HYDERABAD: The British Residency or Hyderabad Residency Building is one of the most magnificent structures in Hyderabad’s history. Built by James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the British resident of Hyderabad from 1798 to 1805, this opulent mansion served as the residence of successive representatives of the Crown until Hyderabad was incorporated into the Union of India in 1948.
The exquisite building later housed the Osmania University College for Women and some of its former glory has recently been restored. For almost 150 years, the residency complex was the seat of the British in Hyderabad and witnessed many historical events.
The fate of this great symbol of British power remained uncertain in the months following September 1948’s integration. Hyderabad was under military rule, directly under the central government. A civilian chief could only be appointed after the Indian Constitution came into force on January 26, 1950, when MK Vellodi was appointed Chief Minister. In the meantime – from September 1948 to January 1950 – the residence’s assets were squandered.
It was a treasure trove of paintings, photographs, custom-made furniture, crockery, cutlery, curtains, carpets, clocks, lamps, lanterns, flower vases and so on. Many of these items were moved from the residence to offices and homes of military and police officers, military mess halls, guest houses and offices of interim government ministers. Some furniture was moved to the Deccan House in Bolaram, which was the residence of Indian General Agent KM Munshi.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (now Ministry of the Interior), after internal investigations, asked the Hyderabad-based central government finance officer and the director of Hyderabad’s Amira Department to conduct a joint assessment of the items missing from the residence and asked the stray departments and individuals to pay for the items that they took away. Determining the market value of the items was a difficult task for officials, as most of the items were imported or specially made for the occupants of the residence and procured from various sources over a long period of time.
After an extensive physical screening exercise, a total of 22 lists of items taken from the residence were made and the value of these items was estimated at over Rs. 60,000. Some unusable items had been sold as scrap by the building authority. More than half the furniture and other items were found in the homes and offices of the military governor, chief minister, ministers and secretaries, according to the report submitted in May 1950 by RS Arunachalam, Treasurer of the Central Government. The report is part of the Department of State’s declassified documents. Prime Minister Vellodi asked for a weekly progress report, which was duly forwarded to the central government.
Among the owners of the residence furniture were the military governor General JN Chaudhari, as well as ministers and top officers such as DS Bakhle, CVS Rao, LC Jain, PH Krishna Rao, Vepa Krishnamoorthy, A. Luthra and Muthuramakrishnan. The military officers on the list were Commander Dhargalkar, Brig Gen Moghe, Maj KK Singh, Brig Gen Litchfield and Brig Gen Ghansham Singh.
Much of the cutlery was silver-plated, some also gold-plated. Several door and window curtains were made from Himroo silk. The furniture included not only sofas, chairs, center, dining, side and dressing tables, but also teak bar cabinets, card tables, ping-pong tables, large wardrobes, revolving bookshelves, mahogany ironing chests and large rosewood and teak billiard tables.
The Women’s College took possession of large portraits of all the Nizams and photographs of 32 residents, which adorned the walls of the residence, along with the original copy of the firman which gave Kirkpatrick the title Asmath Jung Bahadur and the marble bust of Sir Salar Jung ( Mir Turab Ali Khan). The college was later directed to transfer the paintings and photographs to the State Museum.
After the review, many people paid for the items they wanted to keep. These included Mrs. Chaudhari (wife of the military governor), the Women’s College and military chaos. Another question concerned the retention of the special officer in charge of the villa. The residence fell under the jurisdiction of Daroga SP Narasimloo and his services were enlisted for the identification and verification of the residence’s furniture. The post office was abolished in 1950. The residency’s experience shows that Hyderabad has not only lost architectural heritage over the decades, but also valuable items housed within.