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About Greater Chennai Corporation

Inauguration of the Corporation

One of the most important events during the Governorship of Yale was the institution of a Mayor and Corporation for the City of Madras. The important of the creation of a Corporation of Madras, which is the earliest of its kind in British India, has not been sufficiently stressed by historians. The originator of the scheme was Sir Josiah Child, the masterful and imperious Governor of the Court of Directors, who had already made the fire and vigour of his pen felt by the Madras Council.

The idea of a Municipal Government of Madras was taken by Child from the Dutch Government in the East Indies. In the general letter to Madras dated the 28th September 1687, Child detailed a plan for the formation of a Corporation composed of Englishmen mixed with a few Indians for good measure and equipped with a regular Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses, a Recorder and a Town Clerk and armed with power to decide petty cases and to levy rates upon the inhabitants for the building of schools, of a town hall and a jail.

Child was particular that the Court of Aldermen should be composed of three English Freemen, three Portuguese and seven Moors and Hindus and that the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses should, before they entered upon their offices, take an oath to be true and faithful to the English King and to the Company; and that the three English Aldermen should always be servants of the Company. Conservancy and Public Health were not thought of in those glamorous days.

In this elaborate letter Child invited the Madras Governor and Council to offer their own suggestions to his draft scheme. But yet within three months of his first letter, he and the Deputy President of the Company had an audience with King James II, and it was decided at this audience to send out a ready drawn Charter under the Company’s seal for the formation of the Madras Corporation; and along with this Charter, which was issued by the Company on the 30th December 1687 were sent out the Maces and the Sword together with orders that the Corporation should be immediately started. “Our Town of Fort St. George commonly called the Christian town and City of Madrassapatam upon the coast of Coromandel in the East Indies and all the territories, thereunto belonging, not exceeding the distance of ten miles from Fort St.George to be a Corporation under us by the Name and Title of the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Town of Fort St.George and the City of Madrassapatam” was the heading of the Charter. There were to be twelve Aldermen and sixty Burgesses. Mr. Nathaniel Higginson, Second in Council, was nominated the first Mayor. Three other English members of the Council three Portuguese merchants, three Jewish merchants-there was a fair sized Jewish colony in Madras at that time-and three Hindus were nominated Aldermen in the Charter itself. These latter were Chinna Venkatadri, the younger brother of Beri Timmana, whom he succeeded in the office of Chief Merchant, Mooda Verona who was also Chief Merchat for some time and Alangatha Pillai who was the builder of the Ekambareswarar Temple in Mint Street. A new Mayor was to be elected on the 29th of September every year; and the Charter itself was to come into force from the 29th September 1688. The Mayor and Aldermen were to be a Court of Record and the Mayor and three Aldermen were to be Justices of Peace. The Judge of the Supreme Court of Judicature that was created was to be the Recorder of the Corporation and a Town Clerk who was also to be a Notary was to be elected.

On the appointed date, 29th September 1688, the Corporation was inaugurated with all due solemnity, the Mayor and others taking their respective oaths. After lunch, towards three in the afternoon the whole Corporation marched in their several robes, the Aldermen in scarlet serge gowns, and the Burgesses in white China Silk, with the Mace carried before the Mayor in procession to the Town Hall.

Mr. Higginson served only six months as Mayor and resigned. He was succeeded in his office by Mr.Littleton. The Corporation soon complained that they had no revenues or funds for carrying out the works expected of them, such as the construction of a Town Hall, School house, etc. The Council gave them the right to collect the existing petty taxes of paddy toll, measuring and weigher’s duty and brokerage paid by the Town brokers. But these sources of revenue were applied to other objects than those which the Corporation specified and there arose a quarrel between Governor and the Mayor’s Court. Governor Yale had meanwhile quarreled with several of his Councillors, some of whom were Aldermen and he proposed to withdraw these taxes from the purview of the Corporation. These differences were supplemented by other causes of quarrel between the Governor and the Mayor’s Court. Under the Charter there was a right of appeal from the Mayor’s Court to the Court of Admiralty. But since the latter Court became extinct in 1689, the Mayor’s Court held that its own decisions were final. Yale objected to this and the quarrel was made the bitterer on this account.

In 1692 the Company complained that there were, as early as 1690, as many as eight English Aldermen in the Corporation and desired that the body of Aldermen should be composed of the heads of several castes like the Armenians, the Hebrews, the Portuguese, the Hindus and the Moors.

Corporation Reorganised (1727).-In July 1727 the Corporation was reorganised. It was to be composed of the Mayor and nine Aldermen, of whom seven were to be Britishers. They were to form a Court of Record and were authorised to try all civil cases. The Sheriff was to execute the processes of the Mayor’s Court. The next great stage in the growth of the Corporation came in 1753. Shortly after, Madras came once again to be the seat of the Presidency.