Saturday 25 January 2014

When the British wanted Lalbagh to feed their soldiers

The Lalbagh in Bangalore has always been rated as one of the finest botanical gardens of the world. It is not only the pride of Bangalore but it is a rare repository of  exotic plants and trees, many of which go back to the time of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan.
The credit for the making of Lalbagh goes to both Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan. They started planting the gardens sometime between 1740 and 1760 and they both took keen interest in raising the garden.
Both Hyder and Tipu imported exotic plants, seeds and saplings from countries as far away as Turkey, Persia, Afganisthan and the continent of Africa. They also set up a separate garden department to deal with Lalbagh and other gardens.
The death of  Tipu in 1799 did not put the brakes on the development of Lalbagh. Instead, the British took keen interest in redeveloping and subsequently expanding the Lalbagh. They wanted the Lalbagh to cater to the culinary tastes of the British troops stationed in Srirangapatna.
The troops of  the East India Company were not accustomed to eating native fruits and vegetables and they longed for “good old English” vegetables and fruits. Bangalore was found to be ideal for growing some of the English vegetables and fruits.
The East India Company took over Lalbagh and the then  Governor General, Richard Wellesley, commanded surgeon- naturalist Dr. Benjamin Heyne, to look up Lalbagh.
Heyne was also tasked with the job of  ensuring that the Lalbagh  provided food for the regimental messes of the British troops. He was also encouraged to demonstrated to the native gardeners and growers how English vegetables such as potatoes, cabbage and turnips could be cultivated in Bangalore.
Heyne 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.
Lalbagh, under Heyne, came to be transformed into a European style garden and it was only from this period it also began to serve as a botanical garden.
Heyne, who was the first British keeper of Lalbagh, brought 369 plant species from the Western Ghats in South India to Lalbagh. Since Wellesley had asked Heyne to introduce crops, including fruits and vegetables palatable to the British, the botanist did his best to redevelop Lalbagh and grow alien crops in India.
This experiment of Heyne started in 1800 and continued till 1807. He introduced Apples, cocoa, durian, clove, nutmeg and mangosteen and the fist saplings of all these were planted in the Lalbagh.
When the experiments in Lalbagh succeeded, Heyne prevailed upon growers in and round Bangalore to grow European and  British vegetables.
Heyne was in Lalbagh till 1812 after which he joined Francis Buchanan in his survey work. Though he could not transform Lalbagh into a garden to serve the British belly, he protected it and preserved its plants and trees.  

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