The inscription on this gun reads, Maharajah Runjeet Singh Sporting Rifle Presented to General H.C. Van Cortland C.B. 1832'.
This important matchlock rifle was presented by the first Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) to General Henry Charles Van Cortland on the occasion of his entering the Maharaja's service in 1832.
Born in Meerut on 2 February 1814, Van Cortland was educated in England but returned to India in 1830-31 and swiftly entered the service of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Lahore, serving in the Muslim Battalion much to the dismay of the British. Van Cortland was employed by the Maharaja in several campaigns across the Punjab and he was present at the Battle of Jamrud in 1837 were he witnessed the death of Ranjit Signh's foremost general, Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa who was killed by the Afghans. Following the death of Ranjit Singh in 1839, Van Cortland was enlisted by Ranjit Singh's successors, but ended his association with the Sikhs in 1846. He was then enlisted by the British and in 1857 played an instrumental role in crushing the Indian munity. His exploits during the munity earned him the 'Companionship of the Order of the Bath' (C.B.), which was later added to the existing inscription on this rifle. He returned to London, where he died on 15 March 1888 (Bobby Singh Bansal, The Lion's Firanghis: Europeans at the Court of Lahore, 2010, pp.117-120).
Like any ruler, Ranjit Singh would frequently present gifts as a mark of honour to individuals given promotions or new appointments, or to visitors to his court (Kerry Brown (ed.), Sikh Art and Literature, London and New York, 1999, p.74). Susan Strong describes a court news report which gives the impression of the "Maharaja reflecting on the effect that the jewelry and weapons of his warriors would have" (Strong in Brown (ed.), op.cit., p.74). This gun was not the only gift commissioned by Ranjit Singh for his British General. A Mughal style Equestrian Portrait of the Maharaja, painted in Lahore, circa 1835-40, was also commissioned as a present for the Englishman (Melikian-Chirvani in Susan Strong (ed.), The Art of the Sikh Kingdoms, London, 1999, no.60, pp.63-65). From Melikian-Chirvani's description it seems that the portrait never made it in to the hands of Van Cortland (Melikian-Chirvani in Strong, op.cit., p.63). This gun however, where the inscription was updated to reflect his change in title, evidently did.