Duleep Singh's collection of Stuart relics. She remained unmarried. She died of cardiac failure on 22 August 1948 at her home, Hilden Hall, Tylers Green, Chepping, Wycombe, Buckinghamshire; she was cremated at Golders Green on 26 August.

Sources

  • R. Visram, Asians in Britain: four hundred years of history (2002)
  • G. D. Heath and J. Heath, The women's suffrage movement in and around Richmond and Twickenham (1968)
  • financial settlement of Maharajah Dalip Singh, BL OIOC, L/P&S/18/D/105
  • The Times (25 Aug 1948)
  • Daily Telegraph (24 Aug 1948)
  • d. cert.
  • C. Campbell, The maharajah's box: an imperial story of conspiracy, love and a guru's prophecy (2000)
  • E. Crawford, The women's suffrage movement: a reference guide, 1866–1928 (1999)

Archives

  • BL OIOC, India Office records, L/P&S/18/D collection
  • Museum of London, Suffragette Fellowship collection
  • Women's Library, London, Women's Tax Resistance League collection

Likenesses

  • photograph, Museum of London, Women's Library, London; repro. in The Suffragette (18 April 1913) [see illus.]

Wealth at Death

£58,040 0s. 11d.: probate, 8 Nov 1948, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

British Library, Oriental and India Office Collections