Etymology of Ross Island
Ross Island is named after the marine surveyor Captain Daniel Ross. Captain Daniel Ross FRS was a hydrographer employed by the East India Company. He was known as “the Father of the Indian Surveys" for his care and regard for scientific accuracy. In December 2018, the island was renamed as Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Island as a tribute to India's most prominent freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose who visited the island in 1943.
Location of Ross Island
Ross Island is situated 3 kilometres east from downtown Port Blair. The island belongs to the Port Blair Islands and lies in the entrance of Port Blair.
History of Ross Island
Ross Island remained under British activity and it remained as the Administrative Headquarters for the Andaman Islands for 85 years before an earthquake rocked it in 1941. In January 1858, British took control of three islands in and around Port Blair. The Island saw 24 chief commissioners after Stewart.
Before the Japanese take-over of the entire set of islands, Ross Island experienced an earthquake, which caused a lot of people to leave the Island. The headquarters were then shifted to Port Blair. From 1942 to 1945, the island was occupied by the Japanese and they too left their mark on the island. In April 1979, the island was handed over to the Navy. Here is a brief history of the early and modern history of the island.
Early history: Following Archibald Blair's meticulous survey of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the year 1789, a pioneering settlement found its roots in what is now recognized as Port Blair, previously denominated as Port Cornwallis. However, in 1792, this settlement underwent relocation to the Northern harbor, presently acknowledged as Diglipur, and this locale was also bestowed with the name Port Cornwallis, while the former site came to be known as Old Harbour.
It is noteworthy that this migration was primarily motivated by a shift in strategic considerations. Sadly, by the year 1796, this newly established settlement had to be abandoned due to an alarmingly high mortality rate that had afflicted the inhabitants. This unfortunate circumstance compelled a reevaluation of the settlement's viability and sustainability.
Between the years 1789 and 1792, during the initial phase of settlement in Port Cornwallis, Archibald Blair played a pivotal role in establishing essential infrastructure. He initiated the construction of a hospital and a sanatorium at what is now recognized as Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Island. These institutions not only underscored the significance of healthcare in the nascent settlement but also reflected Blair's visionary approach towards creating a functional and sustainable community in the region.
Period of Penal Settlement: The epoch of the Penal Settlement on Ross Island unfolds as a chapter deeply etched in history. In a strategic shift orchestrated by the British, a Penal Settlement was established in the Andaman Islands sixty years following Archibald Blair's initial survey. In 1858, this Penal Settlement was trans-located from Singapore to Port Blair, particularly to Viper Island. The backdrop of the 1857 Revolt played an inadvertent role, serving as a boon to the British, enabling the establishment of this settlement without the impediments encountered on the Indian mainland.
Captain James Pattison Walker, an adept jailor, took charge of Port Blair on March 6, 1858, accompanied by 773 criminal convicts, including four officials from Singapore. Walker's expertise was vital in managing the hardened criminals within the settlement. A considerable number of revolutionaries, approximately 200, were exiled to the Andaman Islands, their arrival coinciding with the establishment of Ross Island as the Administrative Headquarters, a role it held until the mid-1940s.
Ross Island, evolved into the nucleus of operations. The initial makeshift dwellings gave way to more permanent structures as prisoners constructed houses, barracks, and offices. Viper Island witnessed the construction of the first jail, while Ross Island became host to the Chief Commissioner's abode, the Government House, which housed ornate ballrooms and sprawling gardens.
1941 Earthquake: In a prelude to the eventual Japanese takeover of the archipelago, a seismic event shook Ross Island approximately nine months before the islands fell under Japanese control. Notably, this earthquake did not directly precipitate the evacuation efforts undertaken by the British from the Andaman Islands; instead, the evacuation was prompted by the impending Japanese occupation during the course of World War II. Ross Island, too, did not witness abandonment solely due to the 1941 earthquake.
During this period, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and other dignitaries found lodging at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Island until 1947. The decision to abandon Ross Island post reoccupation by the British, and just prior to Independence, stemmed from distinct factors independent of the earthquake.
Despite the seismic activity of 1941 and subsequent occurrences in 1942 and 2004, not a single brick of the Cellular Jail bore the impact of these earthquakes. It is worth noting that the eventual demolition of the Cellular Jail was about to take place in the 1960s by the Andaman Administration, a decision triggered by protests and a writ petition from Freedom Fighters who had been incarcerated within the jail. Shri B.L. Banerjee and 300 other freedom fighters presented a Memorandum to the Prime Minister of India praying for the conversion of the Cellular Jail into a National Monument. The attempt to demolition of Cellular Jail was immediately stopped after the visit and instruction of the then Home Minister to the Andamans Islands in November 1967.
Amidst these historical events, an attempt to manipulate the history of the Penal Settlement has been observed, largely driven by the descendants of the criminal convicts who settled in the Andaman post reoccupation. This endeavor is speculated to have originated from their sense of ostracization within mainland India. Worth mentioning is the fact that none of the freedom fighters who had undergone incarceration in the Andaman chose to settle on the island. The mutineers encountered a tumultuous fate, with the majority succumbing to attacks by the aborigines. Sixty-six were subsequently recaptured, with assistance from both criminal convicts and aborigines, and were subsequently executed at Viper Island in 1858.
Under Japanese rule: The span from 1942 to 1945 marked a chapter of Japanese occupation on Ross Island. During this time frame, the island fell under Japanese rule, with significant ramifications for its landscape and governance. The focal point of this period was the Government House, which transformed into the dwelling of a Japanese admiral, serving as their seat of authority for three years, commencing from March 1942 and extending until October 1945.
This phase also bore witness to the presence of Subhas Chandra Bose, a prominent figure in India's struggle for independence, who collaborated with the Japanese in his efforts against British colonial rule. In December 1943, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose sojourned on the island for a day. Notably, during his visit, he symbolically raised the national tricolor atop the Government House, marking an emblematic moment in the island's history.
The Japanese imprint on the island is indelibly marked by their strategic efforts to fortify it against potential invasion. Bunkers, serving as watch points, were meticulously constructed by the Japanese to safeguard the island. These remnants stand as tangible evidence of their strategic vigilance during their occupation.
The island's narrative took yet another turn when the allies reclaimed it in 1945, putting an end to the Japanese occupation. However, in the aftermath of this transformation, Ross Island was once again abandoned, signifying a historical chapter that stands as a testament to the ebb and flow of sovereignty and occupation.
Indian naval post in Ross Island: The transition of Ross Island's purpose underwent a pivotal change in April 1979 when it was formally entrusted to the Indian Navy. The Navy proceeded to establish a modest naval post on the island, known as INS Jarawa. The nomenclature of this post was a deliberate tribute to one of the indigenous tribes residing within the Andaman group of islands, the Jarawa tribe.
Under the aegis of the Indian Navy, Ross Island assumed a new identity as INS Jarawa, embodying a strategic presence that held significance within the broader maritime landscape. This transformation marked an important juncture in the island's trajectory, signifying its evolving role within the framework of national security and maritime operations.
Attraction of Ross Island
The scenic beauty and landscape of Ross Island attracts a number of tourists. Ross Island has a passageway up to the northern end of the Island and there is the new concrete 10 metres high circular lighthouse tower. The Island has a sanctuary that boasts of great flora and fauna. Deer and peacocks are mostly found in the island and the island is full of palm and coconut trees.
There are a lot of historical contexts connected with the island. It still has the remains of the famous printing press and the secretariat office. Along with the Commissioner's house the Island also has the ruins of a church, and grand ballrooms with some well built swimming pools and troop's barricades. All turned into ruins after the severe earthquake that struck the Island in 1945 - 46. As the evacuation of the Island continued it once again came into prominence when Subhash Chandra Bose hoisted Indian Flag on the Island.
Light house in Ross Island
A marked pathway leads to the northern extremity of Ross Island, culminating at a significant edifice is the contemporary concrete lighthouse tower. Erected in the year 1977, this tower stands as a beacon of maritime guidance, soaring to a height of 10 meters. Positioned upon an offshoot rock approximately 50 meters away from the shoreline, this lighthouse epitomizes modern engineering prowess.
Notably, the lighthouse structure is accessible during periods of low tide, facilitating maintenance and operational activities. A distinctive facet associated with this lighthouse pertains to its role in pioneering technological advancements. It was at this very location that the inaugural implementation of photovoltaic panels occurred within the Indian context. This innovative step entailed the utilization of solar panels to harness solar energy, subsequently charging batteries imperative for the lighthouse's illumination function.
Visiting Information of Ross Island
Ferry takes around 30 minutes to reach at Ross Island from Rajiv Gandhi Water Sports Complex located at Andaman. Ferries are also available from Phoenix bay.