ANTOINE DE L’ETANG : THE OTHER CHIVALROUS ADVENTURIST

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BACKDROP

Antoine De L’Etang (1757-1840) is the other chivalrous adventurist, who was like Julius Soubise  (1745-1798) [Puronokolkata], deported to India in the late eighteenth century for outrageous romancing. His last-name appears in many styles in literature, such as ‘de l’Etang’, ‘De L’Etang’ and ‘Deletang’ that he used in his books. About his early life we know nothing much for sure excepting that he was born on the 20th July of 1757 in Versailles to a former cavalry captain Antoine and Jeane Barbier [France], a year after the first Treaty of Versailles was signed. The Treaty, which was a diplomatic agreement between France and Austria, needed a redo by arranging a holy marriage between the two royal houses. The 15-year-old Princess Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna, by proxy, got married on 19 April 1770 to Louis-Auguste, the eldest grandson and the heir of the French monarch Louis XV. Next month, Marie met her husband for the first time in the official wedding ceremony held at the Palace of Versailles on 16 May 1770. Her conjugal life though was never so happy as they admittedly had no common interests to bring them together. The couple would not consummate their marriage until seven years later, which became a popular matter of discussion and ridicule both at court and among the public. [Covington ]

Marie charmed many of her contemporaries in her court life of extravagance. Around 1778, a rumour spread out that Marie was having an affair with her close companion Hans Axel von Fersen (1755-1810), a Swedish count, and questions arose regarding the paternity of Marie’s children. To avoid causing a scandal von Fersen left for the war in America in the early part of 1780. [Jehaes]

DE L’ETANG IN VERSAILLES

In the Palace of Versailles, where his father was said to be in service, Antoine De L’Etang, had his first employment in 1770 as a Page of Honour to Marie, the would-be-queen, on her arrival to the Palace. De L’Etang, then a boy of 13, and Marie, 2 years older, fell in love with each other. This story of young love, though not improbable needs to be verified before we accept it seriously like the case of von Fersen whose affairs were recorded in historical context. [Chateau] After four years, De L’Etang got promoted in 1774 to a Bodyguard of the King’s Guard du Corps in the company of Jean de Noailles (1739-1824), and Superintendent of the Royal Stud Farm. ‘He was a magnificent horseman, tall and handsome, with a courtier’s polished manners. [Dalrymple]

Marie Antoinette in muslin. Artist:Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun. Source: Commons

We have no evidence, however, either against or for, in support of the repeatedly told episode that it was because L’Etang was openly devoted to his Royal mistress, and his conduct was such that gossip reached the ears of King Louis XVI, and prompted him to issue a sudden order to have the young Chevalier sent out to India in 1784 for good. [Cotton ]

DE L’ETANG IN PONDICHERRY

Antoine de l’Etang was sent to the Governor of Madras in 1784 with a sealed letter recommending for his placement in Indian territory and prohibiting him to go out of India ever. L’Etang joined the French infantry to serve against the British East India Company. According to Cotton, it was L’Etang who on his own had left Versailles to escape a lettre de cachet [Britannica] going to be signed by the King and countersigned by a secretary of state to authorize his imprisonment [Cotton]. In such a case, it would have been a very high-risk for l’Etang to keep his identity undisclosed once enrolled in the out-stationed French regiment in Pondicherry. His first assignment was in the post of a Sergeant of sepahis and an adjutant to his senior officer, and that was a catastrophic fall from the alleged post of Superintendent of the Royal Stud at Versailles. The acceptance of such a humble position for the Chevalier might support the view that it was him who had escaped to India incognito without any official letter in hand. It was the time when his troops one day “suddenly came upon a Colonel Maxwell (b.17–; d.1803) of the English East India Company reconnoitring with a single sepoy (sepahi) in attendance. The Chevalier could easily have captured him, but fearing what the fanatical and so-called ‘democratic’ mob in Pondicherry might do to an English prisoner, he chivalrously distracted the attention of his men and allowed Colonel Maxwell to escape..” [Dalrymple] Spooner who neatly compiled conflicting biographical data of the Chevalier from family sources followed blindly Sir Weldon Dalrymple having had ‘no reason not to believe Sir Weldon’s story, he was highly respected in his field’ [Spooner]. Most likely, Colonel Maxwell (17– -1803) had been in Pondicherry before shifting his HQ to Cauverpatam in 1790 to join the third Mysore War commanding the Centre Army against Tipoo Sultan.[Vibart]

Chevalier Ambrose-Pierre Antoine De L’Etang (1757-1840). Source: Geni
Therese Josephe (Blin De Grincourt)De L’Etang (1768-1866). Source: MyHeritage

The head of the family, M. Vinditien Guillain Marie Blin de Grincourt was born in Arras, France around 1740s, and probably the first generation to make a home in Pondicherry outside the homeland. Blin de Grincourt married a local beauty Marie Madeleine Cornet on 28 July 1766. Marie Madeleine, born 15 March 1747 in Pondicherry, arguably had an oriental streak being a great-granddaughter of a Hindu convert, Marie Monique, from Bengal who had married Brunet Claude- a French on 7 February 1703. It was relatively a recent idea that ‘if proselytization of Christianity in India were to be successful, it had to target caste, class and gender.’ [Dutta] Therefore for a Bengali high cast Hindu lady to be converted before 1703, long before the establishment of Serampore Mission, is unimaginable. In the late 17th century the place Nagori (Dacca-Bhawal region) where a massive conversion took place under Dom Antonio, the zamindar of Bhushana, might be, however, the home of the Maria Monique as it appears outwardly.

Therese Josephe Blin de Grincourt was born in 1768 to Marie Madeleine and Blin de Grincourt. Chevalier de l’Etang begged Monsieur Blin de Grincourt for his daughter’s hand. Theresa was married to him on 1 March 1788 in Pondicherry. She and the Chevalier raised a family of two sons: Ambroise and Eugene, both died unmarried, and three daughters: Julia Adeline Antoinette, Adeline Marie, and Virginie. While Pondicherry was the hometown of the family, they might sometimes stay in other places like Bombay and Madras as well.

Pondicherry was under siege in August-October 1793. The victorious British had captured all the French guards. Colonel Maxwell spotted I’Etang among them. In remembrance of his generous help, the Colonel sent him with a letter of recommendation to the Governor of Madras. “Released on his parole in Madras, De L’Etang with many other French officers was hospitably received among the English residents there. It was an opportune time for him to publish his first book in India entitled “The Practice of Farriery: Calculated for the East Indies, collected from the best authors, and founded upon experiments made during a residence of ten years in this country.” De L’Etang himself printed the book and dedicated it to Major General Floyd, Lieutenant Colonel of the Majesty’s Nineteenth Regiment of Dragoons, dated Pondicherry, 16 April 1795. We learnt that before leaving the place finally, De L’Etang ‘was able to dispose of the whole edition among his English friends’ [Blechynden]. L’Etang, now freed, set to leave for Calcutta with his wife and children: Julia, Ambroise, and the new-born Maria, leaving behind Pondicherry and his long association with the Royal Service of France.

DE L’ETANG IN CALCUTTA

Antoine De L’Etang must have been already disturbed seeing France at its historic turning point amid rebellious upsurge: abolition of the monarchy, the assassination of Louise XVI and thenceforth of Queen Antoinette. The Siege of Pondicherry made him desperate to find for himself a new way of life outside the French sphere of influence. Private entrepreneurship or employment under the British East India Company were the two possible choices remained for him. Calcutta provided both the opportunities in course of time.

De L’Etang met Chevalier Julius Soubise. Soubise was, since a decade in Calcutta, struggling to overcome a series of setbacks in his ventures for which his follies and some bad lucks were mostly responsible. Soubise and his family have now moved in Dhurrumtollah from Cossitollah neighbourhood living close to his new establishment, the Calcutta Repository, built in early 1795.

Calcutta Repository. Founded in Feb. 1795 by Julius Soubise. Etching. Artist unknown. Printer: Pichon. Courtesy: BL

THE CALCUTTA REPOSITORY

On 19 February 1795, the Calcutta Gazette published an elaborate announcement of launching the Calcutta Repository with its complete business profile, including its services, facilities, and t&c. Very likely, the news report was penned and sponsored by Soubise himself.

“As every convenience that could be devised has been adopted to render them complete, he flatters himself they are, without exception, the best stables of any in India; and as Mr Soubise’s professional knowledge and long residence in the country enable him to pay every attention to that noble animal, the horse, he hopes to obtain a share of that liberal patronage which has so often distinguished this Settlement. The Repository, which is now open for the reception of horses, is situated to the north of, and nearly behind Sherburne’s Bazaar [where Chandni Market now located], leading from the Cossitollah down Emambarry Lane, and from the Dhurumtollah by the lane to the west of Sherburne’s Bazaar.

With a view to the further convenience of the Settlement, Mr Soubise has erected one [range?] of stables, nine feet wide, for the accommodation of breeding mares, or horse who have colts at their side. There are likewise carriage houses, with gates, locks and keys to each, which render them very complete. The terms of the Repository are made as reasonable as possible and are twenty-three Sicca Rupees per month, in which is included every expense (medicines excepted) for standing, syce, grass-cutter, feeding, and shoeing, and for standing at Livery only at five Rupees per stall. Further particulars may be known on application to Mr Soubise at his dwelling house, near the Repository, or at the menage.”

It may be noted here that the location of the Calcutta Repository as described meticulously in the above advertisement completely opposed the locational details given by Miss Blechynden who maintained that “This building stood at the Chowringhee end of Park Street, on the site which was later occupied by the Asiatic Society’s house” [Blechynden] Roberdeau on the other hand, found the correct location, nos. 182 and 183 Dhurrumtollah Street later occupied by Cook’s livery stables, but mistakenly thought that ‘It was originally an enterprise of Chevalier Antoine de L’Etang (1757-1840) who came to Calcutta in 1796’ disregarding the fact the building was inaugurated in February 1795 much before l’Etang’s appearance on the scene.

When in 1795 Soubise introduced De L’Etang to Blechynden, he was not too pleased to notice his inclination to grab opportunities flouting moral justifications.  “Soubise’s new partner did not hesitate to have him imprisoned for his debts, Blechyndon was disgusted by the inhumanity of ‘Detang (as he called him).” When De L’Etang resisted sending Soubise his half of the stable’s profits in prison, Blechyndon exclaimed ‘How is the poor Devil to live! a jail is misery enough without adding Starvation to it!’ [Blechynden, R] De L’Etang’s conduct had distressed Blechynden as reflected in his diary notes: “I am sick of this trouble and more so at the roughness of his treatment of that unfortunate man. That Soubise is an extravagant fellow is very certain but Deletang should remember that he had persuaded him already – and need not overwhelm him with rough usage whilst in duranee.”

In contrast to the gruesome way De L’Etang treated Soubise, he was found too kind and gracious in his instantaneous dealings with Colonel Maxwell – irrespective of the fact that Maxwell belonged to his enemy camp, and Soubise his business partner. It may suggest that l’Etang with his French aristocracy had some innate prejudice against the blacks.

Soubise had never a chance to overcome the racist resistance he faced firstly from being within the British society, and then when he was exiled to colonial India governed by racial discrimination. In an environment of mistrust, Soubise had little opportunity to secure business credit on fair terms. His appeals for seed money turned down without showing any good reasons. Soubise requested Blechynden to be one of his securities to the Asiatic Society for Rs 5000. Blechynden lied and declined politely.[Cohen] Such a situation sometimes made Soubise desperate to take deceptive means and end up in jail. As for the proposed project, De L’Etang could have succeeded in obtaining a permit on depositing the security money to run a menagé on his own on the vacant site of the Asiatic Society. There was, however, no supportive advertisements or news reports surfaced so far but we find a mention of ‘the Riding School kept by De L’Etang’ in Henry Roberdeau’s Accounts of life in Calcutta in 1805 – the year in which the Society’s building completed, leaving no room thereafter for the menagé to exist and for Roberdeau to witness it. Most of the other pieces of information Roberdeau provided about Antoine De L’Etang were seemingly borrowed from unverified sources.

The Calcutta Repository suffered an irrecoverable loss on Awadh horses within a couple of years. In the same month, Soubise was imprisoned ‘for shortchanging a customer on the sale of a horse in another complicated credit transaction. Pawson, the owner, had to sale the stables by lottery. The lotto winner at first made an offer to Blechynden. As he was not ready with the money, the offer went ultimately to De L’Etang. The transaction completed by December 1797.

AUCTION HOUSE

The failure could not deter Soubise to take another stake in another sphere of business. The cherished dream of the penniless was now – setting an Auction House at the ‘old Harmonic’ – the grand tavern equipped with capacious accommodation once used for holding large parties, and ball. The plan made Blechynden much worried: ‘how then could Soubise prosper without money — without interest—without friends — and without a particle of public confidence’? He sounded genuinely disturbed and more so seeing that his friend Pawson was already under the spell of Soubise’s reverie. Determination of Soubise made way for developing the Auction House in the Harmonica of old fame. While the names of Pawson, Blechynden, and de l’Etang were frequently mentioned but it is not clear, however, who funded the project.

What we know for certain is that those days, Soubise was greatly inspired by his recent rapport with Nilmoni Halder, a resourceful Bengali businessman of Bowbazar. Halder came forward from outside Soubise’s circle, to support his new enterprise, the Riding School, with money and encouragement. The Calcutta Gazette advertised Riding House on 5 July 1798, inviting public attention to its sessions. The Riding House proved in less than two months to be the most ominous event in the life of Julius Soubise and his family. On 14 August Blechynden accompanied by De L’Etang found him in the gallery with fatal injury by accidental fall from a devilish Arab stallion. Next day, 25 August 1798 the Calcutta Gazette reported the death of Julius Soubise and the Asiatic Annual Register made the news recorded in its vol.1: 1798-99.

The Calcutta Gazette on 30 August 1798 advertised the ‘Sale of Horses by Public Auction’ to be held every Wednesday at 10 o’clock in the forenoon. It was the beautiful Arabian saddle ‘Noisy’ – a property of Joseph Thomas Brown – to be on auction sale. The report specified that: the sale was for the benefit of Mrs Soubise, and the auctioneer was the nobleman, Mr A. L’Etang. As we know, Blechynden despite his best efforts could not help Soubise’s family to get out of their financial crisis. Pawson died in 1802. We hardly know what happened to Catherine Soubise thereafter. De L’Etang became now the owner of the Calcutta Repository, The Auction House and the Riding House, and continued to run all the establishments ably by himself.

II

ENTERPRISES & EMPLOYMENTS

From the beginning of the 19th century, De L’Etang ran a riding school, combined with a veterinary business, and auction rooms for the sale and purchase of pet animals and fancy goods. Calcutta Gazette reported every week the events of De L’Etang’s establishments carrying the legacy of Julius Soubise. Unlike Julius Soubise, De L’Etang preferred to live away from the tumult of the city life in places like Regent Garden, and Falta, but his hub of activities had been the neighbourhood of Lallbazaar-Cossitollah-Dhurrumtollah until he shifted to Ghaziabad in around 1816 for the rest of his life.  

We understand from the contemporary newspaper sources that in 1802 De L’Etang was appointed as a veterinary surgeon to the Bodyguard of the Governor-General of Bengal – a cavalry regiment of the British Indian Army. [Calcutta Gazzette] The post, created for the first time in Military Consultations of the 25 February 1802, was abolished within 4 years on account of some inter-personal issues.[Hodson] De L’Etang was out of the job for a while since the beginning of the year 1806.

In 1807 an epidemical Catarrh [a flu-type disease] had attacked the horses of the Body Guard. To expel the epidemic in the Corps, the Commanding Officer Herbart Call fixed upon Mr ‘Deletang’ (sic) whom he thought “the most proper person to apply to on the occasion from his having formerly been attached to the Corps and better acquainted with the construction of the horses than any other person of his description in Calcutta.” [Hodson]

Toward the end of the year, as we find in a news report dated Sunday, 5 November 1807, that De L’Etang had met a road accident near Bridge Tollah [probably the original name of Birjee village] and Chowringhee crossing. A drove of bullocks pushed his phaeton carrying him and his brother-in-law, Mr Blin, up to a flooded ditch where they all were instantly submerged. De L’Etang received the most prompt and effectual assistance, and being carried to Mr Uvedale’s, he was restored to life, and completely recovered in the course of a few hours. [Asiatic]

OUDH

Colonel Mordaunt’s cockfight in Lucknow, 1784–1786, by Johann Zoffany. Source: Commons

After about four years De L’Etang, for reasons unknown, leaving his veterinary job went to Lucknow. “Monsieur De L’Etang was allowed to enter the service of the Nawab of Oudh as the Superintendent of the Nawab’s Stud, and a Veterinary Surgeon.” [India Office 1811] Apparently, De L’Etang did not get on well with the native officials of the Court. Before long he was found at fault as a veterinary surgeon, being responsible for the sudden death of several horses. Complaints made by the new Nawab Wazir of Oudh, Ghazi ud-din Haidar, to Lord Moira, the Governor-General, against the Resident of Lucknow, Lieut Colonel John Baillie. Accordingly, De L’Etang was ordered along with three other Europeans, namely, Dr John Law, James Henry Clarke, and Captain Duncan Macleod. [India Office. 1814]. After the dismissal, De L’Etang was unable to claim his unpaid salary. [Rootweb] This unfavourable incident, however, mattered little to De L’Etang in advancing his career. Following the dismissal, De L’Etang managed stud farms for the EIC. [Baillie] The Marquess of Hastings in his Diary, under date, Lucknow, Nov. 1814, was pleased to write of him with candid appreciation: — 

 “Mr De l’Etaing been here six weeks is a man of exemplary character and most polished manners; and is moreover highly qualified for superintending a stud (the function he was to discharge here), having held such an office under Louis XVI. in France. Luckily I can reinstate the poor man in the appointment he held in our stud.” 

REENSTATED IN CALCUTTA

After a lapse of over 12 months from the His Excellency’s diary date, “Mr De L’Etang was given the appointment on the 19th January 1816 as a Sub-Assistant to the Superintendent of the Hon’ble Company’s Stud, with a salary of Sonat Rupees 400 each per mensem.”. He was promoted to the post of the Second Assistant on July 29th, 1824, and the First Assistant in November next year.  It is known from the Bengal Directory and Annual Register of 1838 that Chevalier Antoine De L’Etang was continuing in the same position of the First Assistant under Superintendent Major Mackenzie in the Stud Department, Buxer, Central Provinces. He held this position till he died on 1 December 1840 at the age of 84.

Wellesy Reviewing Bullygunge Bodyguard in 1803. Courtesy India Office. Source: Hodson see Reference
Body Gurd, Bullygunge. 1828. Source: Hodson see Reference

During the year 1 801, land at Ballygunge was first appropriated by Government as a Cantonment for the Body Guard. The Governor-General directed Lieutenant Daniell to clear the ground at Ballygunge to be occupied as a Cantonment for the Body Guard and to erect temporary Buildings thereon for the accommodation of the Serjeants, Men and Stores of the Corps, together with a Guard Room, Hospital and Stabling. De L’Etang’s first appointment in Calcutta was in 1803 as a Veterinary Surgeon to the Bodyguard of the Governor-General of Bengal – ranked lowest in the department. [Hodson] After the Oudh episode, the Governor-General graciously restored De L’Etang in EIC’s service in January 1816, as a Sub-Assistant to the Superintendent of the Hon’ble Company’s Stud, with a salary of Sonat Rupees 400 each per mensem.  On 29 July 1824, Du L’Etang was promoted to the Second Assistant, and in November next year, he became the First Assistant in the Stud Department. Bengal Directory. The Annual Register of 1838 shows De L’Etang was still continuing in the post of the First Assistant under the Superintendent Major J. Mackenzie, Stud Department, Buxar. Over his long tenure of service, he could reach up to the rank of the First Assistant to the Superintendent without having ever a decision-making authority.

Map of Bullyginge Cantonment. 1835. Source: Hodson see Reference
An Officer of the Body Gurd. 1803 [most likely De L’Etang, joined in 1803] Water-col.. Artist: FC Scallan. Courtesy: Messrs Ranken & Co. Source: Hodson see Reference

PUBLICATIONS

After long thirty-six years, De L’Etang took time to publish two more books on the health management of horses updating his previous book. It so appears that De L’Etang was in touch with Blechynden and it was he who translated the two manuscripts for De L’Etang to publish in 1831. We know from Blechynden’s diary that it was an embarrassment for him when De L’Etang told that the money he had received earlier was not his fees for the translation work, as expected, but a loan. The book, Genealogical Stud Book containing the Pedigrees of all Stallions from the year 1795 to 1 January 1832, in the Government and private Studs (printed in India Gazette Press, 1831) was dedicated to Lord Bentinck; the other one, ‘Stud Book’ followed next year. There was no much impact of the two professional publications on his service career. In fact, his service life in India was never found good enough if we consider what he had achieved earlier in France. It may suggest that the reasons are rooted in nationalist bias – separatism of a different order. 

ATTAINMENTS

Lord Hasting’s above-quoted Diary entry reveals certain inconsistencies between what he thought of De L’Etang and how he acted upon in reinstating ‘the poor man’. His Lordship was demonstratively sympathetic toward De L’Etang’s loss of a job at Oudh Stud, and was much impressed finding him ‘highly qualified for superintending a stud’ since he ‘held such an office under Louis XVI in France.’ Nonetheless, He made De L’Etang, no better than a humble Sub-Assistant to the Superintendent of Stud, EIC. 

Lord Hastings apart, there were two premier historians, Evans Cotton, and Kathleen Blechynden, and chroniclers like Henry Roberdeau, Weldon Dalrymple-Champneys, including famous Virginia Woolf [Bell], his grand-granddaughter, and others within the ancestry who had recorded biographic accounts of their forefather in their fashion taking little care to separate facts from fictions. It is mostly from them we knew about Cavalier Antoine De L’Etang, the handsome young man of noble origin, – as a Page of Honour to the Dauphine Marie Antoinette, – as an officer of the King’s Guard du Corps, – as the Superintendent of the Royal Stud, and – as a Chevalier of the Royal and Military Order of St. Louis.

Marie Antoinette. (1755-1793). Artist: Joseph Kreutzinger. Courtesy: Alamy
Axel Von Fersen (1755-1810). Artist: Pierre Dreuillon de Verneville. Courtesy: Östergötlands museum, Sweden

In addition to such honourable attainment, they keep mentioning also of a secret love between Queen Antoinette and her formerly Pageboy, De L’Etang, that costed his banishment for a lifetime. Marie Antoinette was said to be scandalized disproportionately for political gain and there might have been many love stories in circulation. The Swedish count, Hans Axel von Fersen (1755-1810) referred to earlier is named as her lover [Chateau/ Alex]. De L’Etang’s love affair so far goes missing from records.

RETROSPECTION

To curate the account of Antoine De L’Etang we need to find each of the above claims, which decorated him as an adorable romantic hero, in historical proximity for closer review.

PAGE OF HONOR TO THE DAUPHINE ANTOINETTE

Since Louis XIV settled in Versailles the royal household expanded over the years. He alone employed as many as 208 pageboys and further 24 who ranked a bit over the common pageboy. We may well expect that Louis XV engaged Antoine De L’Etang, out of the select few, a Page of Honour to his daughter-in-law, Dauphine Marie Antoinette as soon as she entered the royal house of Versailles.

A Page of Honour traditionally hailed from a noble family. Typically, he would receive training in many skills such as horse riding, falconry, lancing etc. all that was part of the masculine aristocracy in medieval Europe. Generally, upon reaching around fourteen years of age, if the Page was deemed appropriately trained, he was promoted to the position of a squire. A squire then went on to serve a knight, both on and off the battlefield [Medieval Chronicles] De L’Etang started in the position of a Page of Honour to the Dauphine when he was already 14 and continued for another four years before got promoted in 1774 to a Bodyguard of the King’s Guard du Corps in the Company of Jean de Noailles (1739-1824) at the age of eighteen. 

BODYGUARD OF THE KING’S GUARD DU CORPS

De L’Etang was known to have been admitted in Garde du Corp of the King Louis XIV. ‘When he was too old to remain her Page he became an officer of her husband’s bodyguard. [Spooner] The French online directory, Officiers Généraux De L’Armée De Terre et des Services, that includes no reference to Antoine De L’Etang, discloses the existence of another L’Etang, named Dupont de L’Etang Pierre (1765-1840), whose year of death corresponds with that of Antoine de L’Etang. Dupont who was a ‘Général de Division’, fought in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and other wars – a war hero in French military history. [Etienne]

The Garde du Corps was exclusively aristocratic, in contrast to other units of the Royal Household, drawn from families with appropriate social backgrounds; as such they were noted for their courtly manners but less so for their military skills and professionalism. Individual courtier guardsmen stationed at Versailles were not subject to regular training beyond ceremonial drill, and extended periods of leave from duty were common. A critical report, dated 1775, concluded that the Body Guard and other “distinguished units with their own privileges are always very expensive – fight less than line troops, are usually badly disciplined and badly trained, and are always very embarrassing on campaign”. [Mansel]

Through his Garde de Corps training, the tall and handsome Frenchman, Antoine De L’Etang, developed an adorable personality with a courtier’s polished manners, well-groomed in aristocratic fashion and mannerism, somewhat less disciplined and less professional in martial arts, and was more inclined to showmanship.  

SUPERINTENDENT OF OF THE ROYAL STUDS, VERSAILLES

That Antoine De L’Etang was given charge of the Royal Stud, was what Roberdeau and other writers believed without giving much thought about the enormity and complexity of the Royal Stable of Versailles, a twin establishment comprising ‘Great Stables’, and “Small Stables’ built-in with incredible architecture enclosing the Place d’Arm. Nearly 1,500 men worked there, including squires, pages, coachmen, postilions, footmen, lads, messengers, chair bearers, stablemen, blacksmiths, saddlers, tack manufacturers, chaplains, musicians and horse surgeons, creating a constant hive of activity. It was a world unto itself. During the 18th century, more than 2,000 horses at any one time were stabled in the Royal Stables. 

Royal Stable of the Château De Versailles. Artist: Jean-Baptiste Martin. Courtesy: Chateau de Versailles

The Great Stables were managed by the Grand Equerry of France, while the Small Stables were placed under the orders of the First Equerry. The Grand Equerry was an important royal officer who was in charge of all the king’s horses and the equestrian academies, and he also looked after the horses ridden by the king and princes. These saddle horses were perfectly trained for hunting and war. The First Equerry was in charge more generally of all the other mounts and the coach horses … [Chateau de Versailles]. 

The name of Antoine De L’Etang was not found in any records of the Royal Stables accessible to us. This may be because of our limitations in accessing or because little resources are available to fall upon. What appears to be more realistic is that, contrary to the popular view, the superintendence of Royal Stud was too high a responsibility to be attainable for a boy in his early twenties with no adequate training other than what he picked up at Garde du Corps an institution ‘noted for their courtly manners but less so for their military skills and professionalism’. [Chateau – Stable]

CHEVALIER OF THE ROYAL AND MILITARY ORDER OF ST. LOUIS.

The Royal and Military Order of St. Louis, one of the most enviable French accolades, Antoine De L’Etang was said to have earned. Marquess Hastings, Evans Cotton and whoever else said it, must have good reasons to believe that the formerly Garde du Corps of Louis XVI had received the historic medal as they could see him wear the decoration, and so we do see in his painted portrait in a pendant reproduced here. ‘Seeing is believing’ is in human nature. Still, at times we cannot help questioning about the veracity of verisimilitudinous things when found conflicting with their context. Looking back to the history of the Saint-Louis Order and reviewing the circumstantial advantages/ disadvantages of Chevalier De L’Etang to receive the honour, should strike our mind with, in fact, not one but many a question:

Antoine De L’Etang with the Order Of St Louis. Courtesy: Amazon.Uk

Until the death of Louis XIV, the medal was awarded to outstanding officers only, but it gradually came to be an award that most officers would receive during their career. During the French Revolution, a decree changed the name to ‘décoration militaire’, and was subsequently withdrawn on 15 October 1792. Louis XVIII reinstated the Order of Saint Louis, using it to award officers of the Royal and Imperial armies alike. In 1830 the Order was abolished. 

Grand Cross of the Order of Saint-Louis

De L’Etang, besides a Roman Catholic by faith and enjoying the untold advantage of his being of noble birth, might not have qualifications to match the mandatory requirements, unless his experience in the Garde du Corps took care of the clause: ‘at least ten years’ service as a commissioned officer in the Army or Navy’, and if it was also okay for De L’Etang, who had left the French Army for good in 1795 to receive the award in 1814 which the ‘officers should receive during their career’. Nor that we know of something extraordinary De L’Etang did to warrant an order of chivalry as an ‘Outstanding Officer’. All these misgivings can be set at rest by reinterpreting the terms of legitimacy, but there remains a more fundamental question of propriety; that is, how happy and proud the French authority could feel in awarding a national order of chivalry, like the Ordre Royal et Militaire de Saint-Louis, to a candidate banished for unfaithful acts, and who changed his loyalty to their rival power EIC? 

It is interesting to note that among the three ranks of the Order of St Louis, namely, Chevalier, Commandeur and Grand-Croix, De L’Etang allegedly belonged to the rank of Chevaliers who was supposed to wear the badge suspended from a ribbon on the breast, whereas, De L’Etang used to wear the badge with ribbon on the left breast the specified way a Grand-Croix should do according to the norms. This deviation speaks of De L’Etang’s aspiration for an image larger than life.

Pierre Antoine, comte Dupont de l’Étang (1765-1840). Source: Commons

The official records show that there was another De L’Etang, named Pierre-Antoine, comte Dupont de l’Étang (1765–1840), a French general of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, who had earned a Commandeur of the Order of St Louis. [Mazas. V.2] We also know from the same source that the name of Antoine De L’Etang, the captain of sepahi, posted in Pondicherry was in the preliminary list but left out finally being ignored as an out-stationed candidate. [Mazas. V.3 ] 

END NOTES

History happens. One cannot make history, other than in a literary sense. In our collective endeavour to understand the past, the problem of weeding out extraneous data is always a critical one. The overzealous writers allow infiltrating superfluous data, typically, in hero-worshipping or narrating matters of pride and prejudices. Most of the biographical accounts of Chevalier Antoine De L’Etang likewise contain wishful thoughts, instead of verifiable facts, that baffle attempts to recognize the real man behind the painted mask.  

In our study, we noticed De L’Etang’s weakness for money and fame that sometimes obliged him to act meanly as he did with Soubise. It was Soubise, who already inaugurated his new institution, the ‘Calcutta Repository’, introduced De L’Etang to Blechynden as his new partner. The ‘new partner’, however, never hesitated to put him in prison for debt, and disinclined to pay him the half of the business profit as per term. De L’Etang finally bought the Repository in 1797 just a few months before Soubise died. The Repository was then renamed as ‘Mr A De L’etang’s Repository in Calcutta’. The memory of its founder was pushed back behind the scene as a mere ‘unfortunate man’. [Blechynden] Yet, contrary to such inconsiderate dealings with Soubise, De L’Etang had the story to his credit of saving the life of an unknown Maxwell, belonging to the enemy camp, out of compassion. It was, indeed, a magnanimous gesture, which De L’Etang never felt for Soubise, the Black Caribbean. For a noble aristocrat of the 18th century France, It was not unlikely to have a streak of racism in his character. His genteel countenance and refined manners might have triggered a superiority complex, which could be a reason also for his having interpersonal relationship issues in his workplaces in Calcutta and Oudh, as some chroniclers hinted.

Antoine De L’Etang had the talents and opportunities to come into prominence as – a lovable man of the town. He was known to Calcutta society in its varied grades, from the Governor to horse-dealers. His humble official position could not deter him to hobnobbing with the high-level officials in parades and parties, which is quite apparent from the incidences of negotiated marriages between his beautiful daughters and some worthy sons of famous British families. We are also aware of his making “a large number of friends among the riding-public—and nearly all Calcutta men then as now were riders” [Blechenden] We had no luck to look into the details of his interactions with the society giving more exposure to the life of Calcutta of his time truthfully instead of having been bewildered with superfluous debatable attributions to a tragic hero. 

REFERENCE

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Jehaes, Els, and ors. 1998. “Mitochondrial DNA Analysis on Remains of a Putative Son of Louis XVI, King of France and Marie-Antoinette.” European Journal of Human Genetics 6(4). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/13505349_Mitochondrial_DNA_analysis_on_remains_of_a_putative_son_of_Louis_XVI_King_of_France_and_Marie-Antoinette.

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Mazas, A. and T. Anne. n.d. “Histoire De L’Ordre Royal & Militaire De Saint-Louis d’Après “Histoire De L’Ordre Royal & Militaire De Saint-Louis, Depuis Son Institution En 1693 Jusqu’En 1830.” https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=http://www.memodoc.com/article_ordre_st_louis.htm&prev=search&pto=aue.

Mazas, Alex. 1861. Histoire de L’Ordre Royal et Militaire de Saint-Louis; . Depuis Son Institution En 1693 Jusqu’en 1830; Tom 2. Paris: Didot. https://books.google.com.au/books/about/Histoire_de_L_ordre_royal_et_militaire_d.html?id=MVKbEsdpuAoC&redir_esc=y.

Mazas, Alex. 1861. Histoire de L’Ordre Royal et Militaire de Saint-Louis; . Depuis Son Institution En 1693 Jusqu’en 1830; Tom 3. Paris: Didot. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=yugTigqHlWYC&q=etang#v=snippet&q=etang&f=false.

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HORSES AND MOUNTED GAMES IN COLONIAL CALCUTTA

A pair of racehorces. By Shaikh Muhammad Amir of Karraya (1830-1850). Courtesy: Christie

PRELUDE
Not until the British revamped army to recapture Calcutta in 1757, horses in India had the leading role in wars, and in everyday public and private life as well. Gradually the other two robust animals, camels and elephants, were being withdrawn from military and public services. The demands for suitable horses grew manifolds, and so was the prospect of horsetrading in India that attracted horse dealers from around the world to come and stay in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta engaging themselves in all kinds of horse-related enterprises, including horse auctions, livary stable services, saddlery, fodder supply, coach building, veterinary services, equestrian schools.

HORSE IN INDIA

India had an indigenous supply of excellent elephants, but not many good horses. Yet the horse of ‘Ashwamedha’ fame served as a symbol of power and glory in Indian tradition. There are evidences of horse riding in the era of Rikveda. [Coomaraswamy] The earliest known work on veterinary science  India’s Shalihotra-sanghita, proves how seriously the fitness of horses was taken care of. Even so, India had to depend much on imported war horses since the indigenous horses were found inadequate for battlefront and their high war mortality rate. The good horses were imported to the Mughal state from Arabia, Iran, Turan, Turkey,Turkestan, Badakhshan, Shirwan, Qirghiz, Tibbet, Kashmir and other countries. Kabul and Qandhar were the major entrepots on the land-routes for the horse traders. While horses from Central Asia came to India by the overland route, Persian and Arabian horses were largely brought by the sea. [Khan] The ports of Surat, Cambay, Kutch, Thatta, Lahori Bandar and Sonargoan in Bengal were the major entrepots for the bahri horses brought for breeding. In order to establish control over the horse trade, the Mughal Emperors established friendly and diplomatic relations with the neighbouring countries. [Choudhary]

COUNTRY-BREEDS
The Indian Country-bred, generally plain heads, long necks, narrow chests, strong hooves and low-set tails, archaically known as tattoo, vary from good-quality riding horses to small and poorly-conformed animals used for pack and draught work. They derive from many diverse horse breeds and types, including the small horses of the Himalayas of northern India, and the strong horses of the Punjab. Outside influences include Arab horses imported to Bombay and Veraval from the Persian Gulf, and the Australian Walers imported in very large numbers in the nineteenth century to Calcutta via Madras. The Indian Half-bred is a cross-breed between Thoroughbred stallions and local and imported mares of various types, raised mainly by the Indian Army as a cavalry mount. Apart from the regulars, the Militia Cavalry also required to be equipped with horses as well. It is also used by the Indian Police Service, as a polo pony, and for recreational and competitive riding. The most distinguished Indian high-breeds are:

    Bhutia –       Like Mongolian and Tibbetian horses,
    Kathiawari – Western India breed intended to be a desert war horse,
    Manupuri –  Famous for their unruffled demeanour and learning ability,
    Marwari –    As an ambling gait and a superior level of hardiness ,
    Spiti –          A mountain-based breed,
    Zaniskari –  In many respect similar to Spiti, Chmmarti – A well-muscled, can easily survive cold temperatures, and
    Deccani –   Arabian and Turkic crossbreeds with local ponies; “a perfect compendium of all the qualities required in a campaigner. ”He doubted if even the war-born Arabian Badoo can be deemed the superior of the ponies bred on the banks of the Bhima and Tapti”. [Burckhardt]

HORSES IN CALCUTTA
Bengal never had any better horses than the Bhutia and the Manipuri breeds of local origin. So long the Sonargaon river port was in operation, Bengal not only received regular supplies of imported horses, but also witnessed the transportation of some of these war machines to the Deccan and China. [Chakrabarti]. The other centre was the Sonepur Cattle Fair for one month long trading of animals – the largest in Asia.

The emergence of Bengal as a regional political entity during the early medieval times must have increased the demand for war horses, but it was never so desperately pressing as the English felt after they lost the 1756 Battle of Calcutta. “The question of our horse supply, though primarily a military one, is far from exclusively so.” [Burckhardt] Burckhardt was right. Life in Calcutta literally depended much on horse power, otherwise Calcutta would have remained stand still even though there had been elephants, camels and bullocks roaming on roads carrying passengers and goods. None of those animals were as agile and sportive as the horses in battlefields, roads and lanes, racing grounds, or ambling for a promenade.

Since the city was rebuilt on the ashes of 1756 Battle horses were being imported in huge quantities particularly from Arabia, Britain and Australia.

A Horse and His Trader, circa 1800 Painting; Watercolor, Opaque / Artist: Bagta. Los Angeles County Museum of Art

ARAB HORSE
The oldest pure breed in the world, Arab horse is actually the horse of the  the wandering Arab – the true Bedouin. The animal possesses incomparable virtue as reverend of hardship and master of abstinence. Its strength and stamina apart a particular form of elegance has made it an enviable sire to breed superior horses everywhere in the world. Either directly or indirectly, the Arabian contributed to the formation of virtually all the modern breeds of light horse. As found in some critical studies, the qualities of the Arabian horses in foreign lands considerably vary. The characteristics of the Arabian horses in India differ from those bred in Syria, Mesopotamia and Persia. [Curr]

The Arabian is a symmetrical saddle-horse, not a racer – with a bright, alert outlook and great pride of bearing. Men who look only at their stop-watches may be disappointed; but not they who love to look on horses racing. [Daumas] As the people of Persia and Arabia didn’t like mares to go out of their countries, the horses traded were invariably stallions. Over centuries of similar trading – the earlier influx was in the Mughal era – it’s thought the native horses and ponies of India thus gained a lot of Persian and Arabian horse genes. In Bombay during the British era, Arab horse dealers set up stables for selling – most held 1,000 to 1,500 horses. [Lane]

ENGLISH HORSE
The East India Company in an endeavour to improve the native breeds of horses established a special department, called ‘Stud Department’ in 1794. Both for political and economic reasons, the Company desired India should produce the horses necessary to mount both British and native cavalry, and to horse the artillery. Colonel Hallen gave a list of thirteen country-breeds of Indian horses described as ” possessing good powers of endurance, and showing thereby blood, but generally wanting in size, and many too small for the work of the Indian Army, constituted as it now is ; though some of purely local breeds can be found fit for native cavalry.” [Gilbey}

After four decades the British raj abandoned the project, and set up the ‘Army Remount and Horse-Breeding Departments’ in 1876 to introduce the ‘Diffused System’ , which used the Thoroughbred sires and India mares treating the thirteen different Indian breeds of horse as one, all mares being classed as ‘country-bred mares’.  The animal got by the English thoroughbred “is, as a rule, handsome in top and outlines of back, hind quarters, and carriage of head and tail, but is often shallow in girth and back rib, light in barrel, and from 70 to 8o per cent, are leggy and deficient in bone of limb. Diseases of legs are more common among thoroughbred stock. It provided no means nor machinery whereby the result of using any given stallion on any given mare can he ascertained. Sir John Watson’s gravest objection is that because of the ‘Diffused System’ there does not now exist in India even an experimental stud in which the results of different crosses can be observed. [Glibey]

AUSTRALIAN HORSE
Horses first arrived in Australia in 1788, with the First Fleet of prisoners. Like the Arab and the Deccan pony, Waler owes his qualities to the conditions of life amid which he is bred and not on their stud-farms managed on English principles, but chiefly on the grasses which he can pick up for himself on Nature’s own bountiful bosom. Australian horse traders chiefly sold horses to India – where the Waler got its name picked from “New South Waler” – a horse from Australia. In India many famous men and regiments rode Walers – from the Viceroys and Rajah’s down, but pricey for common civilians, like Rudyard Kipling’s father John Kipling who always adored a Waler but could never afford to buy one. [Lane]

In 1836, the first Governor of Perth city, Admiral Sir James Stirling, received an anonymous letter from Calcutta enquiring about a spot in Albany that can combine good climate and port facility for the purpose of breeding and exporting quality horses for catering the needs of the British India cavalry. A decade after The Hobart Town Courier of 30 January 1845 reported export of horses from Australia to India for the first time. The ‘Waler’ horses were exported from Sydney to the Indian Presidencies. Australia was chosen as an alternative source not only for being the closest supplier but also because of its breed of healthy horse. Horse buyers from India representing the Remount service would attend horse sales in Adelaide. Kidman’s annual horse sales held at Kapunda attracted local and Indian Army horse buyers. In turn, there were South Australians who bought horses from overseas to breed their own stock with and so improve their horses’ speed. Some horse dealers like the Pathan tribesmen from the Quetta, in Pishin district, took their horses down the Ganges Valley, most likely as far as Calcutta, where they sold some horses to Australians.’

In the end, Australia became the principal supplier to the 39 regiments of Indian Cavalry and about 7 more of the British Cavalry, each consisting of 1000 horses. The over all demand was pretty high, indeed, even without taking into account the fact that ‘people did play polo, apart from just hacks’, and horse racing became popular recreation around 1810. [Westrip]

A pair of racehorces.By Shaikh Muhammad Amir of Karraya (1830-1850). Courtesy: Christie

HORSE MARKETING IN CALCUTTA
In Calcutta horse business initially started in Loll Bazaar- Cossaitollah locality then moved toward Dhurrumtollah where several horse liveries and stables grew to provide all round professional services. In Burraha Bazaar there is still having a locus called Pageya Patty, which might have been earlier a market sector for horse trading, as because the rare and homonymous Bengali word ‘pageya’ (পগেয়া) is used for a ‘breed of horse’ from a particular province’. [চৌধুরী]

The earliest livery stables, as recorded, were established adjacent to the celebrated 18th century tavern, Harmonica, by certain Mr. Meredith. The erstwhile Meredith’s Lane, which connected Bentinck Street with Chandney Choke Lane, derived its name from this Mr. Meredith’s Livery Stables. In Cossaitollah also was the shop of Mr. Oliphant ‘Coach-maker’, the rival of Messrs Steuart and Co., at Old Court House Corner. On Chitpore Road there existed a horse mart, few stables and coach-factories. With the southward expansion of the Calcutta township across Govindapore a number of new horse establishments clustered on Dhurrumtollah Street, to cater all kinds of horse related services and facilities to private and corporate clientele. The most known horse sellers and livary stable keepers among them were: TF Brown & Co. (Partner: Thomas Flitcher Brown), Cook & Co. (Partner: T. Greenhill), Hunter & Co (Partner: John Sherriff). Martin & Co. (Partner: J.P. Martin), and T. Smith & Co.  The Grand Hotel in Calcutta had a “Waler Corner” where Australian horse traders met; often after the horses were sold at the Army Remount Depot at Alipore. Some traders such as Jim Robb also stayed in Calcutta.

HORSE CULTURE IN CALCUTTA
Horse induces a sense of freedom from monotony – a sportive spirit to win the best at work and leisure. In Colonial Calcutta leisure and recreation became indispensable parts of the social and cultural life of Europeans and native aristocrats. [Mukherjee] Horses have had the primary role to play in the new form of recreation culture, such as hunting, playing polo, horse racing, fencing and pleasure riding.All these were being played in India since long. Yet it was the British who brought some characteristic changes into the games by introducing new sets of rules acceptable worldwide as standards. These reinvented games, however, were meant to be played exclusively by the ‘whites’. For long, natives were not allowed to approach playgrounds, the Respondentia Walk or the King’s Bench Walk on the riverside, the Eden Gardens, and select parts of the Maidan. Mountain Police patrolled the areas to protect the white people’s privilege, besides their regular duty of escorting shipments from river-ports to the safe location. In a changed environment of collaborative Anglo-Indian enterprise, native aristocrats started taking part in all masculine brands of outdoor games.

MOUNTED GAMES

Driving tiger out of a jungle; colored sketch by Thomas Williamson. Source: East India Vade Mecum. 1810

Hunting
Hunting wild beasts on horseback is an ancient frantic game that the Europeans much loved to play while in India. The practice of chasing and killing wild animals, what the food-gathering humans commonly did for their survival and defence, turned into a trigger-happy recreation for power loving civilized people. The oriental princes, British and European civilians and dignitaries were the ones most interested in the game locally known as shikar. There were wild habitats all over the country in every province. One of the most tiger-infested jungles, Sundarban was stretched up to Govindapore before the Fort William II constructed. They say, Warren Hastings had a luck to shoot a Royal Bengal tiger on the spot where the St. Paul Cathedral stands today. [Cotton] Chitah hunting at Barrackpore Park was a favourite sport for the Governors-Genral and Viceroys since Wellesley ’s time. King George V had shot no less than 39 tigers and 4 bears when he visited Nepal in 1911. After half a century, his granddaughter Queen Elizabeth when visited India, wished she had a live calf as bait in her tiger hunting expedition. The wish remained unfulfilled due to Mr. Nehru’s interference. An estimated 80,000 of tigers were killed from 1875–1925 and probably more till 1971 when hunting tigers was totally banned. In modern world the hunting has been redefined in terms of fishing, wildlife photography, birdwatching and the like sport items that do not threaten worldlife. [Dasgupta]

 

Polo
Polo, often referred to as ‘the game of kings’, was invented and played by the commoners of Manipore, where the world’s oldest polo-ground, Mapal Kangjeibung, still exists. From obscure beginnings in Manipore, the modern version of polo was developed and soon being played in the Maidan by two British soldiers, Captain Robert Stewart and Major General Joe Sherer.

They  established the Calcutta Polo Club in 1861, and later spread the game to their peers in England. The club runs the oldest and first ever Polo Trophy, the Ezra Cup (1880). The modern Polo has been necessarily a sport meant exclusively for wealthy people capable of meeting its fabulous expenses and extensive leisure time that the heads of the princely states, high ranked British military and administrative personnel. Prominent teams of the period included the chiefs of the princely states of Alwar, Bhopal, Bikaner, Jaipur, Hyderabad, Patiala, Jodhpur, Kishengarh and Kashmir. The majority of the Cavalry regiments of the British Army and the British Indian Army also fielded teams. The civil service bureaucrats to whom the sports and pastimes peculiar to the country are accessible ‘upon a scale of magnificence and affluence unknown to the English sportsman, who ranges the fields with his gun and a brace of pointers, and seeks no nobler game than the partridge or the hare’. [Cotton] The gorgeous game of polo attracted the fanciful young minds, irrespective of financial constraints, if any. Winston Churchill loved polo and played the game vigorously. Aga Khan the celebrated racehorse owner and equestrian found in young Churchill, then an officers of the Fourth Hussars stationed at Bangalore, an irrepressible, and promising polo player. In November 1896 Churchill’s team won a silver cup worth £60. [Langworth ] “Polo became a game that in many ways, did more than ambassadors to promote goodwill in the days a man was judged by his horse…” . [Lane]

Horse Racing
Horse racing, one of the oldest of all sports, developed from a primitive contest of speed or stamina between two horses. In the modern era, horse racing developed from a diversion of the leisure class into a huge public-entertainment business.

Calcutta being the first centre of British power in India commanding large cavalry regiments, all mounted sports such as hunting, polo and racing were encouraged to be played. Organized horse races were first held in India on 16 January 1769 at Akra, near Calcutta, where they were held on a rough, narrow, temporary course for the next three decades. Lord Wellesley, as soon he arrived India in 1798, stopped horse racing and all sorts of gambling. After a lull the Calcutta Races again commenced under the patronage of Lord Moira. In 1812 the Bengal Jockey Club laid out a new course in the southwest part of the Maidan. A viewing stand was built in 1820 to watch racing horses in the  cool of mornings just after sunrise.  The Calcutta Derby Stakes began in 1842, where maiden Arabs ran over 2.5 miles. Five years after the Calcutta Turf Club was founded on 20 February 1847.  In 1856 the Calcutta Derby was replaced by the Viceroy’s Cup. In 1880 public interest in racing grew when races started to be held in the afternoons, and new stands were built.

Racing becomes Calcutta’s biggest wintertime attraction, except during a Royal visit —”and then the Turf Club contrives to work the two things very much together. For months women have studied pictured lists from Piccadilly, searching for something to wear at the Races. New milliners’ signs adorn the city’s streets, as short lived as the flies, just for the Racing season. The Indian has unpacked his shawls of many colours only to sport it on the crowded course where the patterned shoulders work a mosaic that is hardly ever seen in a human picture.” Minney who visited Calcutta in early 1920s left a spectacular description of the city in sunny winter. “Gay and busy, it is a season that attracts a multitude from the world’s four comers. They come for the racing,, they come for frivolity, but they come primarily for the climate. … Calcutta would become the most coveted place in this sad globe, more cursed than blessed with climate.” [Minney]

Horse Riding
The horse is a partner and friend of humans for more than 5,000 years, and the art of horseback riding, or equestrianism, took most of it to be evolved, of necessity, with maximum understanding and a minimum of interference with the horse. In Colonial Calcutta, as the contemporary narratives reveal, riding was not a monopoly of the cavalry and the rich who rode for sport, as it was the case elsewhere till the 20th century. After Plassey, in the revived Calcutta society, horse riding was regarded as a valued social asset and symbol of prestige.

The opening of many new riding clubs and stables has made riding and horsemanship accessible to a much larger segment. Calcutta then was different in too many counts, but “nothing in which we differ more remarkably from them than in the distribution of our time”. In the early days of Calcutta, the midday dinner and the afternoon siesta were recognized institutions.  “The dinner hour here is two,” wrote Mrs Fay. In the days of Warren Hastings “reposing, if not of sleeping, after dinner is so general that the streets of Calcutta are, from four to five in the afternoon, almost as empty for Europeans as if it were midnight. Next come to the evening airings on the course, where everyone goes, though sure of being half-suffocated with dust.” [Cotton] The scene here in the evening was very lively ; soldiers exercising in the square; officers riding on horseback, or driving in gigs ; the band playing on the esplanade; groups promenading. [Bellow] About this garden, as well as the Maidan and Strand Road and to the south of the Eden Garden are the places to see and to be seen, because all the grand folks of Calcutta of an evening go on foot, or riding, or in beautiful barouches, broughams, phaetons, buggies, etc., drawn by beautiful horses. [Cesry]

Good riding and driving horses may be had from 400 to 600 rupees each, Arabs for a bit more.  On setting up housekeeping in Calcutta, or in the provinces, a new recruit in civil service earning Rupees 400 a month, must provide himself with bed, tables, chairs, cooking utensils, china, plate, table linen, a buggy, and buggy horse, and a riding-horse.  The buggy being kept then principally for business, visits, and day trips, the riding-horse is requisite for morning and evening exercise. [Roberts] During the days of Cornwallis, they used to get on horseback just as the dawn of day begins to appear, ride on the same road and the same distance, pass the whole forenoon. [Bagchi] The Eden sisters, particularly Emily, was extremely fond of riding horse wherever they go.  She found riding a foot’s pace cooler than the carriage. The air she felt coming more round one on horseback than in the carriage. She had a little pony-carriage with no head to it, and wicker sides, and extremely light, and that was much the coolest conveyance they had; besides that, she says “it will go in roads which will not admit of our carriage” [Eden] After nearly four decades, in a more liberal colonial climate we find Jyotindranath Tagore along with his young wife Kadambari Devi riding on their horses down Chitpore Road to the Eden Garden for an evening prom. [Sen]

The pleasure of horse riding has been an added attraction for the European settlers in Calcutta. Except the army horsemanship, ambling or easy walking on horseback was the most popular mode of riding – a slow, four-beat, rhythmic pace of distinct successive hoof beats in an order. Alternately it may be extended walk of long, unhurried strides. One needed to undergo a systematic training to execute precisely any of a wide range of maneuvers, from the simplest riding gaits to the most intricate and difficult airs. This was true for the British and Indian soldiers as well as the civilian men and women. The first Riding school was established in Calcutta as early as in 1790s followed by more in the next century to teach whoever interested irrespective of sex and age. The untold stories behind those early Riding Schools will be posted next.

REFERENCE

Bagchi, P. C. (1938). The Second city of the Empire. Calcutta: Indian Science Congress Assoc. Calcutta: Indian Science Congress.

Bellow, F. J. (1880). Memoirs of a griffin; or, A cadet’s first year in India. London: Allen. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/memoirsagriffin00bellgoog/page/n5/mode/2up

Burckhardt, J. L. (1831). Notes of the Bedouine and Wahabees collected during his travel in the East;vol; vol.1(2). London: Bentley. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/notesonbedouins00burcgoog/page/n6/mode/2up

Cesry, R. (1818). Indian Gods, sages and cities. Calcutta: Catholic Orphan Press. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.128152

Chakravart, R. (1999). Early Medieval Bengal and the trade in horses: a note. No Title. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient., 42(2). Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/3632335

Coomaraswamy, A. K. (1942). Horse-Riding in the Rgveda and Atharvaveda.No Title. Journal of the American Oriental Society. Vol. 62, No. 2 (Jun., 1942), Pp. 139-140. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/594467

Cotton, E. (1909). Calcutta old and new: a historical and descriptive handbook of the city. Calcutta: Newman.

Curr, E. M. (1863). Pure saddle-horses, and how to breed them in Australia. Melbourne: Wilson and Mackinnon. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/puresaddlehorses01curr/page/n6/mode/2up

Dasgupta, R. R. (n.d.). Killing for sport: To live, we Indians need to let live too. Retrieved from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/blogs/SilkStalkings/killing-for-sport-to-live-we-indians-need-to-let-live-too/

Daumas, E. (1863). Horses of the Sahara, and the manners of the desert. London: Allen. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/horsesofsahara00daum/page/n7/mode/2up

Eden, E. (1872). Letters from India; vol.1. London: Bentley. Retrieved from https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/eden/letters/letters.html

Gilbey, W. (1906). Horse breeding in England and India and army horses abroad. London: Vinton.

Jaccob, J. (1858). The Views and opinions of Brigadier-General John Jaccob. CB; (C. L. Pelly, Ed.). London: Smith & Elder. Retrieved from https://books.google.co.ao/books?id=mn9CAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&hl=pt-PT&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

Khan., I. A. (1984). The Import of Persian horses in India 13-17th centuries. In Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. (pp. 346–351). Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/i40173319

Lane, J. (2016). Buying Walers. Retrieved from https://walers.blogspot.com/2016/07/buying-walers-australian-horse-traders.html

Langworth, B. F. (n.d.). Churchill and Polo: The Hot Pursuit of His Favorite Team Sport, Part 1. Retrieved from https://winstonchurchill.hillsdale.edu/polo-churchills-favorite-team-sport/

Minney, R. (1922). Round about Calcutta. Calcutta: OUP. Retrieved from http://archive.org/details/roundaboutcalcut00minnrich

Mukherjee, S. (2011). Leisure and recreation in colonial Bengal: A sociocultural study. In IHC: Proceedings, 71st Session, 2010-11. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/44147545?seq=1

Roberts, E. (1839). The East India voyager, or, Ten minutes advice to the outward boun. London: Madden. Retrieved from https://trove.nla.gov.au/work/193246575?q&versionId=211570278

Sen, A. P. (1993). Hindu Revivalism in Bengal, 1872–1905: Some Essays in Interpretation. New Delhi: OUP. Retrieved from https://books.google.com.au/books?id=ZCwpDwAAQBAJ&pg=PT47&lpg=PT47&dq=jyotirindranath+maidan+horse&source=bl&ots=mpVG5W2xkS&sig=ACfU3U30J0X-sa2ToOMLn1AjgzWARWVcaA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjwkJOUrajoAhVaeX0KHYMGCRsQ6AEwAHoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=jyotirindranath m

Westrip, Joyce P, and P. H. (2010). Colonial Cousins: A Surprising History of Connections Between India and Australia. Kent Town: Wakefield. Retrieved from https://books.google.co.in/books?id=ALbaCwe6VHkC&pg=PR4&lpg=PR4&dq=A+surprising+history+of+connections+between+India+and+Australia+by+Joyce+Westrip+and+Peggy+Holroyde&source=bl&ots=zzor8RrxQ1&sig=ACfU3U1NylPfKTO2iTXbYFNByhjgvS-0zQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjspeP3yILnAhXs73MBHUpTCMw4ChDoATAFegQICBAB#v=onepage&q=horse&f=false

চৌধুরী, প্রমথ. (1914). চুটকি। প্রবন্ধ সংগ্রহ

https://bn.wikisource.org/wiki/%E0%A6%AA%E0%A6%BE%E0%A6%A4%E0%A6%BE:%E0%A6%AA%E0%A7%8D%E0%A6%B0%E0%A6%AC%E0%A6%A8%E0%A7%8D%E0%A6%A7_%E0%A6%B8%E0%A6%82%E0%A6%97%E0%A7%8D%E0%A6%B0%E0%A6%B9_-_%E0%A6%AA%E0%A7%8D%E0%A6%B0%E0%A6%AE%E0%A6%A5_%E0%A6%9A%E0%A7%8C%E0%A6%A7%E0%A7%81%E0%A6%B0%E0%A7%80.pdf/%E0%A7%A7%E0%A7%A6%E0%A7%AA

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).

 

 

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.
.
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

Fort William’s Chowringhee Gate, Gobindapur, Calcutta, c1880

Chowringhee gate Fort William an albumen photo, 1880's

ফোর্ট উইলিয়াম কেল্লার চৌরঙ্গি ফটক, গোবিন্দপুর, কলকাতা, c১৮৮০
The Fort William’s Chowringhee Gate faces Chowringhee. Earlier the gate was exclusively used for the elite and so was also called the Royal Gate. The old quarters on the top of the Chowringhee was renovated later. The General Officer Commanding (GOC), Headquarters, Bengal Area, stays here. The Flag Staff House was built in 1937-38 to replace the original structure. It affords a splendid panoramic view of Chowringhee and Maidan.
Albumen photo by unknown photographer. c1880

East India Company’s Factory, Cossimbazar, 1795

view_of_the_East_India_Company's_Factory_at_Cossimbazarকাশিমবাজারে ইস্ট ইন্ডিয়া কোম্পানির কারখানা, ১৭৯৫
Cossimbazar was the chief overseas port in Bengal from the 16th to the 18th centuries and as a result, all the different European nations who traded with India had a factory in the town. By the close of the 17th century the English factory, depicted in this drawing, was a highly profitable enterprise. The factory owed much of its wealth to its location, near Murshidabad, and to the efficiency of the Commercial Agent and Chief who ran the factory. Its position as chief overseas port in Bengal was surpassed by Calcutta at the end of the 18th century and the town began to decline.
Watercolour of the rear view of the East India Company’s Factory at Cossimbazar in West Bengal by an anonymous artist working in the Murshidabad style, part of the Hyde Collection, c.1795. Inscribed on back in ink: ‘North view of the Cossimbuzar Factory House.’.

Fort William, Calcutta, 1754

ফোর্ট উইলিয়ম, কলকাতা, ১৭৫৪
This is the original, or the first of the two Fort Williams built in 1696 by the British East India Company. It was constructed under the supervision of John Goldsborough. Sir Charles Eyre started construction near the bank of the River Hooghly with the South-East Bastion and the adjacent walls. It was named after King William III in 1700. The original building had two stories and projecting wings. An internal guard room turned out to be the Black Hole of Calcutta. In 1756, the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj Ud Daulah, attacked the Fort, temporarily conquered the city, and changed its name to Alinagar. This led the British to build a new fort in the Maidan. The Old Fort was repaired and used as a customs house from 1766 onwards.
Coloured engraving of Fort William in Calcutta by Jan Van Ryne (1712-60 published by Robert Sayer in London in 1754.

Fort William, Calcutta, 1781

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

Fort William – Rampart Barracks, Calcutta, c1915

FortWilliam_Rampart_Barrack-c1915 ফোর্ট উইলিয়ম ব্যারাক বাড়ি, কলকাতা, c১৯১৫
Fort William was built by the British in 1758. It was begun by Lord Clive after the battle of Plassey in 1758. The cost to build the citadel of Fort William was two million sterling. A garrison of 15,000 men were needed for its defence. Fort William is one of the most impressive examples of European fortification in the East. Roughly octagonal in shape , with six principal gates, it was designed by Captain John Brohier in 1757. It took 13 years to complete at a staggering cost of over 2 million pounds. It replaced old Fort William, which lay slightly to the north. Modelled on Vauban’s 17th century defensive concepts, the work was finished by Archibald Campbell after Brohier was charged with fraud and absconded from custody. The construction of the Fort altered the whole plan of Calcutta and generated a wave of rebuilding. A huge open space, the maidan  was cleared to give an unrestricted field of fire. Excellent views of the outer ramparts and the fosse may be obtained from the Maidan, which, with its numerous tanks, offers a pleasant retreat with shaded walks and distant vistas of Government House and the Victorian Memorial. The barrack buildings are typical of the period; long, three – storey blocks, plainly detailed in a classical style and face in chunam.The interior is generally confined and hot, the guns being actually so hot (even in the what is called cold season) that one could scarcely bear to keep their hand upon them. Mosquitos are innumerable and are most annoying pests, besides Jackals too abound within the ramparts yelling and screeching of a night as to startle sleepers from their slumbers thinking as a newcomer would that some children were screaming. see more
Photographer unknown

Military Club House across the Dhurrumtollah Tank, Esplanade Row, Calcutta, 1851

clubHouse-Tankধর্মতলা তালাও সংলগ্ন মিলিটারি ক্লাব, এসপ্ল্যানেড রো, কলকাতা, ১৮৫১
This is a view looking across the Dhurrumtollah Tank towards the buildings along Esplanade Row. The Military Club, later United Services Club, and finally the Bengal Club, is the four storied building on the left. When the Bengal Club was first conceived in the winter of 1826-7, it was christened the Calcutta United Service Club, at a meeting held in the Calcutta Town Hall. It was presided over by Lt Col the Hon J. Finch, who was later to become the first President of the Club. The Club was housed in a building in Esplanade West, erected in 1813. Fund raising was through the then popular method of lottery. This large neo-classical building now houses the Geological Survey of India.
A hand-coloured print of the Military Club House, Calcutta, from the Fiebig Collection: Views of Calcutta and Surrounding Districts, taken by Frederick Fiebig in 1851.

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