Monday, March 15, 2010

Patron saint

In the early 18th century, a few families of Durgarayapatnam heard about the wonderful opportunities for boatmen who were ready to risk the surf at Madras and handle the ship to shore traffic for the traders. And so they came, to stay in the shadow of the new Fort St George, bringing in cargo and crew from the Madras Roads to the fort. Over the next few years, many of them turned to fishing, while other families joined them. By the 1740s, these seafaring people had thrown in their lot so much with the British that when the French took over Fort St George in 1746, the Chepauk community moved to Fort St David (at Cuddalore) with the British and then helped the British navy in their quest to re-possess Madras.

Fort St George's gratitude had a good memory; when changes were made in the way goods were delivered on the Madras shore, the fishermen - and other 'boat-people' had to move. To compensate for the move, Fort St George granted them about 45 acres of land further north of the fort. The fisherfolk moved there in 1799, built a church for St. Peter, their patron saint. In 1824, they decided that their church was to be re-built - the revised version was consecrated in 1829.

With the new church came disputes over ownership. It was only in 1867 that the Madras High Court handed it over to a board of trustees set up by ecclesiastical authorities. Since then, the church has been developed - the structure seen here is not so old, but the church itself has been around in some form or the other since 1799 - giving name to the area: Royapuram, for Rayappar, the Tamizh name for Peter!

3 comments:

Raj said...

While on the subject of the famous surf of Madras, have you read about Sir Thomas Munro's first encounter with the surf? I blogged about it here (http://chennaikaran.blogspot.com/2008/01/enterprising-natives.html)

Shantaram said...

@ Raj: Thanks - that was neat! I'm sure you've also read Macaulay's experience - have excerpted it here , with a link to the original...

Mehul Kamdar said...

I found your blog while doing a web search and am really enjoying it. I wonder if you are aware of any research that has been done on how far the Chennai / Madras seafarers actually went during the Raj era? Herman Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" (Published in 1853) describes Madras Lascars in New York harbor. It would be fascinating if someone were to carry out some research on these seafarers as I have never heard of any work done on them. I would be grateful if you have any information on regions other than the Far east where old Tamil seafarers journeyed and traded either by themselves or while working for the British.

Thank you and best wishes!