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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Marina campus of University of Madras ~ Lord Erskine, Governor of Madras

University of Madras needs no introduction.  Established in 1857, it is one of the oldest and premier universities in India.  

The first ever demand for higher education in Madras Presidency was given in a public address to Lord John Elphinstone, Governor of Madras, signed by 70,000 residents when the Governor in Council was contemplating "some effective and liberal measures for the establishment of an improved system of national education." The University Board was constituted in January 1840; and was a precursor of the present Presidency College, Chennai. University of Madras, organized on the model of the University of London, was incorporated on 5 September 1857 by an Act of the Legislative Council of India.  The university is spread over six campuses, viz., Chepauk, Marina, Guindy, Taramani, Chetput and Maduravoyal. The Chepauk campus of the university houses the VC's secretariat, central library, centenary auditorium and the historic Senate House. The Senate House, the University's first building, inaugurated in the year 1879, is a masterpiece of Robert Fellowes Chisholm, an architect of the 19th century, who blended the Indo-Saracenic style with Byzantine and European architectural features. The university renovated the Senate House in 2006.

The Marina Campus, a couple of decades ago was referred as the University Examination hall.  Now it houses the Oriental Research Institute, that  first began its researches in Tamil in 1914. In 1927, a separate Tamil Department was established in the Institute. It is a landmark building at Marina, on beach Road nearer the eastern arch leading to Sri Parthasarathi Swami temple and is in fact before the Thiruvallikkeni MRTS station. It has a plaque commemorating the laying of foundation stone on 20th March 1935 by Lord Erskine, the then Governor of Madras.

John Francis Ashley Erskine, Lord Erskine GCSI, GCIE (1895 – 1953) was a British soldier, Conservative Party politician and administrator who served as Member of Parliament (MP) for Weston-super-Mare and Brighton. Erskine  served as the Governor of Madras Presidency from 1934 to 1940. John Erskine married Lady Marjorie Hervey, the elder daughter of the 4th Marquess of Bristol, on 2 December 1919 and had four sons.

Erskine was born to Walter Erskine, 12th Earl of Mar in  1895 and had his education at Eton and Oxford University. On graduation, Erskine served in the British army and rose to become a major before entering politics.  Wikipedia reports that he was a close friend of Indian politician Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari though he disagreed with some of his policies.

With an interest in politics and an allegiance to the Conservative Party, Erskine was appointed Assistant Private Secretary to Viscount Long in 1920 and his political career continued steadily.  After the 1931 general election, Erskine was named as an unpaid Assistant Government whip in Nov 1931 that  effectively silenced Erskine in the Chamber of the House of Commons due to the tradition that Whips do not make speeches. Previously Erskine had been an effective and confident speaker who had taken a close interest in the affairs of India (although he admitted never to having visited it). He followed the 'Round Table Conferences' of the early 1930s closely. Erskine's public support for native rule in India counted against him with Winston Churchill who had led the opposition to the Government of India Act 1935.

In 1934, Erskine succeeded George Frederick Stanley as the Governor of Madras Presidency and served from 1934 to 1940. Erskine was a supporter of the Justice Party and wanted the party to capture power in the Presidency during the 1937 elections. However, to his disappointment, the Indian National Congress won by a huge margin. Despite being the majority party in the Assembly and the Council, the Congress refused to form the government. Their objections stemmed from the special powers given to the Governor by the Government of India Act of 1935. Erskine decided to form an interim provisional Government with non-members and opposition members of the Legislative Assembly. Erskine formed the interim Government with Kurma Venkata Reddy Naidu of the Justice Party as premier on 1 April 1937. He also used the Minister for Public Health R. M. Palat to try and entice Congress legislators into supporting the government.

It appears that he strongly dangled in local politics trying to make his way. Erskine was also a regular visitor to the Nilgiri Hills;  he gave Kothagiri town the sobriquet, "Princess among Hill Stations”.  When Congress Ministry resigned in Oct 1939 over the outbreak of Second World War,  Erskine declared an emergency and took over the reins of the administration. Rajagopalachari and other ministers were arrested as per Defence of India Act rules.  With no hope of continuing a political career, and finding that representing the seat was very expensive, Erskine resigned his seat and went to live in his house at Ickworth near Bury St Edmunds. He continued to comment on Indian affairs, bemoaning the influence of Gandhi[citation needed]. His younger son was killed in action in 1945.

Active in voluntary work locally, Erskine was appointed President of the Navy League. A major operation in the early 1950s damaged his health, and he died in 1953 during the lifetime of his father.

With regards – S.Sampathkumar
8th Nov 2015.

PS : photos of Marina campus taken yesterday when I had to take shelter at this building due to rain ~ history of Lord Erskine reproduced from Wikipedia.

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