A tryst with history

A tryst with history

It has been a series of serendipitous discoveries ever since I started researching about the story of Princess Victoria Gowramma of Coorg. I stumbled upon on several hitherto unknown details of the period that Chikka Veerarajendra and his daughter spent in the Victorian England. Princess Gowramma had the unique privilege of being Queen Victoria’s goddaughter. She was baptised as an 11-year-old in the presence of the queen, who lent her own name to the Indian princess.

In my book, Victoria Gowramma: The Lost Princess of Coorg, I wrote that Gowramma and her husband Colonel John Campbell had a daughter named Edith Victoria, who married Captain Henry Edward Yardley in 1882. Their only son, Henry Victor Yardley, emigrated to Australia. Henry Victor died in a motorbike accident in 1936. I concluded that there were no further descendants of Gowramma.

However, I was wrong. It was while releasing my book at Nehru Centre in London that I met Anne Phillips — a direct descendant of Colonel John Campbell from his first wife, Margaret Mathew. Colonel John Campbell had served in India. He was an officer in the 38th Madras Native Infantry. One of his postings was in Bellary. She told me that Henry Victor Yardley married Ethel May Field in 1910 and they had three children. Anne also gave me some rare photographs of Gowramma and her daughter Edith, from her private collection.

Anne’s late mother had recollections of having met Edith, and had preserved the photographs and other memorabilia. Anne is now in possession of a bracelet along with a handwritten letter from Queen Victoria, presented to Lady Lena Login (sister of Colonel John Campbell), for having looked after her goddaughter who had a troubled but eventful life in England. Princess Gowramma died in 1864, aged 23.

Anne Phillips and I collaborated in tracking the descendants of Victoria Gowramma in Australia. Using the Australian registry of births, deaths and marriages, we were able to gather information and draw the family tree of Gowramma’s descendants. However, we could not get in touch with the family. This however changed when Robert Yardley, a great-great-grandson of Victoria Gowramma, read my book and left a message for me on one of the blogs. The family lives in New South Wales in Australia.

Robert’s daughter Natashya Yardley got in touch with me a few months ago and informed me of her visit to Coorg. Natashya is Gowramma’s great-great-great granddaughter. I was excited at the prospect of meeting a direct descendant Princess Victoria Gowramma.

I took Natashya to various places of interest connected with the Haleri dynasty in Coorg, including the royal tombs of her ancestors at Gaddige in Madikeri. Natashya was intrigued that the Indian branch of her ancestry could be traced back to Veeraraja.

Natashya sent me a rare photograph of her great-grandfather, Henry Victor Rajendra Yardley, the grandson of Princess Gowramma.

It was a singular experience for me to meet and interact with a direct descendant of Princess Gowramma. After meeting Natashya, I feel that I have connected with my muse, Princess Gowramma, by ‘six degrees of separation’!

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