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From Glasgow to Pattikonda: The journey of Sir Thomas Munro


Sir Thomas Munro, a Glasgow-born Scotsman, who became the Governor of Madras Presidency in the early part of the 19th century, made a deep impact on the people of the Rayalaseema region. I was reading up on the palegar (local chieftains) strife in Rayalaseema region, and read this interesting snippet: In many parts of Ananthapur and Ballari regions, Munro was so respected that the locals named their first-born son after their favourite administrator – Munrolappa (Kannada and Telugu are the local languages).

I haven’t seen it, but there’s a famous statue of Sir Thomas Munro in Madras, near the Gymkhana, according to a piece in The Hindu. (Sriram’s piece in The Hindu.)

What triggered my interest in Sir Thomas Munro was that he was the Collector of Anantapur district. My ancestral village is in the same district, and many of my family members continue to live in the district.

I came across a letter Sir Thomas Munro writes to his mother from ‘Anantpoor’ (dated 20th August, 1804).

An extract from that letter:

“I am endeavouring to convert about an acre of ground into a garden, but find it very difficult to get either seed or plants. All that I have in it are fourteen fig-trees, about ten or twelve inches high, which survived out of a great number of plants brought from a small garden at Cuddapah, above a hundred miles distant...”

The letter is mostly about his disappointment over his garden.

There are other letters to his mother and sister Erskine from both ‘Anantpoor’ and ‘Raydroog’, (today’s Rayadurgam, I guess), where he describes his life in India, and specifically the Ceded Districts (which were ceded to the British by the Nizam, covering Rayalaseema). In one letter to his sister dated 5th August, 1807, he says, “I shall leave India with great regret, for I shall carry with me only a moderate competency, while by remaining four or five years longer, I should double my fortune; this, however, is of little consequence, as I am not expensive. But what I am chiefly anxious about is, what I am to do when I go home. I have no rank in the army there, and could not be employed upon an expedition to the Continent, or any other quarter...but I much fear that I shall soon get tired of an idle life, and be obliged to return to this country for employment. ”

After a furlough, Munro came back to India, and Madras in 1814. He eventually became governor of Madras in 1820. He was known as the father of the ‘ryotwari system’ and came for much praise for his opposition to the Zamindari system. According to the 'ryotwari' system, land revenue was collected directly from the farmer/tiller of the soil. According to an official report (1857/John Stuart Mill) on this system,“Every registered holder of land is recognised as its proprietor...”

In 1827, when Munro went on a tour of the Ceded Districts, he suddenly contracted cholera and passed away on July 6 at 'Patteecondah' (today’s Pattikonda).

The locals in the Ceded Districts treated Munro as the ‘Father of the People’, some even calling him a saint.

Reference: The Life of Sir Thomas Munro, late governor of Madras...’ by George Robert Gleig



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