September 13, 2016

Cupola in Fort St. George

Site Name: Cornwallis Cupola
Site Type: Monument
Location: Fort St. George, Chennai city, Tamil Nadu state, India 
Highlights: Historical importance
Nearest Railway Station: Chennai - well connected from the cities/towns all over India
Nearest Airport: Chennai has both national and international airports
How to reach: Easily reachable by road, train, and flight
Hotel: Many star hotels, luxury hotels/resorts, and budget hotels are available in Chennai
Restaurants: All options - vegetarian, non-vegetarian, Chinese, South Indian, Gujarati, North Indian, Punjabi,....- you can find everything in Chennai city


Have you been to Chennai? If yes, have you visited the historical Fort St. George? If you have visited the fort, you would have noticed a Cupola without any statue as the first thing. This article is an attempt to throw some light on that monument called as Cornwallis Cupola. There is nothing much to talk about the features of this monumental piece. However, there is lot to write on the history related to this monument. Let me start with the basics and I will cover everything very briefly.

Fort St. George

Madras is one of the earliest settlements of the Britishers. The foundation of the city was laid back in 1639 CE. The English decided to construct a fort, which could provide the impetus for further settlements and trading activities for them. The Britishers constructed the fort on 23rd April 1640 CE on the St. George's Day. Hence, it is believed that the fort was named as Fort St. George. It is one of the oldest British structures in India. 

The fort houses the assembly of Tamil Nadu Government, a lot of heritage buildings, an ancient church, few British period streets and a museum. The cupola, which is the focus of this article, is also located in this fort premises.

Why do we have this cupola? To know that, we have to talk about Anglo Mysore Wars, Tipu Sultan and Cornwallis.

Anglo Mysore Wars

The series of wars that was fought between the Mysore Kingdom and the British East India Company represented by the Madras Presidency towards the second half of the 18th century CE are called as the Anglo Mysore Wars.

Let us focus only about the Third Anglo Mysore War in this article, as the other three battles in this series are not directly related to our subject. The Third Anglo Mysore War was fought for two years between 1790 CE and 1792 CE. Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore, invaded the nearby state of Travancore in 1789 CE. Travancore was a British ally. This act of Tipu had resulted in the war that was fought for two years.

The war ended not in favor of Tipu. He was defeated by Lord Cornwallis, who was the Governor General and who had led the British army. Tipu had to negotiate with Cornwallis and enter into a treaty which is termed as "Treaty of Srirangapatnam". As per the agreement, Tipu had to give away one half of his territory to the allies of British. In addition, he was imposed an indemnity of INR Six crores. Tipu had to hand over his two sons as hostages for the due performance of the terms.

On 26th February 1792 CE, Tipu's two sons were handed over to Cornwallis. 

Statue of Cornwallis


Winning Tipu in the battle was definitely not an ordinary task. Hence, the European inhabitants of Madras started raising fund to erect a statue for their hero, Cornwallis. Accordingly, the statue depicting the surrender of two boys to Cornwallis got completed in England and was brought to Madras in 1800 CE. 

The statue was placed under this same cupola, about which this article is written. The cupola along with the statue was located in the Parade Square area of the Fort. 

In 1805 CE, Cornwallis died. After his death, a Cenotaph was erected in Teynampet area and they had planned to shift the statue there. However, for the reasons unknown although the Cenotaph was erected, the statue was not moved there. 

Before the statue could be moved, the Cenotaph itself was moved to a new place, the first line beach. It happened sometime in the 1880s. In 1925 CE, the statue and the cupola were separated. The statue moved to the Cenotaph and then it was moved to Connemara Library in 1928 CE. In 1950 CE, it was moved to the Fort Museum and we can find that statue in the same place till now.

The cupola, which was separated from the statue of Cornwallis, never got an opportunity to meet its leader again. The cupola without any statue remained in the same site (Parade Square) for about ten years till 1935 CE. Then, it was shifted to the current location and it remains here for the past 80+ years.

This is the story of the Cupola in Fort St. George.

Happy travelling.


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