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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 12, october 1-15, 2009

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Miltons in Madras

A pioneer of cine-writing

Rockets, Saidapet Farm & the Jews of Madras

  Miltons in Madras
(By Gordon Campbell, University of Leicester, who visited Madras in the end-1990s)

In 1958, W.R. Parker announced in Notes and Queries (No. 203, p. 208) that he had discovered a record of the marriage on June 1, 1674, of Milton’s daughter Deborah to a weaver named Abraham Clarke. The entry, he noted, was printed in The Register of the Parish of St. Peter and St. Kevin (Parish Register Society of Dublin No. 9, 1911). I recently wondered about the unlikely pairing of Peter and Kevin, but was soon able to establish that St. Peter’s had been amalgamated with St. Kevin’s in 1673, that St. Peter’s was then in ruins and not rebuilt until 1685, and that the wedding must therefore have taken place in St. Kevin’s. Deborah’s sisters had not heard of her marriage by the time their father died in November, and so it seems likely that Milton never knew that his daughter had married.

On February 10, 1738 John Ward visited Milton’s granddaughter Elizabeth Foster, who had, like her mother Deborah, married a weaver from Spitalfields. Mrs. Foster explained to Ward that “Deborah married Mr. Abraham Clarke, a weaver in Spittle-Fields, and died August 24th, 1727, in the 76th year of her age. She had ten children, seven sons and three daughters. But none of them had any children, except one of her sons, named Caleb, and the youngest daughter, whose name is Elizabeth. Caleb went over to Fort St. George in the East Indies, where he married, and had two sons, Abraham and Isaac. Of these, Abraham the elder came to England with the late Governor Harrison, but returned again upon advice of his father’s death; and whether he or his brother be now living, is now uncertain.”

When I visited Madras, I decided to pursue the documentary evidence for the presence of Milton’s descendants in the 18th Century. I had by way of preparation consulted French’s Life Records, which records a series of baptisms, marriages, and burials: 2 June 1703: baptism of Abraham, son of Caleb and Mary Clark; 17 March 1707: baptism of Mary Clark, daughter of Caleb and Mary; 13 February 1711: baptism of Isaac Clark, son of Caleb and Mary; 15 December 1716: burial of Mary Clark, daughter of Caleb; 26 October 1719: burial of Caleb Clark, Parish Clerk; 22 September 1725: marriage of Abraham Clark and Anna Clark; 5 April 1727: baptism of Mary Clark, daughter of Abraham and Ann[a]; 4 October 1729: burial of Mary Clark; 5 September 1743: burial of Abraham Clark, Soldier. Each entry was said by French to have been taken “from the original entry in the parish registers of St. George’s Cathedral, Madras, India.” This was a slightly problematical note for the scholar in search of records, in part because cathedrals have dioceses rather than parishes and are, thus, unlikely to keep parish records, and partly because St. George’s Cathedral was not consecrated until 1816. It seemed likely that French had confused Madras and Fort St. George, and that the parish records were probably those of St. Mary’s Church in Fort St. George, the oldest British building in India.

But where were the parish records? Mrs. Eliza Martin of the British Council in Madras searched on my behalf; the records were identified by Dr. Jithendra Das of the Fort Museum, who instructed the Curator, Mrs. Moortheeswari Madhava Rao, to make them available to me. In due course, I climbed the steps to the Curator’s office on the top floor. The registers were taken from a large metal cabinet and placed on a desk underneath a fan that slowly stirred the air.

Two aspects of the registers became immediately obvious: the first was that they were parchment rather than paper; the second was that the entries from October 1680 to September 1739 were written in the same neat hand. These were clearly not original parish records, but rather a later transcription. In fact, the transcription had been prepared in 1739 by Alexander Wynch, then a little-known nephew of the garrison chaplain, but eventually to become Governor of Madras. The paper records had been succumbing to the climate of India, and so Wynch had prepared a durable parchment copy, for which he was paid a fee of 50 pagodas. French’s transcriptions (from photographs) proved to be accurate, but he overlooked one relevant entry, the burial of Mary, the wife of Caleb Clark, on 26 January 1715/16.

The normal recourse of scholars faced with the loss of original parish records is the ecclesiastical returns to the bishop. But in which diocese was 18th Century Madras? The answer, for purposes of ecclesiastical administration, was London, and so, in due course, I went where I should have begun, to the British Library’s Oriental and India Office Collections, where I was able to consult the Ecclesiastical Returns for Madras (N/2/1). The first entry in Wynch’s transcription, the baptism of Milton’s great-grandson Abraham on 2 June 1703, is not replicated in the bishop’s transcript; the second, the baptism of his great-granddaughter Mary, is recorded as having taken place on 17 March 1707 rather than 17 March 1709; clearly one of the transcriptions is wrong, but we shall never know which one. Both transcriptions record her death on 16 December 1716. The baptism of Isaac Clark on 13 February 1711 is also confirmed.

The burial of Caleb Clark, Milton’s grandson, on 26 October 1719, is recorded in both transcripts, as is the fact that he was parish clerk, a post which he held from 1717 until his death. In the entry recording the marriage of Abraham and Anna Clark on 22 September 1725, the bishop’s transcript confirms that Clark was Anna’s maiden name as well as her married name. Indeed, a proliferation of Clarks in Madras in the 18th Century makes it increasingly difficult to identify Milton’s descendants in the records.

The baptism of Mary, Milton’s great-great-granddaughter, on 5 April 1727, is confirmed in the bishop’s transcript. French hesitated (V, 332) over the entry recording the burial of one Mary Clark on 4 October 1729: “Since Mary Clark’s parents are not named, it is not certain that she is of Milton’s family”. The bishop’s transcript does not name the parents, but it does add that Mary Clark was a child, which may increase the likelihood that she was the daughter of Abraham and Anna.

The eventual fate of Isaac and Abraham Clark is not known. Isaac simply disappears from the records, which suggests that either he moved elsewhere or he died between 1746 and 1749, when the records are incomplete because Madras was occupied by the French. Abraham Clark, Milton’s great-grandson, is similarly shadowy. When Ward visited Elizabeth Foster in Spitalfields, she told him that Abraham “came to England with the late Governor Harrison, but returned again upon advice of his father’s death.” The Governor of Madras was Gulston Addison, whose name Mrs. Foster may have misremembered as “Harrison”; if so, young Abraham must have returned to England as a young child, because Addison died in 1709. Was the journey with Addison connected with the visit of Gulston’s younger brother Joseph to Deborah Milton shortly before his death in June 1719? Did Abraham spend ten years in England before returning to India on hearing of his father’s death? These uncertainties are compounded by Hyde Clarke, who is known to Miltonists as the Victorian scholar who documented Milton’s father’s career with the Company of Scriveners with reference to documents that have since disappeared. Writing in Athenaeum (No. 2733, 13 March 1880, p. 344), Hyde Clarke explained that “I found from Mr. Augustus Bradbury that an Abraham Clark was admitted into the Weavers’ Company on May 9th, 1709, but whether as a freeman or a liveryman is not stated.” As Abraham was a few weeks short of his sixth birthday on that date, the admission seems a little unlikely. In any case, neither the printed records of the company, nor the manuscript records, record the admission of an Abraham Clark during the period when he might have been in England; Jonathan Ouvry, Clerk to the Worshipful Company of Weavers, kindly conducted a preliminary search for me, and could find no reference to Abraham Clark.

The second volume of the Fort St. George register (which was not transcribed by Wynch) records the death of a soldier called Abraham Clark on 5 September 1743. Was this Milton’s great-grandson? The entry appears in a list of entries recording the burials of soldiers; none of the entries refers to relatives. It is possible that Clark enlisted in England with a view to securing a passage back to Madras, but there is no evidence beyond the burial register to support this hypothesis. Milton’s great-grandchildren in Madras slip into oblivion while his widow was still alive in Nantwich and his daughter in Spitalfields.

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  A pioneer of cine-writing
(An occasional column by S. Theodore Baskaran: Our Print Heritage )

Even after many years of cinema emerging as a mass entertainment form in South India, very few were writing about this new medium. Writers ignored it as unworthy of any notice. They would rather write about Sabha plays and Classical music concerts than films.

However, as cinema became popular and proved a great leveller, writers realised that they could no longer ignore its presence and started taking notice of it, though most of the writing was against cinema, pointing to it as a negative influence on society. Writer Kalki reflected this attitude clearly when he wrote that whether you like it or not, you cannot ignore cinema’s presence. Characteristic of the response from the writers was what Baskaradas, himself a songwriter for film, recorded. A nationalist, he wrote that every Tamilian should be ashamed of the contents of Tamil movies and went on to add that there should be a campaign against the evil effects of films. If there were any references to cinema in all these writings, it was one of derision. Even as more and more people got into the habit of watching films, there was no sign of any critical writing. The debate whether cinema was an art form at all was carried on in a number of magazines for many years. It was against this backdrop that P.S. Chettiar founded a magazine for cinema and drama.

This pioneer publication, a weekly called Cinema Ulagam, priced at half anna, first came out in Coimbatore in the early 1930s. It carried articles on cinema, drama and music. Writers of repute, such as Vibulanada Adigal, Bharathidasan and Thiru. Vi. Ka, wrote for the magazine. Kannadasan’s first poem in print appeared in the magazine. Vallikannan had some of his early short stories published in this magazine. Sathyamurthy, who had always respected cinema and, as a member of the Senate of the University of Madras, pleaded that cinema be included as a subject in the university, like literature, wrote for the magazine.

The reviews of films, written by Chettiar himself, were perceptive. Writing about the film Garuda Karva Bangam (1936), he points out the persisting influence of Calcutta and Bombay studios, where early Tamil talkies were produced and says that such an influence is incongruous in a Tamil movie. In the late 1930s, when some Westerners were directing Tamil films, Chettiar carried an article criticising this. He argued that when a person does not know the language, he is unlikely to make good films. He also pointed out that they were arrogant and rude to artistes. What strikes you when you go through the back numbers is that Chettiar’s emphasis was on cinema and drama and not on the actors. It is tempting to imagine that if this trend had continued, Tamil cinema would probably have evolved very differently.

Born in Nannilam, Pakkirisami Chettiar (1905-1967) started his career as a Tamil teacher, soon morphed into a journalist and, in that capacity, came into the world of cinema as the editor of the new magazine. He soon began to participate in cinema directly, first as a scriptwriter (Raja Desingu, 1936) and then as a director; unfortunately we do not have any of the films he worked on, but his writings show that he was familiar with the properties of the new medium. He was the co-director of the film Thirumazhisai Azhvar in which he introduced Dandapani Desigar in the lead role. Much later, Chettiar was instrumental in introducing another legend of Tamil cinema, Seerkhazhi Govindarajan. It was Chettiar who convinced K.M. Adimoolam to pursue a career in art. He stayed with Chettiar, completed his art education and became an internationally known artist.

When Cinema Ulagam was shifted from Coimbatore to Chennai, its office in General Patter’s Road became a meeting place for the literati of the city. The magazine, old issues of which are rare to come by but are in some private collections, is now a precious source of information for film historians and social historians.

The magazine lasted till 1947. As most of the films of this period have been lost, we have to rely on print material to get any idea of the cinema of this period. Cinema Ulagam serves as a precious source material; it serves as a window not just for cinema but for the cultural and intellectual scene of the Tamil Nadu of the 1930s and 1940s.

Note: Copies of P. S. Chettiar’s magazine Cinema Ulagam and the song books of the films he directed are preserved in the Roja Muthiah Research Library, Taramani. The magazines have been microfilmed and the articles in them indexed.

The forgotten Pandit of Mylapore

Mylapore has produced several renowned personalities. One of them was the versatile Pandit P.S. Chettiar. His contributions have been in the fields of Tamil literature, the freedom movement, Tamil cinema, and publishing. He was also a philanthropist who nurtured people like Seerkali Govindarajan, the renowned vocalist, Vallikannan, well-known for his contribution to Tamil literature, and artist Adhimoolam, whose art, particularly his line drawings, are still much appreciated.

Later to be popularly called P.S. Chettiar, he was at birth named Pakkiri Samy by his parents Pavadai Chettiar and Kamalathammal. He had his primary education in Nannilam. During his childhood itself, he showed an interest in Tamil literary works. He attained the status of Tamil Pandit and started his career as a Tamil teacher. As a teacher, he wrote two books, Sirvrar Virundthu and Senthamil Selvi. His literary works include Benjamin Franklin, Indiapperiyar, Arivulaga Veerar, Arigner R.K.S., Thiyaga Vullam, and Thiruvarul. His book on Annaivasagam was prescribed as a non-detail textbook for school education.

Apart from his literary works, he was editor of Tamil Arasu, a Tamil daily. Slowly he moved from teaching to the freedom movement and became involved in the editing of Tamil dailies and monthlies aimed at stirring the pubic to join the movement. They included Tozhilulan and Amirdha Guna Bodhini. His books on Ayalavar Kanda India and Kappiyakkatchigal were well received. He vigorously wrote in Swarajya, a Tamil daily run by Andhra Kesari Prakasam. He also spoke from the stage and introduced street plays in villages to get the people to join the freedom movement.

After independence, he entered politics with the aim of making the State a welfare state. Twice he was elected to the Madras Corporation from the Mylapore constituency. His contributions to Mylapore include a private school in Veeraperumal Koil Street which has been converted into a Corporation school; the opening of a new office building for the Mylapore Division of the Corporation near Sanskrit College on Royapettah High Road; the erection of a Thiruvalluvar statue; and the establishing of a public library on Mount Road.

His contributions to Tamil cinema should also be remembered. For the Tamil film Raja Desingh, he wrote the screenplay and dialogue. T.S. Rajarathinam Pillai was introduced by P.S. Chettiar as hero in Kalamegam, directed by Ellis R Dungan; P.S. Chettiar wrote the screenplay and dialogue for this film. Thirumazhilisai Alwar was directed by P.S. Chettiar. Cinema Ulagam, a monthly magazine about Tamil cinema, the first of its kind, was founded by P.S. Chettiar.

Truly were his contributions to society considerable. Tara Cherian, the first woman Mayor of Madras, called him “a man with a mission”.

Dr. KR. Thooyavan

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 Rockets, Saidapet Farm
& the Jews of Madras
(LITERATURE ON MADRAS (an annotated bibliography from the Web)
compiled by Dr. A. Raman)

Warfare history

Van Riper, B.A. (2007) Rockets and missiles – the life story of a technology. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, USA.

The military value of Indian rockets became apparent when Haider Ali and Tippu led their troops into battle against the British army in the 1780s and 1790s. Haider Ali’s victory at the Battle of Pollilur (1780) (on the outskirts of Kanchipuram) during the Second Mysore War was due in part to rockets setting a British ammunition wagon afire. Tippu, who ascended to the throne when his father was killed in 1782, made effective use of rockets again in his attack on Travancore, which started the Third Mysore War in 1790. The final act of the Fourth Mysore War was played out in 1799 when British troops cornered Tippu in Seringapatam. A British force under Colonel Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) approached the city, but turned and fled when the Mysoreans unleashed a rocket barrage and a hail of musket fire. Ultimately, however, the British regrouped and brought their artillery to bear on the city walls. An early, lucky shot touched off a storeroom filled with rockets, and the resulting explosion opened a breach in the wall that later shots expanded. The British charged, and Tippu died, ironically, fighting to hold a gap in his walls accidentally made by his own secret weapon. Tippu’s secret weapon did not remain secret for long. Word of his success with rockets reached Europe while the Mysore Wars were still going on, spurring research on military rockets in England, France, Ireland, and elsewhere. After the capture of Seringapatam and the death of Tippu, the British shipped hundreds of rockets home to the Royal Arsenal as spoils of war. The point of the shipment was less to equip British troops with Indian rockets than to ‘reverse engineer’ them: take them apart, study how they were made, and learn how to build rockets that were as good or better.

Science history

Shukla S. (1957) Sociology of agricultural, veterinary and forestry education in colonial India – from educational development in British India (1854-1904). Ph.D. Thesis, University of Delhi, Delhi, India.


Includes several interesting remarks and useful comments on the founding of the Madras Agricultural School at Saidapet: “To promote the cultivation of cotton, services of American planters were utilised by the Bombay Government in 1839. In 1842, the Madras Government attempted to introduce cotton as a staple crop in its 350-acre property at Saidapet, Madras. But with these exceptions direct agricultural activity of the state was negligible. This laissez-faire in the field of agriculture ruled not only throughout the period of the Company but, with the exception of Madras, till much later. It stands out in some contrast to the policy at home where the Rothamstead Research Station had been started in 1845. However, there was governmental activity in agriculture in some of the provinces, notably in Madras. The object of giving special courses to schoolmasters was to enable them to teach agriculture and to prepare lads especially for the college so as to shorten the college course to two years by eliminating more elementary work. This special course was, however, a purely optional subject and consisted of a few lectures and partial training in practical agriculture to students of the Madras Government Normal School also located at Saidapet.”

Wallach B. (1996) Losing Asia, modernisation and the culture of development, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, USA.

Chapter 5, ‘Agricultural development in British India’ refers to the following:

1. An experiment station had been set up at Saidapet, a neighbourhood now swallowed up by the growth of metropolitan Madras. The station, according to the recollection of someone who worked there, imported “a steam plough, a variety of smaller ploughs, harrows, cultivators, seed-drills, horse-hoes, threshing machines, winnowers ... (and) chaff-cutters.” But there had been no study of local agriculture, no attempt to find out what local farmers knew or wanted – or what innovations might be profitable. England’s best was simply brought out and put out, to rust unused. The Saidapet station was abandoned as a failure, reinforcing the old idea that Indian agriculture is mired in conservatism.

2. Howard had come to India in 1905 after working in Barbados on arrowroot and in Kent on hops. And here is where the Howards got into trouble. India’s chemical-fertiliser industry had consisted in Howard’s time of one company in Madras that made fertiliser for tea and coffee planters. How much has changed since then!

3. Some of the earliest results of this new interest in agriculture came from the provincial stations. They included the extremely important crossbreeding of thin native sugarcanes (such as those near the Tagore house at Silaidaha) with the thick or ‘noble’ canes first introduced to India from Mauritius in 1827. This work was done between 1912 and 1919 under the direction of a South African, Charles Barber, and it was done in Coimbatore in southern Madras because only in the south was the climate warm enough for the thick cane to set seed.

General history

University of Cambridge, Centre of South Asian Studies (no date) Handlist of papers – ‘J’. http://www.s-asian. uk/Handlist_J.htm.

Jameson papers refer to notes of A. St. Clair Jameson’s dinner with Sir Thomas Munro, then Governor of Madras. Jayarajan papers (Paul M. Jayarajan, early ICS to be posted in India and son of Dr. S.C. Paul, first FRCS from Ceylon) refer to his appointment as under-secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Madras. Jodrell papers (Paul Jodrell, physician to the Nawab of Arcot in the 19th Century) refer to his letters to C.W. Gericke who was in charge of the female asylum, Madras (1795-1798).

Social history

Arbell M (2000) The Portuguese Jewish community of Madras, India, in the seventeenth century. http://www.

From 1655 Jews had lived in Port Royal, Jamaica; there was also a Jewish community on the island of Nevis, called Nieves in Spanish. There were two Jewish communities in Barbados – Bridgetown and Speighstown. Another one was in Madras, though not much is known about that community. We are better informed about Jews in other places in India. Jews from Leghorn and the Caribbean exported coral to India together with precious textiles and European ornaments. From India the Jews exported diamonds, precious or semi-precious stones, such as rubies, emeralds, opals, topazes, and pearls. One of the first Jews who came to Madras with special permission to reside and trade there was Jacques (Jaime) de Paiva (Pavia), originally from Amsterdam. Through his good relations with the rulers, he acquired mines in the kingdom of Golconda. At the same time he managed to convince the English authorities to permit Jews to settle in Madras, and he was the one who organised the Jews into the semblance of a community. On a plot of land in the suburbs he established a Jewish cemetery. During one of his trips to the mines he owned, he fell ill and died in Madras and was buried in its Jewish cemetery. On his tombstone we find that he died in the month of Tishri 5548-1687. Incidentally, his wife, also a Portuguese Jewess, fell in love with the English governor of Madras, Elihu Yale, and went to live with him, causing quite a scandal within Madras’ colonial society. Governor Yale later achieved fame when he gave a donation to the Collegiate School of Connecticut, which was then named after him – Yale University. Hieromima de Paiva and her son died in South Africa on their way to England.

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In this issue

The road ahead...
Twists and turns...
During Madras Week...
A blogger's view...
Historic Residences...
Other stories

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan


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