The Andaman Islands are a group of islands in the Bay of Bengal, and are part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Union Territory of India. Port Blair is the chief community on the islands, and the administrative centre of the Union Territory. The Andaman Islands form a single administrative district within the Union Territory, the Andaman district (the Nicobar district was separated and established as a new district in 1974). The population of the Andamans was 314,084 in 2001.
For information on the indigenous languages, see Andamanese languages.
It is uncertain whether any of the names of the islands given by Ptolemy ought to be attached to the Andamans; yet it is probable that the name itself is traceable to the Alexandrian geographer. Andaman first appears distinctly in the Arab notices of the 9th century, already quoted. But it seems possible that the tradition of marine nomenclature had never perished; that the Agathou daimonos nesos was really a misunderstanding of some form like Agdaman, while Nesoi Baroussai survived as Lanka Balus, the name applied by the Arabs to the Nicobar Islands. The islands are briefly noticed by Marco Polo, who may have seen them without visiting, under the name Angamanain, seemingly an Arabic dual, "the two Angamans", with the exaggerated picture of the natives as dog-faced cannibals.
Another notice occurs in the story of Niccolò Da Conti (c. 1440), who explains the name to mean Island of Gold, and speaks of a lake with peculiar virtues as existing in it. The name is probably derived from the Malay Handuman, coming from the ancient Hanuman (monkey god). Later travellers repeat the stories, too well founded, of the "ferocious hostility" of the people; of whom we may instance Cesare Federici (1569), whose narrative is given in Ramusio, vol. iii. (only in the later editions), and in Purchas. A good deal is also told of them in the vulgar and gossiping but useful work of Captain A. Hamilton (1727).
In 1788-1789 the government of Bengal sought to establish in the Andamans a penal colony, associated with a harbour of refuge. Two officers, Colebrooke of the Bengal Engineers, and Blair of the sea service, were sent to survey and report. Subsequently the settlement was established by Captain Blair in September 1789 on Chatham Island in the southeast bay of Great Andaman, now called Port Blair, but then Port Cornwallis. There was much sickness, and after two years, urged by Admiral William Cornwallis, the government transferred the colony to the northeast part of Great Andaman where a naval arsenal was to be established. With the colony the name also of Port Cornwallis was transferred to the new locality. The scheme did not prosper and, in 1796, the government put an end to it, owing to the high mortality rate and the cost of maintenance. The settlers were finally removed in May 1796.
In 1824 Port Cornwallis was the rendezvous of the fleet carrying the army to the First Burmese War. In 1839, Dr Helfer, a German savant employed by the Indian government, having landed in the islands, was attacked and killed. In 1844 the troop-ships Briton and Runnymede were driven ashore close together. The natives showed hostility, killing all stragglers. Further attacks on shipwrecked crews were so common that the question of occupation had to be reviewed, and in 1855 a settlement was proposed, including a convict establishment. This was interrupted by the Indian Rebellion of 1857 but, as soon as the back of that revolt was broken, it became more urgent to provide such a resource, on account of the great number of prisoners falling into British hands. Lord Canning, therefore, in November 1857, sent a commission, headed by Dr F. Mouat, to examine and report. The commission reported favourably, selecting as a site Blair's original Port Cornwallis, but avoiding the vicinity of a salt swamp which seemed to have been the source of many of the old colony's problems. To avoid confusion, the name of Port Blair was given to the new settlement.
For some time sickness and mortality were excessively high, but swamp reclamation and extensive forest clearance by Colonel Henry Man when in charge (1868-1870), apparently had a beneficial effect, and the settlement has since been healthy. The Andaman colony acquired notoriety following the murder of the viceroy, the Earl of Mayo, when on a visit to the settlement on 8 February 1872, by a Muslim convict. In the same year the two island groups, Andaman and Nicobar, the occupation of the latter also having been forced on the British government (in 1869) by continuing attacks on vessels, were united under a chief commissioner residing at Port Blair.
The Andaman islands were later occupied by Japan during World War II. The islands were nominally put under the authority of the Arzi Hukumate Azad Hind (Provisional Government of Free India) headed by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Netaji visited the islands during the war, and renamed them as Shaheed (Martyr) & Swaraj (Self-rule). General Loganathan of the Indian National Army, was Governor of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands which had been annexed to the Provisional Government. After the end of the war they briefly returned to British control, before becoming part of the newly independent state of India.
The above accounts, written while Britain still controlled India, may leave the impression that these settlements were a model of progressive penal reform. Indian accounts, however, paint a different picture. From the time of its development in 1858 under the direction of James Pattison Walker, and in response to the mutiny and rebellion of the previous year, the settlement was first and foremost a repository for political prisoners. The Cellular Jail at Port Blair when completed in 1910 included 698 cells designed to better accommodate solitary confinement; each cell measured by with a single ventilation window above the floor. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was one of the notable prisoners there.
This was the second concentration camp in the world, the first being in South Africa after the Boer War, and was founded by the British to suppress the Indian independence movement; imprisonment here was termed "Kala Pani" (Black water) (See also movie by the same name which deals with some of these events Kalapani). While the exact number of prisoners who died in this camp is not fully known, it is estimated they number in the thousands (some of the names of the political prisoners who perished can be found here - this list is predominantly of those from eastern India and is incomplete). Many more died of harsh treatment, as well as through the harsh living and working conditions, in this camp.
The Viper Chain Gang Jail on Viper Island was reserved for troublemakers, and was also the site of hangings. In the 20th century it became a convenient place to house prominent members of India's independence movement, and it was here that on December 30, 1943 during Japanese occupation, that Subhas Chandra Bose, whilst controversially but reluctantly allied with the Japanese, first raised the flag of Indian independence.
At the close of the Second World War the British government announced its intention to abolish the penal settlement. The government proposed to employ former inmates in an initiative to develop the island's fisheries, timber, and agricultural resources. In exchange inmates would be granted return passage to the Indian mainland, or the right to settle on the islands. The penal colony was eventually closed on August 15, 1947 when India gained its independence. It has since served as a museum to the independence movement.
On 26 December 2004 the coast of the Andaman Islands was devastated by a high tsunami following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. On 22 July 2006, 35 Explorer Scouts and leaders from Hertfordshire, England visited the islands to begin a project involving the building of a permanent adventure centre and refuge for 1,000 people in the event of further disasters. The site is on the outskirts of Port Blair.
This Airport has been named after Indian freedom fighter Vinayak Damodar Savarkar as "Veer Savarkar Airport". This airport is under control of Indian Air Force, so due to security reasons night flights are not allowed on Port Blair.