Back to the past with Ed Grimsdale: Howdah’ya put a duke in a howdah?

Third Duke of Buckingham's howdah PNL-141108-161732001
Third Duke of Buckingham's howdah PNL-141108-161732001

Our third Duke of Buckingham was appointed Governor of Madras (Chennai) in Southern India for a four-year term in the 1870s.

His family enjoyed Pomp and Circumstance. Their extravagant copying of royalty had made them our country’s first noble bankrupts in 1848, so it’s unsurprising that the new Governor built two state howdahs to project his power and the magnificence of the British Raj.

Third Duke of Buckingham's howdah PNL-141108-161722001

Third Duke of Buckingham's howdah PNL-141108-161722001

Let’s examine the drawing of his howdahs.

The first is a state boat ruling over waves and fishes with an imperial crown and coat of arms on its prow.

Within, a lioness (Victoria?) is alert, and confident. The other howdah’s symbolism is confused.

The duke would have stood on high as the king of an English castle (Windsor?) with St George defending him against the world’s dragons. So much for the union!

I love the accompanying picture which resembles a modern container port where giant yellow cranes lower containers onto railway wagons.

Here, a wooden tripod and pulley block are the mechanism to load a gun barrel, its carriage and, earlier, a howdah onto the prostrate elephant that has been ‘tusked’ with that load.

The guards have climbed aboard their howdah on high using a rope ladder.

Can you imagine a maharajah or a duke doing likewise?

Our duke returned to England after mixed fortunes in India: he had improved communications with his vast ‘Buckingham Canal’ some dozen times longer than Buckingham town’s canal, and promoted southern Indian dancing but he’d failed to relieve a terrible famine that cost the lives of one million Indians.

Back in Buckingham, he received a right royal welcome both from the town’s burghers at the railway station and cheering locals as his coach progressed to Stowe through celebratory archways.

Humbly, but ignorantly, many Buckingham folk fondly believed they were his true subjects.

Oh dear, I’ve not told you how to load a duke, or his queen, into a howdah without loss of dignity and now I’ve run out of space.

I’ll leave you to propose a solution!