Saturday 13 April 2013

The man who designed the Cantonment in Bangalore

The Cantonment in Bangalore is one of the most enchanting areas of the Garden City. Unlike the Pete or city of Bangalore, the Cantonment does not have a long history behind it.
The Cantonment came to be founded in 1809 by the British just ten years after the fourth and final war against Tipu Sultan. The Cantonment then was the exclusive preserve of the British and the Cubbon Park was the boundary between the Cantonment and petes and civilian Bangalore.
Even today, the Cantonment is much distinct from the other parts of Bangalore. It has many defence establishments and personnel stationed in old quarters and British type bungalows. The roads generally are broad and lined with trees and the footpaths are wide and clean.
The many churches, defence establishments, greenery of the area leaves us marveling at the planning that went into the making of Cantonment. Though the date of the establishment of the Cantonment can be established, it is only recently that the man behind the planning of the locality came to be identified.       
The task of not only identifying a suitable site for the establishing a Cantonment in the erstwhile Mysore Kingdom but also planning its layout and buildings fell on the shoulders of a young British military Engineer, John Blakiston (1785-1867).
Blakiston was a little over 23 years of age when he was tasked with the important job of finding out a suitable place for the construction of a Cantonment which would house the British garrison and also provide them a safe haven.
The Commader-in-chief of the British Army, Arthur Wellesley, who led the fourth Anglo-Mysore war against Tipu, wrote on April 11, 1800 to Lieutenant Colonel Close of  British troops stationed in Srirangapatna seeking his advice about establishing the cantonment in Bangalore. He also suggested Channapatna and Chitradurga as possible locations.
Blakiston surveyed several places before zeroing in on Bangalore, He found Bangalore ideal for setting up the new Cantonment. The climate of Bangalore, he found, was salubrious and the countryside beautiful.
He also surveyed the various pieces of land around Bangalore and chose the place which today is known as Cantonment. The place he had chosen was just a little away from the Bangalore fort of Tipu and it was also away from the petes and native Bangalore town.  
Blackiston not only prepared the plan for the Cantonment but also involved himself fully with establishing layouts, building two regiments for Europeans, five regiments for native troops, five artillery establishments and a hospital for soldiers.  
The originally Cantonment came up to the west of Halasuru or Ulsoor lake, where the Gurudwara is situated today. The small hamlet of  Halasuru served as a settlement where servants who worked in the Cantonment and those who worked in the quarters of Europeans stayed.
In 1827, the Cantonment was expanded to include twenty  surrounding villages in which 8,000 infantrymen and cavalrymen were stationed. The number of barracks and hospitals were increased and new buildings constructed. A special bazaar was established and this is today the Russell Market.
Much of the above mentioned facts and other details about the establishment of the Cantonment comes from an old publication of 1829 called “Twelve Years of Military Adventure… by an unknown military author”.  The authorship of this text was unknown till Blakiston himself in his memoires –“Twenty Years in Retirement”- mentions that it was he who wrote Twelve Years of Military Adventure.
He writes, “I was ordered up to Bangalore to fix on the site, and prepare plans for a new Cantonment about to be established there on a large scale.”
Blakiston was born in Dublin, Ireland and served in the Army of Majesty and the East India Company from 1802 to 1814 in India. Before coming to Bangalore, he was at Ellichipur (Maharashtra), Madras, and later came to Srirangapatna. His son was the noted explorer and ornithologist, Thomas Wright Blakiston.
Blakiston loved his Cantonment and found it one of the most beautiful in India. He mentions about this in his in his biography, Twenty years in retirement”, that “Bangalore has increased both in size and beauty, and may now be considered one of the largest and finest cantonments in India.”
Blackpally,  the old name of Shivajinagar, is named after Blackiston.  However, opinion on this is divided. City historians and scholars say Halasuru and surrounding areas was known for the cultivation of black rice and, hence, the name for the village. Another legend about Blackpally was that it came to be named so after the outbreak of black death or plague.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Samyuktha
    I have read with interest your article on the origins of the Bangalore Cantonment.
    We are actually quite interested in the source of your information regarding the fact that the Hospital set up by Blackiston was in "the west of the Gurudwara near Halasuru". In fact any more information regarding the original location and date of setting up of the hospital is welcome.
    Kindly help us out
    Dr D Joshi