Tale of two thriving townships

HISTORY

Tale of two thriving townships

Kolar Gold Fields was once a mining town in the erstwhile Mysore state. Known as ‘Little England,’ it was unique for its secular and egalitarian society. It was well known for its colonial ambience with elegant bungalows replete with huge green lawns and gardens and many clubs with tennis and badminton courts, golf courses etc.

The late 19th century and the early 20th century saw KGF mines flourishing under the stewardship of John Taylor and Sons Company. It employed 4500 employees in its hey days, and in what was once a desolate, waste, rocky terrain, a large and flourishing town sprang up. This was possible because of the perseverance and foresight of a group of British pioneers who were successful in their quest for gold.

Robertsonpet and Andersonpet

By the end of the 19th century, a sprawling British township was in place in the Kolar Gold Fields mining area, with elegant bungalows replete with huge gardens and green lawns, and many clubs with tennis and badminton courts, golf courses, dance halls, swimming baths etc. It resembled a typical English town and it came to be known as “Little England”.

With so much activity going on in the mining region, the need was felt for an area that was apart from the mines where individuals who were not employed in the mines could live and own property and carry on business.

Accordingly, in the year 1902, the township of Robertsonpet was established to house the Kolar Gold Mines related tertiary sector populace. It was named Robertsonpet by the then Maharaja of Mysore, in commemoration of the memory of Sir Donald Robertson, who was the British Resident of Mysore at the time.

Sir Donald Robertson was also responsible for launching the first hydro-electric plant in Shivanasamudram which supplied electric power to the KGF mines. Thus, the success of the mines led to the growth of a thriving town named Robertsonpet situated in an eastwardly direction of the Kolar Gold Mines. Several trades people such as manufacturers, bakers, printers, confectioners, contractors, printers, outfitters, timber merchants, jewellers, haberdashers, pawn brokers etc set up their business in the town of Robertsonpet.

A huge market place with many shops and stalls was constructed to house the businesses that sprang up to meet the needs of the mining employees and others. The shandy day on Sundays in Robertsonpet proved to be a boon not only for the miners who shopped here for all their requirements but for people from the surrounding villages as well. This market was later named Mahatma Gandhi Market after the Father of the Nation.

Robertsonpet was considered to be one of the first planned residential areas in modern-day India. The township was planned and built to accommodate the increasing population of the city of Kolar Gold Fields. A Town Hall was built in the Victorian style of architecture with huge canopies and arches with a huge garden and sprawling lawns.

This Town Hall was named King George Hall after King George of England and was the venue of many cultural, literary and social functions. The King George Hall Cosmopolitan Club was started on the same lines as the KGF Club in Oorgaum and offered facilities for tennis, badminton, billiards, snookers, cards, carrom etc.

A Town Municipal Council was set up to oversee and govern this new township by the Mysore government. All basic amenities such as electric power, water, etc was provided by the government. A large Civil Hospital was built to cater to the medical needs of the populace of this tertiary town with all amenities. A Maternity Hospital was also established.  

A melting pot

Robertsonpet thus became the “Town” for the mining areas and quickly became an important commercial centre. People of different communities and regions came to live here, including the British and other Europeans, Anglo-Indians, people from neighbouring states, Muslims, Marwaris and the local Kannadigas.

The Marwaris were migrants from Rajasthan who settled in Robertsonpet and established their business there as private bankers or money lenders, pawn brokers, textile merchants and jewellers. Home to a mixed population, KGF had many places of worship such as churches, temples and mosques. Each mine had a Catholic Church and there were many Anglican and other Protestant churches as well which came under the Church of England. The St Theresa’s Church was established in Robertsonpet in 1929.

Robertsonpet also became home to many temples including the Lakshmi Venkateswara Temple. It is a very old and famous temple in Robertsonpet was and is still famous for its annual jaathre or fair celebrated over a week, in the month of March. People from all the neighbouring places would flock to KGF to be part of this event. This jaathre or fair was celebrated in a very grand manner in the old days and it is still celebrated every year with the same grandeur.

The Order of St Joseph of Tarbes started the St. Theresa’s School in Robertsonpet in 1933 which had both the English medium and Tamil Medium sections. To cater to the ever-increasing Marwari population in Robertsonpet, an exclusive Hindi Medium School named The Sumathi Jain High School was started in Robertsonpet.

Andersonpet: The ‘beer shop’

Two years after the establishment of the township of Robertsonpet, another township, Andersonpet, was established in 1904, just next to the mining areas of Champion Reefs and Mysore Mine/ Marikuppam to cater to the needs of the people living in these places. Andersonpet was also known locally as ‘beer shop’ because it had the only Government Licensed Liquor Store in the whole of KGF to sell beer in those days.

As per the Imperial Gazetteer of India - Mysore 1907-1909, “The right to vend and sell liquor throughout the province of Bangalore, Mysore and Kolar Gold Fields was only through individual shops under what was called the ‘separate shop system.’ The three breweries situated in the civil and military stations in Bangalore supplied beer or ale to the only tavern or ‘separate shop’ in Kolar Gold Fields situated in the new township of Andersonpet.”

The tavern later got a license to sell foreign liquors, brandy, wine and also the locally brewed liquor or arrack. Andersonpet is still called Beer Shop by people who don’t even know the origins of its name!

Picture houses in the twin towns

Towards the late 1920s, when the era of black and white talking motion pictures came into existence, picture houses or talkies came up in Robertsonpet and Andersonpet, which screened movies in local languages. Initially, these picture houses were just tents with basic or no infrastructure.

The Gay Talkies, Olympia Talkies and the Krishna Talkies were among the first picture houses to come up during this time. The Tamil Film ‘Kalidas’ was produced in 1931 and a big hit in KGF. Tamil films and other regional language films screened in those days were based on themes and characters derived from traditional folk tales and ballads, mythology, local politics, etc and were enjoyed by the masses and played to full houses in KGF.

Kolar Gold Fields played a very important part in the prosperity of the British Empire under the management of the John Taylor and Sons Company. It was the successful quest for the precious yellow metal by these British pioneers, which resulted in the creation of this vast industry.  

(Bridget White-Kumar is the author of Kolar Gold Fields- Down Memory Lane)

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