Another January 4 has passed by, without invoking the memory of the Great Fire of Cochin – an event that had devastated a major part of the city 131 years ago.
The information about the fire, which is drawn parallel to The Great Fire of London, 1666, is detailed in the book ‘Flashes of Kerala History’ by K L Bernard, in a chapter on the ‘Great Fire of Cochin’.
VIDEO – കൊച്ചി തുറമുഖത്തിനു ഒരു കപ്പൽ ഒഴുകി നടന്നു തീവെച്ച കഥ | The Great Fire of Cochin Port
The fact that ‘Cochi’ was a British port after they conquered Fort Cochin in 1795 and later called it British Cochin, was another reason for equating it with the London fire. After getting the control over the land, the British had decided to discourage ship-building in India and when Chandrabhanu, a 315-tonne vessel, was launched by one of the ship-building yards in Cochin, they slapped the owner of the ship with a court restraint.
The vessel, anchored with tonnes of coconut oil, copra, carpets, coir and spices, had a shelter made of thatched coconut leaves and dried straw. When the fire was detected around 4 pm on that fateful Friday, the officers summoned the carpenters and asked them, “to cut the rope and float away the flaming devil.” However, “this turned destructive as Chandrabhanu moved closer to the shores aided by a strong wind and pushed by the current,” writes Bernard.
The buildings of those days had thatched roofs and the fire spread to the Calvathy side that housed most of the companies. All of them, including nearly 300 houses and warehouses such as Pierce Leslie, Aspinwall, etc. along the port side, were gutted.
The devastation was so vast, that the Port Captain, Wrinkler, erected a monument, which is still to be found on the nearby beach: “The great fire of Cochin 4th January 1889, erected by Mr. Wrinkler”.
Though the memorial to the Great Fire of Cochi lies ignored and unnoticed, Royal Mint, the body permitted to manufacture, or mint, the coins of the United Kingdom, has released a series of new coins for 2016 on January 1, including a £ 2, which shows the London skyline ablaze to mark the 350th Anniversary of ‘The Great Fire of London’.