Port Blair Knowledge Guide
Since their migration out of North Africa 60,000 years ago, Andaman tribes have lived in close-knit communities. Genome studies prove that Andamane tribes split from the tree of human evolution of their out of Africa ancestors 30,000 years ago, and radiocarbon dating studies of the kitchen refuse dumps from the mounds excavated by the Anthropological Survey of India at Choladari near Port Blair provide another proof that Andaman tribes have been living here at least 2,000 years.
In 1789 the Government of Bengal established a penal colony on Chatham Island in the southeast bay of Great Andaman, named Port Blair in the honor of Archibald Blair of the East India Company. After two years, the colony moved to the northeast part of Great Andaman and was named Port Cornwallis after Admiral William Cornwallis. However, there was much disease and death in the penal colony, and the government ceased operating it in May 1796. In 1824 Port Cornwallis was the rendezvous of the fleet carrying the army to the First Anglo-Burmese War. In the 1830s and 1840s, shipwrecked crews who landed on the Andamans were often attacked and killed by the natives, alarming the British government. In 1855, the government proposed another settlement on the islands, including a convict establishment, but the Indian Rebellion forced a delay in its construction. However, since the rebellion provided the British with a lot of new prisoners, it made the new Andaman settlement and prison an urgent necessity. Construction began in November 1857 at the renovated Port Blair, avoiding the vicinity of a salt swamp which seemed to have been the source of many of the old colony's problems. The penal colony was originally on Viper Island. The convicts, mostly political prisoners, suffered life imprisonment at hard labor under cruel and degrading conditions. Many were hanged, while others died of disease and starvation. Between 1864 and 1867 a penal establishment was also built with convict labour on the northern side of Ross Island. These structures now lie in ruins.As the Indian freedom movement continued to grow in the late 19th Century, the enormous Cellular Jail was constructed between 1896 and 1906 to house Indian convicts, mostly political prisoners, in solitary confinement. The Cellular Jail is also known as Kala Pani (translated as "Black Waters"), a name given to it due to the torture and general ill-treatment towards its Indian convicts. The airport at Port Blair, Andaman and Nicobar's capital, has been named Veer Savarkar International Airport. The commemorative blue plaque on India House fixed by the Historic Building and Monuments Commission for England reads "Vinayak Damodar Savarkar 1883–1966 Indian patriot and philosopher lived here." In World War II the islands were occupied by the Japanese on 23 March 1942 without opposition from the garrison. British forces returned to the islands in October 1945.From 1943–44 during World War II, Port Blair served as the headquarters of the Azad Hind government under Subhas Chandra Bose. Although affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, Port Blair survived sufficiently to act as a base for relief efforts in the islands.
Tourism plays a big role in the economy of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.