Meet The Woman Who Gave Nainital its First Lodging Facility

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Mary Jane Corbett

Nainital today is a prime tourist spot but many do not know the history of its establishment as a tourist destination. Nainital was developed as a tourist destination by a British woman, Mary Jane Corbett about 130 years ago.


Here are some lesser known facts about the gutsy lady:

  • Mary Jane Corbett is the mother of hunter-turned-environmentalist Jim Corbett.
  • She is singlehandedly responsible for tourism activities in the hill town as she set up its first lodging facility for the visitors.
  • Mary Jane lived in the hills of Mussoorie and in Nainital, where she breathed her last.

Her final resting place is also located in the lap of this town at the Church of St John and is often neglected.

  • According to Prof Anil Joshi of Kumaun University, History Department “The first European style residential building set up in the town was for the benefit of Lushington, who served as the fourth Commissioner of the Kumaon region. It soon became the summer capital for the governor of the United Province (later known as Uttar Pradesh) and to this day the town is graced by the presence of the Uttarakhand Governor during summer.”
  • Mary’s husband and Jim Corbett’s father was Christopher William a veteran of the First Afghan wars, the Sikh wars of 1840s and the mutiny. He was recruited as postmaster at Nainital.
  • Christopher and Mary Jane both had three children each from their first marriages and nine from the marriage to one another.

Mary Jane Corbett Jim Corbett with Mary Jane Corbett Picture Credit:

  • As supporting such a big family on the meagre income of a postmaster being difficult, Mary Jane rented out half the house as a lodge for visitors to add to the family income. This was the first time a lodging facility was offered to the visitors in Nainital.
  • Mary Jane sowed the seeds of tourism, which gradually became one of the main occupations of the people here and now shapes its economy.
  • Snippets from Jim Corbett’s books reveal that when the Corbett’s moved to Nainital, they built a double-storey house along with a cottage in the area opposite the China hill.
  • After a landslide in 1880 and her husband’s death in 1881, Mary Jane sold the house. She then moved to the region of Ayarpata.
  • There she constructed a well-known building, Gurney house. The house was constructed out of the material of the dismantled cottage of the old home, thus gaining its name Gurney, meaning a wheeled cot of a stretcher, referring to the old house.

Mary Jane passed away on May 16, 1924 and laid to rest in the cemetery of the Church of St John-in-the-wilderness.

  • While many tourists come to pay respects to their colonial ancestors to Nainital, the grave of Mary Jane Corbett remains abandoned.
  • Tim Werling has written a book on Mary’s life called Woman of the Raj: The Life Mary Jane Corbett.

Nainital since long has forgotten about Mary Jane Corbett, the lady who gave the town its distinctiveness.

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Picture credit: Best Places to Visit

Apoorva Lamba is an intern with SheThePeople.Tv

First Lodging Facility Mary Jane Corbett Nainital