Frederick Wilson: The Enigmatic Raja of Harsil
In the enchanting realm of the Himalayas, a remarkable British figure once carved his legacy - Frederick Wilson, better known as the Raja of Harsil, Pahari Wilson, or Shikari Wilson. His life was an extraordinary blend of adventure, wilderness, and royalty, making him a legendary figure in the history of Uttarakhand. Let's embark on a journey to uncover the captivating tale of Frederick Wilson, the man who went from being an army deserter to a local king in the breathtaking Himalayas
Early Life and Arrival in India
Born on January 21, 1817, in Wakefield, Yorkshire, Frederick Wilson's destiny was set to unfold on the other side of the world. He arrived in India after joining the East India Company as a private in 1836. Little did he know that his path would lead him to the awe-inspiring Bhagirathi valley, where his life would take a dramatic turn.
The Transformation of a Soldier to a Hunter
The First Anglo-Afghan War of 1838-39 saw Frederick Wilson deserting the army for reasons unknown. Armed with only a brown bess, he ventured into the wilderness of the Bhagirathi valley. Here, he discovered his true calling as a hunter and naturalist. Wilson's passion for hunting led him to seek rights to kill musk deer, but fate had a different plan for him.
The Rise of the Raja of Harsil
Wilson forged local connections and traded skins, fur and musk with British firms and soon made a great fortune. A few years into his rise, Wilson began illegal logging and sold the timber discreetly. In 1850, aided by the Company, Wilson gained a logging licence for a paltry fee. Wilson now felled whole groves of Deodar as Deodar wood made excellent railway sleepers. Later, Wilson's fortunes changed when he acquired timber harvesting rights from Sudarshan Shah, the Raja of Tehri, in 1859. With the forest lease of the Taknore Pargana, he was also appointed as the Raja's agent to repopulate the area, which had been deserted after Gurkha occupation. Wilson successfully resettled the Jad people from Kunawar in the Nelang valley, known as Jadang, and began his journey as the Raja of Harsil. Soon, thousands of tree trunks were floated down the Bhagirathi and the Yamuna every year to mills downriver.
A King's Wealth and Sovereignty
Wilson's astute business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit made him immensely wealthy. He made money from hunting and trading musk from musk deer, as well as the plumes of monals and other pheasants for the plume trade. So prosperous was he that he minted his own currency, and for a period, he ruled over the Harsil region as a local king.
Love, Family, and the Raja's Legacy
Frederick Wilson married a local woman named Raimata, and later, her aunt Gulabi. However, fate dealt a tragic hand to his children Nathaniel, Charles, and Henry, and the family faced turbulent times, leading to Wilson's eventual departure from Harsil.
The Legacy Lives On
Though Frederick Wilson's time as the Raja of Harsil may have ended, his story lives on as a legendary figure of the Himalayas. His tale of adventure, royalty, and transformation continues to intrigue historians and locals alike, with some even claiming Rudyard Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be King" was inspired by him.
Frederick Wilson, the enigmatic Raja of Harsil, left an indelible mark on the history of Uttarakhand. His journey from a soldier to a hunter, and ultimately a local king, stands as a testament to the allure and mystique of the Himalayas. Today, his legacy lives on in the tales of the mountains, weaving a captivating narrative of adventure and royalty that shall forever be etched in the annals of time.
British ‘Raja’ in Garhwal: Pahari Wilson (dnaindia.com