Wednesday, March 7, 2018

From India's Digital Archives-5: An outline of the Madras Presidency

The book featured in this issue is one of its kind, an overview of the Madras Presidency written in Gujarati.

The Gujaratis were amongst the earliest migrant communities in the Madras Presidency, their association dating to at least the mid-1500s. Over the course of this period, they have actively contributed to the development of the social, commercial and cultural landscape of the region.

The Malabar Samachar weekly, founded in 1925 was the first Gujarati magazine in the Madras Presidency. It was edited and published by Madhavrai Gigabhai Joshi, a businessman who settled in Cochin after retiring from successful venture in Rangoon. There is no information either on him or as to the trade he was engaged in. Madhavrai took a keen interest in Gujarati literature and wrote a series of articles suggesting several schemes for its promotion, especially for the benefit of Gujaratis living outside the State. He also wrote to the Gujarati Sahitya Parishad (Gujarati Literary Council) requesting that the schemes be discussed and considered for implementation. However, nothing concrete was to come out of it. He was however undeterred by the poor response.

One important scheme proposed was to fix a centre annually from among the commercial centres of the country and to commission a work on that region covering in particular its mineral wealth and the consequential potential for growth. Madhavrai took it upon himself to present the first work, Malabar Pradesh-nu Ruparekha (An outline of Malabar Territory), which came out as the first annual number to the subscribers of the Malabar Samachar.

The suggestion for a similar book on the Madras Presidency was given by BG Anjaria of M/s PD Asher and Co of Tiruppur, well-known cloth merchants. Initially not so keen on the proposal, as he wanted to write a second edition of the book on Malabar, Madhavrai writes that he agreed as he saw the need to win the support of the different sections of Gujaratis who had settled in other parts of the Madras Presidency for business purposes. Thus, was born Madras Ilakanu Digdarshan.

The book comprises an overview of the Geographical and Trade aspects of the Madras Presidency. The trade section is particularly interesting, given the varied businesses the community had a presence in. In addition to a list of factories, tea and coffee estates, this section contains short sketches of successful Gujarati businessmen of the Presidency. Some well-known names covered in the sketches include that of Gocooladoss Jumnadoss and Co (cloth merchants, the family behind the creation of the Vallabhacharya Vidya Sabha which manages institutions such as the DG Vaishnav College), TB Mehta and Sons (diamond merchants), Lalubhai Velchand Desai (one of the earliest Gujarati cycle merchants and after whom a school is named in Bangalore), M/s Surajmals (jewellers) and Khan Bahadur Adam Hajee Mohammad Sait. Also of note is the involvement of the community in charities established and managed by them, such as the Madras Pinjrapole (established 1905) and the South Indian Humanitarian League (1926).

The book, which came out in 1928 was printed in Bhavnagar, at the Gujarati Punch’s printing press. It was clearly intended to be the first in a series, as Madhavrai says that thanks to the large volume of material gathered during his research, he had to restrict the book to the above two aspects. There is however no information as to whether subsequent volumes saw the light of the day.

From India's Digital Archives-4: Towers of higher education

The University of Madras was established by an Act of the Legislative Council of India dated September 5, 1857. It had its genesis in what was known as the ‘Magna Carta of English Education in India’, Wood’s Despatch of 1854. Similar institutions were established in Bombay and Calcutta.

The Despatch, a seminal documentation on education in India, recommended several measures to promote and administer education in the country, such as the establishment of a Department of Public Instruction in each Presidency and the establishment of schools and colleges as well as institutions for training teachers. Special emphasis was given for higher education, with the setting up of universities in each of the Presidency Towns being an important point. It was felt that the progress in English education in the preceding few years had indicated that it was time to establish universities that would offer a regular and liberal course of higher education. With the founding of the University of Madras, the High School of Madras, which had been established in 1841 was reconstituted and became the Presidency College.

The early years of the University were primarily as a body for conducting exams and conferring degrees on the successful candidates. The degrees for which candidates were examined included Degrees in Medicine, Law and Engineering besides Degrees in Arts. It functioned in a portion of the Presidency College building, where it continued to remain till 1873 when the Senate House was completed. The first entrance examination, known as the Matriculation, was held in September 1857, where a total of 36 out of 41 candidates who appeared, passed. The first graduates were C.W. Thamotharan Pillai and Vishwanatha Pillai, both from the American Missionary Seminary in Jaffna, who were the only two to take the University’s final BA exams.

By 1881, the number of colleges in the Presidency had grown to 24, of which seven were first grade and the remaining second grade. As the number grew, the University too started making changes in its administrative pattern and increasing the number of degrees in which examinations were conducted. In 1877, private candidates (students who had not pursued classes at a recognised institution) were allowed to take examinations with the consent of the Syndicate. In 1885, a Degree in Teaching was offered for the first time. The rules for affiliation of colleges were made more stringent and the Syndicate was empowered to refuse affiliation to colleges with inadequate infrastructure. The office of the Registrar was made a whole-time one from 1891.

The centenary of the institution was celebrated in a grand manner in January 1957. The events included a grand exhibition in the grounds of the College of Engineering, Guindy, a Science Symposium and a sports meet. A special convocation was held and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was conferred an honorary degree. He also laid the foundation stone of the Centenary building. Several committees were set up to organise the celebrations.

The Publication Committee, under the convenorship of K. Balasubramania Aiyar, noted lawyer, was entrusted with the task of bringing out an account of the growth of the University. Comprising two volumes, it was written by Dr. K.K. Pillay, Professor of Indian History and Archaeology, University of Madras. The first volume, comprising the history of the first hundred years, is an extensive documentation of the progress of the higher education in South India. The second volume comprises sketches of the various colleges affiliated to the University. Along with W.T. Sattianadhan’s History of Education in the Madras Presidency (1894), these volumes constitute a treasure trove of literature on the progress of education in South India.

From India's Digital Archives-3: Thomas Parry, Free Merchant

Thomas Parry was one of the most prominent merchants in the annals of the business history of the Madras Presidency. Arriving in Madras in 1788, he made the city and, by extension, the Presidency his home for the next three and a half decades before passing away in harness in Porto-Novo in 1824. The subject of this column is a book written in 1938, commemorating the 150th year of his arrival in Madras.

Born in 1768 in Leighton Hall, Welshpool, Thomas Parry arrived in Madras aged twenty and registered himself as a Free Merchant. His first business enterprise was in 1789, in partnership with Thomas Chase, a civil servant, who, besides his official duties, carried on a general banking and agency business. The partnership lasted for three years, before Parry quit in 1792 to strike out on his own. By 1795, he had become a known name in commercial circles, thanks to the success of his shipping business that he had begun in a small way during his partnership with Chase. His reputation led him to being appointed the Secretary of the Carnatic Insurance Co. and Examiner to the Mayor’s Court, positions that he described as “situations of respectability and emolument”. These, however, were short-lived ventures, as he entered the service of the Nawab of Carnatic as Captain in 1796. His job was in the Treasury, where he was in charge of collecting the duties. His private ventures, however, remained unaffected and moved from strength and strength, under several partnerships. His relationship with the East India Company was one that blew hot and cold, and he found himself perilously close to being deported to England in 1800.

Over the course of the next two decades, Parry’s businesses spread across South India. In 1805, he founded the first tannery in Madras, in San Thomé and, four years later, took over sugar and indigo manufacturing units in Chidambaram. He also established a shipbuilding business in Cochin, which by 1820 was building King’s Ships for the Royal Navy.

His commercial success meant that he owned substantial property in Madras. By 1819, he owned seven houses in Madras, one at San Thomé (Leith Castle), two in Nungambakkam (Wallace Gardens and Mackay’s Gardens) and four in Purasawalkam. The business was headquartered at the south corner of First Line Beach, a location which came to be known as Parry’s Corner. His most significant partnership was with John William Dare in 1819, one which would expand the empire substantially long after his death in 1824.

The book, written by G.H. Hodgson, a director in Parry and Co., is compiled from private letters written by Thomas Parry between 1806 and 1809 and ledgers and other records in the possession of the Company.

The first part of the book deals with Thomas Parry’s life, while extracts from the letters form the second part. These letters are of considerable interest, recording Thomas Parry’s views of various events and his business correspondence. Richly illustrated with drawings and photographs from the collection of the Company (including a perspective drawing of the new buildings that would come up in 1940), this book is a delightful account of the eventful and colourful life of Thomas Parry, Free Merchant.

From India's Digital Archive-2: Natesan and his Indian Review

The Indian Review, a monthly periodical “devoted to the discussion of all topics of interest” was founded in 1900. Over the course of the next fifty years, it gained renown as one of India’s leading intellectual journals thanks in no small measure to the fact that its contributors included the best of names from across the legal, political and literary spectrums. That it was able to attract a stellar list was due to the tireless efforts of the founder, the well-known publisher and nationalist G.A. Natesan.

Born in 1879 in Kumbakonam, Natesan graduated with a B.A. degree from Presidency College. A keen debater and thinker on social issues, he was the Secretary of the College’s Literary Society. Advertising as “G.A. Natesan, Student, Presidency College” in his search for lecturers and chairpersons, he was instrumental in organising lectures by several eminent personalities of the time.

Despite being offered a job in Government Service, Natesan chose to train as a journalist and joined the offices of the Madras Times as an apprentice under Glyn Barlow, its longstanding editor. Having learnt the ropes of journalism, he quit the newspaper when it was time to be employed, as important positions, especially in newspapers, were out of bounds to Indians thanks to the European ownership. He was unwilling to take up the small post that Barlow offered to create for him. With the knowledge gained out of his apprenticeship, he founded the eponymously named publishing house, G A Natesan and Co in 1897.

The idea driving the starting of The Indian Review was to bring out a journal that would be devoted to the welfare of India, but at the same time would be independent enough to ensure that both Europeans and Indians could contribute to its columns without any inhibitions. Reflecting this ideal, the design comprised a European and an Indian standing side by side. The motto, “Away with Ill feeling” was chosen by Glyn Barlow.

The magazine was a success right from its inception. Edited by Natesan himself, it covered topics of varied interests and championed several causes both within the country and abroad. Over the years, its contributors included the likes of Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyer, Rt. Hon’ble V.S. Srinivasa Sastri, V. Krishnaswamy Aiyer, C.A. White (Chief Justice of Madras), J. J. Cotton, Alfred Chatterton and R.C. Dutt.

G.A. Natesan as early as 1896 had been in touch with a barrister in Natal who had been fighting for better treatment for Indians in the colony. In 1915, when this barrister came to Madras, he stayed with G.A. Natesan at his residence in Thambu Chetty Street. Their friendship grew closer as the Independence movement gained steam and the barrister gradually changed his role to become known as Mahatma Gandhi.

Natesan passed away in 1949 and the magazine was edited thereafter for some time by his son Maniam Natesan. It wound up in 1962 and was resurrected in 1970 by T.T. Vasu, who bought the journal as a space for his father T.T. Krishnamachari to voice his views on the happenings of a young nation. Helping out in this venture was M.C. Subrahmanyam, veteran journalist and founder of the Public Health Centre in West Mambalam. After TTK’s death in 1974, Subrahmanyam kept it going for a few more years. His demise in 1982 brought about its closure.

The DLI has in its archives several editions of the magazine whose contribution to the Independence movement and in shaping the political and social discourse of the times through its pages largely remains in the shadows today.

From India's Digital Archives-1

The Digital Library of India (DLI) project, an initiative of the Central Government, aims at digitising significant artistic, literary and scientific works and making them available over the Internet for education and research. Begun in 2000 by the Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India and later taken over by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, it has to date scanned nearly 5.5 lakh books, predominantly in Indian languages.

The archives of the DLI contain a huge collection of books on old Madras and various institutions that were/are part of its landscape. While these include the more famous ones, such as the Madras Tercentenary Commemoration Volume, Story of Madras by Glyn Barlow, and Madras in the Olden Times by James Tallboys Wheeler, several out-of-print publications too are part of the collection. This column will profile some of these.

The Pachaiyappa’s College Centenary Souvenir

The Pachaiyappa’s College had its genesis in the Last Will and Testament of Pachaiyappa Mudaliar, a legendary merchant and philanthropist who died in 1794. A long and protracted legal battle broke out between his heirs over his estate in which he had left about a lakh of pagodas towards charitable and religious purposes. With a large part of the estate having been squandered away due to mismanagement, it was left to the Government to step in and salvage what was left. George Norton, the Advocate General of Madras, played a vital role in the recovery of funds, which amounted to around Rs. 7.25 lakh. This formed the nucleus of the Pachaiyappa’s Trust.

The commemoration volume records that a school was established in 1842 under the name of Patcheappa’s Preparatory School in the house of a Waddell in Popham’s Broadway for the education of poor students in the “elementary branches of English Literature and Science”. It moved to the Esplanade in 1850, when the historic building modelled on the Temple of Theseus, was inaugurated. Over the years, it grew to be one of the best known schools in South India and was the main feeder for those graduating from Presidency College and Madras University. It was raised to the status of a Second Grade college in 1880 and, in 1889, it became a First Grade college.

A small hostel for students was opened in 1899. Over the years, it grew in size and a site was purchased at Chetpet in 1914 to accommodate the growing numbers of hostellers. On April 1, the Governor of Madras, Lord Pentland, laid the foundation stone for the new buildings. The construction was completed in 1921. During the time of construction, the hostel was moved from George Town to Doveton House in Nungambakkam (the rentals being borne by Annie Besant and Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyar) and subsequently, in 1915, to Dare’s Gardens adjoining the new hostel site.

By the 1930s, the College had outgrown its Esplanade campus. When the University Commission reduced the strength of the institution to 800 due to the space crunch, it was decided to shift the entire College to the hostel campus, an idea that had originated at the time the site was bought. In 1935, the Residential College Scheme was drawn up and an appeal made to the public and alumni of the institution for funds. A raffle conducted at the College raised a sum of Rs. 50,000 towards the Building Fund. In 1939, the Governor of Madras Lord Erskine laid the foundation stone for the College buildings, which were declared open in 1940 by his successor Sir Arthur Hope.

The section dealing with the origin and growth of the institution compiled by the renowned Sanskrit scholar, T.M.P. Mahadevan, Head of the Department of Philosophy, is a comprehensive account of its journey. The book also contains a profile of Pachaiyappa Mudaliar and an account of the legal battle following his death, written by the noted historian Rao Sahib C.S. Srinivasachari, an alumnus. The section on endowments and scholarships acknowledges the contributions made over the years by several well-known names of the times, such as Gazulu Lakshminarasu Chetti, Raja Goday Narayana Gajapati Raju, Dewan V. Ramiengar (an alumnus), T. Subbaroya Mehta and Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar.

This post was first written for Madras Musings

Saturday, May 13, 2017


The origin of this liquor major goes back to 1825, when a Dr.Mcdowell started a wine business in Madras. The business later expanded thanks to the acquisition of many valuable agencies of major companies such as George Younger and Sons, well known Scotch brewers, M/s Lipton and Van Houtens Limited. The firm had several large godowns for the storage of wines and spirits imported from Europe.

In 1880, the firm ventured into cigar manufacturing. The manufacturing operations were first setup in Trichy, after which facilities were opened at their headquarters, Mcdowell House, Second Line Beach, Madras. It soon became a pioneer in the blending of the finest imported leaf with the indigenous tobacco was renowned for its brands such as “The Light of Asia” and the “Pearl of Kashmere”.

It was reconstituted as a company in 1898, with an initial capital of Rs.8 Lakhs. In 1951, it was acquired by Vittal Mallya, the founder of the UB Group, which continues to use the name for its flagship product.


The Eden restaurant at Harrisons is one of the city’s most famous restaurants. Harrisons itself is an old Madras name, tracing its origins to 1885. Founded by G.Varadarajulu Chetty, it started off as a restaurant, catering and confectionary service. Its two storey building in Broadway (where today the Bank of Maharashtra stands) consisted of the confectionary store in the ground floor and the restaurant in the first floor. The establishment was known for its Officer’s Lunches and had a string band in attendance.

Their business as confectioners too was renowned and they were appointed Confectioners and Caterers to His Excellency, the Governor of Madras and the Rajah’s of Travancore and Cochin. In 1939, the restaurant was bought over by Nammalwar Naidu, whose family in the early 2000s demolished the old garden house of the Maharani of Vizianagaram and opened the new Harrisons.