Barrackpore House & Its English Park: 1803-1912

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

রাজভবন লাটবাগান

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BARRACKPORE
…….

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

[*Tom Raw, the Griffin. 1824]

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

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

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

Government House Walk. Photographer: Bourne, Samuel. c1865

Government House Walk. Photographer: Bourne, Samuel. c1865


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

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

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

II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bear Garden. Photographer: Fiebig, Frederick. 1851

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

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

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Elephant Stable. Barrackpore Details not known. Courtesy: Alamy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A view of Serampore Artist: Fraser, James Baillie 1826

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

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

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

REFERENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Barrackpore : Story of a Little Calcutta

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

ব্যারাকপুর – কলকাতার অদূরে ‘ছোট কলকাতা’

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

by Ozias Humphry, pencil, chalk and watercolour, 1783

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

RIVER-SIDE

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

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

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

THE PARK

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

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

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

 

MENAGERIE

Menagerie at Barrackpore

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

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

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

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

GAITIES

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

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

cheetah-chasing-a-deer-with-huntsmen_doyly1802

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

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

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

hindoo-pagodas-hunt1824

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

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

Bodies of the Dead

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

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

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

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

 

Ramdulal Dey: The Millionaire Bengal Merchant, 1752-1825

east-indiaman-calcutta-harbor-1974_frans-balthazar-solvyns

Frans Balthazar Solvyns captured this American East Indiaman at anchor in Calcutta harbour in 1794. His painting offers a tantalizing glimpse of America’s forgotten India trade in its prime.  Courtesy: Peabody Essex Museum.

 

রামদুলাল দে, ১৭৫২-১৮২৫

Backdrop

Ramdulal Dey, the millionaire Bengal merchant of late 18th and early 19th centuries, was the foremost name in the chronicle of Indo-American maritime trade. Trading in Calcutta was one of the very important mercantile experiences of America during her early phase of modern globalization. They reached Calcutta in 1775, on the ship Hydra, jointly owned by the Americans and the English. It was a critical time for the newly independent Americans. Being cut off from the West Indies and deprived of their traditional market, they were on the look for a new opportunity for trading. In the context of Napoleonic wars, the opportunity came their way to replace Europe’s East India trade. The wars kept all British ships busy in territorial defense. The European colonial powers were in constant conflict around Indian and Atlantic oceans. America, being a neutral nation, held a strategic position to exploit seaborne trading across troubled seas.
American’s trade with British India began to grow extensively from 1790. In an average America sent 30 to 50 ships annually to Calcutta only. As it was estimated in 1806, within some years America had imported goods from Calcutta worth of at least three millions of dollars. ‘Calcutta was the most active Indian port for their commerce. Americans in India never established a commercial house as they did in China. Nor did they use the European agency houses. Instead they made use of the services of the banians, or the Indian brokers. With East India Company background, the banians at Calcutta were already reputed professionals. A small number of banians took advantages of the situation and became specialists in the American trade. Ramdulal Dey, Asutosh Dey and Promathanath Dey, Rajindra Datta, Kalidas Datta, Rajkrishna and Radhakrishana Mitra, Ramchandra Banarjee, Kalisankar and Durgaprasad Ghose were some of the early banians who carried on big business in Calcutta with the Americans. Among them Ramdulal Dey was the first and most famous banian connected with the American trade.

Early Life

Ramdulal Dey was also known as ‘Ramdulal Sarkar’, ‘Sarkar’ being a honorific title used in  his family. Ramdulal also wore a compound surname ‘DeSarkar’ combining his hereditary title and the surname, comparable with the  DeSarkars – common in some parts of eastern India. In intimate circles Ramdulal was better known by his sobriquet ‘Dulal’, ‘Doolal’ or ‘Dolloll’. In later years when he married his grandson off to a girl of higher caste, Ramdulal changed his family surname ‘Dey’ or its variant ‘De” into Brahmin sounding honorific ‘Deb’. (See Huttum /Kaliprasanna Singha)

ramdoolaldesarkar

Ramdulal De

Ramdulal Dey, alias Dulal Sarkar was the eldest son of Balaram Sarkar, a poor villager of Rekjani, a hamlet near Dumdum. His only occupation was to impart Bengali writing skill to the children of the peasants backed by his rudimentary knowledge of Bengali and the gifted skill in calligraphic art he had. During the Mahratta invasion of 1751-52, Balaram with his expectant wife fled from his ancestral home for good. On their way, Ramdulal was born and began his journey of life with empty hands. Balaram, before he died, could give him nothing, not even rudiments of his own vernacular to his child. Ramdulal had already lost his mother. It was his maternal grandfather, Ramsundar Biswas who took the orphan boy to Calcutta where he lived ‘upon the fruits of beggary’, and his wife used to husk rice for the market until she could secure a stable job of a cook in the house of a wealthy merchant at Hatkhola. She brought in her grandson, Dulal, to stay with her. The master of the house, Madanmohan Dutta, Dewan of Export Warehouses, ‘the rival in wealth of Rajah Navokrishna’, did not mind adding Ramdulal to the long list of his dependents. Here Ramdulal managed to receive his first lessons from the pundit engaged for the sons of his master. He had only to buy erasable palm leaves for mastering alphabets, and plantain leaves for copying texts. His will and energy made him soon an excellent penman and a fast accountant. He also picked up by then some broken English.
Madanmohan must have found in Ramdulal his qualities before offering him the job of Bill Sarkar on a salary of Rs 5/- a month. ‘Even out from this contemptible amount he contrived by rigid parsimony to save as much as a hundred rupees’, which he invested in a timber depot at Bagbazar with the purpose of helping his grandpa. Being much impressed with these admirable traits in the character of his young protégé, Madanmohan promoted Ramdulal to  Ship Sarkar  on pay of 10 rupees a month, ‘with lots of buxies, alternated of course by blows from ship captains, mates and crew.’ In all weathers, he was to go out into the mouth of the river at Diamond Harbour to superintendent the loading and unloading and discharge of cargo. After Khejuri   Diamond Harbour was the place of anchorage for foreign vessels. In one of his trips he chanced to see a foundering vessel with full cargo close to the mouth of the Hooghly. Out of habit Ramdulal assess the nature of the wreck, cost of recovery and its worth.
After a short while, Ramdulal was sent to attend an auction at Tulloh and Company for certain items to buy. Sadly, all those items were sold out before Ramdulal stepped in. Right that moment, the auctioneer was lustily crying up a wreck – an item out of their next lot. The wreck was no other than the one Ramdulal had recently witnessed. He was tempted to bid with his master’s money. His bid, perhaps the only bid, was accepted. Ramdulal bought the wreck paying fourteen thousand rupees out of his master’s money. Before he left the place, an English gentleman rushed to him insisting on reselling the ship to him. After a long-drawn haggling the Englishman stumped out handsomely and got the sale transferred in his favour.

diamondharbour_cargoships

Diamond Harbour Cargo Ships      Courtesy: Alamy

Back to his master, Ramdulal narrated the whole sequence before he humbly handed over to him the entire resale amount of nearly a lakh of rupees. His master, one of the progenitors of the Nimtala Duttas, had a princely soul. He blessed the boy – so unlike the world, so Roman in his honesty, and said, “Ramdoolal, the money is yours … you sowed the seed and you shall reap the harvest.” It was a treasure to a sarkar of 10 rupees a month. The windfall gift made up the working capital for his business venture that made him exceedingly rich and one of the richest in Calcutta during the lifetime of Madan Dutta. Ramdulal, however, never missed the occasion of receiving from his master his ten-rupee stipend and his blessings on pay days.

Banian of American Merchants

india-calcutta-launching-of-merchant-ship-circa-1798-by-frans-balthazar

Launching of Merchant Ship at Old Fort ghat Calcutta. c.1798. Artist Francis Balthazar. Courtesy: PEM

In no time Ramdulal made a fortune by careful investment and good luck. During growth of consignment trade and agency houses, he was attached to Fairly Fergusson & Company as their banian agent. At the same time he worked independently for other traders, equipped with his outstanding negotiation skills, market intelligence, and his all-round support service, including, establishing local market connections, organizing dadny merchants, market promotion, and financial assistance as well. He was on great demand. His cooperation was also sought by all British agency houses. Ramdulal partnered with the American traders rather than the European companies or English private merchants. Apart maritime trade, Ramdulal had active interest in stocks and shares, and real estates. The genius of Ramdulal, according to his biographer, could transform dross into gold. However, he owed his earthly prosperity mostly to the American merchants whom he served as their local agent, and also invested his own capital with them. American merchants used his credit in their coasting trade in the Bay of Bengal region and shared profit with Ramdulal.

 

From 1790 American trade with British India grew fast. Mostly the merchant houses of Boston, Salem, Beverly, Philadelphia, Providence, Marblehead, Yankee and New York sent their ships regularly to buy Bengal goods. Every house had its own banians stationed in Calcutta.

Salem_shipping_waterfront -colonial_color

Scene along the Salem waterfront c.1770-80 Courtesy: PEM

Annually 30 to 50 ships sailed to Calcutta, carrying cargo of dollars, iron, lead, brandy, Madeira and other wines, fish, spermaceti candles, mackerel, beef, beer, ice, variety of Europeans articles, tar, large and small spars. On their return the ships took varied types of Bengal goods, including tea, sugar, indigo, linseed, saltpeter, gunny bags, and most importantly, textiles. Many advertisements included lists of Indian textiles, such as bafta, gurrah, mamoody, and bandanna as well as names of the towns, like Alliabad, Dacca, Gaurypore, etc. where the cloths were made. ‘Every housewife in Salem knew the difference between gurrahs and mamoodies’. Of all the textiles exported to America, white cotton goods were by far the most common, although printed and dyed cottons, silk goods, especially handkerchiefs, mixed silk, cotton goods, and woollen shawls were also important. [See Bean] As recorded, the total American trade for the ten-year period beginning from 1795/6 exceeded by about one-fourth that carried on under the flags of all overseas partners including European nations. [See: Islam, ‘Yankee Maritime’]

The Americans carried on the bulk of their trade through the Indian brokers. It was not simply because of economic reasons they did it, but for the strategic advantage of having the highly competent and experienced Calcutta banians by their side.

RajenDutt_andOthrs_Claymodel

Calcutta Banians (clay models) Courtesy: Peabody Museum

The early Americans had treated the Indians with informality, humour and respect. Ramdulal Dey was the most prominent among them, and became a household name among the contemporary American business houses. He exhibited the greatest activity and fascination in alluring the trade of the America to the horbours of Bengal. The bulk of American business passed through Ramdulal’s hands. He came to be quoted as an authority in American commercial circles. So great was the confidence which his constituents in the new hemisphere reposed on his ability and his integrity, that for the first time in the history of Indian commerce, the merchants of America dispensed with European Agents in Bengal altogether. [See: Grish]

The extent of Ramdual Dey’s American connection may be guessed from the array of merchants of whom he was the sole agent in Bengal. The list found from the books of the period immediately following his death.

BOSTON
G.R. Minot, G. Warren, J.Young, J.S. Amory, T. Wigglesworth, J.I. Coleridge,
H. Irving, J.J. Bowditch, B.Rich and Son, E. Rhodes, F.W. Everitt, W. Godard,
Mackie and coleridge, H.Lee, O. Godwin, Theuring and Perkins.
NEW YORK
Messrs. Lennox & sons, G.S. Higginson, Messrs. C & D. Skinner, Messrs.
Singleton & Mezick, S. Austin Junior, W.C. Appleton, E.B. Crocker, E.
Davies, J.J. Dixwell, W.A. Brown, A. Baker junior, G. Brown. T.C. Bacon, M.
Curtis, Baring Brothers

PHILADELPHIA
Messrs. Grant & Stone.

SALEM
Pickering Dodge, W. London

NEWBERRY
The Hon’ble E.S. Rant, J.H. Telcombe.

MARVELHEAD.
J. Hooper

One of the American merchants fondly dedicated a vessel to ‘Ram Dolloll’ and named after him. The vessel sailed carrying Ramdulal’s consignment to Calcutta thrice during his lifetime. Among the ships he owned, Kamala, and Vimala were named after his two daughters, and the ship ‘David Clerk’ was named after one his American business partners and a personal friend.

eastindiamarinehall

Salem Harbor. Originally served as a sign over the door of the first East India Marine Hall. Oil. 1803. Courtesy: PEM

American trade brought about ‘a new dimension to the cultural and commercial milieu of the city’. The American way of conducting the business helped in fostering some sort of cultural intercourse between Bengal and America. The Peabody Museum, Salem and the Essex institute in Massachusetts still hold nine portraits of banians in their collections are the potent survivors of such relationships. The portraits were commissioned by the banians for presentation to the Americans and business associates. The practice of commissioning and exchanging portraits is a tantalizing indication of cordial relationships as between equals. ‘In 1801 twenty-two American merchants in gratitude presented a life-sized oil on canvas, the first portrait of George Washington by William Winstanley . . . to their banian Ramdoolal Dey under whose guidance they had all prospered in the Bengal trade.’ [See: Bean]

Rags to Riches

The illustrious shipping magnet may serve as a striking example of ‘vertical mobility’ from poverty to wealth. Like two contemporaries, Akrur Dutta, and Krishnakanta Nandy (1720-95), Ramdulal rose to eminence from humble and obscure origins. Ramdulal Dey, the millionaire of the early 19th century, left estates worth of Rs 33,01,424 of which the Calcutta and suburban properties accounted for Rs 6,17,750, yielding an annual rent of Rs 25,314 (1825-26). By contrast the rural properties, all close to Calcutta, were worth only Rs 58,5000. He also left behind sundry promissory notes of the Hon’ble Company, shares in various insurance companies, sundry bonds mainly from Europeans, sundry bills including China supercargoes bill, notes from Rustomji Turner & Company, Davidson & Company, Palmer & Company, etc; ship David Clerk, shares in Sauger Island Society; and balances due from different companies. When one of the two sons of Ramdulal Dey died in 1854 his estates in Calcutta were worth Rs Rs 3,62,862 and the value of his zamindari properties was more than Rs 2,00,000. The proportion of zamindari properties to urban real estate demonstrated a substantial increase in one generation.

Ramdulal had a noble heart and a humanitarian mindset. His charity was proverbial. He liberally donated for the cause of education and social welfare unquestioningly. He was a benefactor to the greatest educational institution of early colonial Calcutta, the Hindu College. Ramdulal was ready to extend help to suffering humanity anywhere; He had sent donations to the flood and famine victims in Bakhargunge, Madras, and as far as in Ireland. Ramdulal established ‘Atithisala’ an asylum for the destitute in Belgachia. At Beneras, he erected 13 Shiva temples. For sanctification of the temples alone Ramdulal spent around Rs 2,22,000. Besides, public charity, Ramdulal in private helped the poor and needy in many ways. He kept aside Rs 70 a day for the relief of distressed persons. He employed three physicians for visiting the poor patients to administer medicines and provide medical comforts at his expense.

End of Journey

Ramdulal was a pious man. In spite of being fabulously wealthy he lived a simple life. The only regret he had, that his ambition for ‘Gostopati’ or the community leader of the Kayastha samaj remained unfulfilled. Ramdulal and his adversary, Raja Nabakrishna, were engaged in constant wrangling, backed up by their respective bands of supporters, বাবুর দল (Babur Dawl) and রাজার দল (Rajaar Dawl), where bards, jesters, and common citizens took part. The power struggle between the leaders also encouraged local talents to compose street music, street plays, cartoons etc. contributing to urban folk art and literature of lasting entertainment value and historical significance.
Ramdulal breathed his last on April 1, 1825. His two sons, Asutosh, and Pramathanath, famously known as ‘Chhatu Babu‘, and ‘Latu Babu‘, respectively, performed the ‘Sradh’ ceremony of their father with unprecedented grandeur spending nearly five lakhs of Rupees. Asutosh alias Chhatu Babu, himself a musician, was one of the leading connoisseurs and patrons of classical music. His nach ghar was famed for the performance of the celebrated musicians and dancers of the country. The family maintains the cultural tradition till now. Because of their social graces, Asutosh and Pramathanath, noted for their largesse, were called as the ‘Babus of Bengal’. The epithet highlights their refined taste, affluence and extravagance. The two brothers kept up the social and cultural status to a large extent, but not the level of prosperity Ramdulal had passed on to them. The vast wealth of Ramdulal Dey was rapidly dwindled down due to many a reason. With the failure of Union Bank in 1848, the condition of Banians declined in all respect, and Deys were no exception. Their unfortunate commercial speculations and land investments were among the other reasons, besides the extravagance of his successors who frenziedly pursued their fads and hobbies as well as their noble craze for the performing arts. The house of Ramdulal Dey and his sons, delinked with its eventful past, remains a glorious centre of patronage of classical music and stage art in Bengal.

 

SELECT REFERENCE LIST
Bean, Susan S,’Calcutta Banians for the American Trade: Portraits of Early
Nineteenth-Century Bengali Merchants in the Collections of the
Peabody Museum, Salem and Essex Institute’, Bombay 1990.
– ‘The American Market for Indian Textiles, 1785-1820: In the
Twilight of Traditional Cloth Manufacture’, Peabody Museum of
Salem, 1990.
Chakrabarti,Ranjan, ‘The Brown ships in the Indian Ocean: The American
Merchants and the Bengali Banians 1790-1880’, in Business history of
India, Kalpaz, Delhi, 2006.
Chakrabarti, Shubhra, ‘Collaboration and Resistance: Bengal Merchants and the
English East India Company, 1757-1833,’ Studies in History, 1994, vol. 10, No. 1.
Chaudhuri,Sushil, ‘European Companies and Pre-modern South Asian
Commercial System- A study of Bengal in the Eighteenth
Century’, Calcutta Historical Journal, XI: 1-2 (1986-87).
Ghose, Benoy, ‘Some Old Family Founders in 18th Century Calcutta’, Bengal
Past and Present, Vol. 79, No. 147, 1960
+Ghosh, Grish. C., Ramdulal Dey: The Bengali Millionaire, Calcutta, 1868.
Islam, Sirajul, ‘Americans in Calcutta Bazaars in the Early Nineteenth Century:
Images and Interpretations’, Journal of the Asiatic Society of
Bangladesh, Golden Jubilee Volume (1956-2005), 2005.
*Rahman, Murshida Bintey, Banians in the Bengal economy, 18th and 18th century. Dacca
University. 2013
Roy, Tirthankar. What is modern and Indian about the business history [ Book review]
LSEPS, 2015
Verny, Michael A, ‘An Eye for Prices, an Eye for Souls: Americans in the Indian Subcontinent, 1784-1838.’ Journal of the Early Republic 33: 3 (2013)
* Used extensively in this write up.
+ Courtesy : Dr Alok Ray for providing access and help

 

 

Rajendra Dutt 1818-1889

Clay models, Peabody Museum, Salem: Seated on (from left) Rajendra Dutt, Doorgaprasad Ghose, and Raj Kissen Mitter

রাজেন্দ্র দত্ত ১৮১৮-১৮৮৯

Banias of the 19th century belonged to the top class urban society of Bengal. Rajendra Dutta, the great grandson of Akrur Dutta was born in a traditional Bania family and brought up in an environment of Cultural Revolution constantly adjusting himself with his changing society. Rajendra dedicated his life for the good of his people. The good he did for them was prodigious, but lasted for only a while, then lost in nothingness. Little we know about Rajendra to understand why he preferred pursuing his mission single-handed rather than to building institutions for quicker attainments of his purpose. He went door to door with his medicine bag to treat patients, but did not build a good hospital of standing. Whatever he did did privately, keeping no records for his future biographers to track down.

Dutta Family of Wellington

Rajender Dutt, c1850. Opaque watercolor on ivory By unknown Indian artist. Courtesy: Peabody Museum, Salem

Akrur Dutta, the illustrious great grandfather of Rajendra, was the founder of one of the most respectable Calcutta families, the family of ‘Dutts’ of Wellington Square. The ‘Dutts’, however, did never mind being called ‘Duttas’ interchangeably. Akrur was born in 1720 in Sonatikri village in Hooghly. At the age of 20 he came to Calcutta, and start a career of ‘dadni’, a contract merchant. Soon he shifted to sloop business with the support of Pritiram Marh, the father-in-law of Rani Rashmoni. Akrur turned out to be the best sloop contractor in Bengal by 1780.

After Akrur, his eldest son, Rammahan took up the rein from 1809 to speed their business competing with the British interests. He ran his sloop business profitably for a decade and then wisely decided to move out to shipping business. Rammahan Dutta became an upright flourishing ship merchant of Calcutta. The Duttas stand apart from most of their contemporaries in that they continued to thrive long after the English Company had stopped to patronize them. Ultimately he also decided to retire from business because of being continuously harassed by the British antagonism.

Rajendra, born in Calcutta in 1818, inherited the business acumen of his great grandfather, the legendary solook merchant Akrur Dutta, and of his ship merchant grandfather, Rammahan. His father Parbaticharan Dutta died prematurely leaving Rajendra to the care of their uncle Durgacharan Dutta, the eldest son of Rammahan. Rajendra and his uncle Kalidas, the two highly resourceful young men, firmly established themselves as outstanding banias of the American ships during 1850s. See Shubra Chakrabarti

The relations amongst the ‘Dutt’ family members can be readily ascertained by glancing through the family-tree headed by Okrur Dutt, (anglicized form of Akrur Dutta’):

familyTree_AkrurDutt

The family has lived together with their property in common and with no division for generations, the eldest member guiding the direction of all affairs. In 1849, there were ‘two hundred of them living together …. Most of them are free from any prejudices of caste, and, scorning the native superstition’. See: Norton’s letter

Upbringing

Parbaticharan Dutta died prematurely when his son Rajendra was a mere child. He grew under the care of Durgacharan, the eldest among his uncles. The first thing Durgacharan did was to get Rajendra admitted to the Dhuramtala Academy of David Drummond, a celebrated teacher of logical mind. Rajendra then joined Hindu College, where Vivian Derozio was one of his teachers. There he grew up among few nonconformist friends, branded ‘Young Bengal’. Completing his studies at Hindu College, Rajendra pursued study of medicine in Calcutta Medical College as an external student.
He studied medicine for equipping himself to provide his people with medical service and support gratis. Even when he was in business, Rajendra zealously maintained the desire for mitigating sufferings of his people irrespective of their class and creed. ‘Rajababu’ or ‘Rajen Dutta’ became a household name synonymous with ‘friend in need’.

Maritime Merchant

Indiaman owned by Dudley Leavitt Pickman and partners_orgnl

Friendship of Salem owned by Dudley Leavitt Pickman and partners

After the collapse of agency houses, the Calcutta banias were in the decline. A few powerful merchants like Dwarkanath Tagore, Motilal Sheal, Rustamji took up partnership business with the British. But when the Union Bank and the Car-Tagore Company collapsed at short intervals in January 1848, the banias thought it unwise for them to stick to trading business any more, and ventured into real estate.

RajenDutt_Partner_Dudley_Leavitt_PickmanRev

Dudley Leavitt Pickman Partner of Rajendra Dutt

Duttas, however, were among the few exceptions who sought commercial prosperity by alternative means. Soon they plunged into trading with American enterprises, and that helped them sustain in business for few more years. It seems likely that young Duttas received inspiration from the great achievement of Radhanath Mullick of Pataldanga, an upright ship merchant who had set up the first Indian dry dock in Calcutta after breaking away from partnership with the English. Moreover, Duttas might be tipped off by Pramathanath, the successor of Ramdulal Day, who happened to be a relative to Rajendra’s wife.
In 1842, William Bullard, came to Calcutta for trading as a partner of Bullard and Lee and continued his business for about ten years. Before Bullard and Lee wound up, Bullard and his agent ‘Rajender’ became personal friends. Rajendra also had occasions to treat Bullard with homeopathy. In 1852, another American firm, Stone, Silsbee and Pickman of Salem entered business with Duttas.  Rajendra and his uncle Kalidas proved to be highly creditable businessmen who in no time “became the banias of a number of American shipping firms such as George Auckland and Co., Atkinson Tilton and Co., Richard Lewis, Norman Brothers and B.R. Wheelnight and Co. At the same time, Duttas themselves founded a shipping company in collaboration with one Linzy (variant ‘Lintzy’), an American entrepreneur, and called it Dutts-Linzy and Company. They also invested in other concerns such as the Ganges Pilot and Co., Hooghly Tug and Co., Serampore Spinning and Weaving Co., and Rishra Yarn Co.” See: MB Rahman

The Duttas, both Kalidas and Rajendra, were entrusted with the responsibility of purchasing goods to be sent to America. Instead of silk and cotton piece goods, indigo, linseed, saltpetre, hide and jute were now in demand in America, the prices of which fluctuated a great deal according to the seasons and the availability of these goods in local markets, allowing high business gain. By August 1857 the joint venture of Kalidas and Rajendra came to an end. There was nothing to suggest a family dispute, or any other possible reasons. Rajendra now entered into business with the American shipper Linzy on a commission basis, which allowed greater profits and greater control on the visiting ships than acting as their bania. See Shubra Chakrabarti

As it appears from available sources, Rajendra carried on his business till early 70s.
The most important factors behind the survival of the Duttas were their ability to diversify and to move into related areas of commerce; and also their aptitude to evolve a sociable personal relationship among business partners that helped mutual success and continuity. Charles Eliot Norton, representative of Boston House, may provide best instances in support of this view.

Living Style & Social Grace
As Reflected in Letters of His Friend Chales Norton

Charles Eliot Norton, by Samuel Worcester Rowse

Charles Eliot Norton, by Samuel Worcester Rowse

Rajendra Dutta, like most of his family members, was of sociable nature. He had many friends. Some of his good friends were picked from his American business partners. Quite a few of them turned later into acclaimed academics. (See Sirajul)  They continued correspondence with Rajendra discussing different matters of their interest beyond business, as they did in Calcutta. ‘Norton a supercargo later turned academician’ wrote several letters to his family members and Boston friends, recounting the warmth of the friendship he enjoyed in company of Rajendra, and reflections on Rajendra’s lifestyle, his environment and obligations. (See Bean)  Norton wrote to his aunt, Miss Anna Ticknor, on October 21, ‘89 that he was invited to a native theatrical entertainment’ at Dutta’s house. The house he found, ‘. . ill-situated, large, and inelegant on the outside. Within, the rooms, which are generally very small, are built around an open square court; about the second story runs a verandah with which the upper chambers communicate. All looks uncared for and often dirty, as if there were an absence, as indeed there is, of refined taste and oversight.’
Norton sat on the verandah watching the episode of Nala and Damyanti being played. He was surprised that ‘the only mark of applause among the audience was the occasional throwing of some rupees tied in the corner of a handkerchief at the feet of the actors, and this was only done by the family or the guests in the verandah. It was only by their stillness and attention that the crowd below showed their approbation’. He thought the Hindu, ‘whose highest idea of happiness is inaction, can hardly understand that state of excitement which finds vent in a Western audience in a whirlwind of applause’. Norton misinterpreted the conduct, not being versant with the etiquette of Hindustani music, which never approves an applaud dispelling its lingering appeal. Hindustani music sounded ‘nasal and unmusical’ to Norton. But soon he gained some respect for the system, and came to know that “to a stranger the music is quite uninteresting, but I have no doubt it would become less so the more you heard, particularly if you knew anything of the science, for it is cultivated as a science, of Hindu music.” This he apparently learnt from his friend Rajendra.
Norton wrote to his sister Louisa on October 22, 1849 that the Dutta family was a very remarkable one; and added, “I treated them as gentlemen and as equals, we are now warm friends”. The Duttas, on the other hand, delightfully found their new friend’s interest ‘in the Hindus’, ‘their characteristic customs and habits’. Rajender had prepared a Hindu dress for Norton to wear on a special occasion, as he thought ‘that the natives would be pleased at the conformity to their customs’. His friend Norton found the dress a picturesque and most comfortable one for the climate.
On October 31, 1849, Charles Norton in a letter to his mother gave his scathing re-view on the Hindu rites of sacrificing that he experienced at Dutta’s house on the occasion of Jagadhatri Puja. He was there invited to see the ritual. The old Durgacharan, the head of the Dutta family, on his knees, bending head to the ground, made some silent prayer. When he rose, “a goat was brought forward, and its head being fastened was struck off at one blow by an attendant. Three or four musicians made a loud din with their tom-toms and cymbals; the blood of the goat was poured over the plates of offerings.” Describing the shocking sight he shared his immediate reactions with his mother. – “It is a fact strikingly characteristic of Hindu nature, of its aversion to change, of its want of spirit to break through the shackles that bind it. Rajender did not even pretend to regard the sacrifice with anything but contempt. . . .” (My emphasis) See: Norton

Philanthropy

In words of Shivnath Shastri, Rajendra had all the advantages that wealth and education could give him. See: Shibnath Rajendra dedicated all resources to help his people to live fit and well, with dignity. He studied medicine with this object, and rendered most extraordinary caring service for well-being of the people, irrespective of their class and faith.

Homeopathy
Finishing academic studies, Rajendra opted for medical science to fulfill his cherished ambition to relieve the sufferings of diseased humanity. Rajendra set up at his residence an allopathic dispensary in collaboration with the eminent physician Dr Durgacharan Banerjee. He earned reputation as a allopathic doctor. But he felt not so happy with the results of his allopathic treatment.Rajendra got involved in exploring alternative methods of treatment, and eventually found his answers in homeopathy. In 1864 he opened a charitable homeopathy dispensary, and earned wide reputation as a homeopathic practitioner in Calcutta society. He cured Pundit Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar of his chronic ailment that baffled the leading allopath doctors. He also successfully treated a nasty gangrene developed on a leg of Rajah Radhakanta Deb, and had the rare privilege of attending the God-like personality, Sriramakrishna. The contribution of Rajen Dutta however was not limited to practising homeopathy but mothering the young science in India by promoting its capabilities, and reinforcing the drive for homeopathy by winning over confidence of other practitioners. He pushed up Dr C.F. Tonnere, helped him setting up a Homeopathy Institute. Rajendra also worked with French physician Dr. Thienette de Berigny when he was in Calcutta. It was a memorable day, when at the residence of Pearycharan Sircar, Rajendra had convinced the young Mahendra Lal Sircar, an MD, of the efficacy of Homeopathy by demonstration in presence of Dr Berigny and few students of Calcutta Medical College. See Pearycharan Jibanbritta. Dr Sircar, then a medical star of the Calcutta medical firmament, took to homeopathy under the tutelage of Rajen Dutta. (See: Collection on Carcinosimum/ By Mahender Singh, Jain.2003) During the latter part of his life, taking Dr Berigny with him, Rajendra went round visiting the sick, making no distinction of creed, caste, or rank. Such visits were not just professional, but friendly as well. He would sit by his patients in friendly chat; and arrange for their diet or any other necessities, if needed. As an instance of his caring attention to his patients, we may recall that Rajendra, in one of his visits to ailing Sriramakrishna in April 1886, happened to notice the wretched pair of sandals on his feet and took personal care to get them replaced with a new made-to-order pair. The sandal is now preserved in Belur Math as an object of worship. See Kathamrita
Rajendra Dutta has made a permanent place in history as the father of homeopathy in India. Whatever else he did for the good of his patients remain unexplored.

Hindu Metropolitan College
In 1854, the middle-class sentiment of the Calcutta gentlemen had a shock when Hira Bulbul, a well-known Baiji, wished to get her meritorious son admitted to Hindu College – the elite institution of Western education. Hira Bulbul presumably had some patrons to back her up, and Rajendra, a genuine admirer of her music (See Norton), and a champion of human dignity, could have been the likely sponsor of her move. But, other than his liberal character and his humanitarian principles, which his friend Charles Norton analytically described, nothing whatsoever was found to hold up any possibility of his supporting Hira’s cause. On the contrary, there remains a popular belief that it was Rajendra who really lead the protest movement against Hindu College and broke away with a good number of mainstream Hindu elites to establish the Hindu Metropolitan College. The only reason that might explain his disagreement with Hindu College was perhaps the serious lack of spiritual input for educating their boys.  Today, reviewing the situation with a wider perspective, the episode of Hira Bulbul appeared to be merely an accidental cause for founding the Hindu Metropolitan college in 1853, which was , actually, ‘opened by a knot of orthodox Hindus, as a sort of protest against the laxity displayed in the matter of religious teaching in the older institution.’ (My emphasis) See Life of Indian journalist

The Hindu Metropolitan College, the first national college in Calcutta, opened in the palatial house of Gopal Mullick at Sanduriapatty, with Radhakanta Deb as the President and Debendranath Tagore as the Secretary. Celebrities like Motilal Sheal, Bhudeb Mukhopadhyay, and Rajendra Dutta were among its patrons. The college was fortunate to have Captain David Richardson as its Principal. Rajendra had a major role in setting up the College, and managing its affairs. He also had to shoulder its financial burden as well. Soon it earned reputation as an excellent institution of learning. Several men of eminence had their education here. Keshub Chandra Sen, Sambhu Chandra Mookherjee, Kristodas Pal were among the students of upper class. The college ran for a few years only. The reason of its discontinuation was thought by many as a natural outcome of the shift in the Government policy for admission to Hindu College. The new policy permitted no students other than sons of the Hindu community to get admission to the School section of the Hindu College. The policy of admission to College section however remained unchanged, allowing students of all castes and creeds. As we see today, this policy shift did not affect the senior section, where the final products of the College were groomed, and on whom the reputation of the College largely depended. Since there was no change in College level admission policy, we cannot reasonably guess why then the new policy be considered as the reason for declining importance of the Hindu Metropolitan College and its diminishing relevance to contemporary society. It looks like that the restriction imposed for school-level admission was no more than a compromise that suited both the sides at least for the time being.

Savitri Library

Savitri, a free circulating library was founded in 1879 in the Dutta house at Akrur Dutta Lane. It started with the donated books from the private library of Duttas enriched with contributions of scholarly family members, particularly Rajendra, an acknowledged book lover and book collector. He grew a fine collection out of the books gifted to him, ordered by him, and also received on exchange. (See Bean). His interest had no boundary. Harvard University gratefully acknowledged his gift of precious volumes of oriental literature. One may be pleasantly surprised to find him sending for a copy of Mrs Kirkland’s ‘The book of home beauty’ as early as in 1853.

Rajendra was in his fifties when Savitri started. His two cousins, Gobindalal and Kanailal Dutta, were in the forefront of all activities of the library and its literary and the cultural events conducted under the library banner. Illustrious literary personalities, like Bankimchandra, Chandranath Basu, visited Duttas’ courtyard to preside over the Library foundation day celebrations. Here at a public meeting called by the Swa-Dharma Samity, Rabindranath made his historical announcement on September 17, 1905 of the nationwide observation of Rakhibandhan Day in protest of the Government move for Bengal Partition. See:Basantipur Times

Savitri continued for many more years after Rajendra passed away. When the li-brary was finally closed its collections were donated to Sahitya Parishad.

Women Emancipation
Among other issues, women’s emancipation- ‘women’s rights, the plights of Hindu widows, and the need for women’s education’ –  was one of his chief concerns. The introduction of the sewing machine to Calcutta society in 1853 had been a significant news item in context of social change. The machine got imported for the first time from America by Rajendra Dutta (see: Benoy Ghose). The same year he brought Mrs. Kirkland’s ‘The book of home beauty’. His involvement in the move-ment against polygamy might be deeper than just putting signature on the joint petition, বহুবিবাহ প্রথা নিবারণার্থ আবেদনপত্র, signed by over two thousand citizens. He must not have ever forgotten his suffering of being a father to see his only daughter a child widow. It was expected that he had made some organized effort for the cause of women.
Above everything, Rajendra considered the improvement of the basic character of his people by restoring spirit of goodwill, desire for learning, patriotism, which have been eroded partly as a result of the abuse of foreign dominations, especially under the British rules. Some scholars, who intimately studied the Bengali society of the mid-19th century,  ‘distinguished a lower and higher type of Indian’. The demarcation hinged, not on wealth or even on education as such, but on whether privileged Hindus used their education and intelligence to raise the character of their people. ‘Of those who did, like Rajinder Dutt (sic), there seemed hardly a saving remnant’ See: Turner

A Tragic Hero of Bengal Renaissance

rajedraDutta

Rajendra Dutt. Clay model. Courtesy: Peabody Museum, Salem

Rajendra Dutta, an acknowledged protagonist of social upliftment had fought lifelong for the cause of the common people by democratic means. He continued unendingly with his struggle against social evils, like illiteracy, physical and mental sickness, cultural apathy. His Indianness, his unshaken loyalty to cultural tradition made Rajendra different from his Derozian classmates at Hindu School. He took the gradual path of social change as opposed to the revolutionary path of his Young Bengal friends. We may not however forget that Rajendra Dutta was after all a product of David Drummond, the brilliant teacher who fired his pupils’ mind with the culture of independent thinking. Drummond also had produced Henry Derozio, the fiery patriot who instilled the spirit of liberty, equality and freedom in the minds of his students at Hindu College.
Rajendra did never admit the ‘professed’ Derozians’ arrogant disregard for authority and tradition, as to him those were much too deep-rooted social system to throw out overnight without destroying the society itself. This conviction determined his way of negotiation with the realities of social discriminations and abuses and deprivations of their legitimate right of living useful life in good health with dignity.
It was his dogged fidelity to the tradition and authority that costed his mental peace and happiness in personal life, and even forced him to sacrifice his personal preferences of religious affinity. He had been a defenseless spectator of the bloody rite of animal sacrifice performed in his own house; and a condemned father who had to bless his only daughter marrying under-aged only to get back as a cursed widow-child.

Rajendra had also given up his right of embracing a faith of his choice. As it appears in some letters and journals of his contemporaries, Rajendra had every opportunity to come close to espousing progressive Christian or Brahmo ideologies. In 1854 Rajendra met Reverend Charles Brooks, a Unitarian pastor. Brooks was curious to know why Rajendra had not embraced Unitarianism in spite of so much keenness. Rajendra made it clear that it was because his mother would expect her last right be done by him. Next year, Rev. Charles Dall, the American Unitarian missionary stationed in Calcutta, considered Rajendra as one of the two ‘pioneers in the Unitarian cause’, the other one being Rajnarayan Basu. Rajendra was also closely connected with the Brahmo movement. The harsh comments of the veteran Brahmo, Rakhadas Haldar, that the new Brahmos were no better than Hindus, could not dampen his spirit. The promise of Brahmoism encouraged Rajendra to support Debendranath in Tattvabodhini Sabha. See: Lavan  ‘Dutta expressed his views on religion, in which he assails both Hindu and Christian orthodoxy’ (See Bean )  No matter where he belonged, what he believed, Rajendra pursued religiously his humanitarian labour of love through his life. In his prime time, during mid-19th century, the state of public morals was far from heartening. “The idea of truth seems extinct in the nation, and the higher qualities of the character are developed in very rare and uncertain instances.” Charles Norton, who later in life was regarded ‘the most cultivated man in the US’, wrote “I have seen but one native, whether Hindu, Mussulman, Parsee, or professed Christian, that I respect, — that one is my Calcutta friend, Rajender Dutt.” See Norton
To Norton, Rajendra was a tragic hero as he failed to bring about any lasting effect on the mind-set of his people, and his mission for improving the quality of life of his people and of the society remained a short-lived phase in history. His was a tragedy, because he knew experientially of incorrigible elements of national character, nonetheless never stopped midway, like a Sisyphus.

This is an input for inspiring research

The First English Settlers: Sutanuti Sahibs, 1690 – 1706

View of Calcutta from Hooghly River by William Hodges. c1789

View of Calcutta from Hooghly River by William Hodges. c1789

সুতানুটির সাহেব; ইংরেজ পত্তনির প্রথম ষোল বছর, ১৬৯০- ১৭০৬

Charnock was the main instrument that worked behind the foundation of the British Empire in the East. He felt that Sutanuti was a strategic position and had many advantages for the English that the other places lacked. Provisions were plentiful at its bazaars and hats, Communication by land routs with interior was easier, yet the village was an island that could be cheaply defended. It was a secure position for a naval power. A suitable landing Ghat was already there. Just below the place, the river Hooghly had become deep enough for large ship to ride in. There existed a pucca building which might be used for factors, in case of need. The place, being marshy and unhealthy, had no much value in the eyes of the Moghul. Articles of export could also be had, as a trading community, such as the Setts and Byasacks, had already actively engaged in business there.

bazar india

Cloth merchant measuring cloth. Artist Unknown. 1820

Before acquisition of Calcutta the Savarnas were traditionally the proprietors of Calcutta and its adjacent areas. The Byasaks and Setts came there to settle as the earliest dwellers. After the name of their idol Chitreswari, they called their locality on the north of Calcutta as ‘Chitpur’. After their family deity Govida, the Bysaks named their village Govindapur. Among the Hindu residents of the time in Calcutta and its neighbouring village we find mentions in the traditions of Monohar Ghose, an ancestor of Dewan Shrihari Ghose, at Chitpur; of a predecessor of Govinda Mitter, who acted as a Black Zamindar under Holwell at Sutanuti; of Govina Saran Dutt and Panchanan Tagore, ancestors of Dutts and the Tagores of Hatkhola and Pathuriaghata, respectively settled at Chttanuttee and Govindapur”

Black (Gentoo) Pagoda, Chitpore-Daniel

Gentoo Pagoda and House – Thomas Daniel. c 1787

Due to the diversion of the trade of Satgaon, cities and villages rapidly grew up along its banks. The situation helped the villages Sutanuti, Govindapur and Kolikata to grow into prominence together with some newly come up villages, namely Chitrapur (Chitpur) on their north, and Bhowanipur and Kalighat on their South. Govindapur and Kalighat were separated by a creek marking the northern edge of the old Adi-Ganga that connected the Hooghly and the Balurghata and the Salt-water Lakes. Shortly after, a place for the sale of cloth was set up further north that became famous as Sutnati Hat, the Cotton Bale Market, In the 17th century, Betor gradually washed out and its foreign trading were shifted to Sutanuti where new connections with European traders, particularly the English, are being fostered.
“On 24th August 1690 for the third and last time Charnock found himself at Chuttanutte (sic), where ‘the restored merchants were received with respact.’ This was the foundation day of the City of Palaces.” – Hyde Parochial annals of Bangal. Charnock’s Sutanuti was considered the best choice for business prospect, but worst for the settlers. Three miles to the north-eastward was a salt-water lake that overflows in September -October, then prodigious numbers of fish resort thither, but in November –December, when the floods are dissipated, those fishes left dry, and with their putrefaction affect the air with stinking vapors, and cause a yearly mortality.

View of Circular Road, Calcutta- Prinsep, Edward Augustus 1848

Circular Road Calcutta, by Edward Prinsep. 1848

Procession of the Goddess Kali - Calcutta October 1841

Procession of the Goddess, L.H. de Rudder 1848

Charnock died in 1693 leaving the new settlement in chaos. During last days Charnock lived like a spent-force landlord, allowing everyone the liberty to enclose lands, dig tanks, and build houses where and how they pleased. The settlement remained unfortified and vulnerable even ten years after his death. In 1696 during insurgence of Subah Singh, the English obtained the much delayed permission to defend themselves.

North view of the Water Gate and Royal Barracks at Fort William in Calcutta by William Baillie . 1794

A bastion and a walled enclosure were completed by January 1697. The Company has by the year 1699 sufficiently secured their position in Bengal and elevated to the rank of independent Presidency. Supposedly, by this time the supply of the ten guns ordered for did arrive from Madras. Next year their rising fort was granted the name ‘Fort William’ a tribute to the reigning King. The construction of the Fort took some 16 years more to complete. It was, as the Court of Directors observed in 1713 , of very little real use as fortification. See CR Wilson/ Old Fort William

The first English settlement at Sutanuti ‘seems to have consisted of mud and straw hovels’. Its chief defence was the flotilla of boats lying in the river, The renewed settlement established by Charnock in 1690 was of the same nature. Except a small area round the Park and the Factory, there had been no township grown in the settlement during early days of British occupancy. The only noticeable masonry building Charnock acquired was the Catchari of Sutanuti jaigirdars. With the construction of the Fort at its site and reclamation of the great tank, the Portuguese and Armenian together with few Dutch and Danes flocked around the Fort.

Chitpore Road Calcutta, by Simpson William. 1867

The huge area of its neighboring marketplace, Burrah Bazaar, had every available space within its boundaries taken up by houses and shops of the native traders. The Bazaar was accessible by a road east of the Fort and west of the Park that ran northwards, and one of its branches passed through Algodam (potato godown). There was also the old zamindari avenue leading eastwards that crossed the junction of Broad Street and Chitpur Road – Calcutta’s earliest thoroughfare. Along these waysides, the affluent Company merchants and opulent native traders happily started settling in garden houses. Omichand, the Sikh millionaire had his mansion on the north of the Tank Square. Rasbehari Sett and Ramkissen Sett had theirs on the west of the Burying Ground. Near Middle Street the Company had its own vegetable garden and fish ponds. The Company’s factors and writers still resided in ‘convenient lodgings inside Fort.

In 1706, only 2248 bighas of land occupied with dwellings in Town Calcutta, and 364 bighas were shortly to utilized for houses, although the Burrahbazar to its immediate north was already most populous, having 400 bighas built over out of its entire area of 488 bighas. The land actually held by the English at Calcutta at this time was about three miles in length and about a mile in breath, its inland boundary being the Chitpore road, which afforded access to the famous Kalighat temple.  This immemorial pilgrim path disguised today under such various names as Chitpore Road, Cossaitollah Gully (or Bentink Street) and Chowringhee Road.

EsplanadeRow-River-CouncilHouse-x

Esplanade Row from the river to the Council House, Etching by William Baillie. 1794

 

In spite of the increasing effort being made for suburbanization the settlement stll reeking with malaria. Mortality was extraordinarily high. Out of the twelve hundred Englishmen no less than 460 died within five months as Hamilton reported in 1710. Till August 1705 there was only one doctor to attend and until the autumn of 1707 there was no hospital in town Calcutta. It was ‘a pretty good hospital in Calcutta’ where many go in to undergo the grievance of physic, but few come out to give accounts of its operation. Braving such a challenging situations the Englishmen built their home away from home and did their best to live in their own style.

As Calcutta became settled with its fort, quarters, parks, roads, bazaar and other amenities, Sutanuti became abandoned by the English as a place of abode. They left behind their favourite Perrin’s pleasure garden, ‘where once it was the height of gentility for the Company’s covenanted servants to take their wives for an evening stroll or moonlight féte. Bellamy lived to see a gunpowder factory in the grounds. As he rode out to Perrin’s besides his wife’s palanquin, along what is now Clive Street, he would have marked how between the new stockaded Christian town and citadel and the old defenseless village of the cotton market lay the gardens, orchards, and houses of the thriving native middlemen to whom English methods of trade then, and revenue administration later, gave so ample scope of fortune-making.’

The English Company boys, who landed at Sutanuti accompanying Charnock, were evidently differently motivated people than the factors and writers arrived decade after. The first generation settlers were a band of adventurist traders, with little or no education and no high ambition in life. Who knows, they might have preferred to continue in Sutanuti rather than to live in town Calcutta alienated from the rest.

Job_Charnock_founding_Calcutta,_1690-2

Job Charnock Founding Calcutta. Illustrator unknown. Source: Hutchinson’s story of the nations

In that wee hours, none of them, neither their Company nor the Royal authority, had an inkling of the future role of the English in India. It was, however, not unlikely that the idea of a permanent English settlement first came to Charnock’s mind when Sutanuti was the ‘halfway house of the European merchants’. He had a speculative flair. As the time-honoured legend goes, he used to sit and smoke a meditative hookah under the shade of the famous peepul tree where Bow Bazaar Street meets Lower Circular Road. The tree is no more there. It was uprooted unceremoniously during Marquees Hastings’ regime, in 1820, leaving behind a memory of the tree hidden in the new street name, Baithakkhana Road. Charnock nevertheless, could not have taken his ideas further because of his growing indifference and lack of initiative, as discussed before. History took its own course. Calcutta suburbanization eventually made Calcutta the second-best city of the British Empire. The first English settlers, the Sutanuti sahibs, were lost by this time in oblivion.

 

SOURCEBOOKS

The book ‘Calcutta, town and suburb’ has been extensively used besides few other sources.

 

Outram Institute, Dum Dum, Calcutta, c1860

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

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

JamesOutram4x4

Lt. General James Outram

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

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

Outram_statue_unveiling

Unveiling of Statue of Outram on Horseback. 1874

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

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

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

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

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

Revised: 13 May 2015

Nob Kishen’s Nautch Party, Shobha Bazar Rajbari, Calcutta, c1814 (?)

Nob Kishen's nautch party

রাজা নবকৃষ্ণের নাচের আসরে নিমন্ত্রিত সাহেব-মেমসাহেবদের উচ্ছাস, শোভাবাজার রাজবাড়ী,  c১৮১৪ (?)

Calcutta the capital of the British Raj, was known to be the stronghold of nautch. Wealthy Bengalies vied with one another in inviting famous nautch girls, even from faraway Lucknow and Delhi, for the entertainment of their European Gusts. A news report was published in the Calcutta Gazette of 20 October 1814(?) under the caption,  “Raja Nob Kishen’s Nautch Party at Calcutta”.
In this watercolor painted in c1825, Charles D’Oyly depicted a scenario of the fashionable party of Europeans the Raja had hosted a decade before.

Mutty Lall Seal (1792-1854)

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মতিলাল শীল (১৭৯২-১৮৫৪)

Mutty Lall Seal (1792 – 20 May 1854), also spelt Mutty Loll Seal or Mati Lall Seal or Motilal Seal, was an Indian businessman and philanthropist. Mutty Lall Seal and Ramdulal Sarkar, another renowned shipping magnate, have become part of Bengali folklore as great merchant princes.
Mutty Lall started his business career humbly by selling bottles and corks. He was the founder and promoter of the first indigo mart which was established under the name of M/s. Moore, Hickey & Co. He got appointed as “Banian” to around twenty first class agency houses out of around fifty or sixty such houses in Calcutta. He got into exporting of indigo, silk, sugar, rice, saltpetre to Europe and importing of iron and cotton-piece goods from England. He got up a number of cargo boats which were then a new speculation in the market. He worked the old Flour Mills, and shipped whole cargoes of biscuits to Australia for the first emigrants. Later he put up a mill to refine sugar on the centrifugal principle. He was the first to use steamships for internal trade in Calcutta. In due course he amassed around thirteen trade ships including a steam tug named ‘Banian’.
He was among the founders of Bank Of India. He was on the board of Agricultural And Horticultural Society Of India. In the course of time he amassed as much wealth as Dwarkanath Tagore and Rustomjee Cowasjee. In 1878 Kissori Chand Mitra delivered a lecture on the life of Mutty Lall Seal calling him the “Rothschild of Calcutta”.[9] About him, Sivanath Sastri writes – “He never adopted unfair means for earning money. He was well-behaved, polite and helpful to others.”
Mutty Lall Seal carried out his ambition of establishing a national institution. The formal opening of the Mutty Lall Seal’s Free College took place in March 1842 at his house. Among those present were Baboo Dwarkanath Tagore; Baboo Ramcomul Sen; Baboo Russomoy Dutt and Revd. Krishna Mohan Banerjee besides many other top officials and dignitaries. There were eloquent speeches in testimony to his noble generosity and liberal mindset with Mr. George Thompson complimenting him as “a Hindu gentleman, who had nobly resolved to consecrate a large portion of the substances he had acquired by honorable exertion, to the intellectual improvement of the youth of his own nation to transmute his money into mind”. Mutty Lall Seal’s Free College (later renamed as Mutty Lall Seal’s Free School and College) was to provide for the education of the Hindus to enable them to occupy posts of trust and emolument in their own country. The institute was initially under the management of the Directors of the parent college of St. F. Xavier, Chowringhee, Calcutta. The college stood in high estimation of the public and competed successfully with the Government and Missionary Colleges in the University examinations (Suniti Kumar Chatterji and Swami Prabhupada were some illustrious students of this college).
A net yearly income of Rs. 36,000 derived from those properties were spent for various charitable purposes. About Rs. 4,000 was spent on poor widows and orphans every year and rest on running and maintaining two alms houses for the poor and underprivileged. He extended financial support and cooperation for the establishment of Hindu Charitable Institution and Hindu Metropolitan College all calculated to offset the ‘ill effects’ of the liberal education offered at the Hindu College.[
Although Mutty Lall Seal was a conservative, he was in favour of Raja Rammohun Roy’s efforts of banning sati, women’s education as well as remarriage of widows. He made a public offer for a dowry of 1000 rupees to the person who should have the courage to marry a widow. When Mutty Lal Seal died on 20 May 1854 his obituary in the Hindu Intelligence described him as the “richest and most virtuous Baboo of Calcutta”.
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Radhakanta Deb (1784-1867)

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রাধাকান্ত দেব বাহাদুর, মহারাজা (১৭৮৩-১৮৬৭)

Radhakanta Deb (1784-1867), a scholar and a leader of the Calcutta conservative Hindu society, was the son of Gopimohan Deb, the adopted son and heir of Maharaja Nabakrishna Deb. Nabakrishna served under Robert Clive and Warren Hastings and for his loyal services was honoured with the title of Maharaja. Nabakrishna’s adopted son Gopimohan Deb was able, through wealth and fortune, to establish himself as the foremost leader of Calcutta Hindu society.
An accomplished scholar, Radhakanta was proficient in Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic – and wasps. He also acquired a fairly good knowledge in English. He published Shabda Kalpadruma, a dictionary of Sanskrit language, in eight volumes, the first of which appeared in 1822 and the last in 1856. This was the publication which earned him international recognition as a scholar. He received honours from the Royal Asiatic Society, London, and other learned societies in Europe.
Radhakanta Deb always showed marked interest in promoting education, particularly English education among the Hindus. He played a leading part in the establishment of the Calcutta Hindu College in 1817 and was an active director of the college for over thirty years. He also took keen interest in promoting the cause of elementary education in Bengal. Radhakanta Deb was actively involved in the establishment and activities of the Calcutta School-Book Society (1817) and the Calcutta School Society (1818). Radhakanta also advocated female education. Radhakanta was an active member of the Agricultural and Horticultural Society of India since its establishment in 1818. On the establishment of the British Indian Association in 1851 Radhakanta Deb was elected its president, a position he held till his death.
Despite his contribution to the cause of educational improvement, Radhakanta Deb was a strong upholder of social conservatism. He became the leader of a party of orthodox Hindus who were bitterly opposed to the liberal-minded Hindus like Rammohun Roy (1774-1833) who advocated social and religious reforms. Although a loyal supporter of the British Government, Radhakanta was opposed to any interference by the Government in the social and religious life of the people. Thus although sati was not practised in his own family, he came forward to defend the custom when the Government contemplated its abolition. When Lord William Bentinck’s government had finally abolished sati by a regulation in December, 1829. Radhakanta Deb, along with his conservative Hindu friends, was the leader a society called Dharma Sabha (founded by his father Gopi Mohun Deb), protested against this measure by presenting a petition to the Governor General on behalf of the orthodox section of the Hindu community.
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Debendranath Tagore (1817-1905)

debendranathCustom5

দেবেন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর, মহর্ষি (১৮১৭-১৯০৫)

Debendranath Tagore, or, Debendronath Ţhakur (15 May 1817 – 19 January 1905) was a Hindu philosopher and religious reformer, the founder of Brahmo Samaj, presently known as Adi Braho Samaj, which aimed to reform the Hindu religion and way of life. He was born in Shilaidaha, in the estate of his father Prince Dwarkanath Tagore.
The Brahmo Samaj, was formed in 1843 by merging his Tattwabodhini Sabha with the Brahmo Sabha, ten years after the death of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, founder of the Brahmoism. Although Debendranath was deeply spiritual, he managed to continue to maintain his worldly affairs — he did not renounce his material possessions, as some Hindu traditions prescribed, but instead continued to enjoy them in a spirit of detachment. His considerable material property included estates spread over several districts of Bengal; most famously, the Santiniketan estate near Bolpur in the Birbhum district, a later acquisition, where his youngest son Rabindranath Tagore set up his famous internationally acclaimed school, Santiniketan.
In 1843, Debendranath started the Tattwabodhini Patrika as mouthpiece of the Tattwabodhini Sabha. In the same year, he revived the Brahma Sabha, fallen in vigour and following since the death of Ram mohan Roy in 1833. The Brahmo Sabha was formally absorbed into the Tattwabodhini Sabha and renamed as Calcutta Brahma Samaj. The day Pous 7 of the Bengali calendar is commemorated as the foundation day of the Samaj. The Patrika became the organ of the Samaj and continued publication till 1883. In 1848, Debendranath codified the Adi Dharma Doctrine as Brahmo Dharma Beej (Seed of the Brahmo Dharma). In 1950, he published a book titled Brahmo Dharma enshrining the fundamental principles. These principles emphasise monotheism, rationality and reject scriptural infallibility, the necessity of mediation between man and God, caste distinctions and idolatry.
With the influence of Brahmoism under Debendranath spreading far and wide throughout India, he gathered reputation as a person of particular spiritual accomplishment and came to be known as Maharshi. His spiritual stature was confirmed by Sri Ramakrishna, the great Hindu sage of the 19th century who paid Debendranath a visit.[5] Debendranath’s roles in the Bengal renaissance and the reform and rejuvenation of Hindu religion are considerable.
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