The erstwhile home of famed hunter-conservationist and writer Jim Corbett, Gurney House is a charming 19th century British cottage in Nainital. It came into being in 1881 when, following the death of Christopher William Corbett, the Post Master of Nainital, his wife Mary Jane and her nine children moved from Alma House to a new site on Ayarpatta hill and erected a dwelling on it called Gurney House.
By her will dated 3rd March, 1899, Mrs. Mary Jane Corbett bequeathed the Gurney House estate to her daughter, Miss Margaret Winifred Corbett (Maggie), who became the sole and absolute owner of the estate upon her mother’s death. Maggie and her brother Jim lived in the house until 1947, when they decided to depart for Kenya, possibly because neither could face the thought of continuing to live in India after the death of the other. Therefore, in November 1947, Miss Margaret Winifred Corbett sold the estate, the house and its possessions through a registered deed of sale to Mrs Kalavati Varma.
Kalavati Varma was the wife of Sharda Prasad Varma, who was the youngest Indian barrister ever from Cambridge University, UK, at the time. Belonging to a prominent zamindari family from Bihar, Varma practiced law in the Chhapra district courts located near his family mansion in Ballia. Kalavati Varma was also the sister of well-known industrialist and member of Lord Wavell’s Council, Sir J.P. Srivastava.
Sharda Prasad Varma was born in Ballia, near Siwan, in Bihar.His birthdate is not known to us but he should be born on 1890 or so, as he was more than ten years older to his wife.He was very close to Dr Rajendra Prasad, the President of India and was related to him as well. As their children grew older, the Varmas decided to educate them in the prestigious schools of Nainital and began looking for a house there.
Maggie and Jim that they sell Gurney House to the couple and the idea appealed to them. The deal went through and Gurney House became the home of the Varma family. It was here that the next two generations of the family were educated and practically raised. Years later, when the children of Sharda Prasad and Kalavati felt they were unable to take care of the property due to old age and health problems, they decided to sell it. Not wanting the family home to go to an outsider, the house was bought in May 2006 by a granddaughter of Sharda Prasad and Kalavati, Nilanjana Dalmia, daughter of their son Prakash Kumar Varma.
Gurney House has been a home for the Varma family since 1947. It remains a private home whose residents are Corbett lovers and want to maintain its character and historical legacy. The house still contains Corbett’s possessions, namely his trophies, African drum, boat, fishing rod, books, and furniture. The Varma-Dalmia family hopes to make Gurney House a treasure trove of Corbett memorabilia and welcome any Corbett lovers who wish to see his beautiful home.