Sophia Duleep Singh

Sophia Duleep Singh (1876-1948) was the fifth child of six children of the Maharaja Duleep Singh. Her father became the Maharaja of Punjab in 1843 at a mere five years of age, but the Punjab was subsequently annexed in 1849. The Maharaja, of Sikh background, converted to Christianity and eventually settled in England, becoming a naturalised British citizen and receiving a British pension. Sophia’s mother, Bamba Müller, came from German and Ethiopian ancestry. The family settled in Elveden Hall in Norfolk where Sophia was born in 1876. In 1896, Queen Victoria gave Sophia ‘Faraday House’ in Hampton Court as a ‘grace and favour’ home, where she lived for most of the rest of her adult life (The Open University).

Sophia transcended her heritage to devote herself to battling injustice and inequality, a far cry from the life to which she was born. Her causes were the struggle for Indian independence, the fate of the Lascars, the welfare of Indian soldiers in the First World War – and, above all, the fight for female suffrage. She was bold and fearless, attacking politicians, putting herself in the front line and swapping her silks for a nurse’s uniform to tend wounded soldiers evacuated from the battlefields (Bloomsbury).

Central among Sophia’s beliefs was that that women should not have to pay taxes when they did not have the vote to determine the use of those taxes. Her own refusal led to various fines where jewellery was impounded but then bought back in auction by members of the WTRL. These actions created a high profile stand for the women’s movement.

Additionally, Sophia was involved in bringing attention to the contribution of Indian soldiers in the First World War. Sophia visited wounded Indian soldiers in Brighton. She organised Flag Days to raise money for wounded soldiers – the first of which was on 19 October 1916 at Haymarket – where British and Indian women sold Indian flags decorated with elephants, stars or other objects. Sophia also entertained Indian soldiers who were part of a peace contingent at her home in Hampton Court in September 1919. Sophia joined the Suffragette Fellowship after World War One and remained a fellow until her death. During the Second World War, Sophia evacuated London and her home in Hampton Court to live in the village of Penn in Buckinghamshire, in a bungalow named ‘Rathenrae’ (The Open University).

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