One of the sons of the Roman Catholic Archdeacon of Killukin, County Roscommon, in what is now the Republic of Ireland, Henry Irwin took up a career in civil engineering and architecture, and arrived in India in 1868 after a short posting with the Public Works Department in Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka). He first made his name at by building a large Catholic Church in Pachmarhi (also known as Panchmarhi) in Madhya Pradesh, a "hill-station and sanatorium for British troops" in central India (Gupta 1807). From there he was posted to the bigger and more important hill-station of Simla (now Shimla), summer capital of the British Raj when it was administered from Calcutta (now Kolkata). As Superintendent Architect of the Public Works Department here, he proved "resourceful and influential" (Kanwar 51), designing several of the landmark buildings here, in particular the Viceregal Lodge, which currently serves as an Institute of Advanced Studies. A later posting to Madras produced more landmark buildings, such as the Madras Law Courts. Philip Davies describes his Victoria Memorial Hall there as his "purest building" and "an absolute gem" (198). However, he has also been fairly criticised for failing to appreciate local architectural traditions and needs, and (more inevitably) for reflecting the colonial attitudes of his day. Irwin was evidently an energetic character: he had an enormous family of more than a dozen children, kept and raced horses, and must have been well-suited to hill-station life especially, with its "gay round of sport, riding and long picnic" (Shimla Guide, 1). It is not surprising, then, that he retired to the hill-station of Ootacamund, where he died in 1922. — Jacqueline Banerjee

Irwin's name on the Viceregal Lodge, Simla

Related material


Henry Irwin and the Indo-Saracenic Movement Reconsidered


Buck, Edward John. Simla Past and Present. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink, 1904. Internet Archive. Contributed by the University of California Libraries. Web. 23 January 2015.

Das, Pradip. Henry Irwin and the Indo-Saracenic Movement Reconsidered. New Delhi: Partridge, 2014.

Davies, Philip. Splendours of the Raj: British Architecture in India 1660-1947. London: Penguin, 1987.

Gupta, Om. Encyclopaedia of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. 9 Vols. Delhi: Isha Books, 2006.

Higman, Chris. "Henry Irwin: Architect in India, 1841-1922." Henry Irwin, Architect. Web. 22 January 2015.

Kanwar, Pamela. Imperial Simla: The Political Culture of the Raj. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2nd ed. 2003. See especially the useful "Afterword" on "Imperial Simla's Built Heritage" added to this edition (294-317).

Metcalf, Thomas R. An Imperial Vision: Indian Architecture and Britain's Raj. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Scriver, Peter, and Vikramaditya Prakash, eds. Colonial Modernities: Building, Dwelling and Architecture in British India and Ceylon . London: Routledge, 2007. 3-25.

Shimla Guide with Map. 27th ed. New Delhi: Nest & Wings, 2007-8.

Sriram, V. "The Journalistic History of Madras." The Journalistic History of Madras. Web. 22 January 2015.

Last modified 22 January 2015