S. MUTHIAH

The recent inauguration of the Observer Research Foundation's Maritime Security Programme, to study maritime security in the Indian Ocean region, was marked by a seminar at which speakers discussed various dimensions of maritime security in India's neighbourhood. A point made by one of the speakers took me back to an ancient institution no longer with us. Speaking of the difficulties faced in prosecuting those accused of crimes at sea, the speaker pointed out that there was need for Admiralty Courts, like those which had existed in the past, to make such prosecutions quicker and more conclusive. As interloping - trade by merchants who had not been licensed by the East India Company - increased in the middle of the 17th Century, the Company was accorded permission by Charles II to establish a Court of Admiralty to bring them to book. Accordingly, on July 10, 1686, a Court of Admiralty was inaugurated in Fort St. George, with three Councillors on the bench, one of them, John Gray, presiding as `Judge of the Admiralty.' The next year, Sir John Biggs was sent out from Britain to serve the Court as Judge-Advocate. The Court, however, was convened only irregularly over the next 100 years, before it was finally merged with the Recorders' Court that had preceded the High Court. During this period, it met to try fugitives, pirates, mutineers and those accused of murder on the high seas - there is no record of interlopers having been tried.Where the Court met in the Fort in its early years is not clear, but in 1755, it met in the "great house in Charles Street" in the Fort to try some mutineers. Ever since then, the house has been known as Admiralty House. Till the end of the 18th Century, when what was known as Government House (in today's Government Estate) was purchased for the Governor, Admiralty House in the Fort was used as his "town residence." When Lord Clive the Second became Governor in 1799, Admiralty House was one of the venues for his grand entertainments till he got Banqueting Hall (Rajaji Hall) built. Today, Admiralty House - more often than not called Clive House, because Robert Clive had once lived in it, long before the days of the Court of Admiralty - houses the regional office of the Archaeological Survey of India and other Central Government offices. Will it ever again house a Court of Admiralty, I wonder. It could well do so, if the voices of those concerned with maritime security - a dimension much greater than merely a military one - are heard.

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