Fort William, Calcutta, 1781

ফোর্ট উইলিয়ম, কলকাতা, ১৭৮১
In 1756, the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj Ud Daulah, destroyed the original Fort William of Calcuttal, temporarily conquered the city, and changed its name to Alinagar. This led the British to build a new fort in the Maidan. The rebuilding of the fort was started by Robert Clive in 1758, after the Battle of Plassey (1757), and completed in 1781 at a cost of approximately two million pounds. The area around the Fort was cleared, and the Maidan became “the Lungs of Kolkata”. It stretches for around 3 km in the north-south direction and is around 1 km wide. It was built by Robert Clive in the year 1781 spread over an area of 70.9 hectares. Today this fort located in the periphery of the lush green Maidan is the property of Indian Army. The headquarters of Eastern Command is based at Fort William and it has provisions for accommodating 10,000 army personnel. The Fort is built of brick and mortar in the shape of an irregular octagon with an area 5 km². Five of its sides face landward, and three towards the Hooghly River. It is surrounded by a dry moat 9 m deep and 15 m broad, which can be flooded but is designed as an area in which to use enfilade (or “flanking”) fire against any attackers reaching the walls.
Aquatint with a view of Calcutta from Fort William, from a set of prints published by Edward Orme in 1807.

5 thoughts on “Fort William, Calcutta, 1781

  1. Sir, I have gone through most of the sources that you had suggested, but the information regarding the fort is as brief as can be. This, I think, is due to the fact that the fort was, and still is, a military structure, and consequently rather secretive. Anyhow, I think the best source for the information I seek is Lt. Col. M.L.Augustine’s book, Fort William: Calcutta’s crowning glory.
    I have gone through some old pictures of the fort from your Puronokolkata files, and there are some points that intrigues me. I will be very grateful if you could enlighten me on these:
    1) I have seen pictures of the Water Gate, the Plassey Gate and the Chowringhee Gate. At the approach to the drawbridge before each gate, I find some shack-like structures cluttering the approach road. What were these structures? Servant/ coolie quarters? Or something else?
    2) It is mentioned in several sources that each of the gates had drawbridges. But the long bridges shown in the pictures over the moat are too long to be drawbridges. Moreso they appear to be fixed structures. Where are the cable and other paraphernalia to draw the bridges up? So where were the drawbridges?


  2. My book also touches upon Fort William. My protagonist enters the fort by way of the Water Gate in 1814. Is there any picture of the Water Gate as it appeared then? Even a later picture will do–say, one during the 1857 Mutiny. If not, can you tell me what a person was likely to come across on entering the gate and proceeding to the Town Major’s Office? (Like which barracks, mess halls, arsenals, parade grounds, lawns, officer’s residences, etc., if at all) And where was the town major’s office in the fort? Which part of the fort?


    1. আপনাকে ধন্যবাদ, সরিত। আমার সীমিত জানার গণ্ডির মধ্যে গোবিন্দপুর ফোর্ট উইলিয়মের বিষয়ে বেশ কিছু তথ্য এইসব বইপত্রের মধ্যে পেতে পারেন মনে হোল –
      Good old days of John Company / William Carey
      Echoes from old Calcutta / Henry E Busteed
      Selections from Calcutta Gazettes / Seton-Karr and Walter Scott
      Thacker’s Guide to Calcutta / Firminger
      Calcutta past and present / Blechynden
      Bengal under lieutenant governors / Buckland
      Calcutta, Town and Suburbs. Pt. 1 / AK Ray
      এ ছাড়া পুরনোকলকাতায় দেখতে পারেন চারটি পোস্ট আছে ফোর্ট উইলিয়মের উপর। ‘শব্দ-সন্ধান’ থেকে পেয়ে যাবেন।
      ভালো ছবি আছে কলম্বিয়ার এই ঠিকানায়
      আপনার কাজটি সার্থক হোক, কামনা করি।


      1. Thank you, sir, for your kind and prompt reply. i will definitely go through the books suggested by you, that is, the ones I can manage to find. I have, of course, gone through Thacker’s Guide and Kathleen Blechynden’s book. Though I did find a lot of interesting facts about the city and her residents, the fort was dealt with rather briefly.


      2. Thank you Sarit. I think you are right; some historically significant data are often treated as restricted due to security reason. It is perhaps worthwhile to approach the Fort authority, if you like, for accessing their archive for your research.
        I have not yet read Augustine’s Book, but viewed some pages online. An opportunity to read a dedicated book on a subject is always welcome. I find it more exciting however to gather bits of information from original sources to reconstrut the past. We may get so much valuable descriptions in private diaries and personal letters by contemporaries like Mrs Fay, Mrs Kindersley, and also in private papers of their family members.
        The ‘shack-like structures cluttering the approach road’, you mentioned, look like some support service quarters. Nothing can be said for sure without authentic evidence. As seen in Cotton’s book, in 1780s only those attached to Army were allowed to stay inside Fort William, though a decade earlier it seems private individuals were proposed to build residences within Fort area. Best wishes


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