Vijay Narayan saves the documents, mostly handwritten in cursive, digitises all of them If there is one place in Chennai where you can see, touch and feel historical remnants at every turn of your eye, it is the iconic Madras High Court building. Every brick in this building is steeped in history and it is here that Advocate General (A-G) Vijay Narayan recently stumbled upon the history of his own office since 1828. Amazed to have discovered a nearly 200-year-old treasure trove of official communication between his English predecessors and top government officials of the colonial era, the A-G digitised the entire set of documents running into thousands of pages which were rotting in cupboards and turning brittle due to passage of time.


TAMIL NADU
A-G stumbles upon his office history dating back to 1828


Mohamed Imranullah S.CHENNAI 27 JANUARY 2020 01:39 ISTUPDATED: 27 JANUARY 2020 01:42 IST


 
 
 
 
Vijay Narayan saves the documents, mostly handwritten in cursive, digitises all of them
If there is one place in Chennai where you can see, touch and feel historical remnants at every turn of your eye, it is the iconic Madras High Court building. Every brick in this building is steeped in history and it is here that Advocate General (A-G) Vijay Narayan recently stumbled upon the history of his own office since 1828.
Amazed to have discovered a nearly 200-year-old treasure trove of official communication between his English predecessors and top government officials of the colonial era, the A-G digitised the entire set of documents running into thousands of pages which were rotting in cupboards and turning brittle due to passage of time.
Issue of charter
It was on June 26, 1852 that Queen Victoria issued a charter to establish the High Court of Judicature at Madras for the Presidency of Madras. However, it was preceded by many other courts established here since 1687 and they included the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort St. George established by George the third on December 26, 1800.
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The documents digitised include those penned when the Supreme Court at Madras was in existence. Mostly handwritten in cursive, the documents show that communication between the Chief Secretary to Government and the Advocate General had always ended with an interesting complimentary closing ‘Your most obedient servant.’
A further rummage through these materials leads to legal opinions given by the Advocates General on varied issues, including those relating to the erstwhile Binny Mills in Chennai, establishment of the famous Demonte Colony near St. Mary’s Road here, sale of properties belonging to the then Nawabs and even on criminal cases booked against Englishmen.
An interesting letter among them is the one penned on January 22, 1862 by the then Advocate General T. Sydney Smith to the Chief Secretary. In that letter, Mr. Smith states that the only case in which he considered it necessary to appear for the Crown during the first criminal sessions of that year was a case of manslaughter (culpable homicide not amounting to murder).
In that case, one Thomas George Saunders of the Telegraph department had been charged with manslaughter of his horse keeper Ramudu in Nellore (now in Andhra Pradesh) on November 30, 1861. Stating that the prisoner was acquitted from the case by the presiding judge, Mr. Smith said he completely concurred with the decision.
“The alleged cause of death was a kick on the testicles but while there was nothing to show that the death resulted from any injury to those parts and much to show that the death resulted from natural causes as the Zillah surgeon deposed he had no doubt the evidence of the alleged kick was most unsatisfactory.
“It was only deposed to by two little boys of 8 and 12 years old who in many material respects contradicted with each other grossly and moreover on cross examination contradicted themselves and swore to particulars utterly incredible. These boys, moreover, it appears, were kept together in the house of Mr. Holman, Inspector of Police at Nellore for eight days and not allowed to leave it till they had made statements before the Magistrate,” the A-G said.
Further, referring to the Inspector having kept another witness in the case handcuffed for three days, Mr. Smith said: “It is chiefly on this account that I bring this case to the notice of His Excellency the Governor in Council. There is nothing before me to show that Mr. Holman, in doing so, was actuated by any improper motives.
‘Mistaken notion’
“Giving him the fullest credit for acting only from mistaken zeal, it is plain that he has a very mistaken notion of his duty as Inspector of Police.” Records further show that the Chief Secretary, in turn, had communicated the A-G’s letter to the then Inspector General of Police on January 30, 1862 and also marked a copy to the A-G’s office.
However, what action was taken against the Inspector is not found in the records. “Reading these records itself is a very difficult process because they are handwritten. The papers are also very fragile. So, I handed the job to a company that uses robotic arms to lift the documents and scan them and they charged me just ₹3 a page,” the A-G Mr. Narayan said.
The digitised documents include legal opinions given by Vanbakam Bhashyam Iyengar, the first Indian Advocate General of the Madras High Court, in 1897, when he was initially appointed as Acting AG before being made permanent. It is also interesting to note that only 45 lawyers had so far been able to make it to the post of Advocate General of Madras High Court since 1853.

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