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Chapter 11: Government House

In the early days of Madras all the employees of the Company, from the Governor down to the most junior apprentice, lived in common. Their bedrooms were in one and the same house, and they had their meals at one and the same table. The house stood in the middle of the Fort, and was the 'Factory'--a word which, as already explained, was used in former times to mean a mercantile office, or, as Annandale in his dictionary defines it, 'an establishment where factors in foreign countries reside to transact business for their employers;' and the Factory in Fort St. George was both an office and a home.

The community life, with the common table, was maintained for many years, but in course of time, when the number of the employees had greatly increased and some of the senior officials had wives and children, one man and another were allowed to live in separate quarters, within the precincts of the Fort; and eventually the common table, like King Arthur's, was dissolved. Even then, however, and right on until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the junior employees had a common mess, and were under something like disciplined control.

Like all the other buildings inside the Fort and within the walls of White Town, the Factory--which was sometimes spoken of as 'The Governor's House'--was without a garden; and it was only to be expected that the resident employees, most of whom were young men, should wish for a recreation ground to which they could resort in their leisure hours. Some of the wealthy private residents of White Town had shown what could be done; for they had acquired patches of land outside the walls, which they had enclosed with hedges and cultivated as gardens, with a house in the middle of each garden, in which, as either a permanent or an occasional residence, the owner and his family might hope to find relief from the stuffiness of the streets of the rapidly developing city. In the 'Records' any such villa is spoken of as a 'garden-house' and even now in Madras the term 'garden-house' is occasionally used in Indo-English as signifying a house that stands within its own 'compound,' as distinct from houses that open directly into the street.

The Company's agents in Madras realized the desirability of laying out a garden for the recreative benefit of the Company's employees. Outside the walls, therefore, of White Town they hedged off some eight acres of land in the locality in which the Law College now stands, and they cultivated it as a 'Company's Garden;' and within it they built a small pavilion. We may imagine that in the cool of the evening it was common for a goodly number of the Company's mercantile employees to leave their apartments in the Fort and stroll beyond the walls the short distance to the 'Garden,' which in those early days was refreshingly near the seashore. In our mind's eye we can blot the Law College out of the landscape and can see a party of youthful merchants engaged as energetically as was suitable to the heat of Madras in the then fashionable game of bowls--or, less energetically but much more excitedly, gathered in a ring round two cocks that are tearing each other to pieces--a particularly popular form of 'Sport' in old Madras; and, although the Directors in London appropriately forbade to their employees the use of cards or the dice-box, we can espy a tense-visaged quartet within the shadow of the pavilion with a 'pool' of 'fanams' (coins worth about 2-½d.) on the table, or possibly, rupees or pagodas, absorbed in a round of ombre or one of the other card games that were in fashion. The sun has set, and the shadows are lengthening. A bugle sounds from the Fort; and the employees stroll back to supper, which, according to an old account, invariably consisted of 'milk, salt fish, and rice,' but which will be privately supplemented afterwards with potations of arrack-punch by those who can afford nothing better and with draughts of sack or canary by those who can.

In the course of a few years the 'Company's Garden' was spoiled. Black Town had been springing up close by; and, when a wall was built round old Black Town, the Company's Garden was unpleasantly included therein, and the Garden was now in the north-west corner of the Indian city. Moreover, a part of the Garden had begun to be utilized as a European burial-ground, and huge funeral monstrosities of the bygone style had begun to dominate the enclosure.

The Company's agents in Madras felt that a new recreation ground was a necessity; and they were agreed that there ought to be not merely a 'Company's Garden,' but a 'Company's Garden-House.' They wrote to the Directors saying that there were occasions on which the Company in Madras had to entertain 'the King (Golconda) and persons of quality,' and that they had no building that was suitable for any such ceremonial proceedings. True there was the Council Chamber in the Fort, but the Council Chamber was the place where the Company's mercantile transactions were discussed; and the Chamber, as well as all the other buildings in the Fort, was closely identified with the 'Factory;' and the Company's chief officials in Madras declared--not, we may suppose, without regard for their own convenience--that a stately 'Garden House,' unassociated with ledgers and bills of sale, ought to be built, in due accord with the stateliness of the Company itself. Their application for permission to put the work in hand was met by the Directors in London with the typically frugal reply that the work might be done but care was to be taken that the Company should be put to 'no great charge.' Possibly the representatives in Madras were able to provide additional supplies on the spot, but, however that may have been, the house was 'handsomely built,' yet 'with little expense to the Company.' The new garden seems to have comprised the area within which the Medical College and the General Hospital are now situated. The grounds, which stretched down, even as now, to the bank of the river, were well laid out, and the Company's first 'Garden House' was a fine possession.

In 1686 Master William Gyfford, Governor of Fort St. George, had a fancy for using the Garden House as a private residence for himself. It is not to be wondered at that he did so; for Master Gyfford, after twenty-seven years' residence in Madras and more than twenty-seven years in the East, was in poor health, and lately he had been taken ill with a 'a violent fitt of the Stone and Wind Collick.' The gardenless 'Factory' in the Fort was a gloomy apology for a 'Governor's House,' and the crowd of employees that were accommodated there must have been a serious infliction upon the invalid Governor; and he found the Garden House an agreeable retreat. In his new quarters he got better of his illness; and he dwelt there a considerable time, till in the following year he left Madras for England for good. The story is interesting, for it records the first occasion on which a Governor of Madras lived in a separate house outside the Fort.

On various occasions the Company's 'Garden House,' with its extensive grounds, was used for public purposes, justifying the plea for its construction. For example, when the Company received the news of the accession of King James II, the event was celebrated with brilliant proceedings at the Garden House. Similarly, at the accession of Queen Anne 'all Europeans of fashion in the City' were invited to the Garden House, where they 'drank the Queen's Health, and Prosperity to old England.' In an earlier chapter we have related how a young Nawab of Arcot who had just succeeded to his murdered father's throne was entertained at the Garden House with great doings. Governor Pitt made great developments in the Gardens, and was another Governor who liked the Garden House as a residence. An Englishman who was living in Madras in 1704, when Pitt was Governor, has left an interesting account of the Garden House as he saw it:--

'The Governor, during the hot Winds, retires to the Company's new Garden for refreshment, which he has made a very delightful Place of a barren one. Its costly Gates, lovely Bowling-Green, spacious Walks, Teal-pond, and Curiosities preserved in several Divisions are worthy to be Admired. Lemons and Grapes grow there, but five Shillings worth of Water and attendance will scarcely mature one of them.'

Before long it had come to be an unwritten regulation that Governors at Fort St. George might reside at their choice either in the Fort or at the Garden House. There came a time, however, when the Governor had of necessity to betake himself to the Fort; it was the time when the French were besieging Madras. During the siege the enemy used the Garden House as a vantage-ground for their big guns; and afterwards, when they had captured Fort St. George and were in occupation of the city, they pulled the Garden House down, lest the English, trying perhaps to recapture the Fort, should be able to use it as a vantage-ground in their turn.

Thus, when Madras was restored to the English, the Garden House had disappeared, and the only house for Governor Saunders was the original residence in the middle of the Fort. Governor Saunders, however, was not content with the walled-in accommodation that the Fort provided and was unwilling to forgo the residential privileges that his predecessors had enjoyed; so a private 'garden-house' in Chepauk was rented in his behalf. It belonged to a Mrs. Madeiros, a rich Portuguese widow, whose husband, lately deceased, had been a leading merchant in White Town.

Mrs. Madeiros's house was 'Government House, Madras,' of the present day. The house, however, has been enlarged and the grounds have been extended since Governor Saunders lived there as a tenant.

Governor Saunders liked his residence, and, before he had been there a year, the Company acquired it from the widow, who had no use for it now that her husband was dead; and the Governor was careful to leave on record the reason of the acquisition:--

'It having been always usual for the Company to allow the President a house in the Country to retire to, and Mrs. Medeiros being willing to dispose of her House, situated in the Road to St. Thomé, for three thousand five hundred pagodas (say Rs 12,250), Agreed That it be purchased accordingly, The Company's Garden-house having been demolish'd by the French when they were in Possession of this Place, and Mrs. Medeiros's being convenient for that Purpose, and on a Survey esteem'd worth much more than the Sum 'tis offer'd at.'

The Company always enjoyed a good bargain, and Governor Saunders was justified in thinking that he had made a very good one in respect of the house; for, a few years later, the house, with certain extensions and improvements, was written down in the Company's books at a valuation of nearly four times the price that was paid for it.

We have brought our story down to the acquisition of Government House, but it remains to relate some of the historic events in which Government House has figured since it was acquired.

During the second siege of Madras by the French, under Lally, the besiegers occupied the Garden House, and during their occupation they did a great deal of wanton damage before they ceased their vain endeavours. Two years later, however, the English had the enjoyment of a delicate revenge. They captured Pondicherry and brought Lally to Madras, where they imprisoned him in the Garden House till a vessel was available to take him to England. The damage that he had done had not yet been repaired; and a contemporary Record says that 'Mr. Lally was lodged in those apartments of the Garden House which had escaped his fury at the Siege of Madras,' and that in respect of his table he was allowed to give his own orders 'without limitation of expence,' with the result that he 'seemed to have intended Revenge by Profusion.'

A few years later Tipu, Sultan of Mysore, at the head of a body of horsemen, made a sudden raid on Madras; and the troopers scampered about the well-laid-out grounds of the Garden House, looting the villages on either side. According to accounts, Governor Bourchier and his Councillors were there when the raiders came, and they would assuredly have been caught had they not managed to make their escape in a boat that was conveniently tied up on the bank of the Cooum river.

More than one Governor of Fort St. George has died at Government House, and it was there that Governor Pigot died in extraordinary circumstances. The tale has been told in a previous chapter, that Lord Pigot was arrested by his Councillors, with whom he had quarrelled, and that he died in confinement in the Garden House.

The reader has yet to be told how the Garden House was finally transformed into the Government House that we see to-day.

In 1798 Lord Clive, son of the great Robert Clive, was sent out to India as Governor of Madras. Within the first six months of his arrival there was the excitement of a war with Mysore, in which the terrible Tipu Sultan was killed during the assault on his capital. During the tranquil remainder of his five years in India, Lord Clive turned his attention to domestic reforms, and amongst them he resolved that the Garden House should be improved. In an official minute he wrote:--

'The garden house, at present occupied by Myself, is so insufficient either for the private accommodation of my family and Staff, or for the convenience of the public occasions inseparable from my situation, that it is my intention to make such an addition to it as may be calculated to answer both purposes.'

Lord Clive thereupon, in 1801, developed Government House at a cost of more than Rs. 3 lakhs; and two years later he built the beautiful Banqueting Hall, at a cost of Rs. 2½ lakhs. The recent fall of Tipu's capital of Seringapatam was an event that the Banqueting Hall could appropriately commemorate; and Lord Clive, with pious respect for his dead father's memory, coupled Plassey with Seringapatam, and ordered that the fine figure-work on the façade of the hall should be a commemoration of both victories. In England the Directors of the Company complained of what they called 'such wasteful extravagance;' but the developments were a real want, and it is a matter of present-day satisfaction that the Madras Government have no need to be acquiring a site now and to be building a new Government House in these expensive days. Lord Clive was certainly no miser with the Company's money, for he built also a second Government House--a 'country residence' at Guindy. The 'country residence' was developed and improved some forty years later by Lord Elphinstone, who was Governor of Madras in the middle of last century. It is a truly beautiful house, standing in beautiful grounds; and it has lately been a proposition that the house at Guindy should be the Governor's only residence, and that Government House, Madras, should be used for Government offices.

'Government House, Madras!' To most people it is suggestive of dinner parties within and garden parties without; and the Banqueting Hall is suggestive of dances and levees and meetings for good causes. But to people who can look at Government House, Madras, with an historic glance it rouses other memories. Within its original walls more than two centuries ago a belaced Senhor kept Portuguese state. It was here that Frenchmen were encamped while their guns were fruitlessly hammering at the walls of Fort St. George. It was here that Lally lived sumptuously in prison, till he was sent to Europe--eventually to be executed in Paris for having failed to capture Madras. It was within these grounds that Tipu's horsemen were scampering about on a September morning, looking for houses where money or jewels could be commandeered. It was here that an ennobled Governor of Madras lived in gilded captivity till death set him free.