History & Culture

Tracing the architect of the Cantonment

The high life: John Blakiston wrote that the Bangalore Cantonment could be considered the ‘largest and finest cantonment in India’. Source: Illustrated Weekly of London   | Photo Credit: Source: Illustrated Weekly of London

The British Cantonment at Bangalore, established in 1809, contributed to modernising civil society in south India. It is interesting to know that scholars were able to identify the date of establishment of the Cantonment but failed to identify its architect. Recently I tried to trace the architect of this large British establishment.

According to available sources, the plans of Bangalore Cantonment were prepared by British military engineer John Blakiston (1785-1867).

Memoirs

An old publication titled Twelve Years of Military Adventure… by an unknown military author provides a detailed description of the planning that took place for the establishment of the Cantonment in 1809. This memoir, published in 1829, is important for the history of Bangalore.

Blakiston, in his memoir titled Twenty Years in Retirement, mentions that it was he who wrote Twelve Years of Military Adventure…. He writes, “I was ordered up to Bangalore to fix on the site, and prepare plans for a new Cantonment about to be established there on a large scale.”

Blakiston not only prepared the plans for the Cantonment but also executed the layouts and built two regiments for Europeans, five regiments for native troops, five artillery establishments and one hospital for soldiers.

The engineer hailed from Dublin, and served in the Army of Majesty and the East India Company from 1802 to 1814 in India. Before coming to Bangalore, he was at Ellichipur (Maharashtra), Madras, and later came to Srirangapatna among other places. His son was the noted explorer and ornithologist, Thomas Wright Blakiston.

Why Bangalore?

Soon after the capture of Srirangapatna, the British army made it their cantonment and established a large military establishment. However, they began to face health problems because of the mosquitoes. Hence, the British officers started to look for another suitable place in Mysore State to establish the cantonment.

We have traced a letter written by Arthur Wellesley, Governor of Madras Presidency on April 11, 1800 to Lieutenant Colonel Close of Srirangapatna seeking advice about establishing the cantonment in Bangalore. He also suggests Channapatna and Chitradurga as possible locations.

But, Blakiston found Bangalore suitable and “by far the pleasantest and most agreeable residence in the peninsula” because of its geographical location and favourable climate.

Originally the Bangalore Cantonment was laid out to the west of Ulsoor lake, where the gurudwara is located today. The Halasuru village served as a servants' settlement.

Origins of Russell Market

There are some records that inform us that in 1827, the British Cantonment expanded and included 20 surrounding villages in which 8,000 infantrymen and cavalrymen were stationed. There was also an increase in the number of barracks and hospitals, and a special bazaar was established, which came to be known as Russell Market.

Blakiston mentions in his biography: “[Bangalore] has increased both in size and beauty, and may now be considered one of the largest and finest cantonments in India.”

Blackpally named after him?

Blackpally was the old name of Shivajinagar. Scholars believed Ulsoor was known for the cultivation of black rice, hence the name for the village. However, there is no such example of rice cultivation in Bangalore region. It is possible that the village Blackpally might have been named after Blakiston.

The writer can be contacted at skaruni@gmail.com

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Printable version | May 5, 2021 6:53:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/tracing-the-architect-of-the-cantonment/article2946227.ece

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