The proposal for a museum in Madras was mooted by the Madras
Literary Society in 1846 AD and Sir Henry Pottinger, the then Governor, obtained the
sanction of the Court of Directors of the East India Company in London.
1851 AD, Dr. Edward Balfour, Medical Officer of the Governor's Body guard was appointed as
the First Officer in charge of the Government
Museum. The notification in the Fort St. George Gazetteer dated 29th Aprtil 1851 AD
contained the first announcement regarding the opening of the Madras Government Museum.
The Government Museum otherwise called as the Central Museum was started in the College of Fort St. George, in the premises of the
present office of the Director of Public Instruction, on College Road. The college had
been established in 1812 AD and made a significant contribution to the development of South Indian
Languages. The Museum was started in the first floor of the college with the 1100
geological specimens of the Madras Literary Society. It steadily developed and expanded
under the guidance and supervision of a succession of directors.
As the building was in a dilapidated condition, the Museums Superintendent, Dr.
Balfour advocated shifting it to another building.
In December 1854 AD, it
was shifted to a building named the Pantheon, also known as the Public Rooms or Assembly
Rooms, where the elite of the city met.
The building was being
utilised for banquets, balls and dramatic performances from the last decade of the 18th
Century. The estate of the Pantheon was the property of Hall Plumer, civil servant and
public works contractor who subsequently, in 1793 AD, assigned the grounds to a Committee
of 24, which regulated the public amusements in the city at that time. In 1821 AD, the
Committee sold the main house and central garden space to E.S. Moorat, a wealthy Armenian
merchant, who in turn, sold it back to the Government in 1830 AD, for Rs.28,000. The
property was originally 43 acres in extent and stretched from Casa Major Road to the
present Police Commissioners Road, and it was flanked by the Pantheon Road and Halls
The Public Library was
started in 1853 AD. It was opened to the public in June 1862 AD. The construction of the
library and lecture hall began in December 1873 AD and completed in 1875 AD and formally
opened by the Governor on March 16, 1876 AD. Captain Mitchell, Superintendent, was
responsible for strengthening the library. He is regarded as the originator of the
Connemara Public Library.
It was formally opened on
December 5, 1896 AD by Sir Arthur Elibank Havelock, the then Governor and named after its
progenitor, Lord Connemara, Governor of Madras. Designed by H.Irvin, the then Consulting
Architect to the Government of Madras, it had a magnificent hall with a splendid reading
room and beautiful teak wood shelves.
The library had an
imposing tower 200 feet high, the highest in Madras at that time. But in March 1897 AD,
the tower was demolished as it was found to be in a precarious condition.
Libraries controlled by
different bodies which were in need of space were invited to occupy some portion of the
Connemara Library. The Madras Literary Society Library was the first to function inside
the Connemara Library until it was shifted in 1905 AD to its present building on College
Road. The Madras University Library occupied the space vacated by the Madras Literary
Society Library and functioned there until 1928 AD when it moved to Chepauk.
The Oriental Manuscripts Library which was also housed in the Connemara Library till 1935
AD, moved into the University Buildings at Chepauk. Books were purchased on behalf
of the Victoria Technical Institute from the Dhanakoti Mudaliar Endowment
and still housed in the Fine Arts Section of the Connemara Public Library. Later the
library came under the control of the Director of Public Instruction.
In 1854 AD, a young
cheetah and tiger were kept in the museum and visitors came to see them from distant
places. As visitors to the museum increased, Dr. Balfour requested the Nawab of the
Carnatic, to send the wild animals he had to the museum. In September 1855 AD, a
notification was issued asking for the animals to be gifted to the Museum Zoological
Gardens. By the first half year of 1856 AD, the Madras Museum had zoological garden with
360 animals. In 1863 AD, the City Municipality took over the Zoological Gardens and
shifted it to the Peoples Park.
The plans for the Madras
Aquarium were drawn up in 1905-1906 AD by Dr. Thurston, the then Superintendent of the
Museum in consultation with a Committee. As this was the first Aquarium, methods of
aeration, etc. found useful in Europe had to be suitably modified and adopted. The
aquarium was opened to the public on October 21, 1909 AD and was very popular.
Fisheries Department came to be organised, the management of the aquarium was taken over
by it on April 1, 1910 AD. During 1942 AD, owing to the threat of a Japanese attack on
Madras, the city was evacuated, the collections in the Aquarium were thrown and it ceased
to exist. Attempts to rebuild the aquarium have not fructified.
1941-1946 AD were bad years for the Museum. A great part of the buildings and the grounds
had to be handed over for an ARP depot stationed in the Museum. The galleries had to be
used as storage rooms and therefore the showcases were removed. The most valuable among
the collections, such as bronzes, copper plate grants, selected coins, relic caskets of Bhattiprolu,
etc. were sent to places of safety. As the Amaravati sculptures were too heavy and
difficult to transport, the Government ordered that they should be protected in situ in
In December 1896 AD, the
Front Building (Anthropological Galleries) and The Museum Theatre were opened. The new
extension (main entrance) was built in 1939 AD in order to display stone sculptures,
period-wise. The Government Museum took over the Victoria Technical Institute Building
(constructed in 1909 AD) and named it as National Art Gallery and was thrown open to the
public on November 27, 1951 AD.
The Museum celebrated its
Centenary on November 27, 1951 AD which was inaugurated by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. In
Order to display the exquisite rich collection of bronzes, a separate building was
constructed in 1963 AD. In the same year, a new block was added to the Chemical
Conservation Section to cope with the increasing work of preservation. A new building for
the Birds Gallery was also opened in 1963 AD.
A separate building for
Contemporary Art was opened in January 25, 1984 AD and a new Childrens Museum
building was opened in April 1988 AD. The Raja Ravi Varma paintings, which are
considered as National Treasures, have been placed in a gallery with Fibre Optic
lighting. This system of lighting gives a dramatic lighting effect. The Contemporary
Art Gallery has been lit using Dichroic Halogen lamps. These lamps reflect back the
heat. They also have a pleasing visual effect. These lighting methods are technology
demonstrators and a first for museums in India at the time of their installation in 2001
Notable collections in
the Museum are the world famous South Indian bronzes, Amaravati sculptures, Tanjore
(Thanjavur) armoury, inscriptions on stones and copper plates, the Dowleshwaram
hoard of gold coins of Raja Raja I and Kulothunga I, the Chengam
hoard of copper coins, artifacts from the Megaliths of Adichanallur, the Bruce
Foote Collection of prehistoric stone implements, Roman and other artifacts from the
famous site of Arikamedu (near Pondicherry), the exquisite crystal reliquaries from
the Bhattiprolu Stupa and the enormous skeleton of the whale obtained on
shore near Mangalore.
History of this Web Site
In order to create a web site for the Government Museum, Chennai a
proposal was sent to the Government at the cost of Rs.5 lakhs during the financial year
The aim of the project was to project the art, culture and natural heritage of Tamil Nadu
to the whole world.
The Government sanctioned Rs.5 lakhs for this and subsequently a
committee of curators was formed to create the web site. Leading software organisations
were invited for a demonstration in the Government Museum, Chennai and discussions were
held with the experts in the field. The configuration of the web site was finalised based
on these inputs and after viewing the web site of other museums in India and the world.
The project was entrusted to ELCOT, Chennai which is a Tamilnadu State Government
Corporation specialising in Electronics and Information Technology based projects. The
Curators and the Commissioner of Museums prepared the text and photographs. They worked
for 10 to 12 hours daily for nearly a year to finish the matter. The web site contains
1400 pages and is one of the biggest among museums in the world. The structure of the web
site was designed by ELCOT
and was launched as draft on 17.9.2001 AD. It was launched on 25.10.2001 AD for public to browse and give their
Department of Museums
Superintendents / Directors / Commissioners
||First Officer in-charge
||1851 - 1859 AD
||Captain J. Mitchell
||1859 - 1872
||Surgeon G. Bidie, C.I.E.
||1872 - 1884
||Dr. Edgar Thurston, C.I.E.
||1885 - 1908
||Dr. J.R. Henderson, C.I.E.
||1908 - 1919
||Dr. F.H. Gravely, D.Sc.
||1920 - 1940
||Dr. A. Aiyappan, Ph.D.
||1940 - 1960
||Dr. S.T. Satyamurthi, D.Sc.
||1961 - 1978
||Mr. N. Harinarayana, M.A.B.Sc.(Tech.).
||1978 - 1989
||Mr. G. Kesavaram, M.Sc.
||1989 - 1991
||Mr. M. Raman, I.A.S.
||1991 - 1993
||Mr. T.R. Ramasamy, I.A.S.
||Mr. M. Ramu, I.A.S.
||1993 - 1995
||Mr. Naresh Gupta, I.A.S.
||1995 - 1996
||Mr. K. Dheenadayalan, I.A.S.
||1996 - 1997
||Mr. S. Rangamani, I.A.S.
||1997 - 1999
||Dr. R. Kannan, Ph.D., I.A.S.
||1999 - 2004
||Thiru. M. A. Siddique, I.A.S.
||2004 - 2006
||Dr. R. Kannan, Ph.D., I.A.S.
||Special Commissioner and Commissioner of Museums
||2006 - 2007
Sitharam Gurumurthi, I.A.S.
Commissioner (Additional Charge)
Shanthini Kapoor, I.A.S.
Secretary / Commissioner of Museums
||2007 - 2008
Secretary / Commissioner of Museums
||2008 - 2011
||Commissioner of Museums
||2011 - 2013
Dr. R. Kannan, I.A.S.
||Principal Secretary/Commisioner of Museums (Additional Charge)