Elphinstone Bridge, Madras

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The Elphinstone Bridge, Madras was constructed by the Madras Engineers and completed c.1840. It was a stone multi-arched bridge and named after Lord Elphinstone, who was Governor of Madras from 1837 to 1842. It seems to have been completed in about 1840 [1].

The area to the south of the river had been used as hunting grounds by British officials of Fort St. George from the 1680s onwards though Adyar is first mentioned as a suburb of Madras only in a map from the year 1740 when the British purchased the village and integrated it with the Madras Presidency [2].

Before its construction, there were no bridges across the Adyar river except the causeway then known as Marmalong Bridge. Parisals, which were round floats pushed by long poles, were the chief mode of transportation across the river, and there were several makeshift landing places on the banks of the river for carrying goods [3]. The area is subject to severe storms and cyclones and in 1846 a cyclone was registered above 40lb per square foot (90mph/145kph) when the anemometer broke. The wind and storm surge damaged the bridge when one of the massive stone pillars was blown over [4]. The bridge is nearly 1,570 ft (480 mtrs) long and the river is tidal for up to 2.5 miles (4Km) [5] from its mouth.

Madras was built on a plain surrounded by lakes called tanks, These discharge into the rivers and as streams through the sandy and swamp ground that surround the city especially to the south.



1838 November, the Court of Directors of the East India Company in London made a reply to 12 letters and reports on the state of the Roads in Madras. The major part was for a new crossing of Adyar River. [6]. An earthen causeway had been put in place to ease the traffic of people and goods across the river. There had been a previous attempt before to build a bridge at this point but it had been washed away shortly after it was built. The causeway was also subject to the rivers conditions. [7]. The lowest crossing was the Marmalong bridge near Saidapet which had been rebuilt in 1726. [8]

As proof of a need a census of users of the causeway was made in March and April 1838 and sent to London [9].

The designs and quotations had been received: - a wooden bridge at a cost of Rs77,881; a brick bridge at a cost of Rs32,076; an iron suspension bridge at a cost of R 82,528. The Chief Engineer had commented that the brick bridge would be nearer Rs70,000 but gave no details. [10].

The Court sanctioned the building of an arched bridge on 3 conditions:- i. The foundations are firm and that the arches are a sufficient height and span to prevent floods; ii. The bridge is made of brick or stone; iii. The cost does not exceed Rs70,000 [11].

So that construction could go ahead land on either side had to be purchased from the Nabob for R1,750 [12], and Rs4,500 to Mr Chitty and Mr Hogg for waste ground. A connecting road between South Beach and the bridge at a cost of Rs4,000 with a bridge across the backwater at a cost of Rs4,572 was also sanctioned. [13]

1850's onwards

The Elphinstone Bridge became an important and vital link between southern Madras and its ever expanding southern suberbs to the south.

Further cylones were encountered in 1853, 1858, 1863, 1864, 1865 and the most destructive of all in May 1872, then 1874 and 1881 [14]. THe Hindu reports "the 11-metre wide Elphinstone Bridge has concrete slabs covering the sewer pipelines running over it. The full width of the bridge is covered with the slabs. A flight of stairs is located on either side of the bridge that is used by a few pedestrians" [3].

'The Hindu' 13 Aug 2016, page 4 shows a photograph of the 'Elphinstone Bridge'(1840) on River Adyar in its present state [1], it is the on the side of the current 'Thiru Vi Ka Bridge'. The 'Madras Musings' also gives a modern photograph of the 'Elphinstone Bridge' [15].

Plans to restore the old bridge by setting up a bird-watching spot along with a garden were part of the phase-II of restoration of the Adyar river estuary. However, with only 58 acres that come under phase-I having been completed, the plan seems to have been put in cold storage [3].


  1. 1.0 1.1 The Hindu Article "The Old Bridges of Chennai Archival information para.5; April 16, 2013; Retrieved 26 Oct 2016
  2. Times of India "Rebirth of Adyar creek" by Julie Mariappan & Devparna Acharya; 22 April 2010; Retrieved 26 Oct 2016
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 The Hindu, Chennai "173-year-old Elphinstone Bridge gets a makeover" by Ramakrishnan, Deepa H. ; 13 January 2013; Retrieved 15 Aug 2016
  4. “Imperial Gazetteer of India, v. 16”, p. 368; Retrieved 15 Aug 2016
  5. The Hindu, Chennai "WRD plans groynes" by Lakshmi, K. ; 3 Dec 2011; Retrieved 15 Aug 2016
  6. IOR/E/4/951 letter to Fort St George 14th November 1838. page 761 British Library
  7. History of the city of Madras by C. S. SrinivasachariI published by P. Varadachary & Co. Madras, 1939 P xii
  8. IOR/E/4/951 letter to Fort St George 14th November 1838. page 765 British Library
  9. IOR/E/4/954 letter dated 13th March 1838. Page 50 British Library
  10. IOR/E/4/951 letter to Fort St George 14th November 1838. pages 762-3 British Library
  11. IOR/E/4/951 letter to Fort St George 14th November 1838. pages 765-6 British Library
  12. IOR/E/4/956 Note of a letter from Madras with no comment. page 672 British Library
  13. IOR/E/4/ 954 letter dated 13th March 1838. page 50 British Library
  14. Wikipedia "Thiru Vi. Ka. Bridge"; Retrieved 15 Aug 2016
  15. Madras Musings “Bridge building tales of yore” 1 Oct 2014, page 4; Retrieved 13 Aug 2016