Cunningham Road

Road name: Cunningham Road named after Francis Cunningham (3rd December, 1820 – 1875)

Road Location: It is close to many landmarks like Bangalore golf club, National Gallery of Modern Art, etc. It is close to Sankey road, Palace Road, Millers tank bund road.

Famous for/ Contributions to society: He served as a military officer at Madras.

Summary:

Francis Cunningham was the son of the poet Allan Cunningham and the younger brother of Joseph Davey and Alexander Cunningham, who also spent most of their working lives in India.[1]

The brothers’ cadetships were obtained through a friend of their father’s, Sir Walter Scott, who was extremely friendly with Robert Dundas and others with a Scottish background who had been or were at the Board of Control. After undergoing training at the Military Seminary of the British East India Company at Addiscombe, then in Surrey, Francis was gazetted as an Ensign and posted to the 23rd Madras Native Infantry in 1838.

In his army service he distinguished himself as a Field Engineer, with Robert Sale at Jalalabad, during the 1st Afghan War. In 1850, he was posted to the Mysore Commission, headquartered at Bangalore as Secretary to the Commission and was acting as a deputy to Sir Mark Cubbon, the Chief Commissioner at Bangalore. Here, apart from playing an active role in developing the Horticultural Gardens at Lalbagh, he undertook many constructions including the one he built for Sir Mark Cubbon in the nearby Nandi Hills and possibly, a large bungalow in Bangalore, known as the Balabrooie. Unfortunately, documentation on this period of Bangalore’s history is sparse.

When Cubbon retired and left Bangalore in 1861, Cunningham stayed on in a private capacity, lobbying on behalf of the deposed Maharaja Krishna Rajendra Wodeyar III, arguing that he should be allowed to adopt an heir and that the kingdom should be restored to him. As Cunningham was an extremely effective writer, this caused endless headaches for the next Chief Commissioner, Lewin Bentham Bowring.

Bowring writes: ‘During many years, the secretary of the Commission was Captain F. Cunningham, a son of the poet Allan Cunningham, and a brother of the well known archaeologist General A. Cunningham, and of Major J.D. Cunningham who wrote the ‘History of the Sikhs.’ He wielded a ready and incisive pen, his official letters showing great command of language, in which was often a vein of irony and humour that was unpalatable to the recipients. He had left the Commission before I joined, but had taken service with the Raja at Mysore, his principal duty being to compose the despatches which His Highness sent to the Government about his claims, a task which his literary qualifications enabled him to perform exceedingly well, although his presence at the capital and the encouragement given by him to intriguing parties were a source of some embarrassment to me…’ Bowring did not know how to reply to the letters that Francis posted to him. The language of the letters was forceful and robust and the arguments logical. Bowring spent sleepless nights, thinking of a suitable reply.

When Cunningham did go back, he pursued his literary activity, editing the works of Kit Marlowe in 1870 and Philip Massinger and Ben Jonson in 1872. Toward the end of his life he was working on a new edition of his brother Peter Cunningham’s Handbook to London. He died on 3 December 1875.

Cunningham Road in Bangalore is named after him. Given the significant roles that the Cunningham siblings have played in Indian history, this road might well be considered a tribute to the entire family. Cunningham Road is, however, not named after Alexander Cunningham (one of the founders of the Archaeological Society of India) or Joseph Cunningham (whose criticism of British administration in his History of Sikhs led to his dismissal from military service).

Detailed Description:

Francis Cunningham (1820 to 1872) who was an officer in the Madras Army, member of the Mysore Commission, and a literary editor; this road used to be a favourite of the British Raj. Francis Cunningham was the son of poet Allan Cunningham and the younger brother of Joseph Davey and Alexander Cunningham, who also spent most of their working lives in India. On his death anniversary, we take a walk down one of the busiest roads of Bangalore to find out how many know of its glorious past.

“Though I knew that the road was named by the British, I had no idea that it had such a deep history. I wish such things were made available for the public. Most of us don’t even know about our own history,” said Shailaja Sharma, who works at a company on Cunningham Road.

In his Army service, it was reported that Francis excelled as a field engineer, with Robert Sale at Jalalabad, during the 1st Afghan War. In 1850, he was posted to the Mysore Commission which had its headquarters at Bangalore. He also served as a deputy to Sir Mark Cubbon, the Chief Commissioner at Bangalore. Apart from playing a crucial role in developing the Lalbagh gardens, he also took active interest in building a bungalow called Balabrooie for Sir Mark Cubbon in Nandi Hills. However, with no documentation available, it is quite difficult to trace the actual history.

“This is a huge issue. We have no knowledge of our history whatsoever. How do you expect the public to know more about its own city, without any archival system? I have been in Bangalore for more than 35 years and, I can tell you with absolute certainty that Cunningham Road has become unrecognisable today. Back then, we had beautiful villas and lovely driveways that have now been replaced by commercial buildings and apartments. The younger generation don’t really know about the history of Cunningham Road or who it was named after. Such a shame,” said Linda Rao who takes care of a 150-year-old building on the road. Apparently, post retirement, when Cubbon left Bangalore in 1861, Cunningham continued to stay and lobbied on behalf of Maharaja Krishna Rajendra Wodeyar III. He strongly felt that the Maharaj should be allowed to adopt an heir and that the kingdom should be restored to him. Being an effective writer, he succeeded in causing trouble for Lewin Bentham Bowring, the Chief Commissioner after Cubbon. “It is sad to note the lack of education and growing ignorance of our history. I don’t think anyone remembers Cunningham anymore,” said Malini Gupta, a student.

References:

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