Kerala Government Secretariat, Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram). Walthew Clarance Barton (1834-1903), the first Chief Engineer of the Public Works Department, Trivandrum. An impressively long neoclassical building, with a wide entrance portal and clocktower, it was completed in 1869, the year following Barton's election to the Institution of Civil Engineers, and stands on Mahatma Gandhi Road, opposite Statue Junction, in the state capital.

Barton was born in Dartford, Kent. He joined the PWD in India in 1855, and was transferred to Travancore (present-day Kerala) in 1863. Although he did not become its Chief Engineer until 1873, he was responsible for this very fine building. His obituary reads:

As head of the Public Works Department of that important state, Mr. Barton had to contend at the very outset with difficulties from want of trained subordinates, skilled labour, and facilities of every description. These difficulties, however, were overcome by his powers of organization, and by the zeal and energy he brought to bear upon his work. He opened up the country in every direction with a well-devised network of roads extending from the Ghauts to the seaboard, by which transport was facilitated and cheapened, and vast tracts of inaccessible forest and waste land were opened to habitation and cultivation. Dangerous and impassable rivers were bridged, works of irrigation and inland navigation were carried out, and the capital, Trivandrum, was supplied with good roads and with suitable public offices, courts, schools and hospitals.

Barton retired in 1880 because of ill health, continuing to work in his profession in England, and dying in Ilkley, Yorkshire, in 1903, aged 68.

The Significance of the Secretariat

Left to right: (a) The Vettimuricha kotta, south-eastern entrance to the fort area, elaborated on in Gothic style in 1891 (the date is inscribed on it, though partially hidden by plants). (b) The Padmanabhabaswami temple, with its high gilded roof. (c) People queuing to go into the Kuthira Malika Palace, planned in traditional style by the Maharajah Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma himself as recently as the late 1840s, on the south-eastern side of the temple — the very edge of the temple roof can be seen on the far right. The fort offies were to the left here.

The Secretariat is an example of the kind of grand public building in colonial India which drew on European rather than Indian traditions: the very first example had been the Raj Bhavan or Government House in Kolkata (1799), then the seat of power for the British. Now here was a statement, not of a ceding of power, but certainly of the separation of the civic body from the previous offices in the old Fort area where the Padmanabhabaswami temple and the Maharajah's fairly newly built Kuthira Malika Palace were both located (see Heston 223-24). The neo-classical Secretariat, so entirely different from such traditional buildings, is where the last king of Travancore, His Highness Chithira Tirunal, was crowned — within, as it were, a public civic space.

Close-up of the heavily garlanded statue of the Dalawa in front of the Secretariat.

However, the statue in front of the Secretariat is not a likeness of him, but of his Prime Minster (Dalawa) Velu Thampi (1765-1809), who holds the sword with which he fought, unsuccessfully at that time, against British imperialism. The statue was, of course, installed after Independence, so is a much later statement of Keralan pride.

Note that this is not the statue that gave its name to Statue Junction opposite, or to Statue Road that leads off it: that refers to the older statue of Sir Tanjore Madhava Rao, the later, enlightened and reforming Dewan of Travancore. He transformed the state from 1858-1872, before moving on after a disagreement with the Maharaja. He lived until 1891, and is much honoured in Trivandum. This statue is somewhat more western in feel, not surprisingly, since it was by Edouard Lanteri in 1892 — although Lanteri was helped in the modelling and casting by the Indian artist Raja Ravi Varma (Varma 305). The two works make an interesting contrast, and tell a great deal about the history of the city.

Photographs and text by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Related Material


Heston, Mary Beth. "Mixed Messages in New 'Public' Travencore: Building the Capital 1860-1880." Art History 31: 211-247.

"Kerala Secretariat." India9. Web. 28 April 2019.

Rajeev, Sharat Sunder. "Vettimurich Kotta: A Gateway to Stories." The Hindu. 16 March 2018. Web. 28 April 2019.

"Statues of Trivandrum: Veluthampi Dalawa." Web. 28 April 2019.

Travancore State Manual. Trivandrum: Travancore Government, 1906. Internet Archive. Contributed by Harvard University. Web. 28 April 2019.

Varma, C. Raja Raja. Raja Ravi Varma, Portrait of an Artist: The Diary of C. Raja Raja Varma.. Ed. Erwin Neumayer and Christine Schelberger. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

"Walthew Clarance Barton." Grace's Guide to British Industrial History. Web. 28 April 2019.

Last modified 6 May 2019