George Town (Black and white towns together) of Chennai and King George V statues.

Black Town, Madras,

 Above image:   Madras (Chennai): Black Town, Madras: Settlements around Ft. St. George.  The fort area was mainly referred to as the White town............................................... 

 Among the European colonists, the British  finally became the final settlers of Madras, then a cluster of  uninhabited  coastal fishing lands.  Francis Day and his superior Andrew Cogan,  were the real founders of what is now called  Chennai  to open the English trading post.  

During the  early colonial rule under the East India company Madras (then Chennapatnam)  became part of British settlement  with a fortified part to safeguard  their trading activities and their storage facilities.   Then there existed two parts in Madras  - Black Town and White Town. 

 In the White Town   mostly Europeans - British, Dutch and Portuguese and later Armenian lived.   Yet another reason is as per the treaty signed with the Nayak (chieftains), the British and other Christian Europeans were not allowed to decorate the outside of their buildings in any other color but white.  As a result, over time, the area came to be known as 'White Town'.

On the other hand in  Black Town Indian natives  or people of Asian origin - mostly having link with the English company and Europeans lived there. These included skilled laborers like masons, painters, washer men,  carpenters and others and they had no rights to buy any property in the White settlement for residence purpose.

The establishment of the Company's factory at Madras in 1639 gave a boost to the local economy.  To  seek job opportunities  weavers  merchants and others moved over to Madras  and settled along the coast. In the later years waves after waves of people from different parts of south India  moved in. Then came up  St George Fort and houses for their residence on 23 April 1640. Historically, Ft St. George (or White Town) is the first English (later British) fort  in India, founded in 1639. Ft. William at Calcutta (Kolkata) came up later in 1772 after the capital was shifted from Murshidabad, Bengal.

Bust of  King George V

King George V statue

By  1646, the  British  settlement had reached 19,000 people with the Portuguese and Dutch populations at the fort substantially more. This area became the Fort St. George settlementThe  expansion of  fort provided the needed boost  for the growth and development of settlements and trading activity in the near-by areas of Madras.

The history of  George Town goes back to  the early years of Fort St George. Earlier, it was called ‘Black Town’, as it was essentially a settlement of dyers and weavers, and called also Chennapattanam by the native settlers.   North of  Fort St George, in what became known as 'Black Town,' as opposed to the 'White Town' in the fort.

The British cleverly created  the Black town as a separate entity with the  establishment of  City governments and commercial shops catering to the  people living in the  hinterland  consisting mostly of dark- complexioned farmers.  The creation of black and white town had political and   economic overtones. Thus sprang up racial superiority and  subtle discrimination based on skin color.

The same division of Black and White town concept was followed in Calcutta where the English company had established a large trading post. Later  they had built Ft. William with better fortification for their mercantile trading activities.  Throughout the late 18th and 19th century Calcutta was divided into White town and Black town.  The East India company was given permission  by the British crown to have their own army for defense purposes.  Chowringhee and Lord Dalhousie square were part of White town with government offices. North Calcutta formed the black town.  Calcutta became the capital in 1772 under Warren Hastings. 

The French, a major competitor  occupied Madras for a brief period  and the British got it back in 1749 as part of a deal with them. This time the English company wanted to improve their defensive features of the fort. So, they    flattened a portion of the Black town and converted into an esplanade covering  Muthupet and  Peddanaikenpet villages in the late 1700s. This was done  as a security precaution with a view to  having  a clear line of fire to deal with the future invaders or enemy attacks.   They erected 13 pillars in 1773 along the flattened area (now, only one is left). New black town (now George town came up beyond the 13 pillars and the old black town was in the place where now stands High Court complex. The stretch between the pillars and high court is now NSC Bose Road. Old black town - first Indian town was north of Ft. St. George.   

 King George V was the  only King Emperor who visited India as a reigning monarch.  As a matter of fact he visited India twice in 1905 as Prince of Wales and again in 1911 for the Grand Coronation Durbar

 In 1911 the black town was renamed George Town in honor of king George V who was crowned as the Emperor  of India.  Later the old black town and the new black town  were clubbed together and called George Town.  Sowcarpet,  Parry's corner,  Pookadai, Broadway,  Muthyalpet, etc are part of the town. 

In 1910 Prince of Wales  became George V, the king of England and on 12 December 1911  the coronation of George V and  Queen Mary  took place in Delhi and they were declared Emperor and Empress of India. This  grand function called Delhi Durbar   - supposedly the largest show on earth. Indian nationalists and freedom fighters could not contain their fury and anger over this imperial extravaganza when millions of Indian natives were leading a painful lives for various reasons. The rich Indian Maharajahs and  Nawabs  were to bow before the royal couple sitting on a raised dais under a huge  shamina  right in the presence of millions of people and British officers. The king collected a vast collection of expensive jewelry from the Indian rulers, an expression of allegiance with the crown. On the sideline King George and his party went on a hunting binge in the jungles of Nepal and trapped countless Bengal tigers and other wild animals. 

The Commemoration (of George) celebration took place in many parts of India.  In 1914 a huge 10 foot tall statue of George V  (only surviving statue) was erected near flower bazaar police station, Madras in honor of the English king. Later it was shifted to Delhi  Rashtrpathi Bhavan;it was presented by wealthy Gujarathi businessman  Govindoss Chatoorboojdoss. The cost was roughly Rs. 45000  and was sculpted by Sir Bertram Mackennal.   Graffiti and posters mar the pedestal of the statue. Another one came up near Port trust (1935),  close to the harbor. this equally tall statue is  shifted to the Govt. Museum, Chennai. There were other statues of George V in Panagal  park (1936; it vanished later) and the other one at Guindy. close to the Raj Bhavan. 

King George V ,Thanjavur clock tower. credit: J.Ramakrishna Anand

Yet another surviving George V's statue (bust) is in Thanjavur city's Ranee's park (Rajappa ponga) right near the famous clock tower. The statue erected by advocate T N. Kalidas of the Thnjavurr  Bar Association is facing the north direction overlooking the Hospital road. As part of Smart city project the clock tower, the small park and the statue of George V have been renovated. Now king George V  without a canopy over him looks clean. earlier the monarch's balding head and face were covered with thick coating of bird-dropping!!