The History of the Birdpur Estate Grant
English involvement in India began when the East India Company started trading in 1613. The company firmly resolved to act solely as trader, however by the beginning of the 18th century, to protect their trade, they were obliged to raise their own army.
By 1800 the East India Company, acting for Britain, directly ruled about two thirds of India and was the paramount power over the remaining independent states: Oudh, north west of Delhi and bordering Nepal, was prevailed upon to cede to the East India Company part of the eastern end of its state adjacent to Bihar. The ceded section included a strip, 70 miles long by 30 miles wide, of jungle and swamp, known as the Terrai that ran from the Nepalese border to a line just north of Gorakhpur. The Terrai was notorious for its foul and dangerous climate, only a small indigenous aboriginal population inured to its “pestilential vapours” survived there.
In the early 1830s Robert Martin Bird, Administrator of the North West Provinces, sanctioned the granting of tracts of land in the Terrai with the aim of clearing, cultivating and populating it. Among the first lessees of Jungle Grants, as they were known, were the Gibbon brothers. The grant they applied for was Birdpur, 40 miles north of Gorakhpur; 14 miles long and 3 miles wide its northern border abutted on Nepal. One Gibbon brother, Hugh was appointed manager of Birdpur, the other brother, John, his assistant.
In 1838 Hugh married a young widow, Delia Claxton. The development of quinine at this time for treating fevers and the importing of an army of labourers allowed the brothers to start clearing the land. Both brothers however suffered from savage bouts of malaria, Hugh died in 1844 and John in 1848, leaving Delia alone at Birdpur.
In 1843 George Peppé, 23, and his brother William, 21, of Aberdeen, were employed to set up a sugar mill at Aktawa, 10 miles north of Gorakhpur. Eight months after their arrival George was instructed to sack the manager of the mill and take on the job himself. By 1845 George was suffering badly from fever attacks and had to return to Scotland meanwhile William took over as manager at Aktawa. In 1848 the sugar mill was sold and a new manger was appointed, William subsequently found himself another job managing the estates at Birdpur. About this time the Province of Oudh was in an unsettled state and many tenants came from there wishing to take up lands in Birdpur. William saw this as an opportunity and encouraged resettlement; he made over his indigo lands - shortly after he had arrived at Birdpur William had discontinued the cultivation of Indigo believing the soil to be too low and swampy and better suited for rice cultivation - together with plots of jungle on seven-year leases under tenant friendly terms. Under this arrangement the jungle soon disappeared, villages sprung up and most of the land was bought under cultivation. One of the conditions of the Jungle Grant was that the jungle must be cleared within a certain time, something many of the recipients of the grant had not managed.
In October 1849 William married Delia Gibbon the widowed part owner of Birdpur and through the laws of the day automatically became one of the proprietors of the estate, he also bought shares in Birdpur whenever they were available until eventually he became the major shareholder. A trained engineer, William built reservoirs and canals throughout the estate and proceeded to cultivate a type of long grain rice that became its main crop. Between 1857 & 1859 William, alongside many of his Birdpur tenants, fought the insurgents during the Indian Rebellion (known to the British as the Indian Mutiny). For services rendered during the uprising William was awarded the Bheloungie estate, he then acquired a further two estates consequently becoming manager and proprietor of almost 50 square miles of land.
In the early 1880s William handed over the management of the estates to his older son Willie (William Claxton Peppé).