Colonial third lighthouse, Madras High Court building, Chennai

inactive light houuse,Hight court, chennai,

When I was a 9-year old kid, my dad used to take me to Madras city (now Chennai), the capital of Madras state (now Tamil Nadu)  to attend wedding functions, etc. The summer vacations gave me a swell time to go around the city, then a pretty clean and less populous place and one could see mostly American and British cars in the early 1950s. In those days, owning a passenger car was more of a status symbol among the affluent than a necessity. Being a
native of a small town, three things gave me fascination and excitement that had a  firm grip on me. They were: The electric trams (street cars; service stopped later), the light House on the Madras Hight court premises and a  large variety of assorted foreign cars of various designs, sizes and hues. Among them, going up the tallest structure in Madras - old Lighthouse - the  third one  was the most thrilling experience for me. From the top of the lighthouse, one could see the entire city -  a vista of countless buildings, busy streets full of cars. cycle rickshaws, buses, temples, churches, etc., as far as the eyes could gaze the horizon - they all looked in Lilliputian size 

When the High Court was built, in 1894  its impressive tallest ornate dome 175 feet above the sea level, became Madras’ third lighthouse. Because electricity was a far cry, kerosene-fueled lamps were used and the light that flashed had an intensity of 18,000 burning candles. In fact, the German warship S.S.“Emden” commanded by none other than chivalrous gentleman captain Von Muller bombarded Madras harbor in September 1914 during the WWI its target was not the High Court building, but the lighthouse that stood next to it. But a small part of the High Court building got the hit, but not the lighthouse.

2nd lighthouse Court

In the early 19th century The East India company became well established and had well fortified  Fort St. George for their growing commercial activities. As the mercantile business progressed with the arrival and departure of more ships, they built the first lighthouse in 1796 and restructured it later in 1820 by increasing the height (99 feet). The second lighthouse - a Doric column 135 foot tall  was built in 1941 outside the fort area to guide the ships.  Captain  in 1838 found a suitable land  on the esplanade between Parry's and north end of the fort.   The then Governor signed the order on  24 July 1838. That’s where it stands today. The 135-foot tall fluted granite-stone-covered tower  with a lantern room was commissioned on January 1, 1844.

As the ship traffic had increased over a period of time, considering the intensity of the Monsoon, the government wanted to have a new

Madras high Court bldg. and3rd

taller lighthouse built away from  Ft. St. George.  In that vast area of land, the foundation was laid for a new High Court building.

 Madras High court lighthouse, venkatarangan,

Madras High court lighthouse, spiral stairway.

The Madras High Court  created in 1862 after the proclamation by Queen Victoria. Earlier it was housed in  the old Collector's office on Rajaji Salai.  A new High Court building an impressive 3 - story structure  was   constructed at a cost of  Rs.12 lakh and inaugurated on 12 July 1892 Construction began 1n 1888).  A classic example of Indo-Saracenic architecture, it was designed by architect  J.W. Brassington  and famous architect   Henry Irwin

At the top of the main decorative dome of the High Court building, 175 feet high new Madras lighthouse (third lighthouse) with spacious lantern room was  added in 1894  with better apparatus. When electricity came to Madras. it was used to run the powerful revolving light (Argon lamps) whose powerful beam could reach longer distance into the sea. In those times, it was  the tallest structure in Madras. 

Since 1970, the public has not been allowed to climb this lighthouse.  Since 1894, it had functioned and seen WWI and WWII, guiding safely the warships belonging to England and its allies.  A superior modern , but poorly designed new lighthouse has been functioning near the Gandhi statue on the Marina. The new lighthouse, city's sentinel lacks the old charm  and beauty; nor does it look appealing and pleasing to the eyes.

Presently the two old colonial lighthouses on the High Court complex are out of service. Until recently both these lighthouses and part of the old court building were in a state of neglect with the growth of weeds, wild plants, etc. The beautiful spiral stairway inside the lighthouse, taking the visitors to the top balcony was in bad shape, dusty and filled with bird's droppings. Wooden planks and iron railings at upper levels were damaged, but not beyond redemption. Glad to hear, the government is taking serious steps to restore these heritage structures back to their old grandeur.