Thursday, August 26, 2010

Talk on Fort St.George -- Dr.Satyabhama Badhreenath

Venue : Vennirul Art Gallery, C.P.Art Centre

Speaker : Dr.Satyabhama Badhreenath, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, Chennai Circle

On : Saturday 21/Aug/2010

On the occasion of Madras Day 2010, this inaugural lecture on Fort St.George was accompanied with an exhibition of prints, aquatints, etchings and engravings from the collections of Mr.V.Narayan Swami and the Foundation.

This is the gist of her talk consolidated from my notes. As usual, if you notice factual errors and mistakes
please blame it on me.

In the quest to find good quality muslin cloth, English East India Company looked at several places on the East coast -- Machilipatinam was their first option but the Dutch traders had a thriving trade already established with the locals, so, their search began again. Through local connections, the Nayak at Poonamallee ceded a strip of land opposite the shore to Francis Day and Andrew Cogan. Interestingly this was their first acquired territory in India which served to be the 'very bounce of the empire'.

Fort House was one of the first buildings but it had to be reconstructed after being hit by a storm. Fortification wall and many other structures were added over a period of time. In the initial years, the company allowed people of various nationalities to reside inside the fort and conduct trading activities - this included, Portugese, Armenians.

Dutch movements triggered the English instincts to upgrade military preparedness inside the fort -- defensive architecture, unhindered supply of water, food and other essentials to manage eventualities, and ramparts, fortification walls were some of the focus areas.

Dr.Satyabhama Badreenath lecturing on Fort St.George

Some of the famous personalities associated with the fort -- Robert Clive, Arthur Wellesly amongst others. Next to Clive's House the company had given a place to Nawab of Arcot but he was then moved out (that's how Chepauk Palace came to be).

King's Barracks is one of the earliest barracks in India, was constructed in 1755 and is about 1,00,000 square meters. It is a very simple building with big columns and large verandas that facilitate cross-ventilation. First floor was used by the company authorities while the ground floor was used for storage needs.

Flag mast inside the fort is one of the tallest in India, it is made from the hull of a ship that wrecked near the coast of Madras. [ Note from Mr.K.R.A.Narasiah: This was possibly constructed during Yale's times, it was originally on the south eastern side and that wrecked ship could have been 'Royal Adventure'].

As part of the talk, she shared a set of slides with the audience (hall was almost full except for one or two empty chairs) and spoke about some of the restoration efforts carried out to repair the area underneath the flag mast, Banqueting Hall in Clive's House, Chaplain's House, and one of the earliest houses inside the fort where the work is in progress. For the ASI, this is really a challenging task with the available resources because these structures deserve continual attention and care.

Fort exchange building, now housing the Fort Museum, is an interesting piece of heritage structure. In the initial years (this is in the starting years of English East India Company) this building was used for auctions. In view of the business requirements, for better acoustics the
ceiling was designed with grid patterns that look like virtual prisms. Showing an image (scanned from a book) of a tea auction house where the auction would be at the top floor of the building while the bids were conducted from the ground floor. She said fort exchange interior is modeled on such auction houses. Very interesting indeed.

Thanks to Dr.Satyabhama Badhreenath for sharing her knowledge on the fort. It would have been really good if there had been more youngsters in the audience. As usual CPR staff were courteous, guests were served coffee, photo exhibition on old Madras was really well done.

Really wonderful morning session, Thanks to Madras Day.

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