A little known market town in Lincolnshire is putting together a project to showcase its unique links with colonial Manipur to highlight the role of one of its most famous residents in the Northeastern Indian state.
Alford, a town of less than 3,500 residents located 225 km northeast of London, was the home of John Comyn Higgins, who qualified for the Indian Civil Service in 1905 and worked in Manipur during 1910-1933 as the political agent and president of the State Darbar.
Higgins is known in Manipur for his role in suppressing the two-year Kuki Uprising from 1917, which saw tribes fiercely battling British forces that burnt several villages during clashes. He and his family also developed close links with Manipur’s royal family.
Like many British personnel in India, Higgins kept diaries and recorded his experiences that, in many ways, were a world away from the Edwardian surroundings in Alford. His records include his views on the potent local brew, Zu.
For more than 150 years, Higgins and his family lived in the most famous house in the town, Alford Manor House, built in 1611. The home was turned into a museum in 1967, and the trust running it is putting together the two-phase project that includes an exhibition and recreating the Manipur royal family’s attire.
Sarah Teesdale, trustee of Alford Manor House Museum, said that both sides of Higgins’ role in Manipur will be set out in the exhibition that will run through most of 2017, and will include archives and his personal diaries.
John Higgins and his Role in Kuki Uprising
The Kuki Uprising had its roots in British efforts to gather men, materials and munitions from colonies at the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Manipur’s Maharaja Churachand Singh was prepared to extend such support. The Maharaja sought to raise two additional labour corps for France. As the war progressed and men were desperately needed, Higgins was directly involved in recruiting tribal men from the hills in the Manipur Labour Corps.
The pressure for more men led to the Kuki Uprising and Higgins became involved in suppressing what the British described as a rebellion from 1917 to 1919.
Higgins’ relationship with the Maharaja of Manipur
Higgins and Churachand Singh worked closely together for more than 20 years, travelling and attending official engagements. Higgins’ letters home in the late 1920s mention polo matches played together and visits to the Residency by Maharani Dhanamanjuri Devi. Their children played at the British residence in Imphal as friends.