The Sadras saga: The Dutch tower, the fort and a cannon
Vestiges of yore(Clockwise from above) The Dutch tower and entrance to the fort, a cannon outside the fort and warehouses in ruins
Anusha Parthasarathy traces the rise and fall of the Dutch along the Coromandel coast
Even as trade picked up in Pulicat, the Dutch were looking to expand. They found a place right down the coast — beyond Mahabalipuram was a weaver’s settlement and port called Sadiravasagan Pattinam. The place dealt mainly in muslin, edible oils and pearls. And so in 1648, the Dutch began a factory at Sadras and exported large quantities of muslin. Soon a fort was built around the factory and a Dutch settlement came up there.
The Sadras fort is still in good condition, and under the protection of the ASI. The bastions, bell tower and the arched entrance take one back to the time when rows of shops sold goods here and the Dutch trained their armies for battle. The fort kept expanding, according to Pulicat and Sadras by Xavier Benedict and had four bastions. Only three remain.
Philip Baldaeus, a Dutch chaplain who served in the coast in the mid 1600s, mentions Sadras when he mapped the way to Madras. ‘From Tirepoplier, you go by Poelezere, Poelemoer and Alembrue to Sadraspatan, where the Dutch have a factory and from thence to Madraspatan otherwise Chinnepatan, where the English have the fort of St. George...’
Inside the fort is an inner wall and to one side is an old Dutch cemetery. The 19 graves here date between 1670 and 1790. At the end of the cemetery is a secret chamber built at ground level that is now closed. Outside the cemetery are ruins of many rooms and in one particular ruin is a tile engraved with the aadu-puli aatam that the Dutch were apparently fond of. It is said that the local Tamils taught them to play the game.
The warehouses of Sadras are mostly intact, with ample evidence of their engineering skills. The pillars that run its length outside were rainwater collection pipes and recent excavations unearthed an extensive underground drainage system. There are dining rooms and dancing halls that are mostly in ruins. There is also the remnants of an inner fort wall and another arched structure with steps to the side which was supposedly an elephant mount since Asia in the Making of Europe: A Century of Advance: South Asia, b y Donald Frederick Lach says that the Dutch, like the native rulers, trained elephants for their armies by teaching them not to panic at the sound of gunfire.
In the 1670s, the Dutch invaded San Thome. Vestiges of Old Madras by H.D. Love explains that when they first arrived in 1673 it wasn’t seen as a threat. They came again from Sadras and Pulicat. “News arrived that 500 Hollanders had landed at Sadras and were marching on San Thome, and that Rijklof van Goens was bringing another force from Pulicat. On the 11th September, the Netherlanders were established on the site of the former Moslem camp, and two days later 500 to 600 Dutch, supported by Moorish cavalry, threatened the town.” Three days later, they set up camp at the Triplicane temple. A few months later San Thome fell.
When the British East India Company discovered Sadras, there was commercial conflict between the Dutch and English. After the Battle of Sadras in the 1780s, the British mapped out the fort and captured it in 1796. They destroyed it by continuously bombing it from sea. Through a treaty, the Dutch were able to acquire the demolished fort in 1818 and rebuild it. But in 1854, the British took over it again and ended the rule of the Dutch in the Coromandel Coast.
(This is the concluding part on the Dutch presence)
The Sadras fort is still in good condition. The bastions, bell tower and the arched entrance take one back to the time when rows of shops sold goods here and the Dutch trained their armies for battle