Monday 30 December 2013

The first drought of Bangalore

It was sometime in 1804 and Bangalore was just a small dot on the map of India. It was not even as big as Mysore, which had become the capital of the Wodeyar Kingdom.
The new king of the Wodeyars, Mumadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar (1794-1868), had gone about in right earnest rebuilding Mysore which had been ransacked and pillaged by Tipu Sultan years ago.
Though Tipu had died in May 1799 at the gates of Srirangapatna and the British had returned the Mysore Kingdom to the Wodeyars, the British were still wary of the south. The British forces in the South were completely exhausted by the four Anglo-Mysore wars that they had fought against Hyder Ali (1721-1781) and his son Tipu Sultan (1750-1799).
Though Tipu’s children and grandchildren had been taken prisoners and kept in the Vellore fort (they were taken to the fort on June 19, 1799), there was still a sense of uneasy among the remaining British troops that had been billeted in Srirangapatna. FSherzada Hyder Ali, the grandson of Hyder Ali and son of Abdul Kareem, had escaped from Vellore Fort and joined the Marathas in 1801.
The Mysore State was on the boil and there were revolts in different parts of the Kingdom. The British managed to suppress them, but they were vary of a backlash. They had wanted to completely destroy the fortification of Srirangapatna but had been asked to desist by the then Governor-General, Wellesley.
Wellesley had also refused to pay heed to the entreaty of  the British officers to shift the Army from Srirangapatna to Bangalore.  
Though the British had appropriated Bangalore to themselves, including the Lalbagh, they had conveniently left out the Pettah or Pete areas or old Bangalore to the Maharaja of Mysore, Mummadi Krishna Raja Wodeyar. Thus, old Bangalore was still in the hands of the Wodeyars, while the fort was in the custody of the British.
The British had a substantial military presence in Srirangapatna and Mysore. The Wodeyars had shifted the capital of Mysore Kingdom from Srirangapatna to Mysore and the boy king, Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, was assisted among others by Dewan Purnaiah (1746-1812) and Barry Close (1756-1813), the British Resident, in running the kingdom.
The British in Mysore were more uneasy as they for the first time faced a sever drought. In one of the official despatches to the Madras Government, Dr. Heyne, on August 25, 1804, reported on the state of the garden- Lalbagh-under his care, stating that it had suffered due to drought, and requesting permission to purchase around 400 sheep to ensure a supply of manure for the Garden.
The Madras Government replied from its headquarters in Fort St George, on March 23, 1804 and October, 16, 1804. Both these letters were regarding Dr. Benjamin Heyne's report on the Botanical Garden at Bangalore.
It was in 1799 that Hayne had taken charge of the gardens under the order of Lord Wellesley. Dr. Heyne was a naturalist and a medical officer with the Topographical survey of Mysore. During the surveys, economic, demographic, botanical, geographical and cultural data of Mysore was collected.
Botanical data was given particular importance as Wellesley himself had instructed Heyne to take charge of the Sultan's Cypress Gardens, called the Lalbagh, and stressed that it should be turned into a botanical garden and developed “as a depository of useful plants sent from different parts of the country”.
Heyne also sent a letter to Fort St George, dated April 27, 1803, proposing the retention of a small spot of ground in Bangalore for the purpose of cultivating the potato, turnip and other culinary vegetables.
However, the drought of 1804 bothered him and he wanted the permission of the Madras Government to rectify this.
If Heyne was bothered about lack of manure and water to his Lalbagh, the British were concerned about the severe drought in Bellary during 1802-04 and again in 1805-07.
By then, Hayne had collected a large variety of plants and trees, giving special importance to economically useful plants and those that could be used medicinally. He left Lalbagh in 1812 to join and assists Francis Buchanan in his survey of Mysore.
He himself reported sometime in 1812 that some plots of  Lalbagh had all but disappeared and the major part of the garden was under the cultivation of ragi and rice.
At around 1804, the British Residency was just shifted from Mysore to Bangalore and the official residence of the British Resident of Mysore was the old post office building on Madras Bank Road.
Unfortunately, there is not adequate record of this drought though we are told that there was scarcity of water and foodgrains and that the people of the Petta suffered most. The ruling Wodeyars did their best to alleviate the suffering of the people.    
However, this drought was as severe or as painful as the one that struck Mysore Kingdom, including Bangalore, decades later. The drought and famine of 1875 that would sweep through Mysore State led to major changes in lifestyle and economy of Bangalore and Mysore.
Yet, the drought of 1804 is important as it is the first such natural calamity that occurred when the British were ruling the south and they had partitioned the Kingdom of Mysore between themselves, Wodeyars and Nizam of Hyderabad.

Thankfully, the Lalbagh had developed into a world class garden by then and it continues to exist today and the full credit for this goes to the foresightedness of its founders and its many superintendents.  

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