On June 17, 1911, Collector Robert William d’ Escourt Ashe and his wife left Tirunelveli Junction by the 9.30 a.m. train to board Boat Mail at Maniyachi Junction. As the couple waited for the train to arrive, a youth, Vanchinathan, dressed in green coat and white dhoti, entered the first class compartment and shot Ashe point-blank. After accomplishing the act, he ran into a toilet on the platform and shot himself. Sankara Iyer, who had accompanied him, quietly left the station.
According to documents of the British police, Vanchinathan used a Browning automatic pistol made in Belgium and sent by Madam Cama, a member of Abinava Bharat Samiti, a revolutionary organisation, from Paris. Vanchinathan, a native of Shencottah (then in Travancore State), was the son of Regupathy Iyer.
In January 1908, he joined the durbar service as temple accountant at Ariankavu and a few months later was appointed forest ranger at Punalur. In April 1910, Neelakanta Brahmachari formed a branch of Bharatmatha Association in Punalur in which Vanchinathan became a member. Vanchinathan was influenced by Neelakantan and the revolutionary literature from Pondicherry. He also visited Pondicherry to meet V.V.S. Iyer and in 1911 learnt to shoot under his expert guidance.
The reason for the selection of Ashe as the target was his role in the suppression of Swadeshi movement led by V.O. Chidambaram and others in Tirunelveli and Tuticorin. His suppressive action also led to the collapse of the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company. Fourteen persons were charged in the Ashe murder case, which came to be known as the Tirunelveli conspiracy case.
The State government should construct a memorial for Vanchinathan at Vanchi Maniyachi and celebrate his birth anniversary all over Tamil Nadu. The Indian Council of Historical Research should organise national seminars on Ashe murder case, Vanchinathan and the Indian revolutionary movement in Tuticorin.
– Ilasai Manian