British Residency Gangtok- A Story of its Construction

Old picture of British Residency Gangtok presently Known as White Hall. Pic. Courtesy Mr. Shital Pradhan
J. C White after taking his charge as the first Political Officer in Sikkim had to act as the President of Sikkim Council comprised of the important Lamas. Apart from this he was having a bigger responsibility to maintain peace and harmony in one of the most secluded region of the Himalayas. Amid to these charges, White had to deal with a problem of a house as well. In his book Sikhim and Bhutan 21 Years on the North East Frontier he has mentioned it as ‘one of the first thing to be done’. He further writes: …was to build a house, not an easy task in a wild country where masons and carpenters were conspicuous by their absence, where stone for building had to be quarried from the hill sides and trees cut down for timber. In my jungle wanderings round Gangtak, I came across a charming site in the midst of primeval forest which seemed suitable everyway, so I determined to build on it, felling only the trees which might possibly endanger the safety of the house, a necessary precaution, as many of them were quite 140 feet high, and in the spring the thunderstorms, accompanied by violent winds, were sometimes terrible and wrought havoc everywhere. By leveling the uneven ground and throwing it out in front, I manage to get sufficient space for the house, with lawn and flower beds round it. Behind rose a high mountain, thickly wooded, which protected us the storm sweeping down from the snows to the north east, and in front the ground fell away with a magnificent view across the valley, where, from behind the opposite hills, Kanchenjunga and its surrounding snow towered up against the clear sky making one of the most beautiful and magnificent sights to be imagined, and one certainly not to be surpassed, if equaled, anywhere in the world. The sight selected, my real trouble began; trees had to be felled and swan into scantlings; stone quarried, lime burnt, and, most difficult of all, carpenters and masons imported. I was fortunate in my carpenters, as I had already in my employment a Punjaubi, Moti Ram by name, the best carpenter and carver I have ever come across, and through him I got other excellent men from his native village, but the masons were distinctly bad. They seemed to find it impossible to build a wall plumb or a corner square- faults that impressed themselves on us later on, to our cost, when the time came for paper hanging. More than that, too, owing to earthquakes, faulty building and heavy rain, parts of the anxiously watched edifice came down, and I began to think my house would never be finished. But, in spite of all difficulties, at Christmas 1890 we were able to move in, about eighteen months after commencing work.

White further writes about the excellent British structural design  -…”while the house was building, the Maharani came  several times to see how it was getting on, and told me I had built the walls much too thin and it would never stand. In their own houses and monasteries the walls are very thick, from 3 feet to 4 feet 6 inches, and have always a small chamber. However, later on I had the best of the argument when, in the earthquake of 1897, the palace, not withstanding its thick walls, collapsed entirely and had to be rebuilt, while the Residency remained standing”.
 After the British, when independent India inherited its legitimate right to look after Sikkim, the Residency constructed by Sikkim’s first British Political Officer James Claude White was renamed as India House. When Sikkim was fully incorporated into Indian Union in 1975, the edifice is known as White Hall.  The construction of Residency was started in June 1889 and was completed in December 1890.