Marikar History of Munnar Key
It was in the year 1910 that the late Mr. H.O.L. Marikar came to seek his fortunes in the highly malaria ridden settlement called Munnar, nestled in the Western Ghats and far away from civilization. Hailing from an Aristocratic family in Sri Lanka, (then Ceylon) he could have well joined his father Mr. T.C.H Marikar in the family business, who was by that time well established in India mainly on contract with the British Government in the shipping business, where part of his fleet of twenty six Dhows transported spices like Cardamom, cloves, and tea, leather etc from the island to the mainland, and on its return trip carried the loads of coolie labourers for the tea estates in Ceylon, that were then in the making.
But being a bold and adventurous pioneer like his father, he chose to strike his fortune on his own in this little settlement of early British Planters, who themselves were great pioneers, battling nature, and planting tea in little known terrain of primeval rain forests and jungles of Amazonian proportions.
With his sincerity, honesty, and his integrity for hard work and his excellent knowledge of both spoken and written ‘King’s English’, it did not take him long to be recognised and endeared to the ruling community of the British Planters both in business and social standing, so much so that he was involved in a number of contracts from cutting roads in the deep jungles connecting estates, jungles teeming with large herds of elephants, bison, panthers, tigers etc, to clearing primeval jungles for planting tea, building houses, ‘Coolie-lines’, water systems, bridges etc for the colonial Company Messers James Finlay Ltd.
With a natural flair for business, and having come from a highly westernised Ceylon, he had a thorough knowledge of the requirements of the British planters and their families, and the shop he started under the name of Marikar & Co., (later on to be registered as a public Ltd. Company) along the banks of the Munnar river, where the commercial activities of the tiny growing township of Munnar was being established, was a run away success.
In those pioneering days riding was the most, and in many cases, the only way, of getting around on horse back, and Mr. Marikar being an excellent equestrian and with a fine stable of horses, could move around to his various work spots spread over a very wide area, and honor his commitment to his employers with great reliability and hard work. However things were not as they should have been, for the great flood of 1924 washed away all his fortunes by the river bank overnight.
The loss to the colonial planters, in their work was colossal. It was said that they were even considering pulling out of these wild western mountains to seek their fortunes elsewhere. But the stubborn Scottish spirit prevailed and they grit their teeth to start all over again. It was at this juncture that a new Township was envisaged by the Company and the decision to rebuild was made.
The death toll in the flood and destruction was very high. Most of the early settlers had left. The flood was followed by plague on epidemic proportions. Some sort of preventive methods were attained by painting the legs of people with creosote. It is to the credit of Mr. Marikar who stayed back and set up a voluntary camp where he and his men at the risk of being themselves infected, did a yeoman service to the public, of running such a medical, preventive camp.
Mr. Marikar stayed on with his contracts and work for the Company and he was thus a natural choice for them to entrust the work of building the new township of Munnar which he did with great credit, and under many odds, and Munnar town was completed in record time, involving immense earth moving works using hundreds of human labour and other allied work, though handicapped with severe communication gap, inclement and often brutal weather conditions. The town was formally opened by Mr. J.S.B. Wallace on schedule in the year 1926. The silver casket and the ‘Key to the Town’ with which the Township was formally and ceremonially opened was gifted to Mr. Marikar by the Company as memento and the token of the Company’s appreciation for his part in the building of Munnar Town.
This silver casket and the key are reverently preserved in the office of Messers Marikar & Co. Ltd., in Munnar, who incidentally celebrate their ninety-second year of exemplary service to the people and public of Munnar today.