Visit The Magnificent Fort St. George in Chennai: The First British Fortress to Be Built in India (2020)
About Fort St. George in Chennai:
Fort St. George, located in Chennai, is the first British fortress to be built in India. The Fort St. George was built in 1639 and was often referred to as the White Town in the olden days. The construction of the fort kick-started the setting up of more settlements and eventually led to the start of trading activity in an originally uninhabited land. It would be correct to say that the city of Chennai evolved over the years around this fort. Today, the Fort St. George is home to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly and few other official buildings.
History of Fort St. George:
What is the history of Fort St. George? The East India Company (EIC) came into India in the 1600s to conduct trading activities. The initial bastion of the EIC was in Surat. However, company officials wanted a port that was closer to the Malaccan Straits in order to secure its commercial interests and trade lines. EIC thus purchased a piece of coastal land by the name of Channapatnam or Chennirayarpattinam. Here the company began the construction of a fort and harbor.
The construction of the fort finished on April 23, 1644, and the project cost around GBP 3,000. The construction of the fort coincided with St. George’s Day, which is celebrated to honor England’s patron saint. The fort was therefore named Fort St. George. The fort faced some fishing villages and the sea and soon became an important center of trading activity.
In fact, the Fort St. George soon became such an important center of activity that a new settlement area soon developed around it, known as George Town. This slowly enveloped the nearby fishing villages, and over the years, it developed into the city of Madras, now known as Chennai.
Even the 17th-century traveler Thomas Bowrey described Fort St. George as a place of great splendor.
Fort St. George is truly a force to deal with as it has 6 meters 920 feet) high walls that have defended the fort against a number of assaults in the 18th century. The Fort St. George was briefly in possession of the French from 1746 to 1749, but it was returned to the British under the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which was responsible for ending the War of the Austrian Succession.
Today, the Fort St. George is one of the administrative headquarters of the legislative assembly of the state of Tamil Nadu. It still houses a garrison of troops who are in transit to various locations across South India and the Andaman Islands.
What’s Inside the Fort St. George?
There is a church, a museum, and Wellesley House located on the premises of the Fort St. George.
Can we visit the church at Fort St. George? St. Mary’s Church, located on the premises of this fort, is said to be the oldest Anglican Church in India. It was constructed between 1678 and 1680 under the orders of the Agent of Madras Streynsham Master. There is a small cemetery attached to the church inside the fort. The tombstones present in this graveyard are known to be the oldest British or English tombstones in India. The prayer house of this church was known to have witnessed the marriages of Governor Elihu Yale and Robert Clive. Governor Yale later went on to become the first benefactor of Yale University in the United States.
Information For Tourists Visiting Fort St. George
Is the Fort Museum open to public? Known as the Fort Museum, the museum inside the Fort St. George is open to public and is managed by the Archaeological Survey of India. It is the only place that needs a ticket to enter. There are many exhibits here hailing back to the period of British rule. The museum building was completed in 1795, much after the church was built. It was first an office of the Madras Bank, while the upper section served as the Public Exchange Hall where public meetings, lottery draws, and entertainment programs used to take place.
The relics kept in this museum range from weapons, coins, uniforms, and other artifacts from India, France, England, and Scotland, and all date back to the colonial era. The museum also contains original letters written by Cornwallis and Robert Clive. There is also a set of period uniforms that are displayed for all to see. The museum also has portraits of the many governors of Madras. The large statue of Lord Cornwallis is one of the main attractions at the museum.
Where is Wellesley House located? Fort St. George is home to the Wellesley House. It is located on the first floor of a separate building inside the fort, which also includes the Banquet Hall. The Banqueting Hall displays many paintings of the governors of the fort and other high ranking officials of the British regime.
What is there to see in Wellesley House? Apart from the paintings, the main draw of the Wellesley House is the canons of Tipu Sultan, the Mughal ruler. These canons are kept on the ramparts of the museum. There is also a 14.5 feet statue of Tipu Sultan that stands at the entrance of the Wellesley House. The statue was built by Charles Bank in England and brought to India. The pedestal of this giant statue is beautifully carved with a scene showing Tipu Sultan’s messenger handing over Tipu’s two sons as a hostage to the British in place of a ransom that the Mughal emperor was unable to pay.
Another unique feature to check out at Fort St. George is the flagstaff. This flagstaff is one of the tallest in India and made of teakwood. The flagstaff has an awe-inspiring height of 150 feet.
Where is St. George Fort Located?
The Fort St. George is situated on the Rajaji Salai Road in Chennai and is a very famous landmark of the city. The Fort St. George is today looked after by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), while the Indian Army provides administrative support.
How long should I spend at St. George’s Fort? It takes around an hour to see the fort and check out the museum and church. So plan your trip accordingly if you truly want to take in the history of this magnificent fort.
St. George Fort Timings
What are the timings of St. George Fort? The fort remains open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, except on Friday.
St. George Fort Entry
Is there any entrance fee at Fort St. George? Yes, for Indian citizens, the ticket is priced at a nominal Rs. 5, while for foreigners the ticket price is Rs. 100. There is also a separate ticket you need to purchase if you want to visit the Fort Museum.