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Ross Island is one of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, about 2 km east of Port Blair. It was the Administrative Headquarters for the islands, before an earthquake rocked it in 1941. The headquarters were then shifted to Port Blair. One can see remnants of an opulent past in the ruins of the church, swimming pool and the chief commissioner's residence with its huge gardens and grand ballrooms. There is also a cemetery and a small museum managed by the Indian Navy. The museum has on display a collection of old records.
Ross Island can be reached by a short boat ride from Water Sports Complex. The island is controlled by the Indian navy, which requires every visitor to sign in on entering.
The small island with its treasure of ruins in it became the hot tourists spot in the territory. People desire to know more and more about Ross Island. This Island, the erstwhile capital of Port Blair during the British regime, is a tiny island situated a few kilometers away from Port Blair city. The island presently houses the ruins of old buildings like the state Ballroom, the Chief Commissioner’s House, the Government House, Church, the old 'Andamanese Home', Hospital, Bakery, Press, Swimming Pool and Troop Barracks, all in dilapidated condition, reminiscent of the old British regime. Ever since Dr. James Pattison Walker arrived in Port Blair aboard the East India Company’s steam frigate ‘Semiramis’ on 10 March 1858, this island remained under British occupation till 1942. From 1942 to 1945, the island was under the occupation of Japan. However, the allies reoccupied the island in 1945 and later abandoned it. During British occupation, this island was the seat of power of the British.
The rise and fall of Ross Island
Ross Island, a few km from Aberdeen jetty at Port Blair, is yet another member of the Andaman group of islands. As in the case of its sister-islands, it also has thick forests. To any onlooker it may give the impression that it has no "life" — in the sense that there is no human habitation.
Yes, it is an island where no settlement is allowed by the authorities. But, a few decades ago, this island was the seat of "British power." Ross Island was the headquarters of the Indian Penal Settlement for nearly 80 years. It had everything — bazaar, bakery, stores, water treatment plant, church, tennis court, printing press, secretariat, hospital, cemetery and what have you. Today, everything has disappeared except some buildings, which housed some of these landmarks.
After Archibald Blair's survey of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 1788-89, a settlement was established at present day Port Blair (then called Port Cornwallis). In 1792 it was shifted to northern harbour (present day Diglipur) which was also Christened Port Cornwallis (the former became Old Harbour). But, the settlement was abandoned in 1796 as the mortality rate was very high. Between 1789-92, Blair was said to have established a hospital and a sanatorium at Ross Island.
Six decades later, the 1857 Revolt forced the British to turn to Andaman again and this time, their stay lasted for 90 years. During the Second World War, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were captured by the Japanese in 1942. The Japanese rule lasted till 1945.
In November 1857, the Government decided to establish a penal settlement in Andaman and send "hard-core elements" among those who took on the British. There were two reasons: One, to keep them away from other prisoners and the other, to send out a message that a similar treatment would be meted out to anyone who challenged the British authority.
Two months later, the British took possession of three islands in and around Port Blair and Captain H. Man, Executive Engineer, hoisted the Union Jack flag. In March, J.P. Walker, an experienced jail superintendent, arrived in Port Blair with four European officials, an Indian overseer, two doctors, 50 naval guards and 773 freedom fighters.
Writer Gauri Shankar Pandey, who belongs to a family that had suffered torture during the Japanese occupation of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, has documented that it was water scarcity that had driven Walker out of Port Blair and go to Ross Island.
Named after the marine surveyor Sir Daniel Ross, the Island soon became the base. Initially, crude barracks of bamboo and grass were put up for freedom fighters while the rest of the party stayed on board the ships that had brought them. Later, the freedom fighters built houses, offices, barracks and other structures at the Ross Island, after which they were promptly sent to Viper Island, where the first jail was built. The bungalow, meant for the chief of the Penal Settlement, was constructed at the northern summit of the Island. Called Government House, the large-gabled home had Italian tiled flooring on the ground level. Now, some remains of the flooring are there, of course in a decrepit condition.
In 1872, the post of Superintendent was elevated to the level of Chief Commissioner and Sir Donald Martin Stewart, who was at Ross Island for one year, was made the first Chief Commissioner. Stewart held the post from July 1872 to June 1875.
After Stewart, Ross Island saw 24 chief commissioners. But, it was during the tenure of Sir Charles Francis Waterfall that the Island's position as the seat of power collapsed.
Waterfall, who became the Chief Commissioner in 1938, was captured by the Japanese in March 1942 when the latter invaded the Andaman and Nicobar Islands during World War II. He was held as a prisoner of war and his deputy, Major Bird, was beheaded by the Japanese at a clock tower in Aberdeen, Port Blair.
Netaji hoists tri-color
The Government House became the residence of the Japanese admiral also for three years (from March 1942 to October 1945). It was during this period that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, who took the help of Japanese in his fight against the British, stayed at the Island for a day in December 1943. Netaji also hoisted the national tri-color at the top of the Government House.
The Japanese too left their imprint on the island which stood in the form of bunkers. The bunkers were used as watch points to safeguard the Island from any foreign invasion.
After the War, the Island came back under the control of the British but they never went back to the Island.
About nine months before the Japanese take-over of the entire set of islands, Ross Island experienced an earthquake, which caused many people to leave the Island. Except for a brief time when the Japanese occupied, the abandonment of Ross Island as a result of the quake continued.
In April 1979, the island was handed over to the Navy, which set up a small post, INS Jarawa, named after one of the indigenous tribes of the Andaman group of islands.
In December 1993, a museum was established. It was declared open by the then Lt. Governor Vakkom Purushothaman. A small guesthouse has been put up for the Navy officers.
There are frequent boat services from Port Blair to Ross Island. The authorities charge entry fee of Rs. 20 for adults. No entry fee for children up to nine.
- Established between 1863 and 1866 by the Rev. Henry Fisher Corbyn of the Bengal Ecclesiastical Establishment, who was sent to also set up proper full-time church services, and after whom 'Corbyn Cove' is also named. Rev.Corbyn was eventually posted out as Vicar to St. Luke's Church, Abbottabad, and he later died there and is buried in the Old Christian Cemetery, Abbottabad
- India Travel
- List of Lieutenant Governors of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands
- The Hindu (daily newspaper)
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