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Thursday, July 1, 2021

Madras University - Marina Campus - foundation laid by Governor in 1935 !

An interesting Q asked on 11th Feb 1931 in UK – still relevant here too ..   Lord Erskine  asked the Minister of Transport whether he has now any evidence as to what percentage of motorists were not insured against third-party risks prior to the coming into force of the Road Traffic Act?  The Minister Herbert Morrison defensively answered in negative !! 

Shri Banwarilal Purohit is the 14th Governor of Tamil Nadu. Earlier he had served as Governor of Assam; and had been a   Member of Parliament from the Nagpur (Lok Sabha constituency) three times .. .. .. ever heard of a Governor – Lord Erskine.

Andrew Cogan was the first agent of the English East India Company to rule Madras. He was the chief of the Masulipatnam factory when Madras was purchased from Peda Venkata Raya.  Madras was elevated to a Presidency in 1684 and remained so until   1785 when new rules and regulations brought by the Pitt's India Act. Elihu Yale took charge on 8 August 1684 as the First President of Madras.  In 1746, Dupleix's deputy, La Bordannais laid siege to Madras and captured the city. For the next three years, Madras remained under French Governors, until 1749, when Madras was handed to the British as per the Treaty of Aix-la-Chappele.  

George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney  often remembered for his observation following Britain's success in the Seven Years War and subsequent territorial expansion at the Treaty of Paris that Britain now controlled "a vast Empire, on which the sun never sets", was Governor of the British West Indies and  Grenada before assuming office as Governor of Madras from  1781 to 1785. During his tenure as governor, renovation and strengthening of the walls of Fort St. George was commenced after the siege by Thomas Lally, and completed in 1783.   

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  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.

taken in 2015 and taken today !

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 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.  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.



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.

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
1st July 2021 

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