1886 (1886)
Died17 June 1911(1911-06-17) (aged 24–25)
Maniyachchi, Tirunelveli district, Madras Presidency, British India (presently in Tamil Nadu)
Cause of deathSuicide
Known forAssassination of Robert Ashe
MovementIndian independence movement

Vanchinathan (1886 – 17 June 1911), popularly known as Vanchi, was an Indian independence activist. He assassinated Robert Ashe, then district collector of Tirunelveli district on 17 June 1911 at Maniyachchi railway station. Ashe was considered to have suppressed independence activism and ordered the police to use violence. Vanchinathan later committed suicide later while trying to evade arrest. The assassination of Ashe was one of the significant events in the Indian independence movement in South India and supported the rise of revolutionary movement against the British rule.

Early and personal life

Vanchinathan was born in 1886 in a poor Hindu family in Sengottai, Travancore, British India (presently in Tenkasi district of Tamil Nadu).[1] His parents Raghupathy Iyer and Rukmani named him Shankaran.[2] He did his schooling in Sengottai before completing his bachelors degree.[3] He started his career as a temple accountant before he landed a government job in the Travancore forest department.[4] He married Ponnamma and the couple had a daughter who died as an infant.[5][6]

Indian freedom activism

Vanchinathan participated in activities against the British rule in India. He was trained in arms by Varahaneri Venkatesa Subrahmanya Iyer, another activist who sought violent means to defeat the British.[7][3] Nilakanta Brahmachari was a compatriot of Subramania Bharati and worked as a sub-editor in the newspaper "India".[8] After the Tinnevely riot of 1908, Brahmachari recruited youth to join his organization called "Bharatha Matha Sangam" and worked upon various methods as a protest to the British rule.[3] Vanchinathan's brother-in-law Shankara Krishna Iyer was part of the group headed by Brahmachari and introduced Vanchinathan to him.[4]

Assassination of Ashe

Robert Ashe was then district collector of Tirunelveli district. He repressed the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company, founded by Indian nationalist V. O. Chidambaram Pillai, which was supported by Indian merchants and gave employment to Indian workers.[2][5] He charged Chidambaram and fellow activist Subramaniya Siva with sedition, for which they were arrested and convicted.[9] During the Tinnevely riots of 1908, he issued the order for the police to quell the riots by violence. He followed a policy of discrimination with Indians being barred at Coutrallam when the British accessed it.[10] In response to his actions, the revolutionary factions decided to assassinate him, and Vanchinathan, who was 25 years old, was chosen for the task.[5] Vanchinathan closely started following the activities of Ashe, while planning for the assassination. He learnt that Ashe would be traveling to Madras on 17 June 1911 via Maniyachchi railway station.[1]

On 17 June 1911, Ashe and his wife traveled from Tirunelveli to Maniyachchi via train to catch the Boat Mail Express from Ceylon to Madras. Unknown to them, Vanchinathan and fellow activist Madasamy had boarded the train at Tirunelveli, which started at 9:30. When the train reached Maniyachchi at 10:35, the men moved towards the first class compartment of the train, where Ashe was seated.[11] Vanchinathan took a pistol hidden in his coat and shot Ashe at point blank range twice to assassinate him.[4][2] He hid in the lavatory of the train and shot himself to commit suicide thereafter. As per the police report, he used a Browning semi-automatic pistol, procured by Bhikaiji Cama from Paris. His accomplice escaped, following the incident.[12][13] Vanchinathan's father refused to collect the body as he considered his act as against Brahminism.[14] A letter was found in his pocket, in which he accused the British of destroying the Sanatana Dharma, claimed to have committed the assassination on his own accord and that he has done his part to drive the British out of the country.[15][11][5]


The railway station where he shot Ashe is named in his remembrance

The assassination of Ashe was one of the significant events in the Indian independence movement in South India. It supported the rise of revolutionary movement which supported the use of arms as against the moderate movement propagated by Gandhi and others.[16] Ashe was the first and last British high ranking official to be assassinated in South India during the rule of the British.[5]

The railway station in Tamil Nadu where he shot Ashe is named in his remembrance as Vanchi Maniyachchi Junction railway station.[2] In 2010, the Government of Tamil Nadu announced that a memorial will be built in Sengottai at his birthplace.[17] The memorial was inaugurated in 2013.[18] Many streets and localities have been named after him.[19][20]

In the Tamil film Kappalottiya Thamizhan (1961), based on the life of Chidambaram Pillai, the life of Vanjinathan and assassination event are showcased with actor Balaji playing the role of Vanchinathan.[21]


  1. ^ a b Pramod Maruti Mande (2005). Sacred Offerings Into the Flames of Freedom. University of Michigan. p. 273-274. ISBN 978-8-190-27740-2.
  2. ^ a b c d "Vanchi Maniyachi Junction: The saga of revolutionary freedom fighter". Government of India. 2 February 2022. Retrieved 1 December 2023.
  3. ^ a b c B. S. Baliga (1998). Madras District Gazetteers: Tiruchirappalli. Superintendent, Government Press. p. 258-260.
  4. ^ a b c "Vanchinatha Iyer". Government of India. Retrieved 1 December 2023.
  5. ^ a b c d e A.R.Venkatachalapathy (9–15 January 2010). "In Search of Ashe". Economic and Political Weekly. 45: 37-44. JSTOR 25663988.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "Nationalist with a revolutionary approach". The Hindu. 16 August 2006. Archived from the original on 5 December 2007. Retrieved 1 December 2007.
  8. ^ "Nilakanta Brahmachari". Government of India. Retrieved 1 December 2023.
  9. ^ Muthiah, S. (17 July 2011). "Madras miscellany: The Ashe murder". The Hindu.
  10. ^ "Freedom fighter Vanchinathan remembered". The Times of India. 17 June 2015. Retrieved 1 December 2023.
  11. ^ a b "The Freedom Movement's first political assassination in south India". The Hindu. 12 August 2022. Retrieved 1 December 2023.
  12. ^ "Ashe was shot on this day, 104 years back". The Hindu. 17 June 2015. Retrieved 1 December 2023.
  13. ^ "Centenary of a historical assassination today". The Hindu. 17 June 2011. Retrieved 1 December 2023.
  14. ^ Perachi Kannan (18 June 2011). "Late British officer's kin sent letter to killer's kin". Sunday Indian. Archived from the original on 19 January 2021. Retrieved 30 June 2011.
  15. ^ "Assassination of Robert Ashe". Government of India. 28 September 2022. Retrieved 1 December 2023.
  16. ^ Vijaya Ramaswamy (2017). Historical Dictionary of the Tamils. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 139. ISBN 978-1-538-10686-0.
  17. ^ "Memorials-Budget speech". Government of Tamil Nadu. 19 March 2010. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
  18. ^ "Jayalalithaa opens Vanchinathan memorial in Shencottah". The Hindu. 24 January 2013. Retrieved 1 December 2023.
  19. ^ Oulgaret Municipality (PDF) (Report). Government of Puducherry. Retrieved 1 December 2023.
  20. ^ "Tamil Nadu Real Estate Regulatory Authority". Government of Tamil Nadu. Retrieved 1 December 2023.
  21. ^ "Kappalottiya Thamizhan (1961)". The Hindu. 20 December 2014. Retrieved 1 December 2023.