Vanchinathan who shot dead in 1911 Thrunelveli (TN) Collector Robert William Ashe

During the tumultuous period of freedom struggle to free India from the oppressive British rule,  daring patriots in thousands across the subcontinent  lost their lives and became unsung heroes. They were either hanged to death or  were felled down before  a spray of bullets. In many cases, the court judgment was not fair and biased in favor of the British.  A small section of freedom fighters believed the only way to get  freedom  for the mother land was to use violence against the rulers.  Such instances of  violence made only a dent on  the tenacity of the British rulers and, on the contrary, it had rather firmed up their grip on India and they never loosened their hold. However,  in some cases the morale of the British rulers was a bit shaken up, as they were caught unawares by incidences of violent rebellion, etc.  

In the southern part of India the indomitable spirit and commitment to free India from the British yoke were very much on the mind of  a group of Indian patriots  who were ready to go to any length to achieve Swarajya. They were as much patriotic as their counterparts elsewhere in India. One Vanchinathan (alias R. Vanchi Iyer) of South Tamil Nadu, driven by spirit of patriotism and love for the country, did something unexpected which other persons would hesitate  to do it. Vanchi  became a martyr  and made a mark as one of a few  daring freedom  fighters of India who scarified their precious lives at a very young age of early 20s.

On June 17, 1911, Vanchi assassinated the district collector of Tirunelveli, Robert William d'Escourt Ashe, an Irish man. This incident took place at the Maniyachi Railway  junction where the train had stopped, en route to Madras.  Later he committed suicide  on the station premises. The railway station has since been renamed Vanchi Maniyachi Railway Junction.

Vanchinathan (actual name  Shankaran/Vanchi Iyer)), born in 1886 in Shenkottai, Tirunelveli district to Raghupathy Iyer and Rukmani Ammal. He did his schooling in his birth place  and got an M.A. from  Moolam Thirunal  Maharaja  College in Thiruvananthapuram,  now the capital of Kerala state. His wife was  Ponnammal and Vanchi  got  a comfortable job with the Government and could have led a comfortable life, drawing decent pension after retirement; lt was not to be that way.

Vanchi-Maniachi location map.

During the British rule, with many exceptions, most of the officials were merciless and practiced subtle discrimination against the natives. Across India, the people despised the British who were totally focused on their interests and sale of  their products in India, openly discouraging  the indigenous products. Consequently Indian cottage industries and


textile  industries declinedcausing widespread  unemployment. Several reasons forced Vanchi to kill Collector Ashe. In 1906, V. O. Chidambaram, a famous lawyer, freedom fighter, labor expert and follower of Tilak launched the  Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company, India's first shipping enterprise. The company ran  two steamships between  Tuticorin and Colombo to challenge the British monopoly in shipping. The agents A & F Harvey that ran the shipping company owned  Coral mills in Tuticorin and was  paying poor wages to the workers. V.O.C, being a labor  advisor, set things right for the workers, who were on a war path against the company, despite Collector  Ashe's  support   for the  British Mills' management. Thus VOC became a hero and had large followers. In the meantime, he incurred the displeasure of the British government. He conducted public meeting to celebrate the release of Bipin Chandra Pal, a great Bengali freedom fighter, against government prohibitory orders and this, further, angered the British. Later Collector Ashe  saw to it his  first Indian shipping company became bankrupt by following unethical practices. VOC and his friend  Subramania Shiva, in violation of governments  orders not to enter the  Tirunelveli district, held public meetings in Tirunelveli town and  were charged with sedition and  given rigorous imprisonment,  causing unprecedented protest in Tirunelveli district. In yet  another incident, according to one  writer Ilasai  Manian, Collector Ashe  put restrictions on bathing at the famous Courtallam water Falls during certain hours when the whites were taking bath. Being young and a follower  of  VOC and other important freedom fighters,  Vanchi was infuriated the way British treated natives shabbily  and their blatant racial discrimination.
On the day of his assassination, Collector Ashe was traveling with his  wife Mary Lillian Patterson whom he married on April 6, 1898 in Berhampore.  His wife had arrived a few days earlier  from Ireland and the couple were going to Kodikanal, a well-known summer  resort, to spend their holidays with their  four children Molly, Arthur, Sheila, and Herbert. So, they traveled first class by Maniachi Mail  (arrival time was 10.38 am) and at this station they had to catch the Madras bound Ceylon Boat  Mail (arrival time 10.58 am) and got off at Kodai road to go to the hill station. At Maniachi Jn  Ashe and his wife were waiting in the first class carriage for the arrival of Ceylon Boat Mail. 

An unassuming, well-dressed man, Vanchi along with a dhoti-clad man with a tuft, walked towards the first class compartment; Vanchi got into it while the later was standing on the platform. The well-dressed man pulled out a Belgian made  automatic pistol and shot at Ashe  point blank. The bullet hit Ashe in the chest and he collapsed. A sensational assassination was  committed on the soils of Tamil Nadu (then Madras Presidency) on a prominent British Officer. He was the first and last British official to be killed in South India during the course of freedom struggle. This assassination was  carried out not only to tell the world to what degree Indian people were frustrated against the British misrule and to arouse the conscience of the world. Seconds later, to avoid being caught, Vanchinathan went inside a toilet and shot himself to death. 

Patriot Veera Vanchinathan.

Patriot Chidambaram,


 01. In January, 2015, the 104th death anniversary of veteran freedom fighter R Vanchinathan was observed at his birthplace Sengottai in Tirunelveli district and at Vanchi Maniyachchi Junction railway station in Tuticorin district, where he shot a British official dead before killing himself.

 02. Vanchi was trained to handle hand guns  by V.V.S Iyer, who believed in violence to deal with the British and and he was in exile in Pondicherry, a French territory.

 03. Through inquiry by the British government concluded the murder  was politically motivated and the assassin did it to revenge the collector for his oppressive handling of Coral Mills' workers, when they were on strike, purposely  pushing the Indian shipping Company  founded by VOC  to bankruptcy and  practicing racial discrimination. 

04. There are no memorials to Vanch other than the one in Senkottai, either in other parts of Tamil Nadu or other states.  Maniachi railway junction, where the assassination took place, was renamed Vanchi Maniachi Junction long ago by the Central government.

05. This assassination was yet another pointer to the Indian people's fury over the Coronation Darbar of King George V at Delhi planned during the same period.