Craword Hall is one of the most iconic buildings in the Heritage City of Mysuru. Now, with the founder of University of Mysore Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar’s statue that was installed during the Centenary Celebrations of the University, hardly anyone passes by without offering pranams to the great builder of institutions. However, very little was known about the Crawford brothers who donated a sum of Rs. one lakh those days for the construction of the Hall. Biddanda Samrat Chengapa, an advertising professional, who owns the Hirvate Estate in Sakleshpur, earlier owned by Crawford, managed to get in touch with the descendants of Crawfords in England on Ancestry.com. Samrat, who lives in Bengaluru with his wife Trupti Chengapa and son Biddanda Arman Chengapa divides his time between Bengaluru and Sakleshpur. Star of Mysore Features Editor N. Niranjan Nikam, in this fascinating tale, traces the people connected with the Crawfords.
“It is the little we can do in return to the ‘kindly land’ where we went as boys. I had just turned 18 years old and my brother one year younger. We both came out as junior assistants to learn about coffee. After landing in Madras we went directly by rail to Mysore and later by road to Hassan; the journey was five days long. What vast changes and enormous progress has taken place in the State since then. I am indeed glad to have been privileged to have seen all the progress and recall many pleasant days I have from time to time spent in Mysore City.”
–Lt Col. W.L. Crawford, in a letter dated October 10, 1944.
By N. Niranjan Nikam
As one drives on Krishnaraja Boulevard Road past Maharaja’s College and the Oriental Research Institute (ORI), the eyes keep popping out looking at the Heritage buildings. The visual effects do not stop and it continues till the eyes get arrested at the magnificent colonnaded structure—the ‘Crawford Hall’—the administrative building of the century-old University of Mysore.
It was during the Centenary Celebrations of the University of Mysore that a few closely associated with the year-long event decided to find out about the person after whose name the builders is named. Except for some sketchy reports, sadly there was nothing much available on record. Everyone knew that Lt. Col. W.L. Crawford and his brother, Lt. Col. C.S. Crawford were coffee planters who owned vast estates in Sakleshpur and Chikmagalur. It is also known that the Crawford brothers donated a sum of Rs. one lakh for the construction of a building for the intermediate college for women in Mysore city in the year 1944.
As they had not imposed any condition with their donation, the funds were instead used to build a hall that could be used for Convocation and administrative office.
It was also known that the Crawfords owned the Hirvate estate in Sakleshpur. That is where the trail of Crawfords ended. Only as the centenary celebrations were coming to an end did this writer chance to meet the current owner of the Hirvate estate — the affable Samrat Chengapa.
It was a fascinating meeting, as it turned out, that the descendants of the Crawford brothers were coming to visit the Hirvate estate in November last. How did this connection happen?
“I was curious to trace the Crawfords as the Hirvate estate has lots of history and I wanted to find out about their descendants. I have the complete Will of Lt. Col. William Lotus Carlton Crawford. He had bequeathed most of his property to his two nieces, Helen Gladys and Sheila Wheeler, both cousins. Except for this, it was zero results to trace them,” said Samrat, speaking to Star of Mysore.
It was then that Samrat’s manager found out about the Ancestry.com, which helps discover your family history. He contacted Kay a Scottish lady of Ancestry.com. She connected with the Parish in Devon, England. By sheer coincidence, James Robert Francis Lake, the great grand nephew of W.L. Crawford, who had registered just one week before saw the post from Samrat and connected. The rest, as they say, is history.
“Just like James, I also believe that there were some forces at play that connected us. Because, James had thought that the message which asked if there was anyone out there related to the Crawfords in India was a spam and was about to delete it. Today we are the best of friends,” said Samrat.
James and his father David Clamont Crawford Lake, the grand nephew of Crawford came to Hirvate Estate, Sakleshpur, in November of 2016. Their joy knew no bounds as they stepped into the vast estate that was once owned by their ancestor, the Crawfords. David is the son of Helen Gladys, niece of Crawford.
Star of Mysore caught up with the Crawfords at the Hirvate estate during their visit. When they were told about the Crawford Hall, they were overjoyed and keen to see the building named after their ancestor. Both David and James, who were on a very short visit, were simply overawed at the magnificent edifice and moved to tears to see the photo of W.L. Crawford at the entrance to the Hall. “It is so well maintained,” they exclaimed.