COORG RAJAS: HISTORICAL CONNECTIONS
By C.P. Belliappa
Two of my books, Nuggets from Coorg History (2008), and Victoria Gowramma: The Lost Princess of Coorg (2010), evoked responses from some of the descendants of the historical personalities who figure in the books. I was pleasantly surprised by the unexpected responses that came from India, UK, Australia and Nepal. Interactions with these descendants enabled me to update my books with additional information, portraits and details of the stories behind the historical figures who have vastly influenced Coorg.
First to get in touch with me was Dr Praveen Sirdesai, a direct descendant of Chikka Veerarajendra (1802-1859). Dr Sirdesai, a well-known ENT surgeon in Secunderabad, was intrigued about his ancestors after reading my book Nuggets from Coorg History. Around that time, I was giving finishing touches to my book on Victoria Gowramma (1841-1864). After interacting with Dr Sirdesai, I was able to include some more details about Chikka Veerarajendra’s family left behind in Benares including the ten other siblings of Victoria Gowramma. Dr Sirdesai visited Coorg along with his mother, wife and two daughters. He showed me photographs of some of the artefacts such as silver bowls, swords etc., that belonged to Chikka Veerarajendra.
In 2010, I had a book-release of Victoria Gowramma: The Lost Princess of Coorg, at The Nehru Centre in London. One of the highlights of the event was when a lady, Anne Phillips, in the audience approached me and introduced herself as a direct descendant of Colonel John Campbell who had married Victoria Gowramma in 1860, his second wife. Anne Phillips is a great-great-granddaughter of Colonel Campbell from his first wife Margaret Mathew. Anne had a treasure trove of information about Princess Victoria Gowramma. I was absolutely thrilled when she brought to my notice that Gowramma’s direct descendants may be in Australia! Based on the information she had we collaborated in tracking the descendants of Gowramma. Anne Phillips visited Coorg in 2015 and was our guest. We used data available in Australian Registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths to zero-in on the descendants of Victoria Gowramma. One of the great-great-granddaughters, Marian Ethel Singleton, living in New South Wales, whom I was able to contact over the telephone, acknowledged that she is a descendant of Gowramma, but did not show much enthusiasm.
Months later I was pleasantly surprised to receive a message from Robert Henry Yardley a great-great-grandson of Victoria Gowramma. We exchanged several emails and he sent me photographs of his grandfather Henry Victor Yardley (grandson of Victoria Gowramma). His daughter, Natashya Yardley and son-in-law Sean Langton visited Coorg in 2016. It was a great moment for me to meet Victoria Gowramma’s great-great-great-granddaughter in person. Natashya Yardley has a brother and a daughter. Victoria Gowramma’s lineage continues…
In 2011, I was invited by Dr Nima-Smith Poovaya (recipient of OBE in 2016), founder of Alchemy Anew, a cultural organization based in Leeds, UK, to take part in Ilkley Literature Festival. There I had the opportunity to meet David Lascelles, 8th Earl of Harewood (chair, Alchemy Anew), a great-great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria, a nephew and godson of Queen Elizabeth II. He was very much intrigued by the fact that Queen Victoria had an Indian goddaughter. Earl Lascelles is a devout follower of Buddha’s teachings and is a Buddhist. At the time of his birth he was 13th in line to the throne of United Kingdom.
After reading my reference to Robert Andrews Cole, who served as superintendent of Coorg during mid-1860s, I was once again pleasantly surprised to receive a message from his great-great-grandson Nigel Cole who lives in Wales, UK. Robert A Cole wrote the iconic book – ‘An Elementary Grammar of the Coorg Language’ way back in 1867. He also penned a book titled ‘A Manual of Coorg Civil Law’. Cole’s books give splendid insight into life in Coorg during the mid-1860s. In 2017 Murry Cole (cousin of Nigel Cole) visited Coorg along with his wife Jeannie. They came to my place and we had an occasion to exchange notes on his ancestor.
Yet another person to get in touch with me was Subodh Shumsher Rana from Nepal. Though not a direct descendant of Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana, who married Chikka Veerarajendra’s other daughter Gangamma in 1852; Subodh Rana belongs to the same Rana family. We have had several interactions to trace details of Princess Gangamma, known as Ganga Maharani after her marriage to Jung Bahadur Rana, the de facto ruler of Nepal at the time.
Finally, my great-great-great-grandfather, Dewan Chepudira Ponnappa (1764-1847), was a Dewan in the court of Lingarajendra and Chikka Veerarajendra. Through my ancestor, I feel connected to all these historical figures, and find it quite amazing that I was able to personally interact with their descendants.