Continued from here

The case of Rex vs Dawes, the first in India to be tried by jury, set a precedent. The Governor and Council in their letter to the EIC dated April 15, 1669, lamented that the case had come to such a conclusion because “We found ourselves at a loss in severall things, for want of Instructions, haveing noe man understanding the Laws and formallityes of them to instruct us…” This was to mark the beginning of a process of judicial reform which after several stages culminated in the formation of the High Courts of Judicature in 1862. It also saw the upgrading of the post of Agent of Madras to that of Governor, who remained the executive head till 1947. Sir Heneage Finch’s note on how the trial was to proceed was to serve for years as the basis on which the EIC derived its powers to settle cases in its possessions in India.

What was not new then, and continues even now, are conflicts over the treatments of domestics. There are at least two more instances in the early history of Madras, of domestics/slaves being killed by their employers. Both of these are in Dodwell’s Nabobs of Madras (1926).

The first was Mrs John Turing (one of a long line of Turings in Madras that culminated in James Matheson Turing whose son Allan is said to be the father of modern computing), who in 1761 had several ‘Coffree girls’ in her service. In 1769, according to Dodwell, she came “into painful prominence, being indicted for causing the death of one of her slaves. Though acquitted, she withdrew from the settlement for some time”.

The second was the Rev. St John Browne, who in 1775 was appointed Parson of St Mary’s by the Court of Directors, without, as the Church of England was careful to add later, ‘reference to the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Bishop of London’. Browne was disgraced when his servant, while trying to escape his master’s blows, fell from a terrace some twenty feet high. “The wretched man was left lying there all night and died two days later.” When he was informed about it, Browne swore and said that the man could go to Hell!

The trial began immediately. Some were of the view that the Rev Browne had to be pardoned as he committed the crime under the influence of alcohol! But he was tried and found guilty of ‘homicide through misadventure’. He was sent back to England.