Mere mention last week that I'd have more to say about Edward (Ted) and Alice Barnes this week had the postman busy these past few days with several readers providing bits and pieces of information on a couple who, they agreed, should be called ‘The First Couple of MCC's Tambaram campus'. Indeed, no sooner work began on Madras Christian College's campus in Tambaram on January 5, 1932, the first building to be raised was a house into which the Barnes' moved in October that year. Barnes Villa , as the bungalow came to be known, was to remain their home till Ted Barnes passed away at the young age of 49 in 1941.
Prof. Barnes joined MCC as Professor of Chemistry in 1919. While in University in Britain during the Great War, he narrowly missed being arrested as “a conscientious objector”, being out of his ‘digs' when the warrant was brought. A member of the Society of Friends, he and Alice Varley, whom he married in 1930, were to be pacifists all their lives and dedicated Quakers. There may have at the time been no connection between the two events, but it was the year Barnes joined MCC that the College authorities decided they needed to move out of the city to more spacious surroundings and the search began for such space. This became a more formal decision in 1925 when a search committee was appointed. When it was learnt that the Forest Department was abandoning a block of scrub-and-palmyra land in Selaiyur, near the new railway station in Tambaram, the College zeroed in on it and, in April 1927, Ted Barnes was asked to inspect it. The College thereafter applied for 600 acres of this scrub forest and was granted 400 acres by Government on March 15, 1930 together with Rs.16.4 lakh, half of what it had sought for buildings. The fact that Madras had two Prime Ministers that year, Dr. P. Subbaroyan and B. Muniswami Naidu, who were alumni of the College certainly helped.
The first persons to move into the wilderness, the Barnes were to play a major role in transforming it into the tree-shaded, green campus it is today, rich in flora and fauna. Hundreds of species of plants and trees, many of them exotics, were introduced in the campus by them, several supplied by other members of the faculty as well as alumni. The couple nurtured the seedlings in their home and supervised their transplantation. Barnes not only documented all the species in the campus but he wrote profusely about them to international journals. But perhaps his most valuable written contribution was The New Environment: Detailed Description of the Tambaram Site (1937) which detailed “the physical boundaries, nature of water and soil, the kinds of tests done on them, the climatic conditions, the meteorological descriptions, and the wild life of the campus,” according to Joshua Kalapati and Ambrose Jeyasekaran in their history of the College.
Even while he worked on greening the campus, Barnes teamed with Henry Schaetti, the Swiss architect, and, it is said, played a signal role in the planning of the lay-out and the buildings that were inaugurated on January 30, 1937. Truly were Ted and Alice Barnes the first curators of the Selaiyur campus.