Thursday, 28 January 2016

Unearthing some of Lalitpur’s History…

Last night we had a prayer meeting at the Bacon Bungalow.  It was Republic Day so we spent time – a small group of 20 odd folks – praying for our nation and for our district.

The Bacon Bungalow has been wonderfully renovated thanks the path-breaking rural Palliative Care programme that Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital has developed over the past five years.  Today the hospital runs a nationally recognized Palliative Care course out of this building, and this afternoon Dr. Ann Thyle and Sister Leela Pradhan used the same room to share with us a potential scaled-up programme which would include 13 EHA hospitals in Palliative Care over the next 5 years.

I had been wondering about the Bacon Bungalow.  It was named after Mrs. Elizabeth Mercy Bacon who came to India as a widow in 1890 and purchased it that year when she established the Reformed Episcopal mission work in Lalitpur.  But who did she buy it from?  No one seems to know. 

Many of the early missionaries did not last long in India.  Mrs. Elizabeth Mercy Bacon was added to that number. 10 years after she arrived in India, on the 4th of Sept. 1900 she died of cholera in Lalitpur.  Her grave is still there in the small Christian cemetery in Lalitpur town.

(Pic courtesy Yohan Malche)

The Bacon Bungalow is clearly a British colonial structure – the inside reminds me of my early boyhood when we occasionally went to the Alliance Mission bungalow in Akola.  My grand-parents had lived there occasionally as the Christian and Missionary Alliance kept moving its missionaries about every 3 years so that they would ‘not build up their own empires.  However, since they retired and went to the US in 1972, my visits to the mission bungalow was to be with our ‘adopted grandparents’ – Uncle Gerald and Aunty Sarah Carner.  I well remember the long dining room table and the cloth napkins we were each assigned, and the brass bell to summon us to dinner and the cook bringing in pigeon squabs for our khana.  And cold oranges for breakfast.  And the clean gravel in the driveway.

Lalitpur was clearly an important colonial town, and Mrs. Bacon had bought her house from folks of means who lived in the civil lines.  On my initial trips through Lalitpur I was told that some of the ‘empty land’ belongs to the military.  And yet I do not know of any active army base in the vicinity.

How to find out about the past?  Well, since I cannot go to India house in London, I decided to start with the internet.  Google ‘Lalitpur’ and most of what you get are articles about the city and district in Nepal.  Bless them of course but I want to know about the Lalitpur here in the Bundelkhand area, and currently part of Uttar Pradesh.

A few days ago I found an Imperial Gazeteer which had a short and pithy history of Lalitpur – published in 1909-10.

Are you itching to read a bit about Lalitpur’s past?  Here goes:

Lalitpur Town.  Population (1901) 11,560.  Tradition ascribes the founding of the town to Lalita, wife a Raja Sumer Singh, who came from the Deccan. It was taken from the Gonds early in the sixteenth century by Govind Bundela and his son, Rudra Pratap.  A hundred years later it was included in the Bundela State of Chanderi.  About 1800 an indecisive battle was fought close by between the Bundelas and Marathas; and in 1812 it became the head-quarters of Colonel Baptiste, who was appointed by Sindhia to manage Chanderi.  On formation of a British District of Chanderi in 1844, Lalitpur became the head-quarters, and it remained the capital of the District, to which it gave its name in 1861 up to1891, when Lalitpur and Jhansi Districts were united.

Another part of the internet took me to Col. Jean Baptiste Filose who seems to have been one of the white Mughals – soldiers of fortune who sold their services to various Maharajahs.  Baptiste is said to have given the princely sum of Rs. 1 lakh to set up a school in Agra – which continues to this day as St. Peter’s school.

You almost wonder – would it be too romantic to imagine that the Bacon building was once owned by Baptiste himself?

The story continues:

The story of the Mutiny in Lalitpur has been narrated in the History of Jhansi District.  The town contains a number of Hindu and Jain temples, some of which are very picturesque.  A small building, open on three sides save for a balustrade and supported on finely-carved columns, obviously derived from a Chandel building, bears and inscription of Firoz Shah Tughlak, dated 1358. 

So we have the answer to why so much land seems to be military.  Lalitpur was one of the key places for the 1857 uprising against the British.  We are after all only 100 kms away from Jhansi.  

And now we are about to get something very close to our very own Bacon Bungalow.  The next sentence tells us that: “Lalitpur is the..

There we are.  American Mission.  The colonial short-hand for the Reformed Episcopal Mission (“RE Mission) which Mrs. Elizabeth Mercy Bacon had established in Lalitpur in 1890.   The gazeteer refers to it as having an orphanage, something which was run for many years by the RE Mission.   

The dispensary mentioned may be a British one or may refer to the nascent medical work of the RE Mission which later becomes the Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital.

Skipping a few lines we come to the end of the entry about Lalitpur town:

Lalitpur has a large and increasing export of oilseeds, hides and ghi, besides considerable road traffic with the neighbouring Native States.  Large quantities of dried beef are exported to Rangoon.  There are four schools with 247 pupils, including 25 girls.

Fascinating to know about beef exports.  And to think of all the 247 students in the town being able to comfortably fit into a single year of any of the many schools that are all over the town today.  The RE Mission school on our campus has over 1000 students alone.

Here is what the Lalitpur students of today look like – or should I say yesterday since this was the prayer at the Republic Day event that took place at the school while we were on our Hospital Republic Day picnic:

(Picture courtesy  A. Masih)

As thrilled as I was to get this information – and especially to see a reference our hospital campus, I wondered why I didn’t seem to be getting more hits about Lalitpur from colonial times. 

Then I had the thought – let’s use an archaic spelling.  If Kanpur was called Cawnpore during the Raj, wouldn’t Lalitpur be known as Lalitpore?  That helped… and a few documents later I was led me to an even older spelling for Lalitpur: “Lullutpore.” 

Bingo.  I now have a small treasure trove of information – and will be digging for more.

Coming up in a later blog post (I am pretty sure) – an amazing look into the past history of drought and famine in this area.   Today’s breakthrough was getting digitized versions of the Census of the North West Provinces from 1872 and a Raj era government account of the famine of 1868-70.  “Lullutpore” lost 4.7% of its population in 1869 the peak year of that famine.

Stay tuned.  History is being … unearthed.


  1. I worked at Lalitpur hospital from 1979-1981. God gave me lot of opportunity to go to different far and nearby villages to share the gospel and give medication to the poor and needy. The most blessed thing I could do in Lalitpur was to go to the Prison and share the Gospel with the hardcore criminals. I gave them New Testament copies and had some musical program also for them. Glory to God. I was the first person to go to the Lalitpur Prison and shared the gospel. Mr. Yohan Malchi knows about it.

    1. Yes Gilbert you did lot of evangelism work and also prison ministry. It was indeed good time with you and your zeal for the outreach...