Anusha Parthasarathy traces the history of this community through the churches and institutions they built in the city
But for the occasional whistle of a train or its screeching halt at the neighbouring Egmore Railway Station, there is no other sound inside the premises of the St. Andrew’s Kirk. Leaves from low-slung branches of myriad trees brush past your face and there is a quiet grace to this 19th Century building. Consecrated in 1821, the stories of St. Andrew’s Kirk are written all over it, in the memorial plaques that adorn every wall and in the way it intrinsically links the history of Scotsmen in Madras.
The church was built in 1818 on the site of a Freemason’s Lodge as a place of worship for members of the Church of Scotland who had settled in the city. At that point in time, most of the Scotsmen here were part of the Madras Army. Imperial Conversations: Indo-Britons and the Architecture of South India by Shanti Jayewardene-Pillaisays that most of the free merchants in Madras were also Scottish, especially in the 19th Century. The Governor of Madras, in the late 1700s, was a Scotsman, Sir Archibald Campbell and Sir Henry Dundas, another elite Scot, was the President of the Board of Control (a state organ) and so, there was a some demand for a ‘kirk’ (Scottish for church) in Madras. Therefore, the Scottish Governor and the Indian Scottish Church establishment built the kirk, and its architect was Thomas de Havilland of the Madras Engineers.
The church was perhaps built, inspired by its namesake in George’s Street back in Scotland and, like the other, was curvilinear in plan and ‘each was fronted by a portico of four columns and a pediment, a tower and spire in the Gibbs manner’, writes Jan Morris in Stones of Empire: The Buildings of the Raj. Morris’ book describes the interiors of the church as it exists now – ‘the long benches of teak and rattan were curved to form a semicircular congregation, echoing the shape of the walls and the central dome above.’ This church, S. Muthiah says, in Madras Rediscovered, was often described as ‘the noblest edifice in Hindustan’.
The church’s role as a garrison church to the Scottish soldiers is apparent from the plaques on its walls, which not only have the name of the person but a little story on their lives. Take for instance, Colonel Francis Dudgeon, Madras Army, who died on his passage to England. The tomb was erected by the officers of the H.M. 44th Regiment MNI. Harry Boys, Royal Artillery, Clerk of this church, who served till his death. Lieutenant Colonel James Walker, 3rd Regiment, Madras Light Infantry was killed when leading a column of Madras troops to the storm of the Burmese trenches, ‘One of India’s first and bravest soldiers’. He died on December 5, 1824.
After the church was built and a community was formed, two chaplains of the Church of Scotland in Madras began a small school near the church, called the St. Andrew’s School (it was first situated in Randall’s Road and then moved to the church premises for a while) and a missionary, Rev. John Anderson, was sent from Scotland to govern it. It was started to introduce western education in Madras. The school then shifted to Armenian Street in George Town and was renamed Madras General Assembly School in 1837. In 1838, it shifted to another place; Errabalu Chetty Street, where more missionaries joined. By 1846, it was running out of Taylor’s Home in Esplanade, where it functioned for 100 years. Around 1877, Madras Christian College was formed and the school and college co-existed. The college moved to a bigger campus in Tambaram in 1937 and the school moved to Harrington Road in 1950.