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Updated: March 13, 2010 17:45 IST

Madras Miscellany

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Sir Charles Trevelyan
Sir Charles Trevelyan

A Budget to remember

As we ready for another Budget, here's an anniversary to remember. One hundred and fifty years ago, on February 18, the first Budget speech was made in the Indian Legislative Council. It was made in Calcutta by James Wilson, the first to be Finance Member in the Viceroy's Council, in effect India's first Finance Minister. It was a speech that was not to win him many friendships — not the least that of a man from Madras.

Wilson, class-wise, was a curious appointment for India at the start of the Raj. A member of the merchant class, the son of a Scottish woollen manufacturer, he had apprenticed in a hat manufactory and then started his own hat-making unit — which he had to close down. From the beginning, he was derided in India as an ex-hatter who had failed.

Forgotten was his subsequent outstanding record. He had founded The Economist and was a founder-director of the Standard Chartered Bank. An MP, he was appointed Finance Secretary to the British Treasury. A Free Trade champion, he was also Vice President of the Board of Trade. When he was named for India, he was not being promoted; he was merely being recognised as the best man for a difficult job.

He arrived in India on November 29, 1859. On August 11, 1860, not even nine months later, he was dead, dysentery, the scourge of the times, claiming another victim. During that all too short a period, however, he achieved much, despite all the criticism he faced from virtually every quarter. One thing he introduced has stayed with us: Income tax, which he announced in that first Budget speech.

The Marwari businessmen were upset by the proposal, so were the princely and zamindari orders. But the loudest explosion came from the Governor of Madras, Sir Charles Trevelyan. He minuted, in effect, “Madras will not pay income tax.”

Wilson had expected trouble with Trevelyan who had worked with him in the British Treasury. Trevelyan was also known to be a man who called a spade a spade and, occasionally, as in this case, even a shovel. He was known as a man who gave “a most confounded deal of trouble.”

On this occasion, he objected to taxation because Madras, the senior settlement, had not been consulted by upstart Calcutta. He also wondered why the South, which had played little part in the Revolt of 1857, should be burdened with a tax that was described as being necessary to restore the economy of a country that had been damaged by what was to all intents and purposes a war. But not our war, Trevelyan seemed to be saying. Most tellingly of all, he emphasised that fundamental principle, ‘No taxation without (political) representation'. To all intents and purposes, he was encouraging Indian nationalism — in public!

This was not cricket. And, so he had to be recalled. But you don't sack a Trevelyan, given the family's lineage. So, he was given the task of working out a way to administer India — and he came up with the Indian Civil Service.

In appreciation — and his forthrightness forgiven — he was sent out to Calcutta as Finance Member. And there, he not only followed Wilson's policies but he further strengthened many of them! The workaholic Wilson would have been smiling from somewhere up there that his last words on his deathbed, spoken to the Viceroy, Lord Canning, “Take care of my Income Tax”, were being heeded.


From St. Mary's to Kilpauk

My reference to the threat to Conway House (Miscellany, January 25, 2010) has brought a whole pile of information. Much of it has appeared in these columns before. But, there is still enough new material to serve up.

It was the Chaplain of Fort St George, the Rev. William Stevenson, who got the vestry of St. Mary's in the Fort to meet on October 28, 1715 and thrash out a plan to establish what was to be called St. Mary's Charity School. It was decided that it would be a Church of England school and would be managed by a board of two ministers, two church wardens and three overseers elected by the vestry. This body would, in matters of importance, such as investment, changes in rules, and admission policies, act only with the consent of the Governor-in-Council.

The school opened in December 1715 in Jersey House with a strength of 18 boys and 12 girls. In 1719, the by-then 50-strong school moved into a new building built near the West wall of the Fort: Governor Thomas Pitt had Jersey House sold, and from the proceeds contributed 500 pagodas towards the new building.

During the French occupation, Hubbard, a dedicated Headmaster, kept the school going, moving it from place to place, finally moving into a house rented from the Armenian Shawmier Sultan outside the Fort and to the West of it.

The Civil Male Orphans' Asylum was founded in 1807 and the Female Asylum three years later. Students in both institutions benefited from the Wooley Fund. James Wooley, a senior Company merchant, was shot dead by a Company surgeon in a duel in Pondicherry. The Fund, I understand, is still operational, Doveton Corrie Boys' School and St. George's School benefiting from it.

After much discussion and debate, St. Mary's Charity School and the Asylums the Wooley Fund had helped were merged on January 16, 1872, and moved into the Egmore Redoubt. One of the terms of the merger was that the Fort church's choir would be composed of boys belonging to St. Mary's Charity School and they would be sent to the Fort to practice and sing in St. Mary's on designated days of the week. Today, the boys of the successor institution, St. George's, are still the choir in St. Mary's in the Fort.

It was in 1820 that Conway House became the School's. But the 21-acre site and the building on it were no gift from any Conway. Apparently the Military Female Orphans' Asylum, functioning in Chintadripet in a house presented to it by the Nawab of the Carnatic, bought the Conway House property for Rs. 29,750 in 1819.

Around this time, the Civil Orphans' Asylum-St. Mary's School was considering buying Church Park, but Government announced that it was moving the Female Orphans' Asylum to Lovedale, and the School could have the Kilpauk property provided it took in 30 girls who could not go to Lovedale and they maintained that number in perpetuity. For reasons not quite clear, the School did not move into Conway House till 1904. By then, the School hadtaken in children from the Waltair Orphans' Asylum when that institution closed in 1894. In 1928, when Mrs. Gordon's Asylum, that had been founded by a Mrs. A. Morehead in 1860, closed, its children, too, were admitted.

All the children worshipped in the picture-postcard-like school chapel that was built in 1883 and consecrated the next year. The nave was extended in 1936 and dedicated in 1937 and a side chapel was built and blessed in 1950.

From 1915, when the Principal's bungalow and a classroom block were built — Conway House then becoming dormitory alone — regular additions were made to the campus. These included development of playgrounds in 1947 in six vacant acres in the property.

What was a Middle School became a High School only in 1978 and a Higher Secondary School still later.


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