Click here for more...

(ARCHIVE) Vol. XX No. 12, October 1-15, 2010
The Anglo-Indians of Madras
(By Richard Connor, Harry MacLure and Beatrix D’Souza)

Conway House where St. George's School had another beginning, and its chapel which looks like something out of picture postcard England.

In May 1498, Vasco da Gama, commissioned by King Manuel I of Portugal, landed near Calicut with a fleet of four ships and 170 men. The Portuguese came to India to trade in spices and textiles but ended up marrying Indian women and getting embroiled in Indian politics. The Dutch, the French and the British followed suit.

With British domination of the Indian scene, the term Anglo-Indian came into use after 1911 to describe the community born as a result of inter-marriage between European men and Indian women. Viceroy Charles Hardinge was the first to officially recognise the term.

The Anglo-Indian community is the only community in India to be defined in the Indian Constitution. According to Article 366 (2), an Anglo-Indian is “a person whose father or any of whose other male progenitors in the male line is or was of European descent but who is domiciled within the territory of India and is or was born within such territory of parents habitually resident therein and not established there for temporary purposes only”. European descent in the male line excludes Indian Christians with European surnames from being considered Anglo-Indian.

* * *

The first European settlement in Madras was established in the early years of the 16th Century by the Portuguese and became known as San Thome. Soon, a substantial mixed race population, the Luso-Indians, emerged in the vicinity. After the founding of Fort St. George in 1639, Portuguese traders and Luso-Indians to serve as soldiers were invited to settle there by the British. And Anglo-Indian community in this area, therefore, pre-dates the founding of Madras by almost a hundred years.

Reports of the time suggest that as many as 3000 Portuguese (mainly Luso-Indians) had taken up residence in Madras and by 1675 vastly outnumbered the 300-odd English inhabitants. The British felt it was prudent to miscegenate and soon there were inter-racial unions between Englishmen and Luso-Indian women. In fact, in 1687, the East India Company declared that it would give one pagoda to every mother of a child of mixed heritage on the day it was christened.

Though there were initially more Portuguese surnames in Madras than British, the Anglo-Indian community in later years became remarkably ‘multinational’ on the paternal side. The following surnames are a sample:

Portuguese: D’Gama, Braganza, D’Cruz, D’Souza, D’Monte, D’Silva Alvarez, Rosario, Caubo, Fernandez, etc.

English: Smith, Brown, Murray, Cameron, Mitchell.

Irish: Murphy, Garrett, O Dath, Mahoney, O’Connor, O’Brien.

Dutch : Van Haltren, Van Hefton, Peterson.

Scottish: Maclure, Mcpherson, Fergueson, Mckay.

French: Desmier, Chatelier, La Rive, Laposte, Bonjour, Desjardins, Dique.

German: Schumacher, Frantz.

Spanish: Xavier, Castellas, Escader.

Italian: Nigli, Simento, Petrons, Reghilini.

The Armenians too later assimilated into the Anglo-Indian community (Anglo-Indian names like Peters, Philips, Lucas, Gregory, Gaulstaun, Joseph, Stephens, etc. were of Armenian origin). In many cases, Portuguese names were anglicised. For example, Henriques became Henricus, Rodrigues became Rodricks and Suares became Swaris.

* * *

Following the successful revolt of the mulattoes (the mixed European-Black community) in San Domingo (Haiti) in 1791, the British became cautious and began to exclude the Anglo-Indians from the colonial establishment. They also discouraged intermarriage, as a result of which the number of Anglo-Indian orphans grew. The Madras Male and Female Orphan Asylum (later to be known as St. George’s Anglo-Indian School, the oldest Western style school in India) was established to look after such orphans. The orphanages taught, besides the three Rs, the mechanical trades which helped the boys become apprentices to printers, mechanics or cabinet makers. Some of the students became junior clerks, sailors or musicians in regimental bands. The girls were taught needlework, home science, etc. Thus, by the middle of the 19th Century, Anglo-Indians came to be employed in various technical occupations in the Government. In Madras, many were employed in the Carnatic Corps of Artificers, which was attached to the Gun Carriage Manufactory. Others were employed in textile mills and engineering works.

After the Revolt of 1857, the British came to rely more upon Anglo-Indians than on others to serve in strategic (but intermediate) posts in the military and the police. The community became the bedrock of the Railways from 1854. The Locomotive and Carriage Workshops of the Madras Railway at Perambur became a training school for hundreds of Anglo-Indian boys. Anglo-Indian drivers took pride in bringing their trains in on time. The Station Superintendent of Madras Central and the Goods Agent of Salt Coutaurs were invariably Anglo-Indian.

Anglo-Indians were preferentially recruited into the Customs and Excise, Post and Telegraphs, Forestry Department, etc. In Madras, those who had worked in the Telegraphs or the Customs prior to Independence or even until 1960 were accustomed to working in offices where, in December, the Christmas Tree would be decorated, lit up and would hold a central position. The Telegraph Ball was a famous event.

In 1876, the All India Anglo-Indian and Eurasian Association was formed. However, an independent organisation for the South, called the Anglo-Indian Association for Southern India, was established under the leadership of D.S. White (White’s Hall in Egmore is named after him) in 1879. The first meeting was held in the Prayer Hall in New Town which was populated by Anglo-Indians and presented a picture of prosperity during the World War years. Nowadays, hardly any Anglo-Indian family lives there. The leather merchants have taken over New Town, which is now called Periamet. Not many know that David White was also instrumental (thanks to a generous grant from the Maharajah of Mysore) in setting up the Anglo-Indian village of Whitefield near Bangalore.

(To be concluded)

The birth of a community

Anglo-Indians who emigrated from India and are no longer resident in India are now considered people of Indian origin. That they consider themselves Anglo-Indians by birth, heritage and culture is another matter.

Anglo-Indians were earlier known as Country-Born, Indo-Briton, Eurasian, Domiciled European, and East Indians.

King Manoel of Portugal had given permission for his soldiers to marry ‘fair women of good family’. Alphonso de Alburqueque, the Portuguese commander, who established Portuguese power in India, encouraged his soldiers to marry daughters and widows of Mohammedans slain in battle. They have been described as ‘fair Mooresses of pleasing appearance’.

The idea of a mixed British-Indian community in Madras was first formulated in a Directive in 1684 from the East India Company to its officials in Madras.

“The soldiers’ wives shall come to their husbands, if they can find the means to satisfy or pay the owners for the passages and for such soldiers as are single men, prudently induce them to marry gentoos in imitation of ye Dutch politicks and raise from them a stock of Protestant Mestizes.”

The Dutch East India Company with settlements at Pulicat (1610) and Nagapattinam (1659) had created a mixed race of mestizes by intermingling with the Sinhalese and Tamils in Ceylon (Burghers), and natives of Sumatra, Java and Malaysia and later with the Portuguese in Malabar.

In 1687, three years after the first Directive, the Court of Directors wrote to the President of Madras:

That the marriage of our soldiers to the native women of Fort St. George is a matter of such consequence to posterity that we shall be content to encourage it with some expense and have been thinking for the future to appoint a pagoda to be paid to the mother of any child, who shall thereafter be born of such marriage, upon the day the child is christened if you think this small encouragement will increase the number of marriages.

In this issue

What is slowing down the the work of HCC?
An end to Adyar River
elevated road?
The Anglo-Indians of Madras
Speaking of the Big Temple...
Mount Road and me
Other Stories
Click to download the
Listed Heritage Buildings

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your diary


Back to current issue...