The Presidency College, Madras

The Presidency College, Madras. Architect: Robert Fellowes Chisolm (1840-1915). Officially opened 1872. Source: Illustrated London News (8 June 1872: 548) [Hathi Trust Digital Library, web version. [Click on this image, and the one below, to enlarge them.]

Commentary in the Illustrated London News

This institution was opened by the Duke of Edinburgh [Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria's second son] when his Royal Highness visited India. The foundation-stone of the building had been laid by Lord Napier, Governor of the Madras Presidency, four years before. The building, of which we give an illustration, stands on the sea-beach, and the surf broke within a short distance of its front during the great storm of the 2nd ult. The Presidency College wss the first attempt, in this part of India, to introduce proper building materials, and to use them truthfully. Every structure before had been externally coated with "stucco." Here the materials are red brick, grey granite, and black limestone. The black, polished columns are of a close-grained gneiss [a kind of rock], found near St. Thomas’s Mount, which is capable of receiving a very high degree of polish. The capitals and bases are of terra-cotta, made in the local School of Arts. The whole of the interior is executed in the fine chunam common to this part of the country. This material, for interior decoration, is perhaps the finest to be met with in any part of the world; it affords peculiar facilities for rendering ornamentation in the most effective manner. The building contains class-rooms, lecture-rooms, a spacious examination hall, library, and reading-room. It measures 350 ft. in length, and covers a superficial area of 28,000 square feet. It was constructed by Messrs. Barnett and Bonnycastle, contractors, from the designs of the Government architect, and cost a little over £30,000. [561]

Later observations

"The Hurricane at Madras: Wrecks on the Beach," from a sketch by Chisholm in the same issue, 557.

Chisholm is not mentioned by name in the description of the college, but a few pages later there is a report of "The Hurricane at Madras," illustrated by an engraving of a sketch by Chisholm, neatly identifying him as the "Government architect" referred to above (555; although he is identified as R. S. Chisholm instead of R. F. Chisholm). The engraving is powerful, showing the hurricane's effect on the coast there: "Along the beach, from the railway station to the Presidency College, the foaming surf was lined with piles of wreck" (555). Chisholm's skill as a draughtsman, and eye for the dramatic, are both in evidence here.

Perhaps Chisholm would like to have been noted as the architect of the college building, but it has never been as celebrated as his Senate House there. Philip Davies describes the building only briefly as "essentially a cross-fertilization of Italianate and Saracenic styles designed to sympathise with the nearby Chepauk Palace, which until 1865 had been the home of the Nawabs of Arcot." He adds that Chisholm's Senate House "is a more ambitious Saracenic exercise" (195).

First image scanned by George P. Landow, second image, commentary and observations added by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the Hathi Trust Digital Library and The University of Michigan Library and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.

Related Material


Davies, Philip. Splendours of the Raj: British Architecture in India 1660-1947. London: Penguin, 1987.

“The Presidency College, Madras.” Illustrated London News. (8 June 1872): 548. Hathi Trust web version of a copy in The University of Michigan Library. Web. 5 January 2016.

Last modified 22 April 2019