Now the house of the death sentences is completely in dilapidated condition. The British Colonial Government in India used to imprison the convicts and political prisoners. It has the ruins of a gallows atop a hillock. The jail was abandoned when the Cellular Jail was constructed in 1906.
This small island derives its name from the vessel "Viper" in which Lt. Archibald Blair came to Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 1789. From the name of the ship, this island is known as Viper Islands and from the name of Lt. Archibald Blair, the capital city of Andaman and Nicobar Island is named- Port Blair. The vessel, it is believed, met with an accident and its wreckage was found near the island. There is another story which says that the name originated from the presence of vipers, snakes, on the island.
The need for building a jail there was felt only after the British Colonial Government set up a penal settlement at Port Blair in 1858. Ross Island functioned as the headquarters of the penal settlement. It is located near Port Blair and the construction of the Viper Jail was carried out during 1864-67.
Lt. Col. Barnet Ford, the Superintendent of the Penal Settlement of British Government, supervised the work. Initially, a police inspector, a head constable, two sergeants, four class I constables and 30 class II constables were posted, according to materials available at the Cellular Jail. Later on, the strength was raised gradually. The solitary cells, lock-ups, stocks and whipping stands characterised the Viper Jail. Women were among the prisoners there.
The conditions at the Viper jail were such that the place got the notorious name, "Viper Chain Gang Jail". Those who had confronted the strength of the British Government of India were chained together and confined at night by a chain running through coupling of irons around their legs. It was at this jail that members of the "Chain Gang" were put to hardest labour. Brij Kishore Singh Deo, popularly known as Maharaja Jagannath of Puri, was treated like an ordinary convict and kept in the Viper Jail, where he died in 1879.
Viper Jail has secured an enduring place in the history of the Indian freedom struggle as it was here that Sher Ali, a Pathan from Peshawar (now in Pakistan), was hanged after he assassinated Lord Mayo, Indian Viceroy, on February 8, 1872 at Hope Town jetty, opposite Chatham Island. After the construction of the Cellular Jail, the Viper Jail's importance declined.
Today, this two-storied Jail building of Viper Island stands tumbled to the pedestal level except for a portion of the roof with the outer wall decrepit. But for a few birds which have built their nests inside the tomb of the gallows, only a deafening silence prevails there.
Viper Island can easily be approached in 20 minutes from the Phoenix Bay jetty of Andaman Islands. The Harbour Cruise which is available daily from the jetty to provide an overall view of different points of the harbour and a trip to this Viper Island.
Viper Island, to the tourists offers a serene and beautiful tourist destination and can be approached by harbour of Andaman Islands cruise originating from Phoenix Bay Jetty in Port Blair. Viper Island is visited by number of national, local and international tourists as it has multiple attractions with colonial historical importance and also has charming picnic spots with natural picturesque environments.
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