Friday, 22 June 2012

'Leith Castle'- Madras

As I have said many times before there are so many connections between Madras and Scotland. I am going to quote from 'Madras Miscellany' in the Hindu Newspaper which has a wonderful group of people, inspired by Mr. S. Muthiah, dedicated to unravel the history of my birth city of Madras. I hope to glean the Scottish gems from their superb research and put it up on my blog, always with due respect to the source.

I saw the photo with the title 'Leith Castle' in one of their pieces in the newspaper and I was intrigued. It is anything but a castle!

So here is the whole article as it appears in the 'Hindu' dated October 17th 2010: "The San Thomé Redoubt

Fred de Silva, fascinated by my pictures last week, wonders whether I could do the same for the San Thomé Redoubt and also relate its story. I, therefore, turned to Glyn Barlow for another of his sketches and offer a photograph of a later age as well. And, tell the story briefly.

Between 1567 and 1582, Fort San Thomé was built, pushing Mylapore far from shore and establishing a battlements-surrounded Portuguese settlement.

The Dutch and the Mughal satraps between 1675 and 1697 demolished all those protective walls to such a degree that when the British moved in, in 1749, they could not even trace the line of the fortifications.

Deciding that such elaborate defences were no longer necessary, the British in 1751 had military engineer Benjamin Robbins raise a small fort by the shore, that would keep the Adyar under observation at the same time.

This was the Egmore Redoubt, built with walls 15 feet thick and three feet wide, and at a cost of about 6,500 pagodas (about half a million rupees today). With threats to Madras further reducing, the fort was given up and the property sold in 1794 to a Col. John Braithwaite, a hero of the third conquest of Pondicherry. He built himself a garden house here on the ruins of the Redoubt.

Two years later, the Colonel sold the 14-and-a-half-acre property to the up-and-coming merchant prince Thomas Parry who rebuilt the house as Parry's Castle, a name that survived till 1837.

In its grounds he established a tannery in 1805 and developed it into Madras' first industrial venture, a manufactory leather goods for the military, both in India as well as in Britain and the U.S. Parry, however, had moved out of the house and to Nungambakkam a couple of years after the tannery started. The odour had probably got to him!

When Parry died in 1824, Major General James Leith bought Parry's Castle and made it a garden house again. After he died in 1829, the house passed through several hands, but always remained residential property.



Some time after 1837, however, it became known as Leith Castle — and that is what it is still known as. But, now, built up all around, the ‘castle' is barely visible. It's, however, still in private hands, the last I heard.

At that time, a couple of years ago, it was in the family of R.N.P. Arogyaswamy, a well-known member of the Geological Survey of India.

Saturday, 9 June 2012





Amitav Ghosh's The Hungry Tide is a fascinating study set in a little known area off the easternmost coast of India, in the Bay of Bengal, known as the Sundarbans.Tidal floods, attacks by deadly tigers makes life precarious in this place. The three main characters in the novel are Piyali Roy an American of Indian origin, a marine biologist who is searching for a rare endangered river dolphin. She engages an illiterate fisherman Fokir, who takes her on his boat.Her translator is a Delhi business man Kanai Dutt. The novel has myths, political intrigues, and personal stories of conflict, the ravaging tide a perfect backdrop to this amazing tale. What caught my interest however were the strong links between Scotland and India in that area. Station names like Canning, a town named Emilybari after a British woman. The novel also mentions the Hamilton estate and I had to delve to find out more. The fascinating facts and I quote from Wikipedia: "Sir Daniel Mackinnon Hamilton (1860–1939) was a Scottish businessman who made Bengal his second home. He established a zamindari in Gosaba, where he experimented with programmes of rural and social upliftment. He was a visionary and builder of rural reconstruction programmes at a time when the Indian national movement was gaining momentum, and gave importance to rural upliftment and self help.He became the chief of Mackinnon Mackenzie in Calcutta in the early twentieth century. In 1903 he bought land of "... about 9000 acres in Gosaba and had it reclaimed by felling the woods and raising embankment on the riverside". His involvement with Gosaba was motivated by his desire to improve the living conditions of the poverty stricken people of British India. He introduced the cooperative system in Gosaba, and in all of Sunderbans, and thus educated the people to share responsibility. His championing of the cooperative society in the Sunderbans ran parallel with the growth of the cooperative movement in India. "


There are so many connections between Scotland and India that more needs to be done to record them, raise awareness, whether in fiction or non-fiction.

I got in touch with Amitav Ghosh on his blog and commented on the twin histories of Scotland and India. He was kind enough to reply:

Thanks Leela – one day I will post excerpts from the memoir of Sir Daniel Hamilton in Balmacarra that one of his relatives sent me. It is a fascinating document.
all best
Amitav


From one of the readers of own book 'Bombay Baby'I got a wonderfully touching email and I quote :
I've just finished reading "Bombay Baby" early this morning and I
loved it especially the connections between Scotland and India because
I have some of them too. ... I was in India for 4 months over the winter - 3 months doing voluntary work with teenagers in Ladakh then I went to Kashmir where my dad was
during World War 2 when he had malaria for the 9th time. He was in
India for 5 years with the RAF and loved it. I then went to Kolkata
where my Mum was born in 1923 to find the hospital in Howrah and the
baptist church where she was baptised. She was only there till she was
2 years old but her father was there for 30 years working in a Jute
Mill (he was from Forfar- lots of people from Dundee worked in the
Kolkata Jute Mills) His Jute Mill was closed down but I did find my
Mums places. There are so many Scottish street names etc in Kolkata
as you probably know.I love India, the people and the family
connections are important for me.
Are you writing another book? If so when might it be ready?

Please keep me informed and thanks again Leela. Keep up the good
work and best wishes.

Irene Mc Coll


“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you're not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald

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