High Court of Madras is one of the famous and well-kept colonial buildings in the city. Madras Bar Association had organised for today, a heritage walk of the High Court, conducted by Mr N.L.Rajah, Senior Advocate. From last year, Madras High Court had come under the security of Central Police (CRPF) and access to it is highly regulated, so I immediately registered myself for the walk. The walk started around 7:30 AM and went for nearly three hours. Rajah had a trove of information to share with us about the history of the legal system in British India and stories around the cases that came up in the High Court – his reverence for the institution was infectious. Time available for him for the walk was a constraint.
The walk started with a visit to the newly constructed Museum, you reach it via the Esplanade Gate of The High Court. The museum is a must visit for all interested, it has a treasure trove of items on display and is being well-maintained by Madras Bar Association – kudos to them.
On 10th July 1686, an Admiralty Court was established in Madras. A year later, the East India Company sent from England, Sir John Biggs, to act as a Judge-Advocate of the Admiralty Court. Later a Mayor’s court was established through the same charter that allowed the company to constitute the town of St.George. The Madras High Court was inaugurated on the 15th August 1862. The first Chief Justice of Madras High Court (earlier the Supreme Court, Madras) was Sir Colley Harman Scotland (1860-62). During his tenure, the first Indian Advocate (Vakil) Sri Raja T. Rama Rao was enrolled.
The High Court building was designed on Indo-Saracenic architecture by Henry Irwin, who has many other buildings to his credit in India; the court building construction was executed by T Namberumal Chetty. It is said they followed a bottom-up approach in the design, allowing each mason who worked on the project to suggest their individual inputs.
Mr N.L.Rajah explained on why he feels the city should still be called Madras – even before the British landed near the port and bought the first parcel of land which will eventually become St.George Fort, the area was called as Madrasapatinam – and that’s how it is referred in the first company document (equivalent of today’s Government Order/GO).
After seeing the museum, we went inside the High Court premises, to reach one of the two light-houses (the other one is on top of the main dome) established by British in the campus. The lighthouse has been tastefully restored and renovated, with information displays kept in the two rooms adjacent to the main structure. Surprised to find the two visitor rooms and the pathways to the top of the lighthouse to be lit with LED lights and air-conditioned.
The lighthouse was constructed from 1838 to 44. Even before you go into the lighthouse if you look on the right-hand side bottom you will see a block of stone – Standard Bench Mark for Madras used in the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India. The top surface of the stone is 15.07 Feet above the mean level of the sea.
Next stop was the main building of The High Court of Madras. You are welcomed by a beautiful statue of Manu Needhi Cholan, the Chola King who executed his own son to provide justice to a cow.
After seeing the court halls, we climbed up the main tower of The High Court building. At each level, we were greeted with majestic views of this building and to the breath-taking view of the city around it.
Overall, the walk was informative and enjoyable. Don’t miss it the next time it happens, watch out for announcements here.
Also published on Medium.