Tuesday, May 13, 2014

If Elphinstone building could talk...

0 மறுமொழிகள்

Courtesy: http://www.thehindu.com/

It is the oldest building on the immaculately-maintained St. Patrick's campus. We step in, Brother Kennedy switches the lights on and we find ourselves in the school museum. Around us are photographs of school events, attendance registers collected through the years, trophies — proud reminders of a premier school. Pre-dating these are a couple of typewriters, a grandfather's clock, a carved wooden chest containing polished serving plates and bowls (“used by the pioneer Irish fathers”) and an old organ that hides an rpm record player and a set of 33-rpm records. I pull out one and it is Padosan! “The Patrician brothers who run the four schools here occupy the floors above,” says Kennedy. “It's been so for many years now.”
Outside, under a magnificent rain tree, Rev. MK Francis and Marlene Nicholas try to recall the colonial building's history. “There is a tunnel inside that we were too scared to explore,” says Marlene, an ex-student. Brother Francis remembers the tower attached to the original structure. “It was demolished. We also lost a huge banyan tree. Kids would swing on its roots to the other side of Adyar.” Any ghosts? “We didn't meet them,” they laugh.
Orphanage to school
KRA Narasiah, who has done extensive research on Adyar has the story. “The first garden house on the southern bank of Adyar was developed in 1776 by John Huddlestone, a famous civil servant,” he says. The other property was Elphinstone Park (158 acres) in which this building came up. It was Lord Elphinstone, Governor of Madras, who built the first bridge across Adyar in 1840. In 1875, three Patrician Brothers arrived from Ireland to take charge of an orphanage and were looking for a larger area to house the boys. On July 1, 1885, Dr. Colgan, Bishop of Madras, bought Elphinstone Park (with the building) for Rs. 20,000, and moved the orphanage to the premises. With no structures to the East, the property, parallel to the South bank of the river, enjoyed uninterrupted sea breeze blowing over the river. There was just one problem: originally a casuarina grove, it was also home to a variety of snakes. “Even now we see a lot of them,” says Principal Brother Edward. Elphinstone Park was earlier known as Shikar Baugh, says Mr. Narasiah. Did the game-loving Englishmen hunt here?
The double-storeyed building became an industrial school, teaching carpentry, tailoring and shoemaking to the kids born of English soldiers and Indian mothers. The products helped supply the needs of the English at the fort. Two Irishmen, Brother Aloysius Hogan and Brother Malachy joined the school in 1888 and are credited with improving its facilities. However, the Brothers took charge of the place without a title deed. The property was technically owned by the Archdiocese. After financial upheavals around extension plans and a series of negotiations that invited Rome's intervention, the Brothers came to own 23 acres of the property. The school records with gratitude the role played by Brother Aloysius Aduppukallunkal and Dr Rayappa Arulappa in the final settlement.
Upbeat band
The boys' band was the school’s pride, its members finding employment in the British regiments. In fact, the Governor’s Band was exclusively made up of school players. Even during its worst financial years at the turn of the 20th century, the boys were absorbed in the telegraphs department of the government. In 1891, St. Patrick’s had its Cadet Corps, was recognised as distinct from others as “Adyar Orphanage Cadet Corps” and got attached to the Madras Guards. In 1942, residential schools in Madras were asked to vacate for fear of Japanese bombing. The orphanage building, taken over by the military, echoed to the sound of combat boots. The staff and students shifted to Government Arts College, Coimbatore. The brothers and the boys put up with the total lack of basic facilities there, and returned in 1946 only to find the school buildings in a very bad shape!
Today, a thick wall blocks out the river. The river-path up which came the Patrician teachers is long gone. But the building stands — a quiet sentinel of history.
Footnote: One of its old boys, Cyril Francis Martin joined the merchant marine and was posted on SS Vita, a passenger-cum-cargo vessel. On August 11, 1930, while the ship was on its way from Bombay to Basra, Martin noticed a child falling overboard, jumped into the turbulent waters and lost his life. Mr Bambridge Director, M/s Binny & Company Madras, instituted the “Royal Humane Society Medal” and awarded it, along with a certificate, posthumously to Martin.


0 comments to "If Elphinstone building could talk..."


Copyright 2008 Tamil Heritage Foundation. All Rights Reserved. Designed by LIMATION TECHNOLOGIES