The Adyar is to us a peaceful river, but in its time it appears to have claimed quite a few victims. Among the earliest is that of James Brodie, builder of the eponymous Castle, which now named Thenral serves as the home of the Isai Kalluri, the Government College of Music.
But by far the worst tragedy was in 1866. Brodie Castle was then home to James McIver, Manager, Bank of Madras (which later became a part of the Imperial Bank– now the State Bank of India). On the afternoon of December 23rd, a tiffin party having just concluded, a group of five set out for a boat ride on the Adyar. Two were ladies – the daughters of McIver. The other three were well known figures of Madras. Lt.Col. John Temple, the Superintendent of Stamps, had just then taken over as President of the newly organised Madras Municipality. Capt. Frederick H Hope was ADC to the Governor Lord Napier. Harry Scuddamore Bostock was Agent of P&O, the shipping company.
The party set off in a China-built boat belonging to Brodie Castle. The idea was to row to the opposite bank, walk on Elliot’s Beach and return. They had rowed a short distance when the boat hit a sand bank. The water being shallow there, everyone got off and the vessel was dislodged after considerable effort. By the time it worked free it was getting dark and the group, having abandoned ideas of rowing across, decided to turn back. They had rowed a little to the shore when they found the craft rapidly filling with water. There was no option but to swim ashore. Bostock was asked to swim first while the other two men helped one lady each.
When Bostock reached the shore he found that the others had vanished. A short while later a coat and a boat cushion floated by. Fearing the worst, Bostock shouted for help and was heard by John D Mayne, then Advocate-General of Madras and living close by. He organised a search party and soon the body of Lt.Col. Temple was found. At 6.00am next day, the body of Capt. Hope came ashore and by 3.00 pm, those of the two girls were fished out. It was found that while Temple’s face registered peace, those of the other three were violently contorted, indicating a great struggle. Strands of Miss Kate McIver’s hair were in Capt. Hope’s clenched fist. An inquest was held, the editor of Madras Times, Henry Cornish being among the Coroner’s Jury. He, having frequently rowed in that boat, opined that it was meant for four people at most and not five. A verdict of death due to accidental drowning was brought in. The military men were buried with due honours at the St Mary’s Cemetery near Central Station, the Governor and Commander-in-Chief in attendance.
A broken-hearted McIver returned to England. Bostock was sent back too, in a state of shock. He never made it, dying en-route.
This article appeared in the Hidden Histories column of The Hindu dated 5th March 2013