KOLLAM: The Buckingham Canal at Thangasseri has a rich past that is also becoming history along with the glory of the Canal. A key accomplice of the colonial invaders, the Canal has wilted over the years at the hands of native encroachers.
The Canal is believed to be a key conduit built by the Portuguese some 450 years ago inside their strategic territory,the Fort Thomas. Thangasseri area was an exceptional natural port, it was reef infested, and so a canal was constructed to transport the consignments from the ships calling at the port and exports back to the ships.
Barges were said to have been used for transportation through the Canal. Thangasseri is a projection into the sea and both ends of the Canal originally opened at the Arabian Sea.However,the eastern portion is now interrupted by the Lighthouse road, probably constructed during the British period, while the western end runs into the sea near the Mount Carmel convent.
Renowned historian A Sreedhara Menon states in ‘A Survey of Kerala History (1967)’that the Portuguese under Commandant Rodrigues built a Fort in 1519 at the present Thangasseri. This was following a threat from natives who had burnt down their factory. The Canal inside the Fort was used for safe transportation of personnel and merchandise to and from the ships which called at the port.The Fort and Canal must have played a greater role in Portuguese gaining full monopoly over the region’s lucrative pepper trade. No wonder the Dutch,in an effort to establish their domination in pepper trade, attacked and captured the Fort from the Portuguese.By 1662, Thangasseri became an exclusive trade hub of the Dutch.
“What attracted the Portuguese and later the Dutch to Thangasseri Port was the superior quality pepper which was available in the southern districts during that period,” says historian Malayinkeezhu Gopalakrishnan. It came to be known as the Buckingham Canal, later when Dutch surrendered it to the British East India Company in 1795.
A waning heritage enclave
Thangasseri is the only place mentioned in the Kerala Tourism’s official literature as the place in the State where Anglo-Indian tradition is maintained. Unfortunately, rampant construction at this heritage enclave has erased most of the vestiges of the colonial times.
Hardly any house constructed by the European settlers along the streets of Thangasseri stands now. Encroachers have left no trace of the Dutch/British cemetery which should have been a protected monument that lay within the precincts of the Fort.
Ruins of the Fort have dilapidated over the years. Perhaps, the only exception is the Lighthouse built by the British in 1902, which is under the Government of India.The Lighthouse still attracts a fairly good number of tourists to this colonial enclave.
It is high time that authorities woke up and did something to protect this heritage site.
There had been a number of proposals submitted by different bodies at various stages to restore the beauty of the Canal and surroundings.
Activists and historians still hope for a positive initiative either from the State Government or from the Corporation to protect and to restore this heritage site.