Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXVI No. 23, March 16-31, 2017

Government Press – 185 years old

The Madras Government Press was started in 1831. Prior to that date, Government printing, by the order of Lord Edward Clive in 1800, was produced by the Madras Male Asylum Press, which also published, under special arrangement, an official and general newspaper called the Government Gazette. In 1831, the monopoly of the Asylum Press was terminated and Government printing was divided amongst various private firms. The Fort St. George Gazette Press was at the same time opened in the Fort, and the first number of the new Gazette issued on January 4, 1832. In 1859, the press which had been run by the Board of Revenue to print its proceedings was amalgamated with the Fort St. George Gazette Press.

A Commission to investigate public establishments found that better economy was shown by printing work in the Government press, and from then work was gradually withdrawn from private firms. Surplus work which could not be handled was, in later years, entrusted to the Male Asylum Press, which eventually amalgamated with the Lawrence Asylum Press. A piece-work scale of pay for compositors was introduced in 1861, the Madras press being the first Government Press to introduce a system afterwards adopted by all the principal Government Presses in India.

Between 1855 and 1859, district presses were established in the Madras Presidency to supplant manuscript copying at all Collectors’ headquarters. District Gazettes were issued for the first time in 1856-57. Railway communications having improved, and the printing of forms having been standardised and systematised, the convenience of the district presses diminished. Much of the printing work was ordered to be centra-lised in Madras, and the kind of materials published in the District Gazettes restricted. In 1917, as a measure of economy, twenty district presses were closed, and their work transferred to the Madras Press. But the Collectorate Press in Gan-jam continued on account of its distance from Madras City and its singularity in the use of Oriya. The Ootacamund Branch Press, opened in 1905, worked as a district press for the greater part of the year; with the temporary transfer of establishment/annually, it had to deal with Secretariat work while the Government was in the Hills.

In 1868, a small branch press was established in the Penitentiary, convicts being employed. Later Jail Presses were esta-blished in Vellore, Coimbatore and Cannanore, employing convict labour.
Up to 1888, the Government Press was located on the ground floor of the Government office in the Fort. More -spacious accommodation was found that year in a portion of the old Mint buildings vacated by the Army Clothing Depot in George Town. Owing to increasing congestion and the inconvenient arrangement of the Mint premises, plans for the construction of a new Government Central Press were prepared and approved in 1912. But about that time, opportunity was afforded to acquire, at a cost of three lakh rupees, the plant and premises of the Lawrence Asylum Press in Mount Road, and this transaction was completed in preference to the construction of a new building. To this Mount Road Branch was transferred the sales depot for books and publications, the book work printing and binding sections, a portion of the forms work and District Gazettes to equalise the  general pressure and flow  of work in the various branches.

In 1912, the Government Press started the manufacture of all rubber stamps required for Government offices. The introduction of the Reforms in 1920 brought very heavy work to the Press, especially in the vernacular sections, and about 15,500 pages of the first electoral rolls, with all other printed election matter, was produced for the first general election.

At the beginning of 1923, the Press was called upon to take over the major portion of the High Court printing, which, from 1862, had been in the hands of a private contractor. This necessitated the engagement of additional staff and the opening of small Branch Press in the High Court buildings for printing daily cause lists.

A well ventilated building exclusively for the Linotype Department was constructed in 1925-26 and this relieved some congestion in the Composing Departments. A costing system was also introduced that year.

Two years earlier, a scheme for the training on Indians in Printing, so that they may qualify for superior posts in the Press, was sanctioned and four apprentices were selected.

The remodelling of the Penitentiary Branch Press, which was contemplated for many years, was finally sanctioned in 1928 and the remodelled press was ready to function by January 1934. In December 1931, Government Press completed its hundredth year as a Government Department. Its original purpose was almost solely for the production of the Gazette. The original plant consisted of some second-hand types, three presses and a staff of about 10 hands.

A fast printing rotary machine was installed in 1934-35 and remodelling of the Government Press, Mint, with two-storied buildings, was sanctioned.

The Printing Section of the Mount Road Branch Press was amalgamated with the main press in Mint in 1938-39. The Publication Depot alone, which was intended for the sale of Acts and other publications to the public, continued to function on Mount Road as a separate unit. Consequent to the decision of Government to discontinue its summer in the Hills, the Branch at Ooty was closed from July 1938, after a small press was installed in the office of the Military Secretary to His Excellency for Government House work in Ooty.

A salaried system replaced piecework rates for compositors in the hand and machine composing sections at this time.

In 1941-42, a new section was formed, known as the ‘War Section’, which took up all work both in English and Indian languages, connected with war propaganda and civil defence. Its principal work was the printing of the weekly War Review, the Monthly Review, Victory and the A.R.P. journal.
In addition to the beautifully illustrated coloured supplements of the Madras War Review, featuring the activities of the different armed services, printing was undertaken in 1943-44 for the extensive campaign launched in connection with the Small Savings Scheme and ‘Grow More Food’ campaigns. The Press was called upon to print enormous quantities of work with a comparatively short time. During these War years, printing of several Control Orders and Ration Cards and forms was also done by this section at comparatively short notice.

In 1948, at the time the author retired, the officer strength was 9, there were 980 permanent employees and 193 temporary ones in the non-composing section, 399 permanent compositors and machine operators, 234 temporary ones, 163 ‘casuals’ and 315 convicts working in the Penitentiary Branch Press, 2293 employees in all.

Editor’s Note: We regret we have lost the covering letter to this article but recall it came from a son who found it among his father’s papers. The father had retired from Government Press in 1948.

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