Settlers in Peter's village

WHEN SOME German academics were in town recently to participate in a discussion on how `Namma Mylapore' could be revived, one of them asked me whether I knew anyone in Mylapore who could trace his/her family's history to at least the time Mylapore was pushed from shore by the Portuguese who then created San Thome. At the time I had answered that tracing anyone with roots even l50 years old in Madras was a problem, leave alone 450 years. When Madras celebrated its 350th birthday in l989, I had `stumbled' upon the descendants of Beri Thimappa, one of the city's founders, and found the Appah family still going strong. I had heard of the Manali Muthukrishna family, who date in the city to a few years after Beri Thimappa, but I could never get a family tree or more detailed information. But with other old families in the city I have had little luck - till a few weeks ago, when reader C. Alexander wanted to know whether I agreed with the view that Royapuram was `The town of Peter', deriving its name from the Tamil for Peter, `Rayappar'. Apart from telling him that I had heard of that derivation several times, I couldn't offer much, but was happily surprised to have him come back with the story of a group of families long settled in Madras and whose contribution to the city was the St. Peter's Church in Royapuram. It's a fascinating story that reader Alexander narrates about the church's connection with the Christian Gurukula Vamsa Varunakula Mudaliar boat-owners who arrived in Madras over 250 years ago to seek their fortune in a town they had heard offered numerous opportunities. Apparently the Goonandi, Nallaveeran, Monthi, Aandi and Asarappan families of this vamsa had migrated from Durgarayapatnam (Francis Day's Armagon, north of Pulicat) to Fort St George in l7l0, being told of the numerous opportunities there were for boatmen who wished to handle the ship to shore traffic from Madras Roads to the Fort Beach. In the l730s, they were moved to the Chepauk beach, by which time the community had not only grown but also included both masula boat-owners as well as boatmen or fishermen who handled masula-s and kattamaram-s. When the French occupied Fort St. George in l746, the Chepauk community fled with the British to Fort St. David in Cuddalore, where they worked with the British fleet getting ready to sail for Madras on its rendition. In the years that followed, the boat-owners and boatmen rendered much assistance to British naval vessels anchoring in Madras Roads and, in turn, received several favours from the Government. The community itself built a church in Chepauk, of which little is known today, and helped in the restoration of the church on St.Thomas' Mount.

When, in l799, Lord Edward Clive ordered the Sea Customer (Customs House) and the Master Attendant to move out of the Fort and ensure landings thereafter only on North Beach (about where the main harbour buildings are today), the boat-owners and their crews too had to move. They were granted 720 grounds in lieu of their land in Chepauk and they put down roots in what is now Royapuram on December 5, l799. Here they raised a church they called St.Peter's and named their village Royapuram. Work on rebuilding the church commenced in l825 and the St.Peter's Church of today was consecrated in l829. Its keys were delivered to the headmen of the community, the heads of the Nallaveeran, Monthi, Aandi and Asarappa Mudaliar families, by the Secretary of the Marine Board, which had helped with the construction. The Archdiocese of Mylapore appointed the Rev.Fr.Antonis Martin D'Silva as the Church's first priest.

With this, I'm glad to discover another group of early settlers in Madras; happier still is reader Alexander's statement that there are family records of this early migration. And that is something unique in Madras.


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