Devi's Corner - Tamilnadu Tourism - Fort St George, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
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Fort St George, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

     Fort St George is the name of the first British fortress in India, built in 1644 at the coastal city of Madras (modern city of Chennai). It symbolises the beginning of British rule in India. It is used as the offices of the Tamil Nadu Secretariat and the Legislative Assembly. Fort St. George marks the beginning of development of Madras (Chennai) as a modern city.

     The East India Company, which had entered India around 1600 for trading activities, had begun licensed trading at Surat, which was its initial bastion. However, to secure its trade lines and commercial interests in the spice trade, it felt the necessity of a port closer to the Malaccan Straits. It succeeded in purchasing a piece of coastal land, originally called Madraspattinam (also called Channapatnam), from a local chieftain, where it began construction of a harbour and a fort.

      The fort was completed on April 23rd, coinciding with St. George's Day, celebrated in honour of St. George, the patron saint of England. The fort, hence christened Fort St. George faced the sea and a few fishing villages. Soon it became the hub of merchant activity. It gave birth to a new settlement area called George Town, which grew to envelop the villages and led to the formation of the city of Madras. It also helped establish British influence over the Carnatic region, and keep the kings of Arcot and Srirangapatna, as well as the French forces based at Pondicherry, at bay.

     The fort was first completed in 1654 but owes its present shape to the remodelling work that was undertaken in 1749. The 6m high walls of the fort have withstood several fierce sieges. The fort was attacked by Daud Khan, general of Emperor Aurangzeb, in 1701, by the Marathas in 1741 and by Hyder Ali on several occasions in the late 18th century. In 1746, the British lost possession of their fort for two year period when they surrendered the keys to the victorious French admiral, La Bourdonnais. The keys were restored only in 1749, under the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.

     Fort St. George's towering flagstaff of 150-feet is, even today, the tallest in India. This pole was till 1994, made completely in teak. Teak was replaced by metal in 1994.

     The building had been constructed in a typical English style of architecture of the 17th and 18th century. It houses a place where Lord Clive - The establisher of British rule in India used to live. It once housed the British regiment mess and later the lighthouse.

     The Fort Museum exhibits the items of the British rule. This building was completed in 1795 and first housed the office of the Madras Bank. The hall upstairs was the Public Exchange Hall and served as a place for public meetings, lottery drawings and occasionally for entertainment. These relics are the reminder of the British rule in India. The objects on display in the museum are the weapons, coins, medals, uniforms and other artifacts from Britain, France and India dating back to the British period. The original letters written by Clive and Cornwallis make fascinating reading. One set of quaint period uniforms is displayed for viewing, as well. However, the piece de resistance is a large statue of Lord Cornwallis.

     The first floor of the building has the banquet hall, which holds the paintings of the Governor of the Fort and other high officials of the Regime. The canons of Tipu Sultan decorate the ramparts of the museum. The 14.5 ft statue stands at the entrance near a stairway in the museum. This statue was created by Charles Bank in England and then brought to India. The pedestal of the statue is carved with a disturbing scene depicting Tipu Sultan's emissary handing over Tipu's two sons as hostage in lieu of a ransom he was unable to pay to the British.

The Church

     St. Mary's Church the oldest Anglican church in India. It was built in 1678-80 AD. The tombstones in its courtyard are the oldest British tombstones in India. This ancient prayer house solemnized the marriages of Robert Clive and Governor Elinu-Yale, who later founded the Yale University in the States. The church is popularly known as the 'Westminster Abbey of the East'.

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