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Remembering Lord Brabourne
by Gulu Ezekiel
Oct 08, 2005
The death in England on Friday of John Ulick Knatchbull, also known as John Brabourne or the 7th Lord Brabourne, ends another link between Britain and pre-Independence India.

Brabourne was born in Bombay in November 1924, a year after his father the 5th Baron Brabourne was appointed Governor of the city.

In 1938 the 5th Lord Brabourne spent four months as India's youngest Viceroy, and young John would later become the son-in-law of the last Viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten.

Lord Brabourne died in 1940, three years after taking over as Governor of Calcutta.

The Brabourne name lives on in Mumbai thanks to the Brabourne Stadium. It was built on a piece of land reclaimed from the sea by the British authorities. In 1935 Lord Brabourne sold the 90,000 square yards (known as sub-block no. 2 of the Backbay Reclamation Scheme) to the Cricket Club of India at the dirt-rate price of 1 Pound per square yard when the rate the government was paying for reclaiming the land was almost ten times as much.

This was done on the understanding that BCCI Secretary Anthony de Mello would name the stadium after him. The price was being haggled over until according to De Mello’s own account he went to meet the Governor at his summer residence at Ganeshkhind near Poona and told him: “Your Excellency, which would you prefer to accept from sportsmen, money for your government or immortality for yourself?”

The stadium was inaugurated on December 7, 1937 with a match between CCI and Lord Tennyson’s XI. Ironically, by then Brabourne had been transferred to Calcutta. The first Test match was played here in December 1948 against the West Indies and the last Test was in February 1973 against the MCC (England).

Until the age of 10, John spoke Hindi fluently. He was then sent to England to be educated at Eton and Oxford.

But it was not in cricket that the Governor’s son excelled. Rather, he made a name for himself in the world of cinema. He was producer for numerous famous movies including Sink the Bismarck! (1960), Death on the Nile (1978) and A Passage to India (1984). Directed by David Lean, Passage— based on the novel by EM Forster--won two Oscars and was nominated for nine others.

Brabourne’s links with India were cemented by his marriage to the elder of Lord Mountbatten’s two daughters Patricia in 1946 (the younger was named India) and they stayed married for nearly 60 years.

They nearly lost their lives in the devastating IRA bomb attack on a boat in Ireland in 1979 which killed Lord Mountbatten, Brabourne’s mother and one of his twin sons and severely wounded him and the rest of the family.

Brabourne is survived by his wife and six children.

 
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