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Chapter 14: Here and there

Before closing the story of Madras, it will be well to speak, at least very briefly, of some of the prominent landmarks of the city that we have not yet described.

Of churches, we should mention St. George's Cathedral. It was opened in 1816, not as a cathedral but as an ordinary church; for Madras then was not a diocese by itself, but was a part of the immense diocese of Calcutta. The new church was regarded as a necessity; for a great many 'garden houses' had sprung up in and about the Mount Road, in the area that was called the 'Choultry Plain,' and the Directors of the Company agreed with representations from Madras that it was undesirable that English residents within the bounds should be able to stay away from the Church-services on Sunday with the reasonable excuse that the nearest Anglican church--St. Mary's in the Fort--was too far away from their houses for them to be expected to attend. So the new church was built; and some twenty years later, when Dr. Corrie, Archdeacon of Calcutta, was consecrated first Bishop of Madras, the church became 'the Cathedral Church of St. George.' St. George's Cathedral is a stately building, with a spire 139 feet high, and it stands in spacious grounds. The total cost was more than two lakhs of rupees; but nobody had to be asked to subscribe, for the money was available from a peculiar source. It was an age in which State lotteries were in vogue; Madras had followed the fashion with a series of official lotteries, and a 'Lottery Fund' had been created from the profits, so that there was always a good supply of cash available for extraordinary expenses, such as mending the roads or entertaining distinguished visitors. It was from the Lottery Fund that the cost of building St. George's was met.

St. Andrew's Church--most commonly known as 'The Kirk'--was planned while St. George's was being built; and it is remarkable that it was not projected sooner than it was. Scotchmen in Madras, as in other parts of India, apart from Scottish soldiers, have been many; and the names of a number of Madras roads and houses--such as Anderson Road, Graeme's Road, Davidson Street, Brodie Castle, Leith Castle, Mackay's Gardens--are reminders of the fact that not a few of the Scots of Madras have been influential; and at the time when a second Anglican church was being built in the city it was suggested to the Directors of the Company in England that the numerous residents who were members of the Church of Scotland ought to have a church too. The Directors, who realized no doubt the desirability of being agreeable to the many Scots in Madras, one of whom at the time was the Governor himself, Mr. Hugh Elliot, consented to the suggestion, and in 1815 they sent out a notification that a Presbyterian church was to be built not only at Madras but also in each of the other Presidency cities at the Company's expense, and that the Company would maintain a Presbyterian chaplain at each. The Directors laid down no instructions as to what was to be the maximum cost of each kirk, but it was unpretentious buildings that they had in mind. At Bombay a large kirk was built for less than half a lakh of rupees, but for the kirk at Madras the Madras Government submitted a bill for nearly Rs. 2¼ lakhs--some Rs. 10,000 more than the total cost of St. George's Cathedral, and the Directors were indignant. The Kirk, however, had been built; and it is one of the handsome churches of Madras.[5] It is a domed building, with a tall steeple over the Grecian façade; and some of its critics have said that the combination of dome and steeple gives the edifice a strangely camel-backed appearance; but, however that may be, the dome adds beauty to the interior. When the Church was opened, it was found that the dome evoked disturbing echoes, and a large additional expense had to be incurred to exorcise the wandering voices. The steeple reaches a height of 166½ feet, which is 27½ feet higher than that of St. George's.

[Footnote 5: Major de Haviland, of the Madras Engineers, built St. George's on a plan designed by Major Caldwell, his senior in the service. Major de Haviland both designed the Kirk and built it, and he devoted himself to his work and was very proud of his creation, which was nevertheless much criticized by unfriendly critics.]

The Roman Catholic Cathedral at Mylapore has been described on page 61. A sketch of the handsome building is given on the next page.

The High Court, a red Saracenic structure that spreads itself out over a large area between Georgetown and the Fort, is a modern building. It was opened within the memory of elderly lawyers of Madras, some of whom used themselves to practise in the big building which is now the Collector's Office, opposite the gate of the Port Trust premises, and which was for many years the habitation of the Supreme Court at Madras. The present High Court is a mighty monument to the development of 'The Law' in Madras. In the early days of Fort St. George the Company administered its own justice to its own people, and the court was held in a building in the Fort. Punishments in those far-off times, judicial or otherwise, were usually severe; and the Records show that even a civil servant of junior rank who gave trouble was liable to be awarded some such penalty as to sit for an hour or more on a sharp-backed 'wooden horse,' with or without weights attached to the delinquent's feet. In the town that grew up outside the Fort, justice as between natives of the soil was administered by an Indian adikhari, who represented the lord of the soil. As the Company's influence and authority increased, various courts of law were created--and the Records show that there were certainly crimes enough to justify their creation. A large number of the criminal trials in the earlier years of Madras were in respect of thefts of children, to sell them as slaves, especially to Dutch merchants along the coast, where the victims were not likely to be traced. Slavery was a recognized condition of life in old Madras, as indeed it was in the whole of Europe; and in the Council-book of Fort St. George there is still to be seen an Order, dated September 29, 1687, "that Mr. Fraser do buy forty young Sound Slaves for the Rt. Hon'ble Company," who were to be made to work as boatmen in the Company's fleet of surf-boats. It was in reference to a slave that the first case of trial by jury was held in Madras, in 1665, and it was a cause célèbre. The prisoner was a Mrs. Dawes, who was accused of having murdered a slave girl in her service. The Governor himself, who, like a doge of Venice, was both ruler and judge, was on the bench, and the twelve jurymen gave a unanimous verdict that Mrs. Dawes was 'guilty of the murther, but not in mannere and forme,' by which they seem to have meant that the circumstances of the case exonerated her from the capital charge. Being pressed to give a verdict 'without exception or limitation,' they brought in a unanimous verdict of 'not guilty,' whereupon the Governor felt that, although the woman had been guilty of a crime, he had no help for it but to set her free. He thereupon wrote to the Directors in England, expressing his disapproval of 'such an unexpected verdict,' and notifying that in his ignorance of the law and its formalities he was by no means confident that he had done the right thing; and the end of it was that the Governor, presumably with the Directors' approval, created two justices, on whom was thereafter to fall the responsibility of hearing all such serious cases. Change upon change! and to-day the Madras High Court, with the various other courts in different parts of the city, is a very visible symbol of the serious reality of the administration of justice.

The story of the origin of the principal literary and scientific institutions in Madras is interesting. In the olden times, when there were no literary or scientific magazines by which an 'exile in the East' could keep himself in touch with the developments of genius throughout the world, people in India with literary or scientific tastes had to be content to gratify their tastes with local researches, and to depend upon one another for any interchange of ideas. This meant that old-time literary and scientific societies in India were naturally more enthusiastic than most such societies in India are now. Madras indeed has been particularly fortunate in her time in having had residents who were earnest in cultured pursuits, and whose work survives, directly or indirectly, at the present day.

For example, it was an old-time Madras Civilian, with a hobby for astronomy and with a private observatory of his own, that created a local interest in the science and is thereby to be regarded as the originator of the Madras Observatory--the first British Observatory in the East, a famous institution in olden days, which secured for Madras the honour--which is still hers--of setting the standard of time throughout the whole of India. The Madras Civilian was Mr. William Petrie, an extraordinarily versatile genius, who entered the service as a young man and rose to be a member of the Government, yet managed to find time for very serious astronomical pursuits in his house at Nungambaukam. Going home to England on long furlough, Mr. Petrie allowed the Madras Government to acquire his instruments; and in 1791, when he came back to Madras, the Madras Observatory was built, with Mr. Petrie as adviser.

Another enthusiastic scientist in Madras in the same period was Dr. James Anderson, who, after many years of work in the Company's medical service, settled down at Madras as 'Physician-General,' on a salary of £2,500 a year, and devoted himself and a large part of his handsome salary to botanical pursuits. He acquired in Nungambaukam more than a hundred acres of land, which included what are now the grounds of the houses that go by the names of Pycroft's Gardens and Tulloch's Gardens; and for nearly a quarter of a century, until his death, Dr. Anderson utilized his leisure in the creation and development of a useful and ornamental botanical garden. He was most enthusiastic over his hobby, and he was continually carrying out botanical and agricultural experiments, of medical or commercial or industrial value. His grounds were open to the public, and 'Dr. Anderson's Botanical Gardens' became famous, and were a place of popular resort. Dr. Anderson died at the age of seventy-two; and in St. George's Cathedral his memory is graced with a fine statue that was carved by the most eminent sculptor, Sir Francis Chantrey, and for which his medical brethren in the Madras Service subscribed. How many years after his death his gardens continued to exist it might be difficult to say, but they must have suffered badly from the want of the ardent botanist's enthusiastic care. But the botanic spirit that Dr. Anderson had started remained alive in Madras; for in 1835, when, to the regret of many, his gardens had been split up into building-sites for two private residences, there was still a sufficient number of botanically inclined people in the city to found the Agri-Horticultural Society of Madras, a still-energetic body whose beautiful gardens at Teynampet deserve to be more generally appreciated by the public than they are.

The Madras Literary Society was founded a good many years ago. Its work now is that of a circulating library; but in earlier times it was especially a 'literary society,' and its meetings, at which lectures were delivered or papers were read and discussed, were crowded gatherings of the leading Europeans in the city. The original Literary Society included scientific researches within its scope, and scientific members used to discourse learnedly on scientific subjects of topical interest, such as 'The Land-Crabs of Madras,' or 'Prehistoric Tombs in the Salem District,' or 'Gold in the Wynaad of Malabar.' The name of the Society remains, but the literary and scientific meetings are no more. The last lecture, if memory fails not, was delivered in the nineties, and the audience was not large enough or enthusiastic enough to denote that lectures were any longer in demand. As a 'Literary Society and Auxiliary of the Royal Asiatic Society,' the institution has outlived its requirement; but it has a valuable store of more than 50,000 books, new and old, on all subjects, and it is continually adding to the number; and, as a circulating library of a high standard, it fulfils an excellent literary purpose.

The Madras Museum is a magnificent institution. It is to the Madras Literary Society that it owes its being; and the Literary Society did Madras splendid service in the initiation thereof. This was in 1851, when the Literary Society presented its fine collection of geological specimens to the Madras Government as the nucleus of the rich and varied store of treasures that the Madras Museum now displays. The Government lodged the geological specimens in the 'Collector's Cutcherry'--a house which forms a part--the oldest part--of the Museum buildings of to-day. Before the Government acquired the house in 1830 for a Cutcherry, the house had been private property, and, under the name of the 'Pantheon,' it had been for many years the predecessor of the Old College as the 'Assembly Rooms', wherein Madras Society had its balls, its plays, and its big dinners. The name of the old building still survives in the Pantheon Road, in which the Museum is situated.

A high circular building on the Marina always attracts a stranger's attention. It has a curious and interesting history. It is commonly called 'The Ice-House,' and the name suggests its original purpose. A number of years ago, when ice-factories had not been started and when in Madras the luxury of the 'cool drink' was unknown, somebody conceived the idea of importing ship-loads of blocks of ice from America. The idea was developed, and about the year 1840 a commercial scheme took shape. A large circular building was erected close to the sea-beach as a reservoir for the imported ice, which sailing-ships brought in huge blocks from the western world; and for a number of years the scheme was a commercial success. The ice was sold at four annas a pound, and many people in Madras remember the time when it was the only ice that was to be had, and large quantities of it were sold. With the eventual institution of ice-factories, which could supply ice at a much cheaper rate, the enterprise came to an end, and for a considerable time the ice-reservoir was out of use. Then somebody bought it, and put windows into the walls, and turned it into a residence; and meanwhile, as a result of the construction of the harbour, the sea receded a long way down the Ice-house shore. As a residence, however, a house of so strange a shape was not in request; and eventually some benevolent Hindus turned it into a free hostel for any preacher or religious teacher of repute, whatever his creed, who might be temporarily staying in Madras, especially if he felt that he had a message to deliver to the city. But the reputable prophets who availed themselves of the proffered hospitality were few; and the 'Ice-house' had a deserted look. A few years ago the Madras Government acquired it for the excellent purpose of a 'Brahman Widows' Home' for Brahman girl-widows at school. This is the purpose that it now fulfils. From Ice-house to child-widows' home! It is a great transformation--from a house whose chambers were stored with hard blocks of cold ice to a house whose chambers are aglow with the warmth of young life! There is room to hope that in course of time the Child-widows' Home will have outlived its purpose--in the time when gentler ideals will prevail, and the sorrows of child-widows will have ceased, and the institution will no longer be a need.