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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XVIII No. 27, may 16-31, 2009
Lally, Lawders
and contraception
(LITERATURE ON MADRAS (an annotated bibliography from the Web)
compiled by Dr. A. Raman)

General History

Ryan S (2002) The Lally wild geese. Wild Geese Heritage Museum and Library.

Lally Tollendal was recalled from his command on the coast of France to begin preparations for the voyage to India and was granted 3000 men, 3 million in cash and three warships, which was reduced by one-third with a promise of the remainder being sent within 12 months. The expedition set sail from Brest and Fort l’Orient in May 1757. Lally’s instructions were to reform the abuses without number, the extravagant expenditure and the vast disorder, which swallowed up all the revenue in the French settlements in India. On landing in India he inquired about the state of the Company affairs and was informed that the Company was in dire financial stress. That evening he attacked Cuddalore and next proceeded to besiege Fort St David, which surrendered 17 days later. He next took Devicotah and then returned to Pondicherry when he discovered that the Rajah of Tanjore owed the Company 5.6 million rupees and he decided to enforce its collection. Tanjore was about 150 miles from Pondicherry, and was assisted by the English. He was not successful and was forced to withdraw as provisions were running low in his camp. News was being received of attacks by the English on many of the French towns. A party was sent out to assassinate Lally and almost succeeded. It was reported that the French fleet was fleeing. They tried to persuade the Admiral to change his mind, but the entire fleet set sail for Mauritius. The army at this stage suffered greatly from hunger, thirst and fatigue. Supplies were running low and the men were badly paid and clothed. Lally called for more discipline and efficiency, but only made himself enemies. A fine colour image of Lally is available with an inset in French: ‘Cost and compare! Quality without compromise!’

Haviland C (2003) The last Armenians in Madras. Madras.

Charles Haviland, a BBC correspondent who visited Madras, reports on Michael Stephan and the Armenian Church in Madras. This file indicates that the first constitution for an independent Armenia was drafted by the community in Madras in 1781, which was realised only after the fall of USSR in 1991.

Medical History

Bidie G (1889) ‘Geographical distribution of diseases in southern India.’ The British Medical Journal 2: 113–115.

According to Census returns, the proportion of lepers amongst the population of Madras is 4.4 per 10,000, against 5.2 in Bengal, and 8.5 in Bombay; but there is reason to believe that these figures fall short of the actual extent of the disease. In Madras, it is, on the whole, slightly more prevalent in coastal districts than inland, the ratios being 4.9 in the former and 4.4 in the latter, per 10,000 of population. The proportion of lepers in the several districts ranges from 2.0 in Coimbatore to 10.5 in Madras city. The districts showing the highest ratios next to Madras are Nilgiris 8.0, Tanjore 7.0, and Chingleput, Malabar, and North Arcot, each 6.0 per 10,000. The disease attacks Europeans and Eurasians as well as natives, but is most common in natives. The propagation of leprosy is no doubt largely influenced by heredity, but recent observations appear to show that it is also contagious. In localities in which lepers are at large with the disease in an active state, and having open sores, there seems to be an increased tendency for fresh cases amongst the general population.

Divekar V.M. & Naik L.D. (2001) ‘Evolution of anaesthesia in India.’ Journal of Postgraduate Medicine 47: 149–152.

Spinal anaesthesia was first reported by A. Chalmers of Trichinopoly with hyperbaric stovaine. The first death under spinal anaesthesia was reported by W. Gabbett of Madras, who administered 3 cc of distilled water containing 1 mg strychnine and 1 dg of Novocaine. Spinal analgesia in children was reported by R. Williamson of Madras. He preferred stovaine from Saidapet (Madras) to that from London. The first kidney transplant was performed at Vellore in the early 1970s. Recently cadaver transplants have been performed in Madras.

Anonymous (no date): ‘The Irish Bomfords 1617 to the present—Chapter VIII.’ . http://www.bomfordnet/Irish Bomfords/Chapters/Chapter8/Chapter8.htm.

Does this site refer to Dr. James Lawder of the Native Hospital in Purasawalkam, who lived in Poonamallee Lane, thus endowing the bus stop name “Lawder’s Gate” in the present Gangadaraswarar Koil Street?

“The Lawder Family (sometimes spelt Lauder or Lawden in deeds). The Lawders of Kiltubrid, south of Lough Allen in Co Leitrim, are an offshoot of the Lawders of Lawderdale at Ballinamore, Co Leitrim. John Lawder of Kiltubrid must have died about 1700; his eldest son was Launcelot, one of the trustees of the marriage settlement of Antony Hamilton and Catherine Bomford and who had died before 1750; John had two nephews: William Lawder, who married Catherine, daughter of Arthur Achmuty of Brianstown, Co Longford and who died in 1715, and James Lawder, who married secondly Dorcas, daughter of Samuel Townley, and widow of Thomas Achmuty, Catherine Ach­muty’s brother.

Hodges, S. (2008) Contr­a­ception, colonialism and commerce: birth control in south ­India, 1920–1940. Ashgate Publishing, London, UK.

Contrary to popular belief, India has one of the most long-lasting, institutionalised, far-reaching, state sponsored family planning programmes in the world. During the inter-War period the country witnessed the formation of groups dedicated to promoting the cause of birth control.

This book outlines the early history of birth control in India, particularly the Tamil south. In so doing, it illuminates India’s role in a global network of birth control advocacy. The book also argues how Indians’ contraceptive advocacy and associa­tiona­lism became an increasingly significant realm of action in which they staked claims not just about the utility of contraception but simultaneously over their ability and right to self-rule.

Science History

Hull ECP (1865) Coffee: its physiology, history and cultivation: adapted as a work of reference for Ceylon, Wynaad, Coorg and the Neilgherries. Gantz Brothers, Madras, India.

Original not seen; found as a cross reference. Also the point of interest is the publisher, Gantz Brothers, Madras.


Brilliance nurtured
by street lights
(The Leading Lights of Madras – VI by Randor Guy)

This is not a log cabin to White House story but the tale of a journey from a poor
‘agraharam’ street in the temple town of Thiruvarur to the Bench of the Madras High Court on which no Indian had sat till then. Talent, hard work, perseverance and persistence paid off for T. Muthuswami Iyer, later knighted, considered one of the most brilliant men in the Indian legal world of the time.

From a lowly assistant to a village karanam on a princely salary of Re. 1 a month, he rose to draw a lordly monthly salary of Rs. 3500 when he sat on the Bench of the Madras High Court. It was a spectacular elevation at a time when such things were rare happenings in British-ruled 19th Century India.

It is somewhat surprising that though Muthuswami Iyer did not practise law at any time, he made his way to the top from District Munsiff to District and Sessions Judge and then to the High Court. When he was appointed to the High Court Bench, it was a shock to the London-qualified British barristers practising in Madras as well as to the large British commercial community. A ‘black’ judge, who sat barefoot in court, sitting in judgement over white men’s legal disputes! It was unthinkable! Some of the ­barristers were appalled when they came to know that the new judge had begun his career in an unheard of small town, where he had studied under the oil-lit street lamps, that he was as poor as a church mouse.

However, impressions soon changed when the barristers came to realise that the humble Brahmin on the Bench had a razor-sharp intellect and an encyclopaedic knowledge not only of the laws of the land but also of the ancient Sanskrit texts.

At the time Hindu Law had not been codified as it is today and the laws had to be interpreted in accordance with the ancient Sanskrit texts of the sages Manu, Yajnvalkya, and other wise men of ancient India. The complicated system of laws was explained by the sages in a matter of just a few lines in Sanskrit. Problems arose in plenty in the interpretation of these lines, because in many cases the Sanskrit word had several subtle nuances and meanings, which was highly confusing to the British barristers. Some of them learnt Sanskrit to understand the original legal tomes and texts. Others had Sanskrit pundits to help them. Nevertheless, it was a sticky problem.

One outstandingly brilliant British barrister, Eardley Nor­ton, appeared before Justice Muthuswami Iyer often and had ample opportunities to appreciate the brilliance of the judge from Tanjore District! He was also aware of Muthuswami Iyer’s back­ground.

Brought up in grinding poverty, the young Muthuswami Iyer, who had hardly any clothing except a thin cloth to cover his emaciated body, had determinedly put himself through school, standing first in all the examinations he took and winning prizes and scholarships. Compelled by the family’s circumstances, he had to seek employment soon after he finished school. A village karanam, himself a pitifully paid village revenue collector, employed him as his ‘writer’ (a petty clerk).

Muthuswami Iyer worked hard at his soul-less job by day but studied Law under the street lights in the evenings and took the B.L. degree of the University of Madras, standing first in the Presidency. His brilliance attracted the attention of the top-level British bureaucrats in Madras who appointed him a District Munsiff, a job that then enjoyed considerable prestige in South Indian society. Thereafter he quickly climbed the legal ladder of success, holding several judicial offices, like Principal Sudder Amin, Presidency Magistrate, and Judge of the Small Causes Court, Madras.

In 1878, when Justice Hollo­way retired and went back to England, the British Indian Government appointed T. Muthuswami Iyer as judge of the Madras High Court, creating history. One of the outcomes of the controversy that followed was the birth of one of India’s most respected newspapers, The Hindu. In time, British barristers like John D. Mayne, Eardley Norton, E. B. Powell, Spring Branson, and Robert Grant (an ancestor of another living legend of the Madras legal world, Nugent Grant) appeared before him. A study made by this writer during his research into the legal history of the Madras High Court showed that many of them appeared almost daily before Muthuswami Iyer, the most active of them all John D. Mayne. The track record which the pioneering Indian judge established impressed the Government and gave it the confidence that Indians appointed as High Court judges would act fearlessly, with justice and equity, and ensure fair play in the courts.

When hearing a case, Muthuswami Iyer would come to court thoroughly prepared, having studied not only all the case papers, from the first complaint, but also the relevant case law. During the hearing he followed the celebrated Socrates method, asking questions and getting the lawyers to analyse, probe deeper and come up with answers based on the facts of the case and also the relevant legal provisions. This was in sharp contrast to the method followed by other judges who only listened – and not always patiently – to the arguments, and asked questions only in case of doubts. The Socrates method followed by Justice Muthu­swami Iyer was a refreshing feature of his court and was welcomed by many British barristers as well as Indian vakils. This method also kept the lawyers on their toes for they had to be fully prepared when presenting their cases; or they would have to stand in open court looking foolish.

Expectedly, Muthuswami Iyer excelled in Hindu Law. During his time, much of Hindu law was still in the making by the High Courts of the land and also the Privy Council in London. The law was still evolving and the general principles of jurisprudence, justice, equity and fairplay had to be adapted to blend with the social conditions of the Hindus of the period. It was in this sphere that Justice Muthuswami Iyer rose to great heights, winning recognition not only in other High Courts in India but also in the Privy Council for his decision in grey areas like adoption, succession, the impartible estates of zamin­dars, religious bodies like ‘mutts’ and such institutions which were bound only by ancient shastras.

An intriguing characteristic of the Judge, which only Norton had observed many a time and which he narrated in his autobiography, was that Muthu­swami Iyer had the habit of flexing his big toe whenever he was thinking about the case being argued before him. The flexing would gather pace, revealing that the judge’s thought process was gathering momentum and he was about to make up his mind about the judgement. When the flexing and moving of the toe suddenly stopped, it conclusively demonstrated to Norton that the judge had arrived at a decision and that there was no point in wasting one’s time and energy in arguing the case any more!

The British Indian Government honoured the legendary judge by bestowing on him a knighthood and he became Sir Thiruvarur Muthuswami Iyer. Full of years, honours and achievements, Sir T. Muthu­swami Iyer passed away on January 25, 1895 at his residence in Mylapore. His death caused great grief not only among the legal fraternity in India but also among many in the United Kingdom.

The Sivaganga Zamin Succe­ssion Dispute in which he had sat on appeal in the Madras High Court and rendered judgment, went up to the Privy Council in London which was then the ‘Court of Last Resort’. A celebrated legal luminary of Great Britain, Lord Hobhouse, was one of the Law Lords and heard the appeal as a Member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. In his judgment, he made a moving reference to the passing away of Sir T. Muthuswami Iyer and his deep knowledge of Hindu Law which had been most useful to him and other members of the ­Judicial Committee and which insights they would miss thereafter. It was the first time that such a tribute had been paid to a judge in India by the highest court of the land during that period. A historic event ­indeed.

Law courts are actually temples of Justice, Law, Equity and Fairplay. In such a temple, the Madras High Court, there is a lifesize statue in white marble of Sir T. Muthuswami Iyer ­sitting in his legal chair. It is a signal reminder of what the building stands for – and what he had stood for.





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