The Higgins’ India installation of 2017 focused on the contribution of Manipur to World War I. We featured the experiences of JC Higgins ICS and the men of the Manipur Labour Corps. The view from “the other side” explored the events of 1917 to 1919 when the Kuki tribes resisted the second draft for raise men for the labour corps.
Higgins’ India was part of the Alford Remembers WWI Exhibition at Alford Manor House Museum.
Three generations of the Higgins family were closely linked to Alford Manor House for over 150 years, an association which began in 1819 when the first John Higgins lived there, his grandson, John Comyn Higgins, qualified for the Indian Civil Service in 1905.
Higgins worked in Manipur for over 20 years from 1910 his roles included that of Assistant Political Agent in Manipur, working as Vice President and President of the Manipur State Darbar. He served as the Political Agent to Manipur three times between 1917 and 1933.
At the outbreak of War in 1914 the British looked to their colonies for support. As part of British India, Manipur was prepared to provide men and munitions. Maharaja Churachand fulfilled his obligations, Dr Chisti details the contribution of the Raja:
one double company of infantry, four or five ambulances to the St John’s Red Cross Fund, and Rs. 2,81,860 plus a further 22,500 for purchasing an aeroplane. Moreover, the Raja was prepared to offer the whole resources of his state and a company of 120 sappers and miners as well as 500 Naga labourers.
The Raja also sought to raise two additional labour Corps for France. As the war progressed and men were desperately needed Higgins was directly involved in the recruitment of men from the hills for the later draft Manipur Labour Corps. The pressure for more men led to a Kuki uprising and Higgins became further involved in the suppression of what the British termed rebellion from 1917 to 1919.
2017 marked the 100 year anniversary of the Kuki War of Independence, a revolt by the hill tribes against British recruitment for the labour corps, the exhibition portrayed the British and the Kuki perspectives, along with details of those men who were sent to France as members of the Manipuri Labour Corps.
Higgins and the Maharaja worked closely together for over 20 years, travelling and attending many official engagements. Higgins’ letters home describe official dinners, sporting events and visits from the Maharani to his wife. The children of the men played at the British residence as friends. The whole family were immersed in a very different world throughout their time in Manipur.
Higgins life in particular was one of extremes, he played polo with Royalty, played bridge with his peers and drank Zu with the people of the hill tribes. Textile reproductions, created authentically for Alford Manor House in Manipur, showed the clothing of the hill tribes alongside those of the Maharaja and Maharani. Emphasising the stark contrast between, not only the areas of Higgins’ life in Manipur but also the life he left behind in Alford.
Discussion and research into the textiles has led to a sub-project : The Maharaja’s New Clothes, details of this project are on a separate page.