History of Port Blair
History of Andaman and Nicobar Islands is interesting, even though it is limited. It is believed that the Andaman Island got this name after a Hindu God, Hanuman. Nicobar means land of the people. It is believed that Marco Polo was the first man who visited these islands from West. Andaman and Nicobar Islands were in dark i.e. unknown to the world until the 18th century. Even though the islands had been marked maps and globes since second century, it got recognition much later.
Port Blair is famous not only as the capital town of Andaman Nicobar Islands, but also the largest town in Andaman district. It has a significant place in the history of India as well as world. These islands have lots of heart-breaking stories of thousands of freedom fighters in India, who suffered many cruel experiences during their life imprisonment period in the infamous Cellular Jail here.
The island groups of Andaman and Nicobar has witnessed the regime of several rulers before Independence. The Marathas, who consumed vast areas of India, captured it in 17th century. Later it became under the control of the British.
The Government of Bengal established a penal colony named Port Blair, in the southeast bay of great Andaman in 1789. It was to honor Lieutenant Archibald Blair of the British East India Company. Later, this colony was shifted to the northeast part of Great Andaman and renamed as Port Cornwallis after Admiral William Cornwallis. However, as many people suffered several diseases and succumbed to death, the government had to cease operating it in May 1796.
But, the British rulers had to settle the new Andaman and a prison on urgent basis here to accommodate a lot of new prisoners. So, they neglected the unfavorable climate conditions and began the construction at the renovated Port Blair. The penal colony was originally constructed on Viper Island. Besides the degrading climate conditions here, many prisoners, mostly political prisoners and freedom fighters had to suffer cruel punishment of the rulers during their life imprisonment period. They hung many prisoners, while others died of starvation and disease. The ruined structure of another penal establishment, which was built with convict labor on the northern side of Ross Island, can be seen now.
The history of Port Blair is not complete without mentioning Cellular Jail, which was constructed between 1896 and 1906. The jail was used to accommodate Indian freedom fighters in solitary confinement. During the Second World War, Japanese troops conquered the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and their regime remained from 1942 to 1945. The local tribes here started guerrilla activities to drive them out. After independence in 1947, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands became a part of the Indian Union. After the independence, Bengali community came to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as a part of the rehabilitation scheme of the Government of India. It started in 1949 and continued till 1970s. Now, it is one of the seven union territories of India.
Even though the local of Andaman and Nicobar Islands had to live under the control of various rulers and to suffer several hardships, they could succeed in maintaining their separated existence by diversifying into distinct territorial, linguistic and cultural groups. Port Blair survived the Tsunami and 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake effectively and participated efficiently in the relief efforts in the islands. Besides the Cellular Jail, there are many museums and art galleries in Port Blair that reveals the history and culture of the Island.