Nilgiris Hills, Tamil Nadu first discovered by Englishman ''John Sullivan'' - early colonial India!!

 John Sullivan, the founder of modern Nilgiris, S.India

Sullivan Memorial, near Kotagiri Tamil Nadu,

 Ooty (Udagamandalam or Udagai ) in the District of Nilgiri, Tamil Nadu, South India  is an important summer resort of India, in particular, South India. It is located 80 km in the  Nilgiris Hills from Coimbatore city.  It is being visited by thousands of people year round. It was once  the summer capital of  the Madras Presidency under the British. The very name Nilgiris refers to the bluish tinge or bluish smoky haze caused by the tall trees and flowers grown on the mountain slopes and from the distance the hills appear typically bluish. The Nilgiris hills form part of the Western Ghat Mountain chains and numerous peaks are 6000 feet above MSL. The highest peak Doddabetta is about 8650 feet (2637 meters). This area was once under the control of Ganga kings and later under Hoysala kings. Part of Ooty was under Tipu Sultan's rule where he had built hide-out places  for survival purpose in case of war waged by the English company.  

Ooty Lake.Brain child of Sullivan. Nilgiri, Tamil

Born in London on June 15, 1788, John Sullivan (15 June 1788 – 16 January 1855) was the grandson of Lawrence Sullivan, Director East India Company (EIC), son of Stephen Sullivan, British Resident at the Court of Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu) and Elizabeth Anne Forde. He joined the East India company as an officer and later became the collector of Coimbatore (1815). His wedding with   Henrietta Cecilia Harington (aged 17), daughter of Rev. William Harington (1768-1821) and Anne Collet Forde (1772-1820) took place on the 2nd of  February, 1820 in Madras.  

During his tenure as Collector of Coimbatore (TN), he developed  the  Nilgiris mountains in 1800s.  In fact, he was the founder of modern day Nilgiris hills.  This area was under the occupation of Todas, original inhabitants,  who handed over that part of the town to John Sullivan. He bought an acre of land for just one rupees  from the Toda people in 1822. Sullivan  encouraged  planting of tea, Cinchona  and teak trees on a large scale. British India company got the possession of the area  held by Tipu Sultan after the  the treaty of  Srirangapatnam in 1799. In the same year in the final Angelo-Mysore war Tipu was killed at his capital.  When John Sullivan  along with  his party  visited Nilgiri Mountain and camped at Dimbhatti, just north of Kotagiri in January 1819. Soon on January 8, 1819,  sitting in a valley (Dimbatty Valley), kissed by the clouds, Collector of Coimbatore, John Sullivan, 31, wrote to Sir Thomas Munro,  the then  Governor of Madras: “My dear Colonel, I have been in the Highlands for the last week. This is the finest country… it resembles I suppose Switzerland more than any other part of Europe… it freezes here every night, this morning we found ice in our Water chatties (clay pots).”

Bangalore Mysore. Ooty Map.

Sullivan was very much mesmerized by the beauty of this hilly place and on his second visit in May, 1819 his obsession for this place was so much that he wanted to have a house built  at Dimbhatti. It is probably  during his visit on February 22, 1821 he had a stone house built for him there with the help of locals (Todas) -  the first  ever European building   on the hills  and moved into his house in 1823. He was instrumental in establishing the Ooty Lake, besides introducing hill and horticulture crops. On his five acre property, he introduced  English vegetables such as cabbage, beetroot and carrot including potatoes. In addition, Sullivan developed various routes connecting different areas in the hills. A proper route was laid between Dimbhatti (near Kotagiri) and Coonoor in 1830-1832.

Tea plantation.Nilgiri-Dodabeta .Nilgris, Tamil Nadu

Sullivan spent much of his time here. As ill luck would have it, tragedy struck him unexpectedly and here  he lost his wife and daughter within weeks of each other. Being lonely and ageing a grieving Sullivan retired to England in 1841 along with other eight children. He died on January 16, 1855.  The Stone House,  and the oak tree which he planted are the silent spectators of Colonial period and Sullivan's active days here on the blue hills

 The Nilgiris mountains still retain the old charm and enchanting beauty and it is a nice place for relaxation and fun. The vast Botanical garden that displays a variety of roses of various hues  is an amazing place to visit.

Old home at ootry

The Oak that Sullivan planted outside Stonehouse.


01.  On the very first trail  to the Neilgherry (as the Nilgiri hills were then known)  on January 02 in 1819, Sullivan had a contingent consisting of army-men, several dozen war elephants, hundreds of dogs, ponies and two dozen English huntsmen in the front.

02.  After reaching the altitude of 100 plus feet, the ascent was so tough the party had to let loose the elephants and their heavy baggage.  

 03. One D. Venugopal, the director of Nilgiri Docu­men­­­­­­tation Cen­ter (NDC), maintains the Sullivan Memo­rial at Kotagiri and is doing great service to the younger generation in preserving the heritage of the Nilgiri mountains and the colonial legacy.

 04.  Rev. Jacome Forico, a priest, was the first European who  visited Nilgiris in 1603. 

05.  Sullivan's 225th birth anniversary was celebrated  on June 15, 2013.

06.  Incidentally, how did people travel on the steep hills? By foot, horseback, palanquin and tonga.

07. The Nilgiri had six entry points (Sispara Ghat, Mulli, Gudalur, Sigur, Coonoor and Kotagiri) at a time, unlike many hills that have just two entries.

08. The very first stone  house built by Sullivan is located within the  building  being used by the Government Arts College. He bought the land from the Toda hill tribes paying just Re 1 per acre.

 09. John Sullivan saw to it the rights and the culture of hill tribes Todas, et al were not disturbed and was friendly with them. The tribes, on their part,  were helpful to him during his stay there. And in this respect he was at odds with nasty East India officers.

10. One of his sons Henry Edward Sullivan, stepping into the shoes of his famous father and  following the family tradition, later became the collector of Coimbatore.

John Sullivan's statue,

Above image: 232 birth anniversary of John Sullivan, the founder of Ooty was celebrated on 15  June 2020. District Collector Ms. Divya was honoring the ex. Collector of Coimbatore.................


1804: Writer for the East India Company. posted to Madras. 

founder of Ooty, John Sullivan's grave in Berkshire,

1805-15: the Collector of Chinglepet.

1815-30: Permanent Collector of Coimbatore.

1819: First trip up the Nilgiri hills; built a cottage in Kotagiri.

1821: First journey up to Oodacamund.

1822: Built a Stone house. Spent the next few years there with family.

1828: Ooty became  a military cantonment and placed in charge of a commandant.

1835: Became a Senior Member of the Board of Revenue. Chose to live in Ooty.

1841: Left for England in 1841 after the death of his wife and daughter in Ooty.

1855: Died in England on January 16 at the age of 66. 
Sullivan’s grave is in the church yard of St. Lawrence, Upton-cum-Chalve, Berkshire, London. .... Part of this post is based on the Hindu article mentioned below.