Madras Presidency

Madras Presidency, also known as Madras Province and known officially as Presidency of Fort St. George, was a province of British India. At its greatest extent, Madras Presidency included much of southern India, including the present-day Indian State of Tamil Nadu, the Malabar region of North Kerala, Lakshadweep Islands, the Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions of Andhra Pradesh, , Brahmapur and Ganjam districts of Orissa and the Bellary, Dakshina Kannada, and Udupi districts of Karnataka. The capital was at Madras, now known as Chennai.

The Presidency had its origins in the Agency of Fort St George established by the British East India Company soon after the purchase of the village of Madraspatnam in 1639. However, there have been Company factories at Machilipatnam and Armagon ever since the early 1600s. Madras was upgraded to a Presidency in 1652 before reverting to its previous status as an Agency. In 1684, Madras was elevated to a Presidency once again and Elihu Yale appointed its first President. From 1785 onwards, as per the provisions of the Pitt’s India Act, the ruler of the Presidency of Fort St George was styled ‘’Governor’’ instead of ‘’President’’ and was made subordinate to the Governor-General at Calcutta. Madras made a significant contribution to the freedom movement in the early decades of the 20th century. Madras was the first province in British India where the system of dyarchy was first implemented. The Presidency was disswolved when India became independent on August 15, 1947. On January 26, 1950, when the Republic of India was inaugurated, Madras was admitted as one of the states of the Indian Union.

Madras was one of the three provinces originally established by the British East India Company as per the terms of the Pitt’s India Act. The head of state held the title of “Agent” from 1640 to 1652 and 1655 to 1684 and President from 1652 to 1655 and 1684 to 1785 and Governor from 1785 to 1947. The judicial, legislative and executive powers are wrested in the Governor who is assisted by a Council whose constitution has been modified by reforms enacted in 1861, 1909, 1919 and 1935. As per the Montague-Chelmsford reforms of 1919, a system of dyarchy was established and regular elections were conducted till the outbreak of the Second World War. The head of the government was known as Chief Minister. In 1908, the province comprised 22 districts each under a District Collector. Each district was further sub-divided into ‘'taluks’’ and ‘'firqas’’. The smallest unit of administration was the village.


Before the arrival of the British

The districts , which formed the Madras Presidency between 1685 and 1947 were ruled by different kings in different times. The discovery of dolmens has proved beyond doubt that this portion of the subcontinent had been inhabited as early as the Stone Ages. The first prominent historical dynasty to rule over this region was that of the Andhras or Satavahanas who held sway over the northern part of the Madras Presidency between the 3rd century B.C. and the 3rd century A.D. The Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas of the Sangam Age were the southern contemporaries of the Satavahanas. Following the decline of these kingdoms, the country was conquered by a little known race of people called the Kalabhrar. The country however recovered under the Pallavas and its civilization attained a golden age under the Cholas and the Pandyas. Following the conquest of Madurai by Malik Kafur, there was a brief period of lull when culture and civilization began to decay. But the Tamil and Telugu countries recovered under the Vijayanagar Empire. On the demise of the Vijayanagar Empire, the country was parcelled out amongst the numerous sultans, polygars and European trading companies.

Early British trading posts

On December 31, 1600, a group of English merchants established the British East India Company, the world’s first joint-stock company. Subsequently, during the reign of James I, Sir William Hawkins and Sir Thomas Roe were sent to negotiate with the Mughal Emperor Jahangir for the establishment of factories in India on behalf of the Company. The first factories of the British East India Company were established at Surat on India’s west coast and Machilipatnam on India’s east. Of the trading posts on India’s east coast, Masulipatnam is the oldest having been established in the year 1611. Soon afterwards, another factory was established at Armagon a few miles southward and both the factories were placed under the administration of an Agency based at Machilipatnam. However, soon after the establishement of these factories, the British authorities, unable to bear the hostility of local rulers, felt the need to move their new factory to an alternate location. Francis Day was sent southward for this purpose and after negotiating with the Raja of Chandragiri, succeeding in obtaining the land grant for setting up a factory in the village of Madraspatnam. A fort was contructed at the aforesaid place between 1642 and 1645 and christened Fort St George. An agency was created to govern this new settlement and factor Andrew Cogan of Masulipatnam was deputed as the first Agent. All the agencies along India’s east coast were subordinate to the presidency of Bantam in Java.

Agency of Fort St George

Andrew Cogan was succeeded by Francis Day, Thomas Ivie and Thomas Greenhill. In 1652, when Greenhill’s term came to an end, Fort St George was raised to the rank of a Presidency and was given control of all factories on the east coast of India stretching upto Bengal. Aaron Baker was appointed as the first President of Fort St George. However, in 1655, the status of Fort St George was downgraded to an Agency and remained so till 1685. During this period, the British occupied the village of Triplicane near Madras. Streynsham Master was the most popular of the agents.



In 1685, Madras was once again elevated to the status of a Presidency and Elihu Yale was appointed as the first President. During this period, the Presidency expanded manifold reaching its present dimensions in the early 1800s. At the same time, the early years of Madras Presidency were tormentous as the British had to bear the repeated attacks of the powerful Mughals, Marathas and the Nawabs of Golconda and Carnatic. In September 1746, Fort St George was taken by the French who ruled Madras as a part of French India till 1749 when Madras was made over to the British as per the Treaty of Aix-la-Chappelle. On September 1774, by the terms of the Pitt's India Act, which was passed by the British Parliament to the regulate the administration of territories owned by the British East India Company and to create an unified authority, the President of Madras was made subordinate to the Governor-General based at Calctta.

In Company Raj

From 1774 to 1858, Madras was a part of British India ruled by the British East India Company. The last quarter of the 18th century was a period of rapid expansion. The successful wars against Tipu, Velu Thambi, Polygars and Ceylon added vast chunks of land and contributed to the exponential growth of the Presidency. Newly-conquered Ceylon was a part of Madras Presidency from 1793 to 1798. The system of Subsidiary Alliances originated by Lord Wellesly also created a lot of princely states subordinate to the Governor of Fort St George. The hill tracts of Ganjam and Visakhapatnam were the last to be annexed.

This period also witnessed a number of rebellions. The Vellore Mutiny of 1806 precedes the First War of Indian Independence by half-a-century. The rebellion of Velu Thambi and Paliath Achan and the risings of the Polygars were other notable insurrections against British rule. The Madras Presidency, however, remained relatively undisturbed by the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.

The kingdom of Mysore was annexed to Madras Presidency in 1833 on accounts of maladministration. THe kingdom was restored to the rightful heir in 1883. Thanjavur was annexed in 1858, following the death of Shivaji II without a surviving male heir.

Under the British Raj

Following the Indian Mutiny of 1857, Queen Victoria issued a Proclamation by which Company rule over India came to an end and the British Raj was established.


The northern boundary of Madras Presidency was extremely irregular. It was bounded on the extreme northeast by Orissa; then the highlands of the Central Provinces; next the dominions of the Nizam of Hyderabad; then Dharwar district of Bombay Presidency, and lastly the Kingdom of Mysore and the province of Coorg. The presidency also included the Laccadive Islands, off the Malabar coast, in the Indian Ocean. Its total area, including princely states, was 151,695 sq. mi., and its population in 1901 was 42,397,522.


The population in 1901 was divided into Hindus (37,026,471), Muslims (2,732,931), and Christians (1,934,480). Broadly speaking, the entire population of Madras Presidency belonged to the five linguistic offshoots of the great Dravidian language family, dominant throughout southern India. Of the five Dravidian languages in the presidency Telugu was spoken by over 14,000,000 persons; Tamil by over 15,000,000 persons; Kannada by over 5,500,000 persons; Malayalam by nearly 3,000,000 persons; and Tulu by about 500,000 persons. Oriya was the native tongue in the extreme north of Ganjam district, bordering on Orissa; and various languages and dialects of Dravidian origin were used by the hill tribes of the Eastern Ghats.


The Madras presidency was administered by a governor and a council, consisting of two members of the civil service, which number may be increased to four. There was also a board of revenue of three members. For legislative purposes the council of the governor was augmented by additional members, numbering 45 in all, of whom not more than 17 may be nominated officials, while 19 were elected by various representative constituencies. Members of the legislative council enjoyed the right of interpolation, of proposing resolutions on matters of public interest, and of discussing the annual financial statement.

In 1911 the province was divided into 24 districts: Ganjam, Vizagapatam (Visakhapatnam), Godavari, Krishna, Kurnool, Nellore, Cuddapah, Anantapur, Bellary, North Arcot, South Arcot, Chingleput, Madras, Salem, South Canara, Malabar, Coimbatore, Tiruchirappalli, Tanjore, Madurai, Tirunelveli, The Nilgiris, and Guntur. Each district was under the charge of a collector, with sub-collectors and assistants. The districts were not grouped into divisions or commissionerships, as in other provinces.

The principle of local devolution was carried somewhat further in Madras than in other Raj provinces. At the bottom are union panchayats or village committees, whose chief duty is to attend to sanitation. Above them came taluk or subdivisional boards. At the head of all were district boards, a portion of whose members are elected by the taluk boards.

Five princely states fell under the political authority of Madras Presidency: Banganapalle, Cochin, Pudukkottai, Sandur, and Travancore.


The city of Madras had its own garrison ever since 1665, when the British East India Company was first permitted to set up its own garrisons to guard its settlements. Notable amongst the army's early operations were the defence of the city from Mughal and Maratha invaders and the forces of the Nawab of Carnatic. In 1713, the Madras forces under Lieutenant John de Morgan distinguished themselves in the siege of Fort St David and in quelling the mutiny of Richard Raworth.Madras in the Olden Time, Vol II, Pg 198]

When Dupleix, the Governor of French India began to raise native battalions in 1748, the British of Madras followed suit and established the Madras Regiment.Armies of India, Pg 4] Though native regiments were subsequently established by the British in other parts of India, the distances that separated the three presidencies resulted in each force growing up on divergent principles and with different organizations. The first reorganization of the army was carried out in 1795. The Madras Army was reconstituted into the following units:

* European Infantry:Two battalions of 10 companies.
* Artillery: Two European battalions of 5 companies each, with 15 companies of lascars.
* Native Cavalry. Four regiments.
* Native Infantry. Eleven regiments of 2 battalions.Armies of India, Pg 7]

In 1824, there was a second reorganization of troops. The double battalions were abolished and the existing battalions renumbered. The Madras Army, at the time consisted of two brigades of horse artillery, one European and one native; 3 battalions of foot artillery of 4 companies each, with 4 companies of lascars attached; 3 regiments of light cavalry; 2 corps of pioneers; 2 battalions of European infantry; 52 battalions of native infantry and 3 local battalions.Armies of India, Pg 20] Armies of India, Pg 21]

From 1748 to 1895, the Madras Army like the Bengal and Bombay armies, had its own Commander-in-Chief who was subordinate to the President, and later, the Governor of Madras. The Commander-in-chief of the Madras Army was, by default, a member of the Governor's Executive Concil. The Madras Army participated in the conquest of Manila in 1762,Armies of India, Pg 14] the 1795 expedition against Ceylon, the expedition against the Dutch and the conquest of the Spice Islands in the same year and in expeditions against Maurutius in 1810, Java in 1811,Armies of India, Pg 15] the wars against Tipu Sultan and the Carnatic Wars of the 18th century, the British attack on Cuttack dring the Second Maratha War,Armies of India, Pg 57] the siege of Lucknow during the Indian mutiny and the invasion of Upper Burma during the Third Anglo-Burmese War.Armies of India, Pg 123]

The 1857 mutiny, which caused drastic changes in the Bengal and Bombay armies did not affect the Madras Army, the least. In 1895, the Presidential Armies were finally abolished and the Madras regiments brought under the direct control of the Commander-in-chief of British India.Armies of India, Pg 126]

The Madras Army derived heavily from the Moplahs of Malabar and soldiers from the Coorg.

Chief Ministers of Madras Presidency

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from: 17/12/1920 till: 11/07/1921 color:justice text:"A. Subbarayalu" fontsize:10 from: 11/07/1921 till: 03/12/1926 color:justice text:"Panagal Raja" fontsize:10 from: 04/12/1926 till: 27/10/1930 color:noparty text:"P. Subbarayan" fontsize:10 from: 27/10/1930 till: 04/11/1932 color:justice text:"P. Munuswamy Naidu" fontsize:10 from: 05/11/1932 till: 04/04/1936 color:justice text:"Ramakrishna Ranga Rao" fontsize:10 from: 04/04/1936 till: 24/08/1936 color:justice text:"P. T. Rajan" fontsize:10 from: 24/08/1936 till: 01/04/1937 color:justice text:"Ramakrishna Ranga Rao" fontsize:10 from: 01/04/1937 till: 14/07/1937 color:justice text:"Kurma Venkata Reddy Naidu" fontsize:10 from: 14/07/1937 till: 29/10/1939 color:congress text:"C. Rajagopalachari" fontsize:10 from: 30/04/1946 till: 23/03/1947 color:congress text:"Tanguturi Prakasam" fontsize:10 from: 23/03/1947 till: 06/04/1949 color:congress text:"O. P. Ramaswamy Reddiyar" fontsize:10 from: 06/04/1949 till: 26/01/1950 color:congress text:"P. S. Kumaraswamy Raja" fontsize:10

After India's independence

After India's independence in 1947, Madras Presidency was reconstituted as Madras State. In 1953 the Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra regions became the new state of Andhra, and Bellary district became part of Mysore state. In 1956 South Kanara district was transferred to Mysore, the Malabar coast districts became part of the new state of Kerala, and Madras state, renamed Tamil Nadu in 1968, took its present shape. The northern district of Madras presidency, Ganjam, was transferred to Orissa

See also

* History of Tamil Nadu
* Governors Of Madras



* cite book|title=The Armies of India|last=Major MacMunn|first=G. F.|coauthors=Major A. C. Lovett|publisher=Adam and Charles Black|pages=|year=1911

Further reading

;Government publications
* cite book|title=The Madras Presidency with Mysore, Coorg and Associated States|last=Thurston|first=Edgar|authorlink=Edgar Thurston|publisher=Cambridge University|year=1913
* cite book|title=Castes and Tribes of Southern India Vol. I to VII|last=Thurston|first=Edgar|coauthors=K. Rangachari|publisher=Government of Madras|year=1909|
* Madras District Gazetteers
* cite book|title=Economic Studies Vol I:Some South Indian villages|last=Slater|first=Gilbert|coauthors=|publisher=|year=1918
* cite book|title=Memorandum of progress of the Madras Presidency during the last forty years of British Administration|last=Raghavaiyangar|first=Srinivasa|coauthors=|publisher=Government of Madras|year=1893|

;Other publications
* cite book|title=Southern India|last=Penny|first=F. E.|coauthors=Lady Lawley|publisher=A. C. Black|year=1914
* cite book|title=South India and her Muhammadan Invaders|last=Aiyangar|first=Sakkottai Krishnaswami|coauthors=|publisher=Oxford University|year=1921
* cite book|title=The Aristocracy of South India|last=Vadivelu|first=A.|coauthors=|publisher=Vest & Co.|year=1903
* cite book|title=Some Madras Leaders|last=|first=|coauthors=|publisher=Babu Bhishambher Nath Bhargava|year=1922

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