Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Imagine a beautiful brougham horse-driven enclosed box carriage with a top-hat driver and a footman standing behind leaving a grand Sussex cottage. Inside sits the chief justice of the land’s highest court.

Sounds like a scene of Dicken’s London. But it is not. It is Lahore in the year 1918. The grand chief justice is a man called Sir Henry Adolphus Byden Rattigan. The Sussex-style house existed on the road -- even then called Rattigan Road -- as it meandered opposite the old ice pits of Lahore where later on emerged the Central Model High School. The famous Sussex cottage of Lahore was located at where today stands the residence of the principal of the Central Model School. In this piece we will dwell into the origins of the Rattigan family, work our way to find out who exactly constructed that Sussex cottage, and we will see a Rattigan end up on the very first house on Lawrence Road.

Our story begins with a young man of Athy, in County Kildare of Leinster, Ireland. Born in 1812, Bartholomew Rattigan found life boring in his small town of less than 3,000 people. So he set off for London and there married Sarah Abbott of Deptford near London. Being jobless in those difficult times he opted for a job in the East India Company and set sail for India as a clerk in the ordnance department in Agra Cantonment. Very soon they were transferred to Delhi, where was born in 1842 their only son William Henry Rattigan, as also two daughters.

William was admitted to an English-medium school where he did exceptionally well, and entered government service as an ‘uncovenanted’ Extra Assistant Commissioner, and soon started working as a judge in the Small Causes Court in Delhi.

But William, restless soul that he was, decided to move to Lahore once the Sikh empire had been overcome in 1849. Here he enrolled as a pleader when the Punjab Chief’s Court was set up in 1866. Many may not realise it but the initial sessions of the Punjab Chief’s Court were held in the now-conserved Shahi Hammam inside Delhi Gate. The dried up bath must have presented an ideal courtroom. He first set up practice with a Mr. Scarlett, but then when things improved he set off on his own. It was then that he purchased a large two-acre plot on the road that was to take his name. It was at this place that he built his famous Sussex cottage using local materials. The effect, as one account tells us, was stunning and “the thatched house was very warm in the cold winter nights and cool in the hot summer afternoons.”

William fully realised that in order to reach the top, he had to have the highest possible law degree, and so he set off for England in June 1871, was admitted as a student of King’s College, London in June 1871 and was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn in June 1873. William returned to Lahore and soon he was at the top of his profession. Soon he was representing government as an advocate, even acting as a judge of the chief court.

The Sussex cottage house had an amazing garden and a set of trees that still stand. The road outside was named after him and it was from there that his ‘well-known’ brougham horse-driven carriage left for the court every day. He was an outstanding linguist and spoke five European languages fluently, as well as a number of Indian languages. He spoke fluent Punjabi. In 1885 he was conferred a first class doctorate degree by Gottingen University for his thesis ‘System of Roman Law: Jural relations’.

But his love was Lahore and in February 1887 he was made the vice chancellor of the newly-formed Punjab University, which was facing closure due to financial shortfalls. He turned the fortunes of the university and was made president of Khalsa College’s committee. On his retirement the Sikh Council of Amritsar made him a life president, constructing a Rattigan Memorial Hospital on his death.

If you happen to visit the Lahore Cathedral on The Mall, you can see a memorial plate in his honour.

William Rattigan was a self-made man. A jurist and scholar, among his publications is ‘Selected Cases in Hindu Law’ (Lahore 1870-71), ‘Hindu Adoption Laws’ (1873), ‘Notes on Customary Law in the Punjab’ (1878) and ‘Digest of Civil and Customary Law of the Punjab’ (Lahore, 1880). Even today his works are considered as among the basic treatises of customary laws of northern India. He was knighted in January 1895.

In 1900 he decided to resettle in England and in 1901 stood in a bye-election for the Liberal-Unionist Party and became an MP for North East Lanark. He died in a car accident in July 1904. He married twice, the first being in Delhi to Matilda Higgins in 1861, from whom he had four sons and two daughters. One of his sons, Sir Henry Adolphus Byden Rattigan, continued in the legal profession, and continued to live in the famous Sussex cottage on Rattigan Road. Matilda died in 1876. He married her sister Evelyn in Melbourne, Australia, from whom he had three sons.

We now return to his son, Sir Henry Adolphus Byden Rattigan, who worked with his father. Born in 1864 he was educated at Harrow School and Balliol College, Oxford. He was called to the Bar, Lincoln’s Inn, in 1888. He returned to Lahore where he had grown up and enrolled as an advocate at the Chief Court of the Punjab in 1889. Once his illustrious father returned to England in 1900, Henry Rattigan was made an Additional Judge of the Punjab Chief Court, confirmed as a judge in 1909 and in 1919 became its chief justice. In 1918 he was knighted. In that very year the Punjab Chief Court became the Lahore High Court and Sir Henry Adolphus Byden Rattigan became its very first chief justice.

At this point he decided, probably more so out of official compulsion, to move to the then Lawrence Road residence of the chief justice. Much later when the GOR residences were made, senior judges of the Lahore High Court moved there. He died on Jan 11, 1920 in Lahore. Among his publications are the ‘Laws of Divorce in India’ and a famous book on ‘Tribal Laws of the Punjab’.

What happened to the famous Sussex cottage of the Rattigans? The last known mention of this cottage is in Kipling’s famous book ‘Recollections and Letters’. It was for most English persons a ‘home away from home’. Once the Lahore District Courts, the Central Model School and other nearby structures were planned, this space was cleared. But then Lahore did lose a landmark unique to its time. The horse-driven carriages could be seen on The Mall till the late 1950s. The then Lahore District and Sessions Judge, Mehr Haq, had one at his house on Racecourse Road. But then the two-horse brougham carriages faded away as cars took its place. Very soon the memory of the brilliant Rattigan family also faded.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2016