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Updated: October 26, 2012 17:29 IST

Madras miscellany

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Eric Stracey
Eric Stracey

A remarkable family

Working on a pictorial history on the Anglo-Indians, I've been re-reading a fascinating book, Growing up in Anglo-India, by Eric Stracey on his remarkable family. Few families faced with so many disadvantages and handicaps have produced in one generation so many brothers of eminence and sisters who, in an age when women were still to emerge out of cocooned lives, reached various public positions of responsibility. And this they did thanks to a strong-willed mother, who also taught music, and a happy if impecunious childhood which helped to develop strong bonds amongst the children which, in turn, ensured that every elder child gave a helping hand to the younger ones. They in turn provided their children with even higher levels of education than they had reached, which had led to, if my information is correct, all the Straceys moving on to pastures abroad; as far as I know, there is no one in the immediate family left in India.

Patrick, the eldest, joined the Imperial Forest Service in 1928 — following, in a fashion, his father's footsteps; Stracey Senior started as a lowly paid Forest Guard, and rose to be a Presidency-appointed District Forest Officer, spending most of his life in the Andhra country. Patrick Stracey was posted to Assam where he rose to be Chief Conservator of Forests and went on to head the Forestry College in Dehra Dun. He was considered a world authority on wildlife conservation and wrote five books on the subject. He founded the Wildlife Preservation Society of India.

The next brother was Ralph who, like Patrick, graduated from Presidency College, Madras, and passed into the Indian Civil Service in England. He served with the Bengal cadre and rose to Secretary rank before he prematurely retired, the famine relief work, and the communal riots he frequently had to deal with, taking their toll on him. He then joined Imperial Tobacco and served as a Working Director till he retired.

The third brother, Cyril, passed out of the Indian Military Academy, was captured with his regiment in Malaya in 1942, joined Netaji's Indian National Army and was made its Adjutant-General. After Independence and the INA trials, he was appointed to the Indian Foreign Service by Nehru and retired as an Ambassador, having ranked as such in Finland and Madagascar.

Eric, the last of the brothers, who graduated from Loyola College, had a brilliant career in the Madras/Tamil Nadu Police and retired as its first Director-General.

Apart from the four brothers, there were three sisters who survived from the eleven children born in the Stracey family. Doreen, the eldest of the girls, qualified both as a classical pianist and as a doctor. In the latter role she headed several district hospitals in the United Provinces and became lost to music. After serving in the Indian Army Medical Corps during World War II, she sailed for England and practised in London till she was eighty. Margaret became a Private Secretary in the corporate sector, then a nurse before marrying a Proprietary Planter. And Winifred, who graduated from Lady Willingdon Teachers' Training College, Madras, taught in various private schools in India, including Baldwin's, Bangalore and St. Hilda's, Ooty, and later in England.

All that is left of the Straceys in India are the tombstones of a couple of them who died here and the Stracey School in Bangalore the brothers established.

Publishers and printers

Some months ago, in Miscellany, November 21, 2011, I had wondered about the connection between J.B. Pharoah and Company and the Athenaeum Press. And as I had expected, veteran printing educationist R. Narayanan and his co-columnist V. Madhavan have some answers for me.

J.B. Pharoah & Co., presumably owned by J.B. Pharoah in Madras, appears to date from at least 1839. Among its publications were The Madras Quarterly Medical Journal, The Madras Journal of Literature and Science produced by the Madras Literary Society, and The New Madras Almanac which came out in 1850. Most of its publications were printed by the Athenaeum Press in Madras.

The Athenaeum Press, however, is said to date to sometime before 1839 when it was started on Mount Road by a C. de Cruz who later sold it to a de Silva. Taking a cue from The Athenaeum, a literary magazine started in London by James Silk Buckingham in 1821 — the journal that was published till 1921 when it was merged with The Nation which in turn merged with The New Statesman in 1931 to become The New Statesman and Nation — the Madras printing unit started The Athenaeum Daily News in 1841 and the newspaper survived till 1845. I was intrigued to find that that then famous culinary writer, ‘Wyvern', Col. Kenney Herbert, whom I had always associated with The Madras Mail (1868), had contributed articles to The Athenaeum Daily News.

I was even more intrigued to hear that the Athenaeum Press also printed in Tamil. The book, Karaikal Ammaiyar Tivya Charithira Kirtanaigal, written by Sivaganga E. Raghava Mudaliar at the behest of L. Thiagaraja Mudaliar, was published by S. Kanniappa Mudaliar and printed by C. de Cruz at the Athenaeum Press of “Malaichsalai” in 1869. Curiously, however, the book's imprint calls the press by the name ‘Athenaeum and Daily News Press'. But was this the original name of the Press? Another imprint that makes me curious is the one for The Madras Journal of Literature and Science January-June 1839 issue. It reads ‘Printed at the Athenaeum Press by J.B. Pharoah and published by J.P. Bantleman at The College'. The College is, of course, that of Fort St. George (which had its own press), but what was the business relationship between Pharoah and Bantleman?

When the postman knocked…

*It's a curious bag of letters I received in response to my recollection of Madras Christian College's history on the occasion of its 175th birthday (Miscellany, April 2). M.V. Somasundaram sent me a piece of nostalgia wherein he remembers his role in the Dravida Sangham which he joined in 1950 after studying in a Tamil medium Municipal school. “Seeing my enthusiasm for Tamil, I was elected Assistant Secretary.” It was this enthusiasm that made him persuade the President, V. Ponnambalam, a Jaffna Tamil student who later became a politician in Ceylon, and J. Thangamuthu, the Secretary who later became a CSI Bishop, to request the permission of the Head of the Department of Tamil to change the name of the sangham to Thamizh Peravai. The request rather amused the HOD who pointed out that the two words more or less meant the same. The petitioners cited the love of Maraimalai Adigal and Parithimal Kavingar, both faculty in the Department, for “chaste Tamil words” and had their request granted. Somasundaram goes on to recall that he then suggested that the Peravai should celebrate Pongal Day as Thamizhar Thirunaal and stage a Tamil play on the occasion. The play was Parisu, an adaptation of an Ibsen play by Dr. Raja Chelliah, then the Professor of Economics, who went on to direct the production. Chelliah also acted in the play as did Gift Siromoney, then a student and later a polymath who became Professor of Statistics. M.G. Chakrapani, Somasundaram recalls, presided over the staging of the play.

*Not so warm or memory-filled was another letter I received, an anonymous diatribe that sought my involvement in church politics. Normally all such letters are dumped in my wastepaper basket, but a “blunder” I had committed was pointed out in it and I therefore needed to take note that C.N. Annadurai addressed the Thamizh Peravai in 1953 and not in 1933 as I had stated on April 2nd. In fact, he addressed it again in 1958. Historian, you call yourself; thundered my anonymous letter writer. I certainly don't, Mr. Anon; I'm just a storyteller who occasionally falls prey to the printer's devil or the whims of my finger while typing.

*Another nostalgic letter that came my way was from S. Satyanidhi Rao who was rather belatedly referring to my item on Tranquebar in Miscellany, November 28, 2011. He had worked with the Salt Department and had once been posted in Tranquebar to supervise the salt pans there. This was the first I'd heard there were salt pans near Tranquebar. Adding even more to what I learn every day was information that the licence to operate these pans had been issued to the Sri Masilanathaswamy Temple, their owner. Another bit of information that Rao provided has me supporting his suggestion that the Mayavaram-Tranquebar rail link be revived, what with Tranquebar developing into a significant tourist destination. Yes, Mayavaram and Tranquebar once had a railway link and there was a Tranquebar Railway Station where, Rao footnotes, the Tamil film “Kilaké Pogum Ryil” was shot.


At WorkSeptember 24, 2010

I wish to add that late C.N.Annadurai visited MCC,TAMBARAM,for the last
time in 1966.He had been invited by the Philosophy Association. Dr.CTK
CHARI was the HoD of PHILOSOPHY then.C.N.A.gave an hour long lecture in
English in Anderson Hall,which left us all, students and staff
spellbound.I was a student of MCC between 1964 and 1970.

Posted on: Apr 23, 2012 at 12:17 IST
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