Where Once Stood Darwinia...

Deccan Herald

Charles Darwin was among the most celebrated personalities of the 1850s. Darwinia, a building in Lalbagh, which housed the offices of the Bangalore garden's curators, was a fitting tribute to the great scientist, writes S Narayanaswamy

The decade of the 1850s and 60s was an important phase in the world's history of natural sciences. Charles Darwin propounded the famous 'Theory of Evolution' in 1856, and his work, 'Origin of Species' created ripples in science fora across the world. World over, biologists, naturalists, botanists and environmentalists not only accepted his theories but also heralded him as the 'Man of the Century'. Many chairs were instituted in universities across the world, many memorials and monuments were raised in colleges, parks and gardens. In India too, a memorial was raised in Lalbagh, the State Botanical Garden of the then princely State of Mysore.

A tribute was paid to Darwin in the form of a building constructed at the suggestion of Hugh Cleghorn, Botanical Advisor to Sir Mark Cubbon, the chief commissioner of the State then.

The building was named Darwinia.

Office to Lalbagh's Curators
William New, the curator of Lalbagh set up his office, laboratory and library in Darwinia during his tenure from 1859 to 1863 and from 1865 to 1873.

During the two years from 1863 to 1865, A Black was the curator of Lalbagh. He too continued at Darwinia. The annual administrative reports of the State during these years contain interesting notes on Darwinia. It was the centre of all scientific work carried out in the botanical garden. Following the death of New in 1873, the garden was without a curator for a few months. Soon, the post was filled up by a Scot gardener, John Cameron, a Kew trained botanist. Cameron did great service to the State by enriching the plant wealth in Lalbagh and supplying the same to farmers of the State.

In the year 1890, Cameron got the Darwinia repaired and renovated. Along with his office, he also accommodated the offices of the Assistant Curator and clerical staff there. As the years rolled, the activities of Cameron increased because of the additional duties that he was requested to take on, by the government.

This included taking charge of the Government Museum as also other government gardens. The Darwinia became small for his wide-ranging activities. Therefore, in the year 1894, Cameron requested the government to grant him permission to shift his office to the Assistant Curator's Cottage. Because the assistant curator Stephen had relinquished his post on being appointed superintendent of Nagpur Botanical Garden, the cottage was vacant.

Cameron got the permission of the government and shifted his office to the Lalbagh cottage. With the shifting of the office of the superintendent of Lalbagh from Darwinia, the building lost its importance for some years.

In the year 1915, Darwinia again got the attention of the government as well as members of the general public. Krumbeigel, the then superintendent of Lalbagh and the government gardens, proposed to the government that the Darwinia was the most suitable building with its serene surroundings for starting a restaurant. It had two rooms which were ideally suited, one for the British and another for an Indian restaurant.

The government approved the proposal and two restaurants were started there. In a short period, it became a very popular hub for tourists. For almost half a century, the Darwinia was the most thronged place in Lalbagh. The area round Darwinia was green and covered with lawns and shrubberies. There were many arches covered with creepers. The vicinity of Darwinia was the perfect setting for families. The Darwinia also attracted a lot of students and became their favourite hangout.

The glory and popularity of Darwinia did not last long, for in 1957, the government decided to demolish it as it was a very old structure and was on the verge of collapse. It was eventually torn down in 1959, and in its place, a befitting memorial, the Moghul garden was raised in 1960, in commemoration of the centenary of the Lalbagh botanical garden.