Ross Island | India
History of Ross Island
Ross Island is a popular tourist destination and located at the
entrance of Port Blair Harbour on the Eastward with a total area of 70 acres.
Ross island was once the seat of British power. The Ross Island was carefully chosen by Marine
Surveyor Daniel Ross, after whom it is named, to guard Port Blair
Ross Island Old Bakery
Ross Island Church
Dr. James Pattison Walker, the first Superintendent of the penal
settlement in Andamans reached here aboard the East India Company's
steam frigate "Semiramis" with the first batch of 200 freedom fighters of
1857 on 10th March 1858 thus marking the beginning of the penal
settlement. Walker decided to set up the Headquarters of the settlement at
Chatham Island where 62 years ago Lt. Archibald Blair had established the
first every colony in the Andamans in 1789. But due to scarcity of water
sources in the Chatham Island, Walker had to change his decision and
selected Ross Island, hardly two and a half miles away from Chatham for
the establishment of the Headquarters of the penal settlement.
Ross Island remained the headquarter of the British Government from May 1858 till the
occupation of the Islands by Japanese Imperial Forces on 23rd March 1942.
Ross Island started taking shape as the construction work was
initiated in the cleared area.
The jungle at Ross Island was continuous and had no plains or clear
land in between. It was so dense that trees when cut could not fall down
without using great force to ground them. In this immense, arduous task
of jungle clearing, the hands that once held rifles against the British rulers
in India in 1857 were, as fate destined, holding axes and choppers to fell
the huge trees which could not be removed easily owing to the intricate
binding by Century old giant creepers.
The heroes of our freedom struggle had to face untold miseries and
sufferings in the Penal settlement of Andamans. British Officers tried all
kinds of inhuman and brutal punishment including mass execution without
any proper trial. The Officers chosen for the convict management at Port
Blair had served during the First War of Independence in 1857. This was
the reason that they treated the heroes of 1857 with great cruelty.
In the beginning, on frequent intervals ships namely Semiramis,
Dalhousie, Pluto, Roman Emperor, Edward, Sesotris etc. continued to arrive
at the penal settlement with prisoners on board from Rangoon, Moulemin,
Karachi, Calcutta and so on.
Many charismatic personalities belonging to the first war of
independence, Wahabi Movement and later revolutionary activities were
deported to the penal settlement to undergo their sentences. They were
Musai Singh, Allama Fazal Haq Khiarabadi, Bahadur Singh, Bhima Naik,
Moulavi Liaqat Ali, Garbadas Patel, Bhikaji Ganesh Gokhale, Venkat Roa,
Syed Alauddin, father and son Himanchal Singh and Kura Singh, Mohd
Ismail Hussain Muneer, Hattee Singh, Maya Ram Jawahar Singh,
Ahmedullah, Yahya Ali, Jafar Thaneswari, Maharaj Brij Kishore Singh Dev
Life of a prisoner in the beginning of the settlement was very
miserable. They were transported to the penal settlement without any prior
arrangements. Even the basic needs for the establishment of the
settlement were received after ten days of their arrival. Even during the
rainy season they had no place for a safe shelter other than staying in
tents. The condition was little improved by November 1858, when
accommodation for one thousand prisoners on Ross Island was provided.
The prisoners were accommodated in barracks of a temporary nature with
thatched roofs and mat walls which leaks continuously during rainy season.
Dr. Walker was very harsh towards the prisoners, convicts were
handcuffed together in pairs and these handcuffs were never opened.
During working hours the worst characters were taken to sea beach, and
an iron bar being passed through the fetters of a number of them, they
were thus fastened to the earth, and made to do what they could in a
The prisoners were put on the hardest labour in the settlement.
They had to work about nine hours a day in the tropical climate and
dense forest. They were engaged not only for clearing thick tropical jungles but also employed in digging wells, cutting earth, filling swamps,
cooking and constructing huts.
The tortures imposed by Walker increased day by day. With the
occupation of the Viper Island on 8 October 1858 a new form of
punishment called the Chain-gang was introduced. The prisoners who
were sentenced to undergo this punishment by the Superintendent's
Court, was chained together and locked up at night by a chain running
through their legs through the coupling of irons. In order to make the
punishment more effective a jail was constructed at Viper Island during
The arrangements for food, clothing and shelter in the settlement
were not adequate for human beings. In the absence of adequate
medical care, lack of proper food, and unhealthy climate, they began to
die of minor diseases such as malaria, dysentery, pneumonia etc. The
freedom fighters were ruthlessly punished for violation of jail rules and
regulations. These heroes of the First War of Independence not only
faced the inhuman treatment of the British authorities in the settlement
but also had to suffer at the hands of aborigines of the Andaman Islands.
From the very beginning of the settlement the aborigines attacked the
working parties, as a result of which a large number of them were killed
while at work in different convict's stations of the penal settlement.
These circumstances encouraged frequent escapes from the
settlement. At dead of night on 18th March 1858, a group of twenty one
convicts escaped from Ross Island in rafts, made ready for the purpose
hidden in the jungles. On 23rd March another group of eleven convicts
escaped from Ross Island in a similar way. The escape of convicts
continued in spite of the risks of life involved in it.
On 8th February 1872 Lord Mayo, the Viceroy of India
arrived on the islands aboard the ship H.M. Glasgow accompanied by
other ships S.S. Dacca and Scotia .He never knew that he is undertaking
the last journey of his life. The Viceroy's arrival was welcomed with 21
Cannon fires. He spent his entire day touring the workshops and factories
of the prisoners. He visited Ross Island and inspected public buildings.
Bazar, Church, Hospital, etc. accompanied by his staff officers, family
members and Mr. Stewart, Superintendent of the penal settlement.
At the end of his official visit, the Viceroy expressed his desire to visit
the Mount Harriet. The settlement officers made all security arrangements
there but in spite of this on his return from Mount Harriet, he was
assassinated by a convict named Sher Ali, who was residing in the Hope
Town as a convict on ticket of leave. Sher Ali was later executed at the
Viper Island Gallows.
With the passage of time, Ross Island was transformed into a
comfortable place for the British who were posted there. The forest was
entirely cleared. The seventy acre Island was divided into halves by a wall
measuring from the east to the west. The accommodation of the British
officers and soldier's barracks remained in the north of the wall on the
hilltop, while the convicts and the barracks of Indian soldiers were in the
Among the long list of freedom fighters who were sentenced to
transportation for life to the Andaman in connection with the first war of
Indians the name of Musai Singh and Fazal Haq Khairabadi occupies an
important place. Musai Singh is known as the hero of 1857. He was
associated with Bhadohi Rebellion of June 1857.
Musai Singh was only 21 years of age at the time of First War of
Independence. He was sentenced to transportation for life on the charges
of "being a ring leader in the murder of Mr. Moore and Arson, dacoity and
rebellion." After twenty five years of his arrival in Andaman, in March
1884, he was sanctioned partial.
Musai Singh, prisoner number 4568 was released from the penal
settlement of Andamans in May 1907 at the age of seventy one. It was
decided to conditionally 'release him with permission to reside at Rangoon
under Police surveillance'.
Viceroy Lord Minto sent a Telegram dated 1st May 1907 to the is
effect to the Secretary of State which reads as under:-
"Please refer Home department dispatch dated 11th May on the
subject. I have just seen the dispatch, and consider that his conditional
release with permission the reside in Rangoon under Police surveillance
should be sanctioned. He is the last survivor of the Mutiny convicts in the
Andamans, where his record has been excellent. I strongly recommend
his release which could be most appropriate on the 50th anniversary of
Finally, Musai Singh was released from the penal settlement of
Andaman after 47 years. He reached Rangoon in July 1907, where he was
directed to present himself before the Superintendent of Police on the
first day of every month.
Historians consider Musai Singh as the hero of 1857, as when the
Indians were observing the fifty years of 1857, he was released from the
penal settlement of Andaman Islands after forty seven years, the longest
Another stalwart of the first war of Independence was Fazal Haq
Khairabadi. He was sentenced to transportation for life to Kala Pani with
confiscation of his property. He, along with other Freedom Fighters of
1857 reached Andamans on 8 October 1859 aboard the Steam Frigate
Fire Queen, where he was registered as prisoner number 3687.
During his imprisonment in the penal settlement, Fazal Haq wrote
on pieces of cloth with charcoal sticks and sent these clothes to his son
Maulana Abdul Haq in the mainland in the year 1860 through Mufti Inayat
Ahmed Kakurri, another scholar who took part in the First War of
Independence. Both the works were rendered in Arabic which later came
to be known as Al-Surat-ul Hindia and Al-Fitnat-ul-Hindia. It contained
all the incidents of the First War of Independence and his days in Kala
Colonel Haughton, the then Superintendent of Port Blair
recommended the Government for the release of Fazal Haq. Meanwhile,
his son Shams-ul-Haq also appealed to the Government for the release of
his father. At last he managed to obtain the release order of his father
from the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon. But, on arrival at Port Blair in
1861, he could only join the funeral procession of his father.
He expressed about the miserable life in the Andaman in his
book. In his words, "All huts of the prisoners had temporary roofs which
leaks frequently like non ending tears of my eyes. No sorrow of the would
can be compared with the painful life here. When a prisoner dies, he is
buried in the sandy shore without performing any last rituals such as bath
and coffin. Neither proper grave is dug nor is the last prayer offered.
If this would have not been the practice adopted here for burial of dead
bodies, death in the Andamans would have been everyone's desire."
Though the life of the prisoners in the Ross Island was a tale of
torture and sufferings but the settlement officers did not leave a stone
turn to make the isolated Ross a paradise for themselves. The Chief
Commissioner's residence, swimming pool and tennis court for officers
and all other facilities such as bakery, distilling water plant, Eurasian and
European schools were constructed at the Ross Island for the British
settlement officers. A temple and a mosque were also constructed here. The inscription on the graves in the European Cemetery of the Ross
Island describes the mental status of the European officers.
The Bazar at Ross Island was the hub of all activities during the
end of nineteenth and beginning of twentieth century till the occupation
of Japanese. The ruins of Bazar still remind us the bygone era where
European and Indian customers come for purchases of their necessities
from the shops of philanthropist Farzand Ali. The shops selling various
commodities of life owned by Dawood Jan, Malhotra, Belumal,
Appalswamy, Nabi Bux and Muriwali old lady Roop Kunwar.
On 26th June 1941 at 5.21 PM (Local time, (IST 4.21 PM) an earth
quake of greater magnitude rocked the Island. As a result of earth quake a
crack was developed in the whole Island from its central part of the road.
A number of buildings on the Ross Island were damaged.
During the penal settlement, Ross Island saw 24 Chief
Commissioners including Stewart after 1872 when the post of
Superintendent was upgraded. The downfall of this "Paris of the East"
began with the occupation of Andaman Islands by the Japanese Imperial
Forces. As a result of Japanese air raids; the Chief Commissioner C.F.
Waterfall shifted his residence and the seat of Administration to Aberdeen,
Port Blair in January 1942. The Japanese forces occupied Andaman and
Nicobar Islands on 23rd March 1942. The Chief Commissioner surrendered before
the Japanese and taken as POW and camped at Ross Island, along with his
Secretary and few Anglo Indians. The civilians and shop owners were
forced to leave the Ross Island. Japanese forces converted Ross island
into a Military Base.
The Supreme commander of INA and Head of state and Azad Hind
Govt., Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose visited the islands on 29th December
1943. He stayed at Ross Island in the former Govt. House of the then
Chief Commissioner. Tricolor was hoisted during Netaji's stay for four
days. Netaji had a group photo along with the member of the Indian
Independence league, Andaman branch. The Executive members of the
Indian Independence League (IIL), Andaman branch hoisted a dinner in
honour of Netaji at Ross Island where Netaji addressed. Executive
Members, Ramakrishna, Durga Prasad, Abdul Subhan were also present
on that occasion.
The allied forces reoccupied the Islands on 7th October 1945. Bridge. JA
Saloman of 116 Indian Infantry Brigade got Japanese forces surrendered
on 9th October 1945 and all the Japanese Officers were taken as POW and
detained in Ross Island.
In the process of making operational bunkers, they destroyed the
settlement. The earth quake also caused the damage to the structures of
Ross Island. Though the British allied force occupied the Andaman in
1945, Ross Island never regained its status as the headquarter of the
British settlement, which was by then permanently shifted to Port Blair.
After the reoccupation of the Islands by the Allied forces, 87 years
old Penal Settlement was finally abolished on 7th October 1945. For the civil
affairs N.K. Patterson, designated Chief Commissioner took over control.
The allied forces of Rajputana Infantry planted a victorious War memorial at Ross Island during 1945.
The Japanese forces had demolished the public buildings at Ross
Island, extracted materials for various strategic constructions works all
over the Islands. The Ross Island remained to remind the past glory and
the citadel of the Indian Penal settlement. When it became uninhabited,
nature occupied the dilapidated buildings with huge trees and arial roots
to thrive on the neglected remnants. Ross Island was used as segregation
camp during epidemics.
During 1960, a nursery of coconut was developed and raring of
deer and peacocks were also here. Now the Ross Island is under the
control of Andaman and Nicobar Command and it is one of the important