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Presidency: Madras
Present Day Details
Place Name: Poonamallee
State/Province: Tamil Nadu
Country: India
Transport links

Poonamallee is town near Madras. It was formerly a garrison town for the British Army and a hospital and ordnance depot were located there, along with many British Army units. Many pensioned British soldiers elected to live in Poonamallee when they retired.

Orphan Asylum

See main article Orphan Schools in Madras.

An orphanage for daughters of British soldiers was located in Poonamallee. Records of girls tranferred from this orphanage to the Madras Female Asylum can be found on the main FIBIS database.

Description c.1835

Albert HA Hervey, a young British Captain with the 40th Regiment of Madras Native Infantry in the 1830s, describes aspects of Poonamallee in Volume II of his colourful 1850 book Ten Years in India (available on google books). He notes that the place is familiar to Madras officers, who may reminisce of "jovial trip[s] to the depot mess; European soldiers lying drunk in the fort-ditch".

The fort and barracks

The book contains a lengthy tirade on the state of the soldiers' accomodation, concluding that much of the sickness suffered by European soldiers can be attributed to the poor conditions they are housed in.

If the walls of the old fort at Poonamullee were knocked down, and the whole levelled and exposed, the place would be tolerable...The hospital and part of the barracks are situated within the fort, the ramparts running close to those buildings so as to completely keep out any healthy circulation of air...This cannot be a healthy locality for old or young soldiers, the former waiting to be sent home by the first ship, at time detained there for months, the latter stationed there preparatory for marching up country...The buildings for the use of the troops inside the fort are good substantial ones...Outside there are extensive ranges of barracks sufficient for the accomodation of two or three regiments, but they have their drawback inasmuch as they happen to be diametrically opposite to those situated in the fort; they have no shelter or screen at all; they are too much exposed...The officers quarters are wretched, little bits of pigeonholes and so hot that anyone residing within them ought to be grilled to death.

Hervey descibes the so called "French Barracks" (named for having housed French prisoners of war) as "the best in the place."


Hervey says that "the pretty little church is about a quarter of a mile from the barracks." He states it is a "tolerably-built edifice" and can hold about a hundred people.


Poonamullee is much frequented by old pensioned European soldiers: there are many of them residing within the limits of the depot, in cottages neatly laid out, with small gardens in front of them. The scenes which sometimes occur among them of drunkenness and debauchery are disgraceful in the extreme.

Hervey believed the pensioners, being a bad example, should not be allowed to reside at Poonamallee and should instead be stationed together at Trippasore, a nearby village adapted for out-pensioners.

Historical books online

  • Poonamallee page 81 The Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal Volume 68 1847
  • Poonamallee page 431 Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Inquire into the Sanitary State of the Army in India : with Abstract of Evidence, and of Reports Received from Indian Military Stations 1864 Archive.org