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Chapter 4: Development

When an English colony had settled down in Fort St. George, it was only to be expected that a town would spring up outside. The personal necessities of the numerous colonists had to be supplied, and purveyors and bazaarmen and workmen made themselves readily available for the supply. The requirements in respect of the Company's mercantile business were yet greater. The Company's agents wanted not only native employees in their office--'dubashes' and 'shroffs' and clerks and interpreters and porters and peons, but they also wanted wholesale buyers of the cloth and other articles that they imported from England for sale, and also merchants who could supply them with large quantities of the Indian wares that the Company exported to England; and they were able to get the men that they wanted.

A crowd attracts a crowd; and when once a town has begun to grow, it goes on growing of its own accord; and ten years after the acquisition of Madras, the population of the town was estimated at as many as 15,000 souls. The Fort itself, moreover, had to be enlarged; for the growth of the Company's business meant that more and more factors and writers had to be brought out from England, and more and more warehouses had to be provided for the multiplied wares; and, moreover, the increasing lawlessness of the times necessitated a larger garrison. Outside the Fort, Indian and other immigrants flocked from near and far to settle down within the Company's domains, looking for profit under the white men's protection; and, with their enterprising spirit, they played no small part in the development of Madras.

The town that grew up outside the little fort was divided into two sections--'the White Town' and 'the Black Town.' The boundaries of White Town corresponded roughly with what are now the boundaries of Fort St. George itself. The original Black Town--'Old Black Town'--covered what is now the vacant ground that lies between the Fort and the Law College, and included what are now the sites of the Law College and the High Court (vide Map, p. 10). The inhabitants of White Town included any British settlers not in the Company's service whose presence the Company approved, also all approved Portuguese and Eurasian immigrants from Mylapore, and a certain number of approved Indian Christians. White Town indeed was sometimes called the 'Christian Town.' Black Town was the Asiatic settlement. The great majority of the original Indian settlers were not Tamilians but Telugus--written down as 'Gentoos' in the Company's Records.

The Company's agents encouraged people of various races to reside in Madras; and the names of some of the streets and districts of the town are interesting testimonies as to the variety of the people who came.

Armenian Street--which began as an Armenian burial-ground (vide Map, p. 10)--is an example. Armenians from Persia, like their fellow-countrymen the Parsees, have a racial gift for commerce; and Armenian merchants had been in India long before the English arrived. Enterprising Armenian merchants settled in Madras in its early days to trade with the English colonists, and the Company's agents were glad to have as middlemen such able merchants who were in close touch with the people of the land. The most celebrated of the earlier Armenians in Madras was Peter Uscan, Armenian by race but Roman Catholic in religion, who lived in Madras for more than forty years, till his death there in 1751, at the age of seventy. He was a rich and public-spirited merchant. He built the Marmalong Bridge over the Adyar river, on one of the pillars of which a quaint inscription is still to be read, and he left a fund for its maintenance; he also renewed the multitude of stone steps that lead up to the top of St. Thomas's Mount. His inscribed tomb is to be seen in the churchyard of the Anglican Church of St. Matthias, Vepery, which in olden days was the churchyard of a Roman Catholic chapel. Within the last half-century the Armenian community in Madras has been rapidly declining, as the result, probably, of inability to cope with the hustling style of commercial competition in these latter days; and only a very few representatives of the race are now to be seen in the city.

In Mint Street there is a small enclosure which is the remains of what was once a Jewish cemetery of considerable size; and the graves that are still to be seen are interesting reminders of the fact that in bygone times there was a Hebrew colony in Madras. In more than one of the Company's old records the Jews in Madras are referred to as being rich men, some of whom held positions of high civic authority. Some of them were English Jews, and others were Portuguese; and most of them were diamond merchants, on the look-out for diamonds from the mines of Golconda, which were formerly very productive. The English Jews exported diamonds to England, and imported silver and coral to Madras; coral was in great demand in India, and was sent out by Jewish firms in London. There is still a 'Coral Merchants' Street' in Madras, a continuation of Armenian Street, and it is a living reminder of the old Jewish colony. The Golconda mines eventually ceased to be productive, and Jewish diamond merchants are no longer to be seen in the city, and the Jewish colony has long since disappeared. Jews are notorious all the world over as money-lenders, and it may perhaps be wondered why none of them survived as money-lenders in Madras; but the fact that Coral Merchants' Street is now the habitat of Nattukottai Chetties, who are past-masters in the art of money-lending, suggests that even the Jews were unable to compete with Madras sowcars in the business of usury, and that the Chetties displaced the Jews who used to live in the street. The little Jewish cemetery in crowded Mint Street is an interesting spot. One of the antique tomb-stones has been caught in the branch of a tree and has been lifted high in air, and is a quaint sight; and the deserted little Hebrew graveyard itself is symbolic of the dispersion of the ancient people.

It is a curious fact that the Company's employees in South India never spoke of Indian Mohammedans as Mohammedans or as Moslems or as Mussalmans, but always as 'Moors.' It is thus that the name of 'Moor Street' is to be accounted for. The original 'Moors Street' was a street in which Mohammedans used to live, and the fact that one particular street in a large city should have borne such a name is evidence of another fact, namely, that in the earlier years of Madras very few Mohammedans resided in the town. It should be remembered that Madraspatnam, Triplicane, Egmore, and the other hamlets that went to make up the city of Madras were all of them Hindu villages; and it was only now and again that Mohammedans, in some capacity or another, found their way into the town. In the earlier years of Madras a single mosque sufficed for all the few Mohammedans therein. The mosque was located in 'Moors Street' in old Black Town, a street that was the predecessor of the 'Moor Street' of to-day. It was not till nearly fifty years after the acquisition of the site of Madras that a second mosque was built--in Muthialpet; and these two small mosques supplied Mohammedan requirements for many years. The fact is that Madras was so frequently troubled by successive Mohammedan enemies--the King of Golconda; Da-ud Khan, Nawab of the Carnatic; Haidar Ali, Sultan of Mysore; his son Tipu, and others--that the Company was disposed to regard all 'Moors' with mistrust, so much so that they discouraged Mohammedan residents; and a measure was passed with the special intention 'to prevent the Moors purchasing too much land in the Black Town.' There are large crowds of Mohammedans in Madras now, grouped especially in Chepauk and the adjoining Triplicane and Royapettah; and this is due to the fact that in later days Nawab Walajah of Arcot, who was friendly to the English, came and settled down in Madras. He built Chepauk Palace for his residence, and the many Mohammedans who followed him into the city formed the nucleus of a large Mohammedan colony.

The name 'China Bazaar' appears early in the Madras Records; and it would seem to have been the place where Chinese crockery was on sale. Whether or not the salesmen were Chinese immigrants I cannot say; but the fact that another street in Madras bears the name of 'Chinaman Street' suggests that there was at one time a colony of pig-tailed yellow-men in the city. The supposition is not unlikely, for China was included within the sphere of the Company's commercial operations, with Madras as the head-quarters of the trade, and ships of the Company plied regularly between China and Madras. Tea was one of the articles of trade, but Chinese crockery was in great demand in India, and ship-loads of cheap China bowls and plates and dishes were imported; and valuable specimens of Chinese porcelain were highly esteemed by wealthy Indians--so much so that it is on record that one of the Moghul emperors had a slave put to death for having accidentally broken a costly China dish which the emperor particularly admired.

As the Company's trade was very largely in cloth, it can be understood that the Company's agents were eager to induce spinners and weavers to settle in Madras, so that cloth might be bought for the Company at the lowest possible prices from the weavers direct. Elihu Yale, who was one of the early Governors of the Fort, imported some fifty weaver-families and located them in 'Weavers' street', the street that is now known as Nyniappa Naick Street, in Georgetown. Some twenty-five years later, Governor Collet established a number of imported weavers in the northern suburb of Tiruvattur, in a village that was given the name 'Collet Petta' in the Governor's honour--a name that degenerated into 'Kalati Pettah'--'Loafer-land'--its present appellation. There was still a demand for more weavers, and eventually a large vacant tract was marked out as a 'Weavers' Town,' under the name of Chindadre Pettah--the modern Chintadripet. In order to attract weavers, houses were built at the Company's expense, which weavers were permitted to occupy as hereditary possessions. It was formally decreed that "None but Weavers, Spinners, and other persons useful in the Weaving trade, Painters (i.e. designers of patterns for chintz), Washers (bleachers), Dyers, Bettleca-merchants (beetle-sellers), Brahmins and Dancing women, and other necessary attendants on the pagoda (erected in the settlement) shall inhabit the said town." In Chintadripet to-day there are still many spinners and weavers; and one of the sights in Chintadripet--growing gradually more rare--is the spectacle of primitively-clad urchins or grown men spinning in the streets with primitive gear and in primitive fashion; and it is interesting to recall the fact that this has been going on in Chintadripet for nearly two centuries--an industry which the Company established.

Washermanpet is another such locality. It was not so called, as many people imagine, for being a land of dhobies (male laundresses). In the Company's vocabulary a 'washerman' was a man who 'bleached' new-made cloth; and the Company employed a number of bleachers. The bleaching process needed large open spaces--washing-greens--on which the cloth could be laid out in the sun to be bleached; and Washermanpet covered a considerable area.

A great many more of the streets and districts of Madras have history in their names; but the few that we have dealt with suffice to exemplify the manner of the expansion of the city of Madras. We can picture the rustic suppliers crowding into the city to sell the produce of their fields; we can picture the humble weavers migrating into the city with their wives and their children, and with their pots and their pans and their quaint machines, in response to the Company's tempting invitation; we can picture the small tradesmen and the small mechanics setting up their humble shops in the new city in which they believed that fortunes were to be made. And in the higher grades of life we can picture the grave Armenian merchants, the submissive Jews, the mistrusted 'Moors,' and others seeking interviews with Stuart or Georgian-garbed factors of the Company, and eager all of them to turn the Company to profitable account.