Muhammad Hayat Khan

Nawab Muhammad Hayat Khan CSI (1833–1901)[1] was an Indian Muslim who served the Government of British India and rose to considerable distinction.[2]

Nawab Muhammad Hayat Khan 1860s


Muhammad Hayat Khan was one of the sons of a Khattar[lower-alpha 1] chieftain, Sardar Karam Khan, resident at Wah (village), in Attock area of Punjab.[3]

In 1847-48, after the end of the First Anglo-Sikh War, the said Karam Khan was a staunch adherent of the British, represented by officers of the East India Company appointed in the Punjab region at Lahore under Sir Henry Lawrence to help administer the Punjab. He soon had a chance to prove his loyalty when in June–July 1848, an uprising of Sikh soldiery broke out in the area[lower-alpha 2] and John Nicholson ventured to the Margalla Pass, near Taxila town, to capture a strategic tower there.[4] During the course of this fight, he was accompanied by some local troops and chieftains, including Karam Khan, and when Nicholson was trapped in a hazardous situation, Karam daringly rescued him.[5] Thereafter, Nicholson and Karam Khan became close friends.

In late 1848, Karam Khan was murdered whilst asleep, by his half-brother Fatteh Khan, and his wife and children had to escape their home in their ancestral village and seek refuge in the nearby Hazara region (now Hazara, Pakistan) where they met James Abbott (Indian Army officer) who sent them to Nicholson; and thereafter, Nicholson affected the restitution of the family to their estate and to the education of Karam Khan's orphaned children.[6]


After attaining some basic education, especially a fluency in the Persian language, young Muhammad Hayat was appointed by Nicholson as his personal native orderly officer and Persian interpreter, since he felt a responsibility towards the son of his late friend. Thereafter, Muhammad Hyat served as a close companion and aide to Nicholson throughout his campaigns and expeditions in Punjab[lower-alpha 3] and the 'Punjab Frontier' (areas that would later become part of the North West Frontier Province) and until his death in Delhi, during the Indian War of Independence (or Indian Mutiny) in September 1857.

In 1857, after Nicholson was mortally wounded in the assault on the Kashmir Gate, Delhi, Muhammad Hyat tended to him though his last 8–9 days of life, and according to tradition, Nicholson on his death-bed recommended the young man's services to Sir John Lawrence, then Chief Commissioner of the Punjab,[7] asking him to reward and assist him in his future career. This proved to be the beginning of Khan's distinguished career spread out over many decades.

Soon after the Mutiny/Rebellion, he was appointed a Thanedar (police officer) at Talagang in Punjab, and was soon transferred to the civil side of administration, as a Tehsildar (junior revenue officer). In 1862, he was then promoted an Extra Assistant Commissioner and sent out to Bannu, and served in that station and nearby Kohat under Sir Louis Cavagnari, then Assistant Commissioner there. In 1864, he was sent on a mission to Afghanistan and in that same year, wrote his famous Hyat i Afghan (Afghanistan and its Inhabitants) in Urdu and also translated it himself into Persian, which was published in 1864 (later translated into English by H.Priestley, ICS, published 1875): probably still one of the best works on the subject.

In 1872, Khan was promoted an Assistant Commissioner[8] and due to his sterling work, given the award of the Companion of the Order of the Star of India (CSI) on May 31 in the Birthday Honours;[9][10] and later, appointed Assistant Political Agent in the Kurram tribal agency.[11] During the Second Anglo-Afghan War, when General Sir Frederick Roberts (later Field Marshal, Lord Roberts of Kandahar) was sent in command of the Kurram Valley Field Force, Khan was made one of his main native aides.

After the conclusion of the war, Khan returned to civil administrative service in the Punjab, and in due course was moved to the judicial service. Between 1880 and 1888, he remained a District and Sessions Judge in various places. In 1888-89, he became a member of the Punjab Board of Revenue and remained in this position for quite some time, finally being chosen to represent the Muslim zamindars (landowners) as a member of the Punjab Legislative Council in 1897.[12] In 1899, he was granted the personal title of Nawab in recognition of his long and particularly distinguished services and, in the words of an Englishman, '...a previously well-established Wah family [now] achieved new heights in the annals of British India'.[13]

Nawab Muhammad Hayat Khan died in his ancestral village, Wah, in 1901.

Contributions to Muslim education

Muhammad Hyat Khan was a very close friend and confidant of the senior Muslim thinker, scholar, writer and educational reformer Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and remained very active under his guidance in the establishment of the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh (later Aligarh Muslim University)[14] and indeed presided over the 1888, 1889 and 1890 annual sessions of the 'Muhammadan Educational Conference' initiated by Sir Syed.[15][16] He also played an active role in promoting Muslim socio-cultural uplift in his home province of Punjab, and was one of the first twenty or so Punjabi princes and nobles to donate funds for the establishment of the new University College, Punjab (later to develop in the University of the Punjab) in 1870[17]


Nawab Muhammad Hyat had many offspring, and two of them, from his senior wife Zainab Khatun, daughter of S. Ghulam Jilani (a Minister in Kapurthala State),[18] were to achieve particular distinction and fame in years to come: Nawab Sir Liaqat Hyat Khan (born 1887), Sir Sikandar Hyat Khan (born 1892).



  1. An indigenous Punjabi tribe/race, not to be confused with the Khattak Pashtun tribe
  2. In fact as part of the commencement of the Second Anglo-Sikh War
  3. Including the Second Anglo-Sikh War


  1. See Revised edition (1940) of Griffin & Massey Chiefs and Families of Note in the Punjab, Orig. Lahore, 1910, Vol II, p.293; and also K.Haidri, Tarikh I Potohar (Urdu), Lahore 1962, pp.74-74. MHK's date of birth is given wrongly as 1829 in Charles Allen, Soldier-Sahibs, London 2000, due to a confusion with another Punjabi chief
  2. MSD Butler, Final Report on the Attock district for 1901-1904, Lahore, 1905, p.110
  3. Charles Allen, Soldier-Sahibs, London, 2000, p. 166
  4. Allen, p.166
  5. This is the site of the 'Nicholson Memorial' - also called Nicholson's Obelisk - today. Allen, pp.166-167
  6. Allen, pp.173-175
  7. More sensational legend has it that Nicholson wrote a recommendation for Muhammad Hyat Khan, on a slip of paper, in his own blood. L.J. Trotter, in his biography of Nicholson also errs in stating that MHK actually 'carried' his commandant out of Delhi. He also cites a Punjabi folk ballad sung on the streets of Delhi, soon after Nicholson's death, where it is said that 'A soldier of Towana (Tiwana) race' bore Nicholson up, back to camp--in fact a mistaken reference to Muhammad Hyat Khan, Khattar. See LJ Trotter A Life of John Nicholson, London: John Murray, 1897, p. 293 and 321 (Appendix/Ballad)
  8. MK Awan, Tarikh ul Awan, Lahore, n.d., p.31
  9. The London Gazette: no. 23863. p. 2575. 31 May 1872.
  10. Indian Civil and Military List 1872 ed
  11. Awan, p.31
  12. List of Early Members of the First Punjab Council on the Punjab Provincial Assembly site
  13. Cited in Iftikhar H Malik, Sikandar Hyat Khan, Islamabad, 1985, Chap.1, p.10
  14. Malik, pp.10-11
  15. Malik, p.11
  16. Also see Muhammad Habib Khan Tarin
  17. JF Bruce, A History of the University of the Punjab, Lahore, 1933, p.48
  18. Shaukat Hayat Khan, The Nation that Lost its Soul:Memoirs, Lahore, 1995, p.6
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