An Important Dhal (shield)

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Origin: Kutch or Rajasthan

Date: c1750-1780

Length: 19 inch diameter

Materials: Rhino Hide and Gold

Provenance: Originally From the residence of Major C.F. Bruere – Lucknow – 1850s

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Description

A one of a kind, excellent Dhal of importance with great provenance.

THE DHAL

The dhal is a type of shield found in the Indian subcontinent. They are geometrically round and vary in diameter from about eight inches to twenty-four inches. The large sizes were ideal for battle and very practical. Most shields are circular while others are strongly convex or curved for extra reinforcement and to cause a lance head or arrow to glance off or slip from the curved surface. Dhal shields were either made from metal or hide; hide being more popular. Leather shields were made from a great variety of animals found in the Indian subcontinent. The hide shields were made from either water buffalo, deer, elephant, or rhinoceros. These materials were lightweight yet very strong when dried and lacquered. The rhinoceros shields were the most prized variant among leather shields.

This particular example is of a very high quality Indian circular Rhino hide Dhal (shield), measuring 19 inch in diameter. The Dhal decorated with four gold washed bosses, which are further engraved with a floral pattern -typical of Kutch and Rajput style Arms and Armour. At the centre of the Dhal is Surya, the Indian Sun God, adorned with jewels. Websters Biographical Dictionary (1957, p1368) states that the figure may also be a representation of Shiva Ji – founder of the Maratha power in India. The central figure head of Surya is seen as the insignia of the Mewar royal court. The rim is painted to represent a floral decor and the colours still hold a nice grading given its age and really bring this Dhal to life and show its age. Given the craft and form of the shield, it is clear that it was intended for ceremonial purposes such as Shastar Puja or utilised as a gift.

PROVENANCE

The Dhal was in the residence of Major C.F. Bruere in LUCKNOW at the beginning of the Great Sepoy rebellion or better known as the Indian Mutiny. The shield was utilised by a sepoy to protect Mrs. Bruere during the Indian Mutiny.

On the rear of this shield is a piece of paper (clearly from the 19th century) stuck to hide inscribed in Victorian copper plate type handwriting as follows:-

 

This dahl shield hung in the home of Major C.F. Bruere at Lucknow during the first days of the Rebellion when the Natives rioted and assaulted the Bruere residence, a faithful Sepoy seized this from the wall to protect Mrs. Bruere, stopping a matchlock ball that was mentally aimed.
 

It is clear from the age of the paper that it would have been attached to the Dhal quickly after the incident as a way of recording the event. Upon close examination of the hide shield one can very clearly see where the matchlock lead ball impacted the seasoned hide, leaving its tell tale indentation just to the right of the God’s face at 3.00. O’clock – providing confirmation of the inscribed paper. At the rear of the shield, you can also see the impact of the matchlock lead ball impact, which left an impact mark throughout. This type of provenance is rare. This historical implementation and link to the Indian Mutiny is rare and gives this shield its character and story that is not found else where.

MAJOR C.F. BRUERE

Charles Fleming Bruère, the son of Captain James Bruère of Bedfont, Middlesex, was born on 7 November 1812. He was nominated for a Cadetship in the Bengal infantry by Henry St. G. Tucker on the recommendation of a relation, Alexander Bruère Tod, and arrived in India aboard the Neptune on 6 October 1829, having been appointed Ensign on 5 June. A period of local leave was almost immediately followed by furlough to Europe on account of his health and he did not return to India until 1833 when he joined the 13th Bengal Native Infantry at Bareilly. Promoted Lieutenant in June 1838, he was appointed Adjutant of his corps in May 1839, but was found deficient in his knowledge of Hindustani early the following year, when Brigadier Kennedy assessed him as ‘young but appears smart and active, and no doubt in time will be qualified’. Bruère resigned as Adjutant in December 1841. He served again in that appointment in 1846 and on 22 July of the same year he was advanced to the rank of Captain. Bruère served with his regiment in the Punjab campaign of 1848-49, being present at the passage of the Chenab and battle of Goojerat. On 5 July 1847, he married Jane Lucy Holt, daughter of John Holt White, at Fategarh, and in March 1855, he was promoted to Major.

May 1857 found the 13th Bengal N.I. at Lucknow, where on the 30th disaffected members of the regiment joined the Oudh Irregulars in mutiny. The majority of the 13th N.I., however, remained loyal. Indeed Julia Inglis recorded in her journal that several of them rescued Mrs. Bruère by pulling her through a hole in the back of her bungalow in the officer’s lines, while others at the front threatened to murder her. About three hundred men of the 13th fell in on their parade ground under Major Bruère, and were marched off to take post alongside the 32nd Foot, complete with arms, colours and treasure chest. The following day fifty more came in from the lines, claiming they had protected the regiment’s magazine from the mutineers.

On 30 June, Bruère and his regiment were caught up in the disastrous shambles at Chinhut. “The sepoys on our side, though retreating, did so in order. They behaved for the greater part in the kindest manner to the wounded Europeans, taking up great numbers of them, and leaving their own wounded uncared for on the battle-field. They had been suspected of being also tainted with the general disaffection, and were therefore anxious to regain the esteem and confidence of their European officers. They gave indeed the most striking proofs of their fidelity and loyalty on that day, showering volleys of musketry, and, native-like, of abuse, on their assailants, and calling them all the most injurious epithets in their vocabulary. Major Bruère, who was wounded, was assisted by them to a place of comparative safety, and reached the Residency, only, however, to meet his death some months later.”

The 13th Native Infantry, initially under the command of Major Bruère, went on to further distinguish themselves in the defence of the Residency at Lucknow. The Sikh element of the regiment, some fifty men, begged to be allowed to form their own ‘single class’ company, and so it was. Bruère served in the defence until the afternoon of 4 September, when he was shot through the chest on the roof of the Brigade Mess while trying to pick off an enemy sniper. He died almost at once. That night a handful of his Native Officers and Sepoys demonstrated their loyalty by insisting on carrying his body to the graveyard. This, wrote Julia Inglis was ‘the greatest mark of respect and affection they could show him, as it is against their caste to touch a dead body’. Mrs. Bruère was so shocked at the death of her ‘portly, elderly husband’ that she went ‘right out of her senses’.

Refs: Officers of the Bengal Army, 1758-1834; IOL L/MIL/10/29 & 64; IOL L/MIL/10/40; IOL L/MIL/10/42; IOL L/MIL/5/515; The Seventh Rajput in the Indian Mutiny of 1857 (Tindall); The Great Mutiny (Hibbert); Ordeal at Lucknow (Joyce).

CONCLUSION

Overall, the condition is very good, with a lovely patina. The original grip straps are unfortunately gone, but otherwise it is solid. There is just a bit of looseness in two bosses (but fully secure) that would have originally retained the hand straps. All in all this is a very fine and rare Dhal with rare provenance and history – something that is becoming difficult to find in the current market. A real collectors item.

Financing is available on request via Art Money.


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