Saturday, December 15, 2012
By some estimates, 90% of the losses in goods between England and Madras occurred on the final stretch between the merchantman riding anchor on the Madras Roads and the sands of Madras. The boatmen of the masula boats bringing in the goods were notorious for knocking off quite a bit of their cargo. This was a situation that had gone on for literally hundreds of years, from the time of Francis Day until the foundation stone for the Madras Harbour Works was laid on December 15, 1875.
The need for a harbour was felt very early on in Madras' life. But what with one thing or another, plans kept being made and dropped - including one proposed by a certain Warren Hastings, when he was the Export Warehouse Keeper of Madras. That was in 1770. Three-quarters of a century later, a plan for a thousand-foot pier to push out to the Madras Roads was put forward. It was approved in 1857 and finally the pier was open for business in 1861. Between 1868 and 1871, the pier was damaged by severe storms; a new plan made in 1873 thought of the harbour as a closed system, protected by a breakwater jutting out to sea. And so it was that construction began, with the Prince of Wales (later to be King George V) laying the commencement memorial stone on this date in 1875.
It took about 5 years for the harbour to come up and it was operational in 1881. Unfortunately, the November rain and storms that year was so severe that the new harbour was almost completely destroyed, and had to be rebuilt from scratch. That, however, is another story!