Hidden histories Metroplus

The Scots who built Madras

FOR SCOTSMEN St. Andrews Kirk Photo: K.V. Srinivasan   | Photo Credit: K_V_Srinivasan

The Scottish referendum is in the news and by the time this article is published we will know if Scotland is part of the United Kingdom or has declared independence. Whatever happens, it cannot be denied that much of the British Empire was built by dour Scots, who braved it to far away places to make a living. Madras was no exception, and the number of Scotsmen who played a role in it is long. Here are just a few examples.

The Munro statue is one of the enduring landmarks of the city, commemorating Sir Thomas Munro, a much-loved Governor, who was known among other things for his love of Indians. He was also perhaps one of the earliest of the colonisers to predict that a time would come when the rulers would have to leave and when they did, they ought to gracefully. He was a Scot, belonging to one of the old families of Glasgow.

Dr. Andrew Bell, another Scot, was to make Madras a name to reckon with in the field of education. Observing while here a native school in which senior students were entrusted with the task of teaching juniors, he was to perfect what became known as the Madras System of Education. In 1833, the Madras College, which took its name from the above style, was set up in St Andrews, Scotland. It still functions there.

Where would the Government Oriental Manuscripts Library be without its nucleus — the Colin Mackenzie collection? Arriving here to join the army in 1783, he was to devote his life to collecting manuscripts. When he died in 1821, his wife offered them to the Government for Rs. 20,000 but an independent valuation estimated their value at Rs. 100,000! The Bengal Government acquired the same and later it was divided between London and Madras. Much of it survives and is a boon to researchers. Mackenzie was also the first Surveyor General, Government of India and it was during his time that most of the country was mapped.

The Government Ophthalmic Hospital, Egmore is the world’s second-oldest eye hospital in the modern sense, established in 1819.

Its growth can be traced to Dr. R.H. Eliot, a Scotsman, who was in charge between 1904 and 1913. It was he who also set up a museum for the eye in the campus, which still functions.

Who can forget R.F. Chisholm, the Scot who gave us so many Indo-Saracenic marvels? Our city has still got the largest collection of his works, though the number has come down in the past few years — Presidency College, Senate House, the GPO, VP Hall, Central Station — the list is long.

One landmark that was built before his time is St. Andrews Kirk, the church for the Scotsmen in Madras. It is an architectural wonder, its foundation being on terracotta wells.

The list as I said is not exhaustive but if Madras had a vote in this referendum we can guess what it would have chosen.


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Printable version | Nov 25, 2021 5:15:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/hidden-histories-the-scots-who-built-madras/article6426709.ece

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