James Wilkinson Breeks took over as Commissioner of Nilgiris on Aug 1, 1868 when the district ceased to be a Taluk of Coimbatore district. He was the son in law of Governor William Dennison and was a good Kannada translator. Probably, the reasons for his appointment as the first Commissioner. He had retired from service and had tried his hand in business in China which failed.
Mr.Breeks was a very popular Commissioner who promoted the Ooty Hunt, sports and horticulture. He was also keenly interested in archaeological explorations. Along with his friend Rev.Metz he opened up most of prehistoric graves on the hills and sent the grave goods to Calcutta which later went to London and are now in the museums there.
His death in 1872 at the age of 42 was sudden. It was attributed to liver complications, which resulted from digging out old gravesites.
He died in Bishopsdown , the present Smyrna Home, which used to be the residence of governors. His funeral in St. Stephens Church was attended by a large ‘concourse of friends and neighours’.
The Breeks Memorial School was built by public subscription and government grant in memory of Mr. Breeks. In September 1873, the medallions, representing profile likeness, and also the coat of arms and monogram, executed in terra cotta, of Mr. Breeks, arrived from England , to be embedded in the school building.
The school, opened in 1874, was originally at the present District Court complex. When the courts were established the school was moved to a new ornamental structure where it continues as landmark.
Mr.Breeks’ valuable book, ‘An Account of the Primitive Tribes and Monuments of the Nilgiris’ was published posthumously in 1873 by his wife, ‘a sporting daughter of a equally sporting Governor’. They had three sons and one daughter.
The Save Nilgiris Campaign organised two important events in the school buildings after carrying out considerable cleaning and repairs. A 10-day Photographic exhibition . ‘Nilgiris-Then and Now’ inaugurated by Governor Dr.P.C. Alexander in 1990 and a 15-day All India Exhibition, ‘Green Hopes 95’ in 1995. Ooty is yet to see an event like that.
Nilgiri Documentation Centre