Engineer Sir Howard who realized Sullivan’s Coimbatore Dreams

(In 1841 just before his departure for good from India, John Sullivan wrote to Mr. Brunton, Engineer of the Porto Novo Iron Works whether the copious Nilgiri waters can be tapped for power generation to develop the Coimbatore district. After visiting Nilgiris, Mr. Brunton reported,   ‘that all the waterfalls he had visited  can be employed for general mill-purposes at comparatively little expense  through the whole year’.

But it took more than 80 years to realize Sullivan’s dream. Hydel power was first tapped in Nilgiris in 1904 (first in India too!) in Katery to supply power for the newly set up Cordite Factory. 1908 power came to Madras city. The next town to get power was Ooty in 1925 when St. Stephen’s church and Nilgiri Library were lighted.

In that year Sir C.P Ramasamy Iyer, one of the builders of modern Nilgiris, and member of the Governor’s Council, dared to plan a mega hydel power scheme, the Pykara scheme. Critics called it ‘Pythiakara’ (Mad) scheme. But Sir C.P had full faith in the newly appointed Chief Engineer of  newly created Government Electricity Department. The Pykara dam, then the highest head in Asia, was commissioned in 1932 generating power,  and continue to do, at the least cost.

Sullivan’s dream of turning Coimbatore into an industrial town was realized when all the mills were gradually electrified)

Sir Henry George Howard, (1883-1968) was born in UK and educated in USA, specializing in hydroelectric engineering. He also served in the military. After serving as engineer is several countries he was appointed Chief Engineer of Madras Presidency. He was in fact directly responsible for the rapid development of hydro-electric and thermal power in Madras Presidency. He remained as Chief Engineer until 1948. After that the Pakistan Government appointed him adviser in the planning and construction of their hydro-electric schemes.

He also advised the Governments of the Punjab, United Provinces, Central Provinces, North-West Frontier Province, and Ceylon : and the States of Mysore, Travancore, Cochin, Kohlapur, Mewar and Bhopal.

He retired in 1949 and settled in Madeira, Portugal. But  he continued to follow  with anxious interest the fortunes of hydroelectric schemes in India-in particular the Kundah hydro-electric scheme, the development of which he considered an example of Commonwealth cooperation at its best. Sir Henry was knighted in 1939.

Nilgiri Documentation Centre

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