The Nilgiris District – 150 years old

 The Nilgiris District will be 150 years on August 18

Dharmalingam Venugopal  Nilgiri Documentation Centre

Amidst the excitement of the current summer season and the bicentenary celebrations of modern Nilgiris, a most significant milestone of the district has almost been forgotten. August 18th of this year will mark the 150th year of the birth of Nilgiris as a separate district.

Under Madras Act I of 1868, the Neilgherry Hills were separated from the district of Coimbatore on the 18th August 1868 and placed under a Commissioner.  The  Neilgherry Act received the assent of the Governor General on 6th June . The new district contained about 1000 square miles with a population of 88,142,  of whom 2616 were Europeans. The extent of land under plantations was 13,372 acres.

According to the reasons given for the creation of the  new district, “the arrangement, under which Neilgherry Hills were formerly treated for revenue and administrative purposes as a taluk or sub-division of the Collectorate of Coimbatore was found to work unsatisfactorily; that under this arrangement adequate provision was not made for the administrative requirements of the hills and that the Collector of Coimbatore had ample work on the lowlands of his district to occupy the whole of his time”.

At the same time, the duties of the Civil and Sessions Judge on the Neilgherries, which for judicial purposes formed a separate Zillah, were found to be extremely light.  The Act, therefore abolished the appointment of Civil and Sessions Judge and Special Assistant Collector and provided  for the creation of the office of the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner , assigning to these officials the whole of the duties, administrative as well as judicial.

The first Commissioner was James Wilkinson Breeks.   Breeks who  was the author of ‘An Account of the Primitive Tribes and Monuments in the Nilagiris,’ entered the Madras Civil Service in 1849. He was appointed private secretary to Sir William Denison, governor of Madras, in 1861.  In  1864,  owing to ill-health, he left India and joined a mercantile firm in London, with the intention of retiring from the public service. But he returned to Madras in  1867, and was shortly afterwards appointed to the newly constituted office of commissioner of the Nilgiris.

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