George Thomas: Irish who once become Raja of Haryana

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On death of Appa Khande Rao in 1797, George Thomas declared himself an independent King of Haryana

Col Yogander Singh, Military Historian

Eighteenth century was a period of anarchy in India. This was the period when around 50 armies or large armed gangs took to the field, to attack and plunder! War had become Preferred sport of men and campaigns the method of earning wages.

War was the only constant in this period filed with uncertainties. This was the period when free-booters and mercenaries made a beeline for India. They brought with them a new war winning formula, wherein disciplined Infantry employing sound tactics repeatedly defeated cavalry, the favourite arm of the Indian princes. This unbroken chain of successes against native princes raised the stock of Europeans sky high.

Red Coated native sepoy led by a white skinned European officer was considered as sure shot recipe for success. No wonder each potente was seeking to employ European mercenaries. At one time about 4000 to 5000 such adventurers were serving in the armies of native princes of north India. It was the conclusive defeat of Scindhia in 1803 that precipitated end of their era and their tribe melted away asthe supremacy of British arms left no room for them.  One such adventurer whom the seaswashed onto Indian shores was George Thomas.

Begum Samru

It was Begum Samru who introduced George Thomas to Haryana when she appointed him the commander of a battalion in her army in 1787 with the task to safeguard her estates in Haryana and Gangetic Doab from Sikhs. Rather than await annual incursion by Sikhs,

Thomas decided to take the bull by horns and invaded their territories. Thomas performed his duty admirably and Sikh incursions into Begum’s territory decreased substantially. He also captured Sirsa from the Bhattis.

In 1792 he fell out of favour with the Begum and joined the services of Appa Khande Rao, the Maratha Faujdar of Saharanpur. Once again Thomas was given the task to crush the Sikh raiders, which he accomplished by conquering Jind, Kaithal, Thanesar and Sirsa.

No contemporary war-lord escaped George Thomas’s attention. He defeated the Kachuwa Shekhawats Thakur rulers of Haryana and Shekhawati3 Sikhs Misl of Punjab,4 Mughals under Wazir Mirza Najaf Khan and Bhatti Muslim Rajputs5 with perfect equanimity. On death of Appa Khande Rao in 1797, George Thomas declared himself an independent King of Haryana.

Conquest of Haryana.

Before the close of 1798, George Thomas had carved out an independent principality. He was now a Raja of a kingdom which was bounded in the north by the territories of Patiala, in the north-west by country of Bhattis, in the west by Bikaner, to the South by Jaipur, in the south-east by Dadri, in the east by districts adjoining Delhi and in the north-east by Rohtak and Panipat.

Historian Jadunath Sarkar (1870–1958) describes his dominion as “Oval in shape, with ill-defined and ever-shifting frontiers, it extended 32 to 48 miles in different directions. On the north lay the Ghaggar river which separates it from the lands under Sikh occupation; the west the country of predatory Bhatti tribes, beyond which lay the deserts of Bikaner. The south was bounded by the Rewari district.”

Thomas ruled over an extent of territory which had formerly contained nearly a thousand towns and villages, and produced an annual revenue of Rs.14,30,000 (1707-50). But the number of the former was now reduced to little more than a quarter, and only yielded Rs.2,86,000 a year.

Besides these, five more Parganas having 151 villages with revenue of Rupee 1,44,000 were held from Marathas as service tenure. Several important towns such as Fatehabad, Hisar, Tohana, Hansi and Bhiwani were included in his territory.

All in all his territory extended 200 kilometres North – south and same length East – West. This 8000 square miles area yielded twice as much revenue as Patiala state which was spread over 3000square miles and yielded annual revenue of 2,50,000.

However winning was comparatively easier part and keeping Haryana under control was more difficult. George Thomas could collect his revenue only by means of a movable column constantly marching about the country.

Before his time the Begum Samru Jagirdar of Sardhana, and known in Rohtak by her honorary title of Zebunissa had held Jhajjar8 for some years with similar results.

Establishment of Jahajgarh and rehabilitation of Hansi.

It was during the years 1794 – 1798 that he laid foundation of Georgegarh, now a large village known as Jahajgarh, and built a mud fort. It was here that he fought a series of battles against Marathas led by French officers. George also rehabilitated Hansi town and made it his capital in 1799.

People of Haryana during the times of Thomas. The inhabitants were endowed with great personal bravery, and were expert in the use of arms, particularly in the exercise of the lance, sabre, and matchlock. Many instances of their resolution and courage were recorded, and in recent years they had successfully resisted the attacks of Mughals and Marathas, and forced their armies to retreat. But, although fearless in fight, they were singularly callous of shedding blood or taking life in their domestic quarrels. The greater part of the population at the time of Thomas’s annexation were Hindus, and their occupation agricultural.

End of the road for Thomas.

Besides his occasional lapse into drinking bouts lasting months, he had no clue about the statecraft. His decision making was marked by emotional outbursts.

Thus when Daulat Rao Scindia, as Muntazim-ud-Daula of Haryana offered Thomas liberal terms for joining Maratha Banner, it was rejected by Thomas because he couldn’t bring himself to serve under De Boigne (French Commander of Scindia’s Army in Hindustan). This led to a three months long war, with major battles being fought at Jahajgarh and Hansi. The war ended with George Thomas surrendering to the same French Commander at Hansi on 24 December 1801.

As part of terms of surrender George quitted Haryana forever. George Thomas – a caring commander. Very early in his rule he instituted a system of pensions and compensations for his soldiers, and those who were wounded in his service received sufficient for their wants, whilst half of the pay of their rank was granted to widows and children of men killed in action. These liberal provisions absorbed a sum of Rs.50,000 a year, which was more than a tenth of Thomas’s entire revenue a proportion far in excess ofthat allotted to such philanthropic purposes, even in the most civilised countries.

George Thomas’s family

His wife and their children (three sons and a daughter) refused to accompany him to England and were left by him in the care of Begum Samru. Maria, the wife of George Thomas, was born and brought up in Hindustan. She and children were not keen to travel to alien land of England with George Thomas. Maria’s mother had been part of Begum’s household and it was Begum who had selected George Thomas as Groom for Maria.


Hence now Thomas turned to Begum with the request that she take the family in her care. It is to the credit of Begum that she took care of them as her own and settled them in life. His three sons and one daughter lived at Sardhana and received education. Eldest child John Thomas was adopted as son by the Begum and married to Shagun Begum, a half-Indian, half Arminian girl and the girl was married to son of Bishop of Agra. On her death Begum left rupee 44000 for the family of Thomas (7000 for Maria, 18000 for John and Shagun Begum, 7000 for Jacob Thomas and 10000 for George Thomas Jr and 2000 for Joanna, the daughter). In addition Maria was granted rupee sixty as monthly pension.

‘All Will be Red Soon’

From Anupshahr Thomas proceeded by river to Benares, which he reached in March. Here he met the Governor-general’s fleet of boats on its way to Lucknow, and was invited by Lord Wellesley to an interview. In order to illustrate Thomas’s remarks a map of India was laid on the table, in which, as was and is still customary, the British possessions were coloured red.

On this being explained to Thomas, he swept his great hand across the chart from end to end with the emphatic comment, “All this will be red”! It is curious to observe that nearly forty years later, Ranjit Singh, the old Lion of Lahore, made an almost identical observation under similar circumstances, for when a map of India happened to be placed before him and the theory of its colouring explained, he fixed on it that one penetrating eye of his, “which was equal to any other man’s two eyes,” and almost in Thomas’s words remarked, ” It will all be red soon.”


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