This is an article in the “City Idols” series. City Idols is an effort to revive the legacies of the people after whom roads and parks have been named.
Road Name: Lavelle Road named after Michael Fitzgerald Lavelle (Unknown – 1 August, 1917)
Road Location: Lavelle road is an important road found in Bangalore, Karnataka. It connects Richmond circle and Mahatma Gandhi square. Its PIN code 560001. It is close to the Chinnaswamy stadium.
Michael Fitzgerald Lavelle was the pioneer of modern gold mining in India. His fastidious attitude towards overcoming bureaucratic hurdles and his tenacity of spirit is an adage to many modern day entrepreneurs. Even today one of the most popular roads in Bangalore is named after him. Lavelle road is well known for its restaurants and is frequented by food critics and experts. The Lavelle road also has the Oorgaum mansion, which was Lavelle’s house. This is named after the place where the first shaft was sunk to mine gold. However it is not known to many that this road carries in its name and intangible sense of colonial history.
Today, India is one of the world’s largest exporters of gold jewellery, holding around 40% of the international gold trade. The export of gold yields India a large quantity of foreign exchange that helps to maintain a favorable Balance of Payments and ensure a strong foreign reserve ratio. The role of gold trade in shaping India’s economy is well known, but the individual responsible for this has slowly faded into the pages of history.
Michael Fitzgerald Lavelle was an Irish soldier, who served in His Majesty’s regiment during the Maori war in New Zealand. He had also fought against Tipu Sultan in Seringapatnam near Mysore and had been a part of the Bangalore cantonment army. It is known that he was the son of John Lavelle and Bridget O’Neill.
During his stint at New Zealand, he gained exposure to techniques involved in gold mining. Upon his retirement, he heard about the presence of gold in the Kolar.
Previously Lieutenant John Warren had confirmed the presence of gold shafts to carry out small-scale mining. He was undertaking a survey for the British government in 1802 and saw a copious number of pits, indicating the mining of gold. The inhabitants of Urigaum also informed him that Tipu Sultan carried out mining them with the help of an agency headed by Raja Ramchandra. He found that small-scale mining was prevalent in Mrikuppam. Lt. John Warren subsequently undertook the task of surveying and mapping the area. His report was published in the Asiatic journal 1804. Despite Lt. Warren’s Herculean efforts, the government did not initiate formal mining activities.
Lavelle had to travel to Urigaum by a buffalo cart and it took him no less than a fortnight to reach it, showing the lack of development. Research conducted by him showed that the area had gold presents in auriferous strata and the quantity of gold could not be ascertained until the process of construction of shafts began. In order to obtain a Mining license, he applied to the Mysore government. While submitting the report Lavelle indicated that he was primarily interested in mining coal, while receiving the reply he was deeply anguished to find only his proposal to mine coal had been complied with, however with tenacity he acquired the right to mine gold.
After the final agreement was signed Lavelle was allowed to begin gold mining. On 22 February 1875, after assuaging the Maharaja’s fear of abandoned shafts in case of failure and the company official’s doubt on the actual availability of gold, Lavelle began the process of mining gold.
In spite of being given the exclusive right to mine for gold for 3 years in 10 different locations, Lavelle did not have the capital to start large-scale mining. After approaching a number of affluent persons in Bangalore, Lavelle finally received the funding necessary for the project on 9 March 1877. A small syndicate was formed briefly, however Lavelle began to look for opportunities to sell the rights to another party. After multiple negotiations Major George Beresford and William Arbuthnot acquired the rights and papers.
Subsequently the mine changed many hands, but the legacy of Michael Lavelle lives on through the Lavelle road and the Oorgaum mansion on Lavelle road.
Contributed by: Shreya Shankar, 11-E, Sri Kumaran Children’s Home CBSE