I am Fort St. George from Chennai, the coastal Indian state of Tamil Nadu. I derive my name, Fort St. George from the festival of St. George. I am a mute spectator of the different phases that the city has gone through or currently undergoing. It was constructed by the East India Company to protect its business interest along the coastline off the Coromandel Coast. I saw the light of the day on 23rd April 1644 and was dedicated to the English Patron Saint, St. George. I became the administrative seat for the East India Company in India and successfully protected the folks from several attacks by the French and Haider Ali, the ruler of Mysore. I am almost 400 years old and currently, serve as the administrative seat of the state government of Tamil Nadu. Today, I will tell you my interesting story of mine, Fort St. George, and my relevance to Chennai.
Fort St. George, currently the state legislative assembly
History of Fort St. George
- In the middle of the 17th century, India became the thriving commercial hub for European players like the British, French, Portuguese, Dutch, Danes, and others.
- In the tussle of the trade routes, the British were effective to outlive their counterparts. To establish their hegemony over the Coromandel Coast, the English East India Company decided to erect a fort in the region.
- In 1639, the representatives of the British East India Company – Francis Day, and Andrew Cogan bought the current strip of land that goes inward from Marina Beach. The duo bought the land from the local chieftain Damarla Venkatappa Nayak who served under the Raja of Chandragiri.
- Day and Cogan secured the grant of land on 22nd August 1639. It was the small fishing village of Madrasapatnam, a 3-mile long strip of land. The duo worked relentlessly to construct the fort in the granted land that led to the settlement of Madrasapatnam.
- Finally, on 23rd April 1639, Fort St. George came into being at a cost worth £3,000.
The 150-feet high Flag Staff at the Fort complex
Fort St. George became the foundation of the British presence in India
Fort St. George stayed as a crucial seat of power for the British during their prolonged stay in India. The Fort also envisaged several historical events and battles across the region. Fort St. George saw the frequent occupations by the French and Hyder Ali from Mysore. Besides surviving the attacks, the Fort is accredited to have the Clive House in its compound. It is among the first settlements of the British in India. Then there are other historical sites like the St. Mary’s Church which is the first Anglican Church in India. There is also the Fort Museum which served initially as the first office of the Madras Bank.
Weaponry displayed at the Fort Museum
Complex of Fort St. George
The Fort complex was initially conceptualized as the support for trading activities off the Coromandel Coast. With the British settlement in the fort complex, the scenario gradually led to the development of a lively city. There was the White Town in the Fort complex for the British and other European settlers while Black Town for the locales and dock workers. The Fort complex was vibrant as the British constructed various iconic marvels like the Wellesley House. It was named after the former Governor-General of India, Richard Wellesley. The complex of Fort St. George is also known for housing the St. Mary’s Church, the Fort Museum, and 150-feet high Flag Staff (it is still in use). The Fort Museum at the Fort St. George complex comprises rare artifacts from the British era. There are uniforms, coinage, weaponry, and original letters belonging to important British officers like Robert Clive and Lord Cornwallis. The museum also has the first-ever flag flown in post-independent India, a pride for every Indian. The Fort complex is also home to a garrison that once held the British forces to its helm.
St. Mary’s Church at the Fort complex
Fort St. George has seen the evolution of the city from the small fishing of Madrasapatnam to the creation of the Madras city as a prominent South Indian town. The Fort has also envisaged the development of Madras as the state capital of Tamil Nadu in independent India to its rechristening as Chennai in 1998. Currently, Fort St. Gorge serves as the administrative headquarter of the state legislative assembly of Tamil Nadu. The Fort is inherently associated with the development, growth, and running of businesses of Chennai in the erstwhile days and currently as well.
So if you decide to visit Chennai, make sure to put Fort St. George in your itinerary.