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(ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII No. 11, September 16-31, 2012
Luminaries of our High Court

Eardley Norton.

Nugent Grant.

P.V. Rajamannar.

How many of us Chennai residents know that the old lighthouse of Madras is in the present Madras High Court premises and, in fact, was in existence even before the High Court was constructed there? A column serving as a remnant of the lighthouse can still be seen there. Did you also know that during World War II, the Court moved to Holy Angels Convent in T'Nagar for three months in 1943?

These and other interesting facts were related by Suresh Balakrishnan, Advocate, Madras High Court, while speaking on 'Some Famed Judges and Lawyers of Madras' during Madras Week in Hotel Metropolitan Accord.

Among the noted Englishmen associated with the judiciary in Madras were the Nortons: Sir John David Norton (1787-1843), his son John Bruce Norton (1815-1883), and the most famous of the three, the grandson, Eardley Norton (1852-1931). The fourth Norton, George Norton (1791-1876), was in no way related to the others.

John David Norton was a judge of the Madras Supreme Court (as it was known before the formation of the Madras High Court) for a year (1841-1842). John Bruce Norton came to Madras in 1842 and was its Sheriff from 1843 to 1845. After the founding of the Madras High Court, he became its acting Advocate-General and, later, its Advocate-General. He was a patron of Pachaiyappa's College. His portrait can be seen in the Pachaiyappa's Hall, commemorating his services to the institution. He enjoyed writing poetry and wrote Memories of Merton College in verse.

Eardley John Norton was born in Madras and went to Rugby and then Oxford for his education. Among his fellow students, he was known for his ''trick of rhyme'' inherited from his father. This he used to good effect, particularly to help them to impress the girls on Valentine's Day. Balakrishnan narrated an anecdote about a boy of 18 wanting to impress a girl by the name Constance with whom he had danced 14 times but met only twice. All Eardley Norton was told about her was that her hands and feet (in shoes) were perfect, and that in her evening dress the blue of her veins formed a lovely V on her bosom. Armed with this information, Eardley wrote these lines:

'Say will thine eyes when next we meet be shining,
Thy bosom beat more wildly than of yore?
Say, if thy "Yes" will ease my soul's repining,
Thy "No" augment the grief I felt before,'

On and on Eardley Norton went, prodded by the impatient friend and impressed by the eloquence of the poetry. What was the effect of the poetry on Constance at the time nobody knows, but when Eardley Norton much later had a chance to broach this subject with her, Constance's response was, "Could any woman tolerate a boy who wrote such unmitigated rubbish? I don't know which was more repulsive – its substance or its form." Going through his school diary and recalling this incident in his later years would have brought laughter to Eardley Norton, added Balakrishnan.

Eardley Norton returned to Madras in 1879 when his father's health started failing and he could not take up more work. The son had to bear the burden of supporting the family. Not only did Eardley Norton become known as the "greatest European advocate in India" in his time, but he also got interested in Indian politics and was a delegate at the Indian National Congress sessions in different parts of the country. He was also instrumental in establishing the London chapter of the Congress.

Eardley's personal life was not without controversy. This was because of his affair with a married woman while he himself was married. Both the aggrieved parties, Eardley Norton's wife Kathleen, and Sullivan, with whose wife Norton was having the affair, filed for divorce. After the divorces went through, Eardley Norton married Marie Gerrard Bunbury Fellowes (Mrs. Sullivan) at St Andrew's Kirk, Egmore. They were happily married until Eardley Norton's death separated them. It is said that the Norton Street in Mandaveli was named after him.

The fourth Norton, George Norton, was one of the founding members of the Presidency College in 1840 and Pachaiyappa's College in 1842. Along with John Bruce Norton and a Lakshminarasu Chetty, George Norton campaigned against the introduction of The Bible as a textbook in Government schools, and the proposal was dropped.

Among the Indians who graced the then old Supreme Court of Madras was C.V. Ranganatha Sastri, the first Indian to become Judge of the Small Causes Court. He was known for his linguistic abilities. He was tested for his knowledge of Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Kannada, Hindi, Persian and English and came out trumps. Later, he learnt French and Latin. His skill as an interpreter was much sought after in court. At the time of his death, he had mastered 14 languages, including Arabic, Greek, German and Sanskrit and was a student of Hebrew.

T. Muthuswami Aiyar was the first Indian to be elevated to the position of Judgeship of the Madras High Court. When a statue of Muthuswami Aiyar in the Madras High Court was proposed in 1896 by his friends in Madras, Wade, the sculptor in London, began looking for a model wearing a dhoti the way Muthuswami Aiyar used to wear. He could only find a cigarette-maker in London who did so and it was in his likeness of wearing the dhoti that the statue was fashioned.

S. Subramania Aiyar succeeded T. Muthuswami Aiyar as the second Indian to be a Judge of the Madras High Court but he could be considered the first Indian Vakil to become a High Court Judge because Muthuswami Aiyar was not a Vakil and came from the provincial service. Subramania Aiyar's legal acumen came to the fore when, as Special Prosecutor in the case against the Mahant of Tirupati, his side emerged victorious against Eardley Norton who appeared for the defence. Subramania Aiyar was a founding father of P.S. High School in Mylapore, which opened in January 1905. After his retirement, he was associated with the Theosophical Society.

V. Bashyam Aiyangar was a lawyer's lawyer, and loved law for its own sake. Once, when he was being administered the tarpana, or Hindu rituals for a person's ancestors, Bashyam was so lost in thought on matters legal that the priest not only had to decorate his forehead with the appropriate caste mark but almost performed most of the ritual on his behalf. Moreover, the poor priest had to tackle Bashyam's impatience when the judge yelled, "Is the damn thing over or not?" He was known to be strict about his food requirements and, once, when he went to Kakinada, his hosts, after ascertaining through an interpreter the type of edible greens that he preferred, got them for him after sending a man on horse to a farm 20 miles away.

Balakrishnan also recalled 'The Chinglepet Salaam Case'. When Justice GHB Jackson was riding on his cycle, a schoolboy of seven greeted him by shouting out ''Salaam''. Thinking that the boy had said something offensive, Jackson took the boy to court. Later, he dropped the case, but The Hindu took up cudgels against the Judge's conduct. From then on, Jackson came to be known as 'Salaam Jackson', and the name stuck even after he became a High Court Judge.

Among others mentioned by Balakrishnan were the 'Mylapore Twins', V. Krishna-swami Aiyar and P.R. Sundara Aiyar; T.M. Krishnaswami Ayiar who was given the title 'Thiruppugazh Mani' by the Kanchi Acharya in 1928 in recognition of his devotion to Lord Muruga; Nugent Grant of the Grant Family who appeared in a bail application case for M.K.T. Bhagavathar in the Lakshmikanthan murder case; C. Sankaran Nair, the first permanent Indian Advocate-General of Madras; P.S. Sivaswami Aiyar after whom the school in Chennai is named; V.C. Gopalratnam who did a pioneering record of the judges and lawyers of the Madras High Court to mark the Court's centenary; A.S. Panchapakesa Aiyar, who sat in judgement of the Alavandar murder case and was author of books such as The Layman's Bhagavad Gita; and P.V. Rajamannar, the first permanent Indian Chief Justice of the Madras High Court.

A book, Famous Judges and Lawyers of Madras, by Suresh Balakrishnan was recently released. All pictures have been taken from this book.

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In this Issue

Lurching from crisis to crisis
If Anna Arches, why not other heritage buildings?
China can help us connect
Luminaries of our High Court
Looking back on Madras Week
Tracing the City's Old Wall
New facts learnt...
Zooming in on a changing Chennai
The Murugappa Madras Quotient Quiz 2012

Our Regulars

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


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