The Ceylon Malayalees

Travails of the Kochiyan…

It is difficult to quantify the waves of migrations between Kerala and Ceylon – Sri Lanka over time, and the lines are quite blurred, but then again, there was a time when the relations between Malayalees and the Sinhalese in Ceylon, became intensely turbulent. Though there is a great similarity in vegetation, thought, customs, and looks, as well as a similarity in cuisines, all of which I can attest to as I have been there, the social gap between these two peoples remained vast, way more than what 100 odd miles between the two lands should account for. Let’s go across the waters and check what lurks behind the mists over the Palk Straits.

What is even more strange is the fact that even though there were thousands of Malayalees working in Ceylon during the pre-World War 2 period, none of the returnees recorded their life or times in Lanka, so much so that very little can be gleaned from history books and other records, about their social life, barring some academic essays penned by Sri Lankan scribes. Most of these laborers toiled at low-level jobs and unlike the gulf countries where living conditions were tough, the situation in Ceylon and Burma was somewhat relaxed. Food was congenial and most of the workers led a decent social life, usually profiting from their stay, much to the annoyance of the Sinhalese who bore the brunt of the depression of the 30s.

There were three types of Malayalee workers in Ceylon, the lower class laborers who arrived in the 1920-1940 period (who are the main subject of this article), the supervisory and plantation cadre (mainly from South Malabar or Palghat) who worked alongside Tamils in the plantations, and finally the Ceylon Moors, families dating back to Portuguese period – Marakkayars and Moplahs, comprising a minority plying small trades, lying low and for that reason, never an overt or a covert threat to the Sinhalese, economically.

Reports on the lives of the plantation Tamils can be unearthed, but very few on the thousands of Malayalees who worked in the lowlands and cities. A lone mention can be found in a popular short story and some afterthoughts penned by the great novelist, MT Vasudevan Nair, whose father worked in Ceylon. The story (Ninte Ormakku, and the travelog to (now being made into a movie) on Kadugannawa provide you but a brief and blurry view into the private life of a Ceylon expatriate.

So, let us go back in time to where it all started, and for the curious Malayali, which most of us are, it may prove to be quite a tale.

Intercourse between the island and the mainland date back to ancient times and mentions can be found in various epics and legends. It is only natural that folk traveled sporadically across the short stretch of water separating them, perhaps over a one-time bridge, or on sailboats, or more specifically during the period when Greek and Roman trade with Western Indian ports and Lankan ports such as Jambukola and Mahatittha (the modern Mantota) as well as many other ports intensified. Buddhism was prevalent not only in Ceylon but also in the Cheranad/Malayala part of Tamilakam (the area now occupied by Kerala) and monks would have surely moved back and forth.

During the 2nd century, we come across mentions (Sillapadhikaram) of Gajabahu coming to Vanchi to meet King Chenguttavan for the consecration ceremony at the Kannaki temple (Kogungallur Bhagavathy). Following this and his return with a Kannaki idol to Ceylon, the Pattini (Pathini) cult manifested itself in Lanka. The people of Mattakkalappu or the Batticaloa were the first Malayalam immigrants who arrived in Lanka, apparently at Gajabahu’s invitation. They practiced matrilineal customs and spoke archaic (Malayalnmai Tamizh) Tamil.

Then there is the legend of the King Magha (I will cover this in greater detail in a separate article) – Kalinga Vijayabahu who dealt the ancient civilization of Rajarata a death blow, which was a terrible 40-year reign enforced by Malala and Tamil mercenaries, from which it never recovered during the 12th century. Alakeswara or Alagakonar of Giri Vansa was an adventurer prince from Kerala. They came from 'Vanchipuram,' which was also called 'Malayalam Karuvar.' The 10th in that family was a powerful minister and with the help of this minister, Vilgammula Sangharaja Thera, was able to repair the Kelaniya temple. Later on, one Vira Alakeshwara was kidnapped and taken to China by Zheng He, the Ming admiral. This ruling group was powerful in Raigama, later at Kote, and sponsored seaborne trade, frequently fighting with the Aryachakrawarthis of Jaffna. It is worth noting that the Alakesvaras were not the only people from Malayala, at that time. From the fourteenth century onwards, migrants from Cheranad as well as from the neighboring South Indian territories, had formed settlements in the northern parts of the Island.

The Vaiya Padal (a 14th-century poem by Vaiya, the court poet of the Arya Chakravarthi) mentions Malyalathars, or the people from Malayalam, amongst others, in Jaffna. Some of the old Kandyan homes resembled Malabar Nalukettus and the Kandyan Ves and other dances dance show many similarities with Kerala dances, dancers, hair adornments, dressing (usage of white), and show other similarities. Some of the Kuruppu’s settled down at Panadura – Kuruppumulla and their descendants served not only Parikrama Bahu # 1 but also the later kingdoms around Kotte. During the Portuguese period, many of them converted to Catholicism and later, to Buddhism during the British times, but always held on to the surname Kuruppu.

It was even said that in those periods - All the Malabar ships sail between this Island and the Choromondal coast, but those making for Bengal or Pegu or Siam go round the Island on the southern side. You can also see a lot of similarities between the arts and crafts of the two locales, and in a preceding article on the Kalari of Malabar, I had gone into the subject of Kalaripayattu and its connections to Lanka’s Haramba Salva in some detail. The 16th-century Malala Kathava is an interesting legend, which narrates the tale of seven Malabar princes who came to Lanka.  Kalari explains the movement of mercenaries and the many Kuruppu trainers back and forth between the two states - Kandy and Malabar during the early medieval.

Interestingly, Chaliyars from Calicut too moved across. As the story goes, Muslim traders of Beruvela persuaded a few master weavers from Calicut to emigrate to Colombo. They did well and assimilated with the local Singhalese, but ran into trouble later and were banished to the cinnamon forests, sentenced to work without wages (Rajakarya) or as menial labor. After the Portuguese arrival, their standing changed for the better when Cinnamon became prized produce, and these Chaliayas or Salagamas (after Salawatta the harbor area where they first settled down) as they were thence known, became the bark peelers, later the Cinnamon Forest supervisors and finally their owners, converting to Christianity over time. Not surprisingly, they still celebrate Vishu!

Strange is the case that when Sri Lankans speak Tamil, Tamilians think they speak with a Malayalam accent. Even more interesting is the fact that both Sinhala and Malayalam ancient scripts share some similarities. And the fondness and relationship demonstrated by both communities with elephants are remarkable.

The Marakkayars from Malabar and the Southeast coastal ports were not only connected to the wars between the Portuguese and the Zamorin as sailors and admirals but also in the pearl fishery and regular trade across the Palk straits and with the Maldives. Many of them and their Moplah kinsmen, so also Mukkuva fishermen settlers from Malabar as well as direct descendants of Arabs, went on to create the body of the Ceylon Moor community. These folk were mostly Tamil speakers and assimilated quickly with the other Lankan communities.

KPS Menon provides an insight - A remarkable Indian who had done well in Ceylon was a Moplah from Malabar, one Umbichi. With only a few annas in his pocket, he went as a young man to Ceylon, but now he was worth lakhs of rupees. His wealth came from the import of a single commodity, fish from the Maldives Islands, which gave a delicious flavour to Ceylon curries. Though he was rolling in wealth, he kept his simple habits, never used a car and still went about in a rickshaw. PB Umbichi (Kolamb Umbichi) from Calicut arrived in Colombo in 1870 with Rs 2/-, borrowed Rs 100/- from Arunachalam Chettiar, started selling dried fish and rose to become a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist. Even the land on which the Ratnamala airport was built, was donated by him. He passed away in 1936. He was apparently the person who encouraged Dr. VK Raman who used to work in Ceylon, to start the Ashoka hospital in Calicut!! He was not the only one, there were many others, Kunhimoosa, is another.

MD Raghavan, who spent years in Ceylon, mentions - Cochikade is the name both of a ward of the Colombo Municipality and of a town of considerable business activity in the vicinity of Negombo. Heard in and about Colombo, is the term ‘Cochiyan’ which generally signifies a man of Malabar descent or ancestry. Quite a few Christian converts from Cochin too had moved to support the Portuguese and Dutch colonizers during their heydays, but their Kerala links are difficult to trace out.

But it was the British colonial period that saw large numbers of pliant laborers arriving in Ceylon to create and man the coffee and later the tea plantations in the Ceylon highlands. Through the latter half of the 19th century and the early 20th century, we come across mentions of laborers from Palghat, Valluvanad, and the neighboring areas in the plantations, brought there by the manipulative Kangani.

The Malayalee felt Ceylon quite like Kerala and KPS Menon, the diplomat and diarist, and a career member of the Indian Civil Service addresses this succinctly, in his memoirs…Nani Amma (his children’s Malayalee Nanny) was completely illiterate, and her notions of geography were vague. When we went to Ceylon, the place looked so much like Malabar that she asked whether it was really necessary for her to put on her blouse. Ceylon was indeed like Malabar; nowhere else in India or outside have I felt so completely at home. After three years on the Frontier (Peshawar), so bleak and bare, it cooled the eyes and gladdened the heart to see the tropical vegetation of Ceylon—the tall coconut trees, the slender areca-nut, the waving banana and the spreading mango trees; the tea, rubber and coco estates; the herbs and ferns, the crotons and orchids. If Nani Amma felt like discarding her blouse, I felt like discarding my coat, shirt and trousers, and putting on just a loincloth (dhoti), which indeed I did during my siesta in the afternoon. At night, however, I always wore western-style pyjamas. This was symbolic of the double life I had to lead in the ICS 'heaven-born’ and earth-bound, a sahib and a native, a sun-dried bureaucrat and a man of the people.

He adds - As for fatigue, the Ceylonese are—or were—content to leave the most fatiguing kinds of work to foreigners. That explained the presence of 800,000 Indians in Ceylon and my own presence to look after them. When Englishmen started opening up the Island, and especially the uplands of Ceylon, by planting coffee, rubber and tea, they needed labour which was at once cheap, docile and regular. What easier than to draw it from the less fertile districts of the Madras Presidency where the teeming millions lived on the verge of starvation? These labourers—or coolies as they were called—were recruited on terms distinctly favourable to the employers, under the notorious indenture system, which tied a labourer down to his estate for life. In the twentieth century, Indian public opinion became increasingly alive to the lot of their countrymen overseas. The Government of India abolished the indenture system, took power to regulate, control or even forbid emigration and obtained the right to appoint an Agent of the Government of India in Ceylon to look after the interests of Indian immigrants, and particularly Indian labourers. I was the third incumbent of this post.

Similar to the labor recruitment for Malaya and Burma, the British used the Kangani system – a term derived from Tamil meaning ‘headmen,’ ‘foreman’ or ‘overseer.’ The kanganies on Ceylon plantations were assigned the dual role of recruiter and overseer, belonged to an upper caste, and were from the same region as the labor, thus becoming the patriarch for the 25–30-member gang. Usually, they paid off the loans of the workers back home against a promissory note and the workers then virtually became the property of the Kangani. Not all were unscrupulous, but many were. Many cherumars and other lower classes from Malabar thus arrived at the Ceylon plantations and spent large spans of their lives toiling in the estates.

Jaiswal summarizes - Between 1914 and 1938, an average of about 173,500 Indians emigrated annually to Ceylon. Indian migrant labor formed about 85 percent of the total estate population. The non-estate migrants, also called ‘free’ migrants, consisted of upper classes, including government officials; professionals including medical practitioners, lawyers, teachers, and clerks; and merchants and traders, Mohammedan boutique keepers, the ubiquitous Palghat Brahmin restaurant keepers, the wealthy Nattukottai Chettiars, and Baluchi moneylenders. The non-estate migrants also included large numbers of Tamil and Malayalee laborers, who came from the Tirunelveli, Ramnad, Travancore, Cochin, and Malabar regions of Southern India. These unassisted free migrants (sans kanganis) earned their living as domestic servants, dock laborers, rickshaw pullers, peons, porters, toddy tappers, artisans, coolies on roadways, drainage workers, and as labor in mills and factories.

These Malayalees were the Kochiyans and KPS Menon introduces them succinctly - Another unpopular group of Indians were the Malayalees, or Kochiyans, as they were called. They made excellent domestic servants and were also employed in large numbers by the Municipal Council and the harbor authorities. They, too, did not bring their women with them—indeed, even in Malabar, it was not the practice for the Malayalee woman to go and live with her husband; he had to go to her—but the Malayalees often took Sinhalese women whom they treated with the consideration natural to men belonging to a matrilineal society. This very consideration, which made them desirable in the eyes of local women, made them disliked by local men.

But there is more to that. While they did live ghetto style, they went about their ways, and cases of retaliation were reported only decades later afterlife was made miserable for them by the Sinhala. It occurred during a period of an economic downturn in Ceylon, and as the once self-sustaining island, it had little recourse to mitigation, compared to the mainland. Jaiswal adds - The Great Depression (1929) resulted in severe political and economic repercussions in Ceylon. It was characterized by a decline in demand, prices, and exports of tea and rubber, and in the wages of laborers. The Depression led to increasing returns to India, repatriation, restrictions on Indian labor migration, and riots. Ceylonese antagonism was largely directed against urban, non-estate laborers, where the Sinhalese emerged in direct competition and conflict with Indian migrant laborers during the Depression.

The Malayalees lived in chummeries (like a bachelor’s hostel – comes from the usage for the building in which unmarried British army officers were quartered during the British Raj) housing 30-40 people and it was scandalously reported that a few Lankan mistresses also lived with them. They took evening classes on various subjects and learned to speak multiple tongues, and work through different professions, thus becoming the favorite labor pool compared to the Sinhalese. 

Some of them, it is said, also knew and practiced sorcery, frightening the common man, as this was believed to be a powerful method guaranteed to seduce Sinhala womenfolk or to carry out various evil and nefarious designs! The Malayalam Gurukkam practitioners were quite popular, and many practitioners set up their shops near small temples, with Murugan pictures and Malayalam manthrams (charms) ready at hand. They doled out Anndha podi which when added to food, as the gullible Sinhalese believed, helped seduce women. The kattadiya, yakadura, or yakadessa black magic cum exorcist went a level higher, he made horoscopes, helped the needy out of financial troubles, helped them seek revenge, and whatnot (A Sri Lankan president sourced sorcerers from Kerala well into the ’70s and 80’s).

But as workers, they were pliable, toiled hard, and took on all the menial and unpopular jobs. From a population of around 1,000 Malayalees in 1911, the figure in the ’30s had gone up to 40,000 (and just 600 Malayalee women), of which close to half were Ezhavas and Thiyyas, with many working as Toddy tappers in the S West. This was made possible due to a special agreement between the governments in 1922 which offered free travel. While Jaffna eateries were run by Nairs and Palghat Iyers, the Colombo eateries were run by Kakas from Malappuram and Calicut. At the time of the depression, many Malayalees were employees in all spheres, be it ports, railways, transport services as well as retail and wholesale trade, and, thus the counter-campaign - Ceylon for Ceylonese - gathered steam.

KPS Menon, the Indian agent, meanwhile, encouraged his brethren to form an association to collectively channel and address their complaints and thus the Ceylon Malayalee Mahajana Sabha was formed (now extinct and replaced by the Kerala Sangam and the Vanita Samajam). Other associations followed and a few Malayalam newspapers and magazines as well as cultural events followed.

Let’s now take a look at how Gunasinha, who had once teamed with the same Malayalee labor to rise and become a union leader, changed course to despise them and strove to kick them out of the country. Strikes between 1923-29 championed by him were given wide coverage in the labor party newspaper Viraya. Everything points to the happenings at the Indian-owned Wellawatte Spinning and weaving mills and the many strikes at the printing units. His involvement in some of the printers' and hoteliers’ strikes which took place in the 30’s proved to be ineffective since the British brought in strikebreakers from Madras.

In 1933, workers at the Wellawatte mill struck work to protest the reduction of wages due to the depression and competition from low-priced Japanese textiles, as well as to have their working hours reduced, but this was not supported by Gunasinha as it went against a previously signed agreement between the CLU union and the management. The workers (1,400 strong, 2/3 Malayalees, and 1/3 Sinhalese) led by Malayalees Appuswamy, Kuttan, and Ramaiah among others, chose a new leader, the Britain returnee Colvin, R DeSilva who formed the Wellawatte Mill Workers Union (the youth league) and this was a huge personal affront to Gunasinha, who felt the Malayalees had ditched him. He worked with the owners to discredit the new union which he felt was run by new leaders who had picked up wrong ideas from Russia and America, and even injected CLU blacklegs to break up the strike! In another strike involving Malayali strikebreakers, he denounced them as collaborators and betrayers and went on a satyagraha till these Malayalees left the factory.

Simultaneously, sensing that there was a general reticence against the Malayalees by the Sinhalese, Gunasinha jumped on the opportunity to direct new attacks against the whole community, with inflammatory language, articles in the press and used his retinue of goondas and rowdies to incite and provoke clashes between the two communities. Gunasinha then demanded a boycott of everything Malayalee, and Sinhalese were urged to evict Malayalee tenants and were pressured not to employ them or eat at their restaurants.

The situation deteriorated so much that the government had to intervene directly. Though a settlement was reached, which was acclaimed by the CLU but disappointed the WMWU, this led to an increasingly troubled labor arena. Another union, the left-leaning LSSP was formed, which proved to be more receptive to Indian labor issues. MH Mohammed in his life sketch narrates the visit of AKG from Kerala’s Congress socialist party who visited his LSSP comrades in 1939-40. Gopalan’s meetings were disrupted by Gunasinha and did not get ruffled by the many objects thrown at him. Adding fuel to the fire, as Eric Meyer explains, the establishment of a parliamentary system based on universal franchise resulted in the assertion of a Ceylonese national identity, which exploited the anti-Indian feelings.

Violent skirmishes occurred at Welawatte and Pettah, as well as at many railway workshops. A case of murder was reported in 1931. Rumors were also spread that the immigrants brought in diseases like cholera and smallpox and that they consumed large amounts of opium, a habit that could spread to the Sinhalese! By 1936, the campaign had become virulent and Gunasinha encouraged his supporters with slogans like Kochi Marana (Kill the Cochinis). Surprising indeed, that he was so malevolent against these hardworking people, only because they stood up against his union, and because some had participated as blacklegs or worked for reduced wages. But then again it is all water under the bridge, I guess…

Summarizing, the CLU Leader A.E Gunasinha (Alexander Ekanayake Gunasinha) went on to proclaim that Malayalees, who formed a major proportion of non-estate migrants, as the reason for the country’s unemployment, starvation, and death. Popular protests followed and the anti-Malayalee rhetoric was stoked through the press, public speeches, scurrilous anti-Indian pamphlets, street songs in procession, meetings at which Indians were abused, organized picketing campaigns to drive away Indian traders, and the aggressive boycotting of Indian shopkeepers. Slogans like ‘Ceylon for Ceylonese’ were raised, and policies were devised to exclude Indians from Ceylonese civil services, the Ceylon municipality, medical examinations, port posts, and so on. Open intimidation in boutiques, tea shops, and other places of business was encouraged. There were incidences of violent confrontation in Colombo, which influenced incidences on the estates as well (Interestingly, the Sinhalese, averse to manual labor in the estates did not object as such to Indians working in the estates. 

Something that will interest the reader is the fact that Malayalee food habits had already entered the Lankan mainstream (I had the belief that it was the other way around!), Appam/Vella appam and idiyappam were brought in by the ‘Appu’ cooks, and Puttu with meat had become a perennial favorite, and thankfully Gunasinha did not implore the Sinhalese to change their food habits!

In 1938, the Ceylon government discontinued the employment of Malayalee labor recruited after 1933. The British Indian government retaliated in 1939 by banning all migration. The result was huge unrest and big difficulties in the cities and estates. Violence broke out when Kanganies and Tamils boycotted Sinhalese shops. Eventually, the tension subsided only when the Japanese came around and WWII was in full swing.  But the damage had been done, Malayalee immigration slowed to a trickle and all Malayalee non-estate workers returned. Thus ended the two-decade period when hundreds of thousands of Malayalees teemed in the Lankan labor markets. Between the 1960’s-80’s many of the remaining were compulsorily repatriated.

Of course, there is one person, a Lankan Malayalee that many would recall, none other than M Gopala Menon, who went from Palghat to Kandy and taught in a school, after an apparent excommunication (this being stated in ANM Chakiyar’s book – the last inquisition, p.p. 124). His son returned from Lanka to Madras later and shot to fame not only in filmdom and Tamil politics but eventually become the revered leader of Tamil Nadu. Avid radio listeners may remember another stalwart from Palghat, the famous DJ Sarojini Shivalingam from Radio Ceylon, who used to play Malayalam film songs at 330PM every day. And there was Madhavan from Palghat, who performed Kathakali across Lanka in the ’40s. Not to forget AT Kovoor who gave us the film Punarjanmam and continued a tireless fight against godmen and superstition.

Gunasinha went on to achieve great heights – as the first Sinhala labor leader, he was elected to the state council, became the Mayor of Ceylon, a minister, and finally, the Lankan Ambassador to Burma and Indonesia. I am not too sure that he would be happy seeing the plight of his fellow men, looking down from above.

As for MT’s short story, it involves a man who set up shop at Kadugannawa, kept a Lankan mistress, and brought along a cute little girl, apparently his daughter home to Ponnani, and she gifted her stepbrother a toy owl. Facing pressure at the ancestral home, the father went back to Kadugannawa with the little Sinhalese-speaking girl, never to return to Kerala. This is the story retold in Ninte Ormakku.

In an interview with Dr. Sudha Gopalakrishnan (excerpted and acknowledged with many thanks), MT explains - My father was in Ceylon for a long time. There were other people who went there with my father, as servants, etc. They started spreading rumours about Leela being my father’s own child. That became a huge issue. My parents quarrelled with each other.  My father left with Leela and went to his place. All this was in my mind. Although I travelled to many parts of the world, I always wanted to go to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). But I could never go...even though it's very close and I often visited Madras (Chennai). My father lived in a place called Kadugannawa. When I went there, I could find nothing as he had left a long time ago. The way these imagined narratives that bloom in the mind transform into reality is very moving. I went to Colombo and then travelled to different parts of the country. In my mind, Kadugannawa was my father's place. The address we had for my father was ‘T.N. Nair, Kadugannawa Road’—that’s all. What were we supposed to think? That when we go to a small place called Kadugannawa, there would be people there who knew my father, right? No one was there, no one. Years had passed. Was there a Nair doing business here? No one remembered. Leela was also supposed to have been with him, but no one knew about her either. These are all real incidents, but with the passing of years, the situation had changed. Generations had passed. Anyone who knew about a trader from Kerala named T.N. Nair had left the scene.

MT did make a trip out to see if he could dredge some information on the girl, her mother, and his father, detailing his visit in a poignant retelling of the story in the third person. This tale will arrive on the OTT screens starring Mammooty, shortly titled Kadugannava Oru Yathra Kurippu, directed by Ranjith.

As for me, I can understand these too well. I visit India every year though I left her shores in 1987 and keep my motherland close to my heart. I can assure you, only an NRI can understand another NRI and his thoughts, the plight of the community, the sadness, and in the end, the loneliness one faces after leaving one’s land as I did and like I still do.

The colorful story of the turbulent 20-40s in Lanka can take many pages to be retold in detail, and I must stop now, for fear that the tedium of reading so much, may have already put many a tired soul to sleep. Today there are just a few of our estranged brethren left there, who braved the world war, the 60s, the LTTE years, and the many economic downturns. They will manage, of that, I am sure. The Malayalees are a thick-skinned lot, forever on the move, going where the jobs are, however far or however difficult the terrain may be. But their homeland, on the other hand, is fast deteriorating into a pensioners' and tourist paradise.

Then again, life is like that…

The Keralites and the Sinhalese – Dr. KG Sankaranarayanan
The Malayalees of Sri Lanka – Jagath Senaratne
India in Ceylonese History, society, and Culture – M.D. Raghavan
Many Worlds – KPS Menon
Migration, social mobility, and anti-Indian feelings - Shyni Danial
Mediated (Im)mobility: Indian Labour Migration to Ceylon under the Kangany System (c. 1850–1940) - Ritesh Kumar Jaiswal
Origins of the Left Movement in Sri Lanka- V. Kumari Jayawardena
Rise of the Labor Movement in Ceylon - Visakha Kumari Jayawardena
Ethnic politics in Colonial Sri Lanka – Nira Wickramasinghe
Sri Lanka in the Modern Age - Nira Wickramasinghe
Society and Circulation – Ed. Claude Markovits

Historic alleys – The Kalari’s of Malabar  Link

Maddy’s ramblings – A Lankan Sojourn - Link 

MT’s interview with Sahapedia, Dr. Sudha Gopalakrishnan -  Writeup Link , Video Link (15:18 onwards to 17:50, in Malayalam)

Maps – courtesy Google, images - courtesy Wikimedia

Note- I learned something during this research – the real meaning of the famous Malayalam term Karingali or the English term ‘Blacklegs’, which was always used by Gunasinha during the 1930s when referring to Malayalees, mainly because the British and the railway bosses used Malayalee’s for strike breaking. Where did the usage come from? It came from America, and out there strikebreaking is also known as black-legging or blacklegging. American lexicographer Stephanie Smith suggests that the word has to do with bootblacking or shoe polish, for an early occurrence of the word was in conjunction with an 1803 American bootmaker's strike. But British industrial relations expert J.G. Riddall notes that it may have a racist connotation, as it was used in this way in 1859 in the United Kingdom: "If you dare work, we shall consider you as blacks”. David John Douglass claims that the term blackleg has its origins in coal mining, as strikebreakers would often neglect to wash their legs, which would give away that they had been working whilst others had been on strike. The term was once generally used to indicate a scoundrel, a villain, or a disreputable person.



The Harmonium

And its checkered history in India

It would surprise many readers that this musical instrument, so common to the music scene today, had such a troubled past. Born in France and further modified to meet Indian requirements at Calcutta, to be mass produced and sold in in the thousands, this humble hand powered instrument had a difficult history, to say the least. So many people have tried hard to erase it off the Indian musical scene, and persons of great repute have been credited in banning it from the AIR for all of 30 + years. John Fielden, John Foulds, Anand Coomaraswamy, Jawaharlal Nehru, Keskar, Rabindranath Tagore, etc. have all been named as the people behind the ban, while the instrument itself not only gained in popularity in the drama stages and music composing studios, but also ported instrumental music and accompaniment from the performing stages to many households.

Not all details of the ‘anti harmonium’ movement have yet come to light. Though for all practical purposes, the final death knell came through Fielden based on an article by Foulds, there is a story behind it, and surprisingly, hidden in plain sight, a very persistent lady, who hated the instrument. Not only did she influence many of the above-mentioned persons, but was interestingly a true exponent of Carnatic music, and the first person to take it to the London music scene. Why did so many Europeans rally against what was essentially a European music concept? To start with, let us take a quick look at the development of the instrument itself, how it came to India and why it became popular.

One may conclude that Alexandre Debain the Frenchman invented the first of the harmoniums, a smaller version of the great Church organ, but using air, pumped with foot pedals. Large Victorian homes had space to accommodate this new contraption. The Harmoni-flute (organ accordion or flutina polka) was the next development, a cross between the small French accordion and the larger free reed organ. Two inventors vie for credit, Constant Busson and Mayer Marix, though it was Busson who presented it first and won an award in 1855. Marix advertised it as an instrument which could mimic the human voice. Over time, music enthusiasts as well as European missionaries in India carted large harmoniums to India and it slowly entered the performing scene as well, however it was unwieldy, and difficult to maintain in India’s heat and humid environs.

One of the companies trading in European harmoniums was Harold and Co at Calcutta, where a bright repair technician named Dwaraknath (Dwaraka) Ghose worked. Dwaraka is credited with the mass manufacture and supply of an Indian version. As the story goes, Dwaraka left Harold to open shop as D Ghose & sons in 1875, renaming it as Dwarkin and Sons, in 1878. Many of the versions available today are still based on a Dwarkin design dating to 1887, with minor modifications. The naming of the company as Dwarkin, sounding quite European, and so chosen for that very purpose (to get a larger and quicker acceptance) is credited to his assistant and the music maestro Upendra Kishore Ray Chowdhury. Chowdhury apparently suggested it by combining the name of Thomas Dawkins and Dwaraka. The latter is hardly mentioned in the accounts floating round, but Thomas Dawkins, a musical equipment dealer is listed as the patent holder of the polychord, (US Patent 243,861 dated July 5, 1881). Perhaps he had a manufacturing agreement with Ghose. UpendraKishore went on to write a couple of instruction books on playing it, before becoming an entrepreneur (printing), writer and painter, himself.

The Dwarkin-flute as it was called then, was well received. Instruction booklets were written on playing the device and its price was pegged between Rs 75/- and Rs 150/-, quite modest in perspective. It was further developed and while the first version covered 3 octaves, with 4 stops and 2 sets of Parisian (or cheaper German) reeds, the next version came with additional stops and covered 3 ½ octaves, with options for organ or celeste tunes, made of teak wood (British and French wood were options). A simple design, the Indian Harmonium as it was known those days, consists of a bank of brass metal tongues called reeds which vibrated when air passed over them. A bellow apparatus pumped air over the reeds, while stops controlled the airflow. There were also stops for drone effects (continuous tones) as well as a keyboard, all built into a wooden box (for this reason it was called box harmonium ‘Petti’ in many places), typically teak to last longer and resist termites and humidity. As it was built to a European design, it covered the usual 12 western notes. A newspaper advertisement proclaimed - “Drive out your sorrows and worries, with a Dwarkin Harmonium.”

By now it was called the Dwarkin - Gramola harmonium, advertised as a masterpiece in tone, and unmatched in quality and finish. As is often the case, competitors such as Ahuja, Pal & sons, Harold & Co, Mundal & Co, Biswas & sons, National Harmonium Co, Mohkam Singh and Sons, Ghose & Co etc., rushed to make similar versions. In a few decades, telling on its popularity, the market was saturated, and prices dipped as low as Rs 28/-. Many became proficient in the simple instrument and bridged its 12-note deficiency with skillful playing. The instrument was the mainstay for Hindustani music vocal accompaniment, though it found an entry into the Southern Carnatic music scene, comparatively difficult. A scale-changing mechanism was added, and it became well suited for the seated Indian musician, for it could be played while placed on the ground, one hand handling the bellows with the other on the keyboard and suiting both right and left-handed players. Dwarkin meanwhile, branched off into other ventures such as phonograph records, commercial recording, professional harmoniums, complex music organs (bulbul, folding) and what not.

One could safely conclude that almost all the musicians in Bengal perfected their music, with a Dwarkin harmonium to accompany, be it the Ray’s, the Tagore’s, or stalwarts like Pankaj Mullick, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and KL Saigal. The Indian music populace had taken the instrument to heart. It was made in India, cheap enough for budding musicians who could neither afford a piano nor other western instruments. People like Rabindranath Tagore and his brother Jyothirindranath Tagore played the harmonium at home, and a young Rabindranath Tagore even featured in its promotion – with his certification that he enjoyed playing the instrument and felt it ideal for Indian music. Hindustani musicians loved it, it was easy to play and sing along and regardless of its reduced quality, it filled gaps when the singer needed a little break, or when he paused to take a breath. Gharanas created their own Dwarkin fingering styles. But while some of the stalwarts felt it an integral part of their repertoire, others grew up to hate it and that is the story, we will get to, next.

The traditional Hindustani music performance was by then linked to the natch (Anglicized Nautch) dance which had descended from the Mughal times, an event complete with singing and dance. A nautch girl was also known as a Naachwali, Tawaaif, a Kothaywali and/or devadasi (south). The imposition of Victorian morals in the 19th century British India resulted in the anti-nautch movement. Devadasis and Nautanki’s (dancing girls) were given a short shrift, and instruments used during their performances, such as the sarangi and tambura were frowned upon. In the pre-harmonium days, Indian vocalists would usually be accompanied by musicians playing the sarangi. Though said to approximate the human voice, the sarangi was quite difficult to master and had to be tuned for each raga. Some Hindu performers shunned it because it was historically associated with courtesans and titillating music, and a mainstay of Muslim Hindustani gharanas. Together with support from Christian groups and missionaries, these age-old practices were quickly disallowed.

Simultaneously music practice was moving from organized gharanas to the house, and when there was a shortage of accompaniments or accompanying artistes on the Tambura or the Sarangi, the emergence of the ‘easy to learn and use Harmonium’ was a great boon. Moreover, the Harmonium could additionally provide a drone effect or shruti using the additional stops provided by Dwarkin, and it gained popularity. But the harmonium had its own limitations as a western note-based instrument, it could not generate the meend or gamaka (a glide from one note to another) in the way a veena or a sitar could. Thus, the harmonium cannot produce alankars which are part and parcel of Indian classical music, be it North or South Indian. Additionally, the times were tough and Swadeshi or anti-British feelings were on the rise. The ‘European’ harmonium was soon going to ‘face the music’.

But before we get to that, let us go to Madras, where a Ukrainian Émigré, named Helena Blavatsky (together with American Henry Olcott) had established what we know as the Theosophist movement during 1880, allied to Dayanad Saraswati’s Arya Samaj, something that quickly gained traction among the educated, who were impressed with these foreigners championing Indian religion and heritage. Their monthly magazine ‘The Theosophist’ was well received, though quite unpopular with the Christian missionaries and the British colonial administration. By 1883, Blavatsky had departed for Europe, and in 1893, Annie Besant, an ardent supporter of self-rule in India, travelled to Adayar, to later become the organization’s head. I will not get into details on all these, for it will lead us far astray.

What earthly connection would the Theosophist have with the lowly harmonium? Well, the Theosophists thought of music differently and connected it to vibratory influences. They also argued that Indian music performed in the truest way, with Indian instruments, was one way of properly creating what they called ‘thought forms’. Annie Besant was quite clear that she believed Eastern music forms were far superior – she said, “A chromatic scale in the West gives the limits on a western piano; in the East, many notes are interposed, and the gradations are so fine as to be indistinguishable to a western ear until it is trained to hear them. Eastern music is a succession of notes, a melody, while western music consists of notes played simultaneously, and yielding harmony."

This argument was connected directly to the harmonium by a brilliant violinist who arrived on the scene, a person hardly known to Indians, a young lady of Irish extract, named Maud McCarthy. She started out as a child prodigy, enrolled in the Royal college of Music at London aged just 9 and performed all over the world to become a violin virtuoso, only to retire from performing aged 23, due to the onset of neuritis. In 1900, she joined the Theosophical society and married William Mann, a Theosophist writer. She traveled to India 1907-08, traveling through the north and south of the country – and living at Banaras and Mussoorie and then Adyar, experiencing the glory of Indian music. MacCarthy then experimented with what she described as the magical, occult effects of music on the human mind and body, and practiced what she called ‘phonotherapy’, a medical procedure consisting of healing through the power of sound vibrations alone. According to her, Western music had reached its technical limits and needed to be revitalized by the ecstatic music of India. She returned to London in the 1910s and started to popularize Indian music in London and it was at this juncture that she met and started a relationship with the musician John Foulds.

Let’s now bring back the focus to the Harmonium. Maud MaCarthy hated the Indian harmonium and perhaps goaded by Annie Besant, started the initial tirade against it. In April 1911 she wrote - What, then, are the materials by which we may establish the fact that music is still a living art in India? Not the conventionalisms, if I may use the term, of the mass of Indian musicians; not their disputes over the authenticity of this note or that note of a raga; not the woeful attempts to copy brass bands and missionary hymns which we hear in most Indian schools and households today; not the modern Indian music-schools, wherein the pupils are carefully trained out of their capacities for natural intonation, and their tonal ideas are stifled by tempered pitch on screeching harmoniums; not even the songs of the old composers, if they are taken only on the evidence, ipso facto, of the remaining records.

In 1912 she rallied a call to abolish the instrument with a full-blown article in the Modern review, and her hatred for keyed instruments was strident - It is only a make-shift portable instrument which the missionaries brought to India, no such thing being used in the West, excepting at streetcorner meetings in the slums of our cities, where no other keyed instrument would be possible. This, then - a degraded form of a degradation-is what Indians have elected to use for the accompaniment of their divine ragas and raginis! The public house corners of the West wedded to the soul of Indian music! Some Indians have even gone so far as to make what they call a sruti harmonium-to fix the srutis as one might try to fix the echoes of the ocean! It is in the nature of music that the srutis should not be fixed: mathematically perfect sounds, as I have indicated above, being always in a state of change and adaptation, under the sole guidance of intuition and aesthetic sense-the only infallible standards of musical tonality. Any attempt therefore to determine the srutis must end in failure.

It is obvious. There are seventy-two modes, for instance, in South India. How can any fixed standard of srutis be made to fit all of these? What is the use of trying to count the drops in the ocean of sound? What utter fatuity is it that impels Indians to try to make a harmonium to register those sounds? The quality of harmonium tone, loud and rasping, is ruining the capacity to hear delicate grades of pitch (srutis). How can murchchhanas (fainting-notes) be heard or sought after in that din? Noise kills music. All soft gliding effects are also precluded. The drums-copying the harmonium—grow louder and louder, and the singer must shriek if he is not to drown. So, with these things Indians are ruining their splendid vocal heritage…

A.H. Fox Strangways in his 1914 - Music of Hindoostan asked - if the Mohammedan ‘star’ singer knew that the harmonium with which he accompanies himself was ruining his chief asset, his musical ear… in India the harmonium, has a unique power of making an unharmonized melody sound invincibly commonplace. He then went to Trivandrum and listened to the famous lullaby - Omana Thingal kidavo and writes - The songstress wanted to accompany herself on the inevitable harmonium, until I pointed out that it would be much in her way when she pulled the string of the cradle, and that the sound of it might prevent the baby from going to sleep... adding - Hence the serious menace to Indian music of the harmonium, which has penetrated already to the remotest parts of India… I was present for an hour at a concert in Trivandrum at which this appalling instrument never ceased.

John Herbert Foulds incidentally, was an English cellist and composer of classical music, a notable in the English Musical Renaissance. His gigantic composition - World Requiem (1919–1921), in memory of the dead of all nations, was performed at the Royal Albert Hall in 1923 by up to 1,250 instrumentalists and singers!! Maud continued her tirade - and she found a keen listener in John Foulds whom she married later. She trained him on Indian music traditions and her special mystic concepts. Foulds seemingly mastered the art of receiving divine music as taught by his mentor and partner MacCarthy, directly from gandharva’s!!

In 1935 Foulds travelled to India, where he collected folk music, became Director of European Music for All-India Radio in Delhi, created an orchestra from scratch, and began to work towards his dream of a musical synthesis of East and West, composing pieces for ensembles of traditional Indian instruments. Foulds took the case of the Harmonium to the press, writing many articles and rebuttals on the topic.

Now we come to Margret Cousins, Tagore, Gandhi, Nehru and Coomaraswamy. Cousins agreed in 1935 that the instrument, suited only to Central European beggars, was a bane to Indian music. Gandhi believed that the music of the spinning wheel was better than the execrable harmonium. Nehru suggested a ban in his book. Coomaraswamy was more vocal stating- For no man of another nation will come to learn of India, if her teachers be gramophones and harmoniums and imitators of European realistic art.

As Bob van der Linden explained, this was also a period when Hindu musicians more aligned to the western concepts of music, decried the takeover of Hindustani music by the Muslim Ustads. As the harmonium was used often by the Muslim stalwarts, Harmonium promoters such as Sourindro Mohun Tagore now joined the outcry to dismiss Muslim musicians as unwilling and ‘illiterate’ teachers. Tagore’s case is interesting, for he had used several Harmoniums and promoted the instrument itself for a while, later deciding that it was not good, and getting rid of all of them from Shanti Niketan. On the other hand, his brother Jyotirindranath was quite proficient in playing the harmonium and many a song was composed by the brothers, using it. Was it his anger against the Ustads, or his anti-European or Swadeshi feelings behind the request for a ban? Was it due to MacCarthy with whom he collaborated (he thought highly of her) on occasion and performed together (1914)? Difficult to conclude!

Tagore too wrote to the AIR in Jan 1940 asking them to ban this tool of British domination as he saw it. I have always been very much against the prevalent use of the harmonium for purposes of accompaniment in our music and it has been banished completely from our asrama. You will be doing a great service to the cause of Indian music if you can get it abandoned from the studios of All India Radio..

That all of them had correspondence or and knew MacCarthy, make it even more interesting. Did she during her meetings with them (Nehru, Tagore, Coomaraswamy and Foulds) bring up the topic? Also strange is the fact that each of them knew the other and mentioned the problems with the instrument over approximately 25 years before a ban could be enacted!! Dr Zakir Hussain  commented that the instrument was contemptible, Raza Ali, Gul Mohammed Khan, and Lakshmana Pillai agreed that it be banned. Earlier, the American writer & composer David Rudhyar, in his ‘The Rebirth of Hindu Music’, influenced by Coomaraswamy, too had called the harmonium a ‘cancerous growth’ in the body of Hindu music. The lobby against the Harmonium was too powerful and the Ustads in the Gharanas were powerless in the corridors of Delhi.

In June 1938 Foulds, now at the AIR, published an article called "The Harm-onium" in which he suggested that it be banned because its tuning was incompatible with Indian classical music stating -  Instead of the pervasive tambura, the lovely sarangi, the lordly vina, the charming sitar and dilruba, the naive bamboo flute— instead of these new and intriguing tone qualities, what did one hear upon all sides? One heard a contraption that il would be a compliment to call harmonium. The thing in question, which imposes itself upon music throughout the length and breadth of India, is no more a harmonium than a motorcycle is a Rolls Royce limousine. He added - It is strangling vocalisation, fettering rhythm, fouling both tala and raga, ousting the subtle and lovely Indian instruments. debauching the sensitivity of the ear, checking and stifling improvisation, and, in every way, I can think of, doing incalculable harm. For effect, Foulds also quoted Nehru’s comment in part, from his Autobiography. Foulds also noted his delight in seeing a notice in a broadcasting studio (Bombay as I understood) not long ago, offering an increased fee to those who sang without the harmonium!

Nehru had written - They (the middle class of the cities) glory in cheap and horrid prints made in bulk in Germany and Austria, and sometimes even rise to Ravi Varma’s pictures. The harmonium is their favorite instrument. (I live in hope that one of the earliest acts of the Swaraj government will be to ban this awful instrument).

Fielden, just arrived from the BBC to head the AIR (previously ISBS) in 1935 and knew Nehru personally, was eventually involved in the formal ban on the harmonium w.e.f. March 1, 1940. Even though the matter was raised in the Station Directors Conference in 1939 and endorsed by it, the decision came from Fielden’s initiative and formal approval. A procession of pall bearers ceremoniously took some harmoniums for a burial (echoing the music ban by Aurangzeb) and its final rites were conducted. The puritans had ruled.

Down south in Madras, the violin had become the favored instrument for Carnatic musicians. CS Iyer gave many lectures based on Maud MacCarthy’s and Fould’s observations on why musicians should stay away from the harmonium and remarked that it was Tamil genius to take on the Violin, even exhorting listeners to burn harmoniums. While a few musicians did use the harmonium (In Kerala and Madras film composing studios, composers like Baburaj and singers such as Abdul Khader did favor the harmonium) it never took off, especially in the traditional Madras music circles.

Nevertheless, Harmonium sales continued to rise, and budding musicians found it an able ally. It was often used as accompaniment in impromptu bhakti sangeet sessions and small mehfils throughout India, and was by and far the most popular instrument for everyday musical practice in India.

Keskar by the way, became the I&B minister in 1952 or so, well after the ban, but kept it going, was also against the gharana concept dominated by Muslims and took steps to try and ban film music, which he thought was Urdu based and too erotic. Anyway, all that resulted in the popularity of Radio Ceylon and the creation of the Vivid Bharati, a subject for another day. The harmonium came back into unrestricted use at the AIR in 1980 after the ban was partially lifted in 1971, and top-grade artistes were allowed to use it.

Nevertheless, the instrument remained popular in the film, drama and performance theaters and many thousands were manufactured and used since its inception. It remains the favorite teaching accompaniment and tool for music composers in India, even today. But the instrument faces newfound challenges, for Sikh factions who always used it in their gurudwaras, are now thinking of getting rid of the ‘British’ origin instrument. While the harmonium remains quite popular in India, its use in the West declined, though we come across some fine compositions by Gurdjieff in the late 1920’s using a top bellow style harmonium.

Along the way came the 22 tone Shruti harmonium developed in 1911 by Earnest Clements, and Krishnaji Ballal Deval. The Shruti-Harmonium or the Indian (Hindu) harmonium was ironically, manufactured in London by the ‘Moore and Moore company’. This proved to be a market failure and faced a lot of public opposition. Recently another version was developed by Dr Vidhyadhar Oak.

The music scene is changing rapidly, and today cheap and portable electronic keyboards, synthesizers using tone and sound libraries seem to be taking over, as older instruments become antiques. As it is, the shruti box, shruti apps on your phone, rhythm apps etc., rule the roost, entire orchestras have been replaced by tracks and AI streams, and tone correction software removes all imperfections, off-line and sometimes even on-line. It is a world different from the one Maud MacCarthy and other purists saw, but then again, that is perhaps ‘development’ - Who knows what the future holds?

All I can say is, Be open to it…

The Indian Listener – Various volumes
Theosophist – Various volumes
Pioneering Spirit: Maud MacCarthy, Mysticism, Music, and Modernity
Some Indian Conceptions of Music - Maud Mann (Maud MacCarthy)
Abolish Harmoniums - Maud MacCarthy (Modern Review)
Enchanted Music, Enchanted Modernity: Theosophy, Maud MacCarthy, and John Foulds - Christopher M. Scheer
From “harm-omnium” to harmonia omnium - Neil Sorrell
Composer John Foulds: The lost requiem - Jessica Duchen
Resonances of the Raj – Nalini Ghuman
The life of Music in North India - Daniel M Neuman
Singing the Classical, Voicing the Modern – A J Weidman
Music and Empire in Britain & India – Bob van der Linden
Indian Broadcasting – H R Luthra
Tangled Tapes K S Mullick

For those who want an in depth understanding of the theory behind tones, semi tones and such, read this well written, two part article, by Dhanya Subramanian



White and Whitefield

 An Anglo Indian Colony in Bangalore

The story of Whitefield in Bangalore starts with DS White, a resident of Madras, who held the welfare of the marginalized Anglo Indians or Eurasians, wallowing in the twilight period of the British rule in India, close to his heart. A few villages or colonies were created as a home for some of the pioneers, based on a utopian model and after a ‘hunky dory’ period, declined gradually, eventually to be swallowed up by all the development which transformed a sleepy Bangalore, into a much larger and bustling metropolis today, home to the IT sector. Not many know the details of Whitefield, other than the fact that it was one of those Anglo-Indian colonies and hearing often rumors involving Churchill and a girl named Rose Hamilton, who lived in the general vicinity. Let’s see if we can dig out a little more from the tomes of history, trace the founder’s days, the colony’s times - good and bad, and finally whiff past the days that Churchill spent in Bangalore. 

DS White - a leader in the making

David Emmanuel Starkenburg White was the founder of the AIDE - Anglo Indian and Domiciled European association of South India (an offshoot of the Pro-British EAI, earlier formed in Calcutta). DS White (1832-89), born and brought up in Madras, was the son of an Apothecary of the Madras Medical subordinate Department and was educated at St. Andrew’s. He started his career in 1854 as a clerk in the court of Sadr and Foujdari Adalat, getting transferred the next year to the revenue board. He continued there till 1861, after which he became a Personal Assistant to the Director of Public Instruction, and later the acting registrar of assurances thrice, eventually retiring in 1888. An active member of the Indian National Congress, and a good friend of AO Hume, he was perhaps more native than British, in his heart.

It was following a difference of opinion with the EAI in Calcutta that he founded the AIDE in Madras. In 1879 he got the association kickstarted with a meeting at the Prayer Hall in the White town (Periyamet) of Madras. The Anglo Indians, nervous of both the British intentions and a nationalist India, were quite an aggrieved lot, feeling abandoned and not quite clear as to which side they should take. This community was of divided opinion, some wanting to be part of India, others wanting to cast their lot with the British and take on British Identity. It soon became clear that they really occupied an intermediate position, possessing an alternate identity.

Interestingly, it was DS White who called for stopping the import of educated boys from Britain to man the ICS, to abolish the ICS and utilize local competence, as much as possible. When the controversial Ilbert bill (a complex issue – put simply, senior Indian judges and not Europeans as was the case until then, were authorized to try accused Europeans in court) was floated in 1883, and the pro Indian DS White, as well as the Anglo Indians in the Railways supported it, there was a split across the AIDE, but White’s iron hand managed to keep them together. In fact, it was the passage of this bill (though in a very diluted version where a 50% European Jury was added) which led to the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885.

David White was later instrumental in organizing the annual AI conferences, forming the first volunteer corps or Madras Guards, and raising funds for the construction of the Victoria Public Hall in Madras. An Association office and a small industrial school were established by him at the Mint Street, Washermanpet. White continued to fight for his people, demanding increased political representation, non-discrimination, and a fair playing field, and in meetings with Lords Dufferin and Ripon, tried to press his case. Not a sickly sentimentalist sighing about better days in Britain, he was always convinced that his brethren should stay put in India, labor hard and thus help themselves. His distinguished journal The Eastern Guardian, was quite popular in Madras. He was a prolific writer and speaker and was twice married.

In 1885, at his prompting, the Defense Association took up the cause of the formation of Eurasian regiments in the Indian Army, though without avail. White also traveled twice to England to plead the Eurasian cause. However, the various AI associations were always at cross purposes, with only the Madras AI supporting an Indian attitude. White’s experiment creating agricultural colonies at Bangalore and making them landowners, bore no fruit and the colonies went on to become pensioner’s paradises, instead. The British government in India was of course quite content the lack of unity between the various Anglo Indians and were content that a vast majority (except for those in Madras and the rest of South India) of AI’s were neither with David White nor the INC.

A sad David White passed away on 1st Feb 1889, succumbing to Bright’s disease or nephritis (a kidney ailment), at his residence at Moore’s Garden, Nungambakkam, and was buried at St. Andrew’s Church Cemetery.

It was even rumored that he might have become the congress president like George Yule if he had lived a little longer. Madras did not forget him, the White’s Hall in Egmore was named after him. The Anglo-Indian Association of Southern India moved its headquarters to this White Memorial Hall and became a bigger unit with a membership of many thousands by 1915, as well as being active in various wartime causes such as education, running member’s co-operative societies, etc.

White worked hand in hand with WS Gantz, the lawyer and congressman from Calicut (the founder of the bar association) who had moved to Madras to work in the municipality office. Gantz succeeded White upon the latter’s demise. His leadership was short-lived, as he was not supported by the powerful, but financially weaker Calcutta faction, and was perennially criticized for throwing his lot with the natives and supporting the Congress. Due to some misunderstandings with other Madras AI bigwigs, he resigned in 1891. Interestingly Gantz had declined the position of INC president in 1890 (so also Herbert Gladstone) due to lack of support from his Madras brethren, and the position was hastily accorded to Pherozeshah Mehta.

The net result of this continued infighting was that most of the Eurasians who has become an estranged lot, took the first voyage out to other commonwealth shores.

The Bangalore Colonies  

By October 1882, the Eurasian and Anglo-Indian Association had overcome many of its initial problems and entered a phase of consolidation. A few agricultural colonies had been started, 28 branches had been opened, and a capital of Rs 60,000 had been raised.

White, an environmentalist who promoted agriculture, wrote – that the chief work of the Association, was of settling Eurasians and Anglo-Indians on the soil, to lead them into agricultural and industrial pursuits, and to remove forever the feeling of anxiety as regards their own future and that of their children, and that, of all callings, that of the farmer is least exposed to the vicissitudes of fortune, and that a few acres, with the help of a small capital, will feed a family generation after generation without ever being exhausted.

It was in 1881 that the association wrote to The Maharaja of Mysore Chamarajendra Wodeyar X, for an allotment of land, to form agricultural settlements near Bangalore. Their clear focus on cultivation and profiting from the soil was made amply clear in their request, which the Raja noted and was pleased with, affirming that Agriculture is the healthiest and noble occupation for any class of people, and pointing out that while he encouraged it, they should be prepared to face some disappointments and occasional failures.

Three blocks, covering 5 sites, totaling to 3,900 acres originally valued at Rs 2,764/- were approved by the Raja in April 1882. Four colonies totaling to 3,206 acres assessed at Rs 3,575/-were sanctioned, Glen Gordon and Haldwell Green, Whitefield and Sausmond. The newly named townships at Whitefield (497 acres and previously the villages of Nellurhalli, Nagondahalli, Hagadur), Glen Gordon (527 acres at Srigandhakaval village), two townships of Sausmond 1 & 2 (1376 acres at the former villages of Doddakanelli, Chikkanelli, Halunayakanhalli, the deserted village of Chikkabellandur, Mallur, Gunjur, and Kachamanhalli) and finally Haldwell green (443 acres of the former Kodati village, already home to Roman Catholics) off Bangalore were finalized. The best plan was reserved for Whitefield and the handbook makes it clear that water was a problem in most of them. The assessed value of Rs 3,575/-was payable as 1st and 2nd years free, 3rd and 4th year ¼ assessed, 5th and 6th years ½ assessed, and fully assessed on the 7th year. Dewan Rangacharlu, who supported all these moves, unfortunately passed away in 1883 and thus the association lost a solid government patron, early on.

Sausmond, named after Dr. John Sausman an apothecary serving in the Medical Services of the East India Company's army based at Vellore, had also served during the Sepoy mutiny of 1857. He used to be the Vice president of the Mysore and Coorg E&AI Association. Duckworth was located about 2 miles south of Sausmond was named after the well-known Dr Duckworth. Glen Gordon was named after James Davidson Gordon, the chief commissioner of Mysore, and the man who set up the High court when he was the Mysore resident. The Gordon Park is named after him. The stories of Sausmond, Haldwell Green and Glen Gordon are still to be retold, so let’s focus on Whitefield.

Whitefield was established about two miles off the Kadugodi station, and the railway station was later renamed as Whitefield. After an inspection in 1886, it was determined that the agricultural experiment was a success, farming was doing well and that the settlers were selling pork, ham and bacon, jam and ragi flour at a profit. The association then petitioned the Government of India for a grant of Rs.150/- a month for five years for a school at Whitefield and a similar sum for the school at Sausmond, in order that technical and agricultural instruction might be imparted to the children of the colonists.

The Whitefield Settlement was managed by the E & AI Association, which consisted of over 200 members, with Mr. R.T. Tocher, as President, and a committee numbering 25 headquartered at Bangalore. In the first decade of the 1900's there were about 45 houses of which 18 were on the village Site and the balance were on farms scattered throughout the settlement, which is not less than 3 miles in length and about 2 miles wide and contained about 2000 acres of land, fit for cultivation. As the area had an abundance of kaolin (China clay for ceramics) clay, a thought to process and export of the same was contemplated, but Arbuthnot and Co., who toyed with the idea found it unprofitable.

The original intent was to have a circular format (see picture) with the center housing the school and library, surrounded by a broad 100’ road. The 100 and 180’ main roads were to be named after trees (Pomelo, Jack, Mango, Lime, and Orange) as avenues. Smaller and cheaper houses were to be built near the center, and the larger garden houses to the outer rings. A cooperative store, a barn, a church, public buildings, gardens, and a village green would complete the settlement.

In 1886, David White elucidated the plan - To send the "able-bodied destitute, old and young, only as laborers to be fed and paid, leaving it to them by good conduct to rise to the level of settlers ; to send persons of slender means to carry on trades of various kinds, giving them each one acre of land; to send persons of sufficient, yet moderate, means to farm, giving them allotments of land extending to 20 acres; to build houses and allow all settlers to purchase them by rent for a stated period; to open libraries and schools and allow children to acquire a knowledge of various mechanical arts. The village was to accommodate 90 homes in four circles originally, but it appears that only two circles were completed. The puttahs or leases were granted to the Whitefield colonists containing a stipulation that they are not to sell, mortgage or alienate their lands except to members of the community.

JD Rees after accompanying (circa 1887-88) Lord Connemara writes - So novel an experiment as that described above has necessarily been as unduly lauded, as it has been unfairly disparaged. Mr. White's sanguine disposition led him in the beginning to express views and entertain hopes, which he had to abandon before his scheme was launched. Yet it required no small influence and the possession of no little energy to persuade thirty-two individuals with their wives and families to accept his assurances and to embark in a business of which they knew nothing, a business for which their previous lives and training in no way fitted them.

However, it was becoming clear that many of the allotees preferred living in Bangalore and in general Anglo Indians did not want to focus on becoming tillers of the land. There was a parallel plan in getting the disgruntled community interested in workshops and factory work, but it does not seem to have paid off. Unfortunately, the idea in general did not quite work out as far as paupers were concerned, and wealthier settlers moved in as time went by.

Fitzpatrick inspecting the site in 1887 agreed – He was of the opinion that for pensioners, and others having small independent means of their own, an opportunity here offered of settling down in a healthy place possessing a good climate, with the prospect of obtaining by industry and good management a considerable accession to their incomes. As regards the settlement of artisans and agricultural laborers in the colony he did not think that such men could compete with natives. He observed that Mr. White's project of forming a self- contained community, possessing its own artisans, and excluding competition, was altogether chimerical.

An 1889 inspection report provides an overview - You see the village school, the church, and a dozen cottages more or less, well laid out upon a plan somewhat too ambitious for the actual circumstances of the case. It was intended that from a central circus, different avenues should radiate, these avenues being connected by parallel lines of streets made up of houses, each standing in its own walled garden. A small church is almost completed, and the largest building is the now unused storehouse constructed by Messrs. Arbuthnot and Co. for the abandoned business of working the kaolin clay. An undulating country stretches all around the settlement. Here and there are groves of casuarinas and orchards of fruit trees. There were no crops on the ground, and abundant evidence was forthcoming that crops are sparsely raised. The settlement had not a very flourishing appearance. Some of the cottages were moderately neat, but in no case apparently had any settler the time or inclination to sacrifice to the Graces. The village has a somewhat bare and unattractive appearance. The houses do not look like homes, and many of the settlers in fact live in Bangalore. In no case did it appear that the cultivation of the land had paid the cultivators, though it seemed almost certain that orchards and casuarina groves in the low lying and better lands would eventually pay well. Several settlers had dug wells at considerable expense, having to go down as far as 60 feet in some cases for water.

Jennie Mallin’s page mentions - The settlement had 25 families of which 6 were non-resident, numbering 115 people in total, 12 colonial bungalow cottages were built on the village site and 14 farmhouses built on the surrounding farmland.   There was a school with 31 pupils, a hospital, police station, two churches, a post office, football, and cricket grounds, as well as a Refreshment Room which provided tiffin, lunch or dinners and a welcome place for a resident to sit and read the papers in the evening or play a game of chess or cards.   Ronnie’s page adds - The village site forms a large circle 1500 feet in diameter with about 25 houses on the circumference and the school, schoolmaster's quarters, post office, playground, and lawn tennis courts in the center of the circle. The Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches are near at hand and so are the Whitefield Stores, Waverly Inn, and the Refreshment Room. Outside the circle there is a place for football and a cricket ground. The Village is prettily laid out and its appearance is very striking as it is approached through a pass between "Hamilton Hill" on the left and the "Kaolin Hill" on the right. Several of the settlers work at the Kolar Gold Field while their families remain in the Settlement, and as it is not far off, they take a run into the place periodically.

The Whitefield Store, kept by Messers. Hamilton, Strange & Co., is a surprise to all who come to visit Whitefield from outstation. The Refreshment Room and Waverly Inn are in the same building. The Inn at present has only accommodation for two families and half a dozen single people, and so it is generally full. The Refreshment Room provides dinners, tiffin’s, etc., for casual visitors, and it is largely patronized by Cricket and Football teams and others. The Refreshment Room is also used of an evening by the residents who wish to read the papers or to have a game of chess, draughts, or cards. It is at the Store and at the Refreshment Room that the important questions of the hour are discussed, and a pleasant half hour or so can often be spent there listening to the Whitefield politicians.

In 1921, the Madras government took over the Whitefield settlement, after correspondence with the association on various issues faced by the settlers and seeing that the rules of the original grant (as an agricultural colony) were no longer valid, plus the fact that the place had become an abode for individual settlers. The colony was converted into the Whitefield village while Sausmond and Duckworth were integrated into the villages they were originally part of.

White’s agricultural experiment, a failure, was disbanded after 40 years.

Churchill and Bangalore

Let’s now check if Winston Churchill had anything to do with all of this. He arrived in the town around 1896 to join the 4th Hussars and shared a pink and white bungalow (apparently on Trinity Rd) with Reginald Barnes and Hugo Baring, complete with valets, grooms, and other staff (4 dhobis, 2 gardeners, 3 bhistis and a watchman). Surveying the Indian empire, he grandly concluded that the British were real and proper masters of the lower Indian race.

There was more to Churchill’s life at Bangalore than self-education, political reading, and spiritual pondering: he played a great deal of polo. He also collected butterflies and tended to roses. ‘My garden is full of Purple Emperors, White Admirals and Swallow Tails and many other beautiful and rare insects,’ he told Jack – before his collection was eaten by a rat. He read a lot, was always short of money and considered the Anglo-Indian society to be very vulgar. It was also in India that Churchill learned how to drink (mostly whisky which he hated before, diluted with very large amounts of soda) and how not to get drunk. Some years later, he befriended Colonel Ian Hamilton, they continued to be good friends and fought many a war in India and Africa. Ian Hamilton led the failed attack at Gallipoli and never had any children.

But multiple sources mention a rumor that Churchill visited the inn at Whitefield for sundowners and courted the innkeeper James Hamilton’s daughter named Rose. James Hamilton was a popular man and owned many cottages as well as the Inn and the store.  Now did the perennially short of cash Churchill ride 10-15 miles to the Inn to drink at the Inn (instead of lounging at the Bangalore United service BUS club on Residency Rd and debiting it to his account – which by the way was partly unpaid when he left, with a balance Rs 13/- that Prince Charles once offered to settle, but the Bangalore club which it is now, refused), and did James have a daughter Rose? Well, let’s leave it there.

Though Churchill tended to many a rose bush in his garden, I can only add that Rose the lady, if she once existed, did well in not responding to his courting or getting hitched to that man. Churchill, who scoffed at and hardly interacted with natives other than his servants, would surely have stayed away from the Anglo Indians at Whitefield. So much for Churchill.

You can still see the Inner and Outer Circle Roads, you can see the park in the middle and well, while the progeny of the many of the original settlers have relocated to Australia and Canada, where some of the old timers must be talking about Brigade road and Commercial street, while drinking bottles of Yellow tail wine (its connections to Bangalore may be read here), talking about the boxing matches, the Italians and the Americans who came to Bangalore before they left, not forgetting to mention the feared Bangalore torpedo and of course the Willys jeep.

Those days have all gone by, and the IT crowd who frequent the area now, are talking of bits, bytes, codes and what not…


Guide to the Eurasian and Anglo-Indian Villages proposed to be established in the state of Mysore – Ed Standish Lee 1882
Anglo Indians – Lal Bahadur Varma
Whitefield: An Important but forgotten Chapter of India's Colonial Heritage - Krupa Rajangam
Politics and change in the Madras Presidency, 1884-1894 - A regional study of Indian Nationalism – Ramanathan Suntharalingam
The non-official British in India, 1883-1920- Raymond Kevin Renford
Modern Mysore – M Shama Rao
Allen's Indian mail - Feb 25, 1889
Pioneer Mail – July 15, 1921
Narrative of Tours in India Made by His Excellency Lord Connemara -John David Rees
Anglo-Indians bond in Southern India - Geoffrey K. Francis (Madras Musings, March 16-31, 2014)
Churchill – Walking with destiny – Andrew Roberts

Jennie Mallin’s Facebook page 

Ronnie’s page 

Pic – DS White courtesy Madras Musings, Google maps, Whitefield layout - Standish Lee Handbook

Note: It was a pleasure to hold in my hands, the 1882 print of the Standish Lee handbook, so lovingly archived by the Chicago library, and loaned to me recently. The binding of the 141-year-old book had been partially damaged with the passage of time, but the book had been housed in a hard case, so that it could survive more years in storage. DS White’s forward to the handbook is quite illuminating.

Trivia – DS White wrote a very interesting “A pair of compasses” in the Madras Athenaeum – which narrates the story of Hamilton (of the Ambuttan or Barber’s Bridge at Madras), his beheading at Tipu’s orders and Hamilton’s gift of the compass to a native mason.


The Heart of Montrose

Madurai’s peculiar connection to Scotland, Logarithms, Colin Mackenzie, and a hero’s heart

Madurai has a great cultural history, and for a long time was Tamil Nadu’s cultural capital, and the ‘Toonga Nagaram, the city that never slept’. It was one of those cities which endured so many rulers and changes, notably by the Kalabhras, the Pandyas, the Cholas, the Tughlaq Sultanate, the Vijayanagar Rayars, the Telugu Nayaks, the Nawab of Arcot and Chanda Saheb, the British East India Company and finally the British Raj. Most would recall it as a Nayak-era temple town on the banks of the Vaigai river, or as a pilgrimage town, home to the magnificent Madurai Meenakshi temple and the Tirumala Naikar temple.

Plundered over time by the eunuch Malik Kafur and later the Arcot nawabs, it was once a home to Robert Nobili, the Roman Brahmin (see story)  when he tried to proselytize the Hindu populace in Tamil with the concept of the 5th Veda. Gandhi enthusiasts would also recall that it was here centuries later, that the nation’s father decided to cast off his clothes and wear his signature loin cloth (read the story here). But what if I told you that it also had a fascinating connection to logarithms, a reverted Scottish warrior and later on, a great archivist of Indian manuscripts? A senior Tamilian would quip (now I am speaking in jest, take no offense) – I told you long ago, nan annakke sonnen that Shakespeare was after all Sheshappa Iyer and kannakku – mathematics was always, annakkum, innakkum -in yester years & these days, child’s play for us..

And so, we go to Scotland to meet two stalwarts, one being Napier, considered to be the person who invented Logarithms and James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose. James was a Scottish nobleman from the 17th century (1612-1650), poet, soldier, later viceroy, and captain-general of Scotland. He led the royalists in the Civil war and had many victories, but did not fare well and following his defeat and capture at the Battle of Carbisdale, the Great Montrose was tried by the Scottish Parliament and sentenced to death by hanging in May 1650, followed by beheading and quartering. Sometime later, his excommunicated legacy was restored, and he was officially rehabilitated in public memory as a great man, his remains buried honorably at Holyrood in May 1661. All the distributed (quartered limbs) were brought back and buried with the main parts. Save one part, a critical one, that being his heart, for in 1650, his niece Lady Napier, had sent men by night to secretly remove his heart and bring it back to the family. This relic was placed in an egg-shaped steel case made from Montrose’s sword and this was then enclosed in a gold filigree box, and deposited into a silver urn, always kept at her bedside.

One of you may quip – why did this lady go after her uncle’s heart? Well, it seems the Marquis was very fond of his nephew as well as his wife and had always told the latter that he would leave his heart to her, as a mark of his affection, upon his death. Anyway, as the story goes, the urn and the gold box were lost for generations, but the box landed up in Holland where it was eventually located by the fifth Napier and restored to the family. Time went by and it was finally in the possession of Hester Napier, who went on to marry Samuel Johnston of the EIC, and soon, both were bound for India. The filigree box accompanied Hester and Samuel to Madurai, where he had found appointment as a civil servant. Misfortunes never ceased, for the ship they were voyaging on, was attacked by the French, off Cape de Verde. A shot or its resulting splinters destroyed the filigree box which Hester was clutching, but the steel case with the heart in it remained intact.

The description of the event by Alexander, Hester’s son is arresting – A shot from the frigate struck one of these guns, killed two of the men, and, with the splinters which it tore off the deck, knocked my father down, wounded my mother severely in the arm, and bruised the muscles of my right hand so severely that, as you know, it is even now difficult for me at times to write or even to hold a pen. My mother held me during the action with one hand, and with the other she held a large thick velvet reticule; in which she, conceiving that if the frigate captured the Indiaman the French crew would plunder the ship, had placed some of the things which she valued most, including the pictures of her father and mother, and the gold filagree case containing the heart of Montrose. It was supposed that the splinter must have first struck the reticule, which hung loose in her hand; for, to her great distress, the gold filagree box, which was in it, was shattered to pieces, but the steel case had resisted the blow.

The couple reached India and found their way to Madurai and thus the greatest Scottish national treasure had eventually found its way to the temple city. Hester located a celebrated goldsmith in Madurai, who recreated a new gold filigree case for the steel encapsulated heart, after listening to her description of it, and also made a silver urn for it. It was also engraved in Tamil and Telugu with the highpoints of Montrose’s life!! Imagine what they would have written in Tamil – Periyavar Montrose sayippode ascharyamana irudayam…. This was then given a place of honor, on an ebony table in the drawing room at the Johnston household.

Alexander, Hester’s son who knew this relic intimately describe it thus - The steel case was of the size and shape of an egg. It was opened by pressing down a little knob, as is done in opening a watch case. Inside was a little parcel, supposed to contain all that remained of Montrose's heart, wrapped up in a piece of coarse cloth, and done over with a substance like glue.

Interestingly, this led to a myth among the locals that anybody who possessed Montrose’s heart would never be defeated in battle or taken prisoner! Soon it was stolen from the house by robbers and after some time, purchased by the powerful Nawab of Arcot, in whose collection it rested for a while!! As it transpired, Alexander, Samuel’s and Hester’s son while hunting with the Nawab, helped him shoot down a hog and the grateful Nawab ( wonder why he was grateful – I doubt that the Nawab was a bad shot or had difficulty in shooting down a hog!) what he wanted in return as a gift. Alexander asked for the urn with the heart and explained the whole background to him. Upon hearing that it was a family relic stolen from Hester, the Nawab promptly restored the urn and the steel case to Alexander (The Nawab was killed some years later, by the British, as explained in Major Welsh’s military reminiscences).

Samuel and Hester returned to Europe in 1792, and were caught up in the French revolution where all their gold ornaments were confiscated by the revolutionary government. Hester however, entrusted the urn and the casket to a British lady named Knowles, for safekeeping. Unfortunately, the lady died, and the urn and the heart vanished, for all practical purposes. We will get back to the search for the urn as we go on, but let’s get back to Madurai after a short stop in Scotland to get to know the Napier who invented the Logarithms. Hester Napier passed away in 1819.

John Napier, after having traveled and studied abroad, came back to Scotland, as a scholar in Greek, Theology, Mathematics, and science. Towards the end of his life, he came up with many shortcuts for complex calculations and devices to aid calculations. His work, Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Descriptio (1614) contained fifty-seven pages of explanatory matter and ninety pages of tables listing the natural logarithms of trigonometric functions. He invented a well-known mathematical artefact, the ingenious numbering rods more quaintly known as "Napier's bones" (as well as the Promputary), that offered a mechanical means for facilitating computation. As a person involved in so much more, he was studied by his peers and later generations.  While his work was considered seminal in his times, in Europe, it has come to light in recent times that such methods were commonplace in distant India, where the English were yet to arrive.

Interestingly, a research paper mentions - A further link between Scheubel and Napier is that while abroad, the latter "studied the history of Arabic notation, which he traced to its Indian source”. Phillip Jones explains that the diagonal line separating the units and tens digits on the bones and the method of using the bones are counterparts of the popular gelosia or jealousy method of multiplication. This came into Europe from Arabic writers shortly after the introduction of Hindu-Arabic numerals,  and can be traced back to the Hindu  Bhaskara (1150) or earlier. I do not want to add more, simply because I do not want to make this a complex read.

Anyway, years passed by, and a young man named Colin Mackenzie, a Scotsman, was asked by the then Lord Francis Napier who was preparing a biography of the said mathematician John Napier, to collect all available information about Hindu mathematicians and mathematics as well as their use of logarithms (another mathematician Rueben Barrow was sent out in 1793 for the same purpose, while others such as Charles M Whish were already in Malabar collecting and archiving similar data). Lord Napier died in 1773, and Kenneth Mackenzie helped Colin to obtain commission with the British East India Company so that he could join the Madras Army. It was with the task of investigating Hindu Mathematics and Napier, that Colin set out for Madras in 1783. Little would he know that he would never return home, and that India would hold him in her firm grip, ever after. As Napier’s emissary, looking for information on Napier and Hindu Mathematics, where do you think he went to? To Madurai of course, where Lord Napier’s daughter Hester resided, in relative pomp and glory. That is where Mackenzie met and collaborated with the well-educated Brahmins, proficient in Mathematics, a subject we will study separately.

In hindsight, I can say that he was sent to the wrong place. Ujjain where Bhaskara lived and produced his mathematics treatises was no longer the right place, but he would have found many of his answers if he had gone to Malabar and met with Madhava’s pupils. But Malabar was still reeling from Hyder’s and Tipu’s onslaught, and it was much later that CM Whish and Thomas H Baber made their forays into these fields and Whish ended up publishing his paper on Malabar’s Mathematicians and Calculus.

Nevertheless, Mackenzie had good intercourse with the Math stalwarts in the erstwhile Nayaka kingdom with whom Hester had already established the right contacts. Math was Colin’s interest and though he would have seen the silver Urn with the Montrose heart, it held no interest for him, just that they were both in the same place, at the same time, far away from Scotland. Mackenzie’s life, both as an engineer and soldier as well as a collector of manuscripts is quite well known, his activities in Malabar (as a soldier at Palghat, his role in the fights against Hyder & Tipu, and his attempts to collect Malabar & Travancore history manuscripts) are not so well known, so they will follow in a forthcoming article.

As Alexander, Hester’s son put it - Mrs. Johnston introduced him to the Madurai Brahmins “who were supplying her with information on the Hindus’ knowledge of mathematics.” The more he interacted with these Brahmins, the greater his astonishment and admiration for their expansive learning, which “fired his interest in Indian antiquities.” This became the basis of his lifelong mission, and “the favorite object of his pursuit for 38 years of his life.”

However, I will not tire you with mathematics and Mackenzie’s deeds in India, at least in this article, let us get back to the heart of Montrose. We concluded earlier that it was lost for good, in France. I had also concluded that it was indeed lost, after my initial study, but then I saw that the Montrose Museum had on display a relic purported to be Montrose’s heart. Well, the heart, making its return from India to Europe continued with its adventurous existence, for it may have traveled long and crossed many oceans. Rachel Bennet, from the University of Warwick, came up with more conclusions.

One Capt H Stuart Wheatley-Crowe of the Royal Stuart society obtained an embalmed heart which was believed to have been brought to England from France during the Revolution by the ancestors of the Perkins family, who believed it was the heart of Montrose. Stuart had a medical examination carried out on the heart and they found it to be approximately 300 years old, but could find no other definitive proof of its authenticity or connections to Montrose. When a claimant for this heart surfaced in Canada in 1951, named Mrs. Maisie Armitage-Moore, the society sent the heart to her. She was the granddaughter of Alexander Johnston, now a Canadian from British Columbia. Maise, now Ms Maisie Hurley, was a larger-than-life woman who dressed in black, smoked cigars, loved boxing and American Indians, and was a publisher of the local newspaper.

Lloyd Graham, who investigated this further, takes it from here - Questions remained and Maise was no longer convinced the heart belonged to her ancestor, for an expert had told her that it seemed to have been mummified in the Egyptian fashion, using red lead and resin wax. She was tired of the controversy and wanted no part in the authenticity arguments and wanted to (as John Graham wished) cremate the heart and scatter the ashes over Edinburgh. But in 2012, when the Montrose Museum announced the James Graham collection, they had in their possession a heart, which may have been the lost one.

The only mention of the heart since then comes from Maise’s great-granddaughter Kerrie. In 2007, Kerrie recalls playing with the heart as a child and remembers being horrified when it fell into two pieces. She was very upset until she learned that “a bullet had apparently split it in half in its travels to Vancouver”– an inexplicable coda to an already bizarre tale. It was apparently sent to England, for safe keeping at her nephew’s home, from where it was eventually sent to the museum. When in Canada, it was discovered that the heart had a piece missing, and that piece had been retained by Wheately Crowe. The heart now in Scotland did have a missing piece and it corresponded roughly to the piece mentioned above.

Bennet concludes - Despite the lack of absolute proof of its authenticity, the heart was placed alongside other artefacts definitively related to Montrose, and this perhaps is a suitable final destination. Museum curator, Rachel Benvie, said: "There are two known hearts of Montrose and we have managed to locate and display one of them. "I was a little bit skeptical when I first saw it. "It is maybe slightly larger than a normal human heart, but the process of embalming could well influence that, and it is human. And anyway, I do feel it is right that the Marquis of Montrose should have a larger heart than other people."

Lloyd Graham is not convinced that the Canadian contender is the right heart and not much is known about the second contender – He explains From this (Alexander Johnston’s description of the urn, earlier narrated in red) it is clear that the heart was no longer the entire organ but a piece of cardiac tissue small enough to fit inside a container no larger than a hen’s egg; the fragment was also sealed inside a cloth wrapping. These points distinguish it from the unshrouded intact heart inherited by Capt. Wheatley-Crowe in 1931, which was forwarded to Maisie Armytage-Moore / Hurley in Canada and exhibited at Montrose in 2012. This exposed, enlarged and essentially complete heart is incompatible with Sir Alexander’s description.

How about the other heart in the possession of the museum? No information is publicly available about the other contender for the heart of Montrose. Unless it and its containers miraculously match Sir Alexander’s description, Lloyd states - we must conclude that the relic he described so carefully – which may well have been genuine –was in fact lost forever in Revolutionary France.

The New York Times dated 29th Jan 1911, however, mentions that the Johnston’s actually gave the trinket to an American named Mrs Stephen Brown who used to live in Boulogne, just before they themselves got arrested, assuming that it would be safer in American hands. However, all subsequent search for the Brown’s and the heart yielded no results. But the ‘veteran diplomat’ who wrote it believed that the heart was in America. Now, is the second heart relic in the museum’s possession? I don’t know.

The Arcot nawab’s connection with the Napier’s did not cease. It was another Lord Napier, the mayor of Madras, who was involved in reinstating one of the claimants as the Price of Arcot, in 1867.

And that my friends, is the incredible connection between Scotland’s hero, Madurai, Napier of logarithms and the first surveyor general of India – Col Colin Mackenzie, and the travails of the hero’s heart across continents and oceans, and shot at and split, even as a relic!. What an amazing story – the story of a heart, its obscure connection to the inventor of Logarithms, a distant city of Madurai in India and how it all connected to the very person who later on built the single largest archive and collection of Indian manuscripts!!


House GRAHAM From the Antonine Wall to the Temple of Hymen - Lloyd D. Graham
“A Candidate for Immortality”: Martyrdom, Memory, and the Marquis of Montrose - Rachel Bennett
Col Colin Mackenzie, First Surveyor general of India – WC Mackenzie
Memoirs of the Marquis of Montrose- MARK NAPIER
John Napier - W. R. Thomas
Napier's Education: A Speculation - Alex Inglis
Tangible arithmetic I: Napier's and Genaille's rods - Phillip S. Jones

 Images – Wikimedia – thanks to the uploaders