Madras Miscellany Chennai

What’s that pillar?

My picture last fortnight of the Madras Law College building not long after it was built brought in a lot of queries about that peaked pillar that rather dominates the scene. It is formally called the Hynmers’ Obelisk, but those who know something about it tend to call it the ‘Yale Monument’.

The premises seen in last fortnight’s picture were once those of British Madras’s first cemetery. St Mary’s Cemetery on Pallavan Salai later took its place. This was after Lally’s siege of Madras in 1758-59 when the French besiegers had used the tombstones in the old cemetery and the surrounding Guava Garden as protective cover. After the siege was over, the cemetery and garden were razed by the British to initiate work on an esplanade and the surviving tombstones were moved by 1763 to St Mary’s Church in the Fort. The Church then developed the Pallavan Salai cemetery, now in virtual disuse. Curiously, when the Guava Garden Cemetery was razed, Hynmers’ Obelisk and the Powney Monument (Miscellany, January 16, 2017) were left intact for reasons unknown. The latter, however, was at some untraceable date pulled down, but the Obelisk was left standing, no doubt due to the Yale connection narrated below.

One of Madras’s claims to fame is Governor Elihu Yale, who did much for early Madras, also made a fortune and gave a bit of it to enable a Connecticut (US) school develop into Yale University. The beginnings of that fortune lay in his friendship with Joseph Hynmers, a rather nondescript figure, who was Second in Council in Madras when he died in 1680. Six months later, Yale married the widow Catherine Hynmers who came from a well-to-do family. The November 4, 1680 marriage was the first to be celebrated in St Mary’s in the Fort.

The Yales had four children, three daughters and a son. The boy, born in 1684, died in 1687 and was buried next to Joseph Hynmers. Elihu Yale raised the Obelisk over their tombs. Granite slabs in the north and south inner walls of the vaulted base were inscribed as follows:

“Hic jacet DAVID filius Honorabilis ELIHU YALE, Praesidentis et Gubernatoris Castelli

St.Georgii et Civitatis Madrassiae, natus fuit 15 Maii 1684 et obiit 25 Januarii Anno 1687.”

“Here Iyes interred the body of JOSEPH HYNMERS who served the Rt. Honble English East India Company several years as second in council of Fort St George, in which situation he departed this life on the 28th of May 1680.’”

Whether these still survive in the protected monument I am not certain. The monument itself in recent years used to be hidden by overgrowth that was from time to time cleared by the Indo-American Association. With what was once the tallest flagstaff in India, where Yale flew the Union Jack for the first time in the country, now no more, the only relic left in Madras raised by Yale is the Obelisk in another’s name.

Footnote: Catherine Hynmers shortly after David Yale’s death went back to England with her daughters and remained virtually separated from Elihu Yale. He meanwhile took into his home the widow Catherine Nicks and her fortune. Then added to his household Hieronima de Paivia, the widow of the largest diamond dealer in South India. All this helped Yale to build one of the largest collections of art and artefacts in Europe.

The catalogue for the auction stated: ‘His “Collection” consisting of ... Pictures, jewels, fine chac’d Philigrew and Household Plate, Gold and Silver Watches, Clocks with several Motions, Velvets, Broad-Cloths, Silks and Muslins, Mathematical and Surgeons Instruments, curious Fire Arms, Swords, and Canes, India Japan Cabinets, fine Snuff-boxes, with many Curiosities in Gold, Silver, and Agate.”

There were more than 10,000 articles arranged in about 3,600 lots.

The dam-building cricketer

Another monument, another tale. This monument was unveiled recently in the memorial garden of St Peter’s Church in Frimley, Surrey (UK). The bust of Col J John Pennycuick was placed there through the efforts of a Santhana Beeroli, a student from Theni district studying in London, and Chennai Police Commissioner AK Viswanathan. It is a tribute to Pennycuick of the Royal Engineers who became renowned for building the Mullaiperiyar Dam, often spending his own money on the project during its raising between 1887 and 1895.

It is for his work on the dam that Pennycuick is remembered in Tamil Nadu, almost deified in Madurai and districts south of it. But there are a few who remember him for another contribution: Cricket in South India. Together with Alexander Arbuthnot, HC King and Daniel Richmond, Pennycuick laid the foundation for Madras’s cricketing growth.

His story begins in the best Government service manner. As Lt Pennycuick and Secretary of the Madras Cricket Club he negotiated with the Chief Secretary, Alexander Arbuthnot, who had founded the Club in 1846, for the grounds in the Chepauk Palace complex that are to this day the Club’s home. Then, in 1890, as Secretary, Public Works Department, Pennycuick gave official permission for a new pavilion to be built at Government cost of ₹13,440 by Consulting Architect to Government, Henry Irwin. Vestiges of this internationally famed pavilion still remain.

All this while, Pennycuick played Cricket for Madras, Bangalore and teams elsewhere in the South. The first newspaper report of a formal cricket match in South India that I’ve seen dates to 1875.

Pennycuick, then a Captain and playing for Bangalore against Madras in a series dating to 1862, opened the batting and scored 19 and 18. But he won the match for Bangalore with four first inning wickets and five second innings ones.

Pennycuick continued playing till he retired from service in 1896 and went ‘Home’. The Club paid tribute to him in these words: “For over thirty years, this gentleman has been associated with and has encouraged Cricket in the Madras Presidency, while his services to the Club, both as an official and in the field (he was a fine underarm bowler), will long be remembered.”

When he left India, he made his last and most important contribution to Madras Cricket by presenting the Col JJ Pennycuick Trophy for Inter-Collegiate competition – a trophy played for till this day.

But does the Pennycuick Trophy remind the cricketers of today of that remarkable sports-loving (he was a winner at squash rackets too) engineer? Perhaps Chepauk needs a bust of him too.

The chronicler of Madras that is Chennai tells stories of people, places, and events from the years gone by, and sometimes from today

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 8:45:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/whats-that-pillar/article26173899.ece

Next Story