Friday, 4 November 2011


Searching for information about one subject has often led me to information about another. This time, I was tracking the Anglo-Indian connections of St. George's School and Orphanage on Poonamallee High Road and discovered that Madras got its General Post Office 225 years ago this year. The link was Governor Sir Archibald Campbell (1786-1790) who established the Male and Female Orphan Asylums (that developed as St. George's School) as well as the Madras G.P.O. that made the postal service a Government facility.
The Madras G.P.O. started functioning from June 1, 1786 and the first Postmaster-General was Sir Archibald's secretary, A.M. Campbell. Robert Mitford was appointed the Deputy Postmaster-General. The G.P.O. was served by one Writer (clerk), five sorters, a head peon and ten postmen. They worked out of a building that was “at the beach in (by?) Fort St. George square.” In October 1837 the post office moved to “the old Bank” building inside the Fort, what is now the Fort Museum. And then in 1856 to Garden House , Popham's Broadway, near the Kothawal Chavadi market. Eventually, in 1884, it moved into its own building, the handsome one by Chisholm that it still occupies.
The Madras Post Office, as it was generally called, began expanding its services when it opened receiving offices (as opposed to full service offices that also delivered mail) in March 1834 at Hunter's Road in Vepery and what is now Westcott Road in Royapettah. In February 1845, four more receiving offices were opened, on Mount Road, in Triplicane, and two in Black Town (yet to become George Town). Receiving offices were added in San Thomé and in Teynampet, near St. George's Cathedral, in 1855. Not long afterwards, six more receiving offices were opened.

All this expansion warranted a large main post office for receipt of mail and distribution and the Madras Chamber of Commerce urged the Governments of India and Madras in 1868 to build a large General Post Office in a central place. Only Rs. 2,00,000 was sanctioned for this purpose by the two Governments in response to the proposal, construction of GPOs in Calcutta and Bombay being cited by the GoI for its inability to contribute more. Eventually, the present site — where the Abercrombie Battery had once been — was selected in 1873, but there was no money to proceed with the work till 1880. The Chamber then urged that both the Post and Telegraph Departments be housed in one building and that, as this would necessitate an even bigger building, the Abercrombie Battery site not be divided between the Bank of Madras and the Post Office as had been intended.

The three-storied building, 352 feet long, 162 feet broad, and with 125-foot tall towers, was inaugurated in 1884. Besides a high ceilinged central hall, the ground floor provided space for stores, kitchen, servants etc. The first floor was used for offices. And the second floor served as accommodation for officers. The Postmaster-General moved in on March 1, 1884 from space he was occupying in the Mercantile Bank building further down the road, and the Broadway staff moved in on April 26. The new building had cost Rs. 6,80,000 against an estimated Rs. 6,92,000. Those were the days when such things could happen!
Tailpiece: The Government Medical Department, with a Physician-General in charge, was also started in 1876 by Sir Archibald Campbell.

source 31/10/2011

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