next Sporting Gun sale on 4th April at Knightsbridge includes a weapon with a remarkable history it was made for a young Indian Prince whose father lost his kingdom in the Punjab and who spent his life shooting and gambling.
An unusual 12-bore hammer gun by J. Purdey & Sons, made for Prince Duleep Singh, is estimated to sell for £2,000 to £3,000 at Bonhams. The makers have kindly confirmed that the gun was completed as one of a pair of guns for Prince Duleep Singh. This gun would appear to have been purchased for the Prince when he was fifteen years old, and as such may well have been one of Prince Victor's earliest guns. The family estate of Elveden, in Norfolk, having played host to many shooting parties and some of the best shots of the day, was sold to the 1st Earl of Iveagh in 1894 after the death of Prince Victor's father. It remains in the possession of the Guinness family to this day Prince Victor Albert Jay Duleep Singh (1866-1918) the eldest son of Maharajah Runjit Singh, the last ruler of the Punjab, and godson of Queen Victoria, Prince Victor was born in England and baptised in the Private Chapel at Windsor.
Raised on his father's estate at Elveden in Norfolk, he was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, before attending Sandhurst under a special Cadet-ship in 1887 after the personal intervention of his godmother (Indians normally being disqualified from attending). He was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the 1st (Royal) Dragoons, and by 1889 he was based at Halifax, Nova Scotia as Honorary Aide-de-Camp to General Sir John Ross, then commander of forces in British North America.
In 1894, the same year he was promoted to Captain, he married Lady Anne Coventry, the youngest daughter of the 9th Earl of Coventry and whom he had first met whilst at Cambridge. The marriage was made possible through the intervention of the Prince of Wales, and the wedding at St. Peter's Church in Eaton Square was attended by Queen Victoria herself.
In the latter part of his life much of his time was spent with George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, a lifelong friend whom he had first met at Eton and who shared his love of shooting and gambling. Prince Victor was declared bankrupt in 1902, through a combination of bad investments and gambling, and spent the rest of his life in exile in Paris, even remaining throughout the First World War. He died of a heart attack, aged 51, in Monte Carlo, where he was buried.
Prince Duleep Singh, like his father, was a prolific shot and amongst the best shots of his day alongside his brother, Prince Frederick. It is recorded that the two brothers, shooting at Elveden in the early 1890's, managed to bag 846 partridges before lunch, being forced to stop after exhausting their supply of cartridges.
In Lord Carnarvon's game book for 1895, both brothers are recorded shooting grouse alongside him at Delnadamph throughout August, before returning to Carnarvon's estate, Highclere, to start shooting on September 2nd, with fifty-one days of partridge shooting over the next three months and many of the parties consisting only of Carnarvon and Duleep Singh, accompanied by Lord Ashburton.
An all-time record three-day bag was recorded in late November, with a total bag of 10,807, including 5,671 pheasant, 16 partridges, 43 hares, 4 woodcock, 5,033 rabbits, and 40 various. The guns were Lord Carnarvon, both Victor and Frederick Duleep Singh, Earl de Grey, Lord Ashburton and Harry Chaplin, who was replaced by J. Rutherford on the final day.