Fort St George

Fort St George (or historically, White Town) is the name of the first English (later British) fortress in India, founded in 1639 at the coastal city of Madras, the modern city of Chennai. The construction of the Fort provided the impetus for further settlements and trading activity, in what was originally a no man's land. Thus, it is a feasible contention to say that the city evolved around the fortress.

The East India Company, which had entered India around 1600 for trading activities, had begun licensed trading at Surat, which was its initial bastion. However, to secure its trade lines and commercial interests in the spice trade, it felt the necessity of a port closer to the Malaccan Straits, and succeeded in purchasing a piece of coastal land, originally called Chennirayarpattinam or Channapatnam, from a Vijayanagar chieftain named Damerla Chennappa Nayaka based in Chandragiri, where the Company began the construction of a harbour and a fort. The fort was completed on April 23, coinciding with St George's Day, celebrated in honour of the patron saint of England. The fort, hence christened Fort St George, faced the sea and some fishing villages, and it soon became the hub of merchant activity. It gave birth to a new settlement area called George Town (historically referred to as Black Town), which grew to envelop the villages and led to the formation of the city of Madras. It also helped to establish English influence over the Carnatic and to keep the kings of Arcot and Srirangapatna, as well as the French forces based at Pondicherry, at bay.

The Fort is a stronghold with six-meter high walls that withstood a number of assaults in the 18th century. It briefly passed into the possession of the French from 1746 to 1749, but was restored to Great Britain under the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended the War of the Austrian Succession.

The Fort now serves as the administrative headquarters for the legislative assembly of Tamil Nadu state and it still houses a garrison of troops in transit to various locations at South India and the Andamans. The Fort Museum contains many relics of the Raj era, including portraits of many of the Governors of Madras.

Location in Context
Buildings inside the fort
The Church

St. Mary's Church is the oldest Anglican church in India. It was built between 1678 and 1680. The tombstones in its graveyard are the oldest English or British tombstones in India. This ancient prayer house solemnized the marriages of Robert Clive and Governor Elihu Yale, who later became the first benefactor of Yale University in the United States. The church is popularly known as the 'Westminster Abbey of the East'.

Museum

The Fort Museum exhibits many items of the period of English and later British rule. This building was completed in 1795 and first housed the office of the Madras Bank. The hall upstairs was the Public Exchange Hall and served as a place for public meetings, lottery draws and occasional entertainment. These relics are reminders of British rule in India. The objects on display in the museum are the weapons, coins, medals, uniforms and other artifacts from England, Scotland, France and India dating back to the colonial period. Original letters written by Clive and Cornwallis make fascinating reading. One set of quaint period uniforms is displayed for viewing, as well. However, the piece de resistance is a large statue of Lord Cornwallis.

Wellesley House

The first floor of the building includes the Banqueting Hall, which holds paintings of the Governor of the Fort and other high officials of the Regime. The cannons of Tipu Sultan decorate the ramparts of the museum. The 14.5 ft statue stands at the entrance near a stairway in the museum. This statue was created by Charles Bank in England to be brought to India. The pedestal of the statue is carved with a scene depicting Tipu Sultan's emissary handing over Tipu's two sons as hostage in lieu of a ransom he was unable to pay to the British. It takes its name from Richard Wellesley, Governor General of India, and brother of the Duke of Wellington.

In recent years

Fort St George complex housed the administrative buildings of the Government of Tamil Nadu till March 2010. The Legislature of Tamil Nadu and the secretariat (with headquarters of various government departments) was situated in the fort. The fort itself was open to the public however only to a certain area. The main building or the secretariat was open only to government officials and the police. The cannons and the moat which guarded this old building have been left untouched. In 2010 the legislature and the secretariat moved to a new location and the old assembly complex was converted into a library for the Central Institute of Classical Tamil.. Following the 2011 assembly elections and the return of J Jayalalithaa as the Chief Minister of the State, the Tamil Nadu Assembly and the Secretariat have been restored to Fort St George.