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Vanchinathan's Photo

Died17 June 1911(1911-06-17) (aged 24–25)
Cause of deathsuicide
Known forAssasinating Robert William Escourt Ashe

A railway station in Tamil Nadu named in his remembrance as Vanchi Maniachi

Vanchinathan (1886 – 17 June 1911), popularly known as Vanchi, was an Indian revolutionary. He is best remembered for having shot dead Robert William Escourt Ashe, the Tax Collector of Thirunelveli.

Personal life[edit]

Vanchinathan was born in 1886 in Shenkottai to Raghupathy Iyer and Rukmani Ammal. His actual name was Shankaran. He did his schooling in Shenkottai. He married Ponammal and got into a lucrative government job.

Indian Freedom Movement[edit]

On 17 June 1911, Vanchi who was just 25, assassinated Robert William Escourt Ashe, the district collector of Tirunelveli, who was also known as Collector Dorai. He shot Ashe at point-blank range when Ashe's train had stopped at the Maniyachi Station, en route to Madras.[1] He committed suicide thereafter. The railway station has since been renamed Vanchi Maniyachi.

Motive behind the murder[edit]

VOC the inspiration[edit]

In Travancore Vanchinathan learned about V. O. Chidambaram Pillai popularly known by his initials, V.O.C. who was campaigning for civil rights. In 1906, V.O.C launched the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company, India's first shipping enterprise which operated two steamships between Tuticorin and Colombo thus stopping a British monopoly in shipping in the region. A year or so later, with the help of Coral mill workers, VOC staged a Strike against the management firm A&F Harvey which was paying low wages to its labourers.

On 22 March 1908, V.O. Chidambaram Pillai was arrested for sedition and locked up in Palayamkottai. This stirred the emotions of those campaigning for independence in Tirunelveli and Tuticorin. Both the towns saw unprecedented agitations which were quelled with the help of a massive police force. A couple of months later, the court imposed two life sentences of 40 years each on VOC. VOC was sent to Coimbatore central prison where he spent the next two years.

Between 1906 and 1908, when the two navigation companies were pitted against each other in a fierce battle, Ashe was posted in Tirunelveli/Tuticorin either in the capacity of a collector or as a district magistrate. It is said[by whom?] that Ashe did everything in his power to kill Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company. He also fully backed A&F Harvey throughout the protest. It is also said[by whom?] that Ashe issued a shoot at sight order during the agitations that followed VOC's arrest. The mastermind behind the assassination was Nilakanta Brahmachari who went around the Madras presidency in 1910 recruiting cadres and hatching plots against the British. In this venture, he was accompanied by Shankar Krishna Iyer, Vanchinathan's brother-in-law, who introduced the men to each other. Along with a few other men, Nilakanta Bramhachari, Vaanchinathan, and Shankar Krishna Aiyar found an organisation called Bharatha Matha Sangam which plots the assassination of influential British men. [2]. [3]. [4]

In 1911, Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company bankrupted and British took possession of the two steamships.

Assassination of Ashe[edit]

On 17 June 1911, Ashe boarded the 9:30 am Maniyachi Mail at Tirunelveli Junction. With him was his wife, Mary Lillian Patterson, who had arrived from Ireland only a few days earlier. They had married on 6 April 1898, in Berhampore; Mary was about a year older than Ashe. They were on their way to Kodaikanal where their four children, Molly, Arthur, Sheila, and Herbert, lived in a rented bungalow. At 10:38 am, the train pulled in at Maniyachi. The Ceylon Boat Mail was due to arrive at 10:48 am. As the Ashes sat facing each other in the first class carriage, waiting for the Boat Mail to arrive, a neatly dressed man with tufted hair and another young man wearing a dhoti approached the carriage. The former boarded the carriage and pulled out a Belgian-made Browning automatic pistol. The bullet hit Ashe in the chest and he collapsed. The sound of the pistol shot was absorbed by the howling wind.

After the shooting, Vanchinathan ran along the platform and took cover in the latrine. Sometime later he was found dead, having shot himself in the mouth. The pistol recovered from him was empty without any bullets as he just planned to kill himself after killing Ashe and had no intention to hurt anyone other than Ashe[5] In his pocket was found following letter:

I dedicate my life as a small contribution to my motherland. I am alone responsible for this.

The mlechas of England having captured our country, tread over the sanathana dharma of the Hindus and destroy them. Every Indian is trying to drive out the English and get swarajyam and restore sanathana dharma. Our Raman, Sivaji, Krishnan, Guru Govindan, Arjuna ruled our land protecting all dharmas, but in this land, they are making arrangements to crown George V, a mlecha, and one who eats the flesh of cows.

Three thousand Madrasees have taken a vow to kill George V as soon as he lands in our country. In order to make others know our intention, I who am the least in the company, have done this deed this day. This is what everyone in Hindustan should consider it as his duty.

I will kill Ashe, whose arrival here is to celebrate the crowning of cow-eater King George V in this glorious land which was once ruled by great samrats. This I do to make them understand the fate of those who cherish the thought of enslaving this sacred land.

I, as the least of them, wish to warn George by killing Ashe.

Vande Mataram. Vande Mataram. Vande Mataram

— sd/-, R. Vanchi Aiyar, Shencottah

The contents of the letter indicated that the murder was religious and caused great apprehension on the Ashe's activities against social evils. The timing of the assassination indicated a protest against the impending coronation.[6]

Vanchi was a close collaborator of Varahaneri Venkatesa Subrahmanya Iyer (normally shortened to V.V.S.Aiyar or Va.Ve.Su Iyer), another activist who sought arms to defeat the British. He trained Vanchinathan to execute the plan in all perfection.[7] They belonged to Bharatha Matha Association.[8]

The Tamil Nadu Government built a memorial in Shenkottai at his birthplace.[9]



The Hindu (Tamil) published an article based, what it said, on an interview with Jayakrishnan, who claimed to be the grandson of Vanchinathan. It was said in the article that Jayakrishnan blamed (his grandfather) Vanchinathan for neglecting the wife who was 8 months pregnant at that time. Jayakrishnan has purportedly said "What he (Vanchinathan) did was wrong".[10] Writer Jayamohan has written an article on his website that the article has given wrong information as there were no descendants to Vanchinathan. The only girl child he had, died as an infant while he was still alive. He has stated in the article that in spite of several representations pointing to the untruths in the article, the paper has not published an apology.[11]

The Hindu (Tamil) published an apology admitting that the contents of the (above-mentioned) article on Vanchinathan contained unverified false information and regretted for its publication.[12]

For the first time in the history of independent India, a Dalit group paid floral tributes to Ashe. “Since this great Briton was against untouchability and recognised the Dalits as human beings even when the caste-ridden society took all-out measures to oppress them, we pay floral tributes to the slain Collector,” justified members of Aathi Thamizhar Katchi. [13]


  1. ^ "History revisited, but this time with love". The Sunday Indian. Chennai, India. 18 June 2011.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ [2]
  4. ^ [3]
  5. ^ "Centenary of a historical assassination today". The Hindu. India. 17 June 2011.
  6. ^ Frontline-Sep 2009-An Irish link
  7. ^ "Nationalist with a revolutionary approach". The Hindu. Trichy, India. 16 August 2006.
  8. ^ Madras District Gazetteers
  9. ^ "Memorials-Budget speech". Tamil Nadu government, India. 19 March 2010. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
  10. ^ Kula. Shanmugasundaram (15 August 2017). ""Andraikku Thaathaa Seydhathu Thappu Thaane ..!" - Pattikkaaga Varundum Veeran Vanchinathanin Paeran" ["Isn't what grandpa did then wrong..!" - Vanchinathan's grandson sympathizes for grandma]. The Hindu (Tamil) (in Tamil). Archived from the original on 20 August 2017. Retrieved 20 August 2017. (Article was modified)
  11. ^ Jayamohan (16 August 2017). "The Hindu – Naalithazh Arathin Chaavu" [The Hindu - Daily Newspaper, Death of Ethical Code of Conduct] (in Tamil). Archived from the original on 20 August 2017. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  12. ^ Editor (19 August 2017). ""Vanchinathan.. Vaarisu.. Sarchai.. Andha Pertikku Aadhaaram Edhuvumillai!"" ["Vanchinathan .. heir.. Controversy .. No evidence for that interview]. The Hindu (Tamil). Archived from the original on 20 August 2017. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  13. ^

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