Saturday 20 April 2013

The society that held Lalbagh

Lalbagh has passed through many illustrious hands ever since it was conceived by Hyder Ali and developed by Tipu Sultan in the later part of the 18th century.
Soon after Tipu’s death in 1799, the British took over Lalbagh. During the reign of Tipu, he had entrusted the maintenance of  the botanical garden to two darogas- Mahomed Ali who was in charge for more than seven years and his son Abdul Khader. 
After Khader, it was for some time held by Sergeant Tomkins who worked as an overseer for some time. The came, the Maestry-the British word coined to mean overseer- Heera Lall-who was at the helm of Lalbagh for an year before it was headed by William New and then by A. A. Black and again by William New.
After New, came M. W. Walker, who was assisted by Maistry Ramannah. Subsequently, came Waugh, Cameron, Krumbeigal, Marigowda and a host of others who each contributed to the development of the park.
But many do not know is that for a few years the Agri Horticulture Society was in charge of Lalbagh for a few years. When Waugh handed back the garden to the office of the Chief Commissioner,  Sir Mark Cubbon in 1836 decided to form an exclusive society sp that it could look after the day to day running of the gardens and also ensure its upkeep.
He then formed the Agri-culture Society and handed over Lalbagh for is upkeep. This was the first such society in Bangalore and indeed in the erstwhile Mysore Kingdom.
The society began its work in right earnest and it constructed a building which it called seed house. This was not only the place where the seeds were kept but it also the place where some botanical experiments were carried out. The society also built a structure which subsequently would house the Superintendents of Lalbagh.
The Seed house and the house for the Superintendents finds mention in one of the letters that the society Secretary, William Munroe, wrote to the head office. He complained about the heavy expenses caused to the society when it took up construction of  the seed house.  
The records of that period indicate that in 1856 an amount of Rs. 200 was spent on the cottage for seeds and housing the Superintendents. Several decades later, Superintendent James Cameroon in 1890,  recorded his impressions of the cottage and said it had been extended and improved upon with floor tiles.
These records indicate that the cottage was constructed sometime in 1839 and the society was responsible for it.
While people are aware of the role of Cubbon in preserving Lalbagh and the many English and foreign Superintendents who tended to the botanical garden, not much is know about this society.
What we can surmise is that it was among the first such societies in India and that it took the assistance of convicts in cleaning up the park and maintaining it. But the society vanished into pages of history in 1842 and the gardens were restored to the Government.
B.L. Rice, in his work, has given some details about the society and how it made use of the convicts to keep Lalbagh clean.  
Another account of Lalbagh, and this was sometime in 1800, is by Dr. John Buchanan who says the gardens are extensive and divided into square plots. The plots are separated by walks, the sides of which are ornamented with fine cypress trees. The plots are filled with fruit trees and pot herbs. Each piece of land is designated for a different kind of fruit tree. The walks are not gravelled.
Coming back to the society, we should be forever grateful to it for starting the botanical library. The library today is renamed as Dr. M.H. Mari Gowda National Horticultural Library and it is one of the finest libraries on botany in this part of south India.
It is also among the oldest libraries in Bangalore and it offers a wealth of information to botanists and horticulturists. The library was started with a small collection of books. Since then, it houses among its shelves over 30,000 books, including 1,500 historical volumes, some dating back to the 18th century.
In more than 150 years of its existence, the library has grown manifold into a vast treasure trove of knowledge. This library holds some invaluable paintings of Lalbagh and its plants.
John Cameron, Director of Horticulture between 1874 and 1908, added books on botany and horticulture which he got from Bombay, Madras and Central province.
G.H. Krumbiegal also added a number of books, while Dr. Mari Gowda added contemporary books and subscribed to journals.
Among the oldest books that can be seen here are “Kingdom of Mysore” Forty Drawings by James Hunter, which was first published in 1805.
The society, during its short lived existence showed the way that Lalbagh could further take. Today, though people know the names of some of the Superintendents of Lalbagh, the society is almost forgotten and even its contribution in preserving and protecting Lalbagh seems to have been forgotten.

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