My love for heritage and history had often taken me to some offbeat and unique places. On our visit to Andaman, we went to the Ross Island, Andaman. This time I had not researched much about my trip and we went for a visit to North Bay Island and Ross Island at the suggestion of our hotel. I only knew that Ross Island was the erstwhile capital of the Andaman during the British rule in India. I only found out the beauty of the island when I landed there. Ross Island is infact a ghost town now having a cache of ruined dilapidated buildings and I had a wonderful time exploring the island on my own.
History of Ross Island, Andaman
Ross Island was named after the British marine surveyor Sir Daniel Ross. The British had developed a settlement at Andaman as early as in 1788. In 1789 – 92, Archibald Blair had developed a sanatorium and hospital at Ross Island. After about six decades, the British turned back at Andaman due to the Revolt of 1857. Ross Island Penal Colony was thus established in 1858 by the British Government in India as a convict settlement for the prisoners captured in the Indian Mutiny or the Revolt of 1857. The British also made Ross Island the administrative seat of Andaman with the establishment of the penal colony.
The first group of prisoners to arrive at Ross Island was a group of 200 deportees. They arrived here on March 10, 1858 under the control of Dr. James Pattison Walker from Calcutta in the East India Company’s steam warship ‘Serunamis’. Walker had then put the prisoners in the arduous task of cleaning the forest of the island, building their own shelter and other buildings and laying roads. The prisoners were treated in the most humiliating way as they were chained and collared around their neck.
Another notable incident that occurred here was in 1859 when the Andamanese aboriginals attached the camps at Ross Island with bows and arrows. They were however routed completely by the superior British forces. This battle known as the Battle of Aberdeen was the first of its kind by the local people to seek independence from the British rule.
The island remained under the British administrative headquarters for almost 85 years. The British had built us a thriving colony there and that can be seen from the ruins of the buildings. Remnants of markets, stores, bakery, printing press, secretariat, hospital, swimming pool and tennis court can be seen now. A water treatment plant was also set up at the island. Ross Island became a place for the connoisseur of good things with open-air theatre, ball room dances, swimming and other luxuries that it came to be known as the “Paris of the East”.
The golden period of the island ended on 1941 when a massive earthquake attacked it that resulted many of the people abandoning the island. Later the capital was shifted to Port Blair.
A few months after the earthquake, Ross Island was occupied by the Japanese in 1942. The Government House became the house of the Japanese Admiral for three yers from 1942 to 1945. It was also during this time that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose visited the island in December 1943. Netaji had hoisted the tricolor here at the top of the Government House.
The allies recaptured the island in 1945 and later abandoned it. At present, the island is in control of the Indian Navy.
The island is fascinating with its well maintained pathways and manicured gardens. Though the old British buildings are all in ruins, they will take you to a different era. Just look at the dilapidated buildings with overgrown trees and creepers.
There are signboards at different places that helped us to identify the places. There is a Protestant Church here built of stone and the window frames are made of Burma teak. The quality of the wood was so good that it had till now weathered the vagaries of the changing seasons for over a century.
There are several officers’ quarters on the island. From senior officers’ home to the barracks, they are present on the Ross Island. The condition of the structures is quite deplorable with roots hanging down the decrepit buildings. Some of these even have holes through which we could see the blue waters of the Bay of Bengal.
I was totally at awe seeing these old structures. In my mind, stories of the past had already started playing. I could imagine Netaji hoisting the Indian tricoulor on the Government House. The revelry and fun at the Club house was playing before me. The Club House was a social gathering place for the British subordinates. It had its own band and a dance floor.
The water treatment plant was also a wonderful thing. They had built it because many of the residents, especially infants had lost their life due to water borne diseases.
Apart from these old buildings that told stories of the past, the Ross Island is also full of deer. The island is their home and they roam about freely here. The deer are quite friendly and we could approach them. This is one of the better things at Andaman. They let the nature and animals live on their own without human intervention. Please do not feed anything to the deer. There are also a number of peacocks and parrots here. The peacocks have made the ruins their home.
Walking around the Ross Trail was good. With the refreshing sea breeze and the shade of the trees, one can also rest their tired feet.
That was our visit to the Ross Island. We enjoyed every bit of our stay here with me talking to the ruins trying to learn their stories and Agni capturing the beautiful moments. Have you visited the island? What was your experience?
Some Facts about Ross Island:
Ross Island is just a few kilometers from Port Blair. You can get to the island by taking a ferry from the Aberdeen Jetty of Port Blair. It takes about 20 minutes to reach there.
Usually, trip to North Bay Island and Ross Island are done together. The boats usually gives you around 2 hours to take a tour of the island.
There is an entrance fee of INR 30 to the island. Cameras are charged at INR 30 and for video cameras, you will have to shell out INR 75.
Some Useful Tips:
- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes as you have to walk around the island to explore the place.
- Feeding the deer is not encouraged at all. Littering the place will also attract a fine.
- Snacks and water are available at the island at the bakery.
- A Light and Sound show takes place everyday except Wednesday and public holidays. The show starts at 5:15 PM. The show is about the historical events that took place here during the pre-independence era.
- Be careful about the timings of your boat.