Knowing more about Jim Corbett, the man who saved Indian wildlife


Knowing more about Jim Corbett, the man who saved Indian wildlife  (22)

Welcome to the Jim Corbett house which is now a museum. In Summer season its opened from 8 am to 6 pm and in winter season its opened from 9 am to 5 pm. Entry fees for Indian is Rs. 10, for foreigner its Rs. 50 and for Indian students its Rs. 3.

Jim Corbett’s Choti Haldwani

“Often as I walked along its path as the sun went down with the evening light on the ripening corn and the blue hills in the background. I would think there could not be a more beautiful village in the world.” So wrote Maggie, Jim Corbett’s sister, about the village of Choti Haldwani.

Corbett had bought forty acres of land in 1917 and let it out to 10-15 families. He called this village ‘Choti Haldwani’ and took initiative for the welfare of its residents. He built houses for the tenants, arranged irrigation canals and had a wall raised around the village to protect crops and villagers from wild animals.

For Jim, the villagers were like a family, and he often celebrated local festivals with them. When he left for Kenya, Jim did not sell off Choti Haldwani but instead distributed the land among the villagers as gesture of his affection and generosity towards them.

Jim Corbett’s House

This bungalow (you see in pictures) was built by Jim Corbett in 1922. Built tastefully in stone and lime mortar, this house served as a winter home for Jim and his sister Maggie for a long time. The compound of the house is spread over 1.65 hectares (22 bighas) and has a similar architecture as Jim’s summer home at Nainital.

During Corbett’s time, a small canal supplied clear, pure water for a stream for household use and for watering the garden and orchard that surround this beautiful building.

When Corbett left for Kenya in 1947 he sold this property to Chiranjee Lal. Later, in 1965 then Forest Minister, Charan Singh requested Lal to sell it to the Forest Department to make it into a museum dedicated to Jim Corbett.

About Jim’s Mother, Mary Jane Corbett-

Born in 1837, Mary Jane first marred Doyle at the age of seventeen. She was a mother of three children when Doyle died in the Battle of Harchandpore in 1858. May Jan managed to escape with her children from Agra fort and moved to Mussoorie. Here, she married again in 1859 and her second husband was Christopher Corbett, of whom Jim was born.

The Corbett family shifted to Nainital in 1862, coming one of the first Britishers to colonise the hill station. Mary Jane now had a family of thirteen to support. This enterprising lady foresaw business opportunity in the growing town of Nainital and set up a house rental agency. She was one of the seniormost citizens of Nainital and was well-respected. May Jane lived to a ripe old age of 90.

About Jim’s Father, Christopher William Corbett-

Christopher W. Corbett, was born in 1822 at Merrut. He joined the Army and at the age of 21 became Assistant Apothecary with the Horse Artillery Regiment.

Christopher married Mary Anne Marrow in 1845. Three years later he quit the Army and joined Postal service at Mussoorie. Here in 1859 he married Mary Jane – a second for both of them. Christopher was transferred in 1862, so he and his family moved to Nainital after an eventful month-long journey over the hills.

He stayed at Nainital until his death in 1881, when Jim was little boy of six. He was buried at St. John’s Church cemetery in Nainital.

About Jim’s Sister, Margret Corbett-

Margret Corbett, better known as ‘Maggie’ was one year elder to Jim. She was more than a loving sister to him; she was also Jim’s closest companion, especially in old age. Jim, too, was equally attached to her, as we discover in his books. They spent most of their times together in Nainital and Kaladhungi.

Maggie was fond of nature and loved to watch and feed birds from their house. Although a quiet person, she was a social worker and was on the governing bodies of All Saints School, Nainital; Girl Guides Association and YMCA. Maggie also taught piano to youngsters.

She died in 1963 at 89 and her ashes were placed besides her beloved brother Jim’s grave in Kenya.

About Jim Corbett-

Edward James Corbett, known to the world as Jim Corbett was born on 25th July 1875 in Nainital. He was the eighth child of Christopher and Mary Jane Corbett. Jim grew up in Nainital and received his education here, while winters were spent in Kaladhungi. Since both these places were richly endowed with wilderness, Jim became a wonderful naturalist with a keen love for the wild.

After completing his secondary education Jim served in the Railways and then in the Army. He eventually returned to Nainital and Kaladhungi, a period that dominates his writings. A great hunter, naturalist and author that he was, Jim as above all a simple and generous person.

Jim never married and spend much of his life with Maggie. After Independence Jim and his sister Maggie decided to migrate to Kenya in 1947. Most of Jim’s books were published while in Kenya and this is where he died in 1955.

Jim Corbett today has become an icon synonymous with wildlife and nature.

Jim worked for the Railways-

Not many people know that Jim Corbett served in the Railways for almost twenty-five years. After his matriculation Jim wanted to become an engineer, but he had to take care of his brothers and sisters and was compelled to take up a job. So, in 1892 he joined the Bengal North-Western Railways as a Fuel Inspector. He then served as Assistant Station Master and Storekeeper before becoming a Transshipment Inspector. Thereafter he became a labour contractor and managed the transfer of good between broad and meter gauge lines.

Jim’s tenure with the Railways was based at Mokameh Ghat in Bihar and he worked there until 1917. Even when he was in the Railways, Jim continued to visit Kaladhungi and Nainital and killed three notorious man-eaters during this period.

Jim worked for the Army-

During the First World War, Jim Corbett enlisted with the Army as a Captain. In 1917 he raised a labour corps of 500 Kumaonis and was sent to France where he served well and, on his return, was promoted to Major. The following year Jim was dispatched t Afghanisthan and Waziristan.

Jim’s association with the Army continued even after the end of the First World War. In 1944 the British Crown gave him a special appointment to train soldiers in jungle craft during the Second World War. Subsequent to this, Corbett was made a Colonel for his services to the Army.

Jim as a businessman-

During his lifetime, Jim Corbett was associated with several business enterprises. He inherited a firm called ‘F.E.G. Matthews & Company’ and from 1921 onwards this company expanded from a shop to a contract agency. It even served as an auctioneering firm for some time.

Jim was also an agriculturist. He purchased 40 acres of farmland in Kaladhungi (called Choti Haldwani) for Rs. 1,400. He also invested in a coffee plantation in Kenya in partnership with one of his friends.

In Kenya, Jim operated a tour company by the name of Safari Land. Apart from this, Corbett owned a lot of real estate in Nainital. Many of his houses still exist in the hill station even today.

A slayer of man-eaters

Growing up in Nainital and Kaladhungi, the forest became a second home to Corbett. He knew the ways of the jungle so well that he could know just by looking at the signs that was happening in the forest. These skills were put to good use during Jim’s career as a slayer of Man-eaters.

By and by Jim acquired such reputation that people from near and far came to request him to free them from the terror of a man-eating tiger or leopard. Most of his hunts for man-eaters involved difficult treks over mountains and demanded intense patience and constant alertness.

During his lifestyle Jim is believed to have killed 50 tigers and more than 250 leopards.

Man-eaters of Kumaon shot by Jim Corbett

  1. Champawat Man-eater shot in 1907 near Champawat
  2. Mukteshwar Man-eater shot in 1910 near Mukteshwar
  3. Panar Man-eater shot in 1910 near Sanaull
  4. Rudraprayag Man-eater shot in 1926 near Gulab Ral
  5. Tallades Man-eater shot in 1929 near Tallakota
  6. Chowgarh Man-eater shot in 1929 near Kalagarh
  7. Mohan Man-eater shot in 1931 near Kath-kl-nula
  8. Kanda Man-eater shot in 1933 near Kanda
  9. Chuka Man-eater shot in 1937 near Thak
  10. Thak Man-eater shot in 1938 near Thak

Jim as a writer-

Corbett’s writings continue to thrill readers even today, more than half a century after publication. The stories that he wrote not only narrate his adventures but provide a good introduction to Indian Wildlife for a lay person.

Jim’s first story – ‘Tne Pipal Pani Tiger’ – appeared in ‘The Hog Hunter’s Annual’ in 1931. This was followed by an introduction to the wildlife of the region written by him for ‘Review of the Week’ in 1932.

Corbett’s first book was called Jungle Stories, of which only 100 copies were printed in 1935. However, he shot to fame after the release of Man-Eaters of Kumaon in 1944. This book became immensely popular and was translated into nine languages.

Jim used to type out his manuscripts himself and often sought editorial advice from Maggie.

Books written by Jim Corbett

  1. Man-Eaters of Kumaon in 1944
  2. Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag in 1948
  3. My India in 1952
  4. Jungle Lore in 1953
  5. The Temple Tiger & More Man-Eaters of Kumaon in 1954
  6. Tree Tops in 1955

Corbett in Kenya-

Jim and Maggie decided to leave India in 1947 for Kenya. They had friends, relatives and property there and knew the country well. Moreover, Kenya was rich in wildlife, something that Corbett cherished.

Corbett travelled from Bombay to African town of Mombassa. They finally settled down in a place called Nyeri, in Kenya. Jim called his cottage ‘Tree Tops’. Wildlife continued to be central to Jim’s life in Kenya. He operated a nature tour company called ‘Safari Land.’ He was made Honorary Game Warden and had the distinction of accompanying Queen Elizabeth when she visited Kenya in 1952.

But Corbett’s health was failing and he had to be hospitalizes thrice. Jim succumbed to a heart failure on 19th April 1955 and his body was laid to rest in the cemetery of St. Peter’s Anglican Church at Nyeri.

A master of many trades-

Most people know Corbett as a legendary hunter and writer but there was much more to him. Jim was also a pioneer wildlife photographer during his time. Not only did he take excellent still pictures but also shot wonderful footage of wildlife on a cine-camera. He often held talks along with film and slide shows to spread awareness regarding wildlife amongst the general public.

Jim was a wonderful taxidermist and skinned and stuffed his animals himself.

Corbett also had an artistic bent. He liked to paint and his favourite subject was nature, especially birds. He was also an able carpenter.

This is not all, Jim was also good at playing musical instruments, including the guitar, banjo and flute.

Jim’s concern for nature-

Jim Corbett was not a cold-blooded hunter; he was a naturalist with great concern for forests and wildlife.

As a member of the Nainital Municipality he proposed a bird sanctuary for Nainital. He campaigned for the protection of fish and framed by laws for fish conservation.

While heading the Public Works Committee, Corbett discouraged cutting of trees. He noted the destruction being caused by goats grazing in forests and proposed measures to curb this damage.

Corbett founded the Wildlife Preservation Society at Nyeri, Kenya and served as its secretary for a long time.

A Generous man-

Corbett was very generous person and helped people whenever he could. When serving in the Railways he treated labourers as equals and shared most of his income with them. He opened a school at Mokameh Ghat for the children of coolies and labourers.

Jim was always ready to provided first aid and medicines to needy villagers when they came for help.

Another incident that brings out Corbett’s kindness was he freed Budhu, bonded labourer, from the clutches of money-lender by paying off his entire debts.

Corbett’s Indian Associates-

  • Bahadur Shah Khan: He was a headman of Choti Haldwani and spend more time with Corbett than any other of his Indian associates. Khan acted as Jim’s top bearer, fellow shikari and at times, his advisor when they went hunting. He even assisted Corbett in taking photographs of wild animals. Corbett and Bahadur Khan together executed some of the greatest tiger drives in Kaladhungi.
  • Kunwar Singh: He was a famous poacher who operated in the forests of Kaladhungi. He was Jim’s antithesis and Corbett learnt from him what not to do while in the jungle.
  • Moti and Panua: Moti was trusted and loyal servant to Jim. He first met Corbett as a young peasant in the Kaladhungi countryside and later used to accompany him on hunting and fishing trips to the forests. Moti’s son, Panua, also picked up jungle skills and became reliable companion to Corbett.
  • Ram Singh: He was Corbett’s faithful bearer who served him right up to the time when left for Kenya. As a gesture of thanks Jim gave him a piece of land in Kaladhungi and arranged a standing payment of Rs. 10 per month for Singh.
  • Dhanban Goswami: Dhanban together with his son, Panwan, assisted Corbett on several hunts in the jungle. Panwan’s son, Devban is still alive and owns a small shop near the museum at Kaladhungi and loves to imitate Jim.

Corbett’s British Associates-

  • Lord Linlithglow: Linlithglow was the Viceroy of British India from 1936 to 1942. He became friend of Jim when the latter organized three tiger hunts for him. They became lifelong friends and spend a good time together on various jungle trips.
  • Lord Malcolm Hailey: Hailey was the Governor of United Provinces in 1930’s who was responsible for setting up India’s first national park. For this, he sought advice from Jim Corbett and they became friends. He also shared common interests with Jim, liked hunting, angling and playing golf.
  • F.W. Champion: Champion was an eminent Forest Officer who serves at many places in Kumaon and Garhwal forests. He was a great naturalist like Jim and they both loved wildlife photography and film making. Champion wrote many articles on wildlife and animal behavior.
  • Major Henry Ramsay: Commissioner of Kumaon put the brakes on rampant exploitation of forests. He introduced strict protection and scientific management top help the degraded forests recover and regenerated.

Close relations of Corbett with his tenants-

Chhoti Haldwani and its residents, vividly described in Corbett’s books, are an integral part of Jim Corbett folklore. The villagers helped Corbett to organize shikar expedition. Bahadur Khan, the village headman for over thirty years, was a helping hand, companion shikari and advisor to Corbett.

Corbett did not charge any free from his tenants nor accepted any agricultural produce in kind. Corbett developed agriculture, provided medical aid and settled disputes. He even occasionally shot Sambhar and Spotted Deer for his tenants and rid them of cattle lifters.

The festival of Baisakhi was celebrated in the village with much fanfare. The villagers joined Corbett and Maggie on Christmas and when Corbett’s friend Lat Sahad Lord Linlinthgrow came to Kaladhungi, the tenants of Chhoti Haldwani were the privileged few shook hands with the viceroy.

If don’t bestir ourselves now, it will be to our discredit that the fauna of our province was exterminated in our generation and under our very eyes, while we looked on and never raised a finger to prevent it

– Jim Corbett

A National Park called Corbett-

Corbett played an important role in the formation of the first national part to be set up in India. The park came into existence in 1936 and was then called Hailey National Park after Lord Malcolm Hailey, the then Governor of United Provinces.

In 1952, it was renamed ‘Ramganga National Park’ but the name did not stay for long. In 1957, it was declared as “Corbett National Park” in honour of Jim Corbett.

Corbett National Park is a pioneer park aiming to conserve wilderness, just like the man whose name it carries.

A flagship tiger reserve-

The tiger faces a serious decline in population after India’s independence because large tracts of forests land was cleared to make way for agriculture. In 1972, when there was only about 1,800 tigers left, the Government of India took a landmark step to save our national animal.

Project Tiger was launched in 1973 under which many areas crucial for the tiger’s survival have been declared as Tiger Reserves, Corbett Tiger Reserve was the very first tiger reserve and since 1973 has been serving as an example in the field of preservation of nature.

Awards and Recognition-

Jim Corbett was an extraordinary person and many honours were bestowed upon him during his lifetime and even afterwards.

Corbett received the volunteer’s Decoration in 1920 for his distinguished service in the Army during World War-I.

He was given ‘Freedom of the Forests’. This meant that Corbett was to be treated like a forest officer. He could enter the forest at will and was free to shoot without permission.

In 1928 Corbett was given the prestigious “Kaiser-i-Hind” award after he shot the man-eating leopard of Rudraprayag.

He was also made Honorary Magistrate and in 1942 was awarded Order of the British Empire (OBE). Corbett’s last decoration was the title of Companion of the Indian Empire (CIE), which was only awarded to exceptionally eminent persons.

The Corbett Legacy-

Jim Corbett was continued to inspire people and organizations who are concerned about nature conservation. He has the honour of having India’s first National Park being named after him.

Many of Corbett’s admirers come to visit his erstwhile home at Kaladhungi and pay tributes to the great man.

Jim’s birth centenary was celebrated with much enthusiasm. On this occasion a postage stamp was also released.

Today, several organisations associated with Jim Corbett’s name are working to keep alive his legacy.

The tiger is a large-hearted gentleman with boundless courage and when he is exterminated-as exterminated he will be unless public opinion rallies to his support-India will be the poorer by having lost the finest of his fauna.

-Jim Corbett

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Maggie, Jim's sister

Maggie, Jim’s sister

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