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Thursday, November 20, 2014

John Lang, the Australian who fought for Jhansi Rani Lakshmibai against East India Company

On Tuesday[18.11.2014], our Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott a rather interesting gift ~ and to us something to glance through the annals of history. By simply reading Indian history books, we may never understand the fierce battle of independence nor the way the British suppressed the Indian subjects.   We have read about her in our school book and in many places in North India, one can see her astride horse.  Such equestrian statues showing her son tied to her back are in Gwalior and Jhansi.  This is post is not about the Rani of Jhansi – Jhansi Rani Laxmibhai ….. but on an Australian lawyer and novelist by name John Lang [1816-1864]… [what makes us remember him 150 years after his death ?]

John Lang was born at Parramatta, Sydney; was educated at Sydney College; went to Cambridge and returned to Australia as Barrister. In 1842, at a public meeting, he seconded a motion proposed by William Wentworth, that the Crown be petitioned to grant the colony a representative assembly. A few months later he went to India and was successful as a barrister, taking on high-profile clients such as the Rani of Jhansi in her battles against the British East India Company.  Lang was a journalist too and in 1845 established a paper, the Mofussilite, at Meerut. He even learnt Hindusthani language. The paper often took critical stance against the British East India Company’s harmful policies – he was sued and briefly jailed.   He also wrote some novels which appeared serially in the Mofussilite and in Fraser's Magazine.  Some of these were very popular and were often reprinted.  Lang visited London in 1859, and was for a short time at Calcutta where he issued the Optimist. Lang died in the hill station of Mussoorie, India, and was buried in Camel's Back Cemetery. 

Our Prime Minister Sh. Narendra Modi on a visit to Australia presented to Mr. Tony Abbott, a commemorative Photo Collage dedicated to the memory of Mr. John Lang, an Australian with a remarkable Indian connection. The collage was presented at the beginning of the bilateral talks between the two leaders at the Australian Parliament in Canberra.
Jhansi Rani statue at Solapur  pic credit : Wikipedia

Lakshmibai   popularly  Rani of Jhansi, ruled Jhansi State and was one of the leading figures of the Indian Rebellion of 1857.  Lakshmibhai was born in 1828 into a Brahmin Maratha family and was named ‘Manikarnika’. Manikarnika was married to the Maharaja of Jhansi, Raja Gangadhar Rao, in 1842, and was afterwards called Lakshmibai.  Her son was named  Damodar Rao.  The child died young and the Royal family adopted another and named him Damodhar too.  After the death of the Maharaja in November 1853, because Damodar Rao was adopted, the British East India Company, under Governor-General Lord Dalhousie, applied the Doctrine of Lapse, rejecting Damodar Rao's claim to the throne and annexing the state to its territories. In the famous battle of Jhansi – Rani Laxmi bai on a horse with young Damodhar on it fought valiantly.

In 1854, Lang became Counsel to Jhansi Rani Laxmibai and represented her in her legal battles against the East India Co’s policy of land seizures under the infamous Doctrine of lapse.  Lang was the Indian correspondent for Household Words, a weekly edited by Charles Dickens.  His travelogue ‘wanderings in India’ contains splendid descriptions of Mussorie.

More than a century and half later now, Shri Modiji gave Mr Tony Abbot, a gift seen to revive the long forgotten legacy of John Lang.   Modi presented the original petition filed by Lang to Abbott.  Lang is written as a person who stood out in British India by standing up for Indians.  A photograph and the related documents of the Memorandum were a part of this unique gift which Shri Narendra Modi presented to Mr. Tony Abbott. The collage contains the following other significant photographs:1. Photo of Marriage Certificate of John Lang with Margaret Wetter, Christ Church of Mussoorie, India, 11 May 1861; 2. Photo of John Lang’s final resting place, Camel’s Back Road Cemetery, Mussoorie, India; 3. Photo of a Commemorative Plaque in memory of John Lang, Christ Church of Mussoorie, India.  

Interestingly, Rani Lakshmibai originally hailed from Varanasi, the constituency now represented in the Lok Sabha by the Prime Minister.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

19th Nov. 2014.


  1. It was thanks to the writer Ruskin Bond thst Lang was discovered and his grave in Camel's back. “Someone from Australia had send me a published work on John Lang and thereafter I came to know about him” shares writer Ruskin Bond, who finally settled in Mussoorie in 1964 – exactly 100 years after Lang died.

    “It was difficult to locate John Lang’s grave at Camel’s Back, as it was in old section where shrubs had grown” told Ruskin Bond to HT. The Australian writer had lived from 1859-1864 in Mussoorie.

    According to Ruskin, Lang mostly wrote for his newspaper – ‘Mofussilite’ – which was first published in 1845 from Calcutta and then moved to Meerut in 1859, after crisscrossing through Ambala and Agra. In fact – Mofussilite – was recognized as major English newspaper of those times.

    What’s interesting about Lang that he is acknowledged as a journalist who was critical about East India Company. Ruskin Bond tells that post 1857 mutiny, Lang in England wrote petitions for Rani Laxmi Bai, the noted India freedom fighter. Anyway Lang lost and went to London to join Charles Dickens' Household words.

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  3. The date of birth of Rani Lakshmibai in your post seems to be inspired from Manikarnika movie. Her place of birth, place of cremation are all government monuments which record her date of birth as 19.11.1835 and not 1828. Cross check Encyclopedia Britannica rather than the open source wikipedia while you write such blogs. Just a suggestion.