top of page

Sikhs – Foundation Members of the R.S.L – Esur & Nurain Singh

Esur, Nurain and Delph Singh - Herbalists, Eye Doctors & Specialists.

April 20, 2015

© Len Kenna and Crystal Jordan 2014

Esur and Nurain Singh foundation members of the R.S.L. 1910. Esur and Nurain are the only Sikhs we have found to date that wore a metal Chakar (Quoit) in their turban.

There were a number of Herbalists operating in Australia during the 19th and early 20th Century, they came from various countries and practiced different types of herbalism.  The most popular were the Chinese herbalists followed closely by Indian and Sikh herbalists.  Four such herbalists arrived in Australia in the early 1890’s they were Baghuin Singh, Delph Singh, Esur Singh and Nurain Singh.

Esur Singh, the son of Gordat Singh and Daa Kar (sic Kaur) stated he was born on the 10th October 1852 at Sulowal (possibly Sirhali), Amritsar, Punjab, India and he arrived in Melbourne, Australia on the 1st April 1892 and six months later he began working as a hawker in Adelaide, South Australia where he was based for ten and a half years.  From there he moved to Petersburg, South Australia for eighteen months, Swan Hill, Victoria for two years, Goulburn, New South Wales for eighteen months then Sydney for three years and finally Casino, New South Wales where he lived and worked for the rest of his life.  During his time in Casino he visited India on at least one occasion.

Nurain Singh stated he was from India and was born at Shaljibazpur (sic Shahbazpur), Amritsar, Punjab on 11th April 1864.  He arrived in Australia about October 1892 and began working as a hawker in Adelaide, South Australia, and it was during that time he met Esur.  He spent ten and a half years in Adelaide, eighteen months in Petersburg, South Australia, two years in Swan Hill, Victoria, eighteen months in Goulburn, New South Wales, three years in Sydney, New South Wales and the rest of the time in Casino, New South Wales.  During his time in Casino he returned to India in 1912, 1921 and 1926 after which he vanished from the historical record in Australia.

In August 1897, Nurain made a claim at the Mount Gambier, South Australia Court for goods he did not receive from the money that he had given to Esur at Naracoorte in June 1896, to purchase drapery and jewellery to the value of £7 ($14) on his behalf in Adelaide, South Australia.  Esur was ordered to pay the money back to Nurain.  They must have resolved their differences as Esur and Nurain went into business together as Hawkers and Herbalist and sometime later became known as brothers when in fact they were not related.

While Esur was in Adelaide in August 1897 he took part in a parade of veterans wearing his medal with two clasps, from the Afghan Wars.  Esur and his Indian comrades from the Punjab were dressed in their colourful costumes and paraded to Government House where they were admired by the bystanders for their strong athletic appearance.

On the 13th July 1901, Esur Singh was one of eight Indian ex-soldiers present at the Grand Military Review at Victoria Park Racecourse, Adelaide during the Royal visit of Prince George, Duke of Cornwall and York, , and his wife, Mary.  Other Indians in the parade were Sergeant Gail Singh who was in a Sepoy regiment for seven years in British North Borneo and was rewarded for his service in the battle of Pudus.  He had a certificate of discharge and of good conduct from Captain W. J. Bistoy.  The names of the other Sikh Veterans were Kaiser Singh, 1st Perak Sikhs; Visara Singh and Booda Singh, No. 5 Burmah Regiment; Peram Singh, No. 2. Burmah Regiment; Puti Singh, Borneo; Sundrah Singh, Singapore.

On 16th November 1907 Esur and Nurain entered into a partnership with Delph Singh a herbalist at 110 George Street West, Sydney, with an agreement that a partnership as Oriental Herbalists and Specialists should operate until 16th November 1908 while Delph travelled to India.  Delph sailed for India on the 8th February 1908 on the “S. S. Oratava” believing his wife would stand in his stead as partner in the business, although she had not signed any agreement.  The business agreement stated that Esur and Nurain were to carry on the business with their own stock of drugs and herbs, which they did until 8th February 1909. They paid one third of profits to Delph’s wife, Edith, before Delph left for India and from then on refused to admit her into the business.   

Delph Singh – Herbalist  & Bogus Doctor 1908.

Delph’s wife, Edith Rose Singh sued Esur and Nurain Singh for equity in the business. The Chief Judge declared that there had been a partnership between the three parties, and Esur and Nurain Singh were ordered to pay costs amounting to £130/16/6 ($261.66).  Mrs. Singh was ordered to pay £46/13/4 ($93.34), and was awarded 10 shillings ($1.00) a week out of the partnership.  Esur carried on business with Nurain Singh in George Street West for about 18 months, with only 6 shillings (60 cents) in the Savings Bank in Moore Street, Sydney, they had no money to pay the costs and so they declared themselves bankrupt.  It appears that Esur and Nurain Singh declared themselves bankrupt to possibly avoid paying Edith Rose Singh her share of the profits in the business, which were quite substantial judging by the cash remittances to India by Esur.  In June 1908 Esur sent about £24 ($48.00) to India to pay for his grandson’s schooling and two other remittances of £60 or £70 ($ 120 or $140) along with other money as he could spare it.

Sometime after the bankruptcy case Esur and Nurain moved to Casino in the Richmond River district of New South Wales where they advertised themselves as Pundits as did other Sikh Herbalists at that time.

Unlike Esur and Nurain Singh, who became  well respected in the community as Pundits and Herbalist, Delph Singh was often involved in numerous magisterial inquiries against him for stating that he was a duly qualified medical practitioner in India and had practised as a Doctor there for a number of years before coming to Australia. He advertised himself as a doctor in advertisements, on his vehicle and on brass plates. However, he was charged and fined several times under the “Medical Practioners Act”, for not being a legally qualified medical practioner. On one occasion he was charged with being responsible for the death of Sarah Brown who he treated for having a tumor of the uterus.

The Annual Smoke Night September 1910

Nurain and Esur. Photos: Talma Studios, George St. Sydney, NSW. Sydney Mail & NSW Advertiser June 1908.

In September 1910 the Annual Smoke Night was held for the returned South African Soldiers’ Association in the Protestant Hall, Castlereagh Street, Sydney.  Nearly 300 members attended, many were grey-headed veterans wearing medals of the Indian Mutiny and the Crimean War.  Two of these men were Esur and Naream Singh (sic Nurain).  The Returned South African Soldiers’ Association had nearly 450 members in Sydney, 400 in Adelaide, 400 in Melbourne and 400 in Perth.

The aims of the Association were to increase social activities and they were planning great things for the future, in fact, there was a movement in Sydney to form a Soldiers’ Club, embracing both army and navy.  A prominent Sydney citizen offered £200 ($400.00) to furnish the club rooms when they were secured, and when sufficient capital was assured for the maintenance of such an institution, the generous offer was to be accepted.  In February 1911; Esur Singh was reported to be a member of the newly formed United Imperial Navy and Army Veterans’ Association of Sydney, New South Wales (RSL).   The RSL is a large and active organisation to this day.  This is more evidence that Indians as well as Sikhs were welcomed into the organization that later became known as the RSL.

The following statements were made by Esur Singh and Nurain Singh and were signed by the committee of the United Imperial Navy and Army Veterans’ Association of New South Wales (RSL).

I, ESUR SINGH, belonged to the 5th Punjab Infantry, and was engaged for twelve years’ service under Lord Roberts.  During that time I served as Sergeant Major for three years, then as Lieutenant for two years.  In the years 1878-79-80 I won with honor a two clasped medal.  I fought for the British under Lord Roberts during the war with Afghanistan and was wounded in the left leg.  My poor brother, Juwala Singh, was killed in the same engagement. 

I am a member of the United Imperial Navy and Army Veterans’ Association of New South Wales, whose patron is His Excellency, Sir Harry Rawson, K.C.B.”(Signed) 1. H. HEAD. ESQ., President; 2. M JUDD, Vice-President; SAMUEL WITHERS, J.P., Hon. Sec,;1. S. NUTT, Treasurer; ALFRED J. DIXON, Asst. Sec.

I, NURAIN SINGH, belonged to the 2nd Punjab Infantry for eight years under Lord Roberts.  In the year 1879 my grandfather served in the same regiment as Color Sergeant.  He won the Victoria Cross during the Indian Munity in 1857 (in Campaign of Cawnpore and Lucknow).  My father belonged to the 25th Regiment of the Bengal Infantry as Lieutenant.  In the same regiment my cousin served; and both were killed during the Campaign at Kandahar (Afghanistan) in the years 1878-79-80. 

I am a member of the United Imperial Navy and Army Veterans’ Association of New South Wales, whose patron is His Excellency, Sir Harry Rawson, K.C.B.”

(Signed)1. H. HEAD. ESQ., President; 2.M JUDD, Vice-President; SAMUEL WITHERS, J.P., Hon. Sec,;1. S. NUTT, Treasurer; ALFRED J. DIXON, Asst. Sec.;

More About Esur and Nurain Singh

In August 1907 Esur and Nurain Singh donated Cotton Seed from the Punjab, India, to the local Technological Museum, Goulburn, New South Wales, and Mr. Mullaney donated two ancient spoons of Indian manufacture.  Over 2,124 people paid an average of 1 shilling (10 cents) each per day to view these and other exhibits. In addition to this, during World War One, Esur Singh donated to the War Chest. Esur and Nurain were well known for their charitable disposition.

In Casino, New South Wales, Esur and Nurain Singh attracted a lot of attention because of their distinguished appearance and unusual dress.  In particular they wore what was described as a steel “halo” around and over their turbans.  Esur and Nurain called it a “Chakir” (sic Chakar or Chakrum).   They were conspicuous figures in the town and were well-known for their dignified walk, tall appearance and white flowing beards, which gave them a patriarchal bearing which caused them to be regarded with admiration, indeed one might also say, with reverence.

Esur Singh, 77 years of age, died at Casino on Monday the 26th May 1919. Both Esur and Nurain Singhhad resided in Casino since 1911 and were well known throughout the Northern Rivers District of New South Wales.  The funeral took place on Tuesday the 27th May in accordance with the religious customs of Esur’s ancestors with the funeral rites being read by Nurain Singh.  The body was cremated at a site in the Council’s paddock with the necessary permission obtained from the authorities.

It was reported in the newspaper the following day that a large number of people followed the body to the spot where the cremation ceremony was carried out without a hitch of any kind. Nurain was the executor of Esur Singh’s Last Will and Testament.  Not long after Esur’s death, Nurain began advertising himself as a Sikh Hakeem.

At a meeting of the Casino Council in August 1921, Alderman Clark said that Pundit Nurain Singh, who had been a resident of the town for a considerable period, was about to revisit India.  He had been in the colonies a good many years, and had resided in Casino for a long time.  He had been a good citizen, and it was suggested now that he was about to return to his native country the Council might give him a letter certifying to his good citizenship, endorsed with the seal of the Council.  Alderman Clark further commented that Nurain Singh had played a good part in Casino’s war effort and in addition had been of assistance to the hospital and other institutions.  Such a letter would be of great assistance to him when he got back to his own country.  Alderman Clark moved that a document bearing the seal of the Council be prepared and handed to Nurain Singh before his departure.  The motion was seconded by Alderman Nortcott.  The Mayor supported the proposal stating that Nurain Singh had been a good citizen, and he would with pleasure sign such a document.  The motion was carried unanimously. Pundit Nurain Singh was welcomed back to Casino by many friends in March 1923, after his visit of fifteen months to the Punjab, India.  Pundit Nurain Singh recommenced business in October at Centre Street, Casino.  On Wednesday 13th January 1926 Nurain put his furniture up for sale as he intended to return to India, and from that time on disappeared from the historical record.

66 views0 comments


bottom of page