Saturday, August 22, 2009

Madras Day

Today (Aug 22) is being celebrated as the anniversary of the founding of Madras City. As a ‘chennaikaran’ and an armchair, amateur historian ( even if self-styled), I felt that I must try to find, via Google Books, one of the earliest references to the city.

There are some books in the Google library that are dated 1650-1699, but they make only a fleeting mention of the city. The first exhaustive account that I could come across was in The Gentlemen’s Magazine ( page90), published in 1747 that carries this description of Fort St George, Madras, when rumours had reached London that the fort had fallen into the hands of the French. Madras would have been in existence for about a century when this was written 262 years back.

A succinct account of the City of Madras and Fort St George
FORT St George stands upon the coast of Coromandel, in the latitude of 13°. 30'. and is looked upon as the most considerable place in the possession of our East India company. It lies about eighty degrees in point of longitude, east from London, which makes about fix hours difference between time there and here ; so that six in the morning with us is their noon, and our noon about their fall of night, for the days are very near of an equal length in that country all the year round. Fort St George is very happily seated in the midst of the white town, with the road before it, and a river behind it. It is a regular square, of about 100 yards, fortified with four bastions, and built with what they call the iron-stone.

The west gate which looks towards the land is large and magnificent, and a company of foldiers keep guard there ; the opposite gate, towards the river, is small, and is guarded only by a file of musketeers. The white town is of an oblong form, well built and except towards the river, has a good wall. To the northward lies the black town, which is properly called Madras, and by the Moors, Chinepatan, inhabited by Portuguese, Indians, Armenians, and many other nations. The streets are wide, and many of them well planted with trees, so that having the sea on one side and a river on the other, it may be truly said that few cities stand so pleasantly or better supplied with provisions………

….This is a place of vast trade and all the officers have such perquisites that they soon become rich. There is no place in the world where money is more plenty and where traders have better credit.

….. The town, as well as the fort, have very good walls with bastions at proper distances. The situation is very proper for defence, they have several outguards and taking their artillery all together they have at least two hundred pieces of cannon….The fort is a regular and good fortification, kept in constant order, well supplied with artillery, ammunition and provisions, and a garrison of competent strength, under the command of officers of experience, who are regularly and handsomely paid by the Company….

It is not therefore easy to conceive that there is any truth in a flying report we have from Paris, in relation to the French making themselves the masters of this settlement. "

Alas, this confidence was misplaced and the French did take over the Fort for a brief while.

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