History within Fortified walls

, Culture

One of the most famous attractions in the coastal city of Chennai is the age-old Fort Museum

Words: Rashmi Gopal Rao

Housed within the Fort St. George complex, one of the first and oldest forts built by the English in India, the museum was opened way back in 1948.

Fort St. George

The construction of the fort itself dates back to 1644 when it was built and used as a key trading and merchant hub by the English and other subsequent colonial powers. Since then the fort, which is now under the aegis of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), has been witness to many an assault and several historically significant events.  The area around the fort resulted in the growth of a settlement called George Town, which finally led to the genesis of the city of Madras.

Exhaustive collection

The Fort Museum was the brainchild of Col. DM Reid of the old Madras guards. It was Col Reid who mooted the idea of opening a part of the fort to the public as a museum. Opened on January 31, 1948, the museum first started with a small collection of items from the British era; the collection today has grown close to 3,000 objects displayed in 10 galleries across three floors.

The ground floor of the museum has some insightful galleries pertaining to arms, medals, textiles and porcelain objects. On display are rich collections of weapons like swords, daggers, bows and arrows. The medals gallery depicts several medals and awards pertaining to the various ranks of the British army as well as the Madras army and Madras governor’s bodyguards. The uniforms and regimental colours of the armed forces are displayed in the textile gallery.

The porcelain gallery is an extremely interesting one as it contains several artefacts that were originally used as tableware by the East India Company.  It also has objects that belonged to the French rulers and Nawabs of the region.   

The first floor has a collection of portraits and paintings of British governors as well as Indian rulers. There is a painting that depicts Fort St. George as it was in 1738. Coins produced by the mints of the British, Danish, Portuguese and the Dutch are also on display.

The second floor has an Indo-French gallery where there are several delicate and decorated objects like clocks, furniture and intricate porcelain. There is a gallery dedicated to the Wodeyar Rulers of Mysore and the exhibits here include Mysore school coins, paintings and letters. There are several prints of different views of the fort, the city of Madras (now Chennai) from centuries ago as well as of some historical buildings of the city.

One of the most important displays in the museum though is the first Indian flag hoisted in Fort St. George on August 15, 1947. Apart from all of this, the complex houses a library and a hall for temporary exhibits. All around the complex are several cannons on display that were used during various battles.

All in all, the museum forms for an engaging visit and is a must do if you are into Indian history.

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