Not all visitors to the Nilgiris were happy about being there. Since the blue mountains were opened up, many foes, first of the East India Company and then of the Raj, found themselves held either in prison camps or under house arrest here.
|Ketti Valley- Photo credit Joel Carol Bringle|
The most notable were the Chinese prisoners from the Straits Settlements and the Boxer Rebellion, Afghans and finally the nationalists such as Sarat Chandra Bose the brother of Subhas Chandra Bose.
One set of prisoners of war who don’t find much mention in Nilgiri lore are the burghers who were brought here after the second Anglo-Boer War (1889-1902). This war was fought between the British Empire and two Boer colonies, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.
The British had finally defeated the Boers after the long, drawn out guerilla operations which followed the actual battles. The British also rounded up the civilian population in these states to prevent civilian support for the guerillas. Boers, who were captured, were sent to camps in other Crown colonies such as India.
|A letter postmarked Boer Camp, Kaity stamped on July 6. From John Ahmad's collection|
John Ahmad, a retired University Math lecturer based in the UK, became interested in Boer War and the Prisoners of War (POW) as an extension of his stamp collecting hobby. He has taken a great interest in the POW camps in India and other places.
He writes, “The Anglo-Boer War lasted from October 1899 to 31st May 1902, during which time the British captured some 32,500 prisoners. Due to concerns over keeping them in secure custody, 24,000 were sent abroad to camps in
Ceylon, Bermuda and India; over 9,000 of them being sent to . India
The first batch arrived in Bombay on 23rd April 1901, with the final batch arriving on 28th May 1902, just days before the Peace was signed”.
In January of 1901, St John Brodrick, the Secretary of State at the War Office wrote to the
whether it was possible to set up a POW camp on the Nilgiri Plateau, west of
Ootacamund. John Ahmad writes that Brodrick followed this
letter with another note a fortnight
later, marked 'Most Pressing', asking for an early reply to the
suggestion of a camp in the Nilgiris, as the situation was becoming acute with
the camps in St Helena and Ceylon now full to capacity. India
The Viceroy, Lord Curzon, however, was not favorably inclined to this proposal. He notified the India office that there would be problems with the site earmarked for the camp on the Nilgiri Plateau because of the poor water supply and the high incidence of diseases such as typhoid in that area. He suggested that the War office should look at other sites in the Bombay and Madras Presidencies.
Finally, three camps were established in the Madras Presidency; in Bellary, Kaity and Trichnopoly. The camp at Kaity or Ketti valley, as we now know it, opened on May 15 1902 and closed on August 5 1902. The former inmates of this camp were then moved to a camp in
Wellington – most probably to the
barracks- before being sent back home, to . South Africa
The camp in Kaity had 821 burghers and was known as the parolers’ camp. The climate was described by them, most probably in letters home, as “cold and damp”.
The POWs were accommodated in huts made of corrugated iron. They were also given the same provisions and rations that were given to British troops.
The camp authorities were not too strict. Some of the burghers worked for a short while at the Cordite Factory in nearby Aruvankadu. The behavior of the POWs was said to be “very good” with just a few incidents of drunkenness.
Confirming the fears expressed by the Viceroy, a number of the deaths in the camp were a result of typhoid; the dead were buried at the Ketti-Basel Missionary cemetery, the
cemetery and in Ootacamund. Wellington
This information was sourced by John Ahmad from a report of the Quarter Master General in India which was published in 1904, in Simla.
The last two pictures are from John Ahmad's collection and are from theTrichnopoly camp. I have added it because I found it interesting. Take a look at the letter dated January 28 which was posted on March 4. The letter is so innocuous that, I am sure, it got the interest of the censors.