Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Manuscripts from Fort St. George, Madras

A Yale Bulletin had this to say:

After 250 years of trade and territorial expansion in South Asia, the East India Company still conjures up images of silks and cottons, tea and spices, rajahs and nabobs -- all emblems of the fabled wealth of India," says the exhibit's curator, Ayesha Ramachandran, a graduate student in Renaissance studies. "But behind that glitter of commodity trading and imperial design lurks a darker, perhaps more haunting, picture of colonial exploitation and racial struggle, economic oppression, political corruption and near bankruptcy.

That made me revisit an old entry made several years ago, that now sounds only like glitter. The darker parts continue to be scripted with lathis, guns and blood. I'll spare the visitor of pain and only share my pleasures here. My older blog entry goes:

The Fort and its Ammunition:

The Fort St. George, all by itself is a museum, worth admiring and
it provides an endless exercise to the mind. Its construction was
started in the 1600’s itself. From humble beginnings as a small
fort to store the goods purchased for exporting to England, it grew to
be the power centre of South India. The Fort is massive in its
construction, with plenty of places to see and enjoy.

The museum preserves the uniforms of the British servants, namely
the chief commander of the Viceroy, the Chief Under Secretary and the
others. The flags of the empire are also in display. There are several
cannons, mortars, muzzle loading guns, pistols, rifles, daggers,
knives, bayonets, spears and ammunition. There is also a petard on
display, which was used to demolish bridges and fort main gates. The
helmets used by the British which are plain steel ones, resembling the
modern helmet, and the Chinese ones made of brass, with special
symbols protruding above the top are queer and quite a sight. The
armours appear to be worn out by use.

The cutlery used by the British, Nabobs of Arcot, and the French
are also on display. The porcelain wares resemble the modern ones in
size and shape. The stained soup bowls and spoons are exquisite, and
all of them bear the royal seal. Even the lids and plates are endorsed
with the royal seal. One peculiar feature was that, a couple of plates
and bowls had some kind of arrangement to keep them warm. The dishes
had a bottom with two openings, probably, to be filled with hot water,
to keep the plate or bowl above it warm.

There are plenty of stamps brought out by the British. The coins
are also in display. The statues of Cornwallis and Monroe are
impressive. The ground floor also has a scaled model of the fort, with
charts describing the progress of the expansion of the fort.

Portraits and other works of art:

The portrait gallery is impressive, with paintings of the British
rulers by Ravi Varma and others. The canvass portrait of King George V
is life like, and you will be stunned by its depth. The King gazes at
us through his hazel blue eyes. His beard and moustache grow out with
life, and it is hard to believe that it is only a portrait. No modern
photograph I have seen reproduce such colour, depth or life. The royal
bearing is brilliantly brought out by the artist, whose name has not
been inscribed. The portraits of other royal ladies are also
impressive. There is a section which displays the Rulers of

There are several etchings too, which portray the life in Madras
between 1600 and 1900. The British appear to have taken very close
looks at our living. The etchings are made by an interesting
process. A well polished copper plate is coated with wax, and the
artist etches out a drawing, cutting the wax and exposing the copper
beneath. The plate is then immersed in dilute nitric acid, and the
exposed copper reacts to form a block. It is then used to print on
paper. Horses, elephants, palanquins, and carts appear to have been
used as the main modes of transport. Several paintings and etchings
show the commercial life of the city. Merchandise being loaded and
unloaded from ships, British women and children arriving at the
harbour adjoining the fort, are all beautiful.

The French Section

The French section displays the things, crockery, clocks, chairs
and furniture used by them in the past. The lanterns and lamp shades
are exquisite and tastefully designed. They look new and usable even
today. The British, appear to have toured Tamil Nadu, even by 1700,
and there are several paintings and etchings, which depict the Tanjore
Pagoda Temple, Rock Fort at Tiruchi, and many other palaces in

The British appear to have evinced keen interest in about
everything in India, and elaborately planned all their actions. I have
merely touched upon a few interesting things at the Fort Museum. The
Fort Museum in Chennai (formerly Madras), India, is a must for all
those who would like to peek into history when Europeans ruled

1. "Exhibit reveals corruption behind the 'glitter' of East India
Company" at
2. Papers of George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney (1737-1806) relating
to his governorship of Fort St. George, Madras (India), 1781-6 at
3. "Madras Researching Armenian Family History in India 1600 - 1950" at
4. "Print, Folklore and Nationalism in Colonial South India‎"
by Stuart Blackburn at