A SHORT FERRY ride from Port Blair leads to Ross Island, which served as the administrative capital for most of the Andaman Islands from 1858 until 1941. Ross Island’shistory, however, is much older, for it was the home of the indigenous GreatAndamanese . Within 20 years of British occupation, diseases such as syphilis and measlesvirtually wiped out the tribe, whose numbersdropped from 5,000 to just 28. Ross Island was also the base for the British administrators of the penal colony inPort Blair, and was equipped with swimming pools and bungalows. In 1941, the Japanese converted the site into a POW camp, and built war installations, remnants ofwhich can still be seen. It now lies deserted, and the few signs of its colonial glory, such as the chief commissioner’shouse and the Anglican church, are dilapidated and overgrown. The area is now under the control of the Indian Navy, whose museum, Smritika, records the lives of its political prisoners.