Tuesday, February 17, 2015


The Australian Consulate-General, Chennai, a year ago honoured Sister Mary Theodore of MITHRA, whom many called ‘the Mother Theresa of South India’ for her work with the disabled. But the old records reveal an earlier Australia-Madras connection in the field of social work. Caroline Chisholm, celebrated as Australia’s pioneer in the field of immigration reform and humanitarian work, particularly women’s welfare, carried out her first social work in Madras.

Arriving in Madras in 1833 as a 25-year-old bride of Archibald Chisholm, a Captain in the Madras Army, Caroline was struck by the boisterous environment of the barracks which she felt was detrimental to the upbringing of the young daughters of the soldiers. She also felt the need for an institution to educate the girls in practical knowledge in addition to academics, which would help them in successfully running a home. So was born the Female School of Industry for daughters of European soldiers.

The Memoirs of Mrs.Chisholm, written in 1852 by Eneas Mackenzie, gives us insights into the functioning of the School.

The chief object of the institution was to “enable such European Soldiers as may feel disposed to remove their children from the Barracks and Putchery Lines(?)”. A house was procured in Black Town, where the children were instructed in reading, writing, arithmetic, needlework and domestic management. Religious instruction and moral conduct were given special attention.

The rules of the institution reflect the strict regimen that was followed. The students were to “get up at an hour so as to be able to take some recreation in the cool of the morning, either on the Beach or on the Esplanade” and had to assemble for prayers and meals at the ringing of the bells. They were not allowed to go into the Bazaar. Male visitors were strictly prohibited, unless specially sanctioned by one of the managers. A child withdrawn from the School was not eligible for re-admission. The girls “ran” the school themselves, with various committees being formed amongst them for the day-to-day activities.

Punishments were set out for various offences. For telling a lie, the student was punished by forfeiting of five tickets and by being kept separate from the other students for a day in the school room so that “visitors may at once know the offender”. A girl found sulky for six hours or a day was punished by a “low diet double the time”, while a girl who refused to assist in the making of a pudding could not enjoy the same.

Despite the seemingly regimental conditions laid down by Caroline Chisholm, a reading of her address to the Matron and Mistresses reveals her concern for the well-being of her wards. She exhorts them to be careful of their conduct, as “children learn more from example than precept and are generally close and faithful imitators of those they reside with.”

The School caught the attention of Sir Frederick Adams, the Governor of Madras, who subscribed 20 pounds towards the cause. In a matter of just five days, Rs.2000 was collected.

In 1838, Captain Chisholm’s health compelled him to leave Madras for a change of climate. This meant the end of Caroline Chisholm’s association with the School that she had founded. Along with their two children, Archibald Jr and William (born 1836 and 1837 respectively), the couple moved to Sydney, where Caroline began the next phase of her remarkable career.

Concerned by the poor state in which immigrants landed in Australia, Caroline began an Emigrants Home in Sydney against all financial odds. Enlisting the help of the Press, she advertised her cause and help began to flow in. She also managed to get an interview with the Governor, Sir George Gipps, who had “heard all sorts of stories about the wild schemes of Mrs. Chisholm.” He was instantly floored by her work and soon official help too was forthcoming. Caroline was so involved in her endeavour that when Archibald rejoined his home regiment in 1840, she stayed back with their children in Australia to continue her work. She travelled far and wide into the interior parts of the country with batches of immigrant girls and placed them under the care and guidance of the families of settlers. Archibald rejoined her in 1845 and in 1846 they set sail for England.

Her work in relation to the colony did not cease despite her relocation to England. Thanks to her continuous petitioning, the Government, at its own cost, reunited two shiploads of children left behind in England with their parents in Australia. Another of her achievements was the establishment of the Family Colonisation Loan Society, which aided easy immigration from England.

Caroline fell ill in 1855 and with her husband and four children, she moved to Victoria. The family finally relocated to London in 1866, where she spent the rest of her life. It was a difficult period, with the strain of all the hectic travel and social life taking a toll on her. She passed away in 1877 in Kensington West and was buried in her home town in Northamptonshire.

She may have died forgotten in England, but Australia did not forget her contribution to the cause of immigration and service to the society. In 1967, she became the first woman other than the Queen to be featured on the 5 dollar bank note. In 1994, she was posthumously awarded the Order of Australia. The administrative centre of the Department of Human Services of the Australian Government in Canberra is named the Caroline Chisholm Centre.

The trail of the institution that she founded in Madras runs cold after her departure to Australia. All available accounts, however, say that it was taken over by the Government and run successfully. Probably it was made a part of the Military Asylums.

This article was published in the latest issue of Madras Musings, the fortnightly dedicated to the city and its heritage.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


Housed in one of the city’s most handsome buildings in its heyday, the Kardyl Buildings (which stands at the intersection of Mount Road and General Patters Road), this business house was founded by W.E.Smith in 1868. Its line of activity covered a wide range of products in the pharmaceutical sector. Besides being wholesale and manufacturing druggists, it also dealt with various types of surgical, dental and veterinary instruments. An optical department too was part of the establishment. It was established as a limited company in 1904. In 1925, the business was bought over by Spencer and Co.

Opened in 1897, the magnificent facade of the Kardyl Building comprising of minarets, domes and arches was a sight to behold in its prime. However, with the passage of time and multiple changes in ownership (the LIC being the current owner), this building has sadly been left to decay and is a mere shell of its past glory.


The Kesari Kuteeram Ayurveda Aushadasala was started in 1900 by Dr.K.N.Kesari, who was born in the Ongole district of Andhra Pradesh in 1875. Moving to Madras when he was eleven years of age, he studied at the Hindu Theological High School. Later, he learnt Ayurveda under the noted practitioner of the times, Pandit D.Gopalacharyulu and after apprenticing under him for a while, set up his own practice.

Medicines such as Lodhra (for gynaecological problems) and Amrita (a herbal restorative) produced under the Kesari Kuteeram banner were renowned for its efficacy. The business shifted to Egmore in 1917, before shifting to Westcott Road in Royapettah in 1937, wherefrom it still functions. It was registered as a private limited company in 1941.

Dr.Kesari was a philanthropist involved in espousing a number of educational and women’s causes. The Andhra Mahila Sabha, Seva Sadan and the Avvai Home were some institutions that benefited by his munificence. He was also involved with the management of a school in Royapettah that would later be renamed after him, the Kesari High School.


Founded in 1843 as Oakes, Partridge & Co., it was the city’s first department store, selling everything short of a “wife or housekeeper”. Originally founded in Broadway, they moved their headquarters to Mount Road opposite the Government House in 1895, when they reconstituted themselves as a limited liability company. As general merchants, they held a large and varied assortment of all kinds of hard and soft goods, wines and spirits and were representatives of a number of insurance and shipping companies. They also established a cigar factory in 1892. The “Beehive Foundry” was their iron foundry and engineering works division, which successfully executed several projects for the railways, shipping companies and many leading merchants of the Madras Presidency.

In the 1920s, Oakes & Co was taken over by the Spencers, with the “takeover king” J.O.Robinson spearheading the move. The Beehive foundry still survives today as a part of the Beehive Kowtha Group, having been taken over by Kowtha Suryanarayana Rao, the scion of a leading business family from Vijayawada.


Over the last one year or so, I have been writing a monthly column titled "OLD MADRAS ROAD" for Auditor, the in house magazine of the Society of Auditors of which I am a member. Every issue features advertisements of two old Madras business establishments, with around 125 to 150 words on each business.

The "landmark" event of having featured the 25th and 26th businesses (to be published next month) and Sriram sir's persistence have been instrumental in putting these up on the blog.

My thanks to Somerset Playne, my mentor Mr.V.Sriram and Mr.S.Muthiah, all of whom have provided the column with many pieces of information on these businesses, and of course to Mr.P.S.Prabhakar, Editor of Auditor and the entire team for hosting it every month.

T.R.Tawker and Sons were leading diamond merchants of the Madras Presidency in the late 19th and early 20th century. They belonged to the Gujarati community, with their presence in South India dating back to the mid 1600s.

The business was a flourishing one with customers that included Zamindars, royalty and leading musicians. The Official Catalogue of the Exhibition held in connection with the Coronation Durbar in Delhi in 1903 valued their collection displayed on the occasion at Rs.60 Lakhs. Their showroom, designed by the legendary Henry Irwin was next to where the V.G.P building today stands on Mount Road. The New College came up on the site of their residence, “Tawkers Gardens”.

The business ran into financial problems following a payment that did not materialise for an expensive robe studded with diamonds they had made for the VIth Nizam of Hyderabad. It was a huge blow they never really recovered from. They were declared insolvent in January 1925.