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(ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII NO. 19, January 16-31, 2013
An early scam in Madras
By Bharath Yeshwanth

Each passing day, new scams are exposed in one or another corner of India with who-is-who in and out of the Government getting caught in the net. Here, however, I would like to recall a scam of another age. It led to feathers being ruffled as far away as in the House of Commons, London, during the first quarter of the 19th Century. It also led to the passing of 'An Act for the Relief of the Sufferers by the Insolvency of Gilbert Ricketts Esquire, formerly Registrar of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Madras'.

This bill was discussed based on the report that was submitted to a Select Committee of the House of Commons that was appointed to inquire into the claims of Myles O'Relly, Robert Sinclair and others. It appears that Gilbert Ricketts was appointed Registrar of the Recorder's Court in Madras near the end of 18th Century and, later, as the Registrar of the Supreme Court in 1801. In this capacity, he was empowered to administer and control the estates and properties of British subjects in the Madras Presidency who died without leaving a will.

Gilbert Ricketts died in 1817 in Madras very shortly after the Supreme Court brought in regulations to take into safe custody the estates and properties of deceased British subjects that would come under the control of the Registrar of the Supreme Court in his official capacity. One of the directives was for the Registrar to exhibit receipts of all such intestate estates every half year along with their publication in the State Gazette and provide their copies to the Chief Secretary to be sent to the East India Company Directors in London. Before his death, Gilbert is said to have received 700,000 Pounds Sterling worth of such estates of which 40,000 Pounds Sterling were outstanding and actually due to the rightful inheritors. This became the subject of scrutiny when the lawful kin of Lt.Col. Edward O'Reilly and R. Sinclair, who died intestate, brought forward claims for compensation for such controlled estates and properties. It was found that the schedules of estates/properties of the intestates mentioned above, as well as many others, were deliberately omitted in exhibits presented by Ricketts.

As Ricketts died insolvent,it was left to the House of Commons to favourably consider the compensation to the affected persons out of public funds, as no regulation of the Supreme Court existed that provided a security/deposit for his rightful conduct out of which the losses could be compensated. Also, neither the Government of Madras nor the English East India Company could be held responsible for this act of fraud committed by one of its officers over whom no control was exercised.

Hence was born the need for passing an Act to compensate in a speedy manner the losses suffered by persons affected as a result of Gilbert's malpractices. The territorial revenues of the East India Company were to be used to pay for the claims as no other funds were found that could be used.

However, the Bill never saw the light of the day and was withdrawn on the second reading. The fate of the claimants remains unclear.

The person in question, Gilbert Ricketts, was the first private owner of the property that was to later become the nucleus of today's Raj Bhavan in Chennai. It is interesting to note that Ricketts too died intestate and his property came under the control of the Registrar of the Supreme Court. Ricketts had heavily mortgaged the property to a bank and one Mr. Griffiths. A legal wrangle ensued and the bank emerged victorious. It would later sell the property to the Government for 10,000 pagodas.

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In this Issue

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Senior citizens develop an arboretum
Discovering Trichy's Madras connections
Desecrating a memorial to courage
The man behind City's National Art Gallery
The tales of 3 newsmakers
An early scam in Madras

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