Historic Mountstuart Hill, Ooty

(Interestingly, roads were named after British Governors in Madras before 1870 when the Governor’s Secretariat moved to Ooty for nearly eight months in a year. Since then roads were named after Governors in Ooty. Hence Wenlock, Connemara etc roads.

Governor Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff had a road and a hill named after him. He is not to be confused with John Elphinstone, the popular governor of Madras and Bombay in the 1830 to 50s and a close friend of John Sullivan. This gentleman was a nephew of  that Elphinstone.)

M. E. Grant Duff was a Scottish politician, administrator and author. He served as Governor of Madras from 1881 to 1886. He was born to the distinguished British historian James Grant Duff.

Grant Duff was the one who created the Marina Beach in Madras in 1884.  On the naming of the beach, Grant Duff explained, ‘From old Sicilian recollections, I gave our new creation the name of Marina’.

He was a strong supporter of Dietrich Brandis in his reorganization of the Madras Forest Department and expansion of systematic forest conservancy in India. A species of iris was named after him, Iris grant-duffii. No wonder the Forest Dept came to be housed in the hill named after him  !!

He had four sons and four daughters. One daughter  Annabel was a poet, writer and high society hostess. She published her memoir A Victorian Childhood in 1932 including her recollections of Ooty.  She is famous for her quote, ‘I wonder shall I ever love any man, women or child as I loved Ootacamund ? Hardly !’


Mountstuart Hill was originally called Bombay Castle (not to be confused with the present Bombay Castle, which was originally called the Bombay House where Lord Elphinstone lived in1835). When Ooty was created a sanatorium both army officials from Madras and Bombay armies came for recuperation. There was a lot of one-upmanship between. The Bombay army men called their quarters Bombay Castle.

On the 16th April 1842 (today,  incidentally), a Government grant for this property was issued to Messrs. Framjee Nesserwanjee & Co., a firm of Parsee shopkeepers which had established itself some years before at Ootacamund. They built the Framjee’s Shop—‘a favourite lounge and trysting place of the old and young of Ootacamund society’.  The hill came to be called Framjee Hill.

Evidently, the sale refers to the northern slope of the hill. For on the southern slope the Office of the Commander of Nilgiris (now the old SP’s office) has been there since the 1830s.

By late 1850s the business in Framjee’s Shop was down and the partners were no more. It was tried to rent it out to  a hospital and later a hotel but nothing came out of it.

In April 1882 it was sold to the Government and two years later it was made an Army Head Quarters and named Mountstuart Hill. When the army men were found to be indulging themselves too much the Head Quarters were transferred back to Secunderabad in 1905.

In its hay days Framjee Pestonjee Bottlewallah, who came here with his father, Framjee Nesserwanjee, did business as bankers, general and commission agents, provisioners, spirit and wine merchants, auctioneers, printers, newspaper proprietors, livery stable keepers, etc. 

In 1869, the year of the only Exhibition held in Ootacamund, for Agricultural, Horticultural and miscellaneous produce, Mr. Framjee Pestonjee kept an open tent on the grounds of Stonehouse, where the Exhibition came off, entertaining all comers most liberally without respect to caste, creed or colour and free of charge….

After it was decided to shift the government to Ooty, Governor Lord Napier wished to build a Council Chamber for the Madras Government at Mountstuart Hill.  His Excellency offered Mr. Pestonjee Rs. 125,000 for Mount Stuart Hill and its accessories, but the latter declined the offer, asking instead Rs. 150,000 for it, which His Excellency was not prepared. The Council Chamber came up at Stone House instead. Much later the government purchased the   same property for only Rs.75,000 in auction.

However, a clause in the seller’s Will saved the Parsee Burial Ground just outside the property. That remains today the only Parsee burial ground in south India and contains the graves of the pioneer traders of the Nilgiris as well as that of Field Marshall Manekshaw.

Nilgiri Documentation Centre

Image : Framjee shop : http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/apac/photocoll/f/019pho0000254s3u00068000.html

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *