The credit for developing the Nilgiris goes to the British in general and John Sullivan in particular.
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As the then Collector of Coimbatore, John Sullivan was the first European to take seriously the reports emerging from the region about the salubrious climate of the hills. After learning a great deal about the idyllic hideaway from two of his assistants, who had been sent to these hills to nab tobacco smugglers, Sullivan led an expedition to the hills in January 1819.
Sullivan applied to the Board of Revenue and was sanctioned ₹800 for a survey of the fields of the plateau and ₹ 300 for a path . The laying of the path began in 1821 and was completed in May 1823. It remained the best route to the hills until the Coonoor ghat was constructed in 1830-32.
He introduced English vegetables and other crops at Dhimbatty, north of Kotagiri, where he first landed and later in Udhagamandalam.
Sullivan commissioned the construction of ‘Stone House’, which later housed the Government secretariat and now forms part of the main building of the Government Arts College. He was also the first to advocate the opening of Sanitaria and the first European to build a permanent residence in Ooty.
Sullivan is also credited with starting the construction of the Ooty Lake with the intention of irrigating the plains below. It later became an ornamental lake and one of the biggest tourist attractions south of the Vindhyas.
He was also instrumental in establishing the present day Government Botanical Garden and several government farms.
Sullivan also experimented with the cultivation of tea and its processing. This led to the economic development of the Nilgiris.
The fifth generation descendants of John Sullivan — Ms. Oriel Sullivan and Ms. Jocelyn Marty Smith— will arrive in Udhagamandalam on May 18 to take part in the bicentenary celebrations of the Nilgiris .