Chennai’s 2nd gift to the world. The Wealth of Elihu Yale

First things First: This post is part of the 7 gifts to the world series that is running on all Metroblogging cities. For an introduction to the series, go here. Take a look at Chennai’s 1st gift to the world as well.
Also, the numbering of gift one, two and so on is an ordering of posts and is not a reflection of the timeline of the gifts being posted about.

You want to know what is Chennai’s gift to the world? I’d say a laid-back attitude. My aunt tossed those words at me on her way out. On thinking a bit, I have to agree that there is some truth in her statement. Chennai is a calm, cultured place where raw aggression is barely seen on the surface. Ever since she was assembled as a loose collection of neighbouring villages in the seventeenth century, the Madras of old, has been a quiet, warm hostess, offering freely of her wealth while holding on to her tranquil lifestyle.

Barely fifty years into her existence, Madras had a new master, Elihu Yale, Second Governor of the Madras settlement of East India Company. This Mr.Yale, through the baton passing game that Time loves to play, is now remembered as the man after whom Yale University was named.

Elihu Yale is said to have earned, the right word is amassed, a huge fortune in Madras and elsewhere in India. His fortune eventually made it possible for Yale to contribute enough to a then small institution in New Haven, Connecticut to get it named after him. Yale College in Wrexham, North Wales was also named after Elihu Yale. According to the Wrexham page,

When Elihu went to India as a humble ‘writer’ the East India company was notorious for the small salaries it paid to their servants. Even the Governor was only paid £100 per year. They were no doubt expected to make money by trading with the natives on their own account. Elihu succeeded so well that after twenty seven years in India he returned home with a fortune which would today be considered suitable for a multi- millionaire. This was a period when great fortunes could be made and lost. The South Sea bubble brought misfortune to many through the greed of both unscrupulous promoters and gullible investors. It was a period of bribery and corruption; parallels can be drawn even today with several spectacular failures of finance companies. Also in this period another great institution was founded – the Bank of England. Although a private bank founded by Charter from William III it was closely associated with the Government.

Elihu Yale was one of the first to return from India with a fortune and consequently to be accused of sharp practice.

So it is, Ladies and Gentlemen, wealth made on these shores found their way into building one of the world’s most famous universities.

Technorati Tags: Metroblogging7Gifts, 7Gifts, Metblogs7Gifts

7 Comments so far

  1. Punnaku (unregistered) on December 1st, 2006 @ 5:15 pm

    A great series about our city !Thanks .
    I have a question. Why are these posts mill about our colonial past ? Are these a reminiscence of the slavery past or just an attempt to revisit the history for the uninitiated ? or does both mean the same ? Am not sure :-( .
    Care to answer,anyone ?

  2. cd (unregistered) on December 2nd, 2006 @ 12:53 am

    Wow, interesting bit of history and presented really well. Also – I love the first commenters question, not because I have much of an answer, but I don’t see many cities with such thought-provoking, introspective questions.

  3. suresh (unregistered) on December 2nd, 2006 @ 11:36 am

    Very cool. Didn’t know that.

  4. Thad E. Ginathom (unregistered) on December 2nd, 2006 @ 3:39 pm

    I have to wonder how this foreigner, even if he did make his money here, can be described as Chennai’s gift to the world! I think you put your foot in it with this one! Albeit an interesting history. Ad I can’t really see what this guy had to do with laid-back attitude.

    On the brighter side, let me confess that until the third para I was thinking that this elihu yale was a phrase in Tamil and wondering what it meant!! Luckily my wife is not in the room: I’d have felt very silly if I’d asked her [Blush]

    And I do agree about the laid-back attitude :)

  5. Lavanya (unregistered) on December 2nd, 2006 @ 9:50 pm

    @Punnaku – Thanks. They are neither. The choices were based on what most Chennai Metrobloggers thought counted as a gift.

    @CD & Suresh: Thank you.

    @Thad: Yes, does seem like I got brave enough to put that foot out ;)

    The laid-back attitude was to hint that most gifts were what people had taken out of this city than what the city had done to the people.

  6. Chenthil (unregistered) on December 2nd, 2006 @ 10:03 pm

    Thad – read the heading carefully. Lavanya says Elihu Yale’s WEALTH is Chennai’s gift to the world, not Yale himself.

  7. Thad E. Ginathom (unregistered) on December 11th, 2006 @ 12:43 am

    Correction noted.

    But it is a dangerous one!

    India’s wealth could be said to have been a gift to the world. It might also be said to have been stolen by the world! Or at least, by the Brits, the French, the Portuguese and so on….

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