Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hudleston's Garden

Some background on HPB’s place of residence in Madras is given by the Chennai blog, Rabbiting On, which V. Narayan Swami, who runs it, explains to mean: Rabbiting on is slang for chatttering pointlessly or aimlessly. Which is what this Blog will do—on topics that interest me: History, Prints, Churchill, Wodehouse, Architecture, and so on. The URL is from Hamlet: "the graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead did squeak and gibber in the Roman Streets".

He has ferreted out information on the Hudlestons who built the property that was to become the Adyar headquarters of the Theosophical Society.

Of the many Hudlestons who served in Madras over two centuries plus there are three from a distinguished branch who are our men. John Hudleston (1749-1835) entered the Madras Civil Service in 1766 and probably knew his contemporary, James Brodie. By 1782, he was Military Secretary to the Madras Government and a member of the Council by 1790. As Military Secretary, he was instrumental in negotiating a treaty of peace with Hyder Ali in the first Mysore War and retired to England around 1800, becoming a Memeber of Parliament and a Director of the East India Company. He was the one who got a grant of the 28 acre property from the Company and most likely built the house—a garden house as the English termed such houses—as the style of the building accords with that of many others built in Madras around 1800.

John's son, Josiah Andrew (1799-1865), also entered the Madras Civil Service and retired as Chief Collector of Madras in 1855. Josiah Hudleston was also a famous guitar musician and composer. His son, also Josiah (1826-92), was a Colonel in the Madras Army and probably retired in the mid to late 1870's when the house was sold to an Indian. In 1882, Col Olcott and Madam Blavatsky, the founders of Theo Soc, bought the property from one Muthiah Pillai for a down payment of Rs 1000 with a mortgage of Rs 7500 on it which they assumed. For the money they paid, what the Theosophists got was about 28 acres, the main house, a tank, stables and two substantial out-buildings—one, a grand octagonal house which Col Olcott took for his residence, and the other, a still more spacious structure which is used as a guest house today.

The rest of his post on residences of the Adyar estuary can be read here. Unfortunately he is in error about the state of the building when it was purchased by Olcott and Blavatsky, mistaking the additions done after 1907 by Mrs. Marie Russak as part of the original structure. He also mistakes Blavatsky Bungalow, acquired by the Society in the 20th century, for Olcott’s residence, the octagonal building near the headquarters building.

So, in the watercolour above by F. J. Delafour, “The river Adyar, Madras, from the terrace of a villa,” circa 1836 (because Elphinstone Bridge, shown at the right edge of the picture, was not built until 1840, V. Narayan Swami believes the date to be 1856 not 1836 as given for it), Hudleston's Garden is the first building on the right, and much the way the Theosophists must have seen it.

After moving to the property at the end of 1882, HPB wrote her aunt:

It is simply delightful. What air we have here; what nights! And what marvellous quiet! No more city noises and street yells. I am sitting quietly writing, and now and then gaze over the ocean sparkling all over as if a living thing—really. I am often under the impression that the sea breathes, or that it is angry, roaring and hurling itself about in wrath. But when it is quiet and caressing there can be nothing in the world as fascinating as its beauty, especially on a moonlit night. The moon here against the deep dark-blue sky seems twice as big and ten times brighter than your European mother-of-pearl ball.

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