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Chatham Sawmill

You may wonder that what specialty a saw mill has to be an important tourist location, except some logs of wood, a few machines and intolerable sound of saw machines. But, your prejudices will be wrong in case of Chatham Saw mill in Port Blair. It is not only holds the record of being Asia’s largest and oldest saw mill, but the history that Chatham Saw Mill had witnessed over the years makes it extraordinary from other mills. The Chatham Government, which was established in 1883 is located on Chatham Islands and is under taken care by the Forest Department of Port Blair.\

Chatham Saw Mill in Port Blair

History of Chatham Saw Mill

The legacy of Chatham Saw Mill stated in 1789, with the arrival of Lt. Archibald Blair in Port Blair in his vessel Viper to establish a British settlement here. The ''Viper'' crashed near a small Island, which is now named after it as Viper Island and late he set his foot on Chatham Island. Chatham Island lies in close proximity to Viper Island. He began the survey from Chatham Island with an aim of establishing the British footholds on the islands. Thus Port Blair was used as a safe place to deport the hard-core convicts. Later, a 100 meter long bridge was constructed out of timber from Port Blair to Chatham. This historic bridge was later renovated to a modern bridge as existing today using concrete.

The Chatham Saw Mill, which was established in 1883 with the second hand imported machines, met the local requirement of timber for construction works. The saw mill had witnessed to the rise and fall of several regimes in the Islands since 1883. Since then, it was the center that provided timber for the Islanders for various construction needs. During the West colonial period Chatham, British used this mill to convert huge quantity of timber for catering the various needs of London, New York and various other cities.

During the Second World War, Japanese bombarded the mill on 1942 March 10, in which the many workers were succumbed to death. It is said that even the rocks flew like Frisbee discs and the underlying seawater gushed out in the hour long bombing. The islands were under the control of Japanese from 1942 to 1945. It was revived in 1946 after the World War II. During 1950s and 1960s, people from Sri Lanka, East Pakistan, Burma and different states of India settled in the islands and it increased the requirement of saw timber that will result in the rebirth of Chatham Saw Mill.

Functioning of Chatham Saw Mill

Chatham Saw Mill has been functioning as the backbone of the wood based industrial unit in the islands. It could achieve a prominent position in the big and small famous saw mills of the Asian region. This pioneer giant is able to saw about 20, 000 cum logs annually in three shifts. All the major timber trees found in the islands are used as raw material in the Mill and the entire production is used locally for construction purposes and furniture making. Chatham Saw Mill gives direct employment to about 750 people.

There are separate sections in the mill to organize the functioning. While the log depot segregates the log available from the forests and feeds them into the Mill, the mill section converts the round logs into different sizes. The seasoning and preservative treatment of sawn timber, which is essential for increasing its longevity, are carried out by the Timber Processing Unit. Handling and converting sawn timber as well as sailing them is the duty of yard section. There are some other units such as construction unit, saw doctoring unit, mechanical unit, electrical unit dispensary, canteen & security etc. that are working to ensure the smooth functioning of the mill.

Forest Museum

Chatham Saw Mill in Port BlairThe Department of Environment & Forests has established a modern Museum in the compound of Chatham Mill complex in September 2006. The Museum, which exhibits beautiful and historically important photographs and general working of the Department of Environment & Forests, has historic, cultural, educational and scientific values. Several souvenirs and various handicrafts with intricate carving, designing, polishing and skilled craftsmanship are also displayed in the museum. These handicrafts and furniture show the skill of the locals here. Some trunks, which are unbelievably large in diameter and have natural designs, are really an attraction to the tourists. As the museum exhibits almost all information about the history, geography, flora and fauna available in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, it is a storehouse of information on these islands for tourists.

Pillar of the Planet

You can see a memorial called Pillar of the Planet in the mill’s premises that was established in March 2009 with an aim of commemorating 125 years of Forestry in the Island.

Bomb Pit

The not to be missed site in the mill is the bomb pit, which has to tell the story of the darker days of World War II. The pit, which was created by the bombing of Japanese during Second World War, is not filled with water. The extent of damage was really shocking, as the mill had to take three years to come back to life.

Tips for Tourists

As Chatham Mill is tucked away at the far end of the plot, you may miss it, if you do not ask about it. But, the various procedures in the Mills including bringing the woods into the mill on boats, sorting, cutting and stored them in ware houses to being transformed into final wooden planks and sending them to various destinations are an interesting experience. All these process are labelled and explained here. The working time of Chatham Saw Mill is from 8.00 to 14.30 in all days except Mondays and public holidays. Adult should take a ticket of Rs 10 to visit the Mill, while children have free entry. Still camera and video camera are not allowed inside the mill. You can reach to the mill from Port Blair through road.

It may be surprising news for you that the beautiful crimson walls of the Buckingham Palace were made of the local Padauk wood processed in Chatham Saw Mill. Visiting Chatham Saw Mill is definitely an interesting expedition for the people, who like to know the island’s history and to learn about an aspect of life they would not otherwise explore.

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