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VOL. XXIV NO. 19, January 16-31, 2015
How the Buckingham Canal was born
Several people have over the years wanted accurate details about the Buckingham Canal. D.H. RAO, who has been delving in the archival records, provides the detailed story of the Buckingham Canal

In 1800, the Government (the Board of Revenue) was anxious to build a navigable canal from Ennore to Madras by connecting many large and small water bodies, utilising the seasonal river Elambore. Certain people who had a monopoly in the salt trade showed interest, but the Governor was not in favour. However, the project was advertised in the Gazette of December 1801.

A person called Heefke responded to the advertisement and its conditions, which allowed him to collect a reasonable toll for 45 years, apart from enjoying some other privileges from the Government.

The inception of the Canal was thus due to a private enterprise. In 1801, Heefke, with one Basil Cochrane as security, obtained a concession from the Government. He commenced the excavation of a canal, for small craft, from the northwest Blacktown wall through strips of land and shallow backwaters from Madras to Ennore, a distance of 11 miles.

The work was finished in 1806 by Cochrane who, in 1802, had obtained the entire control of the Canal. This portion was named Cochrane’s Canal. This canal was soon afterwards extended by him to Pulicat Lake, 25 miles north of Ennore.

The canal remained the property of Cochrane till 1837, when he left India, leaving its management to Arbuthnot & Co. It was then taken over by the Government, who paid Cochrane Rs. 14,061 a year till 1847, the date of expiry of his lease. Government then paid him compensation and took over the canal. In 1852, extensive improvements to the existing line of canal and further northward extension were undertaken. In 1854 the first lock was built at Sadayankuppam. By 1857, the canal had been extended to Durgarayapatnam, 69 miles north of Madras. It was then called the East Coast Canal.

At the same time, a new canal was excavated from the Adyar River southwards for a distance of 35 miles from Madras by joining the backwaters along the coast.

By 1876, the North Canal had been extended to Krishnapatnam, 92 miles from Madras. The next year, a fresh impetus was given to extending the canal as a measure of famine relief to the poor, and the canal was extended up to the Pennar River, 114 miles north of Madras. About the same time, the Junction Canal was excavated, within Madras city, to connect the Cooum and Adyar Rivers, the starting points of the North and South Canals respectively. The extension of the canal to the northern limit at Peddaganjam was completed in 1878, and its extension to the southern limit at Marakkanam was completed in 1882. The canal was then renamed the Buckingham Canal.

Soon after the completion of the excavation of the entire canal, it was found that it was fit only for navigation at high tide by small craft. This state of affairs necessitated an entire reconsideration of the design. Between 1883 and 1891, flood gates and diversion canals in some places were added. By the end of 1897, locks had been constructed along the whole length of the Canal, with provision for passing upland drainages across the Canal, so as to retain a surface water level approximating the level of the highest prevailing tide.

When the Canal was completed it was approximately 265 miles (420 km) long.

A chronology

North Canal

1800-02 Preparations for a navigable canal by Government.
1802 Heefke given the work to ‘cut’ a canal from Ennore to Madras. Work starts from northwest bastion of Black Town wall towards Ennore River.
1806 Reaches Ennore Lake and then Pulicat Lake, 40 km.
1837 Cochrane leaves India, but continues to get lease amount through his agents, Arbuthnot & Co.
1847 overnment takes over Canal.
1854 First lock at Sadayankuppam (near Ennore)
1857 Reaches Durgarayapatnam (Armagaon), 112 km.
1876 Reaches Krishnapatnam, 147 km.
1877 Reaches Pennar River (famine period), 182 km.
1878 Reaches Peddaganjam – connecting Krishna-Godavari Canal, 297 km
Extended upto Cooum River in Madras
Called “North Canal” – length 315 km (196 miles)
South Canal
1857 A new canal excavated from Adyar River towards Papanchavadi and further south, joining large water bodies, 56 km.
1878 Papanchavadi to Palar River (Sadras) completed.
1882 Reaches Marakkanam lake, 123 km
1882 Named ‘Buckingham Canal’.
1883 Construction of flood gates and diversion canals.
1897 Locks construction.
1900 The whole canal (420 km) becomes navigable. Total length 257 km in Andhra Pradesh and 163 km in Tamil Nadu.
1877 Link canal from Cooum River to Adyar River. Famine period. 8 km.

Buckingham Canal Locks

North Canal

Name of lock/location Distance from Madras
Sadayankuppam (near Ennore) 7 1854 (abandoned in 1895)
Ennore lake (south) 10-2 1886
Ennore lake (north) 11-3 1889
Chintamani 19-7
Pulicat (south) 27-1
Pulicat (north)
Pambli 65-3
Swarnamukhi (south) 75- 2
Swarnamukhi (north) 75- 4
Kandaleru (south) 90-1
Kandaleru (north) 92-5
Kodur (south) 101- 4
Kodur (north) 101-4
Pennar (south) 114-1
Pennar (north) 115-4
Pyderu (south) 123-6
Pyderu (north) 123-7
Isakapalli (south) 125-7
Isakapalli (north) 126-7
Chippaleru (south) 132-6
Chippaleru (north) 132-7
Elikeru (south) 150-6
Elikeru (north) 151-0
Manneru (south) 158-7
Manneru (south) 159-7
>Manneru (north) 160-4
Paleru 168-0
Musi 169-7
Mudigondi 183-2
Gundlakamma 187-1
Romperu 194-7 (31 locks)

Link Canal
Cooum River – Adyar River

Cooum River – behind uty. 1901
Adyar River – Greenways
MRTS Station (north)
South Canal
Adyar river (south)
(Sadras lock)
5-5 1883
Lattice Bridge
Covelong (north) 20-0
Covelong (south) 23-0
Edaiyur (north) 36-2
Edaiyur (south) 36-3
Pudupatnam (north) 41-0
Pudupatnam (south) 41-4
Palar (north) 43-5
Palar (south) 44-5
Palar (south) 46-2

Voyalur (double locks)
Kaddalur (double locks)
Kadambakkam (double locks)

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In this issue

Buckingham Canal highs and lows
Madras Landmarks - 50 years ago
The importance of being smart
A trail of hope
Why can't Tamil Nadu villages aim to be like these?
How the Buckingham Canal was born
The birth of Matscience

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Readers Write
Dates for your Diary


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