This is one area that I have written enough and more on and you can find much of it in this blog. Better still, you can buy my book of Fort St George. There is of course only one post office here, and that is within the Fort, in North Street. I am surprised as to why the Fort did not become Chennai 600001 or even 2 and was given 9, for it was here that like many other things, postal services began in Madras city.
It was in 1785 that John Philip Burton, a Civilian of the East India Company wrote to Governor Davidson suggesting that a post office be established in Fort St George. He felt that it was time that the then practice of the Company bearing the expenditure for all the private correspondence of its officials (known as OC in Madras) was discontinued. In any case, there had been several complaints about delays in delivery of letters and of mail bags lying unattended to at the main Guards Gate where they were “interrupted by curious and inquisitive persons”.
Burton set out in detail what was expected of the postal service. The proposed post office in the Fort would be the allotted place for receipt of all letters. All mail, whether public or private, had to be paid for by the sender and the payment would have to be made while handing over the letters to the Postmaster. Burton envisaged the setting up of post offices at all the settlements and in each place, the Secretary to the Chief in Council was to act as Postmaster and in the case of garrison headquarters the Paymaster or Commandant was to act as one. The postal service would be headed by a Post Master General (PMG) and all accounts of the department would be settled by him with all expenses being subject to periodic audit by the Government.
A postal service had already begun in Bengal and this system was studied in detail and based on the same, it was decided that a service would be established in Madras. Letters were classified as single, double or treble, based on their weight and rates were fixed on this basis.
The postal service came into existence with the setting up of the Madras General Post Office (GPO) at Fort Square on 1stJune 1786. Postal delivery, both local and to the other two Presidencies was by “runner”, which literarily meant that – men ran in relays carrying the mail. It was still a great improvement especially when a system of runners was established between Madras and Bombay, the earlier method being the sending letters by sea from Anjengo on the West Coast. But the Bombay-Madras overland route ran through Tipu Sultan territory at places and till 1799 therefore it was necessary to skirt these places. The standard route therefore was Madras-Ongole-Poona- Bombay. The letters were transferred half-way and it took 20 to 25 days for delivery. Over time several improvements were made and by 1790 a letter to Bombay took only 17 days. Letters to Bengal were sent via Masulipatnam and the journey took 26 days.
By 1836, the postal system had to contend with the Madras Chamber of Commerce, which having come into existence, began pressing for postal reforms. The Government had by its Act XVII of 1837 assumed the exclusive right of postal communication. Mail was despatched from Madras in six directions – North, South, West, North West, South West and South Easterly. Post offices had been opened in Royapettah and Vepery, though posting there meant an extra charge of half-anna to cover the cost of transmission to the GPO in the Fort. These post offices were open from 11.00 am to 4.00 pm while the GPO was open from 11.00 am to 6.00 pm, with a late postal facility being available till 6.45 pm on payment of a “fine of 1 Rupee”. There were two door-deliveries of mail each day, at 8.00 am and 4.00 pm. The arrival of steamers meant mail required less time and then in 1853 came the telegraph.
With the growth in postal services, it was felt by the Chamber that a head post office located within the confines of the Fort was not enough. It began pressing for a General Post Office in 1868, spurred on perhaps by the fact that GPOs were being built in Calcutta and Bombay. The Government agreed to such a construction, at an estimate of Rs 2 lakhs. But the actual money was slow in forthcoming, for the allotments were invariably made over to other and more pressing requirements, most notably for famine relief. But the Chamber kept at it and in 1873, it won its point decisively over the location of the proposed GPO. The Government was keen to have it near the railway terminus which was at Royapuram but the Chamber was all for the GPO being on First Line Beach. By then, the GPO, perhaps in response to Chamber’s requests, had moved out of the Fort into Popham’s Broadway. In the late 1870s, it was in the Mercantile Bank Building on First Line Beach. Close by was Abercrombie’s Battery, a site so named for it was one of the several locations on the sea-front where guns were mounted during the years of conflict with the French. Now in peace time this was vacant and was made over for the construction of the GPO and the Central Telegraph Office, the decision to house the two together being once again, a Chamber idea. But even in 1875 work did not begin, despite the first sod of land being turned in 1874 by Governor Lord Hobart and the Consulting Architect to the Government Robert Fellowes Chisholm being asked a year earlier to “suspend all works on hand and to take up in real earnest the construction of the Madras GPO Building”. And the rest is history. For that matter, even postal services are largely history and telegraph is dead.
Post Office Square at the southeastern end of the Fort, close to St Thomas’ Gate was where the post office functioned in the 19th century. Till ten years ago this was easily accessible and you could actually climb on to the ramparts of the Fort from there. Now it is a jungle and full of ruins.
There is plenty to see in the Fort and here is my listing of the top 22 attractions –
- The Sea Gate
- The Flagstaff
- The Moat
- Cornwallis Cupola
- The Assembly building
- Parade Square
- St Mary’s Church
- The Yard of St Mary’s
- St Thomas’ Street
- St Thomas’ Gate
- Church Street
- Charles Street
- The Great House of Charles Street (Clive’s House)
- Wellesley’s House
- Wallajah Gate
- St George’s Gate
- Palace Street
- King’s Barracks
- Middle Street
- Fort Museum
- Namakkal Kavignar Maligai (once Portuguese Square)
- The Grand Arsenal
Just outside of the Fort, and to its south is the War Memorial, which also falls in Chennai 600009. And there are the army and navy establishments just outside the Fort, to the west and east of it. Besides these, there is Fort Station.
You can read about Chennai 600008 here
You can read about Chennai 600010 here
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