The new botanical gardens

December 05, 2010 07:46 pm | Updated November 13, 2021 09:49 am IST

CHENNAI: 11/11/2010: An inside view of Horticulture Park (Semmozhi Poonga) at Cathedral Road in Chennai on Thursday. Photo: S_S_Kumar

CHENNAI: 11/11/2010: An inside view of Horticulture Park (Semmozhi Poonga) at Cathedral Road in Chennai on Thursday. Photo: S_S_Kumar

The new botanical gardens, Semmozhi Poonga , were opened recently with little fanfare in what was once the Agri-Horticultural Society's woodland. Rich in greenery at present — but with too many man-made features intruding — it will look much more colourful a year from now, provided it is well-tended to. And there is no reason to think it won't be, given the track-record of government and municipal caretakers of the numerous new and resurrected parks that have sprouted in the last few years.

One of the features promised for the Semmozhi Poonga is an info-centre, and when that is developed I trust it will recall those pioneer botanists of Madras who not only enriched the world's knowledge of Indian flora, but also established some of the first botanical gardens in the country.

Anderson Road in Nungambakkam still remains with name mercifully unchanged. It was in what is Nandanam (Saidapet) that Civil Surgeon Dr. James Anderson established his Nopalry (a cactus garden) in 1789, in what was a small botanical garden he had started; but by 1800, with the cacti failing, many of the garden's plants were removed to Bangalore's Lal Bagh. The garden was briefly revived in 1837, but a few years later it became fragmented into the gardens of garden houses, one of those houses that still survives being Lushington Gardens — but with no garden today. In fact, that whole area across from the YMCA College of Physical Education and its acres-rich neighbours is densely-packed development with nary a garden in sight, where Anderson's second botanical garden was.

Even before establishing the Nopalry, Anderson lived in what became known as Anderson Gardens , across from today's Shastri Bhavan . In residence here from 1778 till 1809, he slowly developed what could well have been the first botanical gardens in the country. The gardens in the angle of the Haddow's Road-Graeme's Road junction were spread over 110 acres. Now it's all development — though fortunately a few stately houses here retain some garden space.

Following in his footsteps was Robert Wight and a whole line of civil surgeons, whose greater passion seemed to be Botany. Wight was one of the founders of the Agri-Horticultural Society in 1835, and then, further nurturing it and Botany, there were Patrick Russell, William Roxburgh, Francis Buchanan-Hamilton and Hugh Cleghorn not to forget the civilian Walter Eliot.

All of them have in the past found a place in these columns, but this column only hopes they will find a place in the Semmozhi Poonga .

Some Madras medical history

That regular contributor to this column, Dr. A. Raman of Charles Sturt University, New South Wales, has for some time now been researching the medical history of the Madras Presidency, and he tells me that he has now found a bit more information on the medical college in Calicut (Miscellany, January 25).

The School, started in the 1920s at Manacira, offered the LMP course. The Rajaji Ministry, however, abolished the LMP programme throughout the Presidency in the late 1930s, and the Calicut Medical School closed. But when the Government found there was a shortage of doctors during World War II, the Madras Medical College (MMC) opened a branch in 1942-43, attached to the district hospital at Kottapramba, Calicut (now the Women's and Children's Hospital).

This branch was closed after the War and the students transferred to MMC, Madras. Calicut Medical College got a new life in 1957 when it was re-established after the formation of Kerala State.

Raman goes on to add a tidbit, and a mother lode of information. He mentions discovering that the “oldest plant specimen” in the Cambridge University Herbarium, U.K., is listed as being from Fort St. George, Madras. The specimen of the plant was sent to the University Herbarium in 1703 by Dr Edward Bulkley, a Madras medical pioneer you would have met in this column before (Miscellany, August 30, 2004). The specimen, it is recorded, was re-mounted in the early 19{+t}{+h} Century.

As for the mother lode, it is a listing of professional English language medical journals brought out in 19{+t}{+h} Century Madras. If ever these journals can be traced, they'd provide researchers fertile fields for investigation of the state of medicine in the Madras Presidency of the time.

Dr. Raman states there were at the time around 50 professional medical journals in English being published in India. The first of them, Transactions of Medical and Physical Societyof Calcutta (TMPSC), first came out in Calcutta in 1825, just two years after Lancet appeared in London. But shortly before TMPSC stopped its erratic publishing history, the Madras Quarterly Medical Journal began its journey. It was published from 1839 to 1844. Succeeding it after a gap and being succeeded in turn by others after intervals were the Madras Journal of Medical Science (1851-54), the revived Madras Quarterly Journal ofMedical Science (1860-69), the Monthly Journal of Medical Science (1870-73), the Transactions of the South Indian Branch of the BMA (British Medical Association) (1887-1910), and the Madras Medical Record (1890).

I wonder which archives in Madras, even in India, has even a few sample copies for researchers.

His ties with the Congress

Adding to what has already been said in this column about L.A. Govindaraghava Aiyar (Miscellany, October 11 and November 8), L. Nagarajan, a member of the wider family, narrates how, to this day, the sons in six generations of the family have had the name Raghavan. Apparently when Arunachala Iyer of Lalapet (near Ranipet) — a village gifted to the family by an official (Lala) in the Nawab of Arcot service — lost his first children in virtual infancy, he made a pilgrimage to the Veeraraghavaswamy Temple in Tiruvallur, where he vowed that male children born to him and his family thereafter would all be named Raghavan. And so he had L.A. Srinivasa Raghava Aiyar, Govinda Raghava Aiyar and Venkata Raghava Aiyar — the first two becoming leading criminal lawyers. Govindaraghava Aiyar, one of the first to own a car in the Province, sold his house Palmgrove (Miscellany, October 11) and moved to what was known as the `Corner House' in Alwarpet. It was on this site that Lifestyle first established itself in Madras.

Nagarajan also attempts to point me in the direction of the answer I've been looking for that would explain Govindaraghava Aiyar's (LGR) eminence in Congress circles. LGR, he reminds me, attended the Congress Sessions in Surat, Calcutta and Karachi, and played notable roles in them.

When, at a special session in Bombay in 1918, the Congress Extremists reiterated a hard line against the Montagu reforms, the divide with the Moderates, like Annie Besant, LGR, Srinivasa Sastri and C.P.Ramaswami Aiyer and others, widened and became unbridgeable the next year. Yet in July 1919, when the Government of India warned Gandhi, through the Governor of Bombay, “that resumption of Civil Disobedience is likely to be attended with serious consequences,” Gandhi responded in a letter to the Press that he had decided “not to resume Civil Resistance” on “deep consideration… (of) the urgent desire publicly expressed by Dewan Bahadur Govinda Raghava Iyer, Sir Narayan Chandavarkar and several Editors…(and the same advice given by) several prominent friends belonging to what is called the Extremist Party…” This was a period when LGR spoke fervently on several platforms in favour of the Swadeshi Movement, arguing that “when the trade and the industries of one country are carried on under the most favourable conditions, and the trade and industries of the other country have been crippled by all kinds of extraneous impediments,” a Swadeshi Movement was inevitable.

LGR, as a close ally of Annie Besant, was involved in the Madras Parliament she formed on January 1, 1915 to train local leaders in Parliamentary methods.

It was a debating society but with a strong overlay of Westminster procedures. Among the resolutions it passed after due debate was one on the Panchayat Act, introduced by T. Rangachari (later to become a member of the Legislative Assembly and still later its Deputy President), an Education Act presented by C.P.Ramaswami Aiyer and a Commonwealth of India Act presented by Besant herself.

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