JIM CORBETT - Edward James (Jim) Corbett

Joseph Corbett, the grandfather of Edward James (Jim) Corbett, was born in the parish of St Peter's, Belfast in 1796. Before his marriage to Harriet he had been a monk and she a novice at a nearby convent. They both broke their holy vows and 'eloped' to be married.

Joseph Corbett joined the army on 15 June 1814 and on the recruitment documents he signed on for unlimited service as an infantry private. On 26 July 1814 Joseph Corbett and Harriet set sail from Ireland on the Royal George bound for India. At that time he gave his profession as that of carver and gilder, a trade, perhaps, which he had learned as a monk. They had with them their first child Eliza who was one year old and they disembarked in India on 7 February 1815.

In 1817 he was posted to the horse artillery and continued his service with them until his death on 28 March 1830 when Joseph Corbett was a sergeant. He was only 33 and was buried at Meerut. His military record gives his description: 5'4" tall, a long face with sallow colouring, and hazel eyes and black hair.He and Harriet had nine children. Eliza, who had been born in Belfast on 18 May 1812; Mary born in 1814 and later married to Patrick Dease on 7 July 1831; John born in 1816; Joseph in 1818; Catherine in 1820; Christopher William in 1822; Richard Henry in 1824; Harriet in 1826 and lastly Thomas Bartholomew born in 1828. Details of only three of these children have been found.

Mary's husband, Patrick Dease became a consultant engineer to the Government of Bombay and they had eight children. Thomas Bartholomew, their youngest child, became a hero and sons were named after him in the next two generations. He was captured by mutineers at the siege of the Red Fort in Delhi and was roped to a stake and burned alive before the fort was relieved. His brother, Christopher William, who also fought at Delhi, saw his younger brother die also joined the Army. There are memorial tablets at St James church, Delhi to Thomas Bartholomew dated 11 and 17 May 1857: 'Sacred to the memory of the following members of a family murdered during the massacre of the Christians at Delhi between the 11th and 17th of May 1857. Thomas McNally, 2nd Clerk Commissariat Office, Delhi. Thomas Bartholomew Corbett, Assistant Apothecary and Sub-Medical Dept., Charlotte Corbett and Harriet Corbett.

Christopher William Corbett had been born on 11 September 1822 at Meerut and was Joseph and Harriet's sixth child. At that time his father was a corporal in the horse artillery. Christopher William joined the army and saw active service as a junior medical officer. His rank was that of assistant apothecary (which had been the same rank as that of his brother Thomas Bartholomew) when he was twenty and he was with the 3rd Troop of the 1st Brigade of Horse Artillery. He saw action on the north west frontier during the1st Afghan War (1839-42). Eventually he was promoted to apothecary lieutenant and captain.

On 19 December 1845 he was posted to Dehra Dun and there he married eighteen year old Ann Morrow at Landour, Mussoorie, a military cantonment. He was then posted to the Army of Sutlej for the Sikh Wars. He and Ann had three children and she died in her early twenties. In 1849 he was in the Army of the Punjab as a hospital steward to the Bengal Army. He received several medals for hisservice. Mary Jane Prussia, whom Christopher William was later to marry, had married Dr. Charles James Doyle of Agrawhen she was 14 years old in 1851, he being 21. They had four children. These were Charles, George, Evangeline (who died of smallpox as an infant), and Eugene Mary. Charles and George became doctors, Charles graduating from Aberdeen and practising in Magdalene Street, Norwich in 1878. After the Great War he emigrated to California and later became an author. George was appointed colonial surgeon in the West Indies.

Mary Jane and her children suffered great privations during the Indian Mutiny (when she was still only 20). The European community of Agra were sent to the fort for safety. Her husband, Charles Doyle,was in command of the remnants of the Etawah Light Horse and the 13th Troop of Police Cavalry. In November 1858 rebels attacked Etawah and Doyle's unit took part in defeating them. On December 8 whilst fighting, having already killed 2 mutineers by sword whilst on horseback, Charles Doyle was dragged from his saddle and killed. In the church at Etawah there is a plaque in his honour. He was buried in the churchyard.Now widowed Mary Jane Doyle and her children moved to Mussoorie where she met Christopher William Corbett. C.W.Corbett had left the army and joined the post office as a postmaster at Mussooriein 1859. They were married on 13 October 1859. Between them they had, by their previous marriages, 6 children.

In 1862 C.W.Corbett was appointed postmaster of Nainital, the hill station which was about 200 miles away in the mountains and which later became the summer capital of the United Provinces. Nainital was discovered by "The Pilgrim" Mr Barron who had his yacht carried up here in 1840.The Nainital Boat Club whose wooden Clubhouse still graces the edge of the lake, became the fashionable, focus of the community.

The Nainital lake - tal means lake - lies at about 6,400 feet. Pockets of snow are found in Cheena (or Naini, 8,568 ft), the peak which dominates the lake, as late as March. Very many people and birds move down from the hills to the plains in the winter months.The Mutiny had virtually left Nainital unaffected. Refugees particularly from Rampur, Moradabad and Bareilly flooded to the hill stations to escape the pillaging dacoits were inflicting on the plains people, other than that there was little upheaval. The nearest the mutineers got to Nainital was 11 miles away and 5,000 ft down the precipitous mountainside. According to a military report the greatest hardship was the shortage of beer! Had the violence reached the Tal Brewery Company, a branch of the Bareilly Beer Company, just two miles down the road from Nainital. The brewery wasn't built until 1875 and it is more than likely that dacoits and mutineers interrupted the supplies of beer coming from Bareilly. A more serious consequence of the mutiny was to send the price of land, houses and rents soaring - many well-established residents of Nainital made a killing.

The family travelled there across hill routes and along the edge of plains on what were pathways and bridle paths, the journey taking a month. Along the way they encountered tigers who had to be chased away from their camps. Mary Jane and the younger children travelled in a doolie dak, a sedan or a box-like contrivance like chair, carried by four stalwart bearers and later, for the last steep ascent, in dandy, which was a hammock suspended from a pole which one had to cling on to to prevent being thrown out. Neither method of travel was comfortable. The others travelled by foot or on ponies.

On arrival in Nainital the Corbetts' rented a house near the treasury building on the outskirtsof Malli Tal Bazaar where they stayed until 1875 when they moved to a house they had had built on Alma.

Nainital was extremely cold in winter with deep snow and Christopher William was granted 10 acres of land on the edge of the plain below, just outside the village of Choti Haldwani at a place called Kaladhungi, a small Bhabar town 15 miles away from Nainital. Here he built a substantial house which he named Arundel and they planted most of the land with fruit trees and mango and the family moved there in the cold weather.

Christopher William and Mary Jane had eight children. The first was named after the hero Thomas Bartholomew, who, when he was old enough was employed by the post office. Their second child was Harriet, followed by Christopher Edward, John Quinton, Edith, Maurice, Margaret Winifred known as Maggie, Edward James (Jim) and lastly Archibald d'Arcy in 1879. Eugene Mary, Mary Jane's daughter from her marriage to Charles Doyle helped with the delivery of Edward James (known as Jim) who was born on 25 July 1875 (only 17 years after the end of the mutiny) at Nainital. He was always known as Jim.

The family always had various members of the family living with them. Christopher William's elder sister, Mary, and her husband Patrick Dease died leaving eight children, four of whom,Patrick Paget, Robert, Stephen and Carly Thomas, lived with the Corbetts. The first two of these became eminent engineers, the third became a doctor and the last the superintendent of the post office.Harriet, Jim's sister, married Richad Nestor from Kaladhungi and Nainital and they had two children, Ray and Vivian, who were also brought up in the Corbett household. Christopher Edward, Jim's brother, married Helen Mary Nestor (Richard Nestor's sister). John Quinton, Jim and sister Maggie were very close and their mother called them the 'Jam Sandwich'.

Mary Jane was Nainital's first estate agent negociating property for rent, selling plots and, as time passed, she and Christopher William bought land about the town on which they built houses. These were sold from time to time to bring in a little income.The family were members of the church at Nainital which was called St John-in-the-Wilderness. The children were raised with the help of 'ayahs' and as they grew up learned the local tongue and two Indian dialects as well as Hindi. Jim became familiar with the local religion and Hinduism.

Early on his mother and Eugene Mary acted as tutors to the children and the latest books were always available for them to read. A considerable amount of freedom appears to have been given to the children and for Jim the surrounding jungle must have proved a draw to him. Christopher William retired from the post office at Nainital in 1878 and was, by then, one of the city fathers. On Thursday 16th September 1880 it started to rain, by Saturday 19th 33 inches had fallen, Cheena had turned to mud with the consistency of porridge resulting in the great landslide. The Corbett family watched horrified from their house on Alma expecting to be carried away at any moment by the mud torrent. It missed them by a hundred yards and carried away part of the Victoria Hotel in Nainital, burying several people. The side of the hillside then became fluid and a landslip took place carrying everything away including the rest of the hotel and those trying to extricate those buried in the earlier fall. 151 persons were killed. The Corbett's house in the valley was close to where this landslip took place.

On Easter Sunday 1881 C.W.Corbett had sharp chest pains in his chest and died aged 58 on 21 April. He was buried at St John-in-the-Wilderness. Jim Corbett was six years old and his mother,Mary Jane, was left with 9 children to raise. After C.W.Corbett's death they sold their house and moved across the valley, to a spot 1000 feet higher on the safer Ayarpata. The Alma house was dismantled and moved lock stock and barrel to the 1.7 acre site on Ayarpata where Mary had bought a plot in 1871. They named their new home Gurney House (ref 113 De on the map of Nainital). There was also enough room on this plot to build another house to rent called Clifton (ref. 54 De). (Joseph John Gurney (1788-1847) was an English philanthropist and a Quaker banker of Norwich. He and his sister. Mrs Elizabeth Fry, were closely involved in prison reforms. Perhaps the house was named after him.)

The Corbett house (Gurney House) still stands, and contains some of the Corbett furniture, including their piano. There is a tall pile of sheet music, and among the books several prizes awarded to Maggie Corbett for her playing. The library was evidently a good one: besides theological and medical works, books on sport, natural history, travel and photography, the nineteenth-century poets and novelists are well represented, sometimes by first editions. The Corbett children had a cultured, comfortable home. For most of the years they lived in Nainital Jim, Mary and the children spent the winter months in their Kaladhungi house Arundel, now the Corbett museum. Jim Corbett's dogs have very special graves in the garden especially his favourite spaniel called Robin.

Edward James (Jim) Corbett who had been born 25 July 1875 at Nainital became famous as a destroyer of man-eating tigers, naturalist and as an author. He grew up to be a tall, slim, attractive blue-eyed man with exceptional eyesight, hearing and powers of observation, and was known for his modesty, kindness and generosity, and beloved by all. At an early age he spent nights alone in the jungle becoming familiar with the creatures of the jungle and their movements and habits. His mother and half-sister Mary, who were religious and intelligent and imbued with a spirit of service, courage and cheerfulness which had a strong influence on family life. All these qualities Jim Corbett inherited.

Jim Corbett went to the English High School called Oak Openings at 7,500 ft on Sherkadanda in Nainital. Oak Openings was part owned and run by an ex-Indian-Army-Officer nicknamed "Dead Eye Dick". He was a cruel and ruthless man who would thrash the children in his care for the slightest misdemeanour. Oak Openings was Jim's first school. It is he who describes the atrocious beatings given to children as young as 6 or 7 both in lessons and during cadet corps training when Jim Corbett himself was only 10 years old.The Philander Smith's Institute, part of the American Mission Institute of Mussoorie, took over the school in 1905. It was greatly increased in size and renamed Philander Smith's College. At Philander Smith College and St Joseph's College, both at Nainital, Jim proved imself popular and was to excel in games. However he was not a great scholar.



  Dict. of Nat. Biography:

  Who Was Who 1951-1960 

  Carpet Sahib, A Life of Jim Corbett by Martin Booth 

  Jim Corbett's India, Stories selected by R E Hawkins. 

  Recollections of Peter Smith of Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex who once lived at Nainital.

Some of the popular books written by Col. Corbett,  (Oxford India Publications)

   Man-eaters of Kumaon

   The Man-eating Leopard of Rudraprayag (OIP)

   My India (OIP)

   Jungle Lore

   Temple Tigers & More Man-eaters of Kumaon (OIP)

   Tree Tops (OIP)

   Jim Corbett's India (OIP)


For More Information on Jim Corbett Books and Purchase Jim Corbett Books online email at jimcorbettpark@gmail.com


Some articles and contents for publishing on our own website was exrtracted from the The Corbett Study Group and hence credits were givento the origin. Copyright of the same belongs to J C Noble unless otherwise stated. If they are published on another website, used in any publication or are printed or copied in any form, credit should be given to the source.

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