Darjeeling’s name derives from a monastery called Dorje Ling which was built by the local tribals Denzongpas in 1765 on behalf of the Chogyal of Sikkim. It is said that it was formerly a place of worship of the Rongs where three stone stand erect (Lung-Chok) till today. “Dorje” means thunderbolt and “Ling” means place. Unfortunately the monastery was destroyed by the invading Gurkha Army in 1815.
Darjeeling was originally a part of the Kingdom of Sikkim and was inhabited by the Lepchas, a tribe native to the area since the beginning of time, before being invaded by the Gorkhas who were able to subdue the combined indigenous Bhutia and Lepcha armies of Sikkim. The Gorkha army from Nepal invaded Darjeeling in the 1790s, attacked the Sikkimese capital of Rabdentse, and annexed territories up to the Teesta River into Nepal. After the Anglo-Gorkha War, Nepal ceded one-third of it territories to the British under the 1815 Sugauli Treaty, which included the land area between the Mechi and Teesta Rivers. On 10 February 1817, the British returned the land area between the Mechi and Teesta to the Sikkimese Chogyal under the Treaty of Titalia.
East India Company Lease
In February 1829 dispute between Nepal and Sikkim arose regarding their borders (especially Ontoo Dara) and the then British Governor-General of India, Lord William Bentinck, sent two officers, Captain George Alymer Lloyd and J. W. Grant, to help resolve the situation. On the journey to Ontoo Dara the two officers stayed at Darjeeling for six days at “the old Goorka station called Dorjeling”, which Lloyd noted was populated by “100 souls” of Lepchas, and were “much impressed with the possibility of the station as a sanatorium.” On 18 June 1829, Lloyd communicated to the government regarding the possibility of Darjeeling serving as a sanatorium, while about the same time Grant also urged the government to acquire the tract.
Bentinck agreed to acquire the hill tract as a military outpost and sanatorium, acknowledging that it also offered strategic advantages as a military outpost and trading hub. Captain Herbert, the Deputy Surveyor General, was then sent to Darjeeling to examine the area. The court of Directors of the British East India Company approved the project. General Lloyd was given the responsibility to negotiate a lease of the area from the Chogyal of Sikkim. The lease as per the Deed of Grant was granted on 1 February 1835.
This was an unconditional cession of what was then a worthless uninhabited mountain, but in 1841 the British government granted the Chogyal of Sikkim an allowance of Rs. 100,000 per annum as compensation, and raised the grant to Rs. 6,000 per annum in 1846.
Establishing the sanitorium
In 1835, a member of the Indian Medical Service, Arthur Campbell, was appointed as agent of the leased tract, and Lieutenant Napier (later Lord Napier of Magdala) set to work improving the area and laying the foundations of the hill station of Darjeeling. Dr. Campbell became the first superintendent of the sanitarium in 1839. A road connecting Darjeeling with the plains was constructed in 1839.
Beginning of tea plantation
Dr. Campbell brought Chinese tea seeds in 1841 from the Kumaon region and started growing tea on an experimental basis near his residence at Beechwood, Darjeeling. This experiment was followed by similar efforts by several other British. The experiments were successful and soon several tea estates started operating commercially.
Annexation into the British Indian Empire
Darjeeling, showing the Himalayan Range, as seen from St. Paul’s School, Darjeeling, 1870
The rapid growth of Darjeeling led to jealousy from the Chogyal of Sikkim. There were also differences between the British Government and Sikkim over the status of people of Sikkim. Because of the increased importance of Darjeeling, many citizens of Sikkim, mostly of the labour class, started to settle in Darjeeling as British subjects. The migration disturbed the feudal lords in Sikkim who resorted to forcibly getting the migrants back to Sikkim.
The relation deteriorated to such an extent that when Dr. Campbell and the eminent explorer Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker were touring in Sikkim in 1849, they were suddenly captured and imprisoned. This detention continued for weeks. An expeditionary force was sent by the Company to Sikkim. However, there was no necessity for bloodshed and after the Company’s troops had crossed the Rangeet River into Sikkim, hostilities ceased.
Consequent to this trouble, and further misconduct on the part of the Sikkim authorities a few years later, the mountain tracts now forming the district of Darjeeling became a part of the British Indian Empire, and the remainder of kingdom of Sikkim became a protected state.
The area of Kalimpong along with the Dooars became British property following the defeat of Bhutan in the Anglo-Bhutan war (Treaty of Sinchula – 11 November 1865). Kalimpong was first put under the Deputy Commissioner of Western Duars, but in 1866 it was transferred to the District of Darjeeling giving the district its final shape.
The Darjeeling Municipality was established in 1850. Tea estates continued to grow. By the 1860s, peace was restored in the borders. During this time, immigrants, mainly from Nepal, were recruited to work in the construction sites, tea gardens, and other agriculture-related projects. Scottish missionaries undertook the construction of schools and welfare centres for the British residents: Loreto Convent in 1847, St. Paul’s School in 1864, Planters’ Club in 1868, Lloyd’s Botanical Garden in 1878, St. Joseph’s School in 1888, Railway Station in 1891, and Town Hall (present Municipality Building) in 1921. With the opening of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in 1881, smooth communication between the town and the plains below further increased the development of the region. “Darjeeling disaster” was an earthquake in 1898 that caused considerable damage to the young town and its native population.
After independence of India
After the independence of India in 1947, Darjeeling was merged with the state of West Bengal. A separate district of Darjeeling was established consisting of the hilly towns of Darjeeling, Kurseong, Kalimpong and the Terai areas of Siliguri.