How Buckingham Canal saved the city

Did you know that the Buckingham Canal was the waterbody that saved large parts of Chennai from the 2004 tsunami, as it acted as a buffer and absorbed the shock, shielding the city.

This and many other interesting facts about the canal were shared by veteran chronicler K.R.A. Narasiah during his talk and presentation — Madras Famine and the Buckingham Canal: A Lost Heritage — organised at the Madras Literary Society.

He started off describing the famine of 1876-78 and went on to speak about the efforts of Captain Hector Tulloch of the Royal Engineers, who came to Madras in 1860s, to start an underground drainage scheme. He then elaborated on how Florence Nightingale, a pioneer in nursing, appreciated the Buckingham Canal. “She mentioned that it was a boon to have water communication from Madras to Kurnool,” the historian pointed out.

He said much before the famine, the canal was thought of for transport. “The history of the project and guide to its future maintenance is available in the Madras Literary Society,” Mr. Narasiah said. “The construction of the canal helped connect Madras city with towns like Kakinada, Rajahmundry, Eluru, Vijayawada, Machilipatnam, Ongole and Nellore besides other centres of trade,” he said. The boat traffic in the canal increased after its completion in 1897 and peaked during the Second World War. Mr. Narasiah pointed out that the 1961 Madras City Census (of India) Report states that as late as 1960-61, after the separation of Andhra Pradesh, 1,90,000 tonnes of goods valued at ₹18.5 million were carried in 1,200 or so boats in Madras alone. After other modes of transport picked up, passenger traffic along the canal, between 1956-57 and 1960-61, declined.

He ended the talk lamenting the canal’s present condition. “It can be used for tourism development. People would love to travel from here to Mahabalipuram by boat,” he said.

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