Governors in Ooty
Read on to know how the practice of Governors taking a summer break in Ooty started
SUMMER RETREAT: The Government House in Ooty (1905)
With summer sending temperatures soaring, the annual exodus to the hills has begun. It is a practice that, like many others, began with the British, officialdom leading the way.
The first of the Madras governors to take a break in Ooty was Sir Thomas Munro, who in 1826 arrived there long after summer, in fact in September.
His successors followed suit at warmer times of the year, enjoying the cool of holidays in Ooty. But it was Governor Lord Elphinstone who in 1840 attempted to institute the practice of the Government moving upto Ooty for the summer.
Elphinstone's excuse was that his doctors had found him and several members of his Council as well as secretaries of government exhausted by the heat and had advised them that a change of climate was necessary if they were to get about their work.
The Directors of the Company were scandalised by "the removal of the seat of Government" and deemed it "contrary to law" when they remonstrated with Elphinstone.
It was only after the return of his Government from the hills in December that Elphinstone deigned to reply to the Directors' letter of censure.
He informed the Directors that if he had not acted as he had, there would have been "a general breakdown of the administrative machinery"!
Nevertheless, neither he nor his successors moved the Government out of Madras again though they did take short breaks themselves till Governor Sir William Dennison in 1861 suggested such a move to the Secretary of State for India.
His proposals in 1861 and 1862 were turned down, but that didn't prevent him enjoying his holidays.
It was in the Duke of Buckingham's time that London finally agreed to a permanent residence in Ooty for the Governors of the Madras Presidency to spend their summers in. Upper Norwood was purchased in 1876 from a hotel-keeper, W.Davidson, for Rs.20,000 and added to Lower Norwood, which had been acquired from the Lawrence Asylum (now Lovedale) in 1869, and a garden cottage. The entire campus today extends over an area of nearly 87 acres.
Upper Norwood, dating to an 1830s ownership by a James Lushington, a Civilian who called it Lushington House, got its name when it was acquired by Major General W. Sewell in 1841 together with the neighbouring Patterson House which he called Lower Norwood.
Governor Buckingham, after spending just one summer here, decided Upper Norwood was not a fit place for Governor though fit, like the other properties on the campus, for his staff.
He thereupon put up a proposal for a new Government House to be built in this spaciousness. By the time the building was completed in 1896 though occupancy began in 1879 the cost was Rs. 7.8 lakh against the original estimate of Rs. 2.7 lakh! The Duke of Buckingham's constant interference with the work of the engineers, undoubtedly contributed considerably to this over-run.
The Raj Bhavan
In 1899, a magnificent ballroom and ante-room were added at a cost of Rs. 60,000. The building, Raj Bhavan today, with its ballroom, banqueting hall, drawing and reception rooms, 17 guest rooms and numerous offices is spread over nearly 30,000 square feet.
The banqueting hall, perhaps the best feature of the building, was restored in 1988 by INTACH.
Raj Bhavan's grounds include nine acres of ornamental gardens, three acres of lawns, four rosariums, two lily ponds, a sunken garden, two greenhouses, a vegetable garden and a nursery.
With Governors no longer spending long summers there, it might be an idea to open up the gardens to the public, like the Mughal Gardens at Rashtrapati Bhavan in Delhi. I'm sure a fee to visit the gardens would not be grudged by those wanting to walk through them.
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