Ross Island is one of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, about 2 km east of Port Blair. It was the Administrative Headquarters for the islands, before an earthquake rocked it in 1941. The headquarters were then shifted to Port Blair. One can see remnants of an opulent past in the ruins of the church, swimming pool and the chief commissioner’s residence with its huge gardens and grand ballrooms. There is also a cemetery and a small museum managed by the Indian Navy. The museum has on display a collection of old records.
Ross Island can be reached by a short boat ride from Water Sports Complex. The island is controlled by the Indian navy, which requires every visitor to sign in on entering.
The small island, with its treasure of ruins, became the hot tourists spot in the territory. The island presently houses the ruins of the state Ballroom, the Chief Commissioner’s House, the Government House, Church, the old ‘Andamanese Home’, which was Hospital, Bakery, Press, Swimming Pool and Troop Barracks, all in dilapidated condition, reminiscent of the old British regime. Ever since Dr. James Pattison Walker arrived in Port Blair aboard the East India Company’s steam frigate ‘Semiramis’ on 10 March 1858, this island remained under British occupation till 1942. From 1942 to 1945, the island was under the occupation of Japan. However, the allies reoccupied the island in 1945 and later abandoned it. During British occupation, this island was the seat of power of the British.
Ross Island, a few km from Aberdeen jetty at Port Blair, is yet another member of the Andaman group of islands. As in the case of its sister-islands, it also has thick forests. To any onlooker it may give the impression that it has no “life” — in the sense that there is no human habitation.
Yes, it is an island where no settlement is allowed by the authorities. But, a few decades ago, this island was the seat of “British power.” Ross Island was the headquarters of the Indian Penal Settlement for nearly 80 years. It had everything — bazaar, bakery, stores, water treatment plant, church, tennis court, printing press, secretariat, hospital, cemetery and what have you. Today, everything has disappeared except some buildings, which housed some of these landmarks.
After Archibald Blair’s survey of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 1788-89, a settlement was established at present day Port Blair (then called Port Cornwallis). In 1792 it was shifted to northern harbour (present day Diglipur) which was also Christened Port Cornwallis (the former became Old Harbour). But, the settlement was abandoned in 1796 as the mortality rate was very high. Between 1789-92, Blair was said to have established a hospital and a sanatorium at Ross Island.
Six decades later, the 1857 Revolt forced the British to turn to Andaman again and this time, their stay lasted for 90 years. During the Second World War, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were captured by the Japanese in 1942. The Japanese rule lasted till 1945.
About nine months before the Japanese take-over of the entire set of islands, Ross Island experienced an earthquake, which caused many people to leave the Island. Except for a brief time when the Japanese occupied, the abandonment of Ross Island as a result of the quake continued.