CALCUTTA MAIDAN in 18th and 19th Centuries

Pavilion at edge of Monohur Doss’s Tank, Maidan. Photographer: Unknown. Dated c1900-1914. Courtesey: RCAHMS

 

কলকাতা ময়দানঃ অষ্টাদশ/ ঊনবিংশ শতাব্দী

 

The Beginning

After winning back Calcutta, finally defeating Siraj at Plassey, the English East India Company decided upon two things: (1) Replacement of the their old fort with a new one – mightier and better-planned, and (2) Expansion of Calcutta southward.

The onslaught of Nabob’s army wrecked the already overcrowded settlement. The situation called for immediate renovation and expansion of the town toward pastoral Govindpore where the new Fort William was to be erected. ‘Govindpore village, surrounded as it was by waste lands formed a natural esplanade.’ [4] The old Fort had no esplanade for guns, which happened to be one of the reasons for its fall. [10] About a mile away from the old Fort the construction of the second Fort William set off in 1758. The new Fort, essentially a military establishment, and not a fortified factory of English traders as the old Fort was styled, costed the EEIC some two million sterling [5]. The chosen site of the Fort was on the river-bank of village Govindpore, considerably south of the old Mint.

 

Calcutta from the Old Course. Artist : Chartles D’Oyly. c1838

Formerly, the village was the primary seat of the Sheths and the Bysaks. In early 16th century, four families of Bysaks and one of Sheths founded the village of Govindpore, after the name of their tutelary deity, Govindaji. They built a shrine of the Vaisnav deity on the site where the New Fort William now stands, not far from the old Kalighat temple. [17].   Govindpore had only 57 bighas of inhabited land out of 1,178 bighas. The entire population of the flourishing village was removed to make room for the new Fort with its unobstructed field of gun fire that completed in 1773. The inhabitants were  compensated by providing lands elsewhere, expending restitution-money – the fund Siraj-ud-Dowlah recompensed for the damage he did. The Sheths moved to Cotton Bale Market, (Bengali: সুতানটি হাট ), in Burrabazar. The jungle that cut off the village of Chowringhee from the river was cleared giving way to the wide grassy stretch of ‘Maidan of which Calcutta is so proud’.

Expansion of Town Calcutta

The denizens of town Calcutta never before felt like going further than  Respondentia Walk, lying beyond Chandpal Ghat, or the fish-pond near Lal Dighi as ‘there was too wholesome a dread of thieves and tigers, to induce them to wander into the grounds of the neighboring zemindars who were the Robin Hoods of those days.’[13] In 1756, when Seraj-o-dowlah took the place, only seventy houses were inhabited by Englishmen.  The sudden development activities at Govindpore encouraged them to look forward for a change in lifestyle. The prospect of living lavishly in countryside bungalows in the neighborhood of the New Fort site attracted the white population. Gradually they moved out to settle in village Chowringhee adjacent to Govindpore separated only by the ancient pathway from Chitreswari temple at extreme North to Kalighat at South. As already we noticed, Esplanade and Maidan both are being used indiscriminately for the sprawling green square around the New Fort William.

Maidan looking beyond Esplanade Row. Dhurrumtollah Tank at right corner, criss-cross pathways, and tents are visible. No details available. Courtesy: Alamy

Maria Graham in her, Journal of a residence in India, penned a picturesque description of Maidan as she found in 1810.  The road which leads past Fort William, con­necting Garden Reach with Calcutta, is called the Esplanade. It is shaded, by umbrageous trees, and forms a very pleasant drive in the evening. The light air coming off the water is cool and grateful to the multitudes in search of air, change, or exercise. This esplanade is terminated by a very handsome colonnade ghat, which forms a most classical and pleasing object to the eye, as well as a most con­venient and useful accommodation to the natives for the performance of ablutions in the river, to which the bathers descend by a flight of steps. It was built solely for this object by a pious and opulent Hindoo. [9]

The snow-white paddy bird, with elegant and outstretched neck and stork-like dignity, walks care­lessly, unheeded, undisturbed, unscared he pursues his watchful employment of fishing in the shallows, with an almost domestic familiarity and fearlessness of the presence of man. [12]

Topography

Maidan, the chief open space in Calcutta between Government House and Garden Reach, is also called the Esplanade (Bengali: গড়ের মাঠ), that is, plain ground in front of a fort, in which attackers are exposed to the defenders’ fire. Calcutta Maidan, or the Esplanade of the New Fort, never had an occasion to partake defense task but acts as a fulfilling centre of entertainment and refreshment ever since its formation.

Maidan virtually covers, besides small portions of Birjee and of Chowringhee, the entire area of Govindpore, which began at the Northern boundary of Dhee Calcutta and ended at Baboo Ghat, and then went up to the Govindpore Creek, or Tolly’s Nullah at the extreme end of the English zamindari. It was ‘immediately to the South of Surman’s Gardens, next to the General Hospital building.  At West, Maidan includes King’s Bench Walk with a row of trees separating it from the riverbank between Chandpaul Ghaut  and  Colvin’s Ghaut, or Cucha-goody Ghaut, as it was called then.  At North, Esplanade Row, from Chandpaul Ghaut, runs into Dhurumtollah in a straight line past the Council House and the old Government House standing side by side.

The borings made in the Fort, in 1836-40, under the superintendence of Dr. Strong and James Prinsep, have shown that the ocean rolled its waves 500 feet beneath the surface of the present fort, and in 1682 an ancient forest existed in that locality. [1] Early 1789, Government resolved on filling up the excavations and leveling its ground. The plan was prepared for the benefit of Calcutta in general, and of the houses fronting the Esplanade in particular. The plan extended to drain the marsh land, in expectation that the digging a few tanks will furnish sufficient earth and thus save the project cost and time. A new tank was made in 1791 at the corner of Chowringhee and Esplanade, which existed till the dawn of the twentieth century.

Calcutta: David Rumsey Historical Map (cropped). London: Chapman & Hall. 1842 Courtesy: Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (GB)

 

Talaos or Tanks

The City of Calcutta is supplied with good drinking water, from a considerable number of large ponds mostly situated towards the Chowringhee quarter. Those facing Chowringhee Road were construct­ed by Monohur Dass, the chief member of the Shah Nowputee Muhajun of Benares in Lord Cornwallis’s time. [2]

A series of artificial lakes (tanks) stretched down the length of Chowringhee Road: the Dhurrumtolah Tank at the northern limit; the Manohardoss or Colinga Tank with its corner pavilions opposite Lindsay Street; the General’s tank opposite Park Street; Elliott’s Tank facing Harington Street previously ‘Graham Street’; and at south-end the Birjee Tank.

Dhurrumtollah Tank

 

Photograph of Dhurrumtollah Tank on Maidan from Chowringhee Road. Creator: Samuel Bourne. 1865. Courtesy: British Library

This is a view from the north end of Chowringhee Road, beside the carriage stand, looking north-west across the Dhurrumtollah Tank, towards the façades of the houses along Esplanade Row, with Government House at the extreme left. The flat-fronted, verandahed building behind the premises of William Coish & Co is the Adjutant-General’s offices. Among the commercial premises on Esplanade Row are Mountain’s Hotel, Madame Nielly (French milliner), Payne & Co’s Belatee Bungalow and Thomson & Company.

The view looks south along Chowringhee Road with impressive array of private and public buildings on the far side of Maidan.

Monohurdass’ Tank

Monohur Dass Tank. Creator: Samuel Bourne. 1868 Courtesy: British LibraryThe view looks south along Chowringhee Road, with the Monohurdass Tank in the foreground and General’s Tank beyond. The spire of St Paul’s Cathedral can by seen on the skyline at the extreme right.

 

General’s Tank on Maidan. Creator William Wood. 1833. Courtesy: British Library

 

The General’s Tank

 The General’s Tank was one of the three large artificial reservoirs in the Chowringhee district of Calcutta. It was just south of the junction with Park Street. This print also shows the house of Thomas Babington Macauley, who was a Law Member of the Supreme Council of India, and worked on the reorganisation of the Indian legal system necessitated by the New India Act of 1834. He lived at number 33, Chowringhee Road, from 1834 to 1838. Thereafter the building became the headquarters of the Bengal Club.This lithograph is taken from plate 21 from ‘Views of Calcutta’ an album of paintings by William Wood.

Elliott’s Tank

 

Elliott’s Tank. Creator: William Wood. 1833. Courtesy: British Library

 Elliott’s Tank facing Harington Street, previously ‘Graham Street’, situated between the General Tank and Birjee Talao. The tank was named after Sir Charles Elliott, Lieutenant-Governor, 1890-1893.

 

FORT-GATES and ROADS

The Fort occupied a large chunk of Maidan around the centre with as many as seven gates, each having its own approach road across Maidan, namely, the Calcutta Gate leading out to the Eden Gardens, the Plassey Gate facing south of Government House; the Chowringhee Entrance Gate leading out of the road entering Park Street; the Chowringhee Exit Gate leading out of the road entering Park Street; The Hospital Gate leading out of the Race Course; the St. George’s Gate facing north of Hastings; and the Water Gate facing the river near the Gwalior Monument. It is only in recent years we have had any road outside the fort. Pathways thread their way across the Maidan which has been cleared of the jungle. The oldest among them is the ‘Course’ made to take the air in’. The road was, however, full of dust, yet considered one of the airiest and pleasantest drives in Calcutta, extending from the Cocked Hat on the north to the Kidderpore Bridge. The Course, so called as being a coss or two miles in length, is described in 1768, as being ‘out of town’ in a sort of angle. [13]

 

The broad gravelled walk on the west side of that portion, known as the Red Road, then called Secretary’s Walk, constructed in 1820. To the south of the Fort ran the Ellenborough Course. The Vice-Roy Lord Northbrook led the grand procession this way taking the Prince of Wales from the Prinsep’s Ghaut to the Government House. It was a fine raised and turfed ride for horse exercise; and towards the cast, the Race Course, commenced in 1819.[6]

Strand Road with Indians with bullock carts and horse-drawn carriages and sailing ships and other boats on river in Calcutta. Creator: Samuel Bourne. c1860s Photograph by Bourne and Shephard

 

RIVER GHAUTS

Another avenue of trees was planted, about the time of the Lottery Committee, on the river-bank from Chandpal Ghaut to the New Fort. Its position was indicated by the row of fine trees which stood south of Baboo Ghat.  This was known as Respondentia Walk – the resort of those fond of moonlight rambles, and of children, with their train of servants. ‘Calcutta society, alighting from carriages and palanquins, promenaded in the cool of the evening’. Dogs and horses were not allowed to disturb the harmony of polite conversation, by an order of the Governor-General in Council forbidding persons accompanied by dogs to enter Respondentia Walk.  [4] The Esplanade on the banks of the Hooghly, thus provided the fashionable promenade of Calcutta a Hygeian Walk, as William Jones called. [1] Where the Bank of Bengal stands on the bank of the old Creek, at Cutcha- goody Ghaut, an avenue of trees ran along the river-bank to the Supreme Court, as King’s Bench Walk. The Walk was exclusively reserved for the English inhabitants from 5 to 8 o’clock every evening, sentries being posted **near the sluice-bridge” to prevent the entrance of natives.

 

 

[6] In 1823 the Strand road was formed, which led to a great sanitary improvement. This road has been widened at the expense of the river, so that where the western railing of the Metcalfe Hall stands, there were, in 1820s, nine fathoms of water. [13]

 

EDEN GARDENS

 

View of Eden Gardens Calcutta. Creator: Samuel Bourne. 1865. Courtesy: British Library

 

The site was initially named Auckland Circus Gardens, which stands at the northern-end of Maidan toward Calcutta Gate. The Gardens came into being when the Governor General, Lord Auckland, desired to create a circus and a garden. A pleasure ground with an oblong tank in center was laid out on this site generally resorted to for riding and recreation. The in­habitants are indebted to the liberality and taste of the Misses Eden, sisters of Lord Auckland. There was a Band-stand, where the Town Band or the Band of the European Regiment stationed in the Port, discourses sweet music every evening. Of late years the Gardens have been greatly enlarged, and laid out with winding paths and artificial water, interspersed with a profusion of beautiful flowering trees, and shrubs —a pleasant place for a morning or evening stroll. In the Gardens is a Burmese Pagoda, removed after the last war in 1851. and re-erected there in 1856.

 

STATUES OF RAJ PERSONAGES

In the green of Maidan there had been several installations of statues of Governor-Generals, and Heroes of the British Raj. While each statue was a perfect specimen of Western art, not all the personalities were found equally adorable; few were hated by the native subjects. The statues remained scattered all over Maidan till the end of colonial era, and thereafter replaced by figures of Indian national leaders. The old ones are now archived at the Flagstaff House in Barrackpore. Some nice photographs of the statues curated by DBH Ker in recent time can be seen in Flickr.[12] The details of the statues are available in Raj Bhavan(WB) Occasional Paper-4.[15]

Unveiling of Statue of Outram on Horseback, modelled by John Foley. Bourne and Shephard. 1874

 

The statue of Outram on horseback set in Calcutta Maidan was one the finest sculptural specimens modeled by John Foley in 1874. The statue inspired Barbara Groseclose, the art historian, to remark that ‘doubts and anxieties, as well as assumptions about their own place in Indian life, bear strongly on the roles and achievements for which the British sought or received commemoration ..’ See Outram Institute Puronokolkata

 

EDIFICES IN MAIDAN

The Maidan has come into existence when the Company built the second Fort William in Govindpore in 1773. The General Hospital was already constructed at the outskirt in 1770 near the old Jail, which was demolished to make room for construction of the Cathedral in 1839. The Race Corse Stadium and Ochterlony Monument followed in 1809 and 1863 respectively. Victoria Memorial and the Curzon Park – the two integral constituents of Maidan created in 20th century – are outside the scope of the present discussion.

 

FORT WILLIAM, GOVINDPORE

The works of the Fort were planned by an engineer named Boyer. Undoubtedly it is the 2nd Fort William, the regular architecture and commanding position of which are equally conspicuous.  This fortress completely commands the town. Evidently, it was designed to hold the inhabitants of Calcutta, in case of another siege, as permission was originally given to every inhabitant of the settlement to build a house within the fort. But entertaining views of the comfort of living in garden houses discouraged the people to accept this privilege. They preferred living in developing Chowringhee neighbourhood. In 1756 the plain were occupied by native huts, and by salt marshes, which afforded fine sport to buffalo hunters. [1]

 

Fort William, Govindpore. Chowringhee Gate. Creator: Unidentified. 1880’s Source: eBay,

HOSPITAL

The first hospital was erected in 1707 for soldiers and sailors, was located in the present Gerstein’s Place, near St. John’s Church, and lasted for nearly half a
century until the sack of Calcutta in 1756. The Company’s second hospital was a make-shift structure in the Old Fort, and was used for about thirteen or fourteen years till 1770. The project was mooted at a Consultation of the Board over which he presided on the 29th September, 1766. The hospital that stood in 1707 beside the old graveyard in a most insanitary site at Gerstein Place was removed ‘into the country’ at the far end of Maidan. The house was initially purchased in 1768 from a native gentleman for the purpose.

 

 

The East India Company (Calcutta Council) purchased the plot of land with a garden house from Rev. John Zacharias Kiernander at a cost of Rs. 98900.00 along with an adjoining plot belonging to a Bengali Gentleman. Gourchurn Tarsor (Tagore?) was the only Bengali among those who offered their property on sale, the others being James Dollas and Domingo de Rosario. After various alterations and additions including two other buildings erected in 1770 on the-then Lower Circular Road. The hospital renamed as the Presidency General Hospital was open for admission of general public. In 1795 two new wings and some other additions and alterations were made to equip the hospital with latest medical technology. [14]

 

ST PAUL’S CATHEDRAL

 

View of Eden Gardens Calcutta. Creator: Samuel Bourne. Sig.date:1902.

 

The St Paul’s Cathedral was designed in the Indo-Gothic style by William F Forbes. Forbes, a military engineer who was later promoted to Major General, was also responsible for the design of the old Calcutta Mint where he held the post of Mint Master for a time. It was through a long course of discussions the site for its construction was decided. In favor of the site finally selected, a plebiscite of the most representative bodies and organizations in Calcutta voted overwhelmingly. The Cathedral has been erected on the site of the hideous and obsolete structure of the old Jail that was demolished by the Government at its own cost. [7] Construction of the cathedral began in 1839, when the foundation stone was laid by Daniel Wilson, Bishop of Calcutta, and completed in 1847. The tall central spire and square tower beneath were inspired by a similar feature at the twelfth century cathedral in Canterbury, England. The upper portion of the tower, which originally reached a height of sixty-one meters, was destroyed in an earthquake in 1934.
Source: ‘Photographs of India and Overland Route’ by Oscar Mallitte in 1865.

 

RACE COURSE

The Race Course, which originated as the Course or promenade of Calcutta is one of the finest in the country. Racing was started at the Akra farm at the foot of Garden Reach from 1780, if not earlier. There at that time, the Nabob of Oudh, deposed by the British, and his descendents lived in their palatial garden houses. In 1812, the new course was laid out in Calcutta roughly where it is located today.

 

Racecourse Calcutta. Viceroy’s Cup Day. Creator: Johnston & Hoffmann in 1845

Lord Wellesley, during his administration, set his face decidedly against horse-racing and every other species of gambling. His influence threw a damp on it for many years, though last century a high value was attached to English jockeys, and the races were favorite subjects of expectation with the ladies. With the amusement of the turf came the spirit of betting. [13] One of the most significant events in the history of Calcutta racing took place in 1847 when the Calcutta Turf Club was officially born. [See: Royal Calcutta Turf Club  https://puronokolkata.com/2014/01/06/royal-calcutta-turf-club-calcutta-1845/%5D

 

OCHTERLONY MONUMENT

 

The Ochterlony Monument is an iconic landmark of Calcutta. It was designed by J. P. Parker and erected by Burn & Company in 1828, on the north-eastern side of Calcutta Maidan. The Monument was dedicated to the memory of Major-general Sir David Ochterlony, a commander of the British East India Company. He was commemorated for his successful defense of Delhi against the attack of the Maratha Yaswantrao Holkar in 1804, and also for the victory of the East India Company in the Anglo- Nepalese War of 1814 to 1816. The expenditure regarding the construction and the foundation of the monument was paid from the public fund. The ‘Cloud kissing Monument’ as Mark Twain called it, is 48 metres (157 ft) high.

It has a foundation based on the Egyptian style.  The column is a combination of styles with a classical fluted column, a Syrian upper portion, and a Turkish dome. It has two balconies at the top. The top floor is accessible by a serpentine staircase of 223 steps.

 

 

LIFE IN MAIDAN

Maidan is so many things to so many people. Apart from army parades, and drills of mounting police, there are washermen who wash clothes and themselves in its ponds (see Dhopa Pukur in Mark Wood’s map), shepherds who tend their flocks, citizens taking their morning walks, and the last vestiges of the horse-drawn hackney carriages plying its fringes entertaining merrymakers and businessmen to make money. When Jamshedji Framji Madan entered the ‘bioscope’ scene in 1902, he began to screen films in tents, one of which was set up on the Maidan.

 Chowringhee, the new township next to Maidan, is a place of modern creation. In 1768 there were a few European families enjoyed ‘out of town’ living. They always looked for opportunities of entertainment and recreation – including the out-door varieties held at Maidan, like Ballooning, Circus, Bicycle Race, Horse Race, Polo, Cricket and such exciting sports of the day. A large stretch of the Maidan is dotted with small greenish tents belonging to sports clubs.

 

Charak Puja procession in Maidan – coloured lithograph. Creator: Charles D’Oyly. 1848.

 

BALLOONING

Balloon ascent was indeed a novelty in India. On 30th July, 1785, a balloon, measuring six feet in diameter, and filled with rarefied air was let off from the Maidan. Mr. M’intle. the young gentleman who constructed the balloon, favoured the settlement with another exhibition next evening. The first ascent of a large balloon from the plains of Bengal took place on the 21st March, 1836.

CIRCUS

“Every now and then some adventurous ‘entertainer’ makes a tour of the country; but seldom, I fancy, with satisfactory results; and travelling circuses appear to meet with no better success”. An Opera Company which has been lately enlivening Calcutta, seems to be an exception to the general rule, being the best thing of the kind that has ever been seen in India. [3]. Chiarini’s Italian Circus performed in Calcutta in August 1880.

Around 1880, the cited playbill advertised Wilson’s Circus in Calcutta, featuring Edwin Moxon, who appeared with his Magic Tom-Tom act, and with the Moxon Brothers in their ‘wonderful balancing act’ with a pyramid of chairs. Around that time Royal Italian Circus where Chiarini, an Italian director performed in Calcutta. Professor Bose’s great Bengal Circus exhibited its shows at the Maidan in January 1900 in which Bir Badal Chand wrestled with a Royal Bengal Tiger.

POLO & GOLF

Polo has been played in the Maidan since 1861. The modern game of polo, though formalised and popularised by the British, is derived from Manipur where the game is known as  ‘Pulu’. In 1862 the Calcutta Polo Club was established by two British soldiers, Captain Robert Stewart and (later Major General) Joe Sherer. They were inspired by the game in Manipur and later they spread the game to their peers in England. The club runs the oldest and first ever Polo Trophy, the Ezra Cup (1880).

 

Cricket & Football

 

 

Ground of the Calcutta Cricket Club, 15th July 1861. Creator: Percy Carpentier. 1861. Courtesy: MCC Museum at Lords

 

Calcutta Cricket & Football Club, founded in 1792, is one of the oldest sports clubs in the world. The first formal cricket match played between the Etonians and the rest of the Civil Servants of the Company was played for two consecutive days on the green before the Government House in January 1804.

In the absence of a permanent venue, the Calcutta Cricket Club played its games on the esplanade between Fort William and Government House. By the 1820s, the members felt the need for a permanent ground. In 1825, the Calcutta Cricket Club managed to obtain the use of a plot of land on the Maidan. In 1841 the Club was relocated to the eastern boundary of the Auckland Circus Gardens. [See: Calcutta Cricket https://puronokolkata.com/2014/06/18/calcutta-cricket-maidan-calcutta-1792/%5D

 

Endnotes

 

The Maidan is deeply embedded in the Bengali psyche as well. It was fashionable for the Babus of old Calcutta to go for fresh air in the esplanade, or গড়ের মাঠ. Carey described the great show of fashionables in evenings at the Eaden Gardens out for the purpose of enjoying a drive—“eating the air (howa-khana) as the Indians express it.” [5] Rabindranath , in his reminiscences  mentioned about the sports-loving public rushing to playground in Maidan riding on crowded tramcar footboards; how his elder brother, Jyotirindranath took his wife, Kadambari, on horse-back to Maidan for a promenade defying social taboos. Maidan has stood a mute witness to the unfolding history of the city until the beginning of the 20th century, when the Maidan spread out its huge stage to voice against British rule, supporting national agenda for freedom movements. In connection with the founding of Victoria Memorial Hall upon the Maidan, some anxiously felt that “…it needs but the smallest acquaintance with that great city to know that its inhabitants regard the Maidan as a virtuous woman regards her honour, any assault upon which must be repelled as the deadliest form of insult.” [7]

 

REFERENCES

    1. Anonymous. 1816. “Sketches of India ; Or,observations Descriptive of the Scenery, &c. in Bengal; Chapter 13.” London: Black, Purbury and Allen. Retrieved (https://books.google.co.in/books?id=tEcVAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA197&lpg=PA197&dq=“+Setting+aside+the+pleasure+one+natu-+“+rally+feels+at+the+termination+of+a+long+“+voyage,+and&source=bl&ots=RMNhJRJxhm&sig=woJs5KFQwm85BUFHXzP199w35-k&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi3gfnAqtv).
    2. The Bengal and Agra annual guide and gazetteer. 1841. Calcutta: Rushton. (https://archive.org/stream/bengalandagraan00unkngoog#page/n10/mode/2up)
    3. Blanchard, Sidney Laman. 1867. Yesterday and Today in India. London: Allen. Retrieved (https://archive.org/stream/yesterdaytodayin00blan#page/n3/mode/2up).
    4. Blechynden, Kathleen. 1905. Calcutta Past and Present. London: Thacker. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/calcuttapastand02blecgoog).
    5. Carey, William H. 1907. The Good Old Days of Honorable John Company, Being Curious Reminiscences … during the Rules of the East India Company, from 1800 to 1858; vol.2. Calcutta: Cambray. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.116087).
    6. Cotton, Evan. 1907. Calcutta Old and New: A Historical and Descriptive Handbook of the City. Calcutta: Newman. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/calcuttaoldandn00cottgoog).
    7. Curzon, Murquis of Keddleston. 1905. British Government in India: The Story of the Viceroys and Government Houses; Vol. 1. Retrieved (https://dl.wdl.org/16800/service/16800_1.pdf).
    8. Kerr, D B. n.d. Forgotten Statuary of the British Raj; A gallery curated by DBHKer (https://www.flickr.com/photos/23268776@N03/galleries/72157631880613097/?rb=1#photo_169640291
    9. Firminger, W. K. 1906. Thacker’s Guide to Calcutta. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink. Retrieved (https://archive.org/stream/thackersguidetoc00firm#page/n7/mode/2up/search/’socially+but+not+geographically).
    10. Graham, Maria. 1813. Journal of a Resdence in India. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Costable. Retrieved (https://archive.org/stream/journalaresiden00callgoog#page/n6/mode/2up).
    11. Hill, S.Charles. 1902. List of Europeans and Others in the English Factories in Bengal at the Time of the Siege of Calcutta in the Year 1756 .pdf. Calcutta: GOI, Printing Press. Retrieved (https://www.google.co.in/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=13&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiuieCx3qbXAhVCLI8KHUvTBGcQFghbMAw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fasi.nic.in%2Fasi_books%2F9381.pdf&usg=AOvVaw2tZ5JJ8tHBx8o1QTmBzYWI%0A%0A).
    12. Hutchison, W. H. Florio. 1883. Pen and pencil sketches: reminiscences during 18 years’ residence in Bengal, ed. by J. Wilson. London: Marston. (https://archive.org/stream/penandpencilske00hutcgoog#page/n4/mode/2up)
    13. Long, Rev.James. n.d. “Calcutta in the Olden Time – Its Localities. Art.2 – Map of Calcutta.” (https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.98350/2015.98350.Calcutta-And-Its-Neighbourhood_djvu.txt)
    14. Moir, D M. 1903. “Notes on the origin of the Presidency General Hospital, Calcutta” In: The Indian Medical Gazette; Feb, 1903)
    15. Raj Bhavan. Kolkata. 2007 [Barrackpore Flagstaff House] (Occasional Paper – 4)(https://www.google.co.in/search?q=Occasional+Paper+%E2%80%93+4%3A+Barrackpore&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b&gfe_rd=cr&dcr=0&ei=hluIWpXuDrCcX-T_lsAD)
    16. Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (Great Britain). 1842. Calcutta: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. London: Chapman & Hall. (https://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/detail/RUMSEY~8~1~21006~530098:Calcutta-)
    17. Wilson, Charles R. 1895. The Early Annals of the English in Bangal, Being the Bengal Public Consultations for the First Half of the Eighteenth Century … Vol. 1. London: Thacker. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.63176).

 

 

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Fort-City Calcutta, A Faded Legacy

Calcutta on Hooghly c1750s by unknown artist. From: Journal of a Resident by Maria Graham. 1812

 

দুর্গ-নগর কলকাতা : ১৭০০-১৭৫৬

 

FOREWORD

This article aims to distinguish some of the myths and realities concerning early township of Calcutta grown around the English factory – ‘the Fort William’, as designated afterwards.

Calcutta chronology tells a tale of two cities. The Fort-city of Calcutta was lost in 1756 Battle of Lalbagh. How the New Calcutta resurrects on the ashes of war under the governance of Warren Hastings and his successors with generous support of public contributions has been elaborated in archival records, books and journals, paintings and photographs. In contrast, our knowledge of the fort-city remained next to nothing. Calcutta during the first half of the eighteenth century belongs to the ‘dark age of British India’. Little was apparent about happenings of that time. There was no newspaper to print local news, no Government Gazette for public notifications, no historical maps to indicate growth. There were few fascinating travel accounts to speak of Calcutta and its people, besides some faithfully depicted original paintings representing Calcutta in pre-camera days.

Between the fag end of the 18th century and early 19th century plentiful authentic resources were made available to scholars. Henry Yule researched the Diary of Robert Bruce, enlightening us of the early English settlers until 1707. Henry Barry Hyde’s compilations of the India Office records of the 17th and 18th centuries proved to be an indispensable resource of learning Calcutta’s past. We learnt from James Long the socio-political conditions of Calcutta 1748 onwards. Later, the works of Lord Curzon, and Professor Charles Robert Wilson, bridged up the remaining gap of four decades (1707 to 1748) – the focal point of our current discussion.

BACKDROP

Emperor Shah Alam hands a ‘Sanad’ granting Trading Right to Robert Clive. Artist: Benjamin West

The English merchants had a tough time in their first forty years for securing commercial opportunities in India. After 1640s, English industrialism compromised that plain and simple target with militarism. They wasted next two decades, from 1661 to 1685, in war, either with native powers, or with interloping adversaries, besides intra-group rivalry. The phase ended up in a state of flux. The English traders wondered from one trade station to other following wavering Company directives. A nishan was received from Prince Azim-ush-shan for a settlement of the Company’s rights at Sutanuti. Charnock left Hughli for Sutanuti on the 23rd December , and on the basis of nishan, rented the three adjoining towns, on 29 Dec. 1686. The name, ‘Calcutta’ was first mentioned on June 22 1688 in a letter of Charles Eyre and Roger Braddyll from Dacca to Agent Job Charnock. The Court of Directors had sanctioned the construction of a factory, as far back as February 1689, that took few years to implement. Interestingly, over a year before Charnock paid his second visit in November 1687, the English settlers had built a factory in Sutanuti, without waiting for formal approval. We learnt from Hyde –“Heath on the 8th of November embarked Charnock and all his Council and subordinates on board his vessels, and so abandoned the Sutanuti factory buildings [my emphasis] to be pillaged by the natives.” [See Hyde] Therefore it seems historically wrong to accept the old Fort William as the first English factory of Sutanuti / Calcutta.

THE BEGINNING

REMAINS OF OLD FORT WILLIAM. Source: Old Fort William / CR Wilson

The year 1690 started with a new beginning for settlers. Job Charnock made foundation of the Company’s future in India. The English established trade in Bengal with the consent of the native government. Finally, the English left Hughli – their first foothold in Lower Bengal since 1651, and reached Sutanuti on August 25, 1690 in a stormy day. ‘They live in a wild unsettled condition at Chuttanuttee [sic]. As reported on May 1891, there had been neither fortified houses nor Goedowns [sic], but ‘tents, huts and boats’ for the settlers. It was ‘partly through the good-will of the inhabitants’, the English succeeded in settling at Sutanuti against so many odds. The next nine years had been relatively a dull period. Charnock died. Sir John Goldsborough, the Commissary-General and Chief Governor of the Company’s settlements, arrived at Calcutta on August 12, 1693. He was quick to find that Charnock and his Council had never marked out any site for building the factory, which the Court of Directors had sanctioned as far back as February 1689. Instead he was shocked that people building houses wherever they pleased, even on the most suitable locations for a factory. He ordered for enclosing a piece of land with a mud wall where a factory to be set up on receiving the royal parwana for fortification. The long delayed permission to build a fort was virtually conceded by the Nabob, owing to the insurrection of Rajah Subah Sing in 1696. [ See Ray] The plot might not be an empty ‘piece of land’ but having a structure within. More likely it was the same house which Sir John acquired from certain Mr. Walshes for the Company, ‘intended to bring in the Accomptant [sic] and Secretarie [sic] and the books and papers in their charge within the brick house’. We are yet to know who Mr. Walshes was, and how and when he owned this brick house. So far we gather, the only conspicuous masonry building Charnock acquired was the Cutcherry of Jagirdar. C R Wilson in a footnote conveyed his doubt of its verity. He writes, “It is said that the nucleus of the Calcutta factory was the zamindari kachalirl [sic], or office of the Mazumdars, near the great tank, which they gave up to the English.” This story however rests on tradition. There was nothing to support it in Sir John Goldsborough’s letter, or elsewhere in records, so far we know. He added another note saying: “As for the story that the agent of the Mazumdars, a Portuguese named Antony, was whipped out of the enclosure by Job Charnock, this, I should think, was contradicted by the fact that the enclosure was made by Sir John Goldsborough after Job Charnock’s death. If anyone whipped Portuguese Antony out of the place, it was Sir John Goldsborough.” [ See Wilson 1906] As time went by, the number of masonry buildings increased. [See Ray] No wonder, Walshes’ might be one of those constructed later.

Curzon, conversely, made the story simpler for us to follow: “Goldsborough purchased a house for the Company, which was a poor structure of brick and mud, and ordered it to be surrounded by a wall, i.e. to be converted into a fort, as soon as permission could be obtained. Charles Eyre, whom he had appointed agent in place of the incompetent Ellis, moved into this abode, which may therefore I suppose be regarded as the first Government House of Calcutta. Its site is said to have been the strip of land, north of the present Custom House, where the ‘Long Row‘ stood in the later Fort.” [See Curzon] Nabob’s parwana for building fortified factory finally arrived in 1696. Goldsborough died mean time, and his dream house remained ignored while constructing the Fort. Yet, as it appears from Curzon’s description, that was the edifice, which should be called ‘nucleus of the Calcutta factory’ and not the zamindari kachalirl [sic]’ [Footnote.Wilson OldFort] which was spotted at the present location of Lalbazar Police Station, outside the boundary of the Old Court House.

THE OLD FORT LOCALE

View of Fort Calcutta. Details not known. Courtesy: Gettyimaages

In 1696, Nabob’s parwana in hand, Charles Eyre and John Beard, Junior, proceeded to build the fortified factory with great circumspection as the Board wished. Gradually the walls and bastions were raised. The position of the erection was the space between Fairlie Place and Koila Ghat Street in modem Calcutta. The ground was subsequently occupied by the Custom House, the Calcutta Collectorate, the Opium Godowns, and the General Post Office. On its Eastern side was Lal Dighi, then known as the Park or Tank Square. The name of the Park was originally ‘The Green before the Fort’, and afforded the residents of the fort a place for recreation and amusement. [See Carey] On the West the River Hugli, which laved the walls of the Fort, was at least 250 yards further inland than its present channel. [ See puronokolkat.com/old fortwilliam for more]

When the construction completed in 1706, it was called the Factory or the Governor’s House. To Captain Alexander Hamilton, who visited Calcutta three years later, the Governor’s House in the Fort was ‘the best and most regular piece of architecture’. [See Hamilton] We also know from Hamilton that the Governor had ‘a handsome house in the Fort’, and the Company kept up ‘a pretty good garden’ for furnishing the Governor herbage and fruits at table, and some fish ponds to serve his kitchen with good carp, callops and mullet’. Perhaps the tank was one of the fish ponds, and the garden may have formed the Park or Tank Square.

With the construction of the fort at its site, and the reclamation of the tank, the Portuguese and Armenian inhabitants, together with the few Dutch and Danes clustered round the factory, and its adjacent native market place, Burrabazar [sic]. Apart from this small area round the fort and park, none of these deserved the name of town. Yet it was commonly referred to the component mauzas of the settlement and its environs. [See Ray] Surrounding this small town lay 1,470 bighas of land in Dhee Calcutta, or Dihi Calcutta.

On its north was Sutanuti, already containing 134 bighas of inhabited land, with 1,558 bighas under jungle and cultivation. ’To its south stood Govindapur high on the river bank, with only 57 bighas, out of a total area of 1,178 bighas, covered by human habitations, most of the rest being dense jungle. The total amount of inhabited land was about 840 bighas only in the whole of the 5,076 bighas covered by the Sanad of 1698 granted by Azim-ul-Shan.

WHITE-TOWN BLACK-TOWN

Old Court House Street. Thomas Daniell

European Buildings at Calcutta. Etching by François Balthazar Solvyns

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A request was sent on March 11 1694-5 for readying half a dozen Chambers of brick and mud be built on the North side of the Compound for the factors and writers who were so far having their lodging in thatched rooms within Company’s Factory compound. The Town Calcutta grew around the fort with residential and institutional quarters, roads, parks and tanks, without any master plan. As late as June 1768 Jemima Kindersley writes that the town “is as awkward a place as can be conceived; and so irregular, that it looks as if all the houses had been thrown up in the air, and fallen down again by accident as they now stand” [See her Travel Letters]. What she said was hilarious but hardly an overstatement. Calcutta grew freely at will of the individual inhabitants – the blacks and the whites, happily ignoring the law against illegal construction. Calcutta, being an unplanned city cannot be said to be grown as a Dual City separating the Anglo-Europeans and the natives by design. Neither of them had a permanent physical jurisdiction excluding each other. “The critical aspect of colonial Calcutta”, as it is said in a study on Calcutta architecture, “did not lie in such divisions, but in the blurring of boundaries between the two.”[Swati Chattopadhyay. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians Vol. 59, No. 2. Jun 2000]

Market Place for Nationalities and Races. Frans Balthazar Solvyns c1790s

]

Gentoo Pagoda and House. Etching with aquatint by Thomas Daniell c1787

 

The localities in Calcutta might crowded together following natural law of selections – guided by their sense of security, sociability, convenience, and economic considerations. We may find the same reasons worked behind breaking down of the so called white communities into smaller cohesive groups. The Whites of different shades, had their own localities, each shifted from one place to other in the process of urbanization. The English left their Perrin’s Garden neighborhood to build home around Fort, and then gradually moved southward toward newly-built Esplanade, Alipore, and Garden Reach, and northward to Dum-Dum and Barrackpore. Armenians and Portuguese were old inhabitants of fringe area of Lalbagh and also had their respective neighbourhoods in the North and Eastern Calcutta. These floating communities came together to develop township around the Fort at the time of Anglo French War. It is odd to think of this culturally and economically incompatible population forms an inclusive township for the ‘Whites’.

FENCED-CITY

The dual-city model, however, could have been little more meaningfully defined in terms of Christian non-Christian dichotomy, particularly in context of the fenced city that Calcutta was ‘at least for a short time’ where the Christians — English, Armenian, Portuguese, and others — lived within the safety of palisades during the Marhatta scare. The native population was settled in the Great Bazar or Black Town, and at Sutanuti and Govindapur, beyond the Christian boundaries.

Newly Arrived Young Officer Tom Raw. By Charles D’Oyly. 1828

“Fancy lane is the entrance to the bailey that ran round the whole town within the palisades. A short distance up this passage the enceinte turned again westwards parallel to the creek. It crossed the present Wellesley place, and in doing so skirted Chaplain Bellamy’s garden, thence it ran up Larkin’s lane and its continuation, where some Queen among huckstresses so waged her trade that the place took on her name and fame. Thence Barrotto’s lane, once called Cross street, opens on the left; this is the bailey beginning its long northward course and keeping, as it does so, at pretty even distance all along from the pilgrim road to Kalighat. The town was a settlement reserved exclusively for the three Christian nations, that is, for English, Portuguese and Armenians, with their immediate dependents, and was so laid out as to keep well clear of the busy heathen highway.” [Hyde 1899]

PLAN OF CALCUTTA WITH THE PALISADES. Source: Old Fort William / CR Wilson

 

The natives were left outside palisade ring guarded against Marhatta threat by the Ditch dug out to stop imminent raid. Marhattas, however, never came back. The fencing of palisade around the fort-centric settlement remained in position for about a decade between 1742 when Chaplain Robert Wynch was in office and the Battle of Lalbagh in 1756. This short-lived history of the fenced-township had left a bemused notion of the character of the young Calcutta.

CALCUTTA UNBOUND

As we see, the early township was populated solely by the White Christians. The natives had no place inside. They had no reason either to live in the new town away from their families and friends. The natives lacking skills in masonry and carpentry had no much prospect of regular employment in construction of the fort or the township, other than menial jobs. They however used to come over to the town to do all sorts of domestic helps attending members of white families, and returned home at sundown. Natives were also engaged in respectable professionsl like Munshis, Banians and Traders. Omichand and Setts, who had customary business relations with the Company men, happily lived in the so-called White Town. Omichand had his house along with those of Eyres, Coates, and Knox at the back of the present-day Writers’ Buildings. Rasbihari Sett and Ramkissen Sett had their houses on the west of the burying-ground, back of St John Church. [See Hyde 1901]

Before the Mahratta invasion Calcutta had become a town, ‘not merely in name, but also in appearance’. The fort was an imposing structure, and the church of St. Anne right in front of it was a notable and picturesque building. The Fort, the Church, all went to dust during siege of Calcutta in 1756. The town resurrected with collective effort through public subscriptions. Maharaja Nabo Krishna, a Hindu resident of Black Town, donated land and money for founding St John Church. His heathenness never stood in the way of gracious acceptance of his gift by the Christian community. The gift represents the whole of St. John’s compound east of the church together with the public footway beyond the compound valued at 30,000 rupee.

This illustrates that the divisions created by the palisades had been only a physical conditions that might not have significant social impact. The fencing was installed essentially as a security measures for the politically advantaged Christian communities alone. They remained doubly secured by inner barricades and the moat surrounding the three towns populated by natives. When the Marhatta never returned to plunder Calcutta, the need of fencing the city disappeared for good.

Half-sisters. Painted by Johann Zoffany

Barring these handful of years, the three-century old Colonial Calcutta had never experienced cordoning of areas dividing the Whites and the Blacks. The separate neighbourhoods were evolved following natural social code. Law enforced by overzealous whites rarely worked in colonial Calcutta. The British Raj never entertained the missionary dreams of a Christian Calcutta. Christian enthusiasm faded out with rising new wave of education reform. Calcutta always retains a heterogeneous and secular character. Its environment helped developing a liberal mindset that could have never produced in walled-city surroundings. Walled-cities, keeping the outside world shut off, turn citizens into traditionalist, regimented and cautious – the qualities are conspicuously absent in native Calcuttan.

BLEND OF WHITE & BLACK

The Anglo-Indian lineage set off in 17th century in India and Britain as well. Those days the Company bureaucrats, petty officers, factors and clerks were encouraged to marry native women. It was felt by some writers that no shame was attached to their offspring who had their English, Armenian, Dutch, Portuguese patrilineal parentage. The White-Indians in Britain were, in contrast, matrilineal, born of Lascar seamen and white women. Marriage is a civil contract – a sacrament to those who believe it. In early colonial Calcutta the institution of marriage was respected by the whites and the natives consistent with their customs. [For more see: Margaret Deefholts] That does not imply nonexistence of racial tensions. It was very much there in strong or mild form depending on one’s frame of mind to appreciate alien culture. The white wives were generally more apprehensive than their male counterparts of the dark-skinned half-naked domestic attendants for their heathen faith and bizarre mannerism. Characteristically, the native helpers, unlike the Afro-American maids and servants, were less submissive and more demanding. There must be some genuine cases of wrongdoing by native servants, and even by respectable native citizens to excite racial feelings against them. But this may not be a good reason for banishing all the local natives on the other side of the fence. There were also instances of large scale forgery and misappropriations committed by the White officials. “The English in Bengal were equally notorious for their quarrels, the natural outcome of the prevailing eagerness to make money and the spirit of espionage fostered by their masters” [See Wilson 1895]. Immorality cannot be considered as a valid ground for dividing the city. And the city was not divided. Otherwise how could we explain making of a whole new race through interracial marriage in colonial Calcutta? Unquestionably there had been lots of willing Whites who accepted native maidens as wives notwithstanding the native ethos. The greatest example of white liberal happens to be no other than the first English settler, Job Charnock.

Job Charnock Mausoleum. St John’s Church, Calcutta. Courtesy: Manors of Charnock Richard

JOB CHARNOCK. We understand from Bruce, a large number of the servants of the factory and Charnock himself had contracted interracial matrimonial [Bruce 1810] Carey called Job Charnock ‘an old Anglo-Indian patriarch’. Charnock married an Indian wife, adopted many of the local manners and customs; adopted some of the local superstitions. ‘It was at Patna that Charnock learned to understand the Indian ways of thought and action’. [Wilson 1895] Their marriage was not however recorded in any Church Register. Most likely, Charnock married his Hindu wife Maria following Hindu rites, while all his three daughters, Mary, Catherine, and Elizabeth were married in Christian Churches. [Curzon] Charnock Mausoleum was erected at St. John’s Church graveyard in 1695,  three years after his death. The Mausoleum was installed by his son-in-law, Sir Charles Eyre, the President and Governor of Fort William in Bengal, who must have taken his best care to complete the edifice timely and justly. There must have been some reasons, good or bad, for the holdup, and also for the final shape of the things. Without going into detail, we may point out here that in the Mausoleum “Charnock and his wife are said to have been buried, but the inscription on the original tombstone only mentions Job”. [Yule 1887] This might suggest some unspoken reservation at work against interracial marriage; or more likely, it was a social taboo against marriage between unequal classes. It seems Charnock was robbed of his wife’s identity by his own fellows who never dared to interfere with Charnock‘s wishes so long he was alive. Lying in his grave Charnock paid an exorbitant cost for defying social canons.

WILLIAM PALMER joined the East India Company in 1766 and rose to the position of military secretary to Governor General Warren Hastings. Like Charnock, William Palmer was a romantic, but not a social nonconformist. It was probably in 1781, under Muslim law Palmer married Bibi Faiz Baksh, a princess of the Delhi royal house. Later she received the honorific title, Begum from Delhi Badsha. She bore Palmer six children. One of them was John Palmer the ‘prince of Calcutta merchants’.

Major William Palmer with his second wife, Bibi Faiz Bakhsh by Johann Zoffany, 1785

William Palmer happily lived with Bibi Faiz Baksh until his death in 1816. In his will, Palmer admitted that Bibi Sahiba has been his ‘affectionate friend and companion’ for more than thirty-five years. Their marriage was most honourably acknowledged in the native as well as European societies. The secret behind the generous acceptance of the Black and White marriage by both the communities was seemingly the equitable socio-economic status they held.

CLAUDE MARTIN served the British East India Company’s Bengal Army as Major General. He was before in French Army. Martin loved Tipu Sahib as a hero, loved India as his second motherland. He had a colourful personality, and an innovative mind. He was perhaps the first balloonist on Indian sky, and a self-styled surgeon. A map of the neighbourhood of Calcutta, dated 1760 or 1764, credited to Claude Martin. He accumulated huge fortune, and ensured that people were not cheated ‘who have passively succumbed to the yolk of corruption.’ The major portions of his assets were left for founding three institutions, in Lucknow Calcutta, and Lyon, his birthplace. Above all, he was a highly sensitive human being. It is not so easy, however, to assess the private life of this middle-aged childless Frenchman. It might be too subtle and intricate for us to interpret the kind of relationship he had thoughtfully built up with three girls nearly 30 year junior to him. Martin had acquired Boulone and two other native girls. He intended to give them protection and best possible education. The girls learnt to read and write in Persian, studied principle of religion, modesty and decency. When ‘at age of reason’ these girls were prepared to choose any one they pleased for either husband or companion. Not Boulone, but the two other girls preferred to chose native husbands. Boulone a Lakhnavi girl lived with Martin in Lucknow. But their story may be found significant and in context.

General Claude Martin. Details not known. Courtesy: La Martiniere College, Lucknow

Boulone Lise and her adopted son James Martin. Oil by Johann Zoffany

Martin loved Boulone as the most ‘virtuous wife’, yet she was not Martin’s married wife. Martin argued that if from the social point of view, ‘the essence of the marriage tie is its indissolubility during life then these women should amply justify their status as rightful wives’. But they could also merely play a role of virtuosity under social compulsion, instead of acting spontaneously and willfully. Martin also maintained that ‘the curse and misery of the unacknowledged half-cast was the European blood in their veins and the accompanying inexplicable longings’. Such cases were commonly dealt in line with conventional morality. Martin had two alternatives: either to drive the native girls into marriage with native boys whom they despised, or drive them into connections with Europeans whom Martin himself despised.
The only workable solution for Martin was to place the girls in his own house in a position obviously respectable in native eyes. To a native, mistress was only a wife of lower rank. Their consideration rested upon the inferior status a girl held prior to marriage. There is an element of truth in their argumentation which was present indiscernibly in both halves of Calcutta society – Blacks and Whites.

END NOTE

Calcutta has been largely a multi-ethnic city, then and now. The native Calcuttan inherited their liberal ethnic characters from the historicity of free living conditions and of their being in constant interactions with surroundings, which a divided Calcutta could never have delivered.

 

 

REFERENCE

 [Anonymous]. 1831. Historical and Ecclesiastical Sketches of Bengal, from the Earliest Settlement, until the Virtual Conquest of the Country by the English in 1757. Calcutta: Oriental Press [prin]. (https://ia600300.us.archive.org/5/items/historicalandec00unkngoog/historicalandec00unkngoog.pdf).
 Bruce, John. 1810. Annals of the Honorable East India Company; 1600 – 1708; Vol. 3. London: Black, Perry, Kingsbury. (http://books.googleusercontent.com/books/content?req=AKW5Qaf3EbT8p-rkz1AyNbBEbEWTuh_RoQm38FdPOaGc0aH9QwvuA1z-aLMG8sOqglSS0BKUbn4lZWLYwDScXtVifsV48qJawP8wG1PLbuYYGPvfUzT-2Ru1mBUZ_gtcDTGI-sh4g5yLQ8JpGQaIBWeI8C02zrby_0J0fneMowU4-9NdUUj_y-m12XmlH_HDrdi4j_ZpB_).
 Carey, William H. 1882. Good Old Days of Honorable John Company: Being the Curious Experinces during the Rules of the East India Company; from 1600 to 1858; vol.1. Calcutta: Quins. (https://ia601904.us.archive.org/33/items/in.ernet.dli.2015.116085/2015.116085.The-Good-Old-Days-Of-Honorable-John-Company-Vol-I.pdf).
 Curzon, Murquis of Keddleston. 1905. British Government in India: The Story of the Viceroys and Government Houses; Vol. 1. (https://dl.wdl.org/16800/service/16800_1.pdf)
 Hamilton, [Captain] Alexander. 1995. A New Account of the East Indies; Vol. 2. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services. Retrieved (https://ia601605.us.archive.org/22/items/in.ernet.dli.2015.39275/2015.39275.A-New-Account-Of-The-East-indies–Vol2.pdf).
 Hill, S. C. 1901. Major-General Claude Martin. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink. Retrieved (https://ia601406.us.archive.org/2/items/lifeofclaudmarti00hill/lifeofclaudmarti00hill.pdf).
 Hyde, Henry Barry. 1899. Parish of Bengal: 1678-1788. Calcutta: Thacker Spink. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.6226).
 Hyde, Henry Barry. 1901. Parochial Annals of Bengal: History of the Bengal Ecclesiastical Establishment of the Honorable East India Company in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Bengal Secretarial. (https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.180504/2015.180504.Parochial-Annals-Of-Bengal#page/n7/mode/2up).
 Long, Rev.James. 1852. “Calcutta in the Olden Time – Its Localities.” Calcutta Review 18(Jul-Dec):2275–2320.
 Long, Rev.James. 1860. “Calcutta in the Olden Time – Its People.” Calcutta Review 35(Sep-Dec):164–227.
 Ray, A. K. 1902. Calcutta, Towns and Suburbs: Part 1: Short History of Calcutta (India. Census. v. 8. 1901). Calcutta: Bengal Secretarial. Retrieved (https://ia600200.us.archive.org/16/items/cu31924071145449/cu31924071145449.pdf).
 Wilson, Charles R. 1906. Old Fort William in Bengal; vol.1. London: Murray for GOI. Retrieved (https://ia601904.us.archive.org/9/items/in.ernet.dli.2015.39722/2015.39722.Old-Fort-William-In-Bengal–Vol-1.pdf).
 Wilson, Charles R. 1906. Old Fort William in Bengal; Vol. 2. edited by C. R. Wilson. London: Murray for GOI. (https://ia601607.us.archive.org/35/items/in.ernet.dli.2015.70029/2015.70029.Old-Fort-William-In-Bengal-Vol2.pdf).
 Wilson, Charles R. 1895. The Early Annals of the English in Bangal, Being the Bengal Public Consultations for the First Half of the Eighteenth Century [1704-1710] … Vol. 1. London: Thacker. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.63176).
 Wilson, Charles R. 1900. The Early Annals of the English in Bengal, Being the Bengal Public for the First Half of the Eighteenth Century [1711-1717]; Vol.2a. London: Thacker. Retrieved (https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.63287/2015.63287.The-Early-Annals-Of-The-English-In-Bengal-Volii#page/n1/mode/2up).
 Yule, Henry ed. 1887. “Diary of William Hedges during His Agency in Bengal (1681 – 1700; with Introductory Note by R. Burlow. Vol. 1.” Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.69608).
 Yule, Henry ed. 1887. “Diary of William Hedges during His Agency in Bengal (1681 – 1700; with Introductory Note by R. Burlow. Vol. 2.” Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.69611).
 Yule, Henry ed. 1889. Diary of William Hedges during His Agency in Bengal (1681 – 1700; with Introductory Note by R. Burlow. Vol. 3. London: Hakluyt Society. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.69606).

Old Fort William: Nursery of Calcutta City, 1700-1757

Fort William of the Kingdom of Bengal of EIC Col. – Engraving by Jan Van Ryne. 1754. Courtesy: British Library

পুরনো কেল্লা ফোর্ট উইলিয়মঃ দুর্গেশনন্দিনী নগর কোলকাতা

The Old Fort William of Calcutta was a fort of different kind. It was a fort without having initially a defined territory of its own to protect against possible intrusion, but to protect its commercial resources housed within. The city of Calcutta evolved round the Fort and called a fort-city, and often compared with other fort-cities in India and abroad. The fort-cities are occasionally called ‘walled-cities’ since those are encircled by one or more shielding walls, while Calcutta had none. Calcutta may yet be called a fort-city in a special sense. The Calcutta metropolis, once the foothold of the British Raj, had been originally a small township grown around the English ‘factory’, designated ‘Fort William’. ‘Modern Calcutta is its child and heir’[1] .  Interestingly, the oxforddictionaries.com  provides a second meaning of the word, ‘fort’, which is ‘trade station’. It suits well to understand what the old Fort William was, and why it may not be meaningfully called a ‘Fort of the Kingdom of Bengal’ as the above featured painting was captioned.

 

BACKGROUND

The Fort William came into existence because of the prosperity of English trade in Bengal during mid 17th century. East India Company desperately needed fortification to safeguard their commercial interest, more than anything else. The English in Bengal did well after obtaining the firman of Badshah Shah Jehan in 1640, that allowed the English Company trading in Bengal without payment of duty. Backed by the firman, the English made large profits in Bengal. They built factories in other places be­sides Hugli, and sent home cargoes of silks, cottons, and other commodities, including the one they built amongst the saltpetre grounds near Patna. Their progress, however, halted for a long while when Nabob Shaistah Khan decried the Badshahi firman and insisted on payment of duties by torturous means. Not even Job Charnock, the most noted of the English Governors of Hugli, was spared from the brutal treatment of Shaista Khan. Charnock refused to submit to the pressure and by shutting down their Bengal chapter went to Madras with his resources. Shortly after, Ibrahim Khan, the next Nabob of Bengal, welcomed the English to come back for trading in Bengal on agreeable terms. Charnock returned, but not to Hugli again. He thought decidedly that the English settlement should be in Sutanuti/ Calcutta, not really ‘for the sake of a large shady tree’, as Hamilton said jokingly, but because of its being the best strategic location for the base of the English traders to operate. With the approval of the Company Board1, Charnock with his companions settled ultimately in Sutanuti on 24th August 1690. No fortification, however, was brought about in his lifetime, and he happily ended his life in a thatched-roofed mud-house on 10 January 1693.  [8]

 

The settlers in Bengal had a rough time from the beginning under the reign of Nabob Shaista Khan, a notorious Mughal Governor. A short-lived upsurge, in 1697, lead by Rajah Shobha Singh created an atmosphere of fear and anxiety in the region.  All districts to the east of the river from Midnapore to Rajmahal lay isolated and unprotected against aggression of defiant Shobha Singh. The French, Dutch and English Chiefs solicited permission to throw up fortifications.  The Nabob was pleased to grant them a tacit permission, in his own interest.   All the foreign settlers seized the occasion to reinforce the structures they had already erected clandestinely.  This was how the Fort Gustavus at  Chinsurah, the  Fort  William  in Calcutta, and the French fort at Chandernagore came into existence. Shobha Singh was defeated in December same year. The Company, with the intention to  carry  on  all  their  trade  at Calcutta,  withdrew Patna,  Rajmahal and  Balasore  factories.  The  idea  of  establishing a  fortified  post  to  protect  English  trade  from  the  oppressive exactions  of  the  Nabob  of  Bengal  and  his  myrmidons,  was possibly suggested first by  William  Hedges, the Commissary General of the English East India Company sometime in 1682-83. [5] [6]

East India Company Hall – An aquatint By Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Charles Pugin, (after) John Bluck (aquatint engravers). – Source: Microcosm of London (1809)

The very first attempt to accomplish the Company’s desire happened to be the fortified Government House of Sir Goldsborough – that comprised the most critical part of a factory, that is ‘Governor’s House’, but not a factory by itself. There were, in fact, too many houses in Calcutta from where governors and governor-generals preferred to govern.  Charnock’s seat was a mud house near the riverbank. When he died his estate was in chaos. Sir  John Goldsborough, arrived Calcutta to set things in order.  He led the way to build English factory in Calcutta. He  purchased a brick-and-mud house  for  the  Company,  renovated its structure, erected wall all around and thus make it a suitably fortified Governor’s House, ready to get converted into  a  fort  as  soon  as  permission  obtained.  Charles  Eyre, newly  appointed  agent in  place of Ellis, moved into  this  first  Government  House  of  Calcutta.  Its  site  is  said  to  have  been the  strip  of land  north  of the  present  Custom  House,  where  the  ‘ Long Row’  stood  in  the  old Fort William.  This fortified government building, which never was upgraded to a formally recognized fort, survived only for about a decade without having been associated ever with any historical events to remind of its presence, except the infamous storm of 1706 that pulled it down. On the wall of Customs House a marble plaque indicating its site was affixed for public awareness during Curzon’s government.[4]

Old Fort, Playhouse and Holwell’s Monument. – Aquatint with etching (col.) by Daniell, Thomas. 1786

By that time, in 1698, Prince  Azim-ush-shan  granted a nishan, or a sanction of the English Company’s rights. The Company thus gained a definite status and became the Collector of the three towns, Sutanuti, Calcutta, and Govindpur.  Bengal was from this period considered a Presidency; the Court sent from England orders to increase fortifications, to render this seat of trade at Calcutta well secured, not only against native powers, but against European rivals; and in compliment to His Ma­jesty, the fort was to be named Fort William. In 1700 Calcutta became a separate presidency (administrative unit) accountable to London. Its governors, and its governors-general, were given the added title “of Fort William in Bengal.” [Brit. Ency] Mr Charles Eyre was the first appointed President and Governor of Fort William in Bengal. In 1702 the English had the following factories in Bengal dependent on the Presidency at Fort William; viz. Fort William, Sutanuti, Balasore, Cossimbuzar, Dacca,Hugli, Malda, Rajahmahl, and Patna.[2]

 

LOCATION

Fort location in Calcutta 1757 map

About five leagues farther up, on the west side, the river Hugli  was broader but much shallower, and more encumbered with sand banks. Along the river Hugli there are many small villages and farms, intermingled in those large plains, but the first of any note on the river’s side, was Sutanuti, a Market-Town for corn, coarse cloth, butter, and oil, with other productions of the country; above it was the Dutch Bankshall. Calcutta has a large deep river that runs eastward, and five leagues farther up on the other side was Tanna Fort, built to protect the trade of the river.  The place was very suitable for ship maneuvering being not above half a mile from shore to shore. The fort remained unused since 1686, when the English scared the Mughal away from their post with their 60-gun battleship. About a league farther up on the other side of the river, was Govindapore (Governapore), and about a league farther up, was the designated location of the Fort William. [7]

The  actual  site  of  the  fort  was  the ground,  now  occupied  by  the  General  Post  Office,  the  New
Government  Offices,  the  Custom  House,  and  the  East  Indian Railway  House.  The  warehouses  built  along  the  south  side  of the fort skirted Koila Ghat Street. The north side was in Fairlie Place.  The  east  front  looked  out  on  Clive  Street  and  Dalhousie Square,  which  in  those  days  was  known  as  the  Lai  Bagh,  or  the Park.[4]
PLAN

A graphic plan and a neat description of the interior of the Fort is provided by Curzon.

“The Factory building itself was two storeys in height, all the main apartments being upon the upper floor. On entering by the main doorway on the riverside, you turned to the left and ascended by the great staircase to the central hall, from which the principal buildings, lit by very long windows, branched out on either side. On the Eastern face a raised verandah or arcade ran round the three sides of the interior quadrangle. The Governor’s apartments were situated in the South-east wing, but were of no great size, and in the later years, before 1756, were rarely occupied by him, being in all probability used as offices alone. “ [4]

 

CONSTRUCTION

Sir  Charles  Eyre proceeded with  caution  to  build  the  embryo  of the  Fort but no further, as he had to go back to Europe leaving the work to his successor,  John  Beard, Junior.  Governor Beard raised the walls and bastions in stages.  He himself stayed at the site occupying rooms with river view, where the North-west bastion was to be erected afterwards. It was not before 1702, he could build up a reasonably good Factory, or Government House. It was in  the  Southern  part  of  the  extended  Fort,  South  of  the ‘Government  House  No. 1’.  The actual position  of  the  Fort, as determined by Curzon,  was  the  space  between  Fairlie  Place  and  Koila  Ghat  Street  in  modem  Calcutta.  On its  Eastern  side  was  Dalhousie  Square.  The  north­west  and  south-west  bastions  were  put  together  hastily  at  the death  of  Aurangzeb  in  1707.  The  fort  was  completed in 1716-17 under  the  three  succeeding  Governors,  Anthony  Weltden,  John Russell,  and  Robert  Hedges. [2] [4]

The old Fort William was built sporadically depending on available resources and motivation of those at the wheel. Among other reasons, the work suffered because of the ‘difficulty of finding trustworthy officers’  as men of little characters and abilities like Francis Ellis, or Sir  Edward  Littleton, were around. Moreover, not everyone took their task with all seriousness and heeded to the policy guidelines of the Court of Directors in respect to making of the Factory. The Company wished that the Business in Bengal to be concentrated at one single Factory,  but  feared  “it would be rash to attempt fortifications on a large scale, lest their appearance might excite jealousy in the Government”.  On the other side, the intervention of the short-lived English East India Company, the style of Rotational Government, and occasional differences between the Company Directors at London and Council at Calcutta must have contributed to the staggered progress of Fort William. For instance, the  Directors  recommended  that  “the  fort  should be in the form of a pentagon for military  reasons; but the Council in Calcutta thought it  safer  to  adhere  to  a  rectangular  shape”. [2] The shape of the Fort was actually an irregular tetragon, made of bricks and mortar, called ‘Puckah’ a composition of brick-dust, lime, and molasses and cut hemp that turns into a hard material tougher than firm stone or brick.

Custom House Wharf – Coloured lithograph by Charles D’Oyly. Probable Date: c1818-21

The Fort took about seven years to complete its central pieces surrounded by curtain walls and bastions.  The earliest part of the Fort was the south-east bastion and the adjacent walls, followed by the north-east  bastion – both completed in 1701 by Governor Beard Jr.  Next year, in 1702, Beard  began  erecting the  Factory,  or  Government House, in the middle of the Fort, but completed it in 1706 under  the Rotational Government.  At last, in 1706, the  structure  was  completed,  and  was henceforward  generally  known  as  the  Factory  or  the  Governor’s House.   The  north-­west  and  south-west  bastions  were  put  together  hastily  at  the death  of  Aurangzeb  in  1707.   As we see, three more years passed by before Governor Weltden could start the western curtain that took another two years for him to complete in 1712. By December  10,  1712  ‘the  wharf  is  finished  but not  the  breast-work  on  it’.  The  strong  landing-stage  and  the crane  at  the  end  of  it,  which  should  work  at  all  times  of  the  tide, were nearly done. Little work was left to be done inside Fort. A broad walk  round  the  walls  to be constructed on one of the curtains.  The other thing to be reconstructed was the decaying Long  Row,  or  central range of lodgings, running along the east to the west curtain.  When all the works over in early 1716, the building of the Fort William was considered complete for all practical purposes.

 

APRAISAL

The subsequent additions to the fort were made for improving in-house logistics to serve the commercial interest of English traders, and not for strengthening their defense mechanisms. The warehouse was widened, but no efforts were made ever to dig a ditch around to keep enemies at bay.

Old Fort Ghaut – Coloured etching with aquatint by Thomas Daniell. 1787

The artillery was left utterly neglected. There were only 200 firelocks fit for service. In  1753  the  Court  sent  out  fifty-five  pieces  of  cannon, eighteen  and  twenty-four  pounders,  which  were  never mounted, and were lying uselessly near the walls of the fort  when  the  siege  began.  The  bastions  of  the  fort  were  small, the  curtains  only  three  feet  thick,  and  served  as  the  out ward  wall  of  a  range  of  chambers,  which  with  their  terraces,  were  on  all  sides  visible from  outside  within  hundred  yards;  and  there  was  neither  ditch  nor  even a  palisade  to  interrupt  the  approach  of  an  enemy.  None of  the  cannon  mounted  were  above  9  pounders,  most  were honeycombed,  their  carriages  decayed  and  the  ammunition did not exceed 600 charges.

Fort William with St Anne’s Church by Gerge Lambert. c.1730.

The most unwelcome thing among all wrongs is that the Fort disowned the responsibility of safeguarding the buildings, including the Church, that lay outside the Fort arena totally unguarded. It was not unjustifiable for the  Court  of  Directors  to criticize  the Fort in  1713  for  making  ‘a  very  pompous  show to  the  waterside  by  high  turrets  of  lofty  buildings,  but  having  no real strength or power of defence.’  The history proved the truth of it pretty soon. But even the staunch critics had to admire its august architectural beauty, particularly of the main façade at the west on river side.    Captain Alexander Hamilton, the 18th-century Sinbad, made some caustic comments while in Calcutta around 1709, but was of all praise for the Fort William.  He said, The  Governor’s  House  in  the  Fort is  the  best and  most  regular  piece  of architecture  that  I  ever  saw  in  India[7] Hamilton’s admiration was reflected on some brilliant canvases of contemporary European masters.  [See Curzon] We may also judge its veracity from the architectural plan of the Fort and the ruins of the foundations, unearthed  in  1891 at Curzon’s initiative. [4]

CONCLUSION

The old fort was erected by the East India Company in 1706 to keep their traders and goods safe. It stood for half a century as the hub of civil as well as military administration until Siraj gunned down the stronghold during the Battle of Lal Bagh. The Fort vanished in thin air leaving nothing behind to remind its imposing presence. The birth story of the city remains hidden under deceptive appearance of its new buildings, roads and parks all those reconstructed after the Company’s recapturing the city in 1757. Since then Calcutta underwent changes time and again to keep it relevant to the concurrent societies.  Today, we are at a loss to visualize how Calcutta looked in those pre-Plassey days, where the Fort situated, where were the government houses, the Court House, the Council House, the Rope Way, the Avenue, etc., etc. There are many more questions but few sure answers; it would have been fewer had we not the benefit of the research findings of Lord Curzon, who meticulously investigated the whereabouts of city resources in and around the fort prior to 1756.

 

REFERENCE

  1. Historical and ecclesiastical sketches of Bengal, from the earliest settlement, until the virtual conquest of that country by the English, written in 1711-1714/  Anon.    1816.
  2. Old Fort William in Bengal a selection of official documents dealing with its history. v.1 / By C. R. Wilson. 1906
  3. Original letters from India. 1780-82 / By Eliza Fay
  4. British government in India: The story of the Viceroys and government houses / By Marquess George Nathaniel Curzon of Kedleston [1925]
  5. The Early annals of the English in Bengal / By C. R. Wilson. [1963]
  6. The Good old days of Honorable John Company : being curious reminiscences illustrating manners and customs of the British in India during the rule of the East India Company from 1600 to 1883 / W. H. Carey. 1980-
  7. A New account of the East Indies, 17th-18th century / By Alexander Hamilton
  8. Early records of British India: a history of the English settlements in India, as told in the government records, the works of old travellers and other contemporary documents, from the earliest period down to the rise of British power in India / By Wheeler, James Talboys,. 1879

 

 

 

Barrackpore House & Its English Park: 1803-1912

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Barrackpore House, South view. Photo Samuel Bourne. 1865. Courtesy: BL

রাজভবন লাটবাগান

In sequence of the previously posted essay, ‘Barrackpore, a little Calcutta’, I am tempted to bring about the subject once again to share with you the fascinating details of the making of Barrackpore House and the Park as revealed in ‘The Story Of The Viceroys And Government Houses’ of Marquis Curzon of Kendleston. Curzon started his research during his Viceroyalty (1899-1905), continued with it, and finally readied his work for Cassell to publish in 1925 before he took rest in peace. A condensed and revised version was published in 1935 entitled, Story of Government houses by N V. H. Symons.

Although Curzon had a fond association with Government House at Calcutta as it was modelled after his ancestral manor Kendleston Hall, he took every care to follow faithfully the crazy path of history of the Barrackpore estate since Lord Wellesley started it all by himself.

bungalow-in-the-park-barrackpore_ed1

A Bunglow in the Park. Artist: James, Marianne Jane. 1828. Courtesy: BL

Barrackpore is complementary to Government House in the same way that Viceroy Lodge, Simla, is complementary to Viceroy’s House, New Delhi. The Governor General used to spend the whole of the year in Bengal, apart from tours, Barrackpore being his habitual summer residence. [Symons] As Stravornius had mentioned in 1768, Belvedere might have served as Barrackpore did after Wellesley [Cal. Rev, Dec.1852]. Even after 1864 the Viceroys and the Governors of Bengal used Barrackpore House as a country house for week-ends.

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A carriage approaching Barrackpore House. Artist: Daniell, William. c1810. Courtesy: BL

The English lady traveler, Monkland, to my mind, described best what Barrackpore was in early 19th century. [Monkland]. Barrackpore was then having ‘a quiet and retirement like air’ of countryside that combined with its military neatness and propriety making it ‘one of the sweetest places in India. ‘The bungalows in four lines stand each separated from the others, every one surrounded by its own corn-ground, flower-garden, and neat trimmed hedge; while the whole cantonment is at right angles intersected by well kept roads, smooth as bowling-greens, and has the river in front and the parade ground in the rear. Government-house, and its beautiful grounds, are merely separated from the cantonments by a piece of water from the river, over which there is a bridge; and the park, as a drive, is at all times open to the European inhabitants.’ [Symons]  Seemingly, nowhere else the Britons raised an exclusive white town as satisfyingly as they did it in Barrackpore. To the natives of the town, লাটবাগান (the Park) remained a prohibited place.

aviary-in-barrackpore-park_fiebie1851s

Lord Richard Colley Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley, Governor-General of India 1798-1805. Artist: Thomas Lawrence. c1813-30. Courtesy: Carey Univ. Serampore

Lord Wellesley was the first to find Barrackpore a great place for peaceful living; and it was he who desired to build government palace amidst an English park. On 31st December, 1800, Wellesley advised Sir Alured Clark, the Commander-in-Chief, that his official residence was intended to resume for the use of the Governor General, and the day after Wellesley appeared on the scene. He started to occupy the house almost at once. He was content with it for the next three years, though he immediately set about enlarging and improving the Parks. It was not till the beginning of 1804, he bethought of building a new palace at Barrackpore, as the present house was considered unsafe. On the site he erected a large bungalow for a provisional residence, and nearby he laid the foundation of a palace that involved an estimated cost of four lakhs of rupees. In July 1805, when its structure had come up to the ground storey level, Wellesley resigned and returned to England. The relationship between the Court of Directors and Lord Wellesley had never been too cordial. When Wellesley left the country, the Court peremptorily prohibited ‘the outlay of so large a sum on such an object’. There were, in fact, many ‘such’ projects Wellesley initiated that the Court of Directors found unjustifiable. Mysore and other campaigns apart, Wellesley’s enterprises in India were characterized both by wisdom and imagination. They were as a rule too expensive, particularly in a country like India prior to coming under the Crown administration. He was time and again cautioned for his extravagant monetary commitments for setting up Fort William College project, schemes for the encouragement of agriculture and horticulture and the study of the flora and fauna that led to the institution of the Gardens and Menagerie at Barrackpore. Being a conscientious and upright administrator, Wellesley remained untouched by any of such public scandals about his wasteful expenditure on pricey projects as reflected in Sir Charles D’Oyly’s anonymously published book of burlesque poem :

BARRACKPORE
…….

Wellesley first stampt it his. He was the boy
For mating ducks and drakes with public cash,
Planned a great house that time might not destroy:
Built the first floor, prepared bricks, beam and sash
And then retired, and left it in this dismal hash.

[*Tom Raw, the Griffin. 1824]

[*Tom Raw, the Griffin: a burlesque poem; descriptive of the adventures of a cadet in the East India Company’s service, from the period of his quitting England to his obtaining a staff situation]

By the order of the Court of Directors the construction work of Barrackpore House was suspended. The beams, doors, and windows, etc. were sold by auction. The shell of the house stood for some more years until Lord Hastings finally cleared the ground and put up a Green House there.

While constructing his dream palace, Wellesley stayed in a temporary accommodation he had made with three large bedrooms opening on to a wide verandah to the North-West. This bungalow happened to be the nucleus of the future Barrackpore House. The three rooms made up the central block of the new building. Sir George Barlow (1805-1807) erected small rooms at every corner of the southern verandah. Lord Hastings (1813-1823) added side wings, a Portico, and the upper Entrance Hall that was used later as a billiard room. These structural changes, however, ruined the prospect of its being a good summer residence. What needed was “a series of rooms which will catch the South breeze at night” – this condition was fulfilled by the original three-roomed house.

Government House Walk. Photographer: Bourne, Samuel. c1865

Government House Walk. Photographer: Bourne, Samuel. c1865


It was Hastings who shaped the house into its final form, and took interest in glorifying the building with appropriate decorations. The lovely lotus basin and the marble fountain installed in front of the South entrance, were two such decorative pieces he brought from Agra. By doubling the building area he also ensured a comfortable accommodation for the Governor and their family members and some guests as well. No other structural changes were attempted ever since, except for some minor modifications and additions of certain features. Lord Auckland (1835 – 1842) added the balcony on the Western side; Lord Lytton (1876-1880) replaced the unseemly iron staircase on the South front. Lord Ripon (1886-1884) installed a wooden porch In front. Lord Minto (1905-1910) equipped the building with electric light, laid the floor in the drawing room and redecorated the entire house.

The house has always been used as a place of relaxation and recreation. Within the house there have been balls and entertainments, and also services were being held at the large central drawing room before Barrackpore Church was established in 1847. Here, Bishop Heber preached in 1823. Carey, Marshman and Ward, often visited Barrackpore House as guests of the Governor General.

Barrackpore House was occupied by as many as twenty-four Governors-General of India Until its final abandonment as the residence of the Viceroy in 1912. Despite so much efforts made over a century for its betterment, the Barrackpore House emerged as ‘a shadow of the house there would have been had Wellesley started this project earlier and been able to see it through before he left India’.[Curzon] William Carey, who was a regular visitor to Barrackpore House, considered Barrackpore House had scarcely any claims to excellence, as a specimen of architecture. [Carey]
Stoqueller tipped off his readers of 1844 Guidebook that there was nothing remarkable about the Government House, but a plain one storied edifice with lofty rooms and very ordinary furniture. [Hand-book of India, a Guide / Stocqueller. 1844]

II

Barrackpore Park – Lake scene. Photographer: Samuel Bourne. Bar… Creator: Bourne, Samuel. 1860

‘Barrackpore Park was created by the taste and public spirit of Lord Wellesley’. [Carey] It was believed that he had a desire ‘to have brought all the public offices up from Calcutta and established them in the vicinity of the park’. From his day-one in Barrackpore, Wellesley started acquiring land for developing the Park. The whole park-area was nearly 350 acres, and the cost of the land acquisition amounted to £9,577. It was originally a flat land covered with swamps and jungle.

barrackpore-riverside-lipoo-tree_williamprinsep_1827

Lipoo Tree at Riverside, the natural landscape outside Park. Artist: William Prinsep. 1827

Wellesley converted this landscape into an English Park by engaging convict labour to do the task of draining, clearing and shaping the land into hillocks and dunes, and installing pieces of ornamental water. In the beginning there had been little or no distinction between the Park and the Garden. It was through a gradual process the Park turned out to be a public-access property. The Gardens grown within the Park remained private. There was, however, no borderline between the two, and the public roads ran through the Park and the Garden areas as well.barrackpore-park_plan-symons

A detailed plan of Barrackpore Park, reproduced here from Lord Curzon’s book, The story of the viceroys and government houses, helps us to understand the distribution of items described by him and other narrators. The Park looked best at the river-side. Barrackpore House stands nearest to the Nishan Ghaut – the platform for landing ships. Lady Canning (1856-1861) made a raised pathway leading from the house to the upper landing stage, and much later Lord Ronaldshay (1917-1922) made a bridge from there to the landing stage.

honeymoon-lodge-barrackpore-park_hawk_ed2

Honeymoon Bunglow. Photographer: Not known. c1878. Courtesy: BL

Some other old bungalows are found close by. Bungalows#1 and #2 were designated for the guests while the one at the Eastern side, the Military Secretary’s quarter, was better known as ‘Honeymoon Bungalow’ because of its being available on rent to newly married couples. On the North-West Beach stands the Flagstaff – a broken up mast enshrined in memory of the flagship HMS Kent, smashed in 1757. The bungalow next to it is called ‘Flagstaff Bungalow’.

Lord Wellesley had a good amount of time to devote for developing the Barrackpore Park before he finally resigned, leaving his other project, Barrackpore House, abandoned.

Rhinozeror [rhinoceros] tank Photographer: Fiebig, Frederick . 1851

Rhinozeror tank Photographer: Fiebig, Frederick . 1851 Courtesy: BL

He had completed many other constructions inside the Park, including a stable for 36 horses and standing for four carriages together with a coachman’s bungalow; he erected the balustrade bridge over the ‘Moti Jheel’ lake to the North of the House, an aviary for large birds, and also a menagerie in the North-East corner of the Park. The Menagerie existed there till the Zoological Gardens at Calcutta were opened by Edward VII as Prince of Wales in 1876, where most of its collections were transferred. Wellesley had constructed the high way from Calcutta as the first section of the Grand Trunk Road, and planted trees on either side before he handed over its charge to his successor, Lord Cornwallis. Wellesley might have also planted the mahogany trees on both side of the shady road known as ‘Mahogany Avenue’ as the cross-dating of tree-rings suggested.

Bear Garden. Photographer: Fiebig, Frederick. 1851

Bear Garden. Photographer: Fiebig, Frederick. 1851. Courtesy: BL

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Llama and its young at Barrackpore Park Chiriakhana. Details not known. Courtesy: Alamy

elephants-stable-at-barrackpore

Elephant Stable. Barrackpore Details not known. Courtesy: Alamy

barrackpore-park_giraff_fiebie1851

Giraffe at Barrackpore Park. Photographer: Frederick Fiebie. 1851. Courtesy: BL

On the other side of the Avenue, Lord Curzon grew a fine rosary with a large circular lawn surrounded by pergolas. Lord Minto construct¬ed a large stone basin and fountain, 40 feet in diameter and holding 23,000 gallons of water. Though intended for the rosary, the basin and the fountain were placed in front of the Seed House and often used as a bathing pool. There have been many more formal gardens in the Park designed and developed by the successors of Wellesley. Lord Auckland (1835-1842) had started an aviary near the Lily Tank, which is also called ‘Aviary Tank’ in reference to his lost aviary. The ‘Deer Tank’ ,situated in between the House and the ‘Temple of Fame’, was made by Lord Lytton (1922-1927) for the half-a-dozen deer he had brought from Barisal in an attempt to revive the charm of the old time Park. The name ‘Rhinoceros Tank’ brings back the memories of Lord Wellesley’s menagerie. Likewise, the word ‘bustee’ reminds us of his aviary once existed opposite Chiriakhana.

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Menagerie at Barrackpore. Artsit: Charles D’Oyly. 1848. Courtesy: BL

Moti Jheel, the long tank, near the ‘Temple of Fame’ stretched up to the Cantonment church, had been a prolific breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Lord Curzon arranged to drain and turf Moti Jheel, and Lord Minto filled it further along with other restoration works he undertook. Minto built the magnificent ‘Temple of Fame’ following Greek style – a tribute to the 24 officers who fell in the conquest of Java and Mauritius in 1810 and 1811.

Lady Canning (1856-1861) made some memorable contributions toward improvement of the Park facilities. She had built a road from the House to the new landing stage, which was converted into a leafy tunnel of bamboos by Lady Ripon in 1880. On the South of the house, she put the pillared balustrade round the semi-circular terrace and planted blue Morning Glory to grow over it and spread out over the giant Banyan tree. The tree was 85 feet high; and with nearly 400 aerial roots it covered an area of 60,000 square feet; It was smaller in circumspect but older than the Shipbur Ba-nyan tree. Lady Canning realized the possibilities of the great tree as an outdoor pavilion. banian-tree-in-barrackpore-park-_bourne1865ed1Under the shade the members of the House and their ho-nourable guests liked to spend whole day, enjoying the meals and refreshments served there, and perhaps watching games on the Tennis Court from distance. Beneath the shade of Banyan Tree many a viceregal *tiffin-party had assembled. There was also an excellent Golf Links much resorted to by Calcutta folk.

[ *The British in India referred to ‘tiffin’ as a light lunch and the Sunday tiffin was ‘an occasion for over-indulgence, with mulligatawny soup (always), curry and rice, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding washed down with a bottle of iced beer, and tapioca pudding’. – Food Culture in Colonial Asia: A taste of empire, by Cecilia Leong-Salobir. Routledge, 2011]

One of the most beautiful sites in the Park was the grave of Lady Canning, 500 yards down the river bank from the House. She died in Calcutta and, as her husband wished, buried in Barrackpore Park where she, a proficient painter, used to sit in the quiet. gothic-ruin-with-creepers-in-barrackpore-par_bourne1865edBishop Cotton consecrated the ground. Her sister, Lady Waterford, designed a monument for her grave – a large mar-ble platform ornamented with inlaid mosaic. The monument, for its proper up-keeping, was required to be shifted in 1873 to Calcutta Cathedral and from there to other places until the relic found its place at the North portico of St John’s Church.

To the North of the House, near Flagstaff there was a tall masonry tower, and some more were found along the road. According to Lord Curzon, those were semaphore stations for the Governor General’s use but abandoned after installation of the Telegraphic system in India. There are, however, some official records suggesting that the towers were built by Colonel Everest in 1830 for his Trigonometric Survey.

(c) British Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) British Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Apart from the things we discussed here, my previous post on Barrackpore have dealt with some issues of relevance highlighting the Englishness in the government estate of Barrackpore. “There is said to be nothing else in India or indeed in Asia to compare with the Park and its broad stretches of undulating grassland . . . much though his successors have owed to Wellesley for providing the, magnificent Government House in Calcutta, their debt for the peaceful English charm of Barrackpore is almost greater.” [Curzon]

To the West on the river-side there was a masonry chabutra on which the band used to play English tune flowing over the hillocks and dunes of the Park. To complete, the illusion of English scenery, Lord Wellesley, wished for a constant view of a Church spire. To fulfill that wish, Wellesley spent unhesitatingly a sum of Rs. 10,000 towards the building of the Danish Church at Serampore – a church adhering to non-Anglican creed.

A view of Serampore Artist: Fraser, James Baillie 1826

A view of Serampore Artist: Fraser, James Baillie 1826. Courtesy: BL

The chronicle of the Government estate at Barrackpore may serve as a unique case of colonial architectural experience of a century long endeavour by different masters with variant ability and outlook – the Governors General, Viceroys and Bengal Governors, whoever considered the place their temporary home, had attempted to make things changed their ways for improving conditions of living in Barrackpore House.

The Park is almost like a huge collage of English landscape composed collectively by talented men and women, in succession, adding patches of vibrant colours and forms of their choice, and most significantly, adhering to a thorough English style.

REFERENCE

Tom Raw, the Griffin; a Burlesque Poem, in Twelve Cantos: Illustrated by Twenty-Five Engravings, Descriptive of the Adventures of a Cadet In / Charles D’Oyly. 1828

The Hand-book of India: A Guide to the stranger and the traveller… / Joachim Hayward Stocqueler. 1845.

“Calcutta in the olden time – its localities” In: Calcutta Review; v. 18. Dec. 1852

The Good Old Days of Honorable John Company …v. 1/ William Carey. 1882

Life in India; or, the English at Calcutta / Anne Catharine Monkland; v.2. 1882.

British Government in India: The story of the viceroys and government houses /
George Nathaniel Curzon of Kedleston (Marques). 1925

Story of government houses/ N. V. H. Symons. 1935

Barrackpore : Story of a Little Calcutta

Governor General’s House & Park at Barrackpore. Water colour by Edward Hawk Locker. 1808. Courtesy: British Library

ব্যারাকপুর – কলকাতার অদূরে ‘ছোট কলকাতা’

Barrackpore, some 16 miles away from Calcutta, turned into a little Calcutta or Chhota Calcutta. This happened because of the mastermind of Marquis Wellesley, who moved to Barrackpore in 1801 and occupied the Commander-in-Chief’s residence – one of the two bungalows bought by the Government with 70 acres of land when the cantonment was founded in 1775. This is where Wellesley lived for about 3 years devoting his mind in enlarging and improving the surrounding park area. He landscaped the gardens in the ‘English Style’, added an aviary, a menagerie and a theatre. The rustic hamlet emerged as a fashionable abode of the Britishers for sojourning.

by Ozias Humphry, pencil, chalk and watercolour, 1783

Marquis Wellesley (1760-1842) by Ozias Humphry, 1783

Barrackpore had a long history that began much before the coming of Job Charnock, who had been in Barrackpore for a while, raised a bungalow, and gathered a little bazaar closed by. Here his beloved wife of native origin had died. The area was previously ruled over by a line of Zamindars based in Nona Chandanpukur, Barrackpore. In ‘Ain-e-Akbari’, Abul Fazal (1596–97)  referred to this place as Barbuckpur, and it was Chanak in `Manasa Vijay` written by Bipradas Pipilai (1495). Chanak and the other nearby towns were developed into chief marketing, trading and populous towns along the side of river Hooghly. The local name Achanak seems to be a localized version of Chanak.

Barrackpore, however, went into the British colonial history more significantly because of the two revolts. The first one was the 1824 insurgency led by Sepoy Binda Tiwary, and the second was the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 led by Mangal Pandey. With the exception of these two horrifying experiences of tumult and fury, Barrackpore have always been a calmly country seat for the white’s leisurely pursuits contrary to the demanding living condition of the up-and-coming city of Calcutta.
In pre-Plassey Calcutta, the servants of East India Company used to live in dark and damp lodgings in the Fort, and warehouses where the gates shut upon them at night. After Plassey, the growth of the garrison and the influx of European officers and troops from Madras worsened the lodging condition. New quarters came up along the Avenue, Pilgrim road, and Bow Bazar and, bypassing the native quarters of Dinga,  and Colinga, spread over the open ground of Chowringhee and Dharmatallah. [See The Social Condition of the British Community in Bengal: 1757-1800 By Suresh Chandra Ghosh. 1970] No wonder that the Europeans, gradually migrated from Tank Square – ‘the Belgravia of that day’ — and took up their abodes in Chowringhee ‘out of town’. [See ‘Calcutta in the olden time — its localities In Calcutta review. Sept.1852.]. Earlier James Atkinson in a verse, published in 1824, described the condition of Calcutta more pungently as ‘an anxious, forced existence’.   [ See City of Palaces, a poem by James Atkinson. 1824]

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Barrackpore Bridge, hand-coloured photograph by Frederick Fiebig. 1851. Courtesy British Library

The road from Calcutta to Barrackpore was opened to the public on the 26th July, 1805, perhaps the best road constructed so far. Miss Emma Robert,the English lady traveller, wrote after two decades, that the ‘drives and rides about the city are not very numerous, nor very extensive, excepting towards Barrackpore.’ [See Scenes and characteristics of Hindostan; with sketches of Anglo-Indian society; v.1 by Emma Roberts. 1835]

 

In 1830 the Barrackpore Bridge, commonly called, ‘Shyambazar Bridge’, was constructed connecting Barrackpore Road to Calcutta at its northern end. The 100 ft long and 30ft wide Bridge was built by the Canal Superintendent, James Prinsep at the cost of Rs 20,529. It was a beautiful bridge, as revealed in the hand-coloured photograph of the bridge and the road with running horses and carriages, taken by Frederick Fiebig in 1851.
J H Stocqueler while journeying through Brarackpur road looked out from his palanquin [ see Hand-book of India, guide to the stranger and the traveler, ..ed. by Joachim Hayward Stocqueler. 1844], to the pleasing view of an extensive avenue of trees skirted by villages, gardens, and rice-fields. Cox’s Bunglow, the site of a building then used as a stables for relays of horses, was on the right-hand side of the road, and there the first change of relay proceeds onward through Barrackpore Cantonment.

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Entrance to Barrackpore. Lithograph ( coloured ).Charles D’Oyly. 1848. Courtesy: British Library

Though a large station, Barrackpore presents an air of quiet and retirement like a country village; which joined to its military neatness and propriety, make it one of the sweetest places in India. The bungalows in four lines stand each separated firom the others, every one surrounded by its own corn-ground, flower-garden, and neat trimmed hedge; while the whole cantonment is at right angles intersected by well kept roads, smooth as bowling-greens, and has the river in front and the parade ground in the rear. Government-house, and it’s beautiful grounds, are merely separated from the cantonments by a piece of water from the river, over which there is a bridge; and the park, as a drive, is at all times open to the European inhabitants. [See Life in India: Or, The English at Calcutta; v.2 by Monkland. 1828]

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Maria Graham (b1785-d1842) (in later life, Maria, Lady Callcott) An Englsh travel writer. Portrait by Thamas Lawrence. 1819

How Barrackpore was in the first half of 19th century can be figured out more from the true-to-life excellent paintings and photographs than the textual documents handed down to us – mostly official transactions and records, and also letters and diaries of the travellers and residents, which provide human-side view, factual information apart. Unfortunately, not many travel-writers visited Barrackpore. The English lady, Maria Graham(later Lady Callcott) was an exception. In her book, Journal of a Residence in India, she left her lively and credible impressions of everything she saw there. Her account of Barrackpore commenced from Nov 20, 1810.

RIVER-SIDE

It was a delightful day she arrived by boat. The weather was so cool that ‘one really enjoys a river view walk’. Close to Calcutta, it is the busiest scene one can imagine; crowded with ships and boats of every form,—here a fine English East lndiaman, there a grab or a dow from Arabia, or a proa from the eastern islands. On one side the picturesque boats of the natives, with their floating huts; on the other the bolios and pleasure boats of the English, with their sides of green and gold, and silken streamers. Up the river, the scene became more quiet, but not less beautiful.

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Barrackpore Ghaut, A hand-coloured photograph by Frederick Fiebig. 1851. Courtesy British Library

The trees grow into the water, and half hide the pagodas and villages with which the banks of the river are covered on both sides. It was late when we arrived here, and some of the pagodas were already illuminated for a festival; fireworks, of which the natives are very fond, were playing on the shore, and here and there the red flame of the funeral fires under the dark trees threw a melancholy glare on the water. From the opposite river bank, The missionaries Serampore had enjoyed the same view of Barrackpore riverside. Carey’s biographer, George Smith reproduced William Carey’s memory of ‘The garden slopes down to the noble river, and commands the beautiful country seat of Barrackpore, which Lord Wellesley had just built’. [See Life of William Carey,  by Gerge Smith. 1909]

THE PARK

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Barrackpore Ghaut, A hand-coloured photograph by Frederick Fiebig. 1851. Courtesy British Library

Many of the Barrackpore goers maintained that it was not the Barrackpore House itself ‘but its accessories were the best features it can boast of’ – an aviary and a menagerie, a garden and a pleasant promenade, where the society of the station assemble, while one of the regimental bands plays upon the green sward, constitute the chief agremens of the place’. [See Hand-book of India, a Guide, ed by Stocqueller. 1844]

When Mrs Graham came to the Park of Barrackpore, the tamarind, acacia, and peepil trees, through whose branches the moon threw her flickering beams on the river, seemed to hang over our heads, and formed a strong contrast to the white buildings of Serampore, which shone on the opposite shore. We landed at the palace begun by the Marquis Wellesley, but discontinued by the frugality of the Indian Company; its unfinished arches shewed by the moon-light like an ancient ruin, and completed the beauty of the scenery. The area of the whole Park is nearly 350 acres and the cost was £9,577. Lord Wellesley started acquiring the land and making the Park.  In the North-East corner he established the menagerie that continued to exist till the Zoological Gardens at Calcutta opened in 1876.

 

MENAGERIE

Menagerie at Barrackpore

Menagerie at Barrackpore, Lithograph ( coloured ). Charles D’Oyly. 1848. Courtesy: British Library

“A little nulla, or rivulet supplies several fine tanks in the park, which embellish the scenery, and furnish food for a number of curious aquatic birds kept in the menagerie. The pelican, whose large pouch contains such an abundant supply of food, the produce of her fishing, for her young; the syrus, or sarasa, a species
of stork, whose body is of a delicate grey colour, and whose head, which he carries above five feet from the ground, is of a brilliant scarlet, shading off to the pure white of his long taper neck; and the flamingo, whose bill and wings are of the brightest rose-colour, while the rest of his plumage is white as snow,—are the most beautiful of those who seek their food in the water. Among their fellow-prisoners are the ostrich, whose black and white plumes attract the avarice of the hunter; the cassowary, whose stiff hard feathers appear like black hair; and the Java pigeon, of the size of a young turkey, shaped and coloured like a pigeon, with a fan-like crest, which glitters in the sun like the rainbow. [Graham]

the North-East corner of the Park known as Chiriakhana. The Governor General’s elephants used to be kept at Barrackpore. The place across the Grand Trunk Road to the North North-East of the Park was known for a long while as Hatikhana, although the last of the elephants was sold in Lord Elgin’s time. It was here in the Park that the poet-bishop first mounted an elephant — “the motion of which,” he confesses, “I thought far from disagreeable, though very different from that of a horse.” [See Thacker’s Guide to Calcutta ed. by Walter Kelly Firminger. 1906]

On Nov. 25, she wrote ‘The north winds are now so cold, that I find it necessary to wrap up in a shawl and fur tippet when 1 take my morning’s ride upon one of the governor-general’s elephants, from whose back I yesterday saw the Barrackpore hounds throw off in chase of a jackal’. “The quadrupeds in the menagerie are only two royal tigers, and two bears, one a very large animal, precisely like the bears of Europe; the other was brought here from Chittagong, where it is called the wild dog. His head is shaped like that of a dog, but bare and red about the muzzle; his paws are like those of the common bear, but his coat is short and smooth; he refuses to eat any kind of vegetable food, which the large bear prefers to flesh, and is altogether the most ferocious creature I ever saw. ”

GAITIES

On December 5, 1810, Graham was in great expectation of the festivity in Barrackpore. In three weeks, she mused, all the gay world will be asembled at Barrackpore, on account of the races, which are run close to the park-gate. This year there will be little sport, as the horses are indifferent, but I am told the scene will be very gay, “ with store of ladies, whose bright eyes rain influence”. Barrackpore had a tradition of public merriments to celebrate important events. Three years ago. On the 12th September 1807, Barrackpore celebrated  the anniversary of the battle of Delhi. A splendid entertainment was given in ‘the new Theatre at Barrackpore’ at which were present the Right Hon’ble Lord Minto, the Governor General, General St. Leger and Staff, the whole of the officers and ladies at the station, and a numerous party of visitors from Calcutta.  [See Life of William Carey, by Gerge Smith. 1909]

Lord Wellesley was not in favour of horse race. He stopped horse racing and all sorts of gambling as soon he arrived India; yet at the end of November 1809, there were three days’ races at a small distance from Calcutta. After a lull the Calcutta Races again commenced under the patronage of Lord Moira. Stocqueler tells us “there at Barrackpore a race-ground existed, but races have not taken place any more. The sports of the place are confined to an occasional steeple-chase, a run with the Calcutta hounds, and a few balls and public dinners.” [See Hand-book of India, a Guide, by Joachim Hayward Stocqueler. 1844]

cheetah-chasing-a-deer-with-huntsmen_doyly1802

A Cheeta Hun in Wellesley’s Park. Lithograph ( coloured ). Charles D’Oyly.1802. Courtesy: British Library

In the Park there was also an excellent golf links much resorted to by Calcutta folk. Closer to the house there was a vast banyan tree beneath whose shade many a viceregal tiffin-party had assembled.   Mrs Graham had some fascination for Indian custom s and traditions. On the first day she mentioned in her journal whatever she had seen on the river bank – the illuminated Hindu pagoda, festivity, fireworks, and the melancholy glare of the flame of funeral – all important elements of Hindu life in a flash.

The cultural difference between the European and Asiatic societies did not deject her spirit of inquiry and appreciation of the estranged tradition of India. She writes:   “The other day, in going through a small bazar near one of the park gates, 1 saw five ruinous temples to Maha Deo, and one in rather a better state to Kali. As 1 had never been in a pagoda dedicated to her by that name, I procured admittance for a rupee. Her figure is of brass, riding on a strange form that passes here for a lion, with a lotus in the place of a saddle. Her countenance is terrific; her four hands are armed with destructive weapons, and before her is a round stone sprinkled with red dust. The sacrificial utensils are mostly of brass; but I observed a ladle, two lamps, and a bell of silver; the handle of the bell was a figure of the goddess herself. The open temple in the square area of the pagoda has been very pleasant, but is now falling into ruin, as are the priests houses and every thing around.”

hindoo-pagodas-hunt1824

Hindoo Pagodas below Barrackpore on the Ganges. Geoge Hunt. 1824. Courtesy: British Library

As it shows, Graham was not unfamiliar with the Hindu themes of deities, and also her feelings on seeing the ruinous state of the temple. In a later note, however, she showed her deep concern, silently, about the desperate order of the native society, while recounting the horrid scene of dead bodies uncaringly floating in the river, vividly and dispassionately.

Bodies of the Dead

“The other night, in coming up the river, the first object I saw was a dead body, which had lain long enough in the water to be swollen, and to become buoyant. It floated past our boat, almost white, from being so long in the river, and surrounded by fish; and as we got to the landing-place, I saw two wild dogs tearing another body, from which one of them had just succeeded in separating a thigh-bone, with which he ran growling away. Now, though I am not very anxious as to the manner of disposing of my body, and have very little choice as to whether it is to be eaten by worms or by fishes, I cannot see, without disgust and horror, the dead indecently exposed, and torn and dragged about through streets and villages, by dogs and jackals. Yet such are the daily sights on the banks of the Hoogly. I wish I could say they were the worst; but when a man becomes infirm, or has any dangerous illness, if his relations have the slightest interest in his death, they take him to the banks of the river, set his feet in the water, and, stuffing his ears and mouth with mud, leave him to perish, which he seldom does without a hard struggle; and should the strength of his constitution enable him to survive, he becomes a pariah; he is no longer considered as belonging to his family or children, and can have no interest in his own fortune or goods. About thirty miles from Calcutta, there is a village under the protection of government, entirely peopled by these poor outcasts, the numbers of whom is incredible.

Earlier, Graham expressed her mind loudly and clearly– reacting to the unconditional submission of the Hindoos to the evils of caste system. She felt degraded seeing the half-clothed, half-fed people, covered with loathsome disease, without attempting ever to overstep the boundaries which confine them to it indelibly. “Perhaps there is something of pride in the pity”, she says, “I cannot help feeling for the Lower Hindoos, who seem so resigned to all that I call evils in life”. The story of this hapless lot stands in glaring contrast to the vibrant city life of Barrackpore.

The park-city of Barrackpore was designed and developed by the British and for the British. It was an English garden Lord Wellesley planned and laid there. An English theatre, ballroom,  race-ground, golf-link, a Hotel Charnock  came in place for their entertainment. There was something in the scenery of this place that reminds Maria Graham of the beauty of the banks of the Thames; ‘the same verdure, the same rich foliage, the same majestic body of water’.

The local inhabitants were, however, never allowed to enter park-area except for work. Graham met few of them while moving around, and had glimpses of their repulsive way of life. Graham never tried to pass a judgement, nor any advice either. She questioned about the root of their malady – ‘how they came into the state, and what could amend it’. The spontaneous reply she received was: “It is the custom —   it belongs to their caste to bear this”. At the end of the century, Swamy Vivekanada found the key to her final question what unfortunately remains ignored ever since.

 

Writers’ Buildings, Tank Square, Calcutta, 1780

Writers'-Buildings1885

রাইটার্স বিল্ডিং, ট্যাঙ্ক স্কোয়ার, কলকাতা, ১৭৮০
The most imposing colonial public building in the city of Calcutta, the Writers’ Buildings, has a telling history of over three century long of its makeover. The initial plan was designed by Thomas Lyon, a self-styled builder, in 1777 for a brick-made edifice on the northern side of the Tank Square, facing the Avenue to the Eastward, also called the Great Bunglow Road’ [See Wilson]. It was then one of the most fashionable of streets in the settlement – ‘the Chowringhee of the day’ [See Minney].

WritersBuildings_Danniel_1786

Writers’ Buildings, 1786 Daniell, Thomas (1749-1840). Aquatint with etching.

Before the present building came up, the ‘writers’, or the freshly recruited civilians, of the East India Company had their shelters in mud shanties within the old Fort William campus until the disastrous storm of June 25, 1695 razed the hutment to the ground. Subsequently, a block of buildings, known as the Long Row, consisting damp unhealthy lodgings of the young gentlemen in the Company’s service, was erected within old fort. These were the Writers’ Buildings of the first half of the eighteenth century that stood where the G.P.O / Fairly Place located now, and grounded by Siraj-ud-Daula’s guns during the Battle of Lal Dighi in 1756. [See Wilson]

Lord Wellesley, when Governor-General, required all the young civilians or writers freshly arrived to undergo a one year study of oriental languages at the College of Fort William under moonshees and pundits. Wellesley found the buildings Burwell had constructed in 1780 good enough to ensure the comfort of the young civilians at Calcutta. The Fort William College was located in its establishment in 1800 in these houses, which were occupied later by ‘The Exchange’ and the ‘Hurkuru office’. The two buildings were connected by a gallery that ran across the street. [See Carey].

-daniell

Writers’ Buildings, 1798 Daniell, Thomas (1749-1840) Aquatint, coloured

This new Writers’ Buildings also had gone through several extensions over the years. It was initially two-storied. When one more floor added, the building became the first three-storied building in Calcutta. It was a need-based, utilitarian structure with fifty-seven sets of identical windows, a flat roof, and a central projection of ionic columns. The 150 meter long Writers’ Building covers the entire northern stretch of the water body of Tank Square, or Dalhousie Square as called later. It was the site of the demolished St Anne’s Church and the adjoining plot were granted to Thomas Lyon for construction of the Writers’ Buildings. Lyon was acting on behalf of the landowner, Richard Barwell, a member of the Council, and a friend of Warren Hastings. Barwell’s children handed the building over to a trustee board, which in turn was again leased to the East India Company.

writers'Buildings_Frase1826

Writers’ Buildings, 1826 Fraser, James Baillie (1783 – 1856) Medium: Aquatint, coloured

The building, being originally constructed as ‘a monument of commercial prosperity’, used to be occupied by shops and all sorts of people, merchants, private residents, etc. etc. Some of the rooms on the ground floor were let out as godowns. The Britons started to utilize Writers’ Building for private affairs and for merry-making and enjoyment. Hence the Company started out to enforce several limitations upon them, which as a consequent outcome, made the house vacant. Writers’ Buildings apart there were other houses in the vicinity leased out to the Company by Lyon.

The Writers’ Buildings, before Government took it over, was ‘a plain white stuccoed building utterly devoid of any pretensions to architectural beauty’ Massey continued, “I lived there myself for some months on my first arrival in Calcutta, and very pleasant and airy quarters I found them. I recollect in the early morning quite a number of small green paroquets used to fly all about the place, and their incessant chatter and calls to each other made it very bright and cheery.”

When the Bengal Government acquired the property they erected an entirely new facade of a totally different design from the original, built the present long range of verandahs and Council chamber which they completed in 1881-1882. [See Massey]

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Writer’ Buildings, 1851. Fiebig, Frederick Photographic print

Carey told the same story in his memoir. The Writers’ Buildings, which had up to the year 1821 been remarkable by its nakedness of their appearance, were now ornamented with three pediments in front, supported on colonnades, which formed handsome veranda s, The centre one adorned the front of four suits of apartments appropriated to the use of the college. The lower floor contained the lecture rooms. And the second was fitted up for the reception of the college library, which occupied four rooms, each 30 by 20 feet. On the upper floor there was a large Hall, 68 feet by 30 feet intended for the examination room. Each of the pediments at the extremities of the building fronted two suits of apartments for the accommodation of the secretary and one of the professors. The intermediate buildings, eleven in number, were for the accommodation of twenty-two students.

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Writers’ Buildings, 1878 Photographer: Unknown Photographic print

The Bengal Chronicle of 4th November, 1826 states, that the College of Fort William was to be done away with, and that the Writers Buildings were to be converted into public offices. The College was abolished in 1828, and a saving of Rs. 1,70,000 per annum was thus effected. The young civilians were henceforth sent at once to their appointed stations, where moonshees were provided for instructing them in the native languages. [See Carey]

In 1836, Lord William Bentinck banned the haphazard use of the building for classified issues. It took, however, about half a century more to define the character of the Writers’ Buildings in terms of power and politics. Within the period of 1877 to 1882, Lt. Governor Ashley Eden installed the keystone of the Government Department at this place.

The Bengal Secretariat led a nomadic existence for years together. Evan traces the movement of the Secretariat from 1854 when it was set up 1, Council House Street. Two years later it had been transferred to Somerset Buildings, at the cornerer of Hastings Street and Strand Road. During the seventies it occupied two houses, one in Chowringhee on the site of the present School of Art, and the other in Sudder Street. It was not until 1880 that a permanent home was found in Writers’ Buildings. [See Cotton]

Writers_Buildings-unknown
View of Writers’ Buildings on busy road captured by photographer Theodore Julius Hoffmann (c.1855-1921) in late 19th century and surely not after 1892 when horse-driven tram car service discontinued.

Outram Institute, Dum Dum, Calcutta, c1860

Outram Institute In DUM DUM, Calcutta Sc1890s
উট্রাম ইন্সটিট্যুট, দম দম, কলকাতা, c১৮৬০

Sir James Outram (1803-1863) at 17 started his long career as a soldier and political officer in India, and in the 1st Afghan War (1839–1842) and Sind (1842–1843) as well. In 1854 he was appointed Resident at Lucknow, and carried out the annexation of Oudh on behalf of the East India Company, and against the wishes of its inhabitants. He is best known for his role during the relief and capture of Lucknow.
Outram was a brilliant soldier and a shrewd diplomat. He brought about many triumphs in military operations serving the undeviating interests of the British.

JamesOutram4x4

Lt. General James Outram

In recognition of his extraordinary services, ‘Her Majesty had been pleased to confer the dignity of baronetcy on Sir James Outram.’ He was also presented with the freedom of the City of London, and a sword of the value of a 100 guineas. On the eve of Outram’s last journey home, the Friend of India fervently broadcasted, “To-morrow the Indian army will loss its brightest ornament, and every soldier in India his best friend.” See Bayard of India/ Trotter, The overzealous pronouncement by the English press, however, was found true only for the Britons in Indian army, and not for the soldiers of Indian origin who were most unlikely to share any soft sentiments toward General Outram because of historical reasons.

Outram was known to be a kind-hearted, generous man of ability and power. There is, however, little evidence of any gracious act he ever did that benefitted the people of India during four decades of his stay. Perhaps it was his other traits of character that had made him ignore the interests of the natives of India. Outram, as we understand from his biographers, was a sort of fixed-minded man. ‘An idea too often got complete command of him, and it was then difficult for him to see the other side of a question.’ This could be the reason why Outram had failed to see the other side of Sepoy Mutiny with due compassion and respect.

Outram_statue_unveiling

Unveiling of Statue of Outram on Horseback. 1874

The East India Company and the British Government were not too comfortable during the aftermath of Annexation of Oudh, and made every attempt to enthuse awe in minds of the locals by glorifying the heroic deeds of General Outram. In India and other colonial cities, they erected monuments and statues, dedicated streets and localities in memory of Outram. The statue of Outram on horseback set in Calcutta Maidan was one the finest sculptural specimens modeled by John Foley in 1874. The statue inspired Barbara Groseclose, the art historian, to remark that ‘doubts and anxieties, as well as assumptions about their own place in Indian life, bear strongly on the roles and achievements for which the British sought or received commemoration ..’

Duties apart, there is one thing Outram did for his own contentment. It was a kind of library facility that he designed to serve the needs of the British troops. He expended about £1,000 to provide readable books, newspapers, and games for the use of those who had shared his Oudh campaigns. The 5th, 64th, 75th, 78th, 84th, 90th, and 1st Madras Fusiliers received regularly, some of them for two years, a dozen or more of daily and weekly journals. And when he left Calcutta he made over the suitable books of his own library, about 500, to the Soldiers’ Library at Fort William. As we understand from Evan Cotton, this soldiers’ institute and garrison school continued to function in his time at the ‘Governor House’ once built for the Governor General in 1802, adjacent to St Peter Church within Fort compound. A more permanent record of Outram’s personal interest was the Soldiers’ Institute at Dum Dum, which he established and equipped with the greater part of the amount of Re 10000/ he received as a parting gift from the British community in Calcutta. This happened to be one of the earliest institution of its kind, with the objectives to counteract the temptations to which he was distressed to find the men at that station particularly exposed. The Institute was enthusiastically opened soon after his departure on July 16, 1860, and named Outram Institute after him. The Institute ultimately reunited with the Fort William soldiers’ library where Outram had initialed his project.
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Besides the Outram Institute at Dum Dum, and the statue of Outram in Maidan, the British Government took initiative to commemorate him by founding Outram Ghat – an important port on Hooghly in the 19th century, that became later a popular joint for playing billiard or enjoying tea at tables on its deck. There also exists in Calcutta a street named after Outram.

The memory of Outram has been virtually lost with the removal of his statue from Maidan, and there has been no Outram Institute at Dum Dum any more to mark his singular humanitarian effort. A faceless street and an idle ferry ghat can do little for reviving the image of the British hero. His image may be dead or alive in public memory, the relevance of Outram, however, remains undeniably historic. It was none but General Outram who dictated the way Nawab of Oudh was deported to Calcutta accompanied by his fleets of attendants, companions, and entertainers. They all settled with their master in Metiaburz and spread their arts and crafts all around. Calcutta must not forget that if there were no Outram, Calcutta would have been deprived of the cultural enrichment gained through her chance interactions with the Awadhi Society.

The image featured at the top: Outram Institute, Calcutta. Albumen silver print of photograph taken by Captain R B Hill. Note: The date of the photograph should be sometime after 1860, and not 1850 as generally presumed. Because the photographer Captain R B Hill did join Bengal Army cadet only in 1855, and the Institute came into being after  departure of Sir Outram in 1860.  Courtesy: Metropolitan Museum, Gilman collection.

The Portrait of Sir James Outram, oil on canvas by Unknown Painter.
Coutesy: National Army Museum, UK

Revised: 13 May 2015

Old Calcutta Mints, Calcutta, 1757 –

calcutta minxt
পুর্বাতন কলকাতা ট্যাঁকশাল, কলকাতা, ১৭৫৭ –

Before 1757 the East India Company had no right to its own mint. Therefore to obtain current coin it had to send its silver and gold to the Murshidabad Mint and pay the standard duties and charges. This was not a favourable arrangement for the Company as these often caused delays in obtaining needed coin, and more importantly, the situation allowed the Seths at Murshibad to take business advantages over the Company’s deal with Murshidabad mint. Robert Clive after recapturing Calcutta and overpowering Nawab of Bengal made the stipulations in the subsequent treaty between the East India Company and the Nawab that the Company to have its own mint where gold and silver coins struck on the standard of the Murshidabad mint could be made.

The First Mint
Holwel's Monument - Calcutta (Kolkata) c1910The first East India Company’s mint was located in a building next to the Black Hole in the old fort – where the General Post Office stands today. The above photograph of Holwell Monument shows a rare view of an unidentified building standing near about the indicated spot at the opposite side of the then Writers’ Buildings. (No details of the photograph. Source: Recoolections of Calcutta … by Montegue Massey, 1919) The Calcutta mint made changes to the mint’s name struck on its coins. Its first issues, from April 1757, bore the mint name A’linagar Kalkatta; then from July simply Kalkutta. However, once the East India Company were appointed Diwan of Bengal in 1765 their mint at Calcutta began to use the name of the capital, Murshidabad, making its coins identical in every way to those from Murshidabad itself. Confusion in identifying the mint for a particular coin remains until 1777 when the mint at Murshidabad was closed and for a time the Calcutta mint was the only mint in operation.

The Second Mint
The second Calcutta Mint was established with the modern machinery brought in 1790 from England. The second Mint was located at the Bankshall, opposite to the western entrance of St John’s Church. It was on the site of Gillet Ship building Establishment, one of the docks from which several good ships were launched. The Governor General arranged for two Bengal Army engineers, Lieutenants Golding and Humphries, to superintend the construction of the machinery for the Calcutta mint and other mints to be established. New minting machinery, still based on the hand operated screw principle, was developed locally. Some years later, when the Calcutta Mint was removed from the Gillet’s dockyard, in 1829, to the New Mint, which had been built on the Strand, the Old Mint passed into the hands of Messrs. Moran & Co., indigo brokers. Long years afterwards, when this firm relocated to Mango Lane, they carried with them the well-known designation of The Old Mint Mart, to become a puzzle to later students of local topography. See Blechynden

The Third Mint
In March 1824 the third Calcutta Mint, better known today as Old Silver Mint, was founded, ready with over 300 tons of equipment freshly arrived from England in October 1823. The mint was to be built on a piece of water-logged land owned by the East India Company near a quay on the Hooghly. The new silver rupee that was being struck at the new mint in 1830 to go into circulation in January 1831.. The imposing frontage of the building of the third Mint was based on a design oMint, Burduan Raja's Bazar -Prinsep-2f Parthenon, the Greek Temple, stood on the Strand Road just beyond the highest spot of ground in Calcutta, the point where Cotton Street meets Clive Street. It is revealed from the William Prinsep’s scribbles on the pen & pencil image he drawn in c.1832, that the mint location was actually Burdwan Raja’s Bazar as the place was then called. The mint was opened for production from 1 August 1829.
In 1860 a new set of mint buildings was begun in the north of the Calcutta Mint grounds. It was known as the Copper Mint and began operation in April 1865. However demand for copper coin was not sufficient at that time to require a separate minting facility so it was moth-balled from 1866 until 1878. From 1889 until 1923 the Calcutta Copper Mint provided all copper and bronze coins for India. The coinage production capacity then was varying between 3,00,000 to 6,00,000 pieces per day. The silver and copper mints both used to function and produce coins of bronze, silver and gold.
CalcuttaMintWorkers The oil on panel painting by Arthur William Devis dated c.1792 describes assayer at work in the Calcutta Mint. Courtesy: The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology. Between 1916 and 1918 on account of World War I, the Calcutta mint was employed producing bronze penny and ½ penny coins for Australia; prior to that these denominations had been struck in Britain. At the end of the war the master tools from Calcutta were sent to the Melbourne Branch of the Royal Mint where they were used to produce the first bronze coin struck in Australia in 1919. Apart from minting of coins another important function of the Kolkata Mint was the manufacturing of medals and decorations during the British regime. The production of medals continues to this day.

After the Government of India Mint at Alipore was opened on 19 March 1952, the building of the Old Silver Mint fell into disrepair and neglect. There are currently plans to restore the building and open it as a museum.

Find more historical data and illustrations of Murshidabad and Calcutta coinage here.

The view of the Calcutta Silver Mint featured at the top was painted in watercolour by Thomas Prinsep in 1829. Courtesy: Caroline Simpson Collection

Old Customs House, Tank Square, Calcutta, c1758


হলওয়েল সাহেবের বাড়ি, কলকাতা কাস্টমসের আদি কার্যালয়। ট্যাঙ্ক স্কোয়ার, কলকাতা,  c১৭৫৮
Sir Richard Bacher, after being appointed on 3rd March, 1758, as the Sea and Land Customs Master, felt the need for an office in some convenient place. It was the site where Mr.John Zephaniah Holwell’s house adjacent to the old ditch stood that Sir Bacher identified for his purpose. Mr. Holwell sold his property to the Company for Rs.9,500/-, for using as Custom House. Thus, the Custom House initially functioned from Holwell’s house in Calcutta. The godowns and warehouses adjacent were also being used for storage of goods brought through riverine route. Holwell’s house being an old construction was found as not suitable for the functioning of the Custom House. Owing to incessant rains in the monsoon, the old construction gave way to seepage and leakage at many points. The building was, therefore, sold off for Rs.8,051/- only in 1760. The Custom House thereafter temporarily functioned from a dwelling house till it was decided on the 8th September, 1766, that the apartments occupied by the Fort Major in the old Fort would stand appropriated for use of the Custom House Master.Custom House Wharf
Evacuation of all militaries from the Fort area was completed in the beginning of 1767 with a view to converting the Fort premises into a Custom House. A number of warehouses and other buildings were erected inside the old Fort. From 1770, the old Fort steadily dipped into the Hooghly river. The Custom House at the extreme southern side of the old Fort disappeared in due course into the river. The southern side of the old Fort with a long narrow furrow on the ground was connected with a canal by which the boats could enter into the Custom House and the ships could be repaired without having the need for going all the way to Bombay.
The painting describing Custom House Wharf by Artist/Maker, D’Oyly. Courtesy: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. See

 

East Indian Railway, Fairlie Place, Calcutta, c1925

EastIndianRailways,FairlyPlaceOLD
পূর্ব ভারতীয় রেল কোম্পানি, ফেয়া্রলি প্লেস, কলকাতা, ১৯২৫
Prince Dwarkanath Tagore, a rich businessman in the 40s of 19th. Century, owned quite a number of collieries in Raniganj and Rajmahal area. Dwarkanath visited England in January 1842 when he had a ride on a train. He could visualize railways role in facilitating faster movement of goods and passenger.
Back from England in January 1843, he formed a company called “Great Western Bengal Railway Company” with the aim of transporting coal from his Raniganj colliery, and thereby the seed of railway was sown in Bengal. In the mean time Mr. McDonald Stephenson had already floated shares for East India Railway Company incorporated in England. Dwarkanath wanted a railway line to his collieries and proposed to raise one third of the capital for this portion of the line.  When Dwarkanath revisited England in 1845 to negotiate with the Company bosses, he faced bitter opposition and the Company disagreed to permit a company under “native management” to construct such an important railway line. Dwarkanath came back to India with a broken heart and died on 1st August 1845. Immediately after his death the Carr Tagore and Company went into liquidation. Dwarkanath had already spent a large sum on his railway project. After his death the “East Indian Railway Company” and Dwarkanth’s ” Great Western Bengal Railway Company” merged into one and in January 1847. The new Company was named ” East Indian Railway” or “E.I.R.” as popularly known afterwards. Dwarkanth’s dream of connecting Raniganj to Howrah by rail came true after 10 years of his death in 1855. In May,1855, the East Indian Railway Co. was founded. The managing director of this company Mr. R. McDonald Stephenson,  the founder of the East Indian railway.
The present building Eastern Railway Head Office at Fairlie place was not so big and was having a different look. The picture here shows after being taken over by E.I.R. in 1879,the building was remodeled The exact date of the picture is not available probably some time in 1925. The history of the building says it was initially this place where the old Fort William was situated just by the side of the Hooghly. and Siraj-ud-ulla conquered this Fort and many English “fighters” were killed in the war. Prior to being occupied by E.I.R. this building housed Indian National Museum, Calcutta temporarily for about two years. Photo courtesy- CWM-Liluah See