This January 14th marked the 126th death anniversary of Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, the eldest grandson of Queen Victoria. The eldest son of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) was second in line to the British throne when he passed away at the age of 28. In 1883, Albert went on to study at Cambridge, becoming the first Prince to attend university. Later, in 1889, Albert’s name was associated with a scandal and it was in the same year that the Prince set off for a seven-month-long tour of India.
Prince Albert Victor, on his sojourn in India, paid a visit to erstwhile Travancore. In the book HRH Duke of Clarence & Avondale in Southern India (1891) J.D. Rees, who accompanied the Prince, gives a vivid description of the grand reception planned for the royal party at Courtallam.
Albert’s visit to Travancore was indeed a remarkable event in the annals of history, for it was the first occasion in which a member of the British royal family was received and entertained in Travancore. Sree Moolam Tirunal Rama Varma, the then Maharaja, and J.C. Hannyngton, the Resident, along with other important officials proceeded to Courtallam to receive Albert. The Prince was received at the British Residency and later at the Maharaja’s palace at Courtallam. The Maharaja made necessary arrangements for a week-long camp and game hunting in the hills near Kulathupuzha, on the Western Ghats.
A camp was set up inside the forest, around 30 miles from their initial place of stay. The royal party was captivated by the beauty of the woods, the proof of which can be gathered from J.D. Rees’s account, “ Words fail me to describe the lovely scenery. Tall, upright standards of huge timber trees, palms of every kind, including the exquisitely graceful areca, tree ferns, creepers, ferns and flowers, all spring from a tangled undergrowth of iral reed .” The camp was surrounded by a trench, to keep off elephants, with over half a dozen little houses, surrounding a chief house specially built for Albert. Mr. Hannyngton, an avid photographer, decorated the Prince's dining room with photographs of the great beasts he had shot.
In the woods
Rees gives a day-to-day account of Albert’s days in the forest, in pursuit of game. The hunting party composed of the Prince, the Resident, and other important officers like O.H. Bensley (Superintendent of Police), Mr. Ferguson (Zoologist), Captain Holford, Captain Edwards, and Captain Harvey. Iyappen, a prominent member of a clan of hill-men was their ‘ chief tracker ’, following whose tracks the Prince was lucky enough to shoot a majestic bison. The team utilised their spare time to explore the interiors of the forest. Once during such an expedition they visited a solitary temple deep inside the woods, located beside a river. Beside the temple, the river was home to thousands of carp, which the locals believed to be sacred.
After enjoying a perfect ‘ nomadic life ’ in the forest, the Prince and his party marched from the forest camp to Tinnevelly, and from there took a train to Madras (Chennai). From Rees’s accounts, it is clear that Albert, though he had spent only a few days, had certainly fallen in love with the place.
The author is a conservation architect and history buff