C. P. Belliappa's Column

London discovery: Princess Victoria Gowramma’s descendants may be still around

More about Victoria Gowramma…
(By: C.P. Belliappa)
Recently I had an opportunity to launch my book – ‘Victoria Gowramma: The Lost Princess of Coorg’ at the Nehru Centre, London. Two eminent historians, Dr. John Marr and Dr. Rosie Llewellyn-Jones spoke on the occasion. One of the important guests who attended the programme was a direct descendant of Lt. Col. John Campbell, husband of Princess Victoria Gowramma.

The lady introduced herself to me as Mrs. Anne Phillips the great-grand-daughter of Lt. Col. John Campbell from his first marriage to Margaret Mathew. Mrs. Phillips had already read my book and appreciated my having reconstructed the amazing story of Princess Victoria Gowramma the daughter of Chikka Veerarajendra, the last Raja of Coorg, who was deposed by the British in 1834.

One of the revelations by Mrs. Anne Phillips was that Princess Victoria Gowramma’s only grandson named Henry Victor Yardley was married to Ethel May Field in 1910 and they had three children, one son and two daughters. The general belief was that Henry Victor Yardley was a bachelor, and died in 1936 in an accident in Australia. This disclosure opens up the exciting possibility that somewhere in the world there could be descendants of Victoria Gowramma!

One of the prized discoveries for me while researching for the book was the existence of a marble bust of Princess Victoria Gowramma. During my recent visit to UK I had an opportunity to see this exquisite sculpture by Baron Carlo Marochetti, Queen Victoria’s favourite sculptor at the time. I have used this image on the cover of my book. As can be seen in the picture, the marble bust is painted and gilded, which is not very common.

During my conversation with Mrs. Anne Phillips she mentioned that about ten years ago she had located the tomb of Victoria Gowramma at the Brompton Cemetery. Following her directions I went to the Brompton Cemetery in London to see for myself the tomb-stone of the princess. When I reached the cemetery I was astonished at its expanse. Established in 1832, it covers an area of about 50 acres in my estimation. Searching for a grave there is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Fortunately I got some assistance from their office where every grave (there must be close to a million) is documented and the location recorded. The official marked the spot on a map of the cemetery and cautioned me that the area has thick undergrowth of weeds. I braced myself and went looking for the final resting place of my protagonist. It was a trifle uncanny, and after about half-an-hour of searching I was about to give up when suddenly I found myself standing next to the tomb-stone. As can be seen in the photograph, the cross on the tomb is broken, but the epitaph, drafted by Queen Victoria herself, is still intact. Then to my surprise I found on another face of the tomb-stone the name of Colin Campbell, the second son of Lt. Col. Campbell, inscribed. Colin Campbell, died in 1856 at the age of sixteen, and was buried in the grave. Later, Princess Victoria Gowramma who died in 1864 was also buried in the same grave. I was taken aback to read that Colin Campbell was born in Bellary in 1840 during Lt. Col. John Campbell’s posting there!

Other places I visited were Osborne House in the picturesque Isle of Wight, and the Buckingham Palace, where Princess Victoria Gowramma used to be a frequent guest of Queen Victoria and her children. It was awesome to visualize Victoria Gowramma socializing with the elite in such opulent surroundings. I keep speculating about the proposal of marriage between Victoria Gowramma and Maharaja Duleep Singh of Punjab. This alliance was very much desired by Queen Victoria and it very nearly happened. Had this union taken place, and if the princess from Coorg had lived longer, the outcome could have been historic.