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

Vol. XXXIII No. 24, April 1-15, 2024

The Mints of Madras – Part II

-- by Sriram V

(Continued from Last Fortnight)

Till the beginning of the 18th century the mint was, as we saw last fortnight, safely within the confines of the Fort though it had been divided into two – the gold and silver mints. But times were changing, and the East India Company was steadily coming into its own as a mercantile entity. By the early 1700s there was a change in policy – it was not enough to source cloth from weaving centres in the hinterland. They had to be set up in the vicinity of the Fort. Two colonies were created – Colletpettah near Tiruvottriyur and Chintadripettah just off Mount Road. The latter was conceptualised in October 1734 and by the next year was substantially ready. It was decided that a new mint would be set up here.

It came up in 1742. That was the year when Nawab Safdar Ali was murdered at Vellore. After the usual period of uncertainty, his son was proclaimed Nawab under the name of Muhammad Said. The long shadow of the Company was already falling on the Arcot rulers and the new incumbent, in gratitude for the protection that the EIC had offered women of the family gave it many new privileges. Among these was “Liberty of Coining Arcot Rupees and Pagodas according to the Usuage and Practice of the Country Mints.” We learn that in 1743 one hundred and fourteen chests of silver were coined into about ten lakh Arcot rupees. The Mint Undertaker as the post was then known, was none other than Lingi Chetty, after whom a street still exists in George Town. Thus between the Fort Mints and the Chintadripet Mint, the EIC was coining an entire gamut of currency – star pagodas, Madras pagodas, Madras gold mohurs, Arcot gold mohurs, silver Arcot and Madras rupees and coins of lesser denominations. It must be acknowledged that the coins produced at these mints were far superior to those churned out by various country mints, and some of the latter such as the ones at San Thome (then a Portuguese village), Kovalam and Poonamallee were eventually closed.

The French occupied Madras in 1746 and left three years later. When the British returned, they found that the Fort Mints were much affected, in fact the Silver Mint had been demolished to re-align the western wall of the Fort. Lingi Chetty was consulted as to whether a new mint could be constructed at the same site, and he opined against it, preferring a new location, near the Company (Chennakesava Perumal) Temple then standing where the High Court now is. This was more or less agreed to but the new Governor, Saunders ordered a fresh survey, and it was decided to build the Silver Mint at the old location on the North West Bastion of the Fort, by taking over some godowns belonging to the Armenian Coja Petrus Uscan. The new mint was ready by 1751 but suffered extensive damage in a cyclone in November 1752. It was brought back to working order sometime later.

Entrance to the Govt Printing Press, formerly The Mint.

The Gold Mint in the Fort was entrusted to two unskilled people when the British returned in 1749 but the output was so poor that there was serious loss of credibility. This was when the Company hired Edward Edwards, who had passed his examination at Goldsmith’s Hall in London and was working in a gold smithy in that city.

He was interviewed at the Tower Mint and on being pronounced satisfactory, was sent to Cuddalore and then Madras. That his uncle was Josias Dupre, Secretary to the Company in England, must have played an important role in the decision. It is clear that when it came to minting its own coins, as was being done in the Fort, the EIC preferred to have Englishmen as assay masters while the facility for other currency was entrusted to an Indian, namely Lingi Chetty. That this soon became a hereditary job is evident from the fact that in the 1750s, the Mint Shroff, for the Fort and other Madras Mints was Tepperumal (Devaperumal) Chetty, son of Lingi Chetty. Their relationship is clear from a verse that Arunachala Kavi of the Rama Natakam fame wrote in honour of the former. Tepperumal reported to the Assay Master and had under him gold- and silversmiths.

It appears that the job of Mint Shroff or Manager had prior to Lingi Chetty been held by Brahmins but the practice was done away with in the 1730s by Governor Benyon, on the advice of his Dubash Audiappa. Lingi Chetty was a rank outsider, looked upon with suspicion by the goldsmiths and silversmiths but he soon gained their trust. Not so his son, who would come into conflict with his subordinates.

Arriving in Madras, Edwards was designated Factor and Assay Master. He quickly re-established the Fort Mints but proved intractable on another matter – imparting his skills to others. Time and again the Council tried it force his hand, but he remained. He was suspended twice, one in 1755 and again in 1758 for this disobedience but such was his skill that he had to be reinstated both times. He received a salary of GBP 110 (whether pa or pm is not stated, it is more likely the former), and a fee of half a pagoda for every ‘cake’ of gold brought to the Mint and likewise, half a rupee for every bar of silver. The Governor it must be noted, received 2,000 pagodas per annum as his fixed emolument from the Mint.

The presence of the Gold Mint in the Fort Square led to complaints of intense heat radiating from it. There was nothing to be done about it and in 1798 we read of the two mints being in the same locations in the Fort, with expansions underway to double their capacities. But by the early 1800s, a decision was taken to move the Mint to the extreme north of Black Town. It is not clear if the Chintadripet Mint was merged with the new facilities but that would seem the most likely conclusion.

The new mint came up on the site of an old powder mill, built in the 1770s. This was part of the property known as the Seven Wells, in commemoration of the facilities from where water was supplied to the Fort. Sadly for us, we have very little information on what became known as the Black Town Mint apart from the fact that it lent its name to the street on which it stood. The southern end of it, now known as Mint Street South, was earlier known as Washers Street, reflective of the time when the Elambore River flowed by what is now NSC Bose Road. The Black Town Mint was certainly in operation by the 1820s but its initial years were marked by uncertainty. In June 1835, the Governor General Lord Auckland ordered its closure and the transfer of all its machinery to Calcutta or Bombay, a reflection on the way our city had slid in importance. The Mint was closed but within two years was back in operation, the reason for reopening not being clear. By 1843, with the formation of the Bank of Madras it had a printing press attached, for bank notes, the first step in paper currency.

Lord Auckland’s proposal had been to convert the Madras Mint into a bullion depot. The plan remained in circulation and in 1854, Major TJ Smith, then Mint Master was asked to submit a report on why the Madras facility could/could not be closed. Finally, in April 1868 the idea was revived, and the Mint was ordered closed. The Government of Madras remonstrated and cited various benefits of having such a facility in the city but these fell on deaf ears. The Mint became a bullion depot in 1869. This lasted a mere two years for in 1871 the Government of Madras suggested to Calcutta that given that bullion deposits were a mere trickle the space could be put to other uses. It became a Medical Store. The press which had once churned out bank notes became the Government Printing Press, a function it still fulfils. The Medical Stores seems to have vanished.

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share


  1. Pingback: The Mints of Madras – Part II

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay Updated