From Italy to Kengeri: The Thread That Binds
So, I was randomly surfing the internet last night, and one thing led to another, and I found out that a certain Italian gentleman called Signor De Vecchi is linked to Kengeri. What? An Italian and a suburb of Kengeri in Bengalooru – what’s the connection, you might wonder. It was Signor De Vecchi who tried to revive the silk industry, and got the sericulture community together in 1866. He started a filature unit back then, in a bid to add sheen to the silk industry.
Kengeri, a hobli (cluster of hamlets), was a well-known centre for sericulture during the time of Tippu Sultan. Tippu is credited with bringing sericulture to Mysore state. Kengeri’s silk industry flourished as well. By 1866, over a good half a century after the death of the Sultan, several experiments in sericulture were in progress in and around the country.
According to the book/report, ‘On the Silk Culture in Southern India’ by M M MacKenzie, published 1870, (the book is available as a free ebook when you search on Google books), two plots were given to Signor de Vecchi, for seven years so that he could conduct experiments. However, his methods failed, because of the effects of disease that attacked worms.
The Madras government, according to documents, was quite liberal and allowed Signor De Vecchi, to conduct his experiments. The cocoons were brought from Japan and distributed to taluks that were into silk production.
The silk factory that the brothers Achille and Henry De Vecchi set up in Kengeri was an advanced Italian kind of filature unit. The Italian brothers were said to be in touch with the Mustan family, who arrived in Mysore state during Tippu’s reign. The Mustan family settled down in Mogenahalli near Channapatna, and became well known silk merchants. (The information is available in a pdf entitled Italian Silk-Traders, and Their Trading Netwoks in India: The De Vecchi Enterprise, 1860-1872) The author of the paper is Antonella Violla, a PHD candidate from European University Institute, Florence.
According to the 'Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons and Command, Volume 48', the lowest price given by Dharwar and Belgaum merchants who came to Mysore to buy the native silk was Rs 4 per seer of 26 rupees weight. The highest was Rs 14 per seer. It adds, “The price paid by the Messrs. De’Vecchj to the natives for cocoons is only Rs 18 per maund, which leaves a very handsome profit to the factory for reeling it...”
The Papers also describe the factory at Kengeri, the machinery used and the processes involved at the unit.
In the Papers, the De Vecchis have been spelt as De Vecchjs (some old papers refer to De’Vecchj de Piccioli). In the Parliamentary Papers, Kengeri is spelt as Kingheri. There is an extract from a letter written by Colonel Meade, (21st August, 1871). It reads:
“Both Monsieur de’Vecchj and Dr. De’Vecchj (who succeeded to the charge of the Kingheri Factory) have now left the country, discouraged, it is believed, by the failure, which notwithstanding their own persevering efforts and the liberal aid of the Mysore State, has throughout attended the measures which have been adopted...”
In MacKenzie’s report (brought out in 1870), he cites from the ‘Bangalore Standard’ of 10th September, “We are sorry to see, from the Report of the Superintendent of Nundidroog, that the last attempt to revive an industry in which the interests of a large and needy community are connected has failed, that officer having reported unfavourably of the project for rearing silk worms, and the hopelessness of any good being effected by the local administration in promoting this trade, in consequence of the disease to which the worms are subject.”
- M M MacKenzie was the Civil Surgeon and Superintendent, Dharwar Jail, Bombay Presidency. (He mentions the encouragement given by Madras to De Vecchi, and makes an appeal for sericulture experiments in Dharwar, which he says, is also ideal for silk production.
- The Parliamentary Papers refer to the session in progress between March 5 and August 7, 1874.
- Seer is an old measurement unit used in India, and no longer in use. Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seer_%28unit%29