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(ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII No. 13, October 16-31, 2012
Following the trail of Vere Levinge

Pradeep Chakravarthy, a heritage enthusiast, has been working on a book on Kodaikanal with the INTACH chapter there. As part of that project he has for some time now been following the trail of Henry Vere Levinge, generally considered the person responsible for the development of the town in the Palani Hills as the second major hill station in the South. Chakravarthy's sleuthing has added these facts to the known ones. Chakravarthy writes:

Levinge's first home in Cheranmahadevi – now renovated and called Brig Stok.

The Tirukurungudi's Levinge Agraharam today (above) and the plaque marking its status (right).

The village of Tirukurungudi has a massive Vishnu temple with splendid stone and wood carvings. The South Mada Street runs between the temple walls and the Nambiyar River. It is now called Levinge Agraharam (agraharam = place for Brahmins to stay). On either end of the street are two stone plaques which say "Levinge Agraharam – 1849".

Locals say, many years ago, the street had several large houses that were, over a period of time, destroyed due to the river flooding. Levinge reconstituted the banks, had the house sites fortified and given to the Brahmin community.

Sadly, one marker is buried and built over, but the other still stands, though rather neglected. I hope both will be restored soon in response to my appeal.

The Levinge Temple in Vellakavi.

Levingepuram is a small hamlet 10 minutes from Tirukurungudi. I was introduced to an old man who claimed his grandfather was Levinge's servant. Levinge gave them much land and three ponds but, sadly, there are no records of this.

The old church was being demolished and a little bit of probing got me to see a stone plaque that says "VH -1855" and there is a Tamil inscription that says, "the very great VH Levingepuram." The locals have promised to reinstall the plaque carefully soon.

Levinge was the first Sub-Collector for the village of Cheranmahadevi. He built the Collector's residence and gave it to Government when he was transferred. The building still stands, but going by the style and the plaque in the front, Brig Stok, as it's now called, dates to around 1914. Sadly, it's not been lived in for a few years and as I wandered around the rooms inside, seeing some lovely pieces of period furniture and books from 1910 onwards, I felt quite wistful. The list of Sub-Collectors starts with Brig Stoke in 1914. The Collector's office has records only from the 1940s.

Two Levingedurais of Vellakavi.

I suppose Levinge was a man who went around doing good things for people rather than posing for painters and sculptors and that's why we are all searching for him more than a century after he died. I guess that's the 21st Century insight for me!

Scouting around Kodaikanal, I found a temple for Levinge in Vellakavi. The image in it has in the last century been Indianised. Some children in the village continue to be named Levingedurai, a popular name in the past.

Last summer I visited Ireland on the trail of Levinge and caught up with one of his kinsfolk. One of them recently wrote to me:

"On my recent visit to Knockdrin, I found a memorial tablet that for years was located in St. Mary's Church, Portnashangan, which was the Levinge family church. The church is now being converted into a restaurant. We removed the memorial tablets, and one amongst a stack of them that we have been able to preserve is a memorial to Vere Henry Levinge."

The Levinge tomb in St. George's athedral cemetery, Chennai.

Vere Henry Levinge remembered in Ireland.

Closer home, Levinge is buried in the cemetery in St. George's Cathedral, Madras, and I was able to find his tombstone there.


Vere Henry Levinge is considered by many the greatest benefactor of Kodaikanal, in fact, 'The Father of Kodi'. Doing good deeds was a characteristic of his tenure wherever he was posted.

Levinge began his career with the Madras Civil Service in the Tinnevelly District as Sub-Collector, Cheranmahadevi, the first to be posted there. He is remembered in nearby Levingepuram for a poor feeding house (kanji paarai) he established and in neighbouring Tirukurungudi for setting up an orphanage. After several years in the Tinnevelly District, he was appointed Collector of Madura District in 1860 and, till his retirement in 1867, he did much to develop Kodaikanal. There, by the Lake, stands a Celtic cross and a memorial tablet that commemorates Levinge's contribution to Kodi.

It was in 1863, while staying at Kodi's Collector's Bungalow, that he met Bro. Joseph Ciceron, a French religious, staying at La Providence. The good Jesuit suggested that Kodi could be made even more salubrious if the basin, really a large marshy swamp into which three small streams drained, could be converted into a lake. Levinge was quick to realise that a bund across the lower end of the swamp to block the outflow would create a lake filled by the three streams. But the villagers of Vilpatti, of which Tahsil Kodi was a part, objected, stating that their farming activities would be affected. Levinge guaranteed, "I will hire people from your village to build the dam and, if by the time you start cultivation there is no water, I will hire them again to pull down the dam." The villagers bought into the gamble and, after an initial period of uncertainty, found that what they had developed by manually dredging the dammed in swamp, Kodaikanal Lake, gave them more than enough water. Levinge had paid out of his own pocket for the greater part of the development of what is today Kodi's best-known landmark, its Lake. Levinge developed a 5-km long road right round the 24 ha lake, hugging it.

He also developed and improved several other roads in the township. Levinge also did much for the flora of the area, introducing Eucalyptus, Wattle, Pine and a variety of ferns besides encouraging cultivation of 'English' fruits and vegetables, such as potatoes, pears and plums. He even experimented with tea at his residence, Pambar House. And he introduced fish in the Lake.

After his retirement, he lived in Kodi and Pambar House became the centre of all social activity in the town. In 1884, he succeeded to the 8th Baronetcy and was on his way back to the family seat, Knockdrin Castle, Westmeath, Ireland, when he fell ill in Madras and died in March 1885. Baron Knockdrin was buried in Madras.

(Photographs courtesy: Pradeep Chakravarthy.)

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In this Issue

Why so much secrecy?
Need supervised renovation, NOT demolition
"Let's bury 'road in-the-sky' and save the Cooum River"
The creation of a Chennai landmark
Following the trail of Vere Levinge
A merchant remembers...
Opportunity beckons in Rock Fort City
Madras chunam and other finds
That first Ranji triumph
Steps to bring back the House Sparrows

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your diary


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