The Wellington Gymkhana Club, situated at an altitude of approximately 6,000 feet nestles in the lush green hills of the Nilgiris. It was a garrison club started to offer recreation and relaxation to the garrison stationed at Wellington. However later, membership to the Club was thrown open to the civilian population of Wellington and nearby Coonoor. The Club stands on military land and pays a yearly rental to the Defence Department.
The Marquis of Tweedale, Governor of Madras, is to be remembered for his decision to establish the BARRACKS at JACKATALLA, a decision which was so greatly to benefit the social and economic status of the Nilgiris. This great decision was taken in 1843 and the hills haven’t looked back since.
1855 to 1916
The information regarding this period, however sketchy, was collected by the Rev B D Beeley, garrison chaplain of Wellington from 1921 to 1923.
In about 1855 JACKATALLA, as Wellington was then known, became a Convalescent Depot for British Troops. In 1860 JACKATALLA was renamed Wellington and the ground where the WGC now stands was levelled and a wooden pavilion erected to serve as a soldiers’ recreation ground. Maj Gen Charles Richards, the then magistrate of the Cantonment, was responsible for getting this ground ready.
A brick cricket pavilion which now forms the central part of the club was built in 1872-73. This was erected for The Hill Rangers’ Cricket Club and the money for the building was collected by The Rev J W Wynch, Chaplain of Wellington. A TODA village once stood on Hole Number One of the Golf course and when all this area was acquired the TODAS were removed and given land near Rhalia Reserve where to date they live and 7/8 families still survive. A tree with a forked branch is considered very sacred by the TODAS and one such tree stood near Hole number One. However, when the Polo ground and The Race Course were made this tree was removed with great reverence and ceremony to placate the sentiments of the TODAS.
At a General Body Meeting held in 1916 the name Wellington Gymkhana was adopted. But, it is 1873, the year when the brick cricket pavilion was completed, that is considered the founding year of the Club.
1926 to 1933
The earliest minutes recorded go back to 1926 when a General Body Meeting was convened to elect a new Committee and Col H R Goodman was unanimously elected President. Membership was restricted to Europeans only and it was only in 1943 that the W G C had its first Indian member in Col Rajkumar C Desraj Urs. Incidentally, many books presented by Col Desraj Urs to the W G C in 1943 are to be found in the Club library.
At the very first meeting of the newly elected committee on the 29 Oct 1926 that Gin samples sent in by Mr Thompson were tasted and rejected by a very merry committee! And it was decided to continue serving the Gin already in use at the Club. The All Ranks’ Poppy Day Dance just a fortnight away had appealed for contributions and it was decided to make a generous gift of a very large HAM instead of whisky as suggested by the S.S.0.
Membership rules were revised and all members living outside a radius of 6 miles from the club house were considered Non-resident members for subscription purposes only. Also, no one eligible for membership within a radius of seven miles of the club house, who was not a member, could be invited to the club as a guest. This was done to increase the membership of the club and make it more popular.
For two years running the club had been using Mrs German’s sewing machine and it was decided to exchange the club’s second-hand cooking range for the sewing machine which was a lot more useful and thus the W G C acquired its first sewing machine. Mrs German was the wife of the Steward, Mr German. He figures regularly in the minutes in a rather unsavory manner.
After a long and heated argument the Butler is permitted to graze his three cows on the fairways provided they are tied and do not go onto the Greens. The large fairway in front of the Club House was and still is a multipurpose area, being used when required, as a cricket pitch, a ground for mounted sports, a polo ground and a race course. It may be noted here that the W G C golf course is probably one of the oldest in the country. The Caddie master is brought to book and is ordered to start paying the club 20% of the charges he receives from members for cleaning their golf sets. He is also told to stop forthwith his avaricious practice of taking a fee from each caddie for the sand paper used for cleaning and the club decides to buy the sandpaper and issue it to the Caddie Master.
The Barber is ordered to attend to members in their homes and take cash payment instead of getting chits signed.
The tricky question of membership comes up again and it is decided that no visitor can be honorary member for more than twice in one year, if otherwise; he must join as either a permanent or temporary member.
The R U Rifles are transferred to POONA causing many vacancies on the committee. The Lancashire Fusiliers come to Wellington and their C 0, Col Woodcock is made President of the Club.
The W G C appears to have owned a Tea Estate, albeit a modest one as one MAILAN CHETTY S/o SUBBA CHETTIAR of Coonoor is contracted to pick the tea leaves for Rs 50/ – per annum payable in advance. The Tea Estate surrounded the Club.
Some ladies object to oysters and oysters are forbidden from being served in the ladies’ drawing – room.
The Headquarters of the Madras Command shifts to Bangalore adversely affecting the Club’s membership and its financial position, as such the Club resorts to increased charges all round. A handsome amount of Rs. 3,471.13 is realised from the sale of old newspapers and periodicals thereby greatly enhancing the Club’s income. Polo, Racing, Bridge, Pigeon Shooting, Billiards. Cricket and Golf were activities offered by the W G C in ‘ 27.
Lady members are not permitted to attend General Body Meetings and have no vote. However, every permanent ‘single’ lady member has to pay an additional Rs. 4/ – per month besides the annual subscription whereas every gentleman ‘single’ member has to pay an additional Rs 5/- per month over and above his annual subscription. So, some allowance was made to the lady members.
Children are allowed in the Club for ‘Chips and Lemonade’ only from 6 p. m. to 6 – 30 p. m. These children are to be escorted by their mothers or nurses. No ayah is allowed inside the Club. Children are normally served refreshment in the Band Stand or on the terrace.
It is decided to hold The Armistice Day Parade Service on the Polo Ground and it is also decided to make the existing 9 hole Golf Course into an 18 hole Golf Course. An initial expenditure of Rs 500/- for the purpose has been sanctioned. Plans to put up a Squash Court and a Swimming Bath are initiated.
The Golf Course becomes an 18 hole course. Col Woodcock is about to avail of home leave and resigns as President, Major Tallents , later Col Tallents takes over as President of the W G C . UPASI uses the Polo ground for Rugby Football during Planters’ Week (UPASI Week). For want of entries no races are held and naturally the income of the Club falls. But despite depleted profits the Club carries out a lot of improvements. New godowns are made, the ball – room enlarged, archways and platforms are erected.
Two attempts at burglary and the Committee decides to insure the Club’s assets valued at Rs 6,000/ – against theft and burglary.
Guest rules are modified yet again to allow residents of the Nilgiris District to use the Club as guests of any permanent “gentleman” member unto a maximum of six times in one year, but the resident cannot use the Club six times at the invitation of one member and a further six times at the invitation of another member.
At last, a Ladies’ Advisory Committee is formed if only to help the Honorary Secretary decorate and furnish the Club. This Committee however has no power to spend money!
To discourage young officers from running up bills, affiliation with other clubs is turned down.
The Club runs into trouble and shows a loss of Rs 1,135 as against the profit of Rs 6,620 of the previous year. The Committee had resolved in July ’29 to reduce the prices of sales and this decision had brought about the suicidal drop in profits. The auditors advised the Committee to revert to the old prices and it was wisely complied with.
The Honorary Secretary Mr Hankin dies leaving a void behind. He had for many years successfully guided the affairs of the club. It is gratifying to find the valuable books presented by Mr Hankin still in the W G C and in such superb condition.
The Golf secretary is allowed, at his discretion, to use 50% of the Golf Club earnings to improve the general standard of Golf.
The Steward, Mr German once again applies for an increase in his already liberal salary. Fed up, the committee tells him in no uncertain terms that he is the best paid Gymkhana Club steward in all of India, Burma and Assam. If however, he can better his interests elsewhere the committee would not stop him, all he had to do was to give them a month’s notice before leaving.
Col Tallents is posted out and Col C H Little takes his place on the committee. The committee approves of maintaining a motor car at the club for the convenience of members. The motor car is owned by the accountant of the Club who, interestingly enough is dismissed from service in 1933.
Dogs are not allowed inside the club and Capt Forbes is fined the princely sum of Rs I/- for bringing his dog into the bar.
The committee finds it difficult to fill the honorary post of Secretary and it decides to employ a Secretary instead. Advertisements for the same appear in The Madras Mail and The Statesman.
Mr German is issued a notice terminating his services as steward and the club refuses to buy Mrs German’s piano, instead, it hires Mrs Millar’s piano at Rs 10/- per month. After the payment of dues and passage money the club is at last free of the Germans.
Capt A Petrie, MC joins as the first paid Secretary. He and his family are granted the same privileges in connection with the club as honorary members of the club.
With no additional expenditure to the club the Duke of Wellington’s Regimental band plays the ‘Retreat’ at the club every Saturday evening. Boom year for the club – A profit of Rs 8232 is reflected. The President feels that permanent members should derive some benefit from this profit and the committee proposes that the monthly subscription paid by the permanent members be reduced by Rs 1/- per month.
A Squash Court is constructed and the Club presents a cup for the Wellington Hunter’s Race. The Race Ball held on the 5th Sept is a great success.
Inspired by the performance of the gramophone with amplifiers installed at the Cordite Factory, the committee decides to get one for the club at a cost of Rs 800/-.
The land around the club is measured and is recorded to be 62 acres as stated by the Special Lands Officer and NOT 50 acres as was erroneously believed. The club will now pay the rental and tax on 62- acres instead of on 50 acres!
Children and permanent members are allowed to ride on the Race Course up to 10am, provided the parents of the children riding accept full responsibility and risk.
Col Little leaves for England and Maj Sennet takes over as President only to resign a few months later as he too leaves for Home.
The Ooty Hunt Club has a Gymkhana Race Meeting on the W G C Race Course and shares the profits with it.
Lt Col GEM Whitluck MC takes over as President of the Club.
The WGC gets affiliated to the Coimbatore Club. The club acquires it’s first refrigerator at the cost of Rs. 400/-.
The car owning accountant is dismissed from service for misappropriating Rs 1163/-.
An effort is made to start a Provident Fund for Servants.
The Years of Transition
During the 1930s the Club was extremely lively with a large and active membership. Afternoon dances were held twice a week from 6.45 – 8.30pm with music courtesy of the Band of whatever Regiment was garrisoned at Wellington. These Regimental Bands were not considered smart enough for the monthly dances and the Governor’s Band travelled down from Ooty for these occasions. The Club members were in the habit of dancing the night away to such an extent that the date of the dances had to be changed from Saturdays to Wednesdays, in order to give the servants a chance of getting up in time for church the following morning. Extra dances and Cabarets were laid on for Charities such as “the Earthquake Relief Fund”.
In May there was a Race Meeting on the Club Course, although this event appears to have been discontinued by the mid thirties. Perhaps competition from the Ooty Race Meetings was too much! Golf, squash and Tennis Tournaments also featured as an important part of the annual programme. Tennis was taken very seriously and tennis tournament matches could only be postponed “in the event of Government House Parties or Governor’s Cup Day”. Ladies Rifle Shooting on the other hand was on the decline, so much so that the Perpetual Challenge Cup was transferred to a Ladies Golfing Competition. Calling Boxes were installed at the Club and rented out to members for Rs 1/- per mensem.
In 1935 there was a Jubilee Day Parade at the Club. When the Inniskilling Fusiliers arrived in Wellington in 1937, monthly beatings of the Retreat with pipes and drums were introduced much to the delight of the members. They must have provided a dramatic, if somewhat incongruous spectacle with their Celtic music.
In 1940 considerable excitement was caused by the construction of a Billiards Room and the arrival of a Billiards Table at the Club.
During the 1930s there had been much debate about installing “modern sanitation with flush loos” at the club. Members seemed to be prepared to put up with thunder boxes rather than to fork out for the new system and flush loos did not arrive at the Club until the tail end of World War 2. The burning issue of the 1940s was not, as might have been expected, the War, but the worrying scarcity of drink. By 1943 “treating” had to be strictly prohibited. Independence made matters worse and in 1947 rationing had to be instituted. Three units were allowed per month per member, one unit could be whisky and one beer. Ladies were not given a ration. By 1948 it was “very difficult buying supplies”. Only gin was available in ample quantities. The local beer produced in Bangalore proved very disappointing and consignments contained large numbers of bad bottles. In 1949 there were further Draconian measures to preserve stocks. There was to be no issue of beer for consumption off the premises and five cases of whisky were frozen until Christmas and thereafter. Even during the festive season they were only to “be made available by the glass”. In February 1950 two Club servants were charged with offences under the Prohibition Laws and subsequently both men lost their jobs, even though one of them, the cocktail Barman, was acquitted. Apparently he had an offensive attitude towards members and left after making threats about taking legal action over his dismissal.
Skipping back a year or two, the Viceroy and Party visited the Club in 1941 and enjoyed the golfing facilities.
After the war the Club suffered badly from declining membership. Despite the fact that the Staff College Students had a block membership and sponsored the sporting facilities of the Club, times were hard. Dances were only held once a month and the number of staff employed was “drastically” reduced. Books were sold to the Staff College and the more valuable editions shipped back to England for sale on ‘the home market’, in an effort to cover the monthly deficit. Slowly the club adapted to its changed status and membership and by the mid-fifties was once again on an even keel.
Maj Gen WDA Lentaigne was President till the 28th April 1955. He stressed that the Club was primarily designed to foster sport and that too amateur sport. If the members kept this aim of the Club, it would continue to prosper and be a happy meeting place for all – civilian, military, Indian or European, Conservative or Radical. It was adherence to this aim that had brought the Club from strength to strength since India’s independence and the departure of the great majority of its old members to the United Kingdom. During his tenure Gen Lentaigne proposed that the bathrooms be painted white with aluminium paint and then enamel paint as an experiment. He awarded the night watchman an award of Rs 10 for detecting a burglary on the night of 15/16 Nov. Gen Lentaigne died soon after his return to England and a condolence meeting was held on the 29th July, 1955 presided ovet by Mr PS M Mojyneux.
On the 31st March 1959 a theft took place. A bottle of whisky and some golf balls were missing from the Gents’ room. It was decided that the door of the gents’ room leading towards the office be kept permanently closed. No servant, except the room boy was allowed to enter and there was to be no loitering in the passages. On the 20th April 1959 an Electric Toaster was purchased from M/s Walker & Greig for complaints were being received by members of the Committee that the toast made on the wood fire had been ‘burned’. A rule was also passed during this time that visitors staying in the Club Quarters could have only one dog with them – as their barking disturbed the neighbours and the dogs could ruin Club furnishings. In July 1959, complaints were being received of the bad sherry being served and Messrs Phipson & Co., agreed to reimburse the Club to the extent of half the cost of the bottle of sherry.
On the 23rd November 1959, Maj Gen SHFJ Manekshaw took over as the President of the Club. At one of the Genera! Body meetings it was suggested that since the Club’s insignia was an ‘Ibex’ head – they should have Club ties with the Ibex on a dark green background, which is the Club colour. A firm in Calcutta was detailed to fabricate this.
The Club gave the following pictures to the DSSC to be displayed in the Syndicate Rooms of the Staff College: –
(a) A portrait of Lord Kitchener.
(b) An autographed picture of Lord Curzon.
(c) A picture of the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo.
In 1969 when Mr M S Parikh was the President of the Club, Col Rowcroft, one of the old Members bequeathed to the Wellington Gymkhana Club two club quarters built during 1968 with finances loaned by him. He did not intend to claim either principal or interest in respect of this loan when leaving India. The Club Committee showed their appreciation by calling this block the ‘Rowcroft Suites’. On the night of the 16th August 1969 heavy floods damaged the Club – 6 Golf bridges were damaged, Quarters 1, 2 & 3 were flooded, the sheep pen destroyed, and 12 sheep were washed away. The Golf greens and Tennis Courts were also rendered unfit for play. The total loss incurred was Rs 10,000/-.
The Club progressed under the Presidentship of Maj Gen A M Sethna from 1975 to 1977. Many Golf tournaments and Tennis tournaments took place and the Staff College Ladies Club was allowed to have a fete on the premises of the Club.
In January 1977 Mr VK Rajaram donated a rolling silver cup for Golf to be known as the Woodbriar Cup. This was to be competed for on the Wellington Gymkhana Club Golf Course. Rallis India took up the maintenance of one green on the Golf Course. The salient features of the year 1977-78 were that the Club was on a better footing and money was spent in purchasing a Deep Freeze, a lawn mower, a pump set and pipes for the irrigation of the Golf green, the electric wiring was changed, flooring re – done, three tennis courts re – laid and a new layout for the gardens prepared. The Annual Mounted Gymkhana, the UPASI Sports Meet, the Hunt Ball and a wedding reception for 2, 000 people were held. Many company parties and 38 DSSC Syndicate parties were held.
In 1979 under the Presidentship of Maj Gen Mohindar Singh, Mrs Rani Kuttaiah was accorded permission to conduct Dance Classes in the Card Room of the Club for the duration of the DSSC Course. Sippy Film Productions were granted permission to shoot their film ‘Kalyana Raman’ on the Club grounds for a payment of Rs. 10, 000 /- for seven days.
In 1980-81 Golf and Tennis were very popular. Cricket was also well patronised – Occupancy of the cottages was good and the Club premises gained popularity for film shootings. The club won three prizes in the Horticulture Competition of the District.
At the General Body Meeting of the Club in June 1982, an amendment was proposed under the Presidentship of Lt Gen K Balaram. It was proposed that by 1986 the strength of the student officers at the DSSC would increase from 300 to 400 and ultimately to 500. With the current strength of 300 the facilities of the Club were inadequate. As such, something had to be done to increase the facilities. Construction of a first floor ‘inter – alia’ was a necessity. Gen Balaram approached the Service Headquarters for help but they required guarantee to safeguard the utilisation of their Services funds. In 1983 each bearer of the Club was given a new set of uniforms. This consisted of a charcoal grey coat with green piping and a pair of white terry-cot trousers. This was to be worn on special occasions with turbans tied in the same way as worn by the Military Police. In 1984 under the Presidentship of Lt Gen K Mahipat Sinhji, a VCR was bought for the Club
In the new millennium the finances of the Club having considerably improved, a lot of work was under taken to enhance the facilities in the Club as also to renovate the existing infrastructure and assets. To name a few, facilities have been created for day and night tennis on a synthetic court. The Golf Course has been slope rated by the IGU and the greens are playing true and very well. A large parking for more than a hundred cars has been created. Main lounge (Shangri-La and Rendezvous) as also the Gun Bar have been fully renovated with teak wood flooring. Space and facilities for the increased number of members have been catered for. Modern facilities have been introduced at the same time keeping the old world charm. Golf Hut has been renovated with modern facilities like sauna bath, gym room, lockers for the golfers, proshop, and a restaurant with open space facing the golf course.