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Madras Miscellany: The Irish contribution

Sr. Loreto with Aine Edwards

Sr. Loreto with Aine Edwards   | Photo Credit: mail pic

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A letter I received has a request from Aine Edwards of Ireland who, over the last 13 years, has spent much time in Perambur, working with indigent Anglo-Indian families and teaching in a Catholic school there — the Little Lambs School. There she met and became friendly with a fellow Irishwoman, Sister Loreto, who came out to India in 1943 and in April this year will celebrate her Pearl Jubilee fast. It is “this gift from Ireland to India” that Aine Edwards and cinematographer Ramakrishna Dhanasekaran wish to feature in a documentary, which will also look at the Irish contribution to Madras and at the Anglo-Indian community. It was both in search of information as well as for help in spreading the word about the film that Aine Edwards caught up with me.

Sister Loreto, who helped found the Little Lambs School, has long been associated with the Presentation Convent in Perambur. And the Presentation Order is one of the organisations written about in a well got up book the Irish Embassy in Delhi was associated with, The Irish Legacy: A story of the Irish contribution to education in India, and which Aine Edwards presented to me.

The Irish have had a long connection with India, starting with the men who served with the English East India Company from its earliest days. The poorer men served as rank and file in the armies of the Crown and of the three Presidencies as well as in the forces of several Indian rulers. It is reported that by 1840, there were nearly 40,000 Irish serving in Royal regiments in India. The somewhat better off and better educated Irish who came out served in India as officers and as technical personnel and supervisors in the Railways and the various departments handling public works. The Anglo-Irish nobility and land-owners arrived in India to serve in the civil service and many became Governors, like Lord Connemara. Most of the better-off Irish were Protestants, the poorer ones Roman Catholics. And it is the latter who fathered numerous families in India, leaving behind hosts of orphans when they deserted their families, went on transfer or on being killed in action. It was to serve the Poor Irish and their orphans (most of them of mixed parentage) that the Irish religious orders came to India and laid the foundations for what are called ‘convent schools’.

The first of the Irish religious to come out to India were in the early 1840s, answering the calls of Bishops Patrick Carew in Calcutta and Daniel O’Connor in Madras. The Loreto Sisters from Dublin arrived in Calcutta in 1841 and the Presentation Sisters in Madras from Cork in 1842. The first Sisters to arrive in Madras were Xavier Kearney, Ignatius Healy, Regis Kelly and Martha Kelly. The four nuns were accompanied by Johanna Fitzgerald, an 18-year-old postulant. The male religious presence in Madras was a bit later, three Brothers of St. Patrick — Ignatius Price, Paul Hughes and Fintan Parkinson — arriving in 1875.

With the departure of Bishop Carew, Dr. Fennelly arrived in Madras at the same time as Mother Xavier Curran of the Presentation Order. Between them, they got started in 1842 the first Presentation school in India, what is today called St. Columban’s in George Town. There followed St. Aloysius in Vepery in 1884, St Kevin’s, Royapuram (1905), Sacred Heart (Church Park, 1909), St. Joseph’s, Perambur (1911), and Presentation (Kodaikanal) and St. William’s, Royapettah which celebrate their Centenaries this year.

The Patrician Brothers established St. Patrick’s in Adyar in 1875, St. Joseph’s, Coonoor (1892), and St. Michael’s, Adyar (1953).

But older than all these is the St. Joseph of Cluny Girls’ School founded in Pondicherry in 1827 by the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny in Ireland. The first arrivals, however, were Irish nuns from Bourbon in France.

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In the shade of the baobabs

A reader who seems to wish to remain anonymous, sent me some additional information on The Grove, Sir C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar’s residence (Miscellany, February 1). Perhaps the present owners could expand on the information that The Grove was once part of a 13-acre property with a large mansion in it that was called Baobab because of the numerous baobabs in the acreage. The entire property had once been owned by that famous lawyer John Bruce Norton, father of an even more famous son Eardley Norton (Miscellany, November 2, 2015). The whole property was sold to Chentsal Rao Pantulu, my correspondent tells me, for Rs. 26,000. I wonder whether this was shortly before John Norton left for England in 1871 after resigning as Advocate-General of Madras, an office he held with distinction for eight years.

Pantulu, I am told, divided the property and sold off an eastern portion of nine acres, after sub-dividing it. It was three acres from the eastern portion that became the site of The Grove. The western four acres retained Norton’s mansion, Baobab, and most of the baobab trees till sometime in the 1930s when it was sold in auction by the Official Trustee of Madras. The buyer was another lawyer, Mohammed Usman, who was the first Indian to act as Governor of Madras. I am told a commercial complex called Usman Court has come up on a portion of this site.

John Norton, one of the commissioners in 1859 who recommended that the Supreme Court of the Presidency be abolished and a Madras High Court be instituted, is best remembered for two cases he appeared in. In the first case, he appeared for the Sivaganga Zamindari against the Ramnad Zamindari which claimed Sivaganga as part of its territory. Norton won the case and Sivaganga was recognised as a separate and independent unit. In the other case, he appeared for the Tanjore ranees in an 1861 suit, and writing about his passionate advocacy, Suresh Balakrishnan (Miscellany, November 16, 2015) quotes a report that appeared in The Straits Times: “He indulged the Court with a lachrymosical display of so violent a nature that the Judge and jury, witnesses and spectators, were infected and a tempest of sobs evinced a deep feeling which the eloquent speaker had inspired. We were rather surprised, then, when the Court adjourned – probably for the purpose of drying its eyes – to hear an unmistakable chuckle from the learned advocate, and a whispered ejaculation which sounded very like the words ‘Lord! Didn’t it rain!’ ”

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Bazaar drugs for vets

The mention of Dr. Mohideen Sheriff in this column on February 1 reminded V. Swaminathan about a reference to Moodeen Sheriff he had seen in a 1902 publication. The title page and preface he sends me are from A Veterinary Pharmacopoeia of Bazaar Drugs by J D E Holmes, M.A., M.R.C.V.S., Assistant Bacteriologist, Muktesar, published by Higginbotham & Co., Madras.

In his Preface, Holmes writes, “Owing to the dearth of Veterinary literature on the subject of native drugs I have ventured to publish these notes, short and incomplete as they are, in the hope that they may be of use to Veterinary Surgeons, owners of stock and everyone connected with the care of Animals in India. European medicines are often difficult or impossible to obtain; they are expensive and also an object of suspicion to the native farmers. Most indigenous drugs can be obtained in every bazaar; they are cheap, and can be used in their crude or natural state in veterinary practice. Many of the drugs and prescriptions mentioned have been tried by me with success. The doses given are approximate, and in many instances much larger amounts may be used. The standard works of Moodeen Sheriff and Waring have been frequently consulted.”

Apart from the fact that the author thought fit to consult the works of Mohideen Sheriff, what strikes me about this preface is the fact that British veterinarians in India more than a century ago were willing to use, and recommend the use of, ‘native drugs’ for the treatment of animals. I wonder whether there was the same willingness at the time to recommend ‘native drugs’ and whether there were similar publications on ‘bazaar drugs’ for use by humans. Would allopathic doctors make such recommendations today?

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Printable version | Jul 19, 2018 4:33:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/madras-miscellany-the-irish-contribution/article8261647.ece