madras miscellany History & Culture

The Doric column lighthouse

Central Station and the Buckingham Canal   | Photo Credit: GRJGM

A few weeks ago (Madras Miscellany, September 2), a reader sent me an old postcard featuring Popham's Broadway and I’ve had a rather detailed response to it which I will get to in a few minutes. Meanwhile, reader Christopher Penn sends me another postcard of that era which I present here today. This one, by “Higginbotham & Co., Madras & Bangalore”, is titled ‘Central Station, Madras’ and shows the station as it was sometime after 1874, when it got its clock, and the Buckingham Canal in full flow. But what intrigues me about the picture is the boat in the foreground. Now, it is well known that goods were transported in the stretch of the Canal in the city as late as the 1960s, but for all my investigation of the Canal’s history I have never heard of a passenger service in the Canal. Yet the boat in my picture today looks suspiciously like one serving passengers, in fact, like one of those boats plying in Lake Periyar’s waters for game-watchers. Or am I wrong? I wonder whether any reader can throw more light on this intriguing feature of today’s picture. As far as the Popham’s Broadway picture is concerned, reader V. Vijayaragahavan provides a heap of information after having studied the picture with an eagle eye. He points out that the China Bazaar Street sign would indicate that the picture was taken from the southern entrance of Broadway, opposite where the Law College now is. But he misses the fact that the sign is on one of the obelisks that marked the Esplanade boundary.

He goes on to state that the “absence of street lights, overhead power lines and tram tracks (the branch line from Esplanade to Mint and Washermenpet) suggests that the photo dates to around the early 1890s. Trams came into operation in Madras in 1895 and were fully operational only in 1904, domestic electricity arrived only in 1905 and street lights in 1912. (The street lamp in front was probably a kerosene or oil lamp, then widely in use.)”

As for the soiled Madras Times signage, he says “every rain used to leave muck and moss on brick and mortar buildings and the British never bother about exteriors”. The signage and gateman in front of the building, however, he adds, indicates commercial activity going on. In fact, the Madras Times moved to Mount Road only in 1910. And the photograph was taken in 1900, a date the processor had removed from the caption to the original.

Vijayaraghavan concludes with a bit of nostalgia. By the mid-20th Century, he recalls, Ambi’s Café (renowned for its coffee) was close to the cigar depot along with the shops of several cycle dealers. On the opposite side were several opticians and footwear dealers, including an outlet for The Durable Chrome Factory. Beyond the “watch sign” on this eastern side was the Law College hostel and nearby were Kinema Central and Minerva, the first theatre with air conditioning. I wonder what memories today’s picture will have readers recalling.

My reference to Dr. Rose Govindarajulu (Madras Miscellany, September 16) has brought in a heap of facts not only about her but her equally distinguished family as well, reader Joshua Kalapati providing many of them. That Dr. Rose, from the second batch of women to graduate from Madras Medical College, went on to serve the Mysore Medical Service with distinction I knew. What I didn’t know was how qualified she was and, more significantly, that she was probably the first woman from South India to get such qualifications from abroad. She had the LRCP and LRCS from Edinburgh, an LEPS from Glasgow, an LM from Ireland and an MD from Brussels! These seem to be some indication that she passed these exams in Europe. If that is correct, she could well have been the first South Indian woman to study in Britain, even abroad.

Dr. Rose served the Mysore Medical Service for 33 years, finally retiring in 1920, a year during which she laid the foundation for the Haigh Memorial Hall in Bangalore. She later inaugurated the Unity Building there. She was awarded an MBE by the King of England and was honoured with a portrait of her, to which the public had subscribed, hung in the Government Maternity Hospital in Bangalore.

Her sister Sarah was the Inspectress of Schools for Girls in the Madras Presidency. Christina Rainy, who helped establish the hospital named after her in Royapuram, described Sarah Govindarajulu as “the tallest woman I have ever seen”. But she was even taller in the endowments she left to the institutions she and her sister were associated with. The two achievers were the daughters of C. Govindarajulu (Reddy) and his wife Charlotte. Govindarajulu, one of the first Indians to be baptised by the Rev John Anderson, was the first Bursar of the school that Anderson founded and of Madras Christian College thereafter. Of him it was said, “He would go round the school collecting fees, and also pay salaries in silver coins brought from Binny’s, the college bankers.” Charlotte Govindarajulu was one of the first five Indian girls baptised through the influence of Margaret Anderson, the Swiss wife of John Anderson and who ran the girls’ school in the MCC premises in the new Black Town. Charlotte Govindarajulu later became, and for many years was, the matron of the girls’ boarding school where she had studied and been trained by Margaret Anderson. She later took up mission work, visiting Indian women in their homes.

A descendant of the Govindarajulu family was Sir C.R. Reddi, an outstanding educationist — who was associated with the Andhra and Mysore Universities — and an active member of the Justice Party.

The recent news that what’s left of the Doric column lighthouse in the High Court campus is to be refurbished and made a tourist attraction has had the indefatigable Dr. A. Raman from New South Wales searching for more details on ‘The Madras Light’. And what he’s sent me, from the 1839 volume of The Madras Journal of Literature & Science, is way above my head, but readers with a more scientific bent might like to follow the long trail set by this paper titled ‘An Investigation of the Nature and Optical efficiency of the combination of mirrors used to augment the illuminating power of the Madras Light’. The paper is by a Royal Engineer, Captain J.T. Smith, F.R.S. But what interested me was the letter from Capt. Smith that accompanied the paper. He wrote:

“On looking through some old papers, I have met with, and have the pleasure to send you the accompanying essay which was written in the year 1833, with a view to publication, but which from accidental causes was then laid aside. As the subject has more of a local than general interest, and as the evils which are herein pointed out are likely to be soon remedied, I should not now have ventured to request you to give it insertion in your pages, were it not possible that some benefit might result from an exhibition of the defects of a contrivance, which has hitherto been but little studied, and has been supposed by some to possess considerable merit for its simplicity; at a time when the increasing intercourse between the different parts of India, and the urgent demand for the better illumination of our coasts, renders the adoption of a correct theory, and more efficient means, every day more and more desirable.”

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 1:03:40 AM |

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