Book on the romance of a Coorg Princess and the missing Coorg jewellery
The romances of a Coorg Princess, the amazing affection bestowed on the young Princess by Queen Victoria, the Empress of India, and the disappearance of the Coorg Crown jewellery are the stuff of the latest book by well-known writer C.P. Belliappa.
The book – Victoria Gowramma, the Lost Princess of Coorg – focuses on Chikka Veerarajednra, the exiled Raja of Coorg, and his 11-year-old daughter Gowramma, who were the first Indian royals to land in Britain in the summer of 1852.
Chikka Veerarajendra, the last King of Kodagu, who was banished from his land by the British in 1834, used the pretext of his daughter embracing Christianity and acquiring a Western education as a ruse to secure permission to visit England.
Author Belliappa has proved his talent as a storyteller to spin out yet another interesting book on Coorg (Kodagu). His other books are Tale of a Tiger’s Tail and other Yarns from Coorg, and Nuggets from Coorg History.
In the process, Belliappa has unearthed hitherto unpublished material that throws light on Veerarajendra’s and Princess Victoria Gowramma’s life in England.
Though the story of the last Raja of Coorg occurred more than 150 years ago, Belliappa has managed to keep the flow of the story, by deploying certain amount of dramatizing, at the same time keeping intact the historical facts and occurrences.
What is extraordinary is the fact that Belliappa managed to gather so much information by sitting in his room located at Home Estate, his house near Gonikoppal in Kodagu, by getting a lot of information from the search engine Google and surfing the archives of The Times, London.
In the book, Chikka Veerarajendra, emerges as a tragic figure, who lost his kingdom because of his lack of tact in dealing with the British and his atrocities against the Kodavas who were alienated to the point of supporting the British in taking over the administration of the kingdom. The last Raja was initially taken to Vellore in Tamil Nadu and subsequently banished to Benares in 1836. The book deals with the Kodagu royal family’s life in Benares and his remarkable journey to England in 1852 along with his 11-year-old daughter Gowramma.
Chikka Veerarajendra was the first deposed Indian ruler granted permission to sail to Britain on the ground that he wanted his daughter to be raised as a Christian and given a Western education. But the real reason for the Raja to visit England was to fight a legal battle against the British East India Company to claim interest on the deposits with the Company made by his uncle Dodda Veerarajendra. The British refused to pay him the interest on the ground that ‘What is in the treasury belongs to the people of Kodagu, and will be used for their benefit.’
The British saw the visit of the Raja of Kodagu to England as an opportunity to convert a member of an Indian royal family to Christianity. Not only that. The clever British imperialists saw an opportunity to form a matrimonial alliance between the Princess of Coorg Gowramma and Maharaja Duleep Singh of Punjab who too had sailed to England.
The British hoped that a union between Maharaja Duleep Singh and Princess Gowramma would act as a catalyst in encouraging voluntary conversion to Christianity amongst the upper castes in India, especially the Hindu rulers. Belliappa says: “For the evangelists, there was the delightful possibility of eventually a predominant Christian India emerging, which would owe allegiance to the Church of England.”
Queen Victoria took a personal liking for Princess Gowramma and was personally present for her baptism ritual performed by none other than the Archbishop of Canterbury. Her Majesty amazed everyone by announcing herself as the godmother of Princess Gowramma. The Queen presented Gowramma a leather-bound autographed copy of the Holy Bible, embellished with gold-plated trimmings.
Much to the disappointment of the British, Maharaja Duleep Singh was not keen to enter into matrimony with Gowramma. He was put off by the coquettish behaviour of the Coorg Princess who was quite a flirt, making eyes at all the young men, including the then Prince of Wales. Though Duleep Singh was fond of the Princess, he was not keen on taking her as a life partner. Gowramma’s affair with a stable boy led to a major scandal in the British high society which disappointed the Queen.
Maharaja Duleep Singh played matchmaker and helped in forming an alliance between the 19-year-old Gowramma and 50-year-old Col John Campbell, who had served in the Army in India. Campbell, the blue-eyed, handsome and dashing equestrian was mainly interested in the wealth of the Coorg Princess.
After Chikka Veerarajendra lost his legal battle to claim interest for his deposits from the East India Company, Campbell began neglecting Gowramma whom he had married. The couple had a child named Edith Victoria Gowramma.
Campbell, who was into gambling, began eyeing the Coorg Crown jewellery which had been handed over to her by Veerarajendra prior to his death.
The developments devastated Gowramma who succumbed to tuberculosis when she was 23 years old. Soon after Campbell vanished with the black bag containing the jewellery and was not seen after that. The disappearance of the Coorg Crown jewellery still continues to remain a mystery.
Victoria Gowramma, published by Rupa & Co is priced at Rs 295.