BAIRD BOY-the Scotsman who chased a tiger across Mysore.

On the other side of the high wall that runs down the length of Cubbon Road opposite the RSI (Rajendra Sinhji Institute) towards the Manipal Centre is a set of stone military buildings old Bengalureans call Baird Barracks. They were named after a man whose dramatic life story swung between either being contained within four walls or storming them.

According to his biographer, Hook, General Sir David Baird, 1st Baronet was born on December 6, 1757 in Newbyth, Scotland but there is another opinion that he was born and raised in a house at `the foot of Blair’s Close, Castlehill, Edinburgh’. His father William Baird, Esq. died when he was eight and he was only fifteen when his mother got him a commission in the 2nd Regiment of Foot on December 14th, 1772. He moved up to being appointed Captain of the newly raised 73rd Regiment (also called Mcleod’s Highlanders) and arrived with them in Madras in 1780. He was twenty five.

The handsome young Scotsman was promptly thrown into the Second Anglo-Mysore War under stalwarts Sir Hector Munroe and Colonel James Baillie. They were fighting the Mysore ruler Haider Ali and his fierce son Tipu Sultan at a little town called Pollilur near Kanchipuram. It was Baird’s first encounter with Tipu and one of the East India Company’s most humiliating defeats in India. Both Baillie and a severely wounded Baird were taken prisoner. The Battle of Pollilur was then commemorated in a mural by Tipu on the walls of his palace, Dariya Daulat Bagh in Srirangapatna. Baillie is mockingly shown smelling a rose and watching the battle in a palanquin. Baird is nearby.

Pegs for tethering prisoners. Baillie's prison at Srirangapatna.

Pegs for tethering prisoners at Baillie’s prison at Srirangapatna.

But there were no roses within the walls that confined Baird in Srirangapatna. His seventy feet long cell was an open to sky, oblong shaped enclosure where he stayed hungry and imprisoned for over four years.  Prisoners were given one gold fanam (sixpence) a day to buy food and other necessities. These were procured by a few local attendants they were allowed to keep.  A French surgeon was provided when required. All prisoners except Baird were put in irons. He was eventually chained on November 10th, 1781 but the irons were removed on April 9, 1782 when he fell ill.

Writing to his son much later in 1821, Sir Walter Scott mentions a story he heard where, hearing of his captivity, Baird’s mother in Scotland is supposed to have said “God pity the poor lad that’s chained to our Davie!” She evidently knew her fearless but belligerent and hot-headed son well.

Cells where Baillie was said to have been held prisoner at Srirangapatna.Baird's prison no longer exists.

Cells where Baillie was said to have been held prisoner at Srirangapatna.Baird’s prison no longer exists.

The headstrong soldier was then sent to another set of four walls. He was confined at the Bengaluru Fort in modern day Kalasipalayam before being released following the Treaty of Mangalore (1784).  I have often imagined him pacing up and down in front of the small, dark cell that still bears a marble plaque with his name on it. He was now twenty nine years old.

Baird left India on sick leave in 1787. He returned four years later in 1791 as Major-General, leading the prestigious 71st Regiment (earlier 73rd) alongside Governor General Lord Cornwallis. He faced Tipu again at Savanadurga in the Third Anglo Mysore War.  The Scottish soldier and the Mysorean ruler were both determined, stubborn and hard headed adversaries. Born only seven years apart, they grew from youth to maturity together while confronting each other repeatedly on different battlefields. Over seventeen years.  During the Fourth Anglo Mysore War in 1799, Baird finally stormed the fort walls that had once contained him at Srirangapatna. He was among the party that discovered and identified Tipu’s fallen body by lamplight at dusk.

The cell at the far end in the Bengaluru Fort is where Baird was contained.

The cell at the far end in the Bengaluru Fort where Baird was confined.Out of bounds to the public.

Baird was lauded for his efforts. On June 8th 1799, General Harris officially presented him with Tipu’s state sword and other treasures from the palace. It was valued at over 200,000 pounds and auctioned in 2003. But to Baird’s surprise, Colonel Arthur Wellesley was made Governor of Seringapatam. Baird’s tumultuous career then took him across the world; Egypt, Spain, Africa. It included a long standing professional rivalry with Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington who wrote that “Baird was a gallant hard headed lion hearted officer, but he had no talent, no tact; had strong prejudices against the natives, and he was particularly disqualified from his manner, habits &c., and it was supposed, his temper, for the management of them.”

General Sir David Baird died on 18th August 1829 at Ferntower, his estate in Crieff, Scotland.  An obelisk erected by his wife in his memory still stands there. Wellesley, in the meantime, voted against moving British garrisons from hot, mosquito infested Srirangapatna to the cooler town of Bangalore. But the move happened anyway. The Bangalore Cantonment, later the Civil & Military Station was then completed around 1809 and regiments stationed at the Bengaluru Fort were shifted to the new Baird Barracks at its far east.

While the earliest known Roman barracks (from the Spanish barraca meaning hut) were conceived as temporary shelters, permanent barracks are said to have been built in England only around the 18th century. The Baird Barracks were neat stone buildings, lined up next to each other. Other barracks here were also named after Governor- General Lord Cornwallis and General Sir William Medows.

Close up of the plaque on his cell at the Bengaluru Fort

Close up of the plaque on his cell at the Bengaluru Fort. Pic courtesy: Dejaview for Native Place

A century later, sepia photographs from WWI and WWII show smiling young men sitting on its steps, or standing guard at its gates. The barracks housed the Highland Light Infantry, 2nd Bn, the 2nd Dorsets who were employed in the Moplah Rebellion (1921) and the 2nd Bn, Wiltshire Regiment in barracks that were classified alphabetically. A, B, C, D, E and so on. Among them might have been young Scotsmen like Lance Sergent Donald Cameron of the `E’ Company who was arrested for alleged financial discrepancies, and attempted suicide in his bed at the barracks with an overdose of quinine.  

Far away in England, obituaries mentioned the untimely demise of James G Mcglinn, popular Army School Master and sportsman par excellence in 1920. They recorded that tears were shed for him at the Baird Barracks Army School in Bangalore. His wife Kathleen May Kirkwood too was well known in Bangalore’s music circles.

John Leese, a soldier, arrived at Baird Barracks in 1932 and described it as “well organised… with walls all around it…and it wasn’t too bad a place.” If you are driving down to the signal, the Baird Barracks are barely visible from Cubbon Road. But it’s comforting to know that Bengaluru’s military history is still on the other side of the wall,

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Where: Cubbon Road runs parallel to MG Road in Bangalore’s Central Business District.

Nearest Metro Station: MG Road

See :Sir David Baird’s portrait here: The National Portrait Gallery, UK

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This story was originally published in the Bangalore Mirror on 8th December 2014.Read it here.

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6 comments

  1. Wonderful. I did not know of the ‘Baird’ association with Bangalore Cantonment. As usual, an excellent piece.

  2. An excellent write up of Maj Gen. Baird. I was however, rather sorry for the building that bore his name but is now in a state of deshabille. I have not been to Srirangapatinam recently but about 40 years ago there were boards in the prison cells stating who was chained where and some of the anchors for the chains to walls still there with the chains..

    1. The last time I went in a few years ago, the barracks were being renovated.Am sad to hear this.Thank you so much for writing in. Would appreciate any more information anyone might ave as these buildings are out of bounds to the public.

  3. Memorable! It reminds me of my old school days at Army school and the Baird Barracks adjoining the school…remarkable days those were, childhood innocence 🙂

  4. Hi Rahul, thanks! Would really appreciate you sharing your memories of the school and barracks here with us.

  5. A K Singh · · Reply

    Read this article on FB newsfeed. Such interest in art, history in culture among women in India is quite rare, uncommon and extra ordinary.Discovery of South India is quite exquisite and exhilarating.

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