In transcribing the following paragraphs from the Internet Archive online version of The Imperial Gazetteer’s entry on Madras, I have expanded the abbreviations for easier reading and added paragraphing, subtitles, and links. The table is from the original. The title-page bears the date 1856, but internal evidence in various entrees makes clear that the text dates from 1851. This discussion of a major city in British India has particular importance because it immediately precedes the 1857 Mutiny.— George P. Landow]

The Massula boats

The Massula boats employed to cross the surf are large and light, constructed of thin planks sewed together, with coir caulking, and are plied forward with the utmost vigour to prevent the wave from taking the boat back as it recedes; until at length, by a few successive surges, the boat is thrown high and dry upon the beach. The fishermen and lower classes use a catamaran, formed of two or three logs of light wood, 8 to 10 ft. in length, lashed together, with a piece of wood inserted between them to serve as a stem-piece. When ready for the water, they hold generally two men, who, with their paddles, impel themselves through the surf, to carry letters, or water, &c., in small quantities to ships, when no boat can venture to land or put to sea.


The imports consist chiefly of cotton goods from the United Kingdom, grain from America, wines, spirits, metals, sugar, stationery, betel-nuts, piece-goods, silk, horses, jewellery, &c. Exports cotton, grain, indigo, cotton piece-goods, saltpetre, pepper, &c. The imports and exports, 1844-48, were in value as follows:

Years Exports Imports
1844-1845 £1,641,462 £1,046,894
1845-1846 £1,411,217 £849,918
1846-1847 £1,516,146 £706,391
1847-1848 £1,1277,296 £787,148

The country in the vicinity of Madras, at a short distance all round the city, presents a remarkable contrast to its barren, sandy shore, having, indeed, the appearance of a fine park; for, although the soil is strongly impregnated with saline efflorescence, flowers of every kind grow on it, and the roads are bordered with fine avenues of trees, interspersed with the bungalows and the residences of the English. Water excel lent and abundant, and all sorts of provisions may be pro cured for a fleet of ships; but firewood is scarce.

The History of Madras

Madras was founded in 1639, by the English, who obtained the grant of a piece of ground for the erection of a town and fort, from the rajah of Chandgherry. Madras was the name of the native village which existed before the present town was founded. It soon became a flourishing city, and the chief station of the English on the Coromandel coast. In 1702, it was besieged by Daood Khan, but was bravely and successfully defended against him. In 1744, it was taken by the French, who kept it until 1749, when peace was made, and the place was restored to the English. In 1758, it was again besieged by the French, under the celebrated Lally, who was obliged to retreat after a siege of two months. Since that time, Madras las never been assailed by an enemy; though, in 1769, it was hreatened by Ilyder Ali, who encamped his army within a few miles of the fort, and compelled the English to enter into a treaty with him. In 1839, the population of Madras and the suburbs was estimated at 462,951; in 1851, at 720,000. [II, 257]


Blackie, Walker Graham. The Imperial Gazetteer: A General Dictionary of Geography, Physical, Political, Statistical and Descriptive. 4 vols. London: Blackie & Son, 1856. Internet Archive online version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 21 November 2018.

Last modified 22 November 2018