Second Anglo-Sikh War Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Second Sikh War ended with a British victory and the subjugation of the Sikhs, the last independent force in India’s Punjab and northwestern regions, and marked the completion of British control over the subcontinent, from Bengal in the east to Afghanistan in the west.

Summary of Event

Ranjit Singh Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), the maharaja of the Punjab (r. 1801-1839), created a powerful, unified Sikh empire in the northwestern part of India and Kashmir. His death in 1839 left the Punjab without a strong ruler. Ranjit’s son, Dalip Singh, was a minor, so Dalip’s mother, Jind Kaur Jind Kaur , was declared regent. Various factions, however, vied for power. This state of anarchy gave the British, who had moved up to the Punjab’s southern and eastern borders, the opportunity to invade the state and wage war against Ranjit’s weak and disunited successors to absorb the Punjab into the British East India Company’s territories in India. Sikh War, Second (1848-1849) India;Sikh Wars Punjab British East India Company;and Sikh Wars[Sikh Wars] Kashmir British Empire;and India[India] India;and British Empire[British Empire] [kw]Second Anglo-Sikh War (Apr., 1848-Mar., 1849) [kw]Anglo-Sikh War, Second (Apr., 1848-Mar., 1849) [kw]Sikh War, Second Anglo- (Apr., 1848-Mar., 1849) [kw]War, Second Anglo-Sikh (Apr., 1848-Mar., 1849) Sikh War, Second (1848-1849) India;Sikh Wars Punjab British East India Company;and Sikh Wars[Sikh Wars] Kashmir British Empire;and India[India] India;and British Empire[British Empire] [g]India;Apr., 1848-Mar., 1849: Second Anglo-Sikh War[2620] [g]British Empire;Apr., 1848-Mar., 1849: Second Anglo-Sikh War[2620] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Apr., 1848-Mar., 1849: Second Anglo-Sikh War[2620] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;Apr., 1848-Mar., 1849: Second Anglo-Sikh War[2620] [c]Colonization;Apr., 1848-Mar., 1849: Second Anglo-Sikh War[2620] Dalhousie, first marquis of Dalip Singh Gough, Sir Hugh Jind Kaur Lawrence, John Laird Mair Lawrence, Sir Henry Montgomery

The British did invade the Punjab, leading to British victory in the First Sikh War Sikh War, First (1845-1846) and its four battles: Mudki (December 18, 1845), Ferozeshah (December 21-22, 1845), Buddowal (January 21, 1846), and Aliwal (January 28, 1846). The Treaty of Lahore Lahore, Treaty of (1846) (1846) ended the state of war but also ceded to the East India Company nearly twelve thousand square miles of territory. The Sikhs were forced to pay a war indemnity of fifteen million rupees, which included ten million rupees as the price of Kashmir and Hazara. The British sold Kashmir and Hazara to Raja Gulab Singh for cash, which established him as the maharaja of Kashmir and Jammu; Kashmir became a separate princely state. The Sikh Khalsa (army) was reduced by more than 50 percent, to twenty thousand infantry and twelve thousand cavalry.

In December, 1846, the Sikhs were also forced to sign the Treaty of Bhyrowal Bhyrowal, Treaty of (1846) , which pensioned Jind Kaur and exiled her to Benares. The Sikhs also had to accept a British resident, Sir Henry Lawrence Lawrence, Sir Henry Montgomery , with a force of British troops, at Lahore; Lawrence and his brother John Lawrence, John Laird Mair would dominate the Punjab and virtually rule the state. The eleven articles of the treaty also called for the Punjab to be governed by a council of eight sardars (chieftains), but Henry Lawrence was given the power to control the government, and the province became de facto British territory.

The harsh conditions imposed by the British in the two treaties of 1846 after the First Sikh War Sikh War, First (1845-1846) were humiliating for all Sikhs, but for Diwan Mulraj, the Sikh governor of Multan, they were intolerable, leading to his rebellion. In April, 1848, after his governorship was terminated, he attacked and killed two British envoys who were accompanying his successor. Mulraj’s revolt is generally reckoned as the beginning of the Second Sikh War. He occupied the fortress of Multan. In addition to the revolt of Mulraj, there was the rising discontent of the disbanded Khalsa soldiers who were unable to find employment, and who were determined to get their revenge against the British. Many of the Khalsa joined Mulraj. The Sikhs under Sher Singh sent from Lahore to attack Mulraj sided with him instead, and so the conflict became the Second Sikh War.

Major fighting in the war began in early 1849 with two British sieges of Multan: January 3 and January 13, the Battle of Chillianwala Chillianwala, Battle of (1849) . On January 13, deep in the jungle, the Sikhs killed or wounded more than three thousand British troops and officers and captured three British flags and four guns. The British defeat was later commemorated in a poem by George Meredith Meredith, George [p]Meredith, George;and Sikh Wars[Sikh Wars] but the Sikhs had suffered badly as well, and overnight they left their entrenched position.

Three days of torrential rain followed Chillianwala, and the British were unable to engage the Sikhs again because they had retreated to Gujarat. On February 21, 1849, however, the two armies faced each other at Gujarat for the final showdown. The commander in chief of the British army, Lord Gough Gough, Sir Hugh , was acutely aware of the sterling fighting qualities of his adversaries and the drubbing they had given his army at Chillianwala. He spent three days carefully reconnoitering and mapping the positions of the Sikh Khalsa. On the day he chose for battle, he commenced a fierce artillery barrage that destroyed most of the Sikh guns. On the cessation of the bombardment he ordered the infantry to attack. The sharp but short encounter that followed quickly put the Sikh army to flight, but the British relentlessly pursued the straggling army.

Ranjit Singh’s prophecy in 1839 that all India would one day become British came true, as the Khalsa was forced to lay down its arms on March 14, 1849. On March 29, the first marquis of Dalhousie, Dalhousie, first marquess of whose aim had always been to expand British territory in India, proclaimed the annexation of the Punjab.


The Second Sikh War ended Sikh power in the Punjab. The crushed and humiliated Sikh army was disbanded, and the Punjab was incorporated into British East India Company rule (or raj). During the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857-1858 Sepoy Mutiny (1857-1858);and Sikhs[Sikhs] , many of the Sikhs sided with the British. As a result, they were recruited into and became an important part of the Indian India;Islam Islam;in India[India] army, as did the Muslims of the Punjab. The Sikhs also joined the police force that the British raised in India and in other parts of the British Empire.

The Punjab also developed into the breadbasket of India after the British developed the canal Canals;in India[India] system, making it the most prosperous agricultural region of India. The Second Sikh War, therefore, fundamentally changed the course of history for the people of the Punjab and for India.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bruce, George. Six Battles for India, The Anglo-Sikh Wars: 1845-1846, 1848-1849. London: Arthur Barker, 1969. This well-written, detailed book, divided into two parts, covers both wars, bringing the personalities and the wars to life. Includes maps and illustrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cook, Hugh. The Sikh Wars: The British Army in the Punjab, 1845-1849. London: Leo Cooper, 1975. This detailed account of the rise of the Sikhs and an analysis of the opposing forces is followed by twelve individual chapters on the battles of the two wars. The book also includes two chapters that analyze the two wars as a whole, and the aftermath.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">James, Lawrence. Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. A history of British rule in India, containing information on Dalhousie’s administration and policies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lee, Harold. Brothers in the Raj: The Lives of John and Henry Lawrence. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. The Lawrence brothers played a central part in the events surrounding the Anglo-Sikh Wars. Their activities are covered in chapters 5 through 9. A fascinating read.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Major, Andrew J. Return to Empire: Punjab Under the Sikhs and British in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. New Delhi, India: Sterling, 1996. Chapter 3 covers the period following the death of Ranjit Singh in 1839, and the following chapter deals with the Anglo-Sikh wars and the British takeover of the Punjab. Although not a military history, the volume provides an erudite account of the background to the wars and the forces that pitted the Sikhs against the British.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Singh, Khushwant. How the Sikhs Lost Their Kingdom. New Delhi, India: UBS, 1996. An illustrated and well-written account of the history of the Punjab from the death of Ranjit Singh to the end of the Second Sikh War ten years later. Written by the author of the novel Train to Pakistan.

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Categories: History