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

Vol. XXXIII No. 13, October 16-31, 2023

Lost Landmarks of Chennai

-- by Sriram V

The Long-Lost Adam’s Park

At a superficial glance it would appear that the area around Central Station, known as Park Town is well documented historically. This was an area for garden houses and one at least – John Pereira’s, is commemorated by way of street name and also colloquially – the area is still referred to as Jambura Thottam or Jamla Thottam. We also know of People’s Park, that huge lung envisaged by Sir Charles Trevelyan in 1859, and which was steadily whittled down owing to the construction of Central Station, VP Hall, Moore Market, Ripon Buildings and the stadium in that order. What remains is My Ladye’s Garden, a startlingly well-maintained piece of greenery in the midst of much urban chaos.

But the more we dig, the more we seem to find. A clear history of People’s Park is yet to be written, with a lot of material surfacing in recent times. While that is a project that will have to be taken up some day, what I am writing about today concerns the piece of land that the railway buildings, namely the Southern Railway Headquarters are occupying. It was news to me that the edifice stands on what was once known as Adam’s Park.

My source for this piece of information is a rather tedious book but one filled with interesting nuggets, provided you keep your eyes open for them. Titled From England to the Antipodes, 1846-1902, it was written by Isaac Tyrrell in 1904. The book, published by ALV Press, Madras gives us an insight into the life of a prison official in Madras Presidency. Tyrrell enlisted at Chatham, the UK, in 1846, joined the 46th Regiment of Foot, came to India and served in the army till 1860, when he resigned and joined the police force in Madras. He spent much of his service in prison administration and retired in 1895. His reminiscences are valuable for they give an insight into the underbelly of Madras – the world of criminals, murderers, drug pushers, etc in the 19th century – not usually given much attention to by writers of the time. His description of the Madras penitentiary during his tenure shows that conditions in prison have not changed all that much over the centuries.

Written essentially in language that will be considered strongly racist today, the book every now and then throws light on some unknown aspects of Madras life. And one of these concerns Adam’s Park, which as I said earlier is where the Southern Railway has its HQ now. Writing in 1904, Tyrrell says Adam’s Park by then “one of Madras’ green spots” was thirty years earlier a high mound without a blade of grass and facetiously termed Mount Blanc, after the peak in the Alps. What follows is even more intriguing, for Tyrrell states that it was he who was responsible for the flattening of this mound. He writes that he organised the removal of “thousands of cartloads of sand” from here, in order to prepare a garden on the Cooum side of the Penitentiary. By the Penitentiary he means the old Madras Jail, which stood till recently on the Island. “On visiting Adam’s Park it was forcibly brought to my mind that by the removal of this mound of earth I had done my small share towards improving the city, although I little suspected that it would become the shady green spot it is now.”

Clearly then, there was a mound next to Central Station, and separated from it by Wall Tax Road, and this was flattened to make way for Adam’s Park. This is also in keeping with the other and better-known historical fact – the flattening of Hogghill or Narimedu, which was on the south-eastern edge of Peddanaickenpettai, which makes it in today’s scheme of things would mean the Madras Medical College. This makes sense for it is from this edge that you get a clear view of Fort St George’s outworks. It is therefore erroneous to claim that Hogghill was where Central Station is presently located. The demolition of Hogghill and the removal of the soil from there to Mannady and other places is a story that needs to be related in detail in some other article. In the meanwhile, let us return to Adam’s Park. Suffice it to say that there were two mounds of earth, a larger one known as Narimedu or Hogghill where the MMC is and the smaller mound which became Adam’s Park.

It is not clear as to who this piece of green was meant to commemorate. Between 1874 and 1904, which covers the thirty years during which Tyrrell says the park came into existence, we have a colonial governor William Patrick Adam, who took office on December 20, 1880 and within six months was dead, of enteritis, on May 24, 1881. The demise however happened in Ooty and it can only be surmised that shortly after his passing, a park must have been created in his memory in the city. There are however no descriptions surviving of how large this park was and what were its features. It is very likely that with the huge People’s Park by its side, this must not have received much attention. For that matter, there is no report in the public domain of the park’s inauguration. The administration reports of the Madras Corporation too are silent on this park.

But that the area was undergoing transformation even in Tyrrell’s time is evident at his amazement over what was happening – “Could mortal man have imagined on my first arrival in Madras in 1854, that such a railway station as the present Central Station would come into existence within the space of twenty five years and that the old ramshackle building, that did duty for the General Hospital, would be transformed into the magnificent structure that is now the pride of the city?” If he were to be back now, Tyrrell would perhaps wonder all the more.

Little remains to be told – how am I so sure that the Adam’s Park site is what gave way for the Southern Railway HQ? By 1911, there are reports that the Government was considered the request of the Madras and Southern Mahratta Railway (M&SM) to hand over the place for building their headquarters. The company was at this time functioning from three different locations – its HQ was at Royapuram, the main station at Central and the workshops in Perambur. There was a felt need that at least two of the three units be brought together. The Government eventually consented. The Daily Consular Trade Reports filed by the US Trade Representative in Madras in 1916 clearly state that “construction of new central offices at Adam’s Park was begun” that year for the Madras and Southern Mahratta Railway. It is very likely that the park had fallen into disuse or it was felt that the land would do better as a space for the railways to build their offices. But Madras is a place where memories linger for long. Till the early 1950s we see the M&SM Railway and its successor the Southern Railway publishing its address as Adam’s Park Madras and this was also the address of the Employees Co-Operative Bank that the railway ran.

It is indeed a point to ponder that a fairly inconsequential colonial Governor was remembered in a park that like him, vanished completely over the years from the public mind, leaving not a wrack behind. Not so the other body, namely Hoggshill, which is still spoken about and wondered over.

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