You pass the small board which says “Chinese Hill” on your way to Ooty from Gudulur. The road is long and winding with spectacular views of the
plateau. It is a road taken by those who
have the time.
Present day travelers passing this way would often wonder why the place is called Chinese Hill. It all goes back a long time, to 1860s, when Chinese convicts were brought to these hills by the British. These Chinese were from the Strait Settlements (Malacca, Dinding, Penang and
would most likely have been pirates.
These Chinese prisoners were brought to
Madras and were used in the construction and
in laying the railway lines. By 1822,
John Sullivan had started constructing Stone House, his dream house in the Blue Mountains.
The house, which is presently the Government Arts College, overlooked
the Ooty valley. By 1860s, more Britishers
had decided to move to the hills to plant tea, English vegetables and fruits.
The need for labor both on the plantations and in building construction was great. Chinese prisoners were brought from
for this purpose. Some of the prisoners
were assigned to the building of , in Lovedale,
where they were lodged in temporary sheds.
One day in 1863, some of these men, tired, no doubt, of ceaseless drizzle, damp and cold, escaped. Imagine how they planned their escape! Did they talk to the men who transported the building material or wood and learn about the lay of the land? How did they figure out the route? Making their way through the thick sholas must have been slow; within no time, these men were caught and brought back.
Were they punished? No record of that. Whipped, most probably! The second attempt followed soon after in July, the next year. With heavy rain lashing the hills, another group escaped the temporary sheds and made their way through impenetrable forests towards the coast. Many police search parties set off in chase. The convicts were apprehended near
Calicut. The weapons carried by the police were found
on the Chinese. This, together with the
fact that one of the search parties did not make it, made it all the more ominous.
Sure enough! The search for the missing policemen continued. Trackers found their bodies, in the middle of September, half way down the Sispara Ghats. The decomposing bodies, or what was left of them after the birds and beasts had their fill, were in a line with the chopped off heads neatly placed on the shoulders.
Some of the other Chinese prisoners who served out their sentence, married local Tamil women and settled down near the cinchona plantations, at Naduvattom. These men made a living herding cows, cultivating coffee and vegetables.