Connolly’s Teak & Canal

Lt Henry Valentine Connolly was the Malabar Collector roughly between 1840 and1855.

Connolly is honored with his name being used for the Connolly (In Calicut they say ‘Canoli’ canal ) Canal that connects the Kallayi river (See my noting on Kallayi in an earlier blog) to the Elattur river. Built in 1848, the 3 mile long canal provides water communication between Beypore and Badagara (BTW the land where the canal crosses Eranhipalam was acquired from my wife’s family!!). These days you have boat tours through the canal!!

Conolly (who was Dist Magistrate during the earlier part of the Moppila outbreaks that lasted from1835-1921) was tragically murdered in 1855 by Moplah fanatics at the start of the Moslem revolt in Malabar. T. This story is recounted by Nick Balmer in his blog Malabar days ……

Connolly lived at that time in the Collector’s bungalow at West Hill. The bungalow is still around and is the home for the Pazhassi (Kerala Varma) Raja museum and they have a Connolly garden in the premises. This is also the location of the VK Krishna Menon museum.

One of Connolly’s tasks was to ensure a steady supply of teak to British shipbuilding yards. For this reason he went about creating up a teak plantation in Nilambur in 1844.

Nilambur is today famous for its teak plantations. Nilambur also a seat of the Zamorins, is famous for a cluster of kovilakoms or residences of the local rajas of earlier days. These houses are famous for their beautiful frescoes and artworks in wood. The oldest teak plantation of the world, the Connolly's Plot is just 2 Kms. from Nilambur town. The Teak Museum at Nilambur chronicles the history of the tree and explores its scientific and artistic uses. The oldest teak tree, Kannimari, is a rare attraction at the Connolly Plot. The plot extends across 2.31 hectares beside the Chaliyar River at Aruvakode, where a country boat ferries visitors across.

How Connolly went about the task of setting up the plantation is very interesting and shows how meticulous a person he was. This strength of character was to put him in good stead for the arduous works that were to be entrusted to him in the future by the East India Company. He started his experiments at teak planting in the 1830’s around Beypore, but the seeds did not germinate. Various other trails were conducted in removing the outer covering of seeds, burning them, getting ants to chew them, planting roots and so on. Finally Connolly requested for a trained arboriculturist, but was told to find one locally and pay him Rs 50 per month (I assume this is when he found Chatu Menon). Various different methods were tried and saplings produced & planted. Connolly complained to his HQ that his methods were based on previous inconclusive studies and his own limited study of the booklet called ‘Forester’s guide’ which was not really the appropriate way to go. However his listening to the local people about the aftermath of forest fires and experimenting with Chatu Menon on pre-burning the seeds seemed to provide best results. Connolly complained thus ‘the more I read, the older the plants become’ and requested more support. Two or more inspectors were sent to inspect the Nilambur experiments and they too prepared exhaustive reports supporting Connolly’s plea. I understood that it was 1860 when action was finally taken and grants provided to improve the plantation.
Teak felled at Nilambur, was floated on through the rivers and canals to Kallayi (just off Calicut town)where they were loaded onto the giant ships headed for Britain. During late 19th century and early 20th century, the Chaliyar River was extensively used as a waterway for carrying timber from the forest areas in and around Nilambur to the various mills in Kallayi near Calicut. Rafts made of logs were taken downstream during the monsoon season to Kallayi, where these were sawn to size in the timber mills dotting the banks of the river. During this period, Kallayi was one of the most important centers (2nd largest) in the world for timber business.

Sir Chathu Menon, the forest officer (titled native sub conservator) under Connolly, who took up the hectic task of single handedly planting teak, was laid to rest in the Teak garden in Connolly's Plot. Chathu Menon, now known as the father of Indian teak plantations, raised more than a million teak plants between 1842 and 1862. He was presented an ornamental woodman’s knife and belt by Lord Harris in Nov 1958. Chatu Menon subsequently trained others to create similar plantations in Canara.

All that being said, why so much emphasis on Teak as timber for ship building? It has its origins in history, and is known for its strength ( called ironwood by the Chinese)longevity spanning thousands of years. A research article states that teak was found in the ruins of an ancient city in Vijayanapur, Southern India. A temple was built on teak planks only 1 1/2 inches thick, but when examined in 1881, the planks were found to be in excellent condition despite 500 years of exposure to the elements. Other evidence of teak's amazing durability is found in cave temples in Salsette, India, where the 2,000-year-old teak remains in mint condition. Mariners regard teak as the most versatile and durable hardwood. Even the decks of the ‘Titanic’ were made of teak and the salvaged teak is still usable. Teak does not warp, twist or expand. The technoqunines in teak naturally repel termites and other bugs. It grows harder with age and is the wood of the ships.

Sadly Connolly’s teak plantations are now on the decline. Much of it is felled and gone, never to be replanted. The land is being used for other purposes. A story about teak thieves can be read here.

A good article about the plot & museum in Nilambur

References - The Forests and Gardens of South India - By Hugh Francis Clarke Cleghorn, Hugh Cleghorn

Connolly’s teak plantation pics – various web sites.


Murali RamaVarma said...

Very informative, Maddy! I remember having gone to the Nilambur teak plantations in 1994 along with the then DFO and the Police Commissioner who were good friends during my Calicut days. It was the day of my youngest sister's marriage and the boy was from Nilambur Kovilakom. At that time, I had not taken much pains to go into the finer details about the origins of these plantations . We must salute the vision of great men like Connolly and Chathu Menon because their farsightedness is more relevant in these days of wide and callous deforestation.

Once again, congrats for the good post.

Snehaj said...

Hi sir..Any chance to find a picture of Conolly/

Maddy said...

Thanks murali and snehaj..
no i have had no luck finding a picture..

Vishnu said...

Hi, Big fan of your blog. But you've erroneously written that the canal was built in 1948. 100 years earlier than that, I believe :)

Maddy said...

thanks vishnu - corrected

pv said...

I see this being referred to as "Kanoli" very often -- suspected it was Connoly / Connolly, which has been confirmed. I dont know if this same one extends to Thrissur and beyond, but it is referred to similarly in these parts. Perhaps it did.
The old waterway network through the backwaters could effectively reach Kollam possibly, and served as the transportation network of yore, before the coming of the automobile and the subsequent road network.

Maddy said...

thanks PV,
The canal is nowadays a 11.2-km waterway which connects the Kallayi river in the south and Korappuzha in the north. The kallayi further connects to other rivers ...

nargis said...

Conolly canal is a waterway connecting kallayi and korappuzha..who extended that canal to kochi?.Had the collector himself designed? Or it had been expanded after his time?.will u help me..

Maddy said...

thanks nargis
I will cover it in a new article, yes Conolly himself was involved in starting the process of linking Ponnani with chavakkad. While the ideas were mooted by him, the execution had many others