Thursday 11 April 2013

The grave of a pet

The Raj Bhavan is one of the most impressive buildings in Banglaore.
Formerly the residence of  the Residents of Mysore and Chief Commissioners of Mysore State, the Raj Bhavan is located amidst beautiful surroundings.
There are many historic artifacts in the building and even outdoors there is the small but beautiful Glass House where functions and events are organised.
The Glass House in Raj Bhavan is set within a beautiful garden full of exotic plants and trees. In a small corner of the garden is a memorial or a grave to an animal that is cared for even today.
The grave belongs to the pet dog of Sir Oliver St. John the Chief Commissioner of Mysore and Coorg State from 1889 to 1891.
Oliver St. John succeeded Sir Henry Prendergast as the Chief Commissioner and he stayed in this building for two years with his family and his pets.
He loved pets and one of his pet dogs died in the Residency. The dog was buried in a corner of the garden and it stands till today and its is still taken care of by the staff of Raj Bhavan.
Well, this is the story of  the Chief Commissioner’s pet. But what of the man himself.   
Soon after his pet died, Sir Oliver St. John was among the first British officers involved in the vexed Cauvery river water dispute between the Madras Government and the princely state of  Mysore.
Sir Oliver St John did point out that Karnataka had a right to the flowing waters but his stand was rather ambiguous.  He seemed to have meant that Karnataka had the right to flowing waters and not for storing Cauvery.
Anyway, Sir Oliver was soon afterwards sent to Baluchistan, and died a few days after arrival at Quetta. A military officer and a bureaucrat, he has the rare distinction of a  bird being named after him.
His full name was Sir Oliver Beauchamp Coventry St John (1837- 1891) and he  was an administrator in British India. His India career was varied. He served as the Chief Commissioner of Baluchistan for ten years.
Oliver St John was born in Ryde in the Isle of Wight to Captain St John of the Madras Army. He joined the Bengal Engineers on 12 December 1856.
After serving in the public works department of Agra and Oudh, he volunteered for work in Persia where he was asked to draw a telegraph line between Persia and India.
He ten went to Abyssinia in 1867 to organize telegraph lines for the war. This line was 200 miles from the coast and this work led to his promotion. Towards the end of 1868 he returned to Persia and he remained here till 1871.
In October 1871, Major St John was sent to Baluchistan for the survey of the Perso-Kelat frontier. During his tenure as an official, he took a keen interest in natural history and hunting. His personal notes are included in the zoology report of the expedition prepared by William Thomas Blanford (1832-1905), an English geologist and Naturalist.
He also corresponded with ornithologists in the region such as Allan Octavian Hume. He returned to England in October 1872 and worked on preparing maps at the India Office. These maps were based on longitudes of the Persian telegraph stations fixed in co-operation with General Walker of the Indian Trigonometrical Survey, Captain Pierson, and Lt Stiffe.
St John published his notes in the Narrative of a Journey through Baluchistan and Southern Persia (1876). He then returned to India in 1875 and became principal of the Mayo College in Ajmer.
After August 1878, he became part of the staff of Sir Neville Chamberlain's mission to Kabul. He was subsequently appointed as chief political officer to the Kandahar Field Force and later  Resident in Kandahar. An attempt was made on his life during a trip in southern Afghanistan.
In 1853, he was posted on special duty in Kashmir and then took over as acting resident in Hyderabad (April–July 1884). He was then made Resident in Kashmir (August 1884), agent to the Governor-General at Baroda (December 1887).
In 1887, Oliver St. John was appointed as Resident at Mysore and Chief Commissioner in Coorg which post he continued to hold till January 1889.
The was later recalled to Baluchistan. He died in Quetta of pneumonia after an attack of influenza.
Blanford's account of zo├Âlogy in the Persian border commission expedition includes notes on his experiences with lions in Persia while another account talks of him chasing a tiger that threatened a colleague of his.
Blanford named a bird after Oliver St. John and called it Picus Sanctijohannis.
Today, though Oliver St, John is largely forgotten, the grave of his pet dog is not. Nor is the Picus Sanctijohannis.

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