Darjeeling in 1905

In 1905, there was a district gazetteer for Darjeeling. “The history of Darjeeling presents a late chapter in the extension of British rule, for it was not until the beginning of the 19th century that the East India Company was brought into direct relations with the tract of country which now bears the name. It then formed part of the dominions of the Raja of Sikkim, a petty ruler who had long been engaged in an unsuccessful struggle against the growing power of the warlike Gurkhas... The intervention of the British was thus successful in preventing the Gurkhas from turning the whole of Sikkim and the hills west and south of the Tista into an outlying province of Nepal; and Sikkim, including the present district of Darjeeling, was retained as a buffer state between Nepal and Bhutan.

This takes us to the next step. “From a report dated the 18th June 1829, in which he claims to have been the only European who ever visited the place, we learn that Lloyd visited “the old Goorka station called Dorjeling” for six days in February 1829, and “was immediately struck with its being well adapted for the purpose of a sanitarium.”… On all grounds, he strongly urged the importance of securing possession of the place, and, in particular, pointed out its advantages as a centre which would engross all the trade of the country, and as a position of great strategical importance, commanding the entrance into Nepal and Bhutan... General Lloyd was, accordingly, directed to open negotiations with the Raja of Sikkim, on the first convenient occasion, for the cession of Darjeeling in return for an equivalent in money or land.” This happened in 1835. “This was an unconditional cessation of what was then a worthless uninhabited mountain; but in 1841 the Government granted the Raja an allowance of Rs 3,000 as compensation, and raised the grant to Rs 6,000 in 1846.”  However, “the Sikkim Raja had prohibited his subjects from going to Darjeeling and helping in establishing the new settlement; and various expedients were proposed to repopulate the country, that is, to invite the Lepcha refugees to return, to import labourers from the indigo concerns in Rangpur and Ramgarh (that is, Gaya and Hazaribagh), or to procure settlers from Nepal and Bhutan.

Darjeeling’s most famous landmark, the Capitol Clock Tower. The British colonial administration had left behind many historical landmarks and heritage buildings including churches, parks, schools etc
We move to some years later. “The year 1866 may be taken as marking an epoch in the history of Darjeeling.  Peace was established within its borders; and thenceforth began the march of progress and civilization. Rapid progress was now at last made in the development of the communications of the district, which the Sikkim expedition of 1860 and the Bhutanese war the year before had shown to be vitally essential... The construction of the Darjeeling Cart Road, that wonderful example of engineering work which subsequently made the alignment of a railway so comparatively easy, was accordingly begun in 1861…From this time dates the first attempt to make the hills the home of European education in India. For some years Bishop Cotton had been advocating the establishment of hill schools for Europeans, and his efforts were supported by Lord Canning who pointed out in a celebrated minute how the domiciled English and Eurasians would, if neglected, become profitless, unmanageable, and a glaring reproach to the Government, while, if properly cared for, they might become a source of strength to British rule and of usefulness to India... The two most important factors in the development of the district have been the choice of Darjeeling for a health resort and the subsequent planting of tea in the hills.”

“There has been a similar absence in improvement in the industries followed by the natives…The tools and implements in universal use are very much what they have been for centuries past; the old wooden plough and a little kodali, the primitive spade of their forefathers, have been handed down to the present generation practically unchanged. In spite of the fact that the planters have shown how an improved tool produces improved work, the native impassively holds to his old ways…It is confessedly difficult for an Indian to learn any trade but that of his forefathers.”

“At one time, optimistic hopes were entertained that a large European colony would be established in the district. Brian Houghton Hodgson looked forward not only to the rearing of subtropical products under European supervision, but also to agricultural settlements by the British race; and he hopefully pointed out that with “the backing of fifty to one hundred thousand loyal hearts and stalwart bodies of Saxon mould, our empire in India might safely defy the world in arms against it.” This expectation has not been fulfilled, nor is it likely that the European farmer will ever be able to compete with the cheap labour of the hillmen in rearing country crops. Similar failure met the early attempts of the Moravian missionaries to maintain themselves by industrial labour, and in the end a few of them turned tea-planters and secured some of the best land in the district.” When this gazetteer was written, there were actually 1,309 Europeans and 329 Eurasians in the district. “The only other (other than Darjeeling and Kurseong) places of any importance are Siliguri and Kalimpong, the former being a village of some 784 souls in the Tarai, and the latter having a population over 1,000 inhabitants. The former is a swampy malarious village close to the foot of hills, but Kalimpong is charmingly situated.”
The author is chairman, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister. 
Views are personal


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