Shimla-The Capital History Notes

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  • Origin of the name Shimla– a great dispute over it. There are many accounts to support its birth.
  • One account says, it was derived from ‘Shyamalaya‘ which means ‘Blue house‘ built of blue slates and located on the top of Jakhu hills by a faqir.
  • According to other account- the present name (Shimla) is taken from the local words ‘Shumlah’, ‘Shimlu’ or ‘Shemla’.
  • According to one account, other meaning of Shimla is blue female (another name for goddess Kali).
  • It is said that- there was a temple of goddess Kali, near to the ROTHNEY CASTLE, Jakhu.
  • It is during the British time, the image of Goddess Kali was removed from this temple and placed at present site of Kali Bari.
  • Keeping in view various facts, the account of goddess Kali appears to be the most genuine and original one because people of this area and the ruling chiefs are worshippers of Shakti and Shiva.
  • Shimla history begins from the time of Anglo-Gurkha war in early 19th century.
  • As it was summer capital of India, English officials came here to escape from heat but also from native culture of the plains.
  • The Mall‘, a crescent shaped promenade was according to vivid description reserved for the ‘Europeans’.
  • In day time, no load carrying porter was allowed to enter here. But in the night time, some relief was provided.
  • 1st reference of Shimla– comes in 1817 from the diary of the Scottish Officers (Brothers), Lt. Patrik and Alexander Gerrad.
  • According to the earliest available records it was a part of the Keonthal State in the end of 18th century.
  • British came here after the battle of Sikhs and Gurkhas in 1808-09 AD.
  • The Sikhs drove Gurkhas deep into the hills of the Satluj Valley.

Shimla under the British

  • According to the British version, due to the Gurkhas terror local ruler invited the British to provide protection and security against the Gurkhas.
  • To save the hills from Gurkhas, British send a small force under Major General Sir David Ochterlony.
  • With the support of local hill chiefs, they finally defeated the Gurkhas near the fort of Malaon. (Battle on 15th May 1815)
  • Gurkha leader ‘Bhagta Thapa‘ was killed in the battle and the fort was captured by British.
  • After the battle, British raised the first Gurkhas Rifles in the Malaon Fort.
    Nasiri Battalion‘ was posted at the forts of ‘Subathu’, ‘Kotgarh’, ‘Ramgarh’, and ‘Sandoch’ retained by the British.
  • After the battle, all hill chieftains were restored with their land under the British protection.
  • The Patiala Maharaja provided invaluable services and was rewarded land near Shimla.
  • ‘TREATY OF SANGAULI’ was signed between Gurkha and British. The strategic forts of Subathu, Kotgarh, Ramgarh and Sandoch was retained by British.
  • In 1819 AD, Lt Ross (political agent of hill states), set up first British residence made of wood.
  • In 1822, the 1st pucca house was built by Lt. Charles Patt kennedy(successor of Lt Ross).
  • A building named ‘Kennedy House‘ is still present in Shimla town. In this building, certain government offices are located.
  • In 1827, Governor-General Lord Amherst visited Shimla after the Bharatpur campaign. There he stayed in the Kennedy House for two months. After this visit, the tales of Shimla began spreading far.
  • In the next year, Lord Comberemere, Commander-in-Chief of British forces-constructed a 3-mile road near Jakhu hill.
  • Also a wooden bridge near a nullah was first kind of development by British.
  • In 1829, a house was constructed for visit of Governor-General Lord Bentick to Shimla.
  • In 1830, government acquired more land from the Keonthal and Patiala.
  • In 1832, Shimla became favourite place of high officers during summer months.
  • When Lord Bentick was in Shimla, he received a mission from Maharaja Ranjit Singh and through this mission a meeting was arranged at Ropar was arranged.
  • In 1838, Lord Auckland received another mission from Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
  • ‘ANNADALE’– a flat semi-circular amphitheater, was a readymade play and recreation ground.
  • In September 1833- at ‘Annadale’- the first fun fair was held to raise funds for girls school at Subathu.
  • In 1888– the annual Durand Football tornament which is inaugurated by Sir Mortimer Durand.
  • In 1838– the disastrous decision to invade Afghanistan was taken in the ‘AUCKLAND HOUSE’ (Governor General’s house).
  • Interestingly, after the 4 years, this descision was criticized in the same room of Auckland by Lord Ellenborough.
  • Major Kennedy for the first time introduced the potato cultivation in Shimla hills which proved agriultural revolution in HP.
  • According to the data of Shimla District Gazetteer- in 1830- 30 houses, in 1840- 100 houses, in 1866- 290 houses and in 1881- 1141 houses.
  • ‘TOWNSEND’, ‘ABERGELDIE HOUSE’ and ‘COTTAGE’ (Tital Hotel) was a hotel in the 1860s.
  • On 24th May 1839, in honour of the Queen’s birthday, the Viceregal dance was actually held at “Annadale”.
  • Due to growing size of Shimla, administrative changes were made by government in 1841.
  • Also, the Political Agent was made Deputy Commissioner of Shimla and Superintendent of the Shimla Hill States.
  • In 1839, death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, provided direct opportunity to Lord Dalhousie to annex Punjab within a decade.
  • Kasauli and Kalka was made a military station in 1842, in 1843 Jutogh was made cantonment and in 1847 Dagshai was also made another cantonment.
  • In 1847, in Sanawar(near Kasauli) ‘LAWRENCE ASYLUM’(hospital) was founded.
  • In 1861, ‘Solan’ was acquired as a rifle practice ground for troops stationed at Kasauli.
  • In 1842, Lord ‘Ellenborough’ visited Shimla.
  • In 1846, Lord ‘Hardinge’ visited Shimla.
  • For a safe level road between cantonment of Jutogh to Shimla funds were approved by Lord Ellenborough.
  • ‘Colonel John Theophilis Boileau’ designed the Christ Church at Shimla and St. George at Agra.
  • Lord Hardinge also attended the foundation stone ceremony of Christ Church.
  • Lord Comberemere was the first Commander-in Chief of Indian Army who came to Shimla.
  • Lord William Bentick’s Castle was built by himself and known as ‘Bentick Castle’. Later it was made a residence of Commander-in-Chief.
  • Mr. Barrett open Shimla’s first billiard room and racquet court and to become a founder member of the old Shimla Bank (now Grand Hotel), which was first mooted in 1845 after a dinner party.
  • From 1849-51, Dalhousie was at Shimla during annexation of Punjab.
  • Dalhuousie’s visit to Bushahr led him to re examine the possibility of trade route to Tibet envisioned during Gurkhas wars.
  • After this, ‘Hindustan and Tibet Road’ was constructed which was started from Kalka. First part of this road was built in 1850-51.
  • With the growing popularity of Shimla around 15 to 20 thousand villagers serve as ‘porters’ and ‘coolies in accordance with ‘custom of begar’.
  • Begar was abolished by Edwards, Shimla’s Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent of Hill States from 1847 till 1852.
  • But during the period of William Hay, begar was restarted under pressure from European community.
  • Edward opened a Central School at Shimla and other schools in the district at Jubbal, Kotkhai, Bharauli and Baghat.
  • In 1848, Edward planned a market, called the Gunj (Later on named as Edward Gunj).
  • Lord Canning visited the Shimla in 1860.
  • He was succeeded by Lord Elgin, but soon died in 1863.
  • In 1863, John Lawrence was appointed Viceroy after the death of Lord Elgin.
    In 1864, Shimla became the summer capital of the British Raj in India.
  • The decision to maintain Army Headquarters permanently in Shimla was taken in view of Shimla’s strategic location regarding Punjab and North-West.
  • In 1850, Shimla Muncipality was created- mentioned in E.J. Buck’s book ‘Shimla Past and Present’.
  • ‘The Himalayan Advertisers’ and ‘The Shimla Advertisers’ were the two local newspapers then published.
  • Colonel Robert Tytler founded the Shimla museum- ‘Bonnie Moon‘.
  • Lord Lytton was not happy with residence at Peterhoff provided to Viceroy.
  • In 1877, he selected a site on the summit of Observatory Hill in the Western part of Shimla for the new residence.
  • It was only in 1885 that Lord Dufferin revived the plans made for Observatory Hill site and approved it with certain modifications.
  • The Dufferin moved into the Viceregal Lodge on 23rd July 1888, few months before his departure.
  • The first to reside in Viceregal Lodge was Lord Dufferin, however, Lord Lytton gave the idea of building Viceregal Lodge. (Important for exams)
  • Hume resigned from service at the age of 50 and settled down at the ‘Rothney Castle’ at Shimla.
  • The idea of forming Indian National Congress was suggested by Hume at Rothney Castle. He left India in 1892 but returned two years later to attend the Lahore session.
  • When Hume was in England, he still work for the Congress until he died in 1912 when he was 83 years old.
  • The proposal for ‘Town Hall’ on the Ridge came in 1880 from several English residents. The Town Hall was completed in 1888. It was designed by ‘Henry Irwin’ in the ‘Gothic style‘, ‘The Gaiety theatre’, which stands till date, was opened in 1887.
  • Time Will Tell”- is the 1st play in the Gaiety theatre.
  • Lord Curzon (1899-1905) completed the construction of Kalka-Shimla railway under the supervision of Chief Engineer, ‘Mr. ‘H.S. Harrington’.
  • The longest tunnel was the ‘Barog Tunnel’ being 1143.61 meters in length(total tunnels-103).
  • The railway line was opened for traffic on 31st March 1891 and the passenger train was flagged off only on oth November 1903.
  • THE UNITED SERVICES CLUB was opened in 1844, and was finally liquidated in December 1947.
  • With a capital of Rs. 50,000, the Alliance Bank of Shimla was started in 1874.
  • The British traders on the Mall were affiliated to the ‘Punjab Traders Association with headquarters at Lahore. ‘Shimla Cooperative Association’ was set up in 1882.
  • Shimla’s Municipal Committee (MC) was 1st constituted in 1852 according to the provisions of the government of India Act of December 1850.
  • In 1855, MC was provided with a new constitution.
  • In 1864, when the offices of the government of India moved formally to Shimla.
  • In 1871, under the 1867 Act, Shimla was made a first class municipality.
  • Shimla’s first Secretary to MC was ‘Harace Bioleau Good‘.
  • Elections under the new constitution were held on 1st August 1883. A.O. Hume was elected and became Vice-President of the Municipal Committee.
  • The project of the Town Hall was initiated in 1883 and completed in 1885.
  • The foundation stone of the ‘RIPPON HOSPITAL’ was laid on Oct 1882 and completed in 1885. It was designed like ‘Town Hall by ‘Henry Irwin‘.
  • In September 1921, the Government gave in and begar was abolished in Shimla district.

Mahatma Gandhi in Shimla

During freedom struggle, Mahatma Gandhi (MG) made several visits to Shimla. On various issues, he met Viceroys and participated in various meetings.

First visit

  • In May 12, 1921, MG- came- Shimla- meeting-Viceroy Lord Reading.
  • MG- speech- at Idgah Maidan- 15000 people.
  • stayed at Shanti Kutir, Summer Hill(Shimla).
  • MG- accompanied by Lala Lajpat Rai and Pandit Mohan Malviya.

Second visit

  • In 1931, MG- meeting- Lord Willington (1931-36)- breaking of peace related acts between Indian freedom fighter and British government.

Third visit

  • Again, in 1931- have discussion with Lord Willington.

Fourth visit

  • In August 1931- talk- Viceroy Lord Willington.
  • Also- discussion with George Suster (related to salt law).

Fifth visit

  • On June 28, 1940- MG- talk- Viceroy Lord Linlithgow- on conditions of 2nd World War and India’s favor.

Sixth visit

  • From 27-30 September, 1940 Mahatma Gandhi stayed in Shimla.
  • MG- informed Viceroy- that war is being forced on the Indian masses.

Seventh visit

  • During June 13, 1945 to July 17, 1945 MG- in conference gathered by Lord Wavell- to reconstruct Governor-General’s(G-G) Executive Council, according to Wavell’s plan (new constitution).

Eighth visit

  • During May 2-14, 1946, MG- in Cabinet Mission- in Shimla. There he also discussed on Cripps Mission.
  • On 11th May 1921, Shimla was visited by Mahatma Gandhi. There he stayed at Shanti Kutir (Summer Hill).
  • On 15th May, a Sunday morning, Gandhiji addressed an overflow meeting attended by 15,000 people at the Idgah.
  • Gandhiji was accompanied by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya and Lala Lajpat Rai, who utilised the visit to collect funds for the ‘Tilak Swaraj Fund’and to spread the message of “Swaraj in Shimla.
  • From July 1942 to 1945, the headquarter of the exiled Burma government was in Shimla.
  • Boundary Commission’s (Radcliffe) last meeting was held in the United Services Club.
  • Peterhoff– a former residence of the Viceroys of India, later became the High Court of Punjab.
  • Interestingly, it was the site where the trial of Gandhiji’s killers was conducted.
  • From 1st November 1966, Shimla came under Himachal Pradesh.
  • ‘Ellerslie’ and the ‘Barnes Court’ which was called Himachal Bhawan.
  • In 1972, a pact was signed between the India and Pakistan which is known as ‘Shimla Pact’.
  • Viceregal Lodge– renamed as- Imperial Government’s Secretariat.
  • ‘Barnes Court’– is now the temporary residence of the Governor of HP.
  • ‘Rothney Castle’– residence of the Mr. A.O. Hume, has been converted into a luxury hotel.
  • ‘Peterhoff’– was totally destroyed in a major fire in 1981.
  • Victory Tunnel– commenced in 1945 at the end of World War-II.

Read Also: Shimla Hill States History Notes

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