The gate post of Tulloch's Gardens
The gate post of Tulloch’s Gardens

It stands rather forlornly on Anderson Road, Egmore, on the same side as Asan Memorial School. Indeed, it, and the compound wall that still survives by its side though almost obliterated by the rising road level, was once part of the campus that encompassed the school as well.

A close up of the plaque
A close up of the plaque

A closer look reveals what is inscribed on the marble plaque — Tullock’s Gardens. A matching pillar on the other side bears the legend Cochin House, thereby rather neatly summarising the entire history of the place. H.D. Love’s Vestiges of Old Madras has further details — it was by 1837 Col Alexander Tulloch’s home, and hence the name. The property came to have several owners subsequently, before being divided early in the 20th Century into parts — one became Cochin House, the Madras palace of the Maharajah of that eponymous State, becoming in the 1960s Asan Memorial School. The other had a more chequered history and is now a shabbily maintained police housing scheme.

There have been plenty of Tullochs in Madras history, though I am not certain if the ‘k’ in the Tullock on the slab is an inscribing error. Most famous was Captain Hector Tulloch, of the Royal Engineers. Arriving in Madras in the 1860s, he was appalled to find that the city had no underground drains and created a plan for it. Submitted in 1865, it was revolutionary for the times — he proposed the separation of sewage from rainwater (something that is yet to be fully in place), and the laying of small sewers in various parts of the city from where the sewerage could be taken to one central spot, where, by means of steam pumps, it was to be lifted and discharged into the sea.

This collection point was to be in the neighbourhood of ‘Coorookoopett’. He had an alternative for the disposal of the sewage — it could be used to fertilise the ‘thousands of acres of waste land lying to the north-west of Madras’.

Tulloch’s scheme was detailed and thorough. It found a champion in Florence Nightingale in England, who thought it admirable. But he had not reckoned with local opposition. This came from W.R. Cornish, Sanitary Commissioner for Madras, who strongly protested against Western ideas being imposed on our city. He was all for the system of dry conservancy to continue. Tulloch moved to Bombay in 1871, where the Commissioners of that city’s corporation immediately trashed a similar idea formulated by him. They just could not stomach an outsider coming up with schemes that suggested, among other things, that ‘night soil be carried off by sewers’. They were all for the human scavenging system.

Back in Madras, Governor Lord Hobart died of cholera in 1875, which was directly attributed to the drains or lack of them. Everyone woke up to the merits of Tulloch’s scheme and work then began desultorily on its implementation. What is ironic is that back home in England, Tulloch became the resident expert on drains and several towns eventually owed their sewerage systems to him.

This article appeared in The Hindu dated January 24, 2015, under the Hidden Histories column.

You may also be interested in reading the following on the history of water supply and sanitation in our city:

The Indian in the waterworks

History of public toilets in Chennai

Transforming slums and translating Tirukkural

Park with a past

The story of Kelly’s Bottle