Andaman and Nicobar history of penal settlement

In December 1788, Surveyor Lt. Archibald Blair under directive from the then British Govt. sailed from Calcutta (present day Kolkata) to map the islands. In late 1789 Lt. Archibald Blair once again set off for journey to Andamans along with around 300 people which included Labourers, Masons and cultivators. The area selected for settlement was Port Chatham (Present day Chatham Island).
After two years (1792), due to a bureaucratic decision which felt that Port Chatham is not enough for future settlement, the settlement at Chatham Island was shifted to Port Cornwallis (Current Day Aerial Bay in Diglipur-North Andaman) on a small bay on the eastern side of North Andaman (13 ° 28` Lat., 93 ° 12` Long.). Soon the settlement at Port Cornwallis was abandoned due to bad health (Mostly Malaria) of the settlers in 1796.



Painting depicting the functional Port Cornwallis in Past



Port Cornwallis : There is confusion about the location of Port Cornwallis and even the official website of Andaman and Nicobar mentions Port Cornwallis as Port Blair which as per our research is not true.
Where is this Port Cornwallis now? (Link to Bupong Lighthouse)

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In 1814 when Port Cornwallis was visited by an English Ship very few vestiges remianed of the British settlement.
In April 1824 the British force under Sir Archibald Campbell dispatched against the burmese assembled in the harbour where some of the ships remained for abour a month.
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As per an official order Dated 20th November 1857 (Friday), F.J. Mouat (M.D), G.R. PlayFair (M.D), Lieutenant J.A. Heathcote, were appointed to be a committee to examine the Andaman group of Islands and to select the best site which may be found for the establishment of a penal settlement to keep the convicts.

Requisites for such a settlement were:

1. Secure and accessible natural harbour
2. Wood
3 Water
4. A healthy situation for a jail and convict lines
5. Considerable extent of land in the vicinity for clearance and cultivation
6. Desirable also that the jail should if possible, be located on an islet, separated from the main island by a channel affording safe anchorage for vessels of light draught, and too wide for any convict to attempt to cross by swimming.

Dr. Mouat was appointed as the President of the committee and in general incharge of the expedition.

The medical and scientific duties was entrusted to Dr. Playfair.

The responsibility ofSurvey of the coast and the harbours was entrusted to Heathcote.

The committee set off from Calcutta (now Kolkata) on 23rd November 1857, Monday to Moulmein (in Burma) on a steam Frigate Semiramis (commanded by Captain Campbell). The Committee reached Moulmein on the afternoon 1st December 1857 (Tuesday). After necessary preparations the next leg of journey was completed on 'Pluto' (ship) which started the journey from Moulmein on 8th December 1857 (Tuesday).

Captain Campbell (Semiramis) placed on disposal an Officer and 20 European Seamen from his crew for the expedition. Similarly the Officiating Commissioner of Moulmein, Major A. Fytche sanctioned the temporary transfer of 12 short term Burmese convicts accustomed to forests with a guard of 3 convict peons.

Pluto reached Port Cornwallis (Diglipur) at 8.30 am Friday on 11th December.
This Committee suggested the name Port Blair

The Committee submitted their report on 1st of January 1858

Rutland Island and nearby Cinque Island were evaluated as another alternative for early settlement at Andamans, but was adjudged that it is inferior to Chatham area because the north shore was found surrounded by dense belt of mangrove, rending it difficult to find a suitable landing place.

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Dr. James Pattison Walker (Superintendent) arrived at Port Blair with 200 convicts, 4 European officers and Indian doctors on board Semiramis. Simultaneously Ships sailed from Madras (present Chennai) and Lahore bringing more convicts and at the beginning 773 convicts were there with Walker at Port Blair.

After about 3 months of arrival, on 16 June James Pattison walker recorded the following statistics of convicts:
Total convicts received : 773
Died in hospital : 64
Escaped and not recaptured (Probably died for starvation, or killed by the savages) : 140
Suicide : 1
Hanged for attempting to escape : 87
As many as 228 convicts escaped from the settlement out of which only 87 were captured and hanged to death , rest of them are probably got killed by the natives.
Ross Island Settlement
The Ross Island settlement
Cellular Jail port Blair
Present Day Cellular Jail

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Event : The ship 'Assam Valley' bad landed in Little Andaman. the crew was feared to have been murdered by the natives. On 7ht of May, Asst. Surgeon CM Douglas, Privates T Murphy, J Cooper, D ball and W Griffiths. 2nd battalion 24th regiment were sent to ascertain the fate of the crew of 'Assam valley'. It is reported that 17 officers and men were saved. The Queen decorated the 4 rescue officals with Victoria Cross.


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Lord Mayo, the then Viceroy and Governor-General of India, while on a tour of inspection, was assassinated by Sher Ali on the 8th February 1872.


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British wanted the settlement to grow and as a measure the convicts after serving a part of the sentence in Andamans were allowed to bring their wives and families if they wished. In around 1859, 36 female convicts were brought from various Indians jails. the females were housed in a wooden barracks in South Point (Port Blair).

A male convict was given a "self supporter's ticket" on completion of mandatory jail term usually six to ten years on a case to case basis. Many if the first convict couples settled in Shaadipur in Port Blair (That's why its called Shaadipur!!!). Soon the traders, artisans, lower level govt. officials chose to settle in Andaman.


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November 1st, 1891, a cyclone swept over Port Blair, the Indian Penal settlement in the Andaman islands. The "S.S. Enterprise," which was lying at her moorings, was caught by the tornado, and at 2 o'clock in the morning of the 2nd broke adrift, and was dashed upon the South Point Reef, where she soon went to pieces. There were eighty-three souls on board. few of them were pulled to safety by Female convicts who were said to have made a human chain to rescue few of the possible survivors.

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Construction of cellular jail started in 1893 and completed in 1906.
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Viper Island is very near to Port Blair and was the old Jail was British's used to harbor convicts. It has ruins of gallows atop a hillock. The Jail was abandoned when the Cellular Jail was constructed in 1906

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Savarkar was brought to Andaman on July 4, 1911

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Large number of Moplah families from Malabar (Kerala) who took part in Moplah revolt (1925) against British were brought ans settled in WimberleyGunj. Roughly at the same time a particular Tribe called 'Bhantu' notified as a criminal tribe by British were deported here and settled in FerrarGunj (named after Colonel Ferrar- the then Chief Commissioner). Ferrar was known to be an enthusiastic coloniser and wanted Andaman to be free and permanent settlement> this he envisioned could only be done by improving the quality of life of the settlers. Grants of land and 1 or 2 Buffalo's were given. there were roughly 6000 convicts in Andamans when World war 2 broke.
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A powerful earthquake rocked Andaman on June 26, 1941. Ross Island was the administrative headquarters during the time. The earthquake might have generated a Tsunami in the Andaman sea and the Bay of Bengal. After the earthquake the headquarters was shifted to Port Blair
The population in these Islands was roughly 9000 in 1941

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The Final batch of convicts were soldier mutineers belonging to Central India Horse and Royal Indian Army Secirty Corps.
On March 23, 1942, Japanese forces invaded the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. The British fled from Andaman except for the Deputy Superintendent, whom they publicly executed, along with a popular Sikh doctor. the population was roughly around 20,000 when the Japanese arrived.
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Netaji's Azad Hind Fauz first of all gave independence to Port Blair, Andaman. Netaji visited the Andaman Island and hoisted the tricolour flag on 30 December 1943. He had declared that the very first bastion to be relieved of the British yolk was Andaman
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Chief Commissioners / Administrators of Andaman and Nicobar Islands

01. Dr.James Pettison Walker 1858-1859 
02. Captain Haughton 1859-1862 
03. R.L. Tytler 1862-1864 
04. Lt. Col. Ford 1864-1868 
05. Col H. Man 1868-1871 
06. Major Gen. Donald Martin Stewart, C.B. 1872 (15th July 1872) 
07. General Donald Martin Stewart, CGB,GCSI,CIE 1872-1875 
08. Captain Montague Protheroe 1875 (7th May) 
09. Major General Charles Arthur Barwell, IA 1875-1876 (26 May 1875) 
10. Captain Montague Protheroe 1876-1878 (27th Nov 1876) 
11. Captain Reginald Justus Wimberley 1878-1879 (13th Dec 1878 to 24 Feb 1879) 
12. Col. Thomas Cadel,VCIA 1879-1881 (12th Dec 1879) 
13. Maj. Montague Protheroe 1881-1887 (17th Oct 1881) 
14. Lieut. Col. Reginald Justus Wimberley 1887-1888 (12th Feb 1887) 
15. Lieut. Col. Louis Henry Emile Tucker 1888-1892 (05th Oct 1888) 
16. Col. Norman Macleod Thomas Horsford 1892-1894 (16th April 1892) 
17. Edward Horace Man, C.I.E 1894-1894 (25th July 1894) 
18. Maj. Richard Carnac Temple, C.I.E 1894-1896 (03rd August 1894) 
19. Col. Frank William Chatterton, C.I.E 1896-1898 (03rd September 1896) 
20. Lt. Col. George Wemyss Anson 1898-1901 (21st Jan 1898) 
21. Col. Somerset Henry Paul Graves 1901-1903 (09th May 1901) 
22. F.E. Tuson 1903-1904 
23. W R H Merk, CSI 1904-1906 
24. Lt.Col H.A Browing, IA 1906-1913 
25. Lt.Col MW Doughlas, IA 1913-1920 
26. Col.H.C.Beaddon, IA 1920-1923 
27. Lt.Col ML Ferrar, KCSI,CSI,CIE,IA 1923-1931 
28. J. W. Smyth, ICS 1931-1935 
29. W.A.Consgrave, CIE,ICS 935-1938  
30. Sir C.E. Waterfall CIE,IP,ICS (Imprisoned by Japanese) 1938-1942  
JAPANESE OCCUPATION
31. Mr. N.K. Paterson OBE,ICS 1945-1947  
INDEPENDENT INDIA
32. Shri. Inamul Majid, ICS 1947-1949  
33. Shri. Ajoy Kumar Ghose, ICS 1949 1953  
34. Shri. Sankar Nath Maitra, CSI 1953-1956  
35. Shri. C. Ramachandran, IAS 1956-1956  
36. Shri. T. G. N. Ayyar,ICS 1956-1958  
37. Shri. M. V. Rajawade, IAS 1958-1961  
38. Shri. B. M. Mahewari,IAS 1961-1965 
39. Shri. B.L. Chak IAS 1965-1966  
40. Shri. Mahabir Singh, IAS 1966-1968 
41. Shri. H. S. Butalia, IAS 1968-1972  
42. Shri. Harminder Singh, IAS 1972-1975 
43. Shri. Sunder Mohan Krishnatry, IAS 1975-1979  
43. Shri. Sunder Lall Sharma, IAS 1979-1982  
LIEUTENANT GOVERNORS
44. Shri. Manohar Lall Kampani 12.11.1982 to 03.12.1985  
45. Shri. Tirath Singh Oberoi 04.12.1985 to 23.02.1990  
46. Lt. General Ranjit Singh Dayal 25.02.1990 to 04.07.1992  
47. Shri. Bhishma Narayan Singh 04.07.1992 to 13.08.1992  
48. Lt. General Ranjit Singh Dayal 14.08.1992 to 15.03.1993 
49. Shri. Vakkom Purushothaman MA, LLB 19.03.1993 to 13.03.1996  
50. Dr.Rajendra Kumary Bajpai 19.03.1996 to 09.11.1996  
51. Dr. M.Channa Reddy, Governor T/Nadu 09.11.1996 to 02.12.1996  
52. Dr.Rajendra Kumary Bajpai 02.12.1996 to 22.12.1996  
53. Shri. Iswari Prasad Gupta, IAS 23.12.1996 to 25.05.2001  
54. Shri. Narendra Nath Jha, IFS 26.05.2001 to 03.01.2004  
55. Prof. Ramchandra Ganesh Kapse 05.01.2004 to 28.11.2005  
56. Lt.General (Retd) M. M. Lakhera 29.11.2005 to 23.12-2005  
58. Prof. Ramchandra Ganesh Kapse 24.12.2005 to 11.02.2006  
59. Lt.General (Retd) Madan Mohan Lakhera 12-Feb-2006 to 28-Dec-2006  
60. Lt General (Retd.) Bhopinder Singh, PVSM,AVSM 29-Dec-2006 to 30-June-2013  
61. Lt. General (Retd.) Ajay Kumar Singh 8-July-2013 to 19-Aug-2016  
62. Jagadish Mukhi 22-Aug-2016 to 06-Oct-2017  
63. Admiral D K Joshi, PVSM, AVSM, YSM, NM, VSM (Retd.) 08-Oct-2016 to till date  

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