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from the British Library, London

Part 5: Madras, 1876-1921


Madras (or Chennai as this global metropolis and port city is now known) is of compelling interest for many reasons:

  • It is India’s fourth largest city and has grown into a large commercial and industrial centre – one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the world.
  • It became known as the “Gateway to South India” and developed into a major trade entrepot and naval base.
  • In the story of emerging Indian nationalism, it offers interesting contrasts to cities such as Bombay and Calcutta.
    How important were the early Tamil Revolutionary Nationalists?
    How strong was support for Gandhi in the south?
    How did the provincial politics of the south compare with northern counterparts?
    How were Muslim rights and liberties to be protected?

The material in Part 5 of this microfilm project covers reports for Madras, 1876-1921. Madras, also known in East Indian Company days as Fort St George, was the Company’s first settlement in 1639. After a short period of time in the eighteenth century, when the town was controlled by the French, the British regained Madras and expanded their territory in the region, invading most of southern India, including the areas now known as Tamil Nadu and two key states, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The building and expansion of railway connections meant the area had excellent communication with Bombay (now called Mumbai) and Calcutta (now called Kolkata). In 1947 Madras became the state capital of Madras State.

The newspaper reports cover papers for not only the Madras Presidency but also the native states of Hyderabad, Mysore, Travancore and Cochin, and the French Territories of Pondicherry and Karikal.

Hyderabad was the largest native state in India and had its own currency, railways and postal system. Although the state was ruled by the Nizam, the British had a Resident stationed at the capital Hyderabad. Languages spoken in the state were Persian, Urdu, Telegu and Marathi, Persian being the official language up until 1893 and Urdu up to 1948. The state of Hyderabad became part of the Indian Union in 1948.

Mysore was one of the largest native states which, upon Indian independence in 1947, became part of the Indian Union.

Travancore was a native state with its capital at Trivandrum and it became part of the Indian Union in 1947. In 1949 Travancore was merged with the other Malayalam-speaking region of Cochin to form Travancore-Cochin and then in 1956 with the Malabar district of Madras State to form the state of Kerala. The Gandhian movement had a tremendous impact on this region. After Gandhi’s visit to Malabar in 1921, Khilafat agitation spread. Officialdom clamped down with prohibiting orders culminating in the Moppila or Malabar Rebellion of November 1921. Congress leaders tried in vain to check the violence.

After a period of rule during the eighteenth century when it changed hands between the French and the British, the French regained control of Pondicherry and retained it until 1954 when they handed it over to independent India. The language spoken in Pondicherry was Tamil.

Karikal was a French settlement and town on the Coromandel coast in the Tanjore district of Madras.

The press in cities in the Madras Presidency and the native states of Hyderabad, Mysore, Travancore and Cochin played a significant role in the growth of nationalism after the Indian National Congress was formed in 1885.

The Congress Party was an umbrella organisation, consisting of socialists, traditionalists and even Hindu and Muslim conservatives, but it was fundamentally a Hindu-dominated organisation. The majority of the Muslims did not trust the Hindu majority and in 1900 when the British Government made Hindi the official language of the United Provinces there was consternation among the Muslims that the Hindu majority would suppress Muslim culture and religion. In 1906 thirty five leading members of the Muslim community gathered in Simla and presented their demands to the Viceroy Lord Minto. The All-India Muslim League comprising 56 members was created as a result of this meeting. Although initially the League’s intention was to remain loyal to the British Government it changed its views to a desire for independence in 1913 when the British decided to create a united state of Bengal. The headquarters of the League was in Lucknow and the Aga Khan was elected as its first president. Its goal at this stage was not to establish an independent state, but to promote understanding between the Muslim community and other Indians, to discourage violence and to educate the community at large. These principles were embodied in the ‘Green Book’ written by Maulana Mohammad Ali. Within a few years time the League had become the sole representative body of Indian Muslims. Jinnah became President in 1916 and negotiated the Lucknow Pact with Congress. By this device, Congress conceded the principle of separate electorates and weighted representation for the Muslim community. Gandhi put great emphasis on ‘non-cooperation’ and ‘non-violence’ in the 1920s. Jinnah had little liking either for either the Hindu asceticism of Gandhi or the secular socialism of Nehru. He split with Gandhi as early as 1919. He did not have sufficient confidence that the interests of Muslims would be safeguarded. His fears were well founded. In 1928 Congress would renounce its support for separate electorates for Muslims. Jinnah had failed in his attempt to form a Hindu-Muslim alliance.

In 1930 the new leader of the League, Sir Muhummad Iqbal, first put forward the demand for a separate Muslim state in India to be known as Pakistan and after many years of discussions and conferences the state of Pakistan became a reality in 1947. In the south of India Kerala remained a stronghold of Muslim defiance.

Indian Newspaper Reports

The Indian Newspaper Reports from the Asia, Pacific and Africa Department at the British Library, constitute an important series to be found in the Record Department Papers of the Oriental and India Office Collections. The reports consist of abstracts taken from Anglo-Indian and Vernacular newspapers for the various different regions of India.

The reports were completed weekly and consist of typewritten abstracts of the contents of Indian newspapers with some extracts, translated by an official translator whose name is given at the end of the week’s report.

Part 5: Madras, 1876-1921

The newspaper reports included in Part 5 cover Madras English newspaper owned by Indians and native newspapers for the years 1876-1921. The abstracts and extracts contained in the reports will provide scholars with an invaluable insight into Indian social and political events, the conditions of the Indian and British population, criticisms of the British government and the development of nationalist feelings.

For 1876-1878 only native newspapers are listed and the handful of papers reported on are divided by language (Tamil, Telegu, Malayalam, Hindustani).Information is brief consisting only of the title and estimated circulation with a few lines on the content. By 1879 the list had increased to 14 newspapers, again divided by language with columns showing title of the paper, place of publication, editions (weekly or monthly etc), number of copies issued. By 1883 it has increased to 28 papers and from 1883 an index of subjects is included. By 1886, 67 papers are listed and a wide variety of topics are reported on. In 1894 Kanerese newspapers are added to the list.

By 1903 the reports are divided into English Papers owned by Indians and Native Papers. The English papers, numbering 74, are divided by town of publication with details on the newspapers giving title, when published and number of copies issued. The Native papers are separated into:

  • Tamil and Anglo-Tamil – 76 papers
  • Telegu and Anglo- Telegu – 39 papers
  • Canarese, Anglo-Canerese and Canerese-Sanskrit – 35 papers
  • Malayalam and Anglo-Malayalam – 48 papers
  • Hindustani – 22 papers
  • Vriya - 1 paper

The report for the week ending 2 April 1904 includes the following papers:

Madras Review
Indian Review
United India Madras
Northern Circars
West Coast Spectator
Evening Mail
Madras Standard
Daily Post
Journal of Education
Brahma Gnana Bodhini
Vjkata Dutan
South Indian Varthamani
Hindu Nesan
Messenger of Truth
Vrittanta Patrika
Kerala Patrika
Bharata Kesari


At the beginning of 1914 the report notes that the English and the Native newspapers inspected had been published in the native states of Hyderabad, Mysore, Travancore and Cochin and the French Territories of Pondicherry and Karikal. It also gives the name of the editor of the newspaper examined together with their religion and age.
It notes significantly that:

“Among the Indian-owned newspapers, those classed as dealing with politics are printed in big type. Officers, in whose jurisdiction they are published, are requested to pay special attention to these papers and send immediate reports of any changes in them to the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Railways and Criminal Investigation Department, Madras”.

Of the 317 newspapers listed around 80 are in bold type! Included are:

Aftab-i-Deccani Urdu Madras Mohammedan 100
Alhami Urdu Madras Mohammedan 190
Andhra English Guntur Hindu 50
Argus English Pondicherry Hindu 200
Cochin Argus English Cochin Eurasian 265
Durbar Telegu Guntur Hindu 350
Indian Law Gazette Tamil Madras Hindu 500
Kerala Chintamani Malayalam Cochin Hindu 550
Kerala Deepika Malayalam Travancore Hindu 1,000
Malayali Anglo-Malayalam Anjengo Hindu 970
Mysore Star Canarese Mysore Hindu 2,000
Swadesa Bandhu Tamil Madras Hindu 300
Virasaiva Prakasika Canarese Mysore Hindu 250

The abstracts contained in the reports are divided into the following sections:

  • I Foreign Politics
  • II Home Administration - divided into Police, Courts, Jails, Education, Local and Municipal, Land Revenue and Settlement, Forests, Railways, Public Works, Salt and Abkari, General, Legislation, Native States, Crops and Miscellaneous
  • III Legislation
  • IV Native States
  • V Prospects of the Crops and the Condition of the People
  • VI Miscellaneous

The reports contain a wealth of information on subjects as diverse as:

  • the liberty of the press and the Press Act
  • the Diwan of Cochin
  • inspectors of schools
  • village sanitation
  • intoxicants
  • cattle mortality in Malabar
  • the Home Rule deputation to England
  • death rate in Madras
  • the excesses of the Secret Police
  • Mr Tilak and his deputation
  • establishment of leper hospitals
  • railway travelling
  • zamindars and ryots
  • cow killing in the Cochin State
  • a British expedition to Thibet
  • gold mining in Kolar
  • agricultural classes in India
  • the Irish situation
  • drink prohibition
  • Gandhi’s programme
  • Mrs Besant and Indian Politics
  • the Rowlatt Bills and protest meetings
  • the medical school at Calicut
  • famine
  • sugar industry in India
  • the murder of the Amir of Kabul
  • Travancore and political reforms

The following extracts taken from the reports provide an idea of the depth of information to be found in the reports.

The state of the railways and the conditions passengers endured was always a popular topic in the papers. The extract below from a report in 1895 states:

A leader in the Malayalam ‘Kerala Patrika’ of the 2nd November, says that most of the carriages attached to the local train running from Calicut to Tirur and Podanur are leaky and uncomfortable. As the carriages have no shutters to the windows, the passengers are greatly inconvenienced by being exposed to the rain and sun in all seasons. When the railway fares are being increased day by day, it is the bounden duty of the company to see to the comfort and convenience of the passengers….”

However the main topic of discussion and debate was the growth of nationalistic feeling and a desire for independence and these themes can be followed in the reports. This extract from a report for May 1895 describes how Indian politics are being discussed more frequently in Parliament:

“The ‘Swadesamitran’ of the 21st May informs that at the last meeting of Parliament Messrs Caine, Wedderburn and Naoroji questioned the Secretary of State regarding the Opium Commission and the War in Chitral and that Indian politics and Indian affairs, which have been hitherto rare topics of discussion in Parliament are now being daily discussed there. The paper adds that this is due to the agitation of the Congress.”

In 1904 the feelings of disillusionment and resentment against the British rulers were growing:

“The ‘Vrittanta Chintamani’ of the 20th April, referring to an article in the ’Kolar Gold Field News’ approving of the appointment of an European as the chief Judge of Mysore, and suggesting that all the high appointments should be given to Europeans says:- ‘Formerly, the few Europeans that did come were not in the habit of bringing in their friends and relatives. But now the old order has changed. And if no public protest is made…the Mysore Province, will like British India, be flooded by the Europeans….”

The next, also from a report for the week ending 23 April 1904, states:

“The ‘Suryodaya Prakasika’ of the 20th April, says that though the majority of the people of India are poor and have to maintain their families with an income of 6 or 7 rupees , yet heavy taxes have been imposed upon them. Since the advent of the Europeans, the wealth of India has been finding its way through various channels into England, America, Germany, France and other countries and the result is that India has been much impoverished and falls a prey to frequent famines….”

By 1914 the liberty of the Press and the Press Act were major topics in many of the papers. The following extract from the report for the week ending 19th January 1914 states:

“The ‘Mysore Star’ writes: One of the prime causes of the advancement of the Western methods of government is the liberty of the press…. It was on the analogy of Western methods of rule that the British had given us the privilege of a free press. Latterly, when the misdeeds of some Indians led the Government to curtail this privilege by means of the Press Act, it was hoped that the new measure would be repealed as soon as the situation was found to have improved. But contrary to all expectations, it appears likely to remain permanently on the statute book…..”

The following is from the report for the week ending 8 March 1919:

“The ‘Indian Patriot’ of the 5th March observes:- The history of the Indian press is one long story of dismal sufferings, cruel persecution and unaccountable misery. Newspapers have been banned from entry to certain provinces in India; they have been gagged with security and forfeiture and confiscation; they have been tormented in diverse ways; their independence is gone and it is a struggle for existence….”

By 1918 nationalist sentiments had developed even further and much is reported on Home Rule for India and the activities of Mahatma Gandhi:

“’Justice’ of the 1st April writing on the Home Rule deputation to England says: ‘The British Empire is fighting for a just and noble cause, the cause of human freedom, of peace and righteousness on earth. The British people must therefore see that in the false name of freedom and liberty and so forth they do not hand over the vast and ignorant millions of India, tied hand and foot, to the most insidious, the most artful, the most cunning and the most relentless class, which has ever been known in the history of mankind….”

“The ‘Andhrapatrika’ of the 28th March says: Mr Gandhi preached the principle of passive resistance to the riots of Kaira with the result that the latter submitted a memorial refusing to pay land assessment under any circumstances. The firmness of Mr Gandhi cannot be made light of. It will be well for the Bombay Government to heed the representations of the people at once and do justice….”

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