Peer Ali Khan, The Bookseller Who Led The 1857 Uprising In Patna : Kanupriya
Reading Time: 11 minutes read
[There are numerous forgotten Heroes who made our History. Kanupriya is remembering one such Hero : Peer Ali Khan.]
The revolt of 1857-58 is largely considered and is widely seen as a ‘Popular Uprising’. The uprising had centres spread across North India as well as Central and Western India. The uprising in different centres had its own leaders. The most important names associated with the uprising that comes in one’s mind are those of the Indian soldier Mangal Pandey at Barrackpore, Rani Laxmibai at Jhansi, Veer Kunwar Singh at Arrah, Maulvi Ahmad Shah at Faizabad, Tantia Tope at Kanpur, Begum Hazrat Mahal at Lucknow.
Peer Ali Khan
At the same time, there are many heroes who are largely unheard of or are often forgotten. One such name is that of Peer Ali Khan, a bookseller who led the uprising in Patna. Peer Ali Khan has been described as the “Chief Rebel of the city” by William Tayler who was the Commissioner of Patna between 1855 and 1859.
Peer Ali Khan was born in Muhammadpur in Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh. Around the age of seven he ran away and arrived in Patna. In Patna he was provided shelter and refuge by a zamindar who brought him up along with his son and educated him.Peer Ali Khan owned a bookshop in Patna. The bookshop became the meeting point for rebels and also a contact point for rebels and the disenchanted Indian soldiers in the British Army.
According to William Tayler:
“Peer Ali was a native of Lucknow, but had resided for many years at Patna; he was by trade, a Book-seller, and I strongly suspect that he may have originally established himself here, for the express purpose of carrying on the intrigues which issued in this abortive out-break.”
Peer Ali secretly distributed important leaflets, pamphlets and coded messages to the rebels.
He regularly organised campaigns against the British, and became the leader of the July 1857 upsurge in Patna.
William Tayler in his narration of the events of 1857 in Patna says:
“Two days before the emeute at Patna, which will be described in a subsequent chapter, Ahmed Oollah’s father, Illahee Buksh, the blind man, whom I have above mentioned, sent a message to apprise me, that the leader of the Rebels, Peer Ali Khan, was collecting arms and men”.
Uprising in Patna
The uprising in Patna took place on the 3rd of July 1857 and it was carried out by Peer Ali and the other rebels.
The rebels led by Peer Ali first attacked the house of a Roman Catholic priest in the heart of the city but the priest escaped. They then shot and killed Dr Lyell who was the principal assistant to an opium agent. When a reinforcement of British soldiers was sent to the scene of attack some of the rebels were shot and killed whereas others fled.
The History of the Indian Revolt, and the Expeditions to Persia, China, and Japan,1856-7-8 published by W.U.R. Chambers in 1859 describes the 3rd July, 1857 uprising as follows:
“The most serious affair at Patna, however, occurred about the close of the period to which this chapter more particularly relates. At about eight o’clock in the evening of the 3d of July, a body of Mohammedans, variously estimated from eighty to two hundred, assembled at the house of one of their number, one Peer Ali Khan, a book-seller, and proceeded thence to the Roman Catholic Church and mission-house in Patna, with two large green flags, a drum beating, and cries of ‘Ali! Ali!’ The priest, whom they probably intended to murder, fortunately escaped. They emerged into the street, reiterated their cries, and called on the populace to join them. Dr Lyell, principal assistant to the opium agent, immediately went to the spot, accompanied by nine Sikhs. He rode ahead of his support, was shot down by the rioters, and his body mangled and mutilated before the Sikhs could come up. A force of Sikhs and nujeebs speedily recovered the unfortunate gentleman’s body, killed some of the insurgents, and put the rest to flight.”
In the aftermath of the attack, Peer Ali’s house was searched by the British, where they found and seized arms and a number of letters. He was designated as the leader of the upsurge by William Tayler.
William Tayler describes it as follows:
“Somewhat later in the day, the deputy Magistrate, Moula Buksh to whom the Magistrate had entrusted the investigation of the case, came to me in great triumph with some murderous looking arms and implements (among which was an English fencing mask) and a large packet of letters, all of which had been found in the house of Peer Ali Khan, the leader of the outbreak and Captain of the rebels;”
“The letters discovered in his house serve to show, that, for several years past, he had been in correspondence with different parties, principally with one “Musee” ool “zuman”, a Lucknow man, who followed the same trade, and that he had, in communication with these parties, deliberately discussed and matured seditious plans against the British Government.”
Thereafter, Peer Ali Khan and the other rebels were arrested and tried. Most of the rebels were hanged within hours of sentencing. Peer Ali who was believed to be the murderer of Dr Lyell was also handed death sentence for his overall role as the leader in the uprising of 3rd July 1857.
According to William Tayler:
“….. numerous accomplices were seized during the next few days, and among them, after a short resistance, in which he was wounded, Peer Ali himself; ample evidence was, by the exertions of Moula Buksh, obtained, convicting these men of active participation in the outrage, 21 were hanged, 23 imprisoned.”
He refused amnesty
After being sentenced to death, Peer Ali was offered amnesty in lieu of providing more evidence and information regarding the nature of the uprising, but nothing could break him. History therefore stands witness to the fact that this ordinary bookseller did not concede to the demands of the British and refused the amnesty. He accepted the gallows rather than a life of disgrace.
William Tayler goes on to note:
“After capital punishment had been pronounced upon him, I sent for him (as I generally did with such criminals) and questioned him in my private room, in hopes of eliciting some further information regarding the plot.
Heavily fettered, his soiled garments stained deeply with blood from a wound in his side, confronted with myself and several other English gentlemen, the last hope of life departed, not for a moment did he betray agitation, despondency, or fear.”
Declining the pardon being offered, Peer Ali proclaimed:
“On being asked whether he could do anything to make it worth while to spare his life, he answered with supreme coolness and some contempt: “There are some cases in which it is good to save life, others in which it is better to lose it”. He then taunted me with the oppression I had exercised, and concluded his speech by saying, “You may hang me, or such as me, every day, but thousand will rise in my place, and your object will never be gained.””
William Tayler seems to be in awe of Peer Ali and says:
“….. men, whose unconquerable fanaticism renders them dangerous enemies, and whose stern resolution entitles them, in some measure, to admiration and respect”.
On 7th July 1857, Peer Ali was hanged in full public view in Patna. In present day Patna a children’s park opposite the DM’s office near Gandhi Maidan has been named the Shaheed Peer Ali Khan Park by the Govt. of Bihar to commemorate the sacrifice of this ordinary bookseller whose deeds made him extraordinary and memorable. The park is considered to be the place where Peer Ali was hanged in 1857.
Naming a park after a forgotten hero of the 1857 uprising goes a long way in making him and his contribution known to the people. Moreover, reading and writing about Peer Ali khan made me realize once again and ever more that our freedom is very hard earned. We cannot take it for granted. I and we all need to cherish it, nourish it and strengthen it.
- William Tayler – Our Crisis Or Three Months at Patna during the Insurrection of 1857, Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna, 2007 Reprint.
- The History of the Indian Revolt, and of the Expeditions to Persia, China, and Japan, 1856-7-8, W.U.R. Chambers, 1859 (Google Ebook).
- The Story of the Indian Mutiny (1857-58), W.P. Nimmo, Hay & Mitchell, 1885 (Google Ebook).
- Unsung heroes of freedom struggle, The Hindu, 10 August 2017.
-  William Tayler, Our Crisis Or Three Months at Patna during the Insurrection of 1857, (2007 Reprint), Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna, p.4
-  https://www.thehindu.com/children/unsung-heroes/article19464112.ece, 10 August 2017
-  William Tayler, Our Crisis Or Three Months at Patna during the Insurrection of 1857, (2007Reprint), Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna, p.45
-  William Tayler, Our Crisis Or Three Months at Patna during the Insurrection of 1857, (2007 Reprint), Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna, p.30
- The History of the Indian Revolt, and of the Expeditions to Persia, China, and Japan, 1856-7-8, W.U.R. Chambers, 1859, p.153, https://books.google.co.in/books?id=P-hCAAAAcAAJ&q=Peer+Ali+Khan&pg=PA153&redir_esc=y#v=snippet&q=Peer%20Ali%20Khan&f=false
- William Tayler, Our Crisis Or Three Months at Patna during the Insurrection of 1857, (2007 Reprint), Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna, p.44
- 7William Tayler, Our Crisis Or Three Months at Patna during the Insurrection of 1857, (2007 Reprint), Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna, p.45-46
- 8William Tayler, Our Crisis Or Three Months at Patna during the Insurrection of 1857, (2007 Reprint), Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna, p.44
-  William Tayler, Our Crisis Or Three Months at Patna during the Insurrection of 1857, (2007 Reprint), Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna, p. 44
-  William Tayler, Our Crisis Or Three Months at Patna during the Insurrection of 1857, (2007 Reprint), Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna, p.44-45
-  William Tayler, Our Crisis Or Three Months at Patna during the Insurrection of 1857, (2007 Reprint), Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna, p. 45
Kanupriya has done her Master’s in Modern Indian History from University of Delhi and has deep Interest in History, Politics and Literature.