It was a day for history buffs and Kovaites, in general, to show their thumbs up as the long forgotten Hamilton Club, restored and converted into a Police museum, was thrown open by the Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisamy on May 17.
The museum will be first of its kind in Tamilnadu and one of the very few in the Country. The Sardar Valabhai Patel Police Museum in Kollam, Kerala, a police museum in Kolkatta and one in Haryana are the others.
Amidst the concrete jungle that the Coimbatore Railway Junction Road has become, the freshly restored Hamilton Club stands imposing just like a dignified police officer of the yesteryears (in fact it was owned and administered by Hamilton an English Police Officer and his colleagues). For old timers, it is a real throwback to the classical Coimbatore.
A small partly damaged concrete name board placed on the outside of the dilapidating building with haunted looks was not easily noticeable to the public eye as buildings, shops and the road was closing in on with the Railway Junction Road turning into a busy commercial joint.
For more than a generation of Coimbatore residents, the Hamilton Club was one of the many dilapidating old buildings whose histories were no longer anyoneâ€™s concern. But as interest in hometown history and culture became a fascination for a new crop of residents, history clubs sprang up and the system came under gentle pressure not to neglect all that is old.
It was then the former Commissioner of Police (CoP), Coimbatore City, A Amalraj in February 2016, who saw through the eyes of history lovers to put the Hamilton Club back on the map of modern-day Coimbatore. He managed to get the nod from his bosses to restore the building and house a police museum inside.
Hamilton F, a British Police Officer on January 25, 1918, bought the building for Rs 20,000 for the police association from Dr Krishna Rao. It was his dispensary then, informs Sukumaran, Assistant Commissioner, Crime Records Bureau, Coimbatore City Police.
The colonial style structure with 16 high-ceiling rooms were converted into a recreation centre for the police. An indoor badminton court, table tennis, a library-cum-reading room and a large pantry were set up. It was converted into a recreation centre for the police.
Ownership details, rules and bylaws of the club were unearthed recently. Hamilton and few other officers had initially owned it which was later incorporated under the Societies Act. "Police officials not below the rank of a Sub Inspector could become members and office bearers of the society," says Sukumaran
According to J Barnabas, General Secretary, Salem Historical Society, Hamilton Club had become a major landmark in Coimbatore in those days. The railway station for Coimbatore was the Podanur station then.
As the jurisdiction of the presidencyâ€™s police force extended up to Mysore, the officers would visit Coimbatore often. Trains started to stop in the present location of the Coimbatore Railway Junction to enable the officers to alight and walk into the nearby Hamilton club. Thus in course of time, a station was established in the very place.
In 1951 the Harvey Block, an annex building was constructed with 19 rooms for police officers to stay (for rent) and 9 shops were constructed. This part is intact and continues to earn revenue for the society even today.
The restoration of Hamilton Club from survey stage was handled by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) which arranged a team of professional restoration experts from Chennai.
De-plastering the stucco of the walls, relaying of floor tiles, repair of doors and windows, patchwork of pillars were some of the extensive work undertaken. The effort has brought back the old structure to its most intricate details including the wooden and plastered designs. Even some the old colonial era furniture have been brought back to use with fresh coatings. Bath and toilet fittings, front lawn, fans and air conditioners are new additions.
Two Cannons, one of which was used and partly damaged in Carnatic war with British crown emblem, have been placed in the front lawn. Indian Armyâ€™s T55 battle tank used in the Kargil war, two SAM missiles and a torpedo used by the Indian Navy, add stature to the buildingâ€™s exterior.
While a century back, Hamilton bought the entire property on the one-acre land for Rs 20,000, the restoration had cost Rs 2.5 crores today. The bill was cleared by the society which had that much surplus to spare say, the society office bearers.
The Police Museum has been set up on a floor space of 3788 sq meters and the Police Club is set up in the Harvey Block. The museum is a repository of historic photographs and rare documents, police uniforms, caps badges and stars indicative of ranks, riot control equipment, nightsticks, restraints, investigative devices, vintage communication equipment, a communications center, and a variety of other cultural and technological displays dating back to the late 1800â€™s.
The big hallow kakhi half pants, the high mount topis, thick leather boots and stockings that are placed on mannequins transport oneâ€™s memories to policemen of our grandparentsâ€™ times.
Besides these, memorabilia reminiscent of the Tamilnadu Police saga are on display. Weapons seized from brigands, Veerapan and Malaiyur Mambatiyan, weapons seized from the LTTE in Ramnad are prominent attractions. A long sword gifted by late Chief Minister MG Ramachandran to the Coimbatore Police, the cup received by the RS Puram Police Station as the best station in the country in 2017 are few other noteworthy displays.
Among the display of confiscated materials are two fake currency printing machines seized during sensational investigation and arrest of Krishnan and associates in Coimbatore in 1959. The CBCID crackdown went down in the history of Tamilnadu Police as watershed. Even in the present times, it is the talk of Coimbatore town.
At a time when Rs 100 currency was rare in the country, it was freely available in Coimbatore triggering doubts. It is said that a top police official in the state entered Krishnanâ€™s house as a servant and studied undercover the entire operations over months. On a planned day, the cops carried out a surprise raid. Dyes of Rs 2, Rs 10, Rs 50 seized in the raid are also on display.
A mini air-conditioned theatre with a seating capacity of 50 has been set up to project short documentary films of the Tamilnadu Police Departmentâ€™s history, organisational details, and achievements.
â€śThe whole effort is aimed at demystifying the police and educating the public about the technological, social and cultural transitions of the police department. The children are our prime targets. We want to reinforce the image of the police as friendly force and expect in return a happy collaboration with the people. Most of the times the police have to create evidence the hard way to fix an investigation. With public support, we can get much more credible evidence,â€ť says a senior police official in Coimbatore.
"The stateâ€™s first police museum is an attempt to lift the sagging dignity and pride of the Tamilnadu Police whose investigating prowess is compared with the legendary Scotland Yard", he adds.
For two months the entry into the museum is free after which the society will resolve on the fee to be fixed and inform the societyâ€™s members. J Barnabas wants the Hamilton Club example to be followed in conserving all heritage structures whether owned by the public or private.