Saturday, December 12, 2009

Letters, anyone?

The first formal postal services - maybe it is better to call them the Company's first postal services - in Madras were fairly rudimentary, with a dak runner to carry the Bengal mail. Madras got its first Postmaster General only in 1774, which was also the time when the company mail began to carry, for a charge, private letters also. Over the next few years, the public was likely fleeced with erratic charges for their private letters - and they were subsidising the expense incurred by the government, for all letters of Company employees were carried free. Mr. John Philip Burlton, a "junior civilian of eight years' standing" (now, what does that mean?) first wrote to Lord Macartney and then to the acting Governor of Madras, Alexander Davidson, in 1785, with a proposal to "establish a regular Tapall or Dauk upon a Plan similar to that at Bengal". It found favour with the authorities after a few rounds of consultations with civil servants of Bengal.

Meanwhile, Governor Davidson was succeeded by Sir Archibald Campbell - he wanted his private secretary A.M. Campbell to be in charge of the Post Office, with Robert Mitford as his deputy. That was not acceptable to the Company headquarters, since neither were Company employees; they favoured Burlton as the chief of the Post Office. As often happens, a compromise was struck and on June 1, 1786, the General Post Office opened near the Sea Gate of Fort St George with Mr. Richard Legge Willis as its chief. For the next 70 years, the GPO worked within the Fort. It was only in 1856 that it moved out to Garden House, in Popham's Broadway.

Nearly 30 years later, in 1884, it moved to this building on North Beach Road (now Rajaji Salai). The architect was Robert Fellowes Chisholm, who incorporated elements from Travancore, Bijapur and Gujarati architecture to come up with this building, which continues to be Chennai's General Post Office today. Though a fire in 2003 ravaged the rear of this building, the facade still stands as a striking example of Indo-Saracenic architecture!


Rob Siemann said...

Fantastic building!

Hilda said...

Beautiful and unusual (to me) architecture!

Shantaram said...

@ Rob and Mandy: Isn't it? I just love seeing it everytime I pass that way.

@ Hilda: It is unusual for Chennai, too - there seems to have been a good deal of experimentation on this building!