It has been some years since I became a member of this hallowed club, the second oldest in India. A study of its past members is always fascinating and recently I was asked to give a talk there on some of the club’s Presidents. I stuck to the pre-Independence period and buoyed by the research I had done for books such as the Championing Enterprise, 175 years of the Madras Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Brotherhood and Benevolence, 300 years of Freemasonry in India (co-authored with Karthik Bhatt), I managed the talk. What follows below is a brief summary:
In its 189 years (my goodness in another 11 years the Club will be celebrating its bicentenary!), the Madras Club has been led by several Presidents. Some of them were distinguished men of letters. Among these, Archibald Campbell (1836) was a distinguished linguist and in that capacity wrote the first Telugu grammar book. His predecessor, Gen. Sir John Doveton (1834 & 35) supported several Indian scholars at his vast residence Doveton House, which is today the Women’s Christian College. In gratitude, many of them added Doveton to their surnames! Lt Col HD Love (1903-1904) wrote the definitive book Vestiges of Old Madras.
Sir Walter Elliot (1849) was a close friend of Charles Darwin and sent him specimens of birds from Madras and the latter acknowledges this help in his Origin of Species. We also know Eliot for a less edifying reason – he dismantled the Amaravati Stupa and shipped the bulk of it to England where the pieces still remain, classified as the Eliot marbles though they are of limestone. A few are in the Government Museum, Chennai.
There were some remembered chiefly for scandals. The distinguished jurist John D Mayne (1866-1867) eloped with his friend’s wife and that ended his career in India. General Sir WH Sewell (1839) was most likely an illegitimate son of the Prince Regent, later George IV. And then there were Patrick MacFadyen (1875-1876) and Sir George Gough Arbuthnot (1898-1899, 1902-1903, 1904-1907) who between them caused the biggest financial scandal of the time – the Arbuthnot Crash, which ruined millions. In fact Sir George was President of the Club when he was arrested and charged for bringing on the debacle.
In short there were all kinds of people who became Presidents.