Alan Turing, an enigma on a banknote and the Madras connection

The Turings had a long connection with Madras and Alan Turing's parents spent a significant part of their lives in India | Image - Eunice Dhivya

What do the Bank of England, actor Benedict Cumberbatch, Nandan Nilekani, the Second World War, mathematical biology, Mettur Dam, the humble punkah and Chatrapur have in common? The answer is Alan Turing, the mathematician and philosopher who contributed to cryptography and mathematical biology, among other subjects, and is the father of modern computer science.

The Turings had a long connection with Madras. Henry Davison Love, the city’s illustrious historian, mentions Turing as a recurring name in its history. Robert Turing was the Presidency Surgeon in the 18th century. His medical opinion helped Robert Clive get leave to return to England after marriage.

John and William Turing joined the civil service in the 1760s. The former lived in Vepery and became the Sheriff and Mayor. William also became Sheriff. The Madras Army had a Major Robert Turing and Captain James Turing. Another John Turing came as a Writer in 1795 and died in Visakhapatnam in 1808.

Margaret Makepeace, lead curator of the East India Company records at the British Library, flagged the case of another John Turing whose mother was a native Indian, but recorded as mother unknown. Following up on a complaint, the Company interviewed him, and rescinded his military officer cadetship. The case gave rise to the rule that “the sons of native Indians would henceforward not be appointed by the Court to employment in the Company's civil, military, or marine services.”

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