Articles,  Darjeeling,  Ernest Hartley,  Gertrude Yackjee,  Gone With The Wind,  Shannon Lodge,  Vivien Leigh

Darjeeling, India and the Birth of Vivien Leigh

I was born in one of the most romantic places in the world–Darjeeling–although I have only confused impressions of its beauty, and of the gaiety of life there, for my father, who was a stockbroker, brought the family back to England when I was five. -Vivien Leigh (1)

A three year old Vivien Leigh in India

Darjeeling’s life began as part of Sikkim in 1817. Prior to that the area that includes Darjeeling belonged to India’s next door neighbor, Nepal. The Rajah of Sikkim granted the area and its environs to the British on February 1st, 1835.

The Governor-General having expressed his desire for the possession of the hills of Darjeeling on account of its cool climate, for the purpose of enabling the servants of his Government, suffering from sickness, to avail themselves of its advantages, I the Sikkimputtee Rajah out of friendship for the said Governor-General, hereby present Darjeeling to the East India, that is, all the land south of the Great Runjeet river, east of the Balasur, Kahail and Little Runjeet rivers, and west of the Rungpo and Mahanadi rivers. (2)

 Map of Darjeeling, 1838, from Dorje-Ling, by Henry Vincent Bayley
The view is quite unparalleled for the scenery it embraces, commanding confessedly the grandest known landscape of snowy mountains in the Himalayas and hence in the world. The observer is struck with the sharpness of their outlines, and still more with the wonderful play of colours on their snowy flanks, from the glowing hues reflected in the orange, gold and ruby, from clouds illumined by the sinking or rising sun, to the ghostly pallor that succeeds with twilight. (3)

The British thought Darjeeling would serve as a great location for a sanitarium and began to work on the conversion. At the time, Darjeeling consisted of only a few huts and about 100 people. Many buildings began to spring up including churches and schools. One such building was St. Paul’s School.

St. Paul’s is one of the oldest schools in India. It was first formed in Calcutta in 1823, then later moved to Darjeeling in 1863, with one more move to its current location in 1864. Over the years, St. Paul’s acquired additional property in the form of local tea plantations, which are also called estates. One such tea plantation was the Mount Vernon Estate, which was subsequently renamed for one of the school’s rectors, Reverend Dawkins. I’m not sure on the exact date of when Mount Vernon was renamed, but the Reverend Dawkins was the rector at St Paul’s from 1922-1927, so the earliest that Mount Vernon could be renamed after him is 1922.

Over the last few years, there has been a rumour circulating on exactly where Vivien was born, within the city of Darjeeling. This rumour says that she was born at Dawkins House, on St. Paul’s Campus. This rumour is not true. Both Felix Barker, who interviewed Vivien’s parents, and Hugo Vickers, who was given access to all of Vivien’s papers, wrote in their respective biographies that Vivien was born at Shannon Lodge, in Darjeeling.

Darjeeling, Queen of the Hills, circa 1916; Note the mountain peaks in the distance.

Vivien’s parents, Ernest and Gertrude Hartley, had journeyed to Darjeeling from Calcutta to escape the heat of the city. The Hartleys settled at Shannon Lodge, a two-storeyed house with a wide-sloping roof, set in its own wooded grounds. (4)   [Vivien]…came into the world at Shannon Lodge, soon after sundown on Guy Fawkes Day, 5 November, 1913. (5)

In 1913, they [the Hartleys] spent the pleasant months in Darjeeling, and had a special reason for renting a house rather than staying in a hotel. …Mrs. Hartley was expecting a child in November… The two-storied house with the wide-sloping roof, which stood in its own wooded grounds on the side of a hill overlooking the town, was a quiet and perfect place in which to prepare for the child’s arrival. From the veranda of the house the view seemed especially beautiful on the evening of November 5th. Far away to the north, toward the great snow-capped peaks of Everest and Kanchenjunga; and not long after the sun had disappeared, leaving the town a spangle of twinkling lights in the sudden darkness, the doctor came downstairs with the news that it was a girl. It was against this properly dramatic blackcloth that Vivian Mary Hartley was born. (6)

Shannon Lodge, in the lower left of the map, is clearly visible. Note how St. Paul’s School and the Mt. Vernon Estate (now called Dawkins) are located in the upper right of the map. I’ve underlined all three buildings in red and it’s easy to see how they are three separate buildings.

Detail of Darjeeling map, circa 1910, from my collection

Shannon Lodge was built sometime in the late 1800s, prior to 1887. I believe it was built by Thomas Kenay. Kenay had come to Darjeeling as an engineer in 1864. He established a pure water source by building reservoirs at Senchal, since the current water sources in Darjeeling were very questionable. Kenay laid down approximately thirteen miles of pipe to effectively bring the water into the town. He built the barracks at Jalapahar, rebuilt St. Francis’ Church, which was renamed St. Joseph’s Church, and had a hand in building various other buildings throughout Darjeeling. Two of these buildings were West Point Lodge and Shannon Lodge, both of which are located quite close together (see above map: West Point is slightly west of Shannon Lodge). When Kenay rebuilt St. Francis’ (St. Joseph’s) in 1880, he re-used some of the old church’s windows and doors for the West Point cottage.

Thomas Kenay was approximately 73 years old when he died, in 1899. At the time of his death, he owned several lodges (West Point, Asyleen Villa, Fir Grove, Charlemont), rental buildings in Commercial Row and of course, Shannon Lodge. All of his property went to his three sons, one of whom lived out the remainder of his days at the aforementioned West Point.

During his lifetime, Kenay earned rental income from his various property holdings, including Shannon Lodge. There’s a mention of Shannon Lodge in 1887, as the residents there announce the birth of a baby boy.  The next mention that I found came on June 12th, 1897, when India suffered a major earthquake. Darjiling was shaken at 5 o’clock this evening by a most appalling earthquake, the severest ever known here. The shock lasted three minutes and did incalculable damage. Nearly every house in the place has been more or less affected. (7)   Luckily, Shannon Lodge suffered only a minimal amount of damage and was repaired soon after. 

In 1899, Shannon Lodge now has new tenants, two doctors:  Dr. Robert Ingersoll and his wife, Dr. Olive Ingersoll. They were Protestant missionaries from the Seventh Day Adventist Church, located in the United States. The Ingersolls were in India, not only to minister, but to practice medicine and to teach.

Note how Shannon Lodge is its own address.

On the modern day Google map below, I’ve marked with a red X the approximate vicinity that Shannon Lodge would be located today (lower left on map). I don’t currently know if it’s still standing or not. Note how St. Paul’s School is still located in the upper right of the map. St. Paul’s School and Shannon Lodge have not converged.

Modern day map of Darjeeling, from Google

There’s also another rumour circulating about Vivien, which says that Vivien attended the Loreto Convent in Darjeeling. It is possible that she may have attended a few months there, before her parents took her back to England and enrolled her in Sacred Heart. In the Loreto Convent’s records, that are currently available, they show that a Gertrude Yackjee attended school there and this Gertrude’s age matches that of the future Mrs. Hartley, which is why I give weight to this possibility. After all the time I’ve spent on the Yackjee surname, I’ve only ever come across one person named Gertrude Yackjee (Vivien’s mother). Of course, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t another G. Yackjee in the world back then, but the possibility that the Gertrude at Loreto is Vivien’s mother is extremely high, especially with the location and age match.

Loreto Convent Advertisement, from 1846

Above is a Loreto Convent advertisement for new students. The school lists prices in Indian rupees for boarders and day students, along with charges for additional activities/lessons. There’s also some school guidelines listed for the parents and students such as parents should only visit once a month and only on Wednesdays from 11am to 2pm.

1. What Success Has Taught Me, article by Vivien Leigh
2. Bengal District Gazetteer, L.S.S O’ Malley
3. Himalayan Journals, Sir Joseph Hooker
4. Vivien Leigh: A Biography, Hugo Vickers, page 9
5. Ibid, page 3
6. The Oliviers, Felix Barker, page 77
7. The Earthquake in Bengal and Assam, printed by the Englishman Press, pages 240-241


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