Chapter 24 – The journey to Ootacamund.

In 1886, Richard William Rowlands’ eldest son, James Henry Rowlands decided to leave home and travel to the Hill Station of Ootacumund in South India. It may have been the stories that he listened to from Tamil Coolies who had arrived from South India to work in the tea plantations or a desire to visit another country.

James Henry Rowlands never saw his father alive again.

James would have bade farewell to his father Richard, step-mother Charlotte and his brothers and sister and caught the train from Nanuoya to Colombo. From Colombo he may have sailed on the S.S.Bengal, a steam ship that at the time was sailing between Colombo and Madras. The journey would have been as described by the Commissioner of the Planters Association of Ceylon when he visited the town to see the Sanatorium and the Cinchona Gardens at Naduvatam.

From Madras James would have caught the up express train from Madras to Salem and after traveling all night arrived at Metapollium, the following morning at 4.40a.m; this was the terminus of the railway at the time and about 36 miles from Ooty. The mode of transport was by a curious vehicle called a “tonga” that was drawn by two horses or good sized ponies. It had two seats back to back, suspended on two wheels, and covered by an awning, that being very light was admirably adapted for hill traveling. The mail tonga started from the station, immediately on arrival of the train and the price of a return ticket was Rs 34. Just as day was breaking the “tonga” with its passengers rattled out of Metapollium Station; the ponies kept up a brisk trot to the foot of the hills, a distance of about four miles, where they changed steeds. This process of changing every three or four miles was kept up the whole way to Ooty and the distance of 36 miles up a steep incline was covered in five hours. This could not have been attained except by the constant changing of horses.

The ascent was made by zigzag road, on gradients the steepest of which was about 1 in 15; and for many miles pursued its torturous way along the steep mountainside, until they had gained an elevation of about 6,000 feet at Coonoor. At this point the vast mountain expanse of mountain scenery covered with forest timber presents a view indescribably wild and grand. At the top of the pass the road skirted two or three estates under European management; and near the road itself James would have seen some fairly cultivated coffee; the trees would have been healthy and vigorous and kept in good order and reminded him of the days when the bushes flourished in Ceylon. All the way from Metapollium to Coonoor the country was steeper, more broken and rugged than anything he had seen in Ceylon and knowing the difficulties they had encounted on the way there, were surprised to be advised that the Government was bringing the railway from Metapollium to Ooty via Coonoor; in fact the cutting had already been commenced and large gangs of coolies were at work as they passed through. They were told that the route which the railway would take was the only passable track over the mountains, the sides of which when not broken up by immense boulders were covered by many varieties of forest trees, besides a profusion of flowering shrubs. The line would stop at Coonoor for the present as this town was a favorite hill station much frequented by invalids, as the cold was not nearly so severe or trying as Ooty.

After five hours from the terminus at Metapollium they reached Ootacmund with a sound appetite engendered by the keen mountain air.

Ootacmund was prettily situated on an elevated piece of land at the extreme end of a grassy plateau and was well protected from the prevailing winds. It was about 8,000 feet above sea level and had a salubrious and most delightful climate with an annual average rainfall of 45 inches. It was the comparatively dry atmosphere combined with the cool and bracing air that made Ooty so healthy and invigorating for those weakened by a long stay on the plains. During the winter months the frost is often sharp, causing great damage to delicate flowers and plants that were not frost tolerant.

The town was of considerable size and both pleasant and interesting and divided into an upper and lower town. The upper town consisted of fashionable quarters and extended for fully two miles along the slope of a hill and was covered with beautiful and in amny cases extensive bungalows, surrounded with park-like and well laid out grounds and lawns. The lower town was also of considerable size and consisted of long streets with bazaars, shops and abodes of the natives and hangers-on of the European community; and here was the Police Station and beyond the race-course and tennis courts. The public gardens were a most agreeable resort; they were well cared for and laid out prettily and with taste and contained many rare and interesting plants from all quarters of the globe. They appeared to be singularly adapted by nature for charming scenes and this had been cleverly taken advantage of and augmented by art and the delightful results were probably heightened by the beautiful views afforded all around over mountains, hill and dale, with bungalows peeping out here and there from amidst the forest of acacias and gum trees.

Ooty was adorned with several fine public buildings, amongst them being the Legislative and Executive Council Chambers, the Courts of Justice, the Church and the Public Library. Surrounding the Sanatorium were large plantations of blue gums, the property of the Government.

Christ Church Matale
I was advised by my aunt Christobel Carolis that her mother told her that Richard William Rowlands died in 1891 at the age of 59. This is incorrect.

I have recently gone through my father's papers that my brother Percy had in his possession and discovered that when we were preparing to migrate to Australia my Grand-Father was given the following advice from the Vicar of the Anglican Church in Matale in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. The copy of the letter is shown below.

Richard William Rowlands died at Matale and he was buried in the cemetery attached to the Anglican Christ Church, Matale on 23rd April 1888, by Reverend Francis Mendis. I presume the No: 29 refers to the grave site, which I will visit on my next trip to Sri Lanka.

James started work as a clerk and later met and married an Anglo-Indian girl named Grace Augusta Samuels; the wedding took place on 28th August 1889.

Their first child, Hilda Winifred Rowlands was born on 21st May 1890.

No comments: