Ootacamund’s Fern Hill Palace has an important Mysore connection. The property was bought for the prince, Chamarajendra Wodeyar, from the private funds of the Maharaja. Mallesan, guardian of the Maharaja, purchased the estate at a price of Rs 10,500 from M/s Arbuthnot & Co. The Fern Hill area is still known as the Mysore area, writes S Narayanaswamy
Mysore, the city of palaces, is associated with a palace outside the State as well. We are talking about Fern Hill Palace, situated 6,000 feet above sea level at Ootacamund, known earlier as Ooty. The palace belonged to the Mysore royal family.
It was a common practice, rather a status symbol, for India’s princes to own a palace at Ootacamund. The Nizam of Hyderabad had a fabulous palace and so did the Maharaja of Jodhpur who had a beautiful palace known as ‘Tamilgam’, now owned by the Tamil Nadu government.
Because the place was a pleasant hill station with rolling hills, meadows and tea estates, it lured the British to the wilderness, where they pitched their tents and later converted them into bungalows. Indian princes followed suit and purchased vast stretches of lands and built their palaces on the lines of France’s chateaus or the manor houses of the United Kingdom.
The Wodeyars of Mysore were always known for their affluence as well as their welfare programmes. The Wodeyars were the first among the Indian princes to have purchased the estate. Ootacamund thus not only got a palace, but also a research station where research on potato cultivation was carried out.
Because potato is a temperate crop, Ootacamund is ideal for trying different varieties of potatoes before introducing them into Mysore’s plains.
The Fern Hill Palace was the private property of the Wodeyars, but the potato research station is now government property. The palace has sprawling lawns, beautiful gardens and is surrounded by a dense forest. Also, it offers some breathtaking views.
All for the prince
The Fern Hill Palace has a history of its own dating back to the middle of the 19th century. A few years before he died, Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar had adopted Chamarajendra Wodeyar to be his heir and future Maharaja of Mysore. Only in name was Chamarajendra Wodeyar the Maharaja of Mysore. In reality, it was the British Commissioner who governed. The chief commissioner of the State was his main official trustee.
So all the correspondence, communication, sales and purchases were made by the official trustee on behalf of the minor Wodeyar.
The British government appointed a guardian to train the young prince on various facets of education and administration. It was a practice to take the young prince throughout the State once a year to expose him to the country, and also occasionally outside the State for holidaying. Every holiday, it was erstwhile Ooty which was the favourite place for the young prince.
But each time the prince had to stay in a rented accommodation.
This situation prompted the guardian to purchase a property with a bungalow and garden with the private funds of the Wodeyar. In 1873, the chief commissioner of Mysore, Richard Meade sanctioned the purchase of the estate ‘Fern Hill’ at Ooty from the private funds of the Maharaja, for the use of the prince. Mallesan, guardian of the Maharaja, purchased the estate at a price of Rs 10,500 from M/s Arbuthnot & Co, in the name of Chamarajendra Wodeyar.
Prior to the purchase of the property in the Fern Hill area, another estate named ‘Glen view’, owned by William Rose Campbell, was bought.
In fact, Campbell had already died at Edinburg. But before his death, he had drawn up a deed of will executed at the Commissariat of Edinburg under the seal of Her Majesty, Queen of England. According to the will, the estate was granted to John Alexander Bayson, one of the attorneys. It was Bayson who sold the estate of Glenview to the Wodeyars and property registered to the guardian of Maharaja of Mysore on November 21, 1872. The Glenview and the Fern Hill estate both constitute a total area of 50 acres.
Later, the Fern Hill area came to be known as ‘Mysore area’, where an elegant Irish type cottage was built.
This Fern Hill palace became the summer resort of the Mysore royal family since then. Kannadigas of the Mysore State have played an important role in the social, cultural and economic aspects of the Fern Hill area. Even now, the State government has a guest house and a horticultural farm at Fern Hill.
The vision of Mysore Wodeyars and the commissioners, especially Cubbon, Bowring and Meade, helped Mysore gain a name for itself on the global front. There is a cottage in MANX city at Isle of Man in the UK, which is named after Mysore and is known as ‘Mysore Cottage’. It was built by Cubbon’s sister in fond remembrance of Mark Cubbon’s association with the Mysore State.