Author interview: C.P. Belliappa (‘Victoria Gowramma – The Lost Princess of Coorg’)

In a quiet corner of the Brompton Cemetery in London lies a 19th century grave partially covered by the undergrowth. The graceful stone cross above it is slightly broken, but the epitaph composed by Queen Victoria can still be read: “Sacred to the memory of the Princess Victoria Gouramma (sic), daughter of the ex-Raja of Coorg…”

That’s where the strange and tragic tale of Victoria Gowramma, the princess from Coorg who was raised Christian and became Queen Victoria’s goddaughter, ended in 1864. But her story has come to light again in all its fascinating detail thanks to C.P. Belliappa’s rigorously researched book ‘Victoria Gowramma: The Lost Princess of Coorg’, which was recently launched in the city.

“Historical writings on Coorg – mostly gazetteers by the British who lived there during the 19th century – mention the story of Gowramma and her father, the exiled Raja Veerarajendra in a paragraph or two,” says Belliappa, author of ‘Tale of a Tiger’s Tail & Other Yarns from Coorg’ and ‘Nuggets from Coorg History’. “But the details were never there, and I got more and more inquisitive.”

His big break came when he accidentally stumbled upon three books written in the 19th century by people who know both the raja and his daughter. “I was able to download them – for free! – from www.archive.org, where old books are digitised and uploaded,” he said. “They were authentic, firsthand accounts, and comprised 75 per cent of the information I needed.”

The rest he found from the digital archives of the Times London – reports of court functions and events that contained all sorts of interesting titbits of information.

‘Victoria Gowramma…’ traces the intriguing series of events surrounding the princess’ journey to England with her father in 1852, and her difficult and often lonely life there subsequently. The various threads include the exiled raja’s attempts to reclaim the wealth the British took from him (his reason for taking Gowramma to England in the first place), and the grand plans by Queen Victoria to match-make between Gowramma and another young royal convert to Christianity, Maharaja Duleep Singh of Punjab.

“Queen Victoria believed that if two royals converted to Christianity were married, and their children were born Christian, it would encourage more of their subjects to convert,’ says Belliappa. “What’s interesting is that although the plan didn’t work, the queen continued to be fond of Gowramma to the very end.”

The book, then, is more than just a portrait of a princess; it gives you a glimpse into the political and religious power dynamics of the time. With its wealth of primary sources, it’s a solid historical work, though Belliappa admits that he was very tempted to go the historical fiction route. “I gave it a lot of thought, and decided finally that the facts themselves were so sensational that they didn’t need fictionalising,” he says.

Since the book’s release in England last year, the author has uncovered even more interesting nuggets of information – for instance, after a bit of detective work, he’s discovered that direct descendants of Gowramma live on to this day in Australia.

“I have enough material to add at least an epilogue in future editions of the book,” he says. “It’s been a very exciting time.”

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13 Comments

Filed under Articles, Books, Madras

13 responses to “Author interview: C.P. Belliappa (‘Victoria Gowramma – The Lost Princess of Coorg’)

  1. C.P. Belliappa

    Hi! Divya,
    Pleased to send you musical composition –‘Lost Princess’ – composed by David Wilson which is inspired by my book on Victoria Gowramma. It’s fusion music with Inder Goldfinger on the tabla. This was part of a lecture –Allegories of Power–organized by Dr. Nima Poovaya-Smith at the Cartwright Hall, Bradford. David has given the link to your interview as well.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AoghWB8i5E0&feature=youtube_gdata

  2. A big Hello to you Sir .
    At the very outset i send my greatest appreciation for the literary works you have given to History lovers like me …
    i am compiling a book on plantation history and the kind of links relating to the history of plantation destinations like Coorg is a great find , the works on the life of Gowramma and Chikkaveer rajendra is a treasure trove for us.
    love to meet you and request for a few lines in my book .I will be in Coorg soon .Shall try to get prior appointment .
    all the best in all your future works …

  3. Sahan

    Actually this is about nuggets of coorg history, after reading the entire book im just left with one doubt though all rajas of Coorg from Haleri dynasity followed the coorg culture, they are basically lingayats right? so that mean dodda veerarajendra, chikka veerarajendra,princess Gowramma are all lingayats??

  4. It is good to read about this period of history. What interests me is the story of Gouramma’s sister Gangamma who was married to Maharajah Jung Bahadur of Nepal and came to Nepal. History books here do not give a clear picture of what happened to her.

    • I have been following this history for over 25 years and is very enchanted about it. I am also exploring some Indian existing family connection and trying to seek confirmation on the same. Greatfull for your indepth efforts to find out more.– s. s. bellihal.

  5. Dr. Basavaraj Naikar

    Dear Dr. C.P.Belliappa, I have just now bought ur book on Victoria Gowramma. I wish to be in touch with you. Hope you won’t mind sharing some thoughts and ideas with me in future.
    Dr. Basavaraj Naikar
    Professor Emeritus of English
    Karnatak University, Dharwad 580003
    bsnaikar@yahoo.com
    Mobile:09591472345

  6. Robert Yardley

    Dear Dr. C.P.Belliappa, I have recently been told of your research into the past life of Princess Gowramma of Coorg, who I believe could be my great-great grandmother. My father’s name was Robert Stewart Rajendra Yardley.
    and i can remember a genealogy book of my family under the title of “The Campbells of Kinlock”. I could supply further details of the Yardley family, if you are interested.
    Robert Henry Yardley

    • Dear Robert, i am a uk based historian researching the story of maharajah duleep singh who was to marry princess gouramma. I recently obtained documents relating to edith Yardley and her son Henry victor yardley. I have been trying to contact decendants of your family and even have the kinloch book written by edith dalhousie login which you mention and many of the login family papers relating to india. Lady kogin as you may know was guardian to your ancestor princess gouramma. Could you please email me on princeduleep@yahoo.co.uk
      Would love to open communication.
      Many thanks
      peter bance

    • Dear Robert, i have spent 20 years researching prince duleep singh and princess gowramma. Would like to share some research. Would you be so kind to email me on princeduleep@yahoo.co.uk

      Thanks
      Peter Bance

  7. Dear Mr Robert Henry Yardley,

    I am very pleased to see your message on Ms Divya Kumar’s blog. If truth be told, I have been looking for you!

    Please do get in touch with me at my e-mail: bellicp@yahoo.com

    My book: ‘Victoria Gowramma the Lost Princess of Coorg ‘was first published in 2010. Recently an updated edition has been published, which has some very rare photographs of Princess Victoria Gowramma and her daughter Edith Victoria.

    Look forward to exchanging notes with you. Best wishes.

    CP Belliappa

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