Saturday, 15 November 2014

White-black towns,Madras (Chennai), Tamil Nadu

Black town,Madras,1851 en.wikipedia.or

A plan of the Fort St. George and surrounding settlements,
 Chennai, formerly known as Madras during the British Raj, is the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu and is India's fourth largest city.  Located on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal, it has an estimated population of 8.9 million (2014), the 400-year-old city is the 31st largest metropolitan area in the world. It is one of the important IT as well as major automobile  manufacturing centers in the world.

Chennai has a long history since the establishment of the  East India Company followed by the  British Crown  to its present growth. Incidentally, Robert Clive, who was instrumental in establishing the great British Empire, had begun his humble life as an ordinary clerk in the East India company here.

Francis Day and his superior Andrew Cogan were considered as the founders of Madras (now Chennai) who began the construction work  of  Fort St George on 23 April, 1640 and houses for their employees. Their small fortified settlement quickly attracted other East Indian traders and, as the Dutch position collapsed under hostile Indian power, they also slowly joined the settlement. By 1646, the population in the settlement had reached 19,000  with Portuguese and Dutch populations  substantially more.

Black Town, Madras, credit;
To further consolidate their position, the Company combined the various settlements around an expanded Fort St. George, which including its citadel also comprised a larger outside area surrounded by an additional wall. This area became the Fort St. George settlement. As stipulated by the Treaty signed with the Nayak, the local ruler, the British and other Christian Europeans were not allowed to decorate the outside of their buildings in any other color but white. As a result, over a period, the area came to be known as ''White Town''.

George Town,Madras,
According  to the treaty signed, only Europeans, principally Protestant British settlers were allowed to live in this area  outside of this confine, non-Indians were not allowed to own property. However, other national groups, chiefly French, Portuguese, and other Catholic merchants  had separate agreements with the Nayak ruler which allowed them in turn to establish trading posts, factories and warehouses. As the  British East India Company, controlled the trade in the area, these non-British merchants made agreements with the Company for settling on Company land near "White Town" as per agreements with the Nayak. 

Map of Madras city in 1921,
Over a period of time, native Indians also arrived in  greater numbers and soon outnumbering, the Portuguese and other non-Protestant Christian Europeans. Following several outbreaks of violence by various Hindu and Muslim Indian communities against the Christian Europeans domination and their over stepping on their religious belief,  White Town's defenses and its territorial charter were enlarged to include most of the areas which had developed around its walls thereby incorporating most of its Catholic European settlements. In its wake, they resettled the non-European merchants  along  with their families and workers, almost entirely Muslim or of various Hindu  nationalities outside of the  newly expanded "White Town". This was also surrounded by a wall. To differentiate these non-European and non-Christian area from "White Town", the new settlement was called "Black Town".

Collectively, the original Fort St. George settlement - "White Town", and  the new settlement "Black Town" were called Madras. An important fact was initially, this planned settlement with mutual consent did not carry any racial connotations. 

Fort St. George,Madras, credit:
 The French was in control of the Black town briefly. When the British got it back in 1749 as part of a deal with them,the British flattened a portion of the Black town and converted into an esplanade covering Muthupet and  Peddanaikenpet villages in the late 1700s  in order to have a clear line of fire to deal with the future invaders. They erected 13 pillars in 1773 along the flattened area (now, only one is left). New black town (now George town came up beyond the 13 pillars and the old black town was in the place where now stands High Court complex. The stretch between the pillars and high court is now NSC Bose Road. Old black town - first Indian town was north of Ft.St. George. 

In 1911 the black town was renamed George Town in honor of king George V who was crowned as the Emperor  of India.

                              (Modified : January 8, 2015)

1 comments so far


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