A Guest House for the British

Published on: 12/04/2018

Wikipedia commonsWatercolor guest house of the Raja of Coorg by John Johnson

Photo title: Watercolor of the Guest House of the Raja of Coorg by John Johnson


Photo Credits: Wikipedia Commons

A strategic friendship treaty was signed between Dodda Veerarajendra and the British East India Company in 1790. This was primarily to jointly fight their common enemy: Tipu Sultan of Mysore. Coorg thus became a quasi-protectorate of the British. As a token of tribute, two elephants were presented annually by the Rajas of Coorg to the East India Company!


Subsequent to Tipu’s elimination in 1799, Mysore came under British control even though the Wodiyars were reinstated. It was in around 1795-1801 that Dodda Veerarajendra built a guest house exclusively for his frequent British visitors. There are several mentions of this guest house in the writings of British visitors to Coorg, who were attracted to this thickly forested province for wild-game hunting. Coorg rajas: Dodda Veerarajendra, his brother Lingarajendra, and Lingarajendra’s son Chikka Veerarajendra went to great lengths in arranging elaborate hunting expeditions for their British guests. This accommodation had all the amenities the Europeans were accustomed to. A water-colour sketch by artist John Johnson gives a realistic picture of this imposing structure, which unfortunately does not exist anymore. In the sketch, Mercara Fort can be seen in the background. One of the guests during Lingarajendra’s rule, General James Welsh, gave the following graphic description of the building when he visited Coorg in 1811:


“I must now describe our own habitation, built on a small island, surrounded by paddy ground, now dry for the sole accommodation of Europeans. It is a large square, having a hall in the center, a large covered-in verandah all round it, and four bed-rooms projecting at the angles of the verandah, all on an upper story, the lower rooms serving for the guard, attendants, store-rooms etc. It stands on a square of seventy feet, the verandah having thirty-eight glass windows, with venetian blinds outside. The bed-rooms have sixteen windows, and the hall eight glass door; every part being neatly furnished, in the English style, with beds, tables, card-tables, writing boxes, chairs, chandeliers, settees etc. etc. And there is an old butler of my Vellore friend Colonel Ridgway Mealay, and a dozen active servants, who very speedily produce an English breakfast or dinner, served up on handsome Queen’s ware, with every kind of European liquor; and what is even still more extraordinary, the cook bakes good bread!”


Another visitor, Dr. William Jeaffreson, was a guest of Chikka Veerarajendra, in 1830. He spent 22 days in Coorg. He wrote about the guest house in these lofty words:


“…There we found a splendid bungalow, fitted up for our accommodation, with every possible convenience. Round this residence grew flowers of the richest hues and the sweetest perfume, while trees, laden with delicious fruit, among whose branches perched wild birds of the brightest and most variegated plumage, cast over us their agreeable shade.

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Ruins of the Guest-House - Pen-and-ink and water-colour sketch of Madikeri by an unknown artist c.1840.

Photo title: Ruins of the Guest House – Pen and ink and watercolour sketch of Madikeri by an unknown artist, c.1840


Photo Credits: Wikipedia Commons

Near this bungalow was a tank, made of black marble of the highest polish and most elaborate workmanship, in the centre of which rose a fountain, throwing up jets of water so clear and pellucid that hundreds of large and beautiful fish might be seen disporting in the basin, or else darting about in every direction after their prey. This tank was the favourite resort of the Rajah who was wont to visit it daily, at noon. Standing beside it, he would ring a small gold bell, he carried in his hand, and, at its tinkling, all the fish collected together at one spot, anxiously waiting their food (young frogs, parched peas etc.), which an attendant threw to them from a basket.


In another part of the garden was an immense black marble stand, of pyramidal form, along the five front steps of which were arranged hundreds of bleached skulls of elephants, being the Spolia Opima of the chase.”


Dr. Jeaffreson was sent to Coorg by the British governor of Bombay, on Chikka Veerarajendra’s request, to treat him for a rare disease. However, the Raja had recovered by the time Dr. Jeaffreson arrived in Coorg. Chikka Veerarajendra entertained the doctor with spectacular hunting expeditions during his stay. This was highly appreciated by Dr. Jeaffreson whose Spolia Opima included elephant tusks, tiger claws, pelts, horns, etc. They remained good friends and corresponded with each other. Many years later, when the Raja was exiled to Benares, and during his subsequent stay in England, Dr. Jeaffreson met him and helped Veerarajendra in various ways in his quest to recover the investment made by his uncle Dodda Veerarajendra with the East India Company. Dr. Jeaffreson was the author of the book – Coorg and its Rajas – published in 1857. He genuinely felt that the last Raja of Coorg was dealt unfairly by the British administration.


After the British annexed Coorg in 1834, this guest-house was surprisingly neglected. By 1860s it was in ruins. The crumbling edifice can be seen in a rare pen-and-ink merged sketch of Mercara, circa 1840. It was in 1862 that 64 Coorg elders approached the British government for assistance in constructing a boarding house for boys at the newly established Mercara Central School. They suggested the site of the guest-house for the hostel, and further requested the material from the collapsed building be used for construction. The British agreed, and the boarding house was ready by 1871 under Rev. G. Richter’s supervision. Rev Richter set-up the Government Central School in 1869 and served as principal for several years. The 149-year-old Central School is now a Junior College and continues to be as vibrant as ever.


C P Belliappa

C. P. Belliappppa writes humour, history and human interest stories, and is a regular contributor to newspapers, websites and magazines. He holds a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology, USA. Belliappa currently lives in Coorg, where he manages his coffee estate. He is also involved in the management of educational institutions, including an engineering college. His other books are Tale of a Tiger’s Tail & Other Yarns from Coorg, Nuggets from Coorg History and Victoria Gowramma: The Lost Princess of Coorg.

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