Madras miscellany: The tombstone found

January 11, 2015 08:39 pm | Updated February 22, 2015 06:54 pm IST

The Victoria Technical Institute on Anna Salai

The Victoria Technical Institute on Anna Salai

At the second of Virginia Jealous’s two talks on Laurence Hope the poet and the trail her father John Jealous had followed to Hope’s last resting place in Madras, Virginia announced, “I must surprise Muthu.” Only that morning I had wondered in Miscellany (December 15) whether Virginia would find what she was looking for and just a few hours later she found the grave and tombstone of Laurence Hope (Florence Nicolson) and her husband Lt. Gen. Malcolm Nicolson after almost a month of searching.

Why it took so long is obvious in the ‘Before’ picture featured here. St. Mary’s Cemetery on The Island was known as the last resting place of the Nicolsons and the Anglican part of it had, when Virginia first visited it, reverted to what is often the scene here, unrestricted wild growth covering all but the tallest tombstones. Several subsequent visits did not prove fruitful till the day she was to talk to the Madras Book Club. And on that day, with the help of a couple of soldiers who were maintaining the War Graves Cemetery, she and the caretaker cleared a couple of spots and there before her was what she was looking for, my ‘After’ picture today. With that ‘discovery’, she wonders whether the Army might not tend this little patch hereafter; after all, he was a soldier with a distinguished record, even if he had been with the Bombay Army and not the Madras Army.

Virginia was able to finally track down the location after she received, ‘out of the blue’, from a friend of her father a picture of the ‘grave’ John Jealous had taken in 1989. There was a marker in it: The Cross of Sacrifice seen in the background in the War Graves Cemetery. And following that line and with the help she received from those working in the cemetery that morning she found the grave.

The stone cross at the foot of the grave is inscribed “In Loving Memory of MHN: The Souls of the Righteous are in the Hands of God”. The headstone, raised after the cross was moved to the foot, is inscribed: ‘Lt. Gen. Malcolm Nicolson BI: CLI. Died 7th August 1904. “Whose soul was noble.” And his wife Adela Florence. Died 4th October 1904. Aged 39 years.’ This would indicate that she had been buried beside her husband in consecrated ground even though she had committed suicide. But according to the Church records she had not committed suicide. She had died of “corrosive sublimate poisoning while insane.” And insanity is not a mortal sin. But then anyone who commits suicide by swallowing perchloride of mercury, as it has been alleged — a poison that would searingly burn the mouth, lips, guts and innards — would have to be insane, says one of the many who have written about the tragic Adela Florence Nicolson-Laurence Hope who had pale hands by the Shalimar loved.

I look forward to Virginia Jealous’s book-in-the-making leading to a revival of Laurence Hope’s passionate poetry and Amy Woodforde-Finden’s musical compositions of it. Certainly at Virginia’s two Madras lectures the audiences were quite captivated by her words set to music.


Encouraging the crafts

In October last year, there passed virtually unnoticed the 125th anniversary of an organisation that did much to encourage the traditional crafts of the Madras Presidency and in more recent times those of Madras/ Tamil Nadu. It still continues this commitment — and a 125th anniversary celebration would have done much to bring its contribution into the public eye.

When the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s reign was to be celebrated in 1887, the leading citizens of the city decided to mark the occasion by (1) building Victoria Public Hall and (2) establishing an organisation to promote the traditional crafts and get the craftsmen to sell their products through the organisation which would establish a sales centre for the purpose. The Victoria Public Hall was inaugurated in 1887 and the Victoria Technical Institute (VTI) was established as a trust the same year. But uncertainty about the way to proceed and the necessary funds led to the Trust dawdling on October 26, 1889, however, it registered itself as a Society and began reaching out to the craftsmen, awareness of the crafts was created through public lectures, and scholarships were given for study in the Madras School of Arts (today’s Government College of Arts and Crafts). But a permanent sales centre took years in coming. Sales and exhibitions in various halls in Madras a couple of times a year was the route the Society took in its first years.

After Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 it was decided to commemorate her. But again the commemoration got prolonged and then in 1906, during the visit of the Prince of Wales (later King George V), he was requested to lay the foundation stone for an exhibition hall for the VTI. This was duly done in the Government Museum premises, construction by Namberumal Chetty began to a Mughal design by Henry Irwin, and in 1909 VTI moved into a handsome new home.

When military occupation of the VPH during World War II left the Hall stricken, the Government took it over, restored it and made it home for a National Art Gallery, but neglect thereafter has led to it being in worse condition than when it was taken over after Independence and today it stands derelict, awaiting long promised restoration. The VTI meanwhile had moved into rented premises on Mount Road during the War, then purchased land on the same thoroughfare and built a utilitarian showroom that was opened in 1956, its large variety of contents bringing the colour to its spacious interior.

A commemoration during the next few months of the 125th year of its getting down to work is something VTI should be thinking about.


The first cars in the South

When did the first car arrive in the South suddenly became the topic of discussion at table the other day. There was no resolution, but lunch did get dragged out. The following was my contribution.

The first car to arrive in India was landed in Calcutta in 1897, twelve years after Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz started making motor cars in Germany. The next year, three cars were imported into Bombay. As though to prove Madras was always first, there is a story that a car was seen on the Madras roads in 1894. Unfortunately there is only mere passing mention of the fact, no solid documentation.

The first record of a car being regularly used in Madras Presidency dates to 1901, its owner A.J. Yorke, a Director of Parry’s, having brought it out from England that year. Sir Francis Spring, at the time the Secretary of the Madras Railway Board and later to be the first Chairman of the Madras Port Trust and called the ‘Father of the Madras Harbour’, is the person associated with that ‘ghost car’ of 1894, but a more real car of his was MC-1, the first car to be registered in Madras and that was in 1903. The first Indian-owned car was that legendary building contractor Namberumal Chetty’s MC-3. Did Yorke’s become MC-2 or was that someone else’s?

One of the earliest cars in the mofussil was Dr. Ida Scudder’s. She was gifted in 1909 a one-cylinder Peugeot from France and she decided to use it as a mobile dispensary on a once-a-week village round. She later wrote, “The first day when we started out with our rather noisy Peugeot, the people on that country road, who never had seen a motor car, seeing and hearing us coming rushed off into the fields, shouting, ‘Oh, the Devil is coming!’ We stopped the car and persuaded them to come and see. When they came, we found that nearly everyone in that group needed medical aid.” And that was how CMC Hospital, Vellore’s famous ‘Roadside’ began.

In Madras, meanwhile, sometime between 1901 and 1904, Addison’s who pioneered cycles in Madras, became the first importers of petrol-driven motor cars and motor cycles. In 1909 it had a two-storey showroom on Mount Road and next to it, in 1916, came up another showroom, what is Amalgamations’ showroom today. Now a fellow-member of the Amalgamations Group, but then a rival, Simpson’s, decided to meet the demand for cars with steam-driven cars. In 1930s, S.J. Green test drove a steam-driven car that he had designed and made in the Company’s workshop using local materials except for the ‘burner’ which was imported. The Madras Mail commenting editorially on this achievement stated, “We believe it is the first motor car that has been built in India.” The editorial was prophetically titled, ‘New Industry for Madras’.

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