Peermede literally means ‘Peer’s valley’. It gets its name from its connection with the 18th century Sufi saint, Peer Mohammed. The Peer is believed to be associated with the Maplah traders who crossed the Western Ghats for spice trade. He had a very friendly relationship with the Travancore royal family. On reaching Peermede, he was so bewitched by its beauty that he decided to stay back. Later, the place came to be known as Peerumedu, because of the Peer who so loved the land that he settled there. Peermede is the anglicized version of Peerumedu.
Peermede is said to have been under the rule of the kings of Changanacherry till 1756. Later it was brought under the control of the kings of Travancore when they conquered Changanacherry. The place remained unexplored and wild till the 19th century. It was Henry Baker Junior, a missionary of the Church Missionary Society, who was instrumental in its growth into a major plantation town.
The Baker family hailed from Essex, in east England. Alfred G. Baker, a member of the first generation of Bakers in Kumarakom, was the son of Henry Baker Sr., a missionary who came to India in the early 19th century. Alfred and his brother Henry Jr. were born in India. Both of them contributed greatly to the religious, educational and social sectors of their adopted home, Kerala. While Henry is remembered for the introduction of plantations in Peerumedu, Alfred Baker is known for his enterprising efforts which converted part of the backwaters into the cultivable land of Kumarakom.
In the 19th century, Baker Junior introduced coffee plantation in Peermede. Later, with the arrival of the British, Peermede prospered enormously. During the 19th century itself, it became a destination for affluent foreign tourists. They also contributed to the development of the tea and coffee plantations, and it is under their influence that the name was changed to Peermede. Another popular figure, who contributed to the setting up and growth of various estates here, is Daniel Munro.
Early struggle towards development
Henry Baker, who introduced coffee plantation here, belonged to the Baker family of England. He worked towards the uplift of the tribal people. In his efforts to communicate
and educate the tribe, he used to visit the foothills of Mundakkayam and also trek to the tribal colonies uphill.
Enchanted by the quiet beauty of the place, he decided to plant coffee there. To meet the labour requirement, he brought people from Tamil Nadu. At first, he used seeds from Tamil Nadu. His efforts did not yield any results as a leaf disease affected all the young plants.
He then turned his interest to the cultivation of tea. Tea bushes were brought from Nilgiris and on an experimental basis, he cultivated tea in about 10 acres in Peermede. It turned out to be a huge success. This was the first step that led to the creation of the vast tea plantations of Peermede. Later, Richardson and Daniel Munroe followed Baker’s example. The trio was mainly responsible for making a plantation town out of the then uninhabited Peermede region.
In the early 19th century, Peermede was difficult to access as there were no good roads connecting it or Kuttikkanam with Kottayam. Bullock carts were used to carry goods. The roads of those days were animal trails, especially those created by elephants. In 1872, a cart road was made to the area. Later, the British started an aerial ropeway. The Aerial Ropeway Ltd is the first public limited company of the state of Travancore. Later, it shifted its focus to the development of road transport and the company was renamed as the Road Transport Corporation.