C P Belliappa locates the tombstone of Victoria Gowramma, the favourite daughter of Chikka Veerarajendra, the last king of erstwhile Coorg, at the Brompton Cemetery in South West London. The story of the princess is a heady cocktail of colonial power, politics, greed, romance and disappointments.
Brompton Cemetery, located in South West London, covers an area of about 40 acres.

This burial ground, established in 1836, is presently used more as a park; and is popular with cyclists and joggers. The cemetery is located not far from Stamford Bridge, home to Chelsea Football Club. I visited the cemetery last year to locate the final resting place of my protagonist – Princess Victoria Gowramma of Kodagu.

The office at the sprawling cemetery has painstakingly recorded the names of the people buried there since its inception, and has a databank being updated. I was shown a map of the area where the grave I was looking for, was situated. It took me more than an hour to locate the tomb stone of Victoria Gowramma.

The cross on the head-stone was broken and it was covered with thick undergrowth. This was the spot where story of Kodagu’s princess ends having started with her birth in 1841 at Benares. The epitaph on the tomb-stone drafted by Queen Victoria is still intact.

I stood there trying to picture that day, April 4, 1864, when the horse-drawn hearse carrying the body of the princess would have arrived followed by her husband Colonel John Campbell and their three-year-old daughter Edith. Also present would have been Lady Lena Login, the long-time guardian of the Coorg princess.

It would have been a particularly painful experience for Colonel Campbell, as the grave where his second wife was to be buried already had the mortal remains of his second son Colin from his first wife. The boy died in a freak accident in 1856. Interestingly, Colin was born in 1842 at Bellary in Karnataka while Col Campbell served in the 38th Madras Native Infantry.

The process of unearthing facts about Princess Gowramma and her father, Chikka Veerarajendra, the last rajah of erstwhile Coorg, and then reconstructing their lives was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle after finding all the pieces.

The princess was the favourite daughter of the rajah, who was exiled to Benares after he was dethroned by the British in 1834. Chikka Veerarajendra and Princess Gowramma were the first Indian royals to sail to England in 1852.

Both spent the rest of their lives in England. When the King of Kodagu and the eleven-year-old princess were presented to Queen Victoria, the Queen was instantly taken up by the young girl. To the astonishment of her court, the queen took the princess under her wings as her goddaughter. Queen Victoria, along with her royal consort Prince Albert, was present at the baptism ceremony of the Indian princess.

The Queen lent her own name to her goddaughter and called her Victoria Gowramma.
Two years later, when the sixteen-year-old Maharaja Duleep Singh landed in England, he too became an instant favourite of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Duleep Singh had already embraced Christianity, and this prompted the queen and her royal consort to indulge in match-making between Princess Victoria Gowramma and Maharaja Duleep Singh. The story involves colonial power, politics, religion, proselytization, greed, romance and disappointments.

I made it a point to visit Buckingham Palace and Osborne House (in Isle of Wight), where Princess Gowramma used to be a frequent guest of Queen Victoria. I could visualise a nervous Princess Gowramma in the opulent white drawing room where the queen received her close friends and relatives.

At Osborne House, the young princess from Kodagu would have played with the royal children where they were also taught house-keeping, cooking, and gardening. Princess Gowramma was particularly close to Princess Alice, the third child of Queen Victoria. (Princess Alice’s daughter Alix married Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.)
The high point for me was to see the beautiful marble bust of Princess Victoria Gowramma, which was sculpted by the queen’s favourite sculptor: Baron Carlo Marochetti in 1856. The bust is special since it is painted to depict a life-like image of the princess.
Recently I traced the direct descendants of Princess Victoria Gowramma to New South Wales in Australia. I spoke to one of them: Ms Marian Ethel Singleton, a 72 year old great-great grand daughter of the princess. However to my utter dismay, the lady though aware of her bloodline, did not evince any interest in her ancestry!
More about Victoria Gowramma...
(By: C.P. Belliappa)

Recently I had an opportunity to launch my book – ‘Victoria Gowramma: The Lost Princess of Coorg’ at the Nehru Centre, London. Two eminent historians, Dr. John Marr and Dr. Rosie Llewellyn-Jones spoke on the occasion. One of the important guests who attended the programme was a direct descendant of Lt. Col. John Campbell, husband of Princess Victoria Gowramma.

The lady introduced herself to me as Mrs. Anne Phillips the great-grand-daughter of Lt. Col. John Campbell from his first marriage to Margaret Mathew. Mrs. Phillips had already read my book and appreciated my having reconstructed the amazing story of Princess Victoria Gowramma the daughter of Chikka Veerarajendra, the last Raja of Coorg, who was deposed by the British in 1834.

One of the revelations by Mrs. Anne Phillips was that Princess Victoria Gowramma’s only grandson named Henry Victor Yardley was married to Ethel May Field in 1910 and they had three children, one son and two daughters. The general belief was that Henry Victor Yardley was a bachelor, and died in 1936 in an accident in Australia. This disclosure opens up the exciting possibility that somewhere in the world there could be descendants of Victoria Gowramma!

One of the prized discoveries for me while researching for the book was the existence of a marble bust of Princess Victoria Gowramma. During my recent visit to UK I had an opportunity to see this exquisite sculpture by Baron Carlo Marochetti, Queen Victoria’s favourite sculptor at the time. I have used this image on the cover of my book. As can be seen in the picture, the marble bust is painted and gilded, which is not very common.

During my conversation with Mrs. Anne Phillips she mentioned that about ten years ago she had located the tomb of Victoria Gowramma at the Brompton Cemetery. Following her directions I went to the Brompton Cemetery in London to see for myself the tomb-stone of the princess. When I reached the cemetery I was astonished at its expanse. Established in 1832, it covers an area of about 50 acres in my estimation. Searching for a grave there is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Fortunately I got some assistance from their office where every grave (there must be close to a million) is documented and the location recorded. The official marked the spot on a map of the cemetery and cautioned me that the area has thick undergrowth of weeds. I braced myself and went looking for the final resting place of my protagonist. It was a trifle uncanny, and after about half-an-hour of searching I was about to give up when suddenly I found myself standing next to the tomb-stone. As can be seen in the photograph, the cross on the tomb is broken, but the epitaph, drafted by Queen Victoria herself, is still intact. Then to my surprise I found on another face of the tomb-stone the name of Colin Campbell, the second son of Lt. Col. Campbell, inscribed. Colin Campbell, died in 1856 at the age of sixteen, and was buried in the grave. Later, Princess Victoria Gowramma who died in 1864 was also buried in the same grave. I was taken aback to read that Colin Campbell was born in Bellary in 1840 during Lt. Col. John Campbell’s posting there!

Other places I visited were Osborne House in the picturesque Isle of Wight, and the Buckingham Palace, where Princess Victoria Gowramma used to be a frequent guest of Queen Victoria and her children. It was awesome to visualize Victoria Gowramma socializing with the elite in such opulent surroundings. I keep speculating about the proposal of marriage between Victoria Gowramma and Maharaja Duleep Singh of Punjab. This alliance was very much desired by Queen Victoria and it very nearly happened. Had this union taken place, and if the princess from Coorg had lived longer, the outcome could have been historic.

(Belliappa is the author of the book ‘Victoria Gowramma: The Lost Princess of Coorg’, on the extraordinary life of the Coorg princess.)

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