When Ooty almost became the Capital

Ever since Sullivan opened up Nilgiris, the Colonial governors had half a mind to shift the capital from Madras to Ooty. In 1828 Governor Elphinstone came for a short stay and prolonged his stay for eight months on one excuse or the other. When Shimla was made the Summer Capital of India in 1864, the case for Ooty became more stronger. On the eve of 1870 when the Madras government decided to make Ooty the Summer Capital, the lobby for making it the permanent capital went overboard and prepared a lengthy Memorandum and published it in the pro-British newspaper The Madras Mail in 1869. It was also argued children of Englishmen born in the hills would make better soldiers. Excerpts.


It deserves consideration whether Ootacamund might not with advantage be substituted for Madras as the seat of the Government. The advantages in point of climate and health are indisputable. The town of Madras is not on the whole unhealthy. English men and women contrive to live here for many years, but how! If  they go to the Hills for six months in the year they have not so much to complain of, but those who cannot, pass at least seven months out of the twelve in a state of physical misery and mental depression, without appetite, performing their allotted duties with weariness, frequently laid up with fever, always more or less out of sorts, wishing life away, and earnestly looking forward to that happy day, which, alas, to many never comes, when they can turn their backs on Madras forever. What a contrast to such a life as this would be one on the Hills | Every man woman and child would there be full of life and health ; instead of the worn look which now meets one on every side we should see faces ruddy with colour, and beaming with spirits. A temperature of 60 degrees would permit of men keeping their wives and children with them, during their whole term of service, and each man’s house would be, as in England, really his home, the place, that is, in which all he loves best is around him, instead of being, as is the case here, merely the den in which, like a wild beast, he hides himself from the hateful glare without.

Work would not be irksome, and the period spent in India, instead of being a period of penance would be one of enjoyment and content. We might adduce a further argument in favour of a change to the Hills from the fact that Government servants by retaining their health at Ootacamund, and having about them home comforts and ties, would not be continually going to England, whereby a considerable saving in absentee allowances would accrue to Government.

(The Memorandum concluded) We, therefore, feel sure that a move to the Hills would have the very best results, looking at it as a question of political economy, for, if our European regiments were permanently located at the Hills, and European settlers of all sorts were attracted there by the seat of Government being permanently placed there, boys would be born in numbers not as now to die early, but to grow up into men who would naturally take to the army as a profession, and owing to the fact of there having been born in this country, would in many important particulars, prove better suited to service in India than youngsters fresh from England.

Image : Ooty Raj Bhavan would have become the permanent seat of government .

Nilgiri Documentation centre

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