He sure did make a mark!

Last Updated 31 January 2011, 16:00 IST

Cubbon Park is known to every visitor and resident of Bangalore. Once popular for the toy train rides or concerts in its band stand, it is still a haven for people who want a breath of fresh air in an otherwise fast-polluting traffic-snarled metro. Officially called Chamarajendra Park, it’s Cubbon Park for the common man.

But who was Cubbon and why is the park named after him? A quick search on the Internet will tell you that Sir Mark Cubbon was the longest serving commissioner of Mysore State, when it was controlled by the British from 1831 to 1881. In 1881, power was transferred back to the Wodeyars i.e., when Maharaja Chamarajendra Wodeyar came of age. This historic act was called the Rendition.

Subsidiary treaty in 1799

However, if one has to discover more about Sir Cubbon, one has to visualise Mysore Kingdom post Tipu’s demise. Close your eyes and imagine an era of Bangalore when there was no Cubbon Park or High Court or the Vidhana Soudha building. Bangalore was a small town consisting of the pete area surrounded by a fort; beyond the settlement were hills and troughs, barren land. The seats of power were Srirangapatnam and Mysore.

In 1799, Lord Wellesley decided that the administration of the region would be bestowed on the Wodeyars instead of Tipu’s sons, keeping in mind the relationship between the French and Tipu. This decision was taken in spite of stiff resistance from the likes of Sir Thomas Munro who wanted to divide the region between the British and the Nizam of Carnatic.

Krishna Raja Wodeyar III, a minor then, was coronated as the king of the entire region; however the British Government appointed a Resident in the court of Mysore. The Mysore that was won back from Tipu was a much bigger and unified kingdom and the control of the region was given to the Wodeyars. So there still were divided loyalties and not all Palegars were loyal to the king. Added to this was the stringent administration of Dewan Purnaiah. There was also no handholding of the young king in the region’s governance; the Resident took his orders from the neighbouring Madras Presidency and did not help or advise the king in the affairs of the region.

In August 1830, there was an uprising of some Palegars, of Nagar and Tarikere. Though the Maharaja was loyal to the British and lent his troops to quell the rebellion, it reached huge proportions. Fears of losing control of the region and added pressure from the Madras Governor, forced the then Governor General, Lord Bentinck, to take the drastic step of transferring governance from the Maharaja to a British Commission that was directly under the Governor General.

In a letter to the Maharaja, the main reasons stated were non payment of subsidies according to the Treaty of 1799, increasing debts and maladministration. Though he authored this letter to the king, he also set up an enquiry committee whose findings cleared the unfortunate king’s reputation and administration. Lord Bentinck then sympathised with the young ruler and supported his cause in England. However for the next 50 years, Mysore was ruled by the British. In 1831, the administration was handed over to two British Officers Colonel Briggs and C M Lushington, Senior and Junior Commissioners to Mysore region. Lushington brought the official establishment to Bangalore. Suddenly Bangalore gained importance. Tipu’s palace in the city became the seat of administration. As the uprising died and peace was restored, the city witnessed growth.

Sir Cubbon as sole commissioner

However, three years later, due to difference of opinion between the two commissioners, the role was unified and the role of a sole Commissioner was created. The role of the resident was also abolished. The Commissioner was literally the ruler of Mysore kingdom. The responsibility fell on Sir Mark Cubbon. He immediately took to the task of unifying the region. The Palegars were subdued and as a part of rehabilitation, a leading member of each of their territory was compelled to stay in Bangalore. To ease administration, the foujdaries were dissolved and the State was divided into four divisions. Prompt salaries and pension schemes were introduced to win the loyalties of government servants. As part of the process, an annual administration report was commenced in 1856-57.

Kannada and Marathi were made the official languages to simplify the communication.
During his tenure, Bangalore as a city was improved vastly. Roads were constructed connecting Bangalore to all major taluks. The first railway line between Bangalore and Jolarpet was laid. Commerce flourished. Communication improved through laying of telegraph lines. During his tenure of 26 years, the State’s revenue rose to Rs 93 lakh.

He purchased a plot of land, quite away from the fort and built a bungalow with his own funds. This was later purchased by Sir Bowring, his successor, for the Government and is today known as Raj Bhavan. Almost a hundred years later, Mirza Ismail, the eminent Dewan of Mysore, recalls the size of Bangalore in 1800s and its land value. He says – “even in Ulsoor road where my grandfather (Aga Ali Askar) lived land was so little valued that Sir Mark Cubbon bade him take as much as he wished”!

Equation with the Maharaja

He was one of the few who understood the political relations among Indian kingdoms. Though he was initially against the transfer of reign to the Maharaja, his relations with the king improved once the office of Resident was abolished. In his many letters to the Governor General, he had highly praised the king for his co-operation and support during the uprising in 1830 and also for the tranquillity of the region during the 1857 mutiny.

When the order to transfer the Mysore administration from Governor General to the Governor of Madras was issued, Cubbon refused to give his sanction to such an unwise policy. He had resigned from his post as a protest. He wrote, “The late order is regarded as a great breach of public faith and as the first step towards the final extinction of Mysore and consequently tending to produce the most fatal of all results the destruction of all confidence in the sincerity of the Queen’s proclamation.” The order was withdrawn by Lord Canning and he continued for one more year.

Though Cubbon was a British officer, he had never been to England. In 1861, because of poor health, Cubbon had to leave for England abruptly without even a visit to the Maharaja with whom he had developed a good friendship for 26 years.

This fact is stated in a letter by the King – “the sensation it produced in me was inexpressibly distressing and painful...more so as it conveyed the intimation that your departure from the country was to be without a personal interview with me, and without the last interchange of a friendly farewell.”

However he died during the voyage at Suez on April 23, 1861. His mortal remains were carried to the England by his friend Dr Campbell and laid to rest there. A notice that appeared in the Indian Statesman called him the “last of the old school of statesman”.

It described him as a very generous person who regarded all the young officers stationed at Bangalore as members of his family. One anecdote relates to an instance where a young officer had a debt of four hundred rupees; Sir Mark Cubbon quietly pressed in his hand and said, “There I shall not ask you to return the money to me but when you are an old man be sure you help a young fellow in the same way.” The successor to Mark Cubbon was another very worthy person – Lord Bowring. It is to him we should credit the creation and naming of the park which we now know as Cubbon Park and the statue in front of the present High Court building.

(Published 31 January 2011, 15:58 IST)

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