James Wilkinson Breeks (1830-1872) was a British civil servant who became the first Commissioner of Nilgiris when it was separated from the Coimbatore district in 1868. A son in law of Governor Denison, Breeks was a sportive officer who took an all-round interest in developing the new district. Ooty was made the Summer Capital of the Madras government during his period.
In 1871, as directed by the Governor General of India, Breeks, assisted by Rev. Metz, a long time resident on the hills, set about opening the pre-historic graves scattered all over the hills. He collected a very significant amount of pre-historic evidence of life on the hills.
According to Daniella De Simone, Curator of the New Indus display at the British Museum in December “The British Museum holds the largest collection of grave goods excavated from the “megalithic” burials of the Nilgiri Hills by British officials in the 18th century. The BM Nilgiri material mostly comes from the excavations that Breeks carried out in the 1870s”. The British Museum is currently doing a comprehensive study of the pre-colonial history of Indian forests and forest-dwellers to recreate the Nilgiris Civilization. All thanks to Breeks.
The onerous task of setting up a new district combined with the excavations of the burial places took a toll on the health of Breeks who was already of frail health. He succumbed to illness on June 6, 1872 at the age of 42. His grieving widow wasted no time in editing and publishing Breeks’ monumental work, ‘An Account of the Primitive Tribes and Monuments of the Nilagiris” by J.W.Breeks the very next year in 1873.
Niligiri Documentation Centre