The First Shipping Magnate Of Southern INDIA...Find Out!

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V.O. Chidambaram Pillai, , the first shipping magnate of Southern India, was a Tamil political leader and disciple of Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

He launched the first indigenous Indian Shipping Service, called the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company, between Tuticorin and Colombo, competing against the British ships.

Mr. V.O. Chidambaram Pillai studied in Tuticorin at St. Xavier?s High School and later at Hindu College, Tirunelveli.

He studied law and passed his pleadership exam in 1894 at Trichy. His life turned when he met a saint who belonged to Swami Vivekananda Ashram. The saint recognizing his potential advised him to do something for the nation. During the same period, he also met the great Tamil poet and freedom fighter Subramania Bharathiyar. Along with another comrade, he and the Tamil poet took part in India?s independence movement.

He launched Indian owned Shipping Company in response to the British Sea Trade monopoly.

The capital of the company was a huge Rs. 10 lakhs which he was able to raise through shares.

Although in the beginning, the company did not own any ships, he leased them from Shawline Steamers Company.

He managed to secure sufficient funds to purchase the company?s first ship, the S.S.Gallio. Shortly afterwards, they were able to acquire S.S.Lavo from France.

The ships started regular service between Tuticorin and Colombo against stiff opposition from British traders and the Imperial Government.

V.O. Chidambaram Pillai, also engaged himself in the Coral Mills workers problem at Tuticorin. He championed their cause against the worker?s low wages and their poor working condition. He won the case of the workers and gained immense popularity. Side by side, his political involvement drew the attention of the British.

He was later arrested and imprisoned by the British in 1908. There were widespread protests and strikes all over South India. Public meetings and processions were held for his support and in the process, 4 people were killed by the British Police.

V.O. Chidambaram Pillai was charged with sedition and sentenced to life imprisonment.

In the prison, he was not treated as a political prisoner, but as a hard-core convict. He was tortured mercilessly and was forced to do hard labour. He was yoked in place of bulls to the oil press like an animal and made to work in the cruel hot sun with the result his health was greatly affected.

V. O. C. yoked oil press is kept now at Gandhi Mandapam Guindy His punishment was amended and he was finally released on December 1912.

Upon his release, he found to his dismay the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company has already been liquidated and the ship auctioned to their competitor.

His first ship was sold to the British Steam Company. His law licence was also stripped from him and he moved to Chennai with his family where he ran a provision store.

From Chennai he moved to Coimbatore and worked as a Bank Manager. Later he petitioned the court seeking permission to practice law again, which was duly granted.

In 1932, he moved to Tuticorin where he spent his time writing and publishing Tamil books.

What a resilient man who could rise in the face of stiff opposition. He was a man made of steel. Heroes are made of such stuff.


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