DH Rao Maritime historian

A home turned into a Maritime Heritage Museum

Interested in ships, lighthouses and maritime history? You should visit Mr. Hemachandra Rao at his home cum museum in Chennai.

Mr. Rao is a passionate traveller and the proud founder of the Maritime heritage museum. This museum is situated in the garage and the living home of his crib in Virugambakkam, Elango Nagar, Chennai.

As a young curious engineer, Mr. Rao took great interest in stamps and ships when he first visited the Moore market next to the Central Railway Station in the then Madras, now Puratchi Thalaivar Dr. MGR Central Railway Station with his father.

That’s when his journey as a traveller began. He started collecting various stamps and continued his collection as a child. He visited an exhibition that kindled an interest in lighthouses and ships. He went on to study Civil Engineering and began working with a shipping firm and later became an architect.

When he retired in 2002, he decided to spend his free time reading about our rich history and began chronicling all that he came across about architecture of bridges in Chennai. He was just not following the history books, but personally visited the bridges and took notes from the plaques and boards.

Travel to lighthouses

The architect in him made him to study the geometrics of lighthouses because they were part of the maritime history he was interested in. That is when he started travelling along the coast of India and visited many lighthouses. Joining him in his travels is his friend Mr. Vincent D’ Souza, a journalist, who is another history buff. They travelled from the East to West coast and dug deeper into the history of lighthouses.

Mr. Hemachandra Rao said, “Each day of our travel was memorable and special, as we learnt something new!” After his voyages across India, he continued his exploration – The most significant ones are; The Madras lighthouse, Madras bridges and the casual encounters of the East Coast port and the Buckingham canal. He visited over 20 bridges to understand the architecture and design of the bridges.

After 4 years of researching and travelling, he was the one and only proud person to visit all the lighthouses across the country. He claims himself as a self-guided man. The Directorate of Lighthouses and Lightships has recognised his efforts and gifted him five shipping ties.

People across ages, approached Mr. Rao to learn more about canals & bridges. Many have wrong perceptions about the origin of the Buckingham canal. He wanted to use his collection of precious antique maritime displays for a good cause and then the idea of this museum clicked.

Maritime Heritage Museum

In 2017, he started setting up his very own museum with models of ships, boats and pictures of canals. The museum was complete by 2018.
Most of his visitors are young, inquisitive students from colleges and schools. His wellwishers suggested him to display models of ships and coins. One of the most important displays is the route map of the Buckingham canal. Not to forget the 16 feet boat and compasses.

His book ‘Madras exchange lighthouse’ speaks volumes about his interest, work and exploration. He says that love for canals has inspired him to write.

His plans for future: an 82-year-old, yet very inquisitive, excited and eager to continue his voyages to explore lighthouses in Andaman and many other coasts – A true inspiration for all!

If you want to visit the Maritime Heritage Museum housed within his home, contact him on 9840870172 or write to him at dhraoships@gmail.com

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