With no sign board in sight to explain the significance of this monument, and weeds growing both at the foot and on the walls of the structure, this light house is a picture of neglect.
Amidst a sea of red, stands a solitary brown stone structure which was once the only structure in the city that guided sailors and their ships. The lighthouse in the High Court complex is today tended for by fallen leaves and broken twigs.
With no sign board in sight to explain the significance of this monument, and weeds growing both at the foot and on the walls of the structure, this light house is a picture of neglect. The other, and relatively newer lighthouse, which later came up atop the High Court building, is also in a state of despair.
“What do you want to see inside the lighthouse?” asked one official. “It's dark, like a dungeon,” he said about the lighthouse that stands outside the High Court building. Another said that snakes are often sighted in and around the structure and that it was not advisable to go inside. The last snake, he said, was sighted as recently as two weeks back. He said not much goes into the maintenance of these structures, and that they are rarely opened.
While the older of the two lighthouses has become host to wild plants and weeds, the spiral stairway that leads up to the tower on the High Court building is covered in layers of dust, bird droppings, and the climb is interrupted by a damaged staircase or two bridged by planks of wood and metal.
The history of the two lighthouses within the premises of the High Court is both well-known and well-documented. “The tower of the light house is 175 feet from the ground floor or 55 feet from the old lighthouse. The first is ancient and the other is modern — both tall, impressive and illuminating. Both showed the ships at sea that they had reached their destination,” reads a board at the High Court Museum.
Official history states that work to construct the first lighthouse in the complex was taken up in 1838, and in 1844, the new structure which consisted of Argand lamps and reflectors started functioning. This equipment was later shifted to the new lighthouse situated on the dome of the High Court building, and it started functioning from there in 1894.
This, however, was not Madras' first lighthouse. Prior to this, the light house was located at the Exchange Building (present-day Fort Museum) in Fort St. George. The Exchange committee is said to have erected the first lighthouse of Madras on the roof of the building in 1796 and a lamp was located nine feet above sea level. This lighthouse was reconstructed in 1820 and survived until 1842. The present lighthouse adjacent to Marina Beach was built in 1976, and became functional in 1977.