Thursday 11 April 2013

When Lalbagh was given away as a gift

Just as Bangalore was gifted as a Jagir to Shahiji, the father of Chatrapathi Shivaji, by the Adil Shah Emperor, Lalbagh-the jewel of Bangalore, too was gifted once.
The gift was accepted but then inexplicably returned four month later. Sunsequently, it was taken over by the British who then set out to make the Lalbagh one of the leading botanical gardens of the world.
This is how the story took shape.
The brainchild of Hyder Ali and the personal garden of Tipu Sultan, Lalbagh passed into the hands of the East India Company just days after Tipu lost his life in the fourth and final Anglo-Mysore War in Srirangapatna on May 4, 1799.
The East India Company reinstalled the Wodeyars on the Mysore Kingdom and decided to shift their military and administrative headquarters to Bangalore. The British had already seen Lalbagh and they had appreciated the Cypress trees in the Charbagh style  of gardening that Hyder and Tipu had developed.
When the British came back to Bangalore from Srirangapatna, they looked at the beautiful place where the Lalbagh had been tastefully laid out and they decided against destroying the patch of green. Lalbagh then occupied 40 acres.
The then Governor General, Richard Wellesley, commanded surgeon- naturalist Dr. Benjamin Heyne (1770-1819), to take charge of the garden. Heyne had joined the East India Company in 1793 
In the initial years of British occupation of Bangalore, the Gardens provided food for the regimental messes. The English masters of the Lalbagh grew English vegetables such as potatoes, cabbage and turnips.
Heyne worked hard to transform Lalbagh into a botanical garden. He had accompanied the British Surveyor to Bangalore, with the following instructions from Wellesley:
“A decided superiority must be given to useful plants over those which are merely recommended by their rarity or their beauty,... to collect with care all that is connected with the arts and manufacturers of this country, or that promises to be useful in our own; to give due attention to the timber employed in the various provinces of his route,... and to collect with particular diligence the valuable plants connected with his own immediate profession, i.e. medicine.”
The Lalbagh was also assigned the task of dealing with malaria, which the British perceived to be the largest obstacle to colonial expansion.
Heyne was placed in charge of the Lalbagh botanical garden till 1812. He collected more than 350 species of plants from the Western Ghats and more than 200 species were named by him.
He also sent many of his Indian botanical specimens to the German botanist Albrecht Wilhelm Roth, whose work Novae plantarum species praesertim Indiae orientali (a book of Indian flora) is largely based on Heyne’s botanical specimens.
However, another British officer, Major Gilbert Waugh, a Military Paymaster, was designated as the Official Keeper of Lalbagh for twelve years from 1807 to 1819. (Heyne continued as Superintendent of Lalbagh till 1812 and he died in Madras in 1891).
Once Heyne left Lalbagh, the Military Paymaster took full control of Lalbagh and soon it came to be referred as Waugh’s Gardens. The Gardens also slipped out of control of the East India Company as they found no use of it.
Waugh was commissioned as a lieutenant with the (Madras) European Regiment in 1798 aged 15. He was promoted captain in 1804 and as Major in 1814.
Waugh, too, was interested in plants and experimented with growing sugarcane and coffee in Lalbagh. During his tenure, more plants came to be added to Lalbagh but the British lost interest and the Char Bagh or Cypress Gardens came to be called as Waugh’s Gardens.
A year before Waugh was promoted as Major, the East India Company had appointed Lord Hastings, whose full name was Francis Edward Rawdon-Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings (1754-1826), as its Governor-General in India.
Hastings was styled as  Francis Rawdon from birth until 1762, as Lord Rawdon between 1762 and 1783, and known as The Earl of Moira between 1793 and 1816.
He was an Irish-British politician and military officer who served as Governor-General of India from 1813 to 1823. He took the additional surname Hastings in 1790 in compliance with the will of his maternal uncle, Francis Hastings, 10th Earl of Moira.
Waugh wrote a letter in 1819, offering the botanical gardens as a gift to Lord Hastings. Taken by surprise and overwhelmed by the gesture, Hastings accepted the gift and wrote back on April 24, 1819, thanking Waugh.   
Lord Hastings held the gift. He asked the Superintendent of the Calcutta Botanical Garden, Nathaniel Wallich (1786-1854), was directed to supervise and maintain Lalbagh with the expenditure borne by the Imperial Government.
Wallich was a surgeon and botanist of Danish origin who worked in India, initially in the Danish settlement near Calcutta and later for the East India Company. He was involved in the early development of the botanical gardens at Calcutta.
It was Wallich who is believed to have advised Hastings to accept the gift. With the technical guidance of Wallich, a plan was chalked out to expand, beautify Lalbagh and also preserve the existing plant wealth.
Wallich did come to Bangalore and he gave several invaluable suggestions but hecould not pay frequent visits to Lalbagh, as his work in the Botanical Gardens in Calcutta and additional responsibility of managing the Indian Museum left him with little time for Lalbagh.
However, four months later, Hastings returned the gardens, finding it difficult to look after Lalbagh. He preferred the gardens at Saharanpur-Farhat Baksh- which was in Uttar Pradesh to Lalbagh in Karnataka. Commerce prevailed and Hastings returned the garden.  
The gardens then came under the then Resident, Arthur Cole, took over the garden on July 2, 1819. Meanwhile, Waugh before permanently leaving Bangalore, made over the gardens to the office of the Chief Commissioner of Mysore State.
In 1833 Waugh became Colonel of the 32nd Native Infantry in the Madras Presidency, which took part in the annexation of the district of Coorg,
On 28 June 1838, Waugh became a Major General. He died in Penang, Malaysia, on November 3, 1844, aged 61
Meanwhile, the saga of Lalbagh’s ownership continued. The office of the Commissioner handed over Lalbagh to the Agri-Horticulture Society which folded up after a few years and the gardens once again vested with the commissioner.
In 1856, the gardens finally came under Government control and it was named as Government Horticulture Society. It has remained thus till this day.
The new botanical garden’s first superintendent was William New, recommended by the eminent botanist William Hooker, Director of Kew’s Royal Botanic Garden. Now began a long tradition of Lalbagh being headed by botanists who had either trained or worked at Kew.
Today, we must thank our stars that Hastings turned down the gift. Look at the present status of the Farhat Baksh and you will realise what Bangalore has gained.   
Hastings appointed George Govan (1787-1865) as the first superintendent of the Saharanpur garden in 1823. The British tried to grow medicinal plants, but after being unsuccessful, they made it a trial ground for tea cultivation. It was the second important garden in India then, next only to Calcutta Botanical Garden.
Thus, Lalbagh remained with the Mysore government since then. Saharanpur Garden is now a lacklustre and ill-maintained garden devoid of any landscape or botanical wealth. More about it in another post.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for such an interesting article here. I was searching for something like that for quite a long time and at last I have found it here.
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