Abstract

Through a focus on an abandoned harbor development project in Tuticorin in southeastern India, this article interrogates the factors shaping port development in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Tuticorin—which at the time was the second-busiest port in the Madras presidency—had emerged as the likeliest site for an ambitious port development scheme, thanks largely to its intimate relationship with both Colombo and the plantations of Ceylon just across the Gulf of Mannar. Within just a few years, however, this project would be abandoned abruptly after being declared unrealistic and impractical. What made Tuticorin's development appear almost inevitable at one point, only to be deemed completely unviable a couple of decades later? This article uses the rise and fall of port development schemes at Tuticorin in the early decades of the twentieth century to examine wider developments in the colonial economy and to interrogate the infrastructural networks and environmental forces underpinning both the hopes for port modernization and their eventual success or failure around the Indian Ocean.

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