Sailing into a new century

Celebrating its centenary this year is the Royal Madras Yacht Club. It's doing so, I'm glad to see, with a focus on sailing and not so much on entertainment. But it would have also been appropriate if it had done some looking back to mark the occasion. Meanwhile, let me do it for the Club briefly.

The earliest records of sailing in Madras are in the 1850s, the popular venues being the Ennore backwaters and Red Hills, though the Adyar River and the Long Tank (Nandanam) — now no more — were also occasionally used. The Ennore backwaters were a popular weekend retreat for the sahibs, many of whom had cottages there. One who had a holiday home there was Edward, the second Lord Clive, Governor of Madras in the last years of the 18th and first years of the 19th Centuries. This house, like many others, kept changing hands, and when the Ennore Boat Club was formed in the early 1860s, the cottages here included Pottinger House, Douglas Castle, Thornhill House, Binny Lodge, Cox's Little Rocks and Dobbin's Bungalow. Pottinger's House was Governor Henry Pottinger's, but had been Edward Clive's; Pottinger preferred Ennore to Ooty to relax in.

In 1867, the Madras Boat Club was formed and by the 1890s had settled on the banks of the Adyar. The club was formed at a meeting in the Strangers' Room of the Madras Club (then in what became Express Estate), where all other old Madras clubs focussing on an expatriate membership had also first met. The club, though more focussed on rowing, chose to call itself the Boat Club because it also fostered sailing activities in those early years.

It was to be 1911 before the Madras Sailing Club was separately formed, with Sir Francis Spring, the ‘Father of the Madras Port', not only taking a leading role in the formation but also giving the club space in the harbour near where Springhaven Wharf was developed. Its first home was a victim of the Emden's shelling (see picture) and amongst the damage was shrapnel-caused holes in an old painting of a flotilla of the club's boats. It was still part of the club's historic possessions when I visited the club about five years ago. By then, it had a new clubhouse that had been inaugurated in 1987 — rather a contrast to the old in its modern-looks — but with traces of the past in its wood-embellished interiors.

After acquiring its separate identity, the club not only spent more time training young yachtsmen, but it also began organising more regattas. The first major one was in 1924 when the Madras Sailing Club met the Royal Colombo Yacht Club. This remained an annual exchange between the two clubs till the ethnic conflict in the Island put an end to it. I'm not sure whether the security in Colombo Harbour has put paid to sailing in the Island, but if it hasn't, the centenary year of what became the Royal Madras Yacht Club might be a good time to hold the regatta again in Madras waters. Madras got the Royal prefix in 1926 from King George V; it's one of the few organisations in India that still retains this honorific.

When Indian membership was inducted I'm not sure, but active Indian yachtsmen are likely to have become members of the club only after Independence. It was, however, 1966 before the club got its first Indian Commodore (President), L.M. Krishnan, who was the first member of the club to win a national title, and that was at the first Yachting Association of India championships that were held in 1960. Since then, young members of the club have been in the forefront of Indian sailing, even if they have to compete with fulltime sailors from the Services.

A hockey treasure

A journal any sports enthusiast will treasure came my way the other day. It was Anglos in the Wind's bumper special issue raising ‘A Toast to Hockey', that monthly magazine's second step towards trying to revive an Anglo-Indian contribution to Indian hockey. By recalling the days when India's world champion teams were more than half Anglo-Indian and the major hockey clubs in every city and the Services were similarly composed, this nostalgia-packed edition put together by Harry MacLure and his team, comprising Keith Flory of The Statesman, Delhi, Noel Thomas, a retired railwayman of Vishakhapatnam, and Richard O'Connor of Madras Customs, takes readers such as me back to an age when India dominated world hockey, thanks not a little to the Anglo-Indians, and raises hopes they might yet get back into the game and contribute to it significantly, like Mark Patterson of Bombay and Adam Sinclair of Coimbatore have done in more recent times.

Profiles of Madras's Anglo-Indian hockey stars of yesteryear and champion Madras teams dominated by the Anglo-Indians, such as the Telegraph Recreation Club, take readers back to a glorious age of Madras hockey. They get a chance to recall Carlton Cleur, the fleet-footed winger who also represented the State in the sprints; Leslie Fernandez of Trichy who kept goal for the Services and India in the 1970s; Charlie Huggins, another goalkeeper, who represented the Railways in the 1960s and gave Indian women's hockey an outstanding centre forward in his daughter Phyllis; Neville Richtor of Loyola, a fullback who captained Madras in the 1940s/1950s and played too few matches for India (he should, according to many, have been in the 1948 Olympic team); another from Loyola and who flourished with the Madras United Club, Leslie Cotter, who was India's centre half at the Asian Games in Tokyo; and playing for the ‘Tigers' (their shirts were yellow and black striped) of Madras hockey, The Telegraph Recreation Club, arguably the best team in South India in the late 1930s, Colin Blankley (If the War had not taken the best years of his career he might well have played fullback for India in 1948).

But perhaps the unluckiest player of all was Jimmy Carr of Madras and the Railways whom many consider the greatest Anglo-Indian right inside. He missed Olympics selection because the selectors preferred K.D. Singh Babu; the choice would have been a toss-up. But he finds a place in the Anglo-Indian dream team selected by the editors of this special issue. That team, an all-Olympian one but for Carr, includes Richard Allen (Bengal) in goal, Carl Tapsell (Bengal) and Leslie Hammond (UP) as left and right backs, Joe Galibardy (Bengal), Eric Penniger (Punjab) and Leslie Claudius (Bengal) as halves from left to right, and Gerry Glacken (Bengal), Pat Jansen (Bengal), Dicky Carr (Bengal), Jimmy Carr and Maurice Gateley (Delhi) as forwards from left to right. Claudius was a unanimous choice as captain. Nigel Richtor gets special mention.

Women's hockey too in Madras was dominated by the Anglo-Indians, the State's almost all-Anglo-Indian team finishing national runners-up for six consecutive years (1961-65) to Mysore of the Britto sisters. Clara Taylor, Rebecca Pires and, perhaps the best of the lot, Phyllis Huggins, all played for India. Pires was the daughter of Olga Frolich who played for Madras for years; the two teamed together in the forward line for the State on several occasions. Where have they all gone today, the Shamrocks, the Seagulls, the Dolphins, Penguins and Falcons (Binny's)?

Post-War, hockey in Britain and Australia developed not a little due to the migrant Anglo-Indian contribution. When Australia won the World Championship in New Delhi a few months ago, assisting coach Ric Charlesworth was Paul Gaudoin, whose father was from Madras. Paul played for Australia from 1994 till 2003 when injury took him out as a player, and won 234 international caps during that period. Will this attempt by Anglos in the Wind lead to a revival of Anglo-Indian interest in hockey and a place in the hockey sun for Anglo-Indians again? Will it inspire more schools such as Stanes, Coimbatore, St. George's and Doveton Corrie, Madras, Campion, Trichy, and St. George's, Ketti, to produce more players such as Adam Sinclair, the leading light of the present crop of Anglo-Indian players?

What's in a name?

All this search for roots of road names has had me ransacking my library for information about completely-unknown sahibs who have had roads named after them.

During the search, I came across the fact that road name-changing is not a new phenomenon.

One of the changes I found was that Club House Road — leading to the city's newest mall, Express Avenue — used to be Lord Pigot Road.

While Club House Road was appropriate, for the road once led from Mount Road to the old Madras Club, why should Lord Pigot have been forgotten?

After all, he was the Governor who saved Madras from the second French attempt to take Fort St. George.

Could it be because he was subsequently a victim of a coup and died while in custody?