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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 15, november 16-30, 2009
The Madras of 1878-79 that Andrew Carnegie saw

Reader Muthiah Ramanathan has sent us these references by “that famous billionaire, Andrew Carnegie, on his Madras visit during his round the world trip in 1878-79.” These notes were written in January 1879 and appeared in his book titled Notes of a Trip Round the World.

Ramanathan adds: Some of his notes are available at ceylon.html

The complete book is available at and books?id=f83Aan6zw WYC (limited preview).

In these pages, Ramanathan says he also found the following sentence: “These two baby orang-outangs I told you of are going to a naturalist in Madras.” Now, who could this naturalist have been? he wonders.

* * *

Saturday, January 25

At ten to-night we sailed for Madras and Calcutta by the English mail steamer Hindostan, and were lighted out of the intricate harbor by flaming torches displayed by lines of natives stationed at the buoys. The last sight of Ceylon’s isle revealed the fine spires of the Catholic Cathedral, which tower above the pretty harbor of Galle.

Tuesday, January 28

We arose to find ourselves at anchor in the open sea opposite Madras. There is not a harbor upon the whole coast of Hindostan. Government is engaged in constructing one here, but it is slow work, as the immense blocks of concrete used can be handled and laid only in smooth seas, which seldom exist here. Sometimes the mail steamers find it impossible to land passengers or cargo, and are compelled to carry both to Calcutta. The surf often sweeps over the top of the iron pier, which is certainly twenty feet high. Passengers are taken ashore in native boats twenty feet long and five feet deep. Across the boat, on small round poles, sit ten rowers, five on each side; another man steers, and in the bow stand two boys prepared to bail out the waters which sweep in as we plunge through the surf. Fortunately the sea was unusually calm, and we had no difficulty in reaching dry land. When the surf is too strong for even these boats to encounter it, natives communicate with ships by tying three small logs together, upon which they manage to sit and paddle about, carrying letters in bags fastened upon their heads. As the solid logs can’t sink, they are safe as long as they can cling to them, and as for an upset, they think nothing of that whatever. We saw many of these curious contrivances, but one must have a good deal of the amphibious in his nature, or full faith that he wasn’t born to be drowned, in order to trust himself upon them through the Madras surf.

India at last! How strange every thing looks! Brahmins, Cullrees, and Banians, devotees of the three different gods, with foreheads marked to denote their status – our first glimpse of caste, of which these are the three main divisions – to one of which all persons must belong, or be of the lowest order, the residuum, who are coolies. There are many subdivisions of these, and indeed every trade or calling constitutes a different order, the members of which do not intermarry or associate or even eat with one another. Generations pursuing the same calling, and only marrying within themselves, acquire a peculiar appearance, and this effectually creates a caste. Carpenters, masons, merchants, each are distinct, and the occupation of a man can readily be known by his dress or manner.

Our friend in Madras gave us a rare treat by driving us out to see the celebrated Madras tigers, for nowhere else in the world are such tigers kept as here, and indeed I go so far as to declare that until one has seen these grand animals he has no adequate idea of what a tiger is. All that I have seen hitherto, and I do not forget the “Zoo,” in London, are but tame mockeries of the genuine monster. I walked up to a large cage, but was startled by such a fright – a tiger was in an instant flat against the cage, with only a few small iron rods between me and it, which rattled like reeds as he struck them. I thought the whole cage was in pieces and that beast upon me. Such glaring eyes, burning like immense topazes in his head; and then when he found himself unable to get at his prey, such a yell! but I was many feet from him ere this came, I assure you. He had sprung from the back of his cage against the bars, a distance of at least 15 or 18 feet, the moment he saw me, and no doubt hurt himself as he dashed against them. The keeper told us this one had only been caught a few months ago. His stripes were glossy black, and his coat not that sickly tawny colour we are so familiar with, but a light fiery brown. Compared with the tiger it is impossible but that even the noblest lion must seem tame and inert. We took no interest in them, although there were some fine specimens.

In the evening we enjoyed hearing the Governor’s band performing on the beach and seeing Madras society congregated there, and for the first time since we left America saw full sized horses again. Several were riding animals that would pass muster in the Park. Thus far we have found only little ponies in use.

To-day our Sunday-school recollections were again aroused by a sight of the terrible car of Juggernaut. It is really an immense affair, elaborately carved in bold relief, and on the top is a platform for the priests. I should say the car is 25 feet high and about 8 x 12 at the base; it has six wheels, four outside and two in the centre, the former nine feet in diameter and the latter six, and all at least two feet in width of tread, all solid wood clamped together with iron bands.

Such a mass drawn through the streets, by elephants and accompanied by excited devotees, its hundred bells jangling as it rolled along where there was not another vehicle of any kind with which to compare it, or a house more than one small story high, must have appeared to the ignorant natives something akin to the supernatural, and I can now well understand how wretches working themselves into a state of frenzy should have felt themselves impelled to dash under its wheels. It is still paraded upon certain festival days, invariably surrounded, however, by policemen, who keep the natives clear of the wheels, for even to-day, if they were not prevented, its victims would be as numerous as ever. Imagine, if you can, with what feelings we stood and gazed upon this car, which has crushed under its ponderous wheels religious enthusiasts by the thousand, and which still retains its fascination over men anxious to be allowed the glory of such self-immolation.

We left Madras on Wednesday morning, and had a fine smooth sail across the Bay of Bengal to Calcutta, the City of Palaces, and centre of the British power in India.

Editor’s Note: Could the tiger described have been one of those in cages in the People’s Park referred to alongside? And was the Juggernaut the one belonging to the Mylapore Temple?


In this issue

It’s not cricket!
Living with waterlogging
People’s Park...
The Madras of 1878-79...
Ajay Rau in Ocean Race...
Historic Residences...
Other stories

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