History of Mussoorie: The George Everest Years

(This is the second chapter in the History of Mussoorie on Mussooriegram. You can read the first post, which talks about the foundation of the city, and the arrival of Captain Frederick Young in 1823 here.)

Born on the 4th of July, 1790 in Crickhowell in Wales, young George Everest would never have thought that one day his family name would become immortal in the books of history.  An enthusiastic young man who joined the army while he was quite young, George Everest joined the Royal Artillery. Following his work in the Royal Artillery, he was sent to India to assist Colonel William Lambton on the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India. Little did he know that his years in India would be considered a very important time in the history of Mussoorie!

Sir George Everest. Source: Bradyharanblog
Sir George Everest.
Source: Bradyharanblog

However, following Lambton’s death in the year 1823, Lieutenant George Everest was promoted to Colonel George Everest, and he started working on the footsteps of his former mentor. In 1830, he was promoted to the Surveyor General of India, a position that he held for the next 13 years. He was the sixth Surveyor General of India, a position that is currently held by Dr. Swarna Subba Rao.

It was in the year 1832, that George Everest, now the Surveyor General of India with the East India Company, purchased a house from General Whish in the city of Mussoorie. While he bought the home without even seeing it first hand, he fell in love with the place, and continued to live for a good 11 years. The home of Sir George Everest in Mussoorie lies on top of the Hathipaon Hill, which is located a stunning 7809 feet above the sea level. In the year 1839, Sir George Everest converted this home into a ‘laboratory’.

The home and laboratory of Sir George Everest

While one might consider Sir George to be one of the ‘sahibs’ who liked to live in the hills, he was much more than that. His calculations, back in the early part of the nineteenth century, were critical in helping determine many important geographical aspects of the nation. He is, till date, considered one of the pioneers of Geodetic engineering in India. He measured the Great Meridional Arc passing from Kanyakumari, through central India, to the Himalayas. This helped calculate the mathematical spheroid of India. Everest’s spheroid is the base of officially accepted heights of all Himalayan mountains.

At the peak of his career as the Surveyor General of India, Everest had tried to convince the government to set up the Survey of India’s headquarters in Mussoorie. However, he ended up finally having it set up in Dehradun due to pressure from the government. The history of Mussoorie would have perhaps been quite different had the survey been set up there.

Another view of the home and laboratory of Sir George Everest, Mussoorie
Another view of the home and laboratory of Sir George Everest, Mussoorie

Everest shall forever be remembered in the books of history as one of the most popular men who lived in Mussoorie. It was his residence in Mussoorie that brought the city a lot of political attention. He shall forever go down in the history of Mussoorie as one of the most prominent Englishmen to live in the city. He returned to the UK in 1843, where he continued to live till his death in 1866.

Everest was knighted in the year 1861. In the year 1865, his successor, Andrew Scott Waugh decided to honor his legacy, and his years of hardwork in India as he decided to name the highest peak in the world after Sir George. When he was given the news about the naming of the peak in his honor, he objected to it. Partly because he was not a man who was in search of fame, and also because of his belief that the credit should truly go to the men who actually worked on the project.

A look inside the home and laboratory of Sir George Everest.
A look inside the home and laboratory of Sir George Everest.

While Everest perhaps never even saw the peak which was named in his honor, his contributions to the Survey of India were immense, and they were the very foundation of what led to the discovery of Mount Everest’s height. The height of mountain was actually calculated by Radhanath Sikdar, a Bengali mathematician, under the leadership of Andrew Scott Waugh. The peak was named after George Everest, and he passed away one year after the naming.

While his family name became immortal in the books of history, George Everest, in his association with Mussoorie, became perhaps the most important resident of Mussoorie of his time, and an important chapter in the history of Mussoorie. We shall talk more about Sir George and his house, the Park Estate in Hathipaon in the future. Stay tuned with us for more exciting updates.

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