The Andaman Islands

From 1858 until 1945, explains Frances Stewart, the Andaman Islands served as a penal colony for the British Empire. The islands were also valued for their good natural harbours. During the Second World War the Andamans were captured by the Japanese.

In the Bay of Bengal lie the Andamans, mentioned as far back as the ninth century by an Arab historian. Marco Polo sailed close by their shores in 1290 but it is doubtful if he ever landed or saw any nf the inhabitants for his description of the Andamanese as 'a most brutish race having heads resembling those of the canine species' is, of course, totally inaccurate as is his remark that they 'eat anyone not being of their own nation'. The islanders never were cannibals, nor have they ever used poisoned arrows as some travellers have stated, but they are considered by many to be amongst the most primitive people in the world.

Lying as they do in the area of both the SW and NE monsoons, frequent wrecks occurred on the island reefs and beaches in the days of sail, with disastrous consequences to the crews who were promptly murdered. It was with the idea of making these islands safe for ship-wrecked sailors that Lieutenant Blair of the Indian Navy was first deputed in 1789 to found a colony on an island near the mouth of the magnificent harbour, later to become Port Blair. The settlers, however, met with such hostility from the aborigines that they soon moved to an equally fine harbour in the north, later to be named Port Cornwallis. It was in the harbour of Port Cornwallis that the British fleet anchored for some time during the war with Burma.

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