Colour of India

Colour of India

Friday, December 17, 2010



Yesterday (15-12-2010, Wednesday) I came across an interesting article in the New Indian Express (Chennai Edition) under the titleWill Royapuram turn a railway terminus? authored by Yogesh Kabirdoss. He has written about the long-standing demand of the citizens of Royapuram Area in North Chennai for upgrading the 155-year-old Royapuram railway station into a terminus. I am presenting below the full text of this article. In this context, I would like to invite the attention of my readers to an article I had written on the history of the opening of the Royapuram Station by Lord Harris, the then Governor of Madras, on 28 June 1856. Lord Dalhousie was the Governor-General of India at that time. Lord Palmerston was the Prime Minister of England. Queen Victoria was the Empress of Great Britain, having come to the throne in 1837. it was one year before the First War Of Indian Independence (described as the Indian Mutiny by the colonial historians) in 1857. I am presenting below the full text of my article as well.

History may not be a magic show. But there is a lot of magic in it for those who have the hearts to feel, the eyes to see and ears to hear the rolling thunder of the Past or what Bismark called the “ horse hoofs of history”!

Will Royapuram turn a railway terminus?
Yogesh Kabirdoss

Express News Service
First Published : 15 Dec 2010 04:16:53 AM IST
Last Updated : 15 Dec 2010 08:22:04 AM IST

CHENNAI Residents of north Chennai are not ready to give up their demand for upgrading the 155-year-old Royapuram railway station into a terminus, though authorities have categorically ruled it out. Urging the residents to pursue their dream of transforming the station into a rail terminus, the North Chennai People’s Right Federation has published glossy booklets running into 50-odd pages.

The booklet traces the history Indian Railways with a photo feature of the Royapuram station, the oldest facility in South India. It makes a fervent appeal to Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee and Chief Minister M Karunanidhi to accept their demand.

The federation argued that Royapuram has all the potential to be developed into the third terminus in Chennai, after Central and Egmore. The station has over 72 acres, on which 16 platforms could be constructed. Parking bays for both public and private vehicles could be created in north and south blocks.

The booklet also lists seven long-distance express trains bound for eastern and western parts of the country, along with those services that pass through the station.

Residents said the Southern Railway’s move to develop Tambaram and Arakkonam stations into termini would inconvenience the commuters as both these spots were away from Chennai.

“Creating a new terminus at far off Tamabaram will affect the people residing in northern parts of the city,” S Jayachandran, convener of North Chennai People’s Rights Federation, told Express.

“Of the 30-lakh population in the north, 50 per cent have their roots in southern districts. If the existing south-bound trains departing from Egmore are moved to Tambaram, it will increase their travel time to reach the other end of the city to board trains,” he said. He added that a new terminal at Royapuram would be helpful for the locals and also give a facelift to the entire north Chennai — a neglected corner of the city.

When contacted, Southern Railway general manager Deepak Krishan said the space available at Royapuram station was inadequate for setting up a terminus. However, he said the railway officials were examining the possibilities.


Recently, the Royapuram Railway Station in Madras was very much in the news. The renovated railway station building was declared open by Union Minister of State for Railways Velu on 2 October 2005. Many people may not be aware of the fact that this railway station was inaugurated by Lord Harris, the Governor of Madras on 28 June, 1856 - one year before the onset of Indian Mutiny in 1857. Pycrofts was then the Chief Secretary of Madras.



This recent news item made me delve deep into my personal collection of antiquarian books, journals and newspapers to gather facts relating to the history of the introduction of railways in the erstwhile Madras Presidency in the second half of the 19th century. Such an exercise is an excursion not only into economic history but also social history. The social scene grows out of economic conditions, to much the same extent as political events, which in their turn, grows out of social conditions. Without social history economic history will be barren and political history unintelligible. It is exhilarating to look at the dusty records of our ancestors, remote and recent, and to see how they lived, how they laughed and how they wept. Viewed in this light event dustier records of the dead take form, colour, gesture, passion and thought. As Winston Churchill puts it 'History, with its flickering lamp, stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days'.

The first Madras Railway Company was formed in London on 8th July, 1845, with the aim of constructing rail lines in Madras Presidency. The company approached the East India Company for support for construction of a railway between Madras, Walajahnagar, and Arcot. Despite Mr. F. W. Simms, Director of the Railway Department recommending the project, the Court of Directors of the East India Company (E.I.C.) declined to support the project. With the East India Company showing an indifferent attitude the company became defunct.

However the mercantile community of Madras Presidency did not lose patience and continued lobbying. Finally on 7th June, 1852, the Board of Control of the E.I.C. agreed to a guarantee of 4-1/2% on the capital for the proposal. A new company also called the Madras Railway Company was registered on 26th July, 1852. Construction began and the Company opened its first section, 101.74km long, from Royapuram to Arcot (now called Wallajah Road), the titular capital of the Nawab of the Carnatic on 28th June, 1856.

The Railway Line from Royapuram to Arcot was inaugurated by Lord Harris, Governor of Madras on 28th June 1856.

In The Illustrated London News dated 6 September, 1856 (a priceless copy in my possession) a news item entitled 'Opening of the Madras Railway' was published. It contains a description of the inauguration of the Madras Railway on 28 June, 1856 by the then Governor of Madras, Lord Harris. THE ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS IN ITS ISSUE DATED 6 SEPTEMBER, 1856 described the function as follows:


LORD HARRIS (1810-1872 AD)

The above oil Painting was done by Sir Francis Grant in the 19th century.

'On the 28th of June the inauguration of the Madras Railway was celebrated with great state. The Right Honourable the Governor, His Excellency the Commander-in-chief, the officers of the Government and staff of the Garrison of Fort St. George with all the elite and beauty of the Presidency, honoured the Railway Company with their presence on this important occasion'.

'It was a sight long to be remembered in Madras, thousands flocking to witness the proceedings from any point from which a view of the ceremony to the train could be obtained. The company had issued invitations to about 300 of the leading members of the European society to witness the function, and to take a trip by train to Amoor, up to which place the railway is now completed: there to partake of a dinner, and to return in the evening:- another train was dispatched after the depature of the first one, to a nearer station up the line - Triveloor, which was occupied by the principal members of the native community of Madras and others who has also been invited to join the excursion.’

Royapuram station in 1856 Sketch by
Capt Barnett Fort of the Madras Army

'The sketch by Capt. Barnett Fort of the Madras Army represents the terminal station at Madras at the moment when the religious ceremony was being performed in the noble verandah of the northern side of that building. The rooms here are very elegant and most superbly furnished with handsome punkahs & most etc., the coup d' ail was very picturesque when seen as they were filled with a crowd of elegantly dressed ladies, against the light colours of whose dresses and the black of the civilian who were present at the function. The train is seen ready to come up to the platform for this party, and that for the native community which was to follow is seen already filled, and run up so as to enable its occupants to witness the inaugurations. As soon as the ceremony was completed, the party proceeded on their excursion trip. though a hot day it was not very much felt - the train, by its rapidly, making a breeze for its occupants, who found the carriages well ventilated both about above and below; and with the addition of Venetian shutters and gauze-wire binds, heat and glare were completely got rid of'.

'Arrived at Amoor, the crowds were greater than ever. The hills were covered with varied-coloured masses; the artillery guns roared their welcome to Lord Harris, who on alighting, was received by a guard of honour of the 19th Regiment and officials of the Private Railway Company, headed by Major Jenkins their manager. The guests alighting under a shamianah, or covered entrance-way to the reception stand ? the bands playing, the multitude cheering, and the bright sun shining on the brilliantly-coloured groups, formed a striking picture. Tents were pitched for the guests, who shortly assembling were led to the pavilion which had been temporarily erected for their entertainment at an elegant repast. Lord Harris proposed a toast to the success of the railway and the health of the agent and manager, Major Jenkins. His Lordship's speech was very commendatory upon the economy and expedition with which the line has been thus far completed, a distance of 65 miles in three years at a cost which he stated was estimated at about £5,500 per mile.

'It was stated by Major Jenkins in replying to his Lordship's toast, that the whole line extending to the western coast, a distance of about 450 miles was in course of construction, and that considerable progress had been made upon it. Its course, he stated, lies through Vellore, Salem, Coimbatore, round of the foot of the Neilgherry Hills, terminating at Naypoor, a small port on the Western Coast, a little to the south of Calicut. After some other toasts & c., a signal was given that it was time to prepare for a return to Madras and the shades of evening were beginning to close soon after the train started on its return'.

Disinterested intellectual curiosity is the bed-rock of a real civilisation. Social history constitutes one of its best forms. At bottom, the fascination of history is imaginative. Our imagination longs to see our ancestors as they really were going about their daily business and daily pleasure.


Ignacio Azpiazu said...

Hi. Would you happen to have a picture in Illustrated London News, 6th of September 1856, of the Queen of Oudh/Awadh in Southampton Station?

I have been rather desperately looking for that picture for a while, or online archives of Illustrated London News, which I can't find in Buenos Aires.

I would like to include it in a book translation I am preparing.

Sadeesh kumar said...

it's very informative news for Madras Day Celebrations. Please post more like this