In 1842, my great-grandfather, William Peppé, and his brother, George (both civil engineers from Aberdeen University), received a commission from a London firm to set up and run a sugar mill. After arriving they duly built the sugar mill and started production.
My Grandfather, William Claxton Peppé
Unfortunately George’s health broke down shortly after arriving and had to return home.
With George gone, William had expected to be made manager, but this failed to happen.
(Above) Painting of the ruins of the sugar mill by Annie Larpent Peppé
It was then that William heard of a local widow who needed a manager to run an estate called Birdpur in Northern India on the border with Nepal. He applied and got the job.
The widow’s estate was on land acquired from the kingdom of Oude by the Honourable East Indian Company who offered grants of land called "Jungle Grants" with a 50 year lease. Part of the land deal for anyone obtaining the grant was that after 50 years the land would be theirs to own. Very few people succeeded.
This land lay between the foothills of the Himalayas and the Ganges plain.
And while it was fertile land with many rivers and was known as the "Gorakpur Tarai" it was covered with jungle and swamps, and was notorious for malaria. Few people could work the land other than the "Tharus" who were native to the jungle and hunter/gatherers.
(Above) Location of Piprahwa in Northern India
(Below) Painting of the northern view from Birdpur towards the Himalayas (A.L.Peppé)
(Above) Map of the Birdpur estate, Piprahwa, by Elfie Peppé
However, my great-grandfather, despite the difficulties of the terrain and threat of malaria was able to put a certain amount of land under cultivation each year.
William set about clearing the land and building reservoirs, dams, and canals to enable him to cultivate it - which he did successfully. Indeed, he was so successful at experimenting with different strains of rice that he eventually developed a Patna Rice, now known as American Long Grain Rice.
(Above) The first Birdpur House (A.L.Peppé)
(Below) Birdpur's blacksmith (A.L.Peppé)
(Above) Two photos of Birdpur House once the estate had been established
(Below) Dinner at Birdpur House
Furthermore, at the time of the Indian mutiny William fought with a band of his own loyal tenants against the mutineers.
For these services to the British government they gave him another estate and not content with this, he then went about buying two other estates adjoining Birdpur. Eventually the estate he managed was nearly fifty square miles.
William subsequently had a son - William Claxton – my grandfather, who became an assistant on the estate and when his father died he took over its’ management. He too had a son – my father, Humphrey Peppé.
After the 1st World War, in which my father fought, he studied civil engineering at Cambridge and then went out to India to be become my grandfather’s assistant. Eventually he took over the running of the estate when my grandfather retired.
However, on Indian independence, the estate was nationalised and my father spent another thirteen years in India trying to broker a deal with the government so as not to lose everything he, his father, and my great-grandfather had worked so hard to create.