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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Singaravelar and Marie Freeman-Thomas (aka Lady Willingdon) - at Triplicane

Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are the most generous American philanthropists in 2013, with a donation of 18 million shares of Facebook stock valued at more than $970 million to a Silicon Valley non-profit ~ reported the Chronicle of Philanthropy.  Interestingly, some of the nation’s biggest givers did not appear on the 2013 list, not because they stopped being generous, but because their donations in 2013 were counted as pledges in previous years.  Things get recorded and flashed around in the modern World ~ in olden times, things were different indeed !

Today’s Times of India [11th Feb 2014 – Chennai Edition] carries an important newsitem that the Madras high court has given the State Govt. 3 months to decide on naming the Lady Willingdon College campus after freedom fighter M V Singaravelar, who was the original owner of the Marina beachfront property on Kamarajar Salai.  I have posted earlier on Ice House aka Vivekanandar Illam ~ adjacent stands the Lady Willingdon School, another century old Educational institution of Thiruvallikkeni.

Singaravelar, founded the first trade union in India and was the first to celebrate May Day in the country.  TOI report states that he was divested of the 16-acre property by the British as he funded the freedom struggle and patronised freedom fighters, including radical Tamil poet Subramania Bharathi. While the sprawling property, from Vivekanandar Illam up to the end of the college campus, was taken away from him by force, there are 16 other properties still administered by the high court’s administrator general and official trustee (AG&OT).

Expressing sadness at the neglect of memorials and samadhis of Singaravelar’s forefathers on the college campus and passing orders on a batch of five PILs on Friday, the first bench of Chief Justice R K Agrawal and Justice M Sathyanarayanan asked the state to take steps to renovate the memorials and samadhis within six months.   It was senior counsel A E Chelliah’s stand that Singaravelar was relieved of his property and other assets by the British because of his nationalist activities. “The then governor, Lord Willingdon, took away his property. A school was set up there and it was named as Lady Willingdon Training School. It was opened on December 19, 1922,” he said.

The State  Govt submitted that as per a Nov 2011 decision, a memorial-cum-library was being built in honour of Singaravelar at Tondiarpet. Renaming the college campus after Singaravelar is a policy matter, and as of now there is no such proposal, the government advocate informed the court. TOI further adds that lying between the home sciences block and a primary school on the campus of the Lady Willingdon College are two dilapidated tomb-like structures very few people know about. A couple of senior staff thought it was Singaravelar’s memorial but didn’t know he was a freedom fighter who owned the campus nor that the tombs are ‘samadhis’ of his grandfathers Kanthappa Chettiar and Arunachala Chettiar. Forgetting the man who helped fight untouchability, the campus as well as the school and college buildings on it were named after Lord Willingdon, one of the “worst governors of Madras,” said A E Chelliah, a senior advocate who filed the petition that led to the Madras high court directing the government to decide on renaming the campus after him. The teachers’ training institute on the campus was not started by Lord and Lady Willingdon either. In the late 19th century, social reformer R S Subbulakshmi built a training institute for widows on the Ice House campus. It was relocated to the present campus and named Lady Willingdon Training College, said historian KRA Narasiah. However, renaming it without proper verification may not be a good idea, he said. “It might have been Singaravelar’s complex… But there are many stories about rich people donating land for worthy causes and in some cases they turn out to be untrue,” he said.

The history as per ‘’ puts it that during the later part of 19th century, there was a Hindu School for Girls at Ice House,the first of its kind in Chennai, which was managed by the Vijayarangam Trust. It was then taken over by the Government of Madras Presidency. This Hindu School was upgraded into a Training Institution, was renamed as 'Lady Willingdon Training School' after the name of the wife of the then Governor of Madras Presidency in 1922.

Web search reveals that : Major Freeman Freeman-Thomas, 1st Marquess of Willingdon PC GCSI GCMG GCIE GBE, was a British Liberal politician and administrator who served as Governor General of Canada, as Viceroy and Governor-General of India.  From 1913 on, Willingdon held gubernatorial and viceregal offices throughout the British Empire, starting with the governorship of Bombay and then the governorship of Madras, before he was in 1926 appointed as Canadian governor general by the King. In 1931,  Willingdon was appointed as Governor General and Viceroy of India by the King, on the advice of British prime minister Ramsay MacDonald, to replace  Lord Irwin, and he served in the post until succeeded by the Marquess of Linlithgow in 1936.

In 1913, he was appointed as the Crown Governor of Bombay, replacing the Lord Sydenham of Combe, during WW I,  Lord Willingdon strove to serve the Allied cause, taking responsibility for treating the wounded from the Mesopotamian campaign. In 1917, the year before Willingdon's resignation of the governorship, a severe famine broke out in the Kheda region of the Bombay Presidency, still, the  Govt. insisted that tax not only be paid but also implemented a 23% increase to the levies to take effect that year.  Willingdon went back to UK and came to Madras as its Governor in April 1919. 

After the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms of 1918 power was to be distributed and there were the  first elections for the Madras Legislative Council; however, due to their adherence to Gandhi's non-cooperation movement, the Indian National Congress party refused to run any candidates and the Justice Party was subsequently swept into power. Willingdon appointed A. Subbarayalu Reddiar as his premier and Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn (a former Governor General of Canada) opened the first meeting of the Legislative Assembly. A year later, there were communal riots in Malabar district. 

Willingdon Island, which forms part of the city of Kochi, stands named after him.  Marie Freeman-Thomas, born as Marie Adelaide Brassey, married Freeman Freeman-Thomas, 1st Marquess of Willingdon ….the school at Triplicane was named after her.  It is this educational institution which is now sought to be named after Singaravelar.  There is one Lady Willingdon Hospital in Lahore, which was also named after this person.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

11th Feb 2014.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this. Myself also was the student of this great school.

    Sridevi Suresh PB