LEWIS’S ROYAL LYCEUM

In the Making of Homegrown Professional Theatres and Theatricals of Calcutta

View of Calcutta Maidan By Charles D’Oyly. Courtesy: BL. Lewis’ Royal Lyceum Theatre was situated near Ochterlony Monument.

Backdrop

When the English came to Calcutta they brought with them the plays of William Shakespeare. When Lewises arrived in 1864, English theatre made a century dating from Calcutta’s second playhouse: the Calcutta Theatre. The first one, named ‘Play House‘, already destroyed in the Battle of Lalldighi, had left its little but precious history untraceable. It was, however, the collective experience contributed by a number of small private playhouses that shaped the minds of the Calcutta audience of the 1840s to appreciate Augusto Cagli’s Italian operas and the English theatres of Mrs Esther Leach. The immense goodness she brought about in developing Calcutta’s theatrical culture through her two unlucky establishments, the Chowringhee Theatre and the Sans Souci together with her liberal-minded friend circle paving the inroad toward making modern vernacular theatre, which had to wait for a decade more to begin. Lewises entered the scene in that opportune moment and did their best to inspire and facilitate instituting the Bengali theatre on the English model.

For a long time, Calcutta had no permanent home to stage an opera or a theatre after the Sans Souci collapsed in the 1840s. That is why in 1866 it was a challenge for the haut society of the City of the Palace to accommodate in the Town Hall the debut performance of Augustus Cagli – though it was one of his orchestra-less chorus-less semi-staged concerts played by a small band of 12 artists. In spite of the serious limitations of the utilitarian structure of the public Town Hall, the event proved to be a grand success. [Rocha] It was a time when both the media and the townfolk argued that what was missing from Calcutta was an opera house, for the city already boasted a fine opera company and an enthusiastic audience. They genuinely believed, ‘were a suitable building erected, an opera could be maintained here’ [Rocha]. Happily, not even a year went by, as many as three new theatres founded in Calcutta: Cagli’s ‘Opera House’ later rechristened The Corinthian, the Lindsay Street Opera House reserved for Cagli, and the Lyceum on the Maidan set up by Lewis couple. [Rocha]

Rose Edouin Lewis (1844-1925) Courtesy: Mimi Colligan
George Bejamin William Lewis (1818-1906). Courtesy: Mimi Colligan. State Library of Victoria Collection

Lewises in Calcutta

Six years before establishing the Lyceum theatre, George Benjamin William Lewis had toured Calcutta in early October 1860 with his Australian Hippodrome and Mammoth Amphitheatre. He opened here a circus on the 16th of October in a huge tent in the Maidan with the special permission of the British authority. After many gainful years of running the circus business in China and India Lewis had sensed an upcoming market for a British theatre in two colonial cities – Calcutta and Shanghai. Lewis moved from circus to stage in 1864 while in China with lady Rose – a 23-year-old English actress of rare talent and beauty whom he married on their boat sailing to Shanghai. Lewis’s Dramatic and Burlesque and Ballet Company arrived in Calcutta in early September 1867. Acquiring access to a rent-free land on the Maidan, he had erected a prefabricated corrugated iron theatre close to the Ochterlony monument. Lewises inaugurated their first theatre in Calcutta under the banner, ‘Lewis’s Royal Lyceum’ in mid-September 1867. Sadly, in less than two months a disastrous cyclone lashed about Calcutta on the first day of November, tearing down some old buildings and parks including the newborn Lyceum flattened to the ground. It took, however, only eight days for Lewis to erect the structure anew, which he did without taking any help offered by the Calcutta sympathizers.

Programme for the School of Scandal at Lyceum, Calcutta Feb. 1869. Courtesy: Mimi Colligan. State Library of Victoria Collection

Lyceum Royal Theatre

The theatre was impressive and well-equipped, approached by a broad flight of steps. The hall measured about 40 by 100 feet claimed to hold 800 people. With an interior decorated with guilt plaster walls and red velvet seats, ‘ample and imposing stage’, a proscenium, pit, boxes, and a gallery it had a look of an English provincial theatre. While the overall management of the theatre was the responsibility of Mr George Lewis, his wife Edouin Rose Lewis as the ‘Directress and Star’ dominated the acting and the choice of plays, stage managing, and rehearsing. As an actress, her versatility was legendary. She had the ability to play ‘from High Tragedy to Burlesque with equal skill and success ‘. She also appeared in a male role but, as Englishman reviewed on 19 Jan. 1874, with limited success being ‘essentially feminine and graceful in appearance, voice and manner’ [Colligan]. The first dramatic company Lewises had engaged in Calcutta consisted of 21 artists. Except for Austin Shanghai – the young acrobat from China, all others were from Melbourne. Lewises had produced at the Lyceum mainly Elizabethan and Victorian tragedies and comedies besides burlesque and pantomime. Their repertoire reflected the ‘popular taste and largely unquestioned attitudes of London and Melbourne’ an admixture of British and orientalist, melodramatic and burlesque, even sometimes with imperialist and racist appeals. During the two and half years, a transition from the formal stage play of the mid-century to the more natural acting style and realist drama of the late nineteenth century took place representing the theatre of Sydney Grundy, H.A. Jones, Pinero, Ibsen, Wilde, and Shaw. Lewises developed Lyceum to be an audience-oriented professional theatrical enterprise. Both George and Rose Lewises were English by birth, and it was an English theatre of predominantly London repertoire they staged for the Calcutta audience comprising the British and European members of the civil and military services and their families, not discounting, however, the British educated natives of Bengal. Lewises welcomed all theatre lovers irrespective of racial differences, yet their pricing policy restricted admission of the disadvantaged ones. The price-tags of the admission tickets were on the high side: two to five rupees at the beginning, afterwards revised to one to five – which were, in fact, more expensive than at London where the highest being of about seven shillings. Later, they discarded the one-rupee ticket because of the ‘bad behaviour of audience’ at the lower gallery [Colligan]. From the very beginning, Lewises took all care to keep their theatre high in professional standard and in respectability. Lewises took pride in keeping up that will to the last, as revealed from the farewell address of Rose Lewis delivered in 1876 before leaving Calcutta finally [Dasgupta].

Winding-up of Lyceum

In early 1870, after more than two and half years in India and their third season in Calcutta, Lewis decided to end his connection with the sub-continent and return to Australia. He advertised on March 10 1870 his Lyceum Theatre for sale. Lewises wished continuity of the English theatre in Calcutta, and perhaps they were also reluctant to cut off Calcutta link in haste that was what prompted them to encourage Willie Gill, a ‘low’ comedian in their team, to take a venture to start a theatre anew on the site of Lyceum. After a farewell performance at Lewis’s Lyceum on 31 March 1870 night Lewises left Calcutta without any plan to coming back soon. Willie Gill was true to his promise to provide a theatre on the old Lewis site. Together with a Calcutta businessman, named Sultana, Gill opened a theatre on the Maidan in October 1870. He opened their theatre under the banner, ‘Olympic Theatre’, in early October. But although some critics liked the ‘capital actors’ the venture failed. p.95 [Colligan]The Lewis company was only one of many entertainment troupes that visited Calcutta in the mid to late nineteenth century, but they were the first to stay for a length of time of seven years. They influenced Calcutta theatre in the form of their public purpose-built proscenium theatre itself and by their repertoire and production values [Colligan]. The story of Lewis’ Royal Lyceum ends here but not before it lights up the first Modern Bengali Stage.

II A STEP TOWARD BENGALI PUBLIC THEATRE

Apart from the direct influence of the performing English theatres in nineteenth-century Calcutta, there had been a conscious learning process introduced by some extraordinary schoolmasters for their students to acquire tastes and skills of theatrical arts and stage crafts. In the nineteenth century, Shakespeare was taught in several venerable Calcutta schools before it was a subject of higher study in Hindu College. English literature was studied there under great teachers like David Lester Richardson, C.H. Tawney, H.M. Percival, and Henry Louis Vivian Derozio. Prof. Richardson used to advise his students to go to see Shakespeare on the stage. [Dahiya] The boys knew the names of the good actors and actresses of Calcutta, and also familiar with the names of David Garrick, Sarah Siddons, and some other famous performers of London theatres. [Mukherjee]

Theatre In Schools

The reading of English dramas and recitation and enacting of scenes were practised and encouraged in such early nineteenth-century educational institutions of Calcutta as Drummond’s School at Dharamtolla, Sherborne’s School at Chitpore, David Hare’s School, Gour Mohan Auddy’s Oriental Seminary, and Alexander Duff’s General Assembly’s Institution. [Bandyopadhyay]

The boys of David Hare Academy staged ‘The Merchant of Venice’ on 16 and 24 February 1853 under the direction of Mr David Clinger, a teacher of English in Calcutta Madrassa. Mr Clinger was also associated with the Sans Souci Theatre. Sambad Pravakar reported on 10 February 1853 that it was the first such performance by students in an educational institution [Mukherjee]. The credit, however, as we understand, should go instead to the Dharmatalla Academy of David Drummond (1785-1843) for staging Home’s tragedy ‘Doglus’ in 1824 – a decade before the establishment of Hindu Theatre, being the earliest attempt in making young minds ready to appreciate modern theatre.[Dasgupta]

Bengali Private Theatres Before Lyceum

Before Lewises’ Dramatic company landed with its collapsible theatre, Calcutta had experimented with the realities of establishing a few short-lived indigenous private theatres:

HINDU THEATRE (1831) In response to the public demands voiced in Samachar Chandrika since 1826 for establishing a theatre on the model of the English theatre, Prasanna Kumar Tagore, himself a product of Hindu College, founded the Hindu Theatre on 28 December 1831, with his college friends imbibed with westernised values and ideas in mind. This was the first theatre founded by a Bengali, housed in his garden-house in Narkeldanga, a Bengali quarter, for a Bengali audience, but had no place for Bengali drama, and therefore it was never considered as the first English modelled native theatre. The Hindu Theatre was an aristocrat theatre and its audience comprised Indians and Europeans admitted by private invitation only. Hindu Theatre, in spite of its excellent performances, was short-lived. It might have failed to appeal Bengali audience at large because of the sophisticated and exotic content and form of the plays it staged.

SHYAMBAZAR THEATRE (1835) After Hindu Theatre closed, the Shyambazar Theatre came next, again as a private theatre, to stage Bengali plays. The theatre was housed at the residence of Babu Nabin Chandra Basu in North Calcutta. On 6 October 1835, the theatre was inaugurated playing ‘Vidya Sundar’ – a long play that continued from 12 midnight to 6.30 in the morning having its different scenes enacted at separate locations with appropriate makeover within the sprawling mansion. The female roles in Vidya Sundar were played by female artists: Radhamoni, Jaidurga and Rajkumari. The theatre died a premature death like its immediate predecessor. After Nabin Chandra Basu’s Shambazar Theatre there was a lull in the world of Bengali theatre for about two decades. Nothing happened except the handful performances of English dramas at Calcutta schools between-whiles as mentioned before.

ORIENTAL THEATRE (1853-1857)  Bengal Harkaru of 7 April 1853 reported that the students and ex-students of the Oriental Seminary raised a sum of Rs. 800/- to set up the theatre at Garanhata, Chitpore for staging Shakespeare’s plays. The pioneers included Priyanath Dutt, Dinanath Ghosh, Sitaram Ghose, Keshab Chandra Ganguly and others. It took some five months to get ready under the drilling of Mr David Clinger, an English teacher at Madrassa and an associate of Sans Souci, and Mr Roberts and a lady named Miss Ellis. There were also some European actresses who took part in Shakespearean plays, as we find Mrs Greig appeared as Portia in their play Merchant of Venice on 2 March 1854 and then on 17 March. Oriental Theatre was open to the public against admission tickets of Rs. 2 each, which to be had of Messrs F W Brown & Co. and Baboo Woomesh Chunder Banerjee, Cashier, Spences Hotel.

JORASANKO NATYASALA (1854) This was again a short-lived English theatre, contemporaneous with its neighbouring Oriental Theatre at Baranasi Ghose Street. Jorasanko Natyasla was a privately-owned theatre of Babu Parry Mohan Bose but not a ‘private theatre’ since it practised admission by tickets sold publicly. On 3 May 1854, it staged Julius Caesar in English. At the end of the year, Jorasanko Natyasala staged some plays in Bengali in response to the appeal of The Hindu Patriot (11 May 1854).

OTHER PRIVATE  DESHI THEATRES Besides these four theatres, there were some more short-lived private theatres of great historical importance that had performed vernacular dramas with local talents, like the Belgachia Theatre (1858-1861), Pathuriaghata Theatre (1859-1872), Sobhabazar Theatre (1865-1867), Jorasanko Theatre (of Tagores) (1865-1867). All the theatre houses were local initiatives that ceased to exist little before the coming of Lewises in mid-September 1867 to establish Lyceum Royal Theatre at Maidan. Two other such vernacular private theatres, Bowbazar Theatre (1868-1874) and Baghbazar Amateur Theatre (1868-72) were contemporaneous to Lyceum. It was the latter, which had its history intertwined with the Lewis’ Lyceum affairs.

BENGALI AUDIENCE & ESTHER LEACH

Lewises’ theatres had gained a mighty advantage of having a ready Bengali audience receptive and appreciative of theatrical entertainments and artistry, backed by their elementary learnings of the English dramas and theatrical arts at schools, besides their exposures to the stage performances of the English and vernacular plays. An earnest Bengali spectator was born to be tuned to the English theatre of the latter half of the nineteenth century Calcutta and for that largely responsible were Mrs Leach’s theatres, particularly the Sans Souci, which is overstated sometimes by historians as “the last important English theatre in Calcutta” [Dasgupta?] belittling the seven years Lewises contributed to Calcutta’s English theatre. On the other hand, some of them, like Colligan, preferred to overlook the deep imprints of the ‘actress-manager Mrs Esther Leach’ who had achieved, to their mind, only ‘a moderate success’ [Colligan].

LYCEUM: A BOON TO YOUNG BENGALI THEATRE

Advantaged with the new research findings on Lewis’ theatres in Calcutta, which remained unavailable to the veteran theatre historians, one can identify today more confidently the eventualities bearing on the emergence of the professional Bengali theatre – modernistic, realistic and democratic – that outlasted the English theatres of the English in Calcutta. For the sake of convenience, I may be allowed to tag the period of Olympic Theatre (popularly called ‘Sultan’s Theatre’) [Binodini], which followed next, to the history of Lewises’ Lyceum Royal Theatre, on the plea of Olympic Theatre being merely an extension of the former without adding anything new for its identity other than the name. The special significance of the Olympic Theatre was that, in absence of the Lyceum, it facilitated the Baghbazar amateurs to inspect the specimens of Lyceum’s building, auditorium, stage, scenes and screens.

Since this paper is restricted to the phase of Lewis’ Royal Lyceum Theatre most of the contributive issues involved with the Lewis’ Theatre Royal will remain untold. I will concentrate here on only two relevant issues:

  • A historic friendship between the two great thespians: Mrs Lewis and Girish
  • Adaptation of English model by Dharmadas in building early Bengali theatres

CAMARADERIE BETWEEN GIRISH AND MRS LEWIS

The most critical event in the history of professional theatre in Bengal deems to be the chance friendship between Girish Chandra Ghosh, the father of the Bengali theatre, and Mrs Rose Edouin Lewis, the queen of the English theatre of then Calcutta. The two versatile thespians were exactly of the same age, born in 1844, Girish on 28 February, Rose 29 January. Their bonhomie served as the foundation for the generous cooperation and support the young Bengali theatricals received in transforming their traditional resources and styles into the professional theatre of the modern time that should happen in course of the next five years.

Girishchandra Ghosh (1844-1812) Source: Girish-rachanabali. V.4

Amritalal Basu, a doyen of Indian theatre, revealed in his memoir how Girish came in touch with the famous English actress Rose Edouin Lewis. Girish, it looks like, often visited Lyceum theatres even before he met Mrs Lewis in his office. He was then in the employment of the John Atkison & Co. at no. 6 New China Town Street. Mrs Lewis had occasions to visit Atkinson’s as the company was looking after her business account. Incidentally, it was Girish who was keeping her books. Mrs Lewis, already a celebrity – a star actress, unapproachable ordinarily by commoners like young Girish. It is interesting to note here that once Amritalal before he ever met Girish, had refused to believe that mere an office clerk, what Girish was, could ever recite or play a Shakespeare. For Girish, however, theatre came naturally, and his job title did hardly matter. On the contrary, Girish had a sore point with ‘acting as a profession ’ that was looked down on in respectable Bengali society. This was why Girish had been much reluctant to print his name on theatre bills unless a qualifier ’amateur’ was annexed to guard his honour. This again might be the primary reason for his disapproval of ticket selling, which was considered lowly in the middle-class mindset. [Basu]

As mentioned earlier, Girish had frequented Lyceum theatre before he met Rose Edouin Lewis at Atkinson’s. [Gangopadhyay] He had times to talk about the plays he witnessed and frankly exchange views on points of strength and weakness insightfully. Mrs Lewis was supposedly very pleasantly surprised seeing in her bookkeeper a critical mind of a matured artist. She used to take him for an evening ride on her phaeton for prolonging discussions on various aspects of western dramas and their enactments.

Their friendship, Amritalal and other theatre historians think, had helped Girish in flourishing his theatrical genius. The kind of discussions he had with Mrs Lewis and the exposures he had to English plays at Lyceum, helped Girish enacting a ‘Nimchand’ in the play ‘Sadhabar Ekadashi’ so bewitchingly. Amritalal Basu, in his reminiscences, spoke of Girish playing the role of Nimchand in verse:”মদে মত্ত পদ টলে নিমে দত্ত রঙ্গস্থলে । প্রথম দেখিল বঙ্গ নব নট গুরু তার ।।” [Girishchandra] Mrs Lewis must have been present in one of the repeat shows of Sadhabar Ekadashi to witness Girish in acting, which as we understand from Utpal Dutt, she considered a masterpiece. [Dutt]

BAGHBAZAR AMATURE THEATRE

When the Bagbazar Amature Theatre (1868- 11 May 1872) created by a few local theatre enthusiasts who wanted to do their theatre in a modern way as did the English theatres at Lyceum, Opera House, and Corinthian in then Calcutta. They also wanted to make their theatre open to all, that is, not restricted to the few rich elites, but to the commoners as well. In spirit and actions, the Bagbazar Amateur Theatre was the precursor of the Great National Theatre initiated by the same aspirant theatricals: Nagendra Nath Banerjee, Dr Radha Madhab Kar, and Ardhendu Shekhar Mustafi. Girish was then working at Atkinson‘s. The group rehearsed under Ardhendu, and on the day of ‘Experimental Play’ (dress rehearsal), Girish joined the initiative as their undeclared leader. He, however, refused their plan for selling tickets, instead, he advised collecting donations to meet expenses that Madhusudan Dutta had recommended earlier.

The play ‘Sadhabar Ekadasi’ was first staged in October 1868 by Bagbazar Amateur, after a year their theatre founded and repeated four times within a fortnight under the directorship of Girish on different dates in different places. Two more plays of Dinabandhu: ‘Biye-pagla buroh’ and ‘Leelabati’ were staged with overwhelming success. ‘Without Dinabandhu’s simple and socially relevant plays the young thespians would have been nowhere.’ [Mukherjee] They felt now more desperately than ever for a permanent theatre to stage their enactment in a natural style as done in the contemporary world of English theatres.

National Theatre was not born yet. The members of the new Bagbazar Amateur Theatre were then drifting aimlessly without a home. The attention of a few energetic young was drawn to a collapsible theatre building in the maidan belonging to the Lewis’ Lyceum Theatre. Unfortunately, before they reached, the Lyceum sold out. On 10 Mar 1870, George Lewis advertised for the sale of Lyceum building and accessories including the extended stage scenes, dresses, and machinery. Before leaving Calcutta Lewises had encouraged Wille Gill, a funnyman in their team, to take a venture to keep up the presence of the British theatre in Calcutta. Gill took the challenge and reinstalled the theatre on the same site with a new name, ‘Olympic Theatre’ in early October 1870. Gill did it in collaboration with some A.G. Sultana, the proprietor of Liberty Hotel – a small bar at 85 Bentinck Street [Bengal Directory, 1876]. Sultana worked for Gill as the contractor for erecting the theatre building, and perhaps it was he who did the same job two and half years ago for Lewises. Those days, as we may find in Binodini’s ‘আমার কথা’, the theatregoers often referred to the new ‘Olympic’ as ‘Sultana’s Theatre’ after the name of Sultana – a flamboyant who sported earrings [Binodini].

Hunt For A Model Theatre

Apparently, when the three Baghbazarian youth, Amritalal, Dharmadas Sur, and Nagendra Banerjee, at last, reached the English theatre at Maidan, Lewises had left and in place of their Lyceum Theatre, the Olympic Theatre, nicknamed Sultana’s theatre, was in operation. The zealous theatricals bought three ‘pit’ tickets and watched intently the performance of English theatre, and at the same time, sitting on their chairs, they gathered the details of the auditorium and stage-related objects, including an estimated size of the stage screen upon calculating the number of the folds. It was the idea of acquiring building materials cheap and affordable that brought them to the door of Sultana who lived in a lane off Bentick Street. In an adjacent plot, he had dumped the old pieces of dislodged materials of the Lyceum Theatre. They did not succeed in getting those as Sultana demanded an absurdly large amount for the lot. Moreover, some experienced well-wishers advised the youngmen against buying spoiled materials with holes. They spent more justifiably around Rs 3,000 on some good teak logs purchased from the Guillinders company, which were eventually reused in constructing the Star Theatre and remained there in sound condition even in 1927 [Basu].

First Bengali Theatre after the model of Lyceum Theatre

The visit to Sultana, however, was not altogether futile since that had allowed Dharmadas Sur a singular opportunity to steal a look with his penetrating eyes at a wooden miniature of the Lyceum Theatre that served as the model for building the first homegrown theatre. [Amritalal] Lewis theatre had its walls and the roof made of corrugated sheets. Dharmadas made the walls of wooden planks, which were cheaper than corrugated sheets because those were not saleable at the old railway market. Dharmadas finished the building flawlessly proving his extraordinary talent in stagecraft, equipped with his discerning eyes and nimble fingers. He had no engineering background but was fortunate to have someone like Jogendranath Mitra, a civil engineer by his side to provide expert advice whenever needed.

Dharmadas Sur was also generally recognized as the first scene painter of the public theatre. He got his ideas from the scenes used in contemporary local English theatres, the Lewes Theatre at Chowtinghee and Opera House at Lindsay Street. These theatres used portable ‘rolling’ canvas scenes. The style of the English scenes was at first imitated, then modified with a few local touches, to recreate the Bengali play being performed. Scenes of Nildarpan, the first public theatre play, were painted in this manner. [Mukherjee] Dharmadas apart, we understand from the narration of Radha Madhab Kar that he was no less involved in making the first modern stage. It was Girish who told his young colleagues that the use of drop-scene was no good to give effect all kinds of stage events, and we must try to install the sliding scenes as could be found in operation in the Olympia Theatre (Sultana’s) at Maidan. Radha Madhav,
then a student of Engineering College, was surveying the Maidan area living in a camp. He with a few others (names not mentioned) bought tickets to witness ‘Macbeth’ played by one American among mostly Australian artists. The show won their heart. Radha Madhab felt an urge to learn how to reproduce similar theatre scenes. He wrote a personal letter requesting permission to go and study the interior of the Olympic Theatre, which was readily granted. He took full advantage of their friendly cooperation in learning several stage-art techniques like how on the stage the boats float, the man vanishes while flying in the sky, or how to recreate raining and thundering effects on the stage. All these techniques were translated into realities while erecting their own stage in the house of Rajendra Pal. Although Radha Madhab Kar’s episode was not corroborated by the contemporaries, his contributions may not be ignored altogether unless proved otherwise. [Gupta] It is, however, a well-established fact that the Great National requisitioned the service of David Garrick, originally principal of an art school and then an independent painter and photographer, to paint few representative flat scenes: a garden, a forest with mountains, and the interior of a room. He also painted a drop-scene depicting a view of Varanasi on the Ganges. They paid the painter a remuneration to the tune of Rs. 600/-. The next development was the introduction of carpenter or shutter scenes which were painted on flat boards and fixed on two wooden frames in two halves which were to be pushed from two sides to join up in the middle of the stage to form one whole scene. Dharmadas Sur also painted a panoramic scene. As early as 1875, that is. within three years of the beginning of the public theatre, the ‘audience saw a railway train on stage. Dharmadas was regarded as the man who taught the Bengali in making stage, while Girish Ghosh and Ardhendu Mustafi taught them stage-acting. [Mukherjee] All credit of having the permanent stage of the first theatre must go to Babu Bhuban Mohan Neogy who borne the entire expense amounting to Rs. 13,000.00 and kept it under his protection. [Dasgupta v.2]  Such theatres as George Lewis installed at Maidan and served as a model for the National Theatre were said to be available from English iron foundries like Bellhouse and co. of Manchester at a substantially high cost.

End Notes

When the audience of the modern theatre of Calcutta was a product of the 1840s, particularly under the spell of Esther Leach’s English theatres, it is undoubtedly the Lewis’ theatres: the Royal Lyceum and Theatre Royal, that directly contributed to the making of modern Bengali theatre and theatricals. The special significance of Lewis’ first phase, centred around Lyceum Theatre and the contemporary Bengali theatrical movement, remained so far unheeded in the history of theatres because the episodes of the Lewis’ enterprises were never accessible until some credible researchers, like Colligan, published their findings, which have been extensively used in this essay. The second inning of the Lewises coincided with the birth of the first homegrown professional public theatre in Calcutta – a topic for the next post.

REFERENCE

Bandyopadhyay, Brajendranath. 1939. বঙ্গীয় নাট্যশালার ইতিহাসঃ ১৭৯৫-১৮৭৬. Calcutta: Bangiya Sahitya Parishad. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.477805/page/n5/mode/2up.

Basu, Amritalal. 1982. স্মৃতি ও আত্মস্মৃতি. Edited by Arunkumar Mitra. Calcutta: Sahityalok. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.298801.

Binodini Dasi. 1959. আমার কথা ও অন্যান্য রচনা. Edited by Nirmalya Sanyal. Calcutta: Subarnarekha. http://boibaree.blogspot.com/2018/09/blog-post_19.html.

Chowdury, Darshan. 1995. বাংলা থিয়েটারের ইতিহাস. Calcutta: Pustak Bipani. https://granthagara.com/boi/331880-bangla-theatrer-itihas-by-darshan-chowdhury/.

Colligan, Mimi. 2013. Circus and Stage: The Theatrical Adventures of Rose Edouin and GBW Lewis. Melbourne: State Library Victoria.

Dahiya, Hema. 2011. “Shakespeare Studies in Colonial Bengal: The Early Phase.” Sheffield Hallam University. https://www.mendeley.com/catalogue/00799a00-c799-3b67-838c-fe0a08050943/?utm_source=desktop&utm_medium=1.19.8&utm_campaign=open_catalog&userDocumentId=%7B2bde07bb-1bbe-42c0-be71-f1cf8300a110%7D.

Dasgupta, Hemendranath. 1938. The Indian Stage; v.2. Calcutta: M K Das Gupta. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.228124/mode/2up.

Gangopadhyay, Abinashchandra. 1927. গিরিশচন্দ্র. Calcutta: Nath Brothers. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.302236/page/n1/mode/2up.

Gupta, Bipinbihari. 1952. পুরাতন প্রসঙ্গ. 2nd ed. Calcutta: Bidyabharati. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.299309/page/n5/mode/1up?q=রাধা+.

Mukherjee, Sushil. 1980. Story of Calcutta Theatres: 1753-1980. Calcutta: KP Bagchi. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.100095.

Rocha, Esmeralda. 2012. “Imperial Opera : The Nexus between Opera and Imperialism in Victorian,” 1833–1901. https://research-repository.uwa.edu.au/en/publications/imperial-opera-the-nexus-between-opera-and-imperialism-in-victori.

Calcutta’s Grand Opera House

Operatic culture in colonial Calcutta vanishing into the new wave of professional Bengali theatre

Emperor Napoleon III, Queen Victoria, Empress Eugénie, Prince Albert seated in Opera Box at Italian Opera. 1855
Lithograph on chinecollé. Print made by: Marie Alexandre Alophe. Courtesy: Commons

PRELUDE

Italian Opera was most ardently welcome in colonial Calcutta as an icon of British art and culture.    ’Ironically, the cultural supremacy of London and Paris was achieved not through the assertion of a nationalistic culture, but instead through the construction of cosmopolitan identity.’ [Rocha] The bondage between the two, Italian opera and British culture, deems to be a marriage of convenience than of love. The British needed to project an image larger than life in order to institute their cultural supremacy at home and, as enlightened colonialist, to zealously civilize the natives in Italian opera – the queen of all arts. Though in the early 1830s The Englishman lamented the natives being so supine and indifferent in the matter of Italian opera, in the late 1860s, Calcutta turned into a pivot of Italian opera before it faded out finally from the Indian scenario.

To some scholars, one of the root causes of the fade-out was elitism that corrupted Calcutta’s socio-economic and political structures to paralyze the democratization of services and facilities including entertainments. Italian opera was looked upon as the highest form of entertainment and a haut art that necessarily demands a cultivated mind for appreciation, and therefore the opera art aficionados are always fewer in any society, native Indians or the European. The craze for operatic art that ballooned up during the initial phase fizzled out within a decade leaving empty halls with not even fifty enthusiasts in Calcutta to buy opera tickets. One by one all the opera houses in Calcutta turned into picture houses by the end of the nineteenth century.

How one of those institutions of operatic culture, the Grand Opera House, came into existence, performed and lost is the matter of this story narrated based on a limited number of studies and reports including the research of Esmeralda Rocha most extensively used here.


The Town Hall

A view of the Town Hall. Artist: James Baillie Fraser. 1826. Courtesy: British Library

The present Town Hall, which is, in fact, the Second Town Hall of Calcutta still standing as one of the most elegant elevations in the city of palaces, the first one being the Old Court House of Calcutta that had served the township society generously in accommodating formal meetings and public events of every description until 1791 when its construction weakened beyond repair. To find an alternative venue, on May 31, 1792, a meeting was held at Le Gallai Tavern that unanimously recommended erecting a “public building for the general accommodation of the settlement” by crowdfunding through subscriptions. [Carey]

In March 1814, on completion of the Calcutta Town Hall to function as the central hub of cultural activities,   became the new icon of the city. The Hall was declared open to visitors under restrictive conditions — it shall be reserved for authorized general meetings of the inhabitants of Calcutta or for meetings of merchants, or other classes of society, for the transaction of mercantile affairs or other business, and for public entertainments on great occasions, in which the community at large is concerned. The elegance of the Town Hall rests in the simplicity of its doric architecture that consists of only a few parts but quite large to strike a clear view from a distance. Structurally, it exceeds the height of the Government House, the iconic British architecture in India, by several feet. It was planned uniquely for its stated purpose. [Rocha] The edifice still perpetuates the memory of its architect, Major-General John Garstin.

Within a year, however, the Town Hall began to show signs of certain structural snags. When its portico partly collapsed, Captain Richard Blechynden, who was called to investigate, submitted to the Chief Engineer Colonel Alexander Kyd that it was not the poor soil to be blamed, as Garstin suggested. Subsequently he was assigned for the restoration work. [Blechynden] At the close of 1815 plans were put in for several alterations involving a further 40,000 Rs. on top of the initial costs of 7,00000 Rs. [Carey] The working committee wished “to see the interior more durably arranged“, and ”make it as lasting as its appearance will be grand and beautiful“. [Sandeman] Some minor corrections and regular maintenance apart, the Hall had been running its multifunctional hospitality as a central place for committee meetings, public addresses, portrait galleries, a public library and often stage performances as well, although the Chowringhee Theatre already came into existence to stage English theatres for the Calcutta beau monde.

AUGUSTO CAGLI’S OPERATIC DEBUT AT THE TOWN HALL

In April 1866, after a spell of long 16 years since Sans Souci, the last of the theatre houses, charred and closed down, the Calcutta elite received the rumour that an Italian opera company, now touring in Bombay, would be visiting them soon. The news was met with ‘mixed feelings of excitement and embarrassment’ [Rocha]. It was totally unacceptable for the Calcuttans that on the plea of not having a playhouse they should bid adieu to the opera company coming to their city on finishing a grand session in Bombay.  A rivalry between the presidencies let the white-towners strive under psychic stress to provide a hospitable and profitable environment for the troupe. Ultimately they were relieved to rediscover the best of the Town Hall, which should be appropriately refurbished to meet all the requirements of staging an Italian opera.

Augusto Cagli. Courtesy: Victoria State Library

The Company arrived in late April and greeted with enormous public excitement. The Town Hall, freshly painted and polished, looked bright and beautiful, though the paints not fully dried. That was an occasion of great enthusiasm for the European patrons who came to attend the shows in newly prepared dresses. “Wives and daughters were equipped with new gowns, mantles and gloves, often on credit, whilst many of the men outfitted themselves with new dress coats. Despite the audience coming away from the Town Hall with their seat numbers branded across their new clothes, like a convict or a sheep, the concert was deemed a complete success by the press and public alike. [Rocha] The carriages of the opera patrons clogged the streets of Calcutta in such a chaotic manner that the Calcutta Police had to devise a set of road regulations for the first time to deal with the unprecedented volume of traffic. [Englishman, May 5, 1866, cited in Rocha] Like the recital, the full operatic performances attracted crowded houses and effusive applause. Such success encouraged both the Calcutta public and Augusto Cagli. By mid-May 1866 Cagli and the Opera Committee had decided to present a full session of opera in Calcutta on a contractual arrangement. Cagli ‘s Company will perform twice a week for Rs. 60,000 before 300 audiences against membership subscriptions. It was a great challenge for Cagli and the Committee to endorse the agreement being fully aware of the inherent limitations of the Town Hall.

“The Town Hall acoustics, which the media was complaining for a generation, still remained abysmal, and the stage and poor airing made it unbearably hot for the audience and performers alike. Furthermore, the Town Hall was beginning to prove socially inadequate…” Many believed it improper to house opera, the queen of all arts, in such a utilitarian building. In achieving a longstanding opera culture in Calcutta, the most lamentable drawback was that the city had no appropriate opera house in and around. Cagli and the Opera Committee made every effort to construct new opera houses. As many as three playhouses readied within a very short time to entertain the White Town patrons with plentiful plays. Between 1866 and 1872, Augusto Cagli and his troupe presented seven seasons of opera and established a vibrant operatic culture worthy of the prestige and self-conscious privilege of the ‘City of Palaces’. It was more about fulfilling a social, political and ideological need in Calcutta than a sudden inspiration brought along by Cagil’s enchanting performance that demanded its own Opera House.[Rocha] It may be noted that the first purposive opera house, at Tivoli, was built in the city not by any white-town sponsors but by Augusto Cagli of the touring Italian opera company to serve primarily his personal business interests.

The Grand Opera House 1867-1917

Grand Opera House. 7 Lindsay Street, Calcutta ( Later Globe Theatre). Photographer: DBH Ker. Courtesy: Flickr

Besides the will of the Opera Committee, an association of esteemed men, mostly British, there was a widespread interest in the idea of having a new opera house. While Cagli was away in Italy to hire a grander company, the Committee worked hard for setting up a new opera house. There was a growing concenscious that the opera house should be located somewhere within the white-town of Chowringhee, rather than in the vast open space of the Maidan.  As soon as the Committee found a suitable plot on Lindsay Street they acted upon quickly constructing their first opera House. The New Opera House at Lindsay Street was kept reserved for Augusto Cagil’s shows. Cagil’s Tivoli Garden Opera House was henceforth being used by other impresarios, and after a while shifted to 5 Dhurumtollah Street under the banner Corinthian Theatre. There was also a third theatre, the Lyceum, that existed on Maidan.

The Grand Opera House at Lindsay Street was founded in 1867 by the Opera Committee initially composed of all British dignitaries. After a decade Sir Alex Apcar the then Chairman had leased to Mr William B English, an American impresario for the 1875-76 season. There might have been others who owned the house temporarily before or after William B English. The Grand Opera House continued for half a century in its original form until taken over by a Bijou Company Limited of  Mr E M D Cohen in 1917. From a High Court correspondence, we gather that it was E H Ducasse, the then owner of the Opera House, who transferred the premises No. 4 Mudge Street, a corner plot at the crossing of Lindsay Street, on the 1st of April 1917 on a five-year lease to Cohen under some partly unclear terms. [High Court] It deems for operational convenience, the new house address no.7 Lindsay Street was registered in lieu of no. 4 Mudge Street. It is not yet clear if Ducasse had purchased ownership right from the Opera Committee or from someone else having the title of the property. Cohen extensively refurbished the house and reopened it as the New Opera House, which was Calcutta’s premier vaudeville venue. Among its new attractions were the roof garden fitted with marble tables around the fountain, and the beautifully appointed bar, There are also luxurious lounge rooms and smoking rooms and comfortable retiring rooms. The body of the house is equipped with comfortable opera chairs and electric fans. The modern ventilating system makes the theatre cool on the hottest nights. One unique feature of the house is that each division, the pit, the dress-circle and the gallery, is separate from the others, with separate box offices and entrances so that the various classes of patrons need not “rub shoulders” with one anothera typical elitist designing disapproved by the Calcutta society at large. Audiences were rigidly divided and separated on socio-economic lines. As a ticket increases in price, the seat becomes more conspicuous and yet more isolated. The house had 1,500 comfortable seats. Prices of admission range were from 8 cents in the gallery to $1 for a seat in the boxes. [Howells] Although the media credited all-new features to Ducasse, in fact, those were the contributions of Cohen instead who took the charge from him a year back. [Rocha]

Life in Calcutta since then was not the same anymore. The political unrest, the famine, and the war crippled the social and personal lives of Calcutta irrespective of their class. During wartime, all the halls of entertainment were closed, barring Roxy cinema (previously The Empire), which screened day and night only one movie, the ‘Kismet’, without break throughout the barren period. In the mid-1940s, the Grand Opera House was converted into the Globe Theatre – the largest cinema hall in India that entertained the new generation of Calcutta people liberally until closed down permanently in recent time.

Italian Operas on Stage

The Grand Opera House established by the Opera Committee for staging Italian Operas by acclaimed artistes hand-picked by the famous impresario Augusto Cagli to entertain Calcutta’s opera aficionados. Besides full-fledged Italian operas, Cagil also presented some Italian ballets as a pleasant surprise. The performances furnished the white-town residents ‘with the sense of pride, accomplishment and cultivation for which they had been so desperate’. Viceroyalty seemed eager to promote opera in Calcutta. Lord Mayo and the Lady Mayo were, particularly, great admirers of the high arts. Quite often they visited the Grand Opera accompanying some foreign dignitaries. When they did, declared a ‘Grand State Opera Night’ as a gesture of patronization.

The Audience

The hall admitted the audience on seasonal tickets with a price tag of Rs.100, i.e. Rs.6.25 per concert, which was pricey in 1867 but not too high for a white-towner. We may find that determining the admission fee had always been one of the most tricky issues for the survival of the Italian opera in Calcutta because the presentation of the haut art has always been an expensive affair, which could be met either by selling high-priced tickets to the maximum number of heads belonging to the relatively small upper-class community or by selling tickets with discounted price to a much larger working-class community. The first season began with the maximum number of the Calcutta elites occupying the expensive seats letting its hall half-empty – much worrying for Calcutta’s opera aficionados, who soon warned by the press that ‘should the [Italian opera] company slip through Calcutta’s hands the City of Palaces would be guilty of its current reputation for being narrow-minded and mercenary’. Next year, Cagil’s new company represented the single greatest improvement to Calcutta’a operatic culture. The popularity of his new recruit Zenoni and her talent helped Cagli to shape the repertoire and concentrating on modern tragic operas. Cagli knew by experience how fond the Calcutta audiences were sopranos and took care to choose singers more mature than their predecessors from Italy’s best regional opera houses.Repertoires

The Repertoire

During his tenure, Cagli feasted Calcutta aficionado with compositions of Bellini, Donizetti, Flotow Gounod, Mercadante, Mozart, Rossini, Verdi. Among the operas presented his time we notice that the following plays were staged often: La Sonnambula, L’Elisir d’Amore, Linda di Chamounix, Lucrezia Borgia, Il Giuramento Don GiovanniMarta, Faust, Barbiere di Siviglia, Barbiere di Siviglia, Un Ballo in Maschera Ernani, Luisa Miller, Macbeth, La Traviata, Il Trovatore.

Italian Opera had its best time when Cagli ruled Calcutta stages and after him, it waned. There was a long spell of uncertainty when the Opera Committee failed to select a new impresario after rejecting the candidature of Giovanni Pompei. Calcutta, after a long while, had to pass the winter of 1871–72 bereft of Italian opera. The city found instead a variety of lesser performative arts on its stages entertaining people in jam-packed playhouses. One such popular performer was Deb Carlson, a stage name of David Nunis Cardozo. He was an American vaudeville player renown for his Blackface roles that demeaned African Americans. [Chattopadhyay] Dalhousie Institute also launched a series of soirées musicales. The black-face minstrel Dave Carson added quite a few new musical numbers like ‘Coolie’, and ‘Bangali Babu’ specially composed for his India tour, rather than ‘Mammy’ and ‘Negro Dandy’. Carlson stayed in Calcutta for three months only, during 1872-1874, performing in Bengali and English stages.

Hindu National Theatre at Grand Opera House

Interestingly, this was the beginning of the most significant phase of the professional Bengali theatrical movement inspired by the birth of the Calcutta National Theatrical Society. The Society was established in November 1872 by a few native gentlemen of Bagh Bazar with the objective to improve the stage, as also to encourage native youths in the compositions of new Bengali dramas from the proceeds of the sales of tickets. [Englishman Nov. 1872] Immediately after, the Society was split into two groups, one being called ‘Hindu National Teatre’ led by Ardhendushekhar Mustafi and Nagendranath Bandyopadhyay, the other called ‘National Theatre’ led by Sishir Bhaduri. None of these two had any permanent stage of their own, and both were eager to negotiate with the professional as well as amateurish stages inside and outside of Calcutta.

At this juncture, Alessandro Massa took over the office of impresario and realised soon enough his inadequacy in meeting the demands of the local aficionado for the quality Italian opera artistes and attractive repertoires. Massa was honest in his efforts. He did his best to present good Italian operas and made few contributions to Calcutta’s orchestra by introducing some enchanting instruments, like the clarinet and the horn. Massa had a small working committee of his own solely for making liaise with the public and to facilitate administration. We are not sure whether it was Massa himself or his committee was responsible for inviting Hindu National Theatre to stage their Bengali dramatic performances at Grand Opera House during April 1873 for three nights.

An advertisement appeared in the Englishman, 5 April 1873 :

OPERA HOUSE

Lindsay Street
Hindu National Theatre, Calcutta
Grand Opening Night This Evening Saturday 5th April, 1873
The plays advertised were pantomimes including Mustafi
Sahbka Pucka Tamasha and the drama Sarmistha, by Michael
Madhusudan Dutt. Tickets, it was said, would be available at
at the Opera House and at the House of the Late Kaliprasanna
Singha, Baranassee Ghose’s St. The signatory at the bottom was
Nagendra Nath Banerjee. Hony. Secretary.
[The Englishman, April 5, 1873]

Hindu National Theatre performed the following items at Grand Opera House:

5 April 1873
  • Model School
  • Belati Babu
  • Title of Honour Distribution
  • Aukhil’s Wonderful Feats
  • Mustafa Saheb ka Pucca Tamassa
  • Sharmistha of Madhusudan Dutta

[With Nagendra Babu (Yayati), Ardhenu Mustafi (Vakasur),                                 Shibchandra (Shukracharya), Bel Babu (Devajani),  Kshetra Mohan (Sarmistha)]

12 April 1873  
  • Tragedy of Vidhova-Vibaha
19 April 1873  
  • Kinchit Jaloyog
  • Ekei-ki Bale Sobhyota
  • Charitable Dispensary
  • Bharat Sangit

Admission Tickets

Private Boxes  to admit 5  Rs.20  Lower Stage to admit 4  Rs 16

Dress Circle …      Rs 4  Stalls Front  …      Rs 3

Stall Back     …      Rs 2  Pit       …      Re 1

[Dasgupta vol.2]

Mustafa Saheb Ka Pucca Tamassa

The experience of performing Bengali drama with full house attendance on an exclusive modern stage in the white town was amply rewarding to the young institution that was founded to provide public performances of newly-composed Bengali theatre works and to invigorate Bengalis’ cultural pride, and fan the flame of nationalist sentiment. Among the items performed on April 5, there was one extraordinary piece, Mustafa Saheb Ka Pucca Tamassa (Item No.4) that deserves special attention. It was a highly appreciated satire composed and played by Ardhendushekhar Mustafi in response to Mr Dev Carson’s item, the Bengali Babu, a hot favourite caricature he staged a number of times here at Grand Opera House beside Dalhousie Institute, and Jorasako Public Theatre. He used to draw large crowds, earned a good deal of money and was much applauded when he sang :

“I am a very good Bengalee Babu
“I keep my shop at Radhabazar ;
“I live in Calcutta, eat my dalbhat
“And smoke my Hookka.”
   

[Indian Mirror, 22nd, Jan. 1873.]

Deb Carson stayed only a couple of months in Calcutta and was spoken of with much interest by The Englishman as it appears from the following:

“The inimitable Deb gave his last regular performance on the Bengali stage, however, there was only one man, who was a match for this Saheb and that was Babu Ardhendu Sekhar Mustafi. To give a retort to Debcarson’s above caricature, Ardhendu, dressed as a Saheb with an old hat, torn coat and dirty trousers with Violin (Behala) in hand, used to show Mutafi Sahebka Pucca Tamassa to caricature the so-called Sahebs in the following song, which he used to sing with gestures :

Ham vada sahev hai duniyame
“None can be compared hamara sath ;
“Mister Mustafi” name hamara
“Catgaon me mera Vilat.
“Coat pini, pentaloon pini
“Pini mera trousers;
“Every two years new suit pini
“Direct from Chadney bazar.


[The Englishman Friday, Dec, 20, 1872,200 Pucca Tamasa]

Mustafi who was henceforth regarded in the stage as Mustafi Saheb or Saheb by all was a match for Deb Carson and both drew equally crowded houses by their pucca tamassa, though in the opinion of Girish Chandra, Deb Carson’s humour was of a much lower order than that of his Bengali rival. [Dasgupta v.2] The Englishman writes on Dec. 20, 1872, about this show held previously: At the Opera House, on Wednesday night and the attendance was full. Though not such as might have been expected, Deb’s part of the performance was capital and we are glad to hear that he will take a benefit at the Town Hall before leaving Calcutta with his Company. He deserves, and ought to have a bumper house.” The theatre historian Sushil Mukherjee thinks “Ardhendu’s was a fitting retort to Dave Carson’s low comic at the expense of the Bengalis.” He thinks Ardhendu “paid the Englishman back in his own coin through songs and mimicry.” [Mukherjee]  We may, however, consider Ardhendu’s mode of paying back a bit differently as will be discussed soon after.

After Massa, Percy Wyndham, an Englishman, volunteered his service in saving Italian opera culture but could do little in improving the quality of the opera performances. Nevertheless, he gave constant efforts to popularise Italian opera in the wider cross-sections of the Calcutta society. For his own survival, Wyndham wanted to reach audiences beyond the white-town. This he attempted to achieve, against the wish of the elite society, by introducing tickets at the discounted price to working-class and free tickets on Wednesdays to soldiers and their accompanying wives. Wyndham was increasingly disliked by the Opera Committee and the British patrons, except a few. Knowing the uncertainty of his position he took care to build an image of himself as ‘Calcutta’s Impresario’. Toward the end of the Italian opera season, he decided to lease the Lindsay Street Opera House to the Great National Opera – a Bengali initiative. Although Wyndham’s idea reflected a strong business potential to back up operatic culture in Calcutta, while the majority of Calcutta’s elite feared an irreversible loss of social and economic prestige that opera patronage represented. They took pride in believing that ‘the opera as a cultural symbol, never to be sullied by association with native culture’. On February 1875, a spokesman of such discriminatory dogmas, under the penname ‘F’ pronounced, Bengali opera would invade and desecrate the ‘pretty, little theatre’, marking and sullying the house with their ‘disagreeable substances’ (ghee and mustard oil). The Editor of the Englishman hand in hand with the high society Britishers, some Europeans and the opera-house proprietors, promptly supported ‘F’. In a hurry, The Englishman’s Editor momentarily forgot his unreserved admiration of the Bengali opera সতী কি কলঙ্কিনী Sati ki Kalangkini performed by the Great National Opera last January at Corinthian Theatre. That time the Editor found that performance ‘a promising development in Indian culture’ and appreciated the Bengali orchestra composed by Madan Mohan Barman as ‘a very good band’. This support, however, evaporated once the Great National Opera, a product of the Bengali intelligentsia, began to compete, and perhaps usurp, Italian Opera, the symbol par excellence of Western cultural superiority. [Rocha] A good thing, there were some liberal Britishers too to challenge the stands of ‘F’ and The Englishman’s editor. One British man, pen-named ‘G’, retorted ‘F’ that ‘far from undermining Italian Opera, Wyndham’s invitation to the GNO would help to make the Italian Opera financially viable, and that the ‘ungenerous avowal’ admitting racial discrimination was simply an expression of private illiberal opinion of ‘F’ and The Englishman.

While racism and nationalism are two different concepts they are inherently related, which can be observed in many agitated nationalist slogans, posters and advertisements released in support of the swadeshi movements. It required renaissance men to go above the dogma of hatred in reacting to racial/ national issues with humanitarian values and understanding. Mr Mustafi’s ‘Pucca Tamassa’ – a retort to Carlson’s ‘Bengali Babu’ – was an example of an empathetic satire addressed to a fellow ‘native saheb’ pranking him for aping the British snobbery, instead of attacking the Britishers directly with a racial vengeance.

ENDNOTES

The period between the late 1860s and early 1870s was indeed the golden age of the Italian operatic culture in Calcutta. The musical seasons all these years became increasingly meritorious and socially important. The period was also marked glorious for the rise of the Bengali theatre which drew much of its enthusiasm and sparks from the Italian operas and English theatres performed in the white town playhouses and at the Town Hall. More importantly, Bengali stagecraft including architectural designing was initially borrowed from the English stages. The house of the first Bengali theatre, the Bengal Theatre, was built after the wooden architecture of Lewis Lyceum theatre once existed on the maidan. The Bengali professional theatre nevertheless had started with vernacular repertoires freshly created by the contemporary literary giants highly relevant socially and politically to the realities of everyday life in colonial India, Bengal in particular. In comparison, the contents of the Italian and English stage performances in most cases had little relevance to contemporary lifestyle and social issues, and often too sophisticated to be appreciated by an uninitiated audience. This may be the foremost reason why the Bengali stages were being multiplied while the Italian opera houses and the English theatre halls vanished into the ‘picture houses’.

REFERENCE

Bandyopadhyay, Brajendranath. 2002. “বাংলা পেশাদারী রঙ্গালয়i.Pdf.” In বাংলা পেশাদারী থিয়েটারঃ একটি ইতিহাস. Calcutta: Natyachinta Foundation.https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiErKSe8vzvAhUE4jgGHR2wDbAQFjAAegQIAxAF&url=https%3A%2F%2Fia801603.us.archive.org%2F25%2Fitems%2Fin.ernet.dli.2015.265707%2F2015.265707.Bangla-Peshadari.pdf&usg=AOvVaw2_FBQzhFO9b8w3XEMVrEQf

Bandyopadhyay, Brajendranath. n.d. বঙ্গীয় নাট্ট্যোশালার ইতিহাস. 1st ed. Calcutta: Bangiya Sahitya Parishad.https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjWyYPY8_zvAhVMxTgGHZovD3YQFjADegQIBBAE&url=https%3A%2F%2Fgranthagara.com%2Fboi%2F322562-bangiyo-natyashalar-itihas-ed-1%2F&usg=AOvVaw2dUzi3Nyvbw5N4YEvinhE9

Bandyopadhyay, Brajendranath. n.d. সংবাদপত্রে সেকালের কথা; ২য় খণ্ড. Calcutta: Sahitya Parishat. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.354540/page/n39/mode/2up.

Blechynden, Richard. 2011. Richard Blechynden’s Calcutta Diaries, 1791-1822. Sentiment and Self. Edited by Peter Robb. Kindle. New Delhi: OUP. https://www.amazon.com.au/Sentiment-Self-Blechyndens-Calcutta-1791-1822-ebook/dp/B0746LK6H6.

Chattopadhyay, Devasis. 2020. “British India’s Racist Theatre.” The Quint, no. Aug12,2020. https://flipboard.com/article/british-india-s-racist-theatre-how-blackface-took-centre-stage/a-VQ9gSCafRTCwSnXsr4c_5A%3Aa%3A433591375-01f3630c84%2Fthequint.com.

Carey, William Henry. 1907. The Good Old Days of Honorable John Company from 1800 to 1858; Compiled from Newspapers and Other Publications; Vol.2. Calcutta: Cambray. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.39169/page/n421.

Dasgupta, Hemendranath. 1938. Indian Stage; v.2. Calcutta: M K Das Gupta. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.228124/mode/2up.

Dasgupta, Hemendranath. 1934. Indian Stage. Calcutta: Metropolitan. https://archive.org/details/indianstage029370mbp/page/n21/mode/2up.

High Court, Calcutta. 1920. EH Ducasse Versus EMD Cohen: The Judgement of the Calcutta High Court. https://www.casemine.com/judgement/in/56e13a0b607dba3896625d5a#

Howells, David P. 1918. “Bijou Grand Opera House, Calcutta: Among the Picture Theaters.” The Moving Picture World 35 (Feb. 23). https://archive.org/details/movingpicturewor35newy/page/1100/mode/2up.

Massey, Montague. 1918. Recollections of Calcutta for Over Half a Century. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink. https://www.google.co.in/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjRr_WylsPXAhUDV7wKHTWJAXcQFggxMAI&url=https%3A%2F%2Farchive.org%2Fdetails%2Frecollectionsofc00massiala&usg=AOvVaw3uvydXqyjqB3xbkOOZe4jp.

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Sandeman, Hugh David. 1868. Selections From Calcutta Gazettes: 1806-1815. Vol. XXX. Calcutta: GOI. https://doi.org/10.1016/0003-6870(73)90259-7

ANTOINE DE L’ETANG : THE OTHER CHIVALROUS ADVENTURIST

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BACKDROP

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

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

DE L’ETANG IN VERSAILLES

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

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

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

DE L’ETANG IN PONDICHERRY

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

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

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

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

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

DE L’ETANG IN CALCUTTA

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

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

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

THE CALCUTTA REPOSITORY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AUCTION HOUSE

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

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

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

II

ENTERPRISES & EMPLOYMENTS

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

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

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

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

OUDH

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

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

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

REENSTATED IN CALCUTTA

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

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

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

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

PUBLICATIONS

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

ATTAINMENTS

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

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

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

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

RETROSPECTION

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

PAGE OF HONOR TO THE DAUPHINE ANTOINETTE

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

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

BODYGUARD OF THE KING’S GUARD DU CORPS

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

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

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

SUPERINTENDENT OF OF THE ROYAL STUDS, VERSAILLES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand Cross of the Order of Saint-Louis

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

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

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

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

END NOTES

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

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

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

REFERENCE

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Baillie, Alexander Charles. 2017. Call of Empire: From the Highlands to Hindostan. Chicago: McGill-Queen’s U.P. https://books.google.com.au/books/about/Call_of_Empire.html?id=uMw2DwAAQBAJ&redir_esc=y.

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Blechynden, Kathleen. n.d. “The Chevalier De L’Etang.” East and West. https://archive.org/details/historicalrecord00hodsrich/page/76/mode/2up?q=etang.

Calcutta Gazette, The. n.d. “Reports Dated February 19th, 1795, July 5, 1798, 25th August, 1798; August 30, 1798.” Calcutta. Accessed November 10, 2020. https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/titles/calcutta-gazette.

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Chateau de Versailles. n.d. “Alex Von Fersen (1755-1810).” Official Website. Accessed November 10, 2020. http://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/history/great-characters/axel-von-fersen.

Chateau de Versailles. The official Palace of Versailles. n.d. “Royal Stable.” Accessed October 30, 2020. http://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/estate/royal-stables.

Cohen, Ashley. 2020. “Julious Soubise in India.” In Britain’s Black Past; Edi by Gretchen H Gerzinz. Liverpool,: Piverpool U.P. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=ojfWDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA215&lpg=PA215&dq=julius+soubise+britain%27s+black+past&source=bl&ots=If5xkJmj-y&sig=ACfU3U3_7EEHLEjLsSShYgWW59kbgjMFcg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjU3MD0mrPoAhXzwTgGHfayC6cQ6AEwBnoECAsQAQ#v=onepage&q=julius.

Cotton, Evans. 1907. Calcutta, Old and New: A Historical & Descriptive Handbook to the City. Calcutta: Newman. https://archive.org/details/calcuttaoldandn00cottgoog.

Covington, Richard. n.d. “Marie Antoinette.” Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/marie-antoinette-134629573/.

Dalrymple-Champneys, Weldon. 1978. “From Royal Page to Veterinary Officer. A Short Account of the Life of Pierre Ambroise Antoine de l’Etang, Chevalier de St Louis, by His Great-Great-Grandson, Sir Weldon Dalrymple-Champneys, Bt.” The Veterinary Record 103. 265. https://europepmc.org/article/med/362692.

Dutta, Sutapa. 2017. British Women Missionaries in Bengal, 1793–1861. London: Anthem Press. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=sE5GDwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.

Etienne, Delphine et Alain Guena. 2010. Officiers Généraux De L’Armée De Terre et Des Services: Ancien Regime – 2010. Vincennes: Bureau des archives historiques de l’armée de Terre.

France. Archives Nationales d’Outre-mer. n.d. “Personnel Colonial Moderne (FIN XVIIIE-XIXE S). Antoine De L’Etang.” http://anom.archivesnationales.culture.gouv.fr/ark:/61561/fg469ifgciy.

Hodson, Vernon Charles Paget. 1910. Historical Records of the Governor-General’s Body Guard. London: Thacker. https://archive.org/details/historicalrecord00hodsrich/page/76/mode/2up?q=etang.

India Office. 1811. “Records: Bengal Pol. 4 Sep 1811 E/4/671.” London. http://searcharchives.bl.uk/primo_library/libweb/action/dlDisplay.do?docId=IAMS041-000738591&fn=permalink&vid=IAMS_VU2+.

India Office. 1814. “Board of the Commissioners of the Affairs of India Records: Ref. IOr/F/4/312/7127. Date: Aug 1814-Aug 1815.” London. http://searcharchives.bl.uk/primo_library/libweb/action/dlDisplay.do?vid=IAMS_VU2&docId=IAMS041-000740179&fn=permalink.

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

Mansel, Philip. 1984. Pillars of Monarchy: An Outline of the Political and Social History of Royal Guards, 1400-1984. London: Quartet.

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

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

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

Medieval Chronicles. 2000. “Discover Our Medieval Past in Hundreds of Factual, Informative and Easy to Understand Articles.” 2000. https://www.medievalchronicles.com/.

Puronokolkata: Calcutta as she was. 2020. “Julius Soubise (1757-1798).” 14 July 2020. 2020. https://puronokolkata.com/2020/07/14/julius-soubise-a-magnificent-horseman-in-18th-century-calcutta/.

Roberdeau, Henry. 1825. “Accounts of Life in Calcutta in 1805. (Editorial Notes).” Bengal Past And Present 29.

Rootweb. n.d. “The Pattle Family Tree. Ambrose Pierre Antoine, Chevalier de L’Etang.” http://freepages.rootsweb.com/~pattle/genealogy/Chev.de l%27Etang.htm%0A.

Spooner, Deborah (. 2006. “Biography for Ambroise Pierre Antoine de l’Etang (1757-1840).” Wikitree. 2006. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/De_l%27Etang-2.

Velde, Francois. n.d. “The Royal and Military Order of Saint Louis.” https://www.heraldica.org/topics/france/frorders.htm#st-louis.

Vibart, Henry Meredith. 1881. The Military History of the Madras Engineers and Pioneers, from 1743 up to the Present Time. London: Allen. https://openlibrary.org/books/OL23319477M/The_military_history_of_the_Madras_engineers_and_pioneers_from_1743_up_to_the_present_time..

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JULIUS SOUBISE: A MAGNIFICENT HORSEMAN IN 18TH CENTURY CALCUTTA

Street view of 18th century Calcutta. Company school of art

I

PRELIMINARY WORDS
Calcutta acquires its distinctive flavour presumably from the fusion of characters grown in diverse cultural environs in distant lands. Being the first capital of modern India, the city attracted overseas traders, bread-earners, fortune hunters and travellers who spent the varying length of their lives here amid the locals giving exposure of spectacular living styles and standards to them. Many of those were great names who had left for us textual and visual details, others left too little to trace back their lives in those maiden days of Town Calcutta still wrapped in a haze. Much of the important constructs gone amiss in want of contexts culled from firsthand records, or from the secondary sources left by contemporaries. Reconstruction of the period can possibly be done only by collaging syntactically the fragments likewise promising many a surprise.

Baron Nagell’s Running FootmanX
This portrait of Julius Soubise (c1756-1798) self-styled as ‘African Prince’, is believed to be the long-forgotten work of Johan Zoffany referred to in the Reminiscences of Henry Angelo (1830).

It is, indeed, surprising to know how many shades of skin the early visitors of Calcutta had and in how many different tongues they spoke. But more amazing was the loaded experience of the colourful past they had lived before landed in India. They looked different, thought different and did things differently for living. Those were the people who opened up new sources of learning to live in different ways beautifully in a plural society of the modern time. The 18th century Calcutta with its formative society had welcomed the harbingers of change. Among them were two cavaliers of rare charms, both banished from their homelands apparently for the guilt of chivalrous romancing. Julius Soubise the Caribbean boy groomed as an English dandy, and the French nobleman Antoine de l’Etang the personal bodyguard of Luis the XIV was contemporaries. l’Etang arrived later in 1796, while Soubise, nearly a decade before, in 1778.

II

JULIUS SOUBISE IN LONDON
Soubise may be said to have been born twice, the first time in London, next time in Calcutta. His two lives were opposite to each other but inseparable like day and night. This is why you must allow me to dwell upon his London life before narrating his life in Calcutta.

Little we know of the Caribbean child, later grown to a notorious young dandy, a self-stylized ‘Black Prince’ in London high society, except that he was born around c.1756 in St. Kitts to a white planter father and a mother of African descent. The boy was sent under the guardianship of Captain Stair Douglas of Royal Navy to England. Reaching London on April 2nd 1764 he was given to the care of the captain’s cousin sister Kitty or Catherine Hyde Douglas, the Duchess of Queensberry (1701-1777) – an eccentric beauty and a socialite, known for her fondness for aprons. [Here is a portrait of her painted by Charles Jervas in the 1720s]

The Duchess apparently freed the boy from slavery and named him Julius Soubise, after Charles de Rohan, Prince of Soubise. [Miller] An all-round education appropriate for the British genteel society was set out for him. The celebrated Italian master Angelo Dominic taught Soubise in gentle arts in his School of Arms. Soubise began to make his mark by 1772 – a decade before the rising popularity of amateur and competitive fencing matches cemented the sport’s position in the leisure economy of the fashionable world. He also became proficient at the violin and composed a few merry pieces in the Italian style, and even sang in a comic operatic manner. Soubise was a great favourite of David Garrick’s, the elder Sheridan gave him lessons on elocution, and was loved by some of the brightest luminaries of his time.

His rising success in such a young age inspired Soubise in modelling himself as the ‘Black Prince’ – an epitome of aristocratic masculinity – opened for him a reckless life of a ruthless womanizer and squanderer. He became a source of worries for the upper-class Britons because of not having any real contenders to stop Soubise demeaning the values and the image of the British nobility. As we find from the stray records fetched by recent scholars, the Duchess, alone had the key role in upbringing Soubise in baronial fashion. She maintained a house in town for Soubise, as well a liveried carriage to take him around, and all amenities for leading his foppish life. She herself suffered often from his heedless drives, but made no attempt to check him firmly, probably due to her kindly feelings toward the black boy less than half of her age. The vanguards of the high society in London thought that circulation of a scandalous cartoon involving Soubise and the Duchess should be a sure measure to stall Soubise by embarrassing him as well as his patron the Duchess, and his mentor Dominico Angelo all at once.

A satirical picture depicting Soubise and the Duchess of Queensbury engaged in a fencing match, an engraving of Austin brought about on May 1,1773

“Macaroni” was a contemporary name for a fashionable young man; “Mungo” was a name of an officious slave from the 1769 comic opera The Padlock

On May 1, 1773, they brought about a satirical picture depicting Soubise and the Duchess of Queensbury engaged in a fencing match, an engraving of Austin based on illustrations of fencing compiled by the Angelo fencing dynasty. Duchess Catherine and Angelo are thus implicated in the most disgraceful public attack on Soubise. As researchers think, it would be a mistake to read the cartoon’s use of fencing as merely allegorical or to assume that the duchess is the cartoon’s only target. In fact, the cartoon also implicates Dominico Angelo.  Besides William Austin’s engraving, there have been most notably, A Mungo Macaroni (published September 10, 1772), part of a famous 1771-73 satirical series of engravings depicting fashionable young men, published by Matthew and Mary Darly.

In some sense, Cohen pointed out, “the ultimate target of the cartoon is neither Soubise nor the Duchess of Queensberry, nor even Angelo, but the market economy in which the trappings of rank could be indiscriminately bought and sold.” [Cohen. 2018] The satire was of poor taste and offensive in nature. It must have dampened the spirit of Soubise at least temporarily, and the Duchess felt obliged to bring him back to his good senses to the possible extent. As it appears, Soubise used to stay at Angelo’s, yet remained a favourite of the Duchess who continued to take care of his fads and follies and pay off his large debts quietly. Things suddenly went out of her hand when the Duchess got informed that ‘one of her maids had been raped by Soubise’. She tried to dissuade the woman in vain from going to court. [Sandhu] It was probably from the Duchess, Angelo came to know of the kind of fast life Soubise had been leading in his private apartments where he assumed the habits of an extravagant man of fashion in company of succession of visitors in rooms decorated with roses, geranium, and expensive green-house plants. It was Angelo on whose recommendation, Soubise was sent to India at the expense of the Duchess. [Miller] The Duchess had hardly any option but to arrange passage for Soubise to flee the country he was so madly in love. It was the tragic end of her cherished relationship with the little black boy she brought up as a social rebel decrying against racialist, xenophobic and moralist sentiments in her own fashion. She died of eating too much cherries on June 17th 1777 [Fryer]. Next month Soubise sailed for Calcutta on July 15th 1777 [Sandhu] to start another life very different from the one vanished with the passing of his noble patroness.

III

SOUBISE IN CALCUTTA
On July 15, Julius Soubise left the English shore boarding the Bessborough East Indiaman under the captaincy of Alexander Montgomerie. The ship reached Madras via Media and Cape on 9 February 1778 [Three Decks]. In those days river trips from a South India port to Calcutta would take about three weeks. It could not be any earlier than March 1778 Soubise arrived at Calcutta’s Chandpal Ghat where large vessels used to embark. Almost a nameless black boy of twenty-three, Soubise landed in the small township of Calcutta leaving back his gorgeous past of princely life assuredly protected by the Duchess of Queensberry till her last. Soubise wanted her most to be at his side while starting a new life of a labouring common man instead.

Nob-Kishen's Nautch party - d'Oyly c1825-28
Nabokissen’s Nauch Party. Artist: Charles D’Oyly c 1825. Courtesy V&A

Begum Johnstone, the grandmother of the Earl of Liverpool

Calcutta was then ‘the grave of thousands, but a mine of inexhaustible wealth’. [Long] Already the capital of British India, Calcutta was still then a small township resurrected from the ashes of Lalbagh Battle centring around the Customs House amid the ruins of the old Fort William. Clive Street was then ‘the grand theatre of business’, and there stood the Council House and every public mart in it. The day Soubise landed, there was no Mint, no Calcutta Gazette, no Asiatic Society of Bengal, but a Court House to render legal services as well as facilities of balls and theatrical acts besides running of the charity school for which the building was funded by the Lottery Committee and Omichand a Rothschild of India. Calcutta had ‘a noble play-house—but no church’, service was held in a room next to the Black Hole. The St John Church – the first Anglican Cathedral of Calcutta was founded by Lord Hastings on the land donated by the Hindu Nabokissen in c1784. [Long] All these institutions nevertheless came up one after another in the presence of Soubise. There were, however, no dearth of amusement and recreation with theatrical houses, hotels, and coffee shops for the white population, largely Englishmen,  Eurasians, few Americans. The presence of native society in Tank Square vicinity was imperceptible, excepting a few men of affairs like Omichand and Nabokissen. Those days the influence of the fabled socialite, Begum Johnstone, the grandmother of the Earl of Liverpool, prevailed over the lifestyle of Calcutta’s citizenry. Till ten at night, their houses were lit up in their best style and thrown open for the reception of visitors. There were music and dancing for the young, and cards for the old. Common people live both splendidly and pleasantly, the forenoons being dedicated to business, and after dinner [= midday meal] to rest, and in the evening to recreate themselves in chaises or palanquins in the fields, or to gardens, or by water in their budgeroes. [Blockmann]  The condition of Calcutta was not too kind to the young men fresh from school, lavishing large sums on horse-racing, dinner parties, contracting large loans with Banians, who clung to them for life like leeches, and quartered their relations on them throughout their Indian career.

It was perhaps the most critical phase in Calcutta history that Soubise witnessed during the last two decades of the 18th century. This was the time when Calcutta extended itself far beyond its boundary limits to the jungle, covering one-third of the Company’s territories, inhabited only by wild beasts, and in Chowringhee, between Dhurrumtollah and Brijitalao, where the new colony of the Europeans was being stretched out. The changing scenario of the Town Calcutta growing into the City of Palace can be envisioned by looking into the earliest Calcutta maps charted by Aaron Upjohn and Mark Wood, and going over the innumerous paintings of world-class artists, like Thomas and William Daniells, Thomas Hickey, Tilly Kettle, William Hodges, Johan Zoffany, and others. Within a year after the momentous duel fought between Lord Hastings and Sir Francis on 17 August 1777, Soubise entered the Calcutta scene prospecting as an accomplished lancer, a musician, and a horseman.

IV

ENTREPRENEURIAL VENTURES
Settlers of those days were hospitable. As we learn from an anonymous account of travels (1760—1768), “there was no part Hospitality of the world where people part with their money to assist each other so freely as the English in India.” [Anon. Edin. Mag.] We might have then some reasons to believe that Soubise had not been left all by himself totally incapacitated in his ventures, if not black-skinned.

Soubise took a couple of years to initiate the business plans he designed after his mentor Dominico Angelo’s model. It was from Angelo, Soubise equipped himself with the arts of aristocratic sportsmanship – horse-riding and fencing, and also some marketing skills as well. Before he formally inaugurated his Riding Academy on Thursday, November 7, 1780, Soubise had started teaching fencing. We understand from an insertion, most likely by Soubise himself published in Bengal Gazette of November 4, 1780, that next Thursday Mr Soubise will open his Manège for the reception of the horses. His Fencing days will be shifted to Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The next thing he did was staging Othello in the Theatre commemorating his first business venture in Calcutta. The Bengal Gazette declared sometime between 9th and 12th December that the Managers of the Theatre generously offered to give a benefit play to Mr Soubise, toward the completion of his Manège. Mr Soubise will appear on that night in the character of Othello. And afterwards, perform the part of Mungo in the entertainment ….. The part of Iago will be attempted by the Author of the Monitor, and Desdemona by Mr H. a gentleman of doubtful Gender. [Bengal Gazette, Dec. 9th-12th 1780] Here, the reference to Mr H. seems to be to Hickey himself, the editor of Bengal Gazette, who was known as an eccentric Irishman. Hickey’s acting or posing as a person of neutral sex may have been one of his eccentricities as Cohen maintains but it was perfectly in tune with the contemporary practices followed in the British stage in London as well as in Calcutta she pointed out.  [Cohen. 2018].

Four years after, in 1784, Soubise set up his Fencing School advantageously housed behind Harmonic, the famous tavern of 18th century Calcutta, stood opposite the Lall Bazaar Police Court. As announced in the Calcutta Gazette on Thursday, June 24, 1784, Soubise proposes to teach the art of fencing against a nominal fee of two Gold Mohurs for the entry and two Gold Mohurs for tuition per month. His days are Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Such Gentlemen as choose to take private lessons at their own house’s will be attended on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays; in which case his terms are three Gold Mohurs entrance, and three Gold Mohurs per mouth. [Seton-Karr]

Soubise was preparing for his new riding school since early 1788. Fort William reportedly granted him permission to run the school vide Calcutta Gazette April 24, 1788. The most enthralling publicity feat Soubise brought about for his new venture was an event report he made to appear in the Calcutta Chronicle of December 11, 1788. The report clearly reflects the way his businesses were packaged for a defined clientele belonging to Calcutta society as Domino used to do it in London. The report went as follows:

“Yesterday morning, early, the manly exercise of horsemanship was practised at the Manège, by the scholars of Mr Soubise, before a very numerous assembly. After the practice was over, near two hundred of the principal people of the settlement sat down to an elegant breakfast provided on the occasion. Breakfast being over, a ball was given, and the ladies and gentlemen were so highly delighted, that it was not without evident signs of regret, they
relinquished such a pleasing and health-giving source of amusement …” [Calcutta Chronicle of December 11, 1788] Soubise in his manège taught “more than just horsemanship: it offered education in – as well as the opportunity to take part in a simulative performance of – English gentility”.[Cohen. 2020] Notwithstanding his best motive and organizational capability time and again he failed to take off.

“The newspapers that document these years are a chronicle of his financial instability. Soubise placed advertisements to publicize his new ventures – fencing lessons, horse riding lessons, sales of the mare. Those were followed at regular intervals by notices of insolvency. Yet, whether imprisoned for debt, hounded by creditors, or suffered the sale of his stables at auction, Soubise inevitably bounced back with new ventures”. [Cohen, 2020]

So far we have seen him in Calcutta, Soubise was a master performer and zealous teacher – a man of extraordinary talent in public entertainment with full of ideas for publicity and promotion, yet success eluded him in Calcutta. Soubise lost every business opportunity he created but never let go his indomitable spirit to start anew over and over again. His social and personal life too was rarely without unwelcome events. We come to know from Calcutta Gazette of 26 March 1789 that Soubise survived a brush with death when a French neighbour took a razor to his throat. He bore a ‘large Scar on the left side of the Throat’ from this encounter until his death.

Portrait of Nathaniel Middleton.by Tilly Kettle c.1784.

Lucknow
After recovery, Soubise disappeared from Calcutta scene for three years while he stayed in Lucknow. One of his attractions was the famed stable of Nawab of Awadh. Soubise got acquainted with many distinguished people. It was told that a gentleman who held a high station in the east, known by the appellation of Memory Middleton, became a friend and patron of Soubise at Lucknow. [Angelo ] The gentleman could have been none other than Nathaniel Middleton a closed associate of Warren Hastings who sent him at the court of Nawab as the Resident. Middleton got involved in the lengthy dispute between Hastings and his Bengal Council, which eventually led to Hastings’ impeachment. However, since Middleton had resigned from the East India Company in 1784 and went back to England much before Soubise arrived at Lucknow, no meeting ever taken place between the two contrary to the general belief. [Stonopedia]  Before Soubise left Lucknow at the end of 1791, he had developed some good connections with high officials of the Stables of the Awadhi court, some of the largest and best on the Indian subcontinent, which he exploited later. Calcutta meanwhile prepared to move south with completion of the Esplanade ground after getting the Dhurrumtollah Tank constructed. He took quite some time to resettle.

V

PRIVATE LIFE VS SOCIAL ISSUES
This was the time when Soubise met Miss Catherine Pawson, a pretty and progressive young lady, popularly known as Kate. She was the only daughter of William Pawson, a good friend of Richard Blechynden (1759-1822), who became a soar critic and a reluctant business patron of Soubise.

Blechynden arrived in Calcutta in 1786 at the age of 22 years, and since then worked in various capacity – as a civil engineer, architect, or building contractor on his own, and sometimes worked under the Superintendent of Streets and Buildings – an Italian architect called Eduardo Tiretta of the Tiretta Bazaar fame. Blechynden also had a share in the Chronicle newspaper. Although he lived in rented houses in town, Blechynden spent his leisure time hunting in the manner of an English squire in “Belle Couchée” – a grand garden house with stables he owned at North-East Calcutta, off Dum Dum (later ‘Belgatchya’) road, about an hour’s walk from Tank Square. By 1806, after renovations, it turned into a very large, lower-roomed house with plenty of grounds and a tank of excellent water. It looks like, this had been the original premises of the legendary Belgachia Garden House and Blechynden its first owner before the property was sold to Lord Auckland and then passed on to Dwarkanath Tagore.

In spite of his multiple income sources, Blechynden was not always financially steady, particularly in those days of the French War, neither was his friend William Pawson. On coming to India, Pawson, son of a London wine merchant, joined the East India Company in 1765 and held the position of Paymaster General [Busteed]. He was dismissed in 1781 on the abolition of Provincial Councils. Depending on a small allowance he was permitted to draw, Pawson led a humble life with his daughter. Although Blechynden, Pawson, and many like them, struggled with debts in the 1790s, they nonetheless considered themselves genteel. Catharine Pawson, a member of the ‘polite society’ like her father, never cared much for social sanctions and taboos. “Upon making her acquaintance in 1793, Blechynden ‘thought she was very forward for a young lady’. A newspaper poem published by one of her admirers gives a similar impression, as does her penchant for acting, an activity considered out of bounds for gentlewomen.” Blechynden believed “her attitude undermined her class identity and social standing.” He might have felt something more than that – that it was not she alone but her family and friends too were at risk. The fear and anxiety of social rejection disturbed Blechynden’s peace of mind. His debts, his inability to pay salary to his staff, his gradual loss of hearing – were some of his moral and physical failings that made him apprehensive of social repercussion. The latest, however, was the shock he received from his friend’s freakish daughter and her scandalous affair with Soubise the ‘Coffree’ boy of a questionable character. Later, when Blechynden heard about their engagement, he could hardly conceal his indignation from the bride’s father, ‘I had heard, but scarcely knew how to believe it’. Pawson had no answer for him but openly speculated as much, that ‘he supposed the Coffree screwed her uptight — and that was the reason she preferred him’. [Cohen. 2020]

It was not interracial marriage as such that vexed Blenchynden’s mind. As Cohen pointed out, ”especially among men of Blechynden’s milieu, who tended to establish long-term relationships with Indian ‘bibis, albeit often outside the legal institution of marriage.’ In fact, between 1792 and 1809, Blechynden fathered two sons and six illegitimate children by four mothers – two Indian Muslims, one Indian or Eurasian, and one India-born Eurasian bibi.

Blechynden acted like a responsible father by providing the children with English education and did nothing exceptional against the norms of the then Calcutta society. Two noblemen of his time, Major General Claude Martin and the business tycoon William Palmer had their children by native mothers socially recognized as their wives, unlike all others. [Puronokolkata] Of course, in the case of Soubise’s marriage the racialization of gender was contrary to the conventional model. White men marrying black women were not unheard of in Job Charnock’s settlement, as he himself took a deshi wife, and many followed him thereafter. But the interracial marriage in opposite direction, that is, white-women marrying black-men most probably did not take place in colonial India ever before, although hundreds of Indian Lascars of British ships espoused English wives in England for more than two centuries.

It was hardly possible for Blechynden to judge Soubise by common social parameters as they belonged to different layers of the English society at two different cultural setups, one in London, the other in Calcutta. In London, Soubise ‘was taken up by fashionable society, became a fop among fops, used expensive scent, went around in a liveried carriage, a favourite of Garrick, brushed shoulders with some of the brightest luminaries of his time. He was Britain’s first Black Dandy, and a virtual socialite.[Fryer] Whereas, “the Calcutta social milieu Soubise entered after his marriage was a world away from such exalted circles.” [Cohen. 2020] What bothered Blechynden was the class identity and social standing rather than ethnicity issues. Catherine’s wedding, he feared, should undermine the very ground on which Catherine stood with her people socially connected. It was more so because the black man here was none but Julius Soubise, an African by birth, overly proud of his own black-figure reminding an Othello. Blechynden, with his racist mindset, could not stand the air of self-importance and arrogance of Soubise. Blechynden hoped, Soubise being a chronic debtor and all-around rogue, could hardly promise to make an ideal husband. But he was all wrong and he came to realize that in later days and admitted it with a shade of repentance when Soubise was no more. It was Blechynden who investigated if Soubise did actually married Catharine and found that they did marry but in Portuguese Church by Padre Geovan showing their limited positioning in polite society.

Belying her father’s friend Blechynden’s forebodings, Catherine wedded Soubise and remained devotedly in love with him. She never ever left side of Soubise while passing through a series of challenges up to the end of his tormented life, physically decrepit and financially bankrupt. Soubise, even in his worst time never stopped admiring his wife’s beauty. We see him saying to his guests at dinner “I declare my wife grows handsomer every day”, and sportively to his wife, ‘I wish I had a couple of you!”.

VI

It looks like Soubise with his family had been staying around Lall Bazar-Cossitollah area for more than a decade until he moved into Dhurrumtollah neighbourhood. His new establishment, Calcutta Repository was ready by early 1795. The Calcutta Gazette published on February 19th, 1795 an elaborate description with a complete business profile of the Calcutta Repository, including its services, facilities, locale and t&c. Very likely, the news report was penned and sponsored by Soubise himself.

CALCUTTA REPOSITORY
“Mr Soubise having observed that the disagreeable and ill-contrived stables in which many gentlemen’s horses stand in Calcutta, and even in-home that are more convenient, the smell, noise, and mosquitoes they occasion, has long had a wish to erect a set(?) of spacious, airy, and convenient stables, upon a plan of his own, for the accommodation of the Settlement; and having at length, by the patronage of some of his friends, been enabled to carry it into execution, he tenders his Calcutta Repository to his friends, his subscribers, and the public in general. As every convenience that could possibly be devised has been adopted to render them complete, he flatters himself they are, without exception, the best stables of any in India; and as Mr Soubise’s professional knowledge and long residence in the country enable him to pay every requisite attention to that noble animal, the horse, he hopes to obtain a share of that liberal patronage which has so often distinguished this Settlement. The Repository, which is now open for the reception of horses, is situated to the north of, and nearly behind Sherburne’s Bazar [where Chandni Market now located], leading from the Cossitollah down Emambarry Lane, and from the Dhurumtollah by the lane to the west of Sherburnc’s Bazar.

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

The Repository was the last major effort Soubise made with Mr Pawson as his partner. Pawson invested a good amount of money he borrowed from Blechynden but had no luck to pay him back. This project failed as every other one did. Returned from Lucknow, the idea of trading horses came naturally to a clever horseman like Soubise, who knew all about horses. The first horse race of India was held at Akra on January 16, 1794, where Soubise must have been present to enjoy the inspiring mounted sports and became alive to a potentially big market of horses in Calcutta. Besides, the growing demands of war horses after Plassey, and carriage horses with the road expansions there always a niche market for the horse as a luxury commodity. Being in India for nearly a decade Soubise had enough exposure to realize that the horse trade was a risky game, but for an over-confident man like Soubise the first concern was the money to fuel his business, and that too not so much a problem for him being a shrewd negotiator in credit manipulation – so long the project was profitable enough. But as we know, luck seldom favoured Soubise. Out of the amount of Rs. 5000/- Pawson borrowed from Blechynden, Soubise lost Rs 3500 on the horses of Awadh stables that Saadat Ali Khan sent him in August 1796. In the same month, Soubise was imprisoned ‘for shortchanging a customer on the sale of a horse in another complicated credit transaction.’ Pawson’s stables were later sold by lottery and the lotto winner made an offer to Blechynden but he was not ready with the money. Ultimately the stables went to De l’Etang who completed the deal by December 1797.

VII

FINAL YEARS
Blechynden noted in his diary that the final three years of Soubise’s life were a downward spiral. The stabling proved unprofitable and by 1795. Soubise was already looking out for new revenue streams. Blechynden noticed with dismay, Pawson was in a mood to seriously consider Soubise’ latest fad for setting up an Auction House at the ‘old Harmonic’ – the grand tavern equipped with spacious accommodation once used for holding large parties, and ball. Blechynden was perturbed: ‘how then could Soubise prosper without money—without interest—without friends — and without a particle of public confidence’? He sounded genuinely worried. But didn’t Soubise dare to take such a challenge many a time since he landed in Calcutta?  A failure could not deter him ever to take another stake in another sphere of business. Besides running horse-riding and fencing schools, and livery stables, Soubise worked for the East India Company conducting breaking-in of military horses. As suggested in an unverified source, Soubise might have also tried out an unfamiliar field like keeping a bookshop in Calcutta  – the only shop of its kind owned by a man of African origin.

Before launching his Auction House Soubise planned for establishing a ‘temporary’ Riding House. Why did he call it ‘temporary’ we are not sure. Perhaps that he wanted to generate quick money to meet some pressing expenses or meant this experimental in scope. What we know for certain is that his plan was inspired by his recent rapport with Nilmoni Halder, a resourceful Bengali businessman of Bowbazar. He came forward from outside Soubise’s circle, to support him with money and encouragement. The Calcutta Gazette advertised Riding House on July 5, 1798, inviting public attention to its sessions. We had no idea, however, how it all went off, but his other plan, a promotional theatrical evening at Calcutta Theatre was performed successfully on March 7, 1798, where ‘Kate’ (nickname of Mrs Catherine Soubise) was reportedly ‘played with great applause’ [Busteed ?] Next Monday, on the 12th, the Calcutta Theatre presented the Comedy of the Chapter of Accidents by Miss Lee was staged for the benefit of Mrs Soubise.

There was no indication that Soubise himself took any part in that evening; perhaps he did not. Soubise, a stage-artist groomed by Garrick, an elocutionist tutored by the elder Sheridan, a gifted violinist and singer, was surely expected on stage playing a stunning show befitting to the occasion. The sole reason for his remaining behind the screen might have been his suffering from intense rheumatism he was suffering from the last few years.

The Riding House, that started on July 5, made way to the sudden accidental fall of Soubise from a devilish Arabian stallion on August 24. Blechynden found him in the Gallery laying on a mat, perspiring profusely — his head was slightly cut behind — but his Skull did not feel fractured. Blechynden saw blood oozing out of his right ear and immediately sensed the blow was not only very dangerous but most probably mortal. Pawson and Mrs Soubise went to the hospital and remained with him till he died the next day from haemorrhaging in his brain. The death of Julius Soubise was reported in the Calcutta Gazette on 25th August 1798 and entered in the  Asiatic Annual Register, vol.1 1798-99.

Within a week, Calcutta Gazette on August 30, 1798, reported the ‘Sale of Horses by Public Auction’ to be held every Wednesday at 10 o’clock in the forenoon. It was the beautiful Arabian saddle ‘Noisy’ – a property of Joseph Thomas Brown – to be on an auction sale for the benefit of Mrs Soubise. The auctioneer Mr A. L’Etang was the nobleman who alongside Mr Blechynden rushed to see Soubise at the site of the accident. We will find him again in a closer perspective in the forthcoming episode of magnificent horsemen.

 Soubise’s death turned Blechynden, his worst critic in Calcutta, into a compassionate ally, appreciative of his talents and aggrieved at his tragic end.  Blechynden did not press his friend Pawson or Mrs Soubise to repay his loan but could not save them from financial distress. Mrs Soubise with her father and children moved in a barrack, possibly one of the Bow Barrack quarters. Mr Pawson passed away in 1802 leaving his daughter Catherine alone with her children William and Mary. We know nothing for sure about Catherine and her daughter Mary (baptized on 20 June 1785). William Soubise, an assistant in the Sudder Dewanhy Adawlat, married Flora Ward in 1819, and Maria was born to them on April 25, 1821, and Henry in 1824 (died in his teens). In 1839, Maria was married to James Bernadotte Vallente. William Soubise died on July 9, 1841, at the age of 43 at Calcutta.

VIII

ENDNOTES
If high fashion and luxurious life of love with a fair lady is an offence for a black gentleman then Michael Madhusudan Dutta, the Bengal’s celebrity poet of the next century Calcutta, was no lesser offender. The British-African Soubise was driven out of the country by the racists and got blackballed by their counterpart British-India society in Calcutta, otherwise laudable for their camaraderie and supportive spirit. Madhusudan flared, as he had a friend like Vidyasagar to help the pauper to live princely regardless of social decry and hostility that had strangled Soubise to death.

It is interesting to note that both of his contemporary authors believed that the accidental death of Soubise was particularly tragic because of two separate reasons.  Angelo writes “departed from his former thoughtless habits, his talents and address had placed him in the way to fortune.”[Angelo]  Blechynden seemingly believed that having had Nilmoni Halder as a dependable impartial partner “a career was at length opened to him of getting out of his difficulties, in short, we can better spare a better man.” [Blechynden] This was the first time Soubise had a chance to overcome the racist resistance since he was ousted from the British society and exiled to colonial India inflicted with politically influenced racial hatred. In an environment of mistrust, Soubise had little opportunity to secure business credit on fair terms. Often he had to take deceptive means and ended up in jail; or prayed and rejected, for an instance, Soubise requested Blechynden to be one of his securities to the Asiatic Society for Rs 5000. Blechynden lied and declined politely.

Soubise did not leave anything in writing for us, except a specimen of his stylish love letters. There have been luckily two important documents of his contemporary writers: Henry Angelo the memoirist, and Richard Blechynden the diarist, providing significant events of Soubise’s life, and some scholarly works of recent writers that critically reviewed and analyzed those facts to portray Soubise meaningfully in modern contexts. In my modest attempt to restate Soubise’s life in the ethnocentric settings of the last score of the 18th century Calcutta, I remain indebted to Ashley Cohen and Peter Robb in particular for using their in-depth studies extensively.

NOTES
This portrait of Julius Soubise(c1756-1798)  an Afro-British self-styled ‘African Prince’, is believed to be the long-forgotten work of Johan Zoffany referred to in the Reminiscences of Henry Angelo (1830). Until now, the pastel painting has been identified and re-identified with some nameless black servant or an ‘African prince’ attributed to John Russell, or toOzius Humphry.

Zoffany painted Soubise’s portrait either in London before 1777 when Soubise left for Calcutta or in Calcutta between 1773-1789 when Zoffany visited India to paint quite a few masterpieces like Mordaunt’s Cock Fight (1784–86) Last Supper (1787) and significant portraits of dignitaries like Warran Hastings, Asaf-ud-Daula. Courtesy: Tate gallery.

See more at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/humphry-baron-nagells-running-footman-t13796

REFERENCE
Ajantrik. 2017. “Fort-City Calcutta, A Faded Legacy.” Puronokolkata.Com. 2017. https://puronokolkata.com/2017/08/15/fort-city-calcutta-a-faded-legacy/.

Angelo, Henry. 1830. Reminiscences of Henry Angelo; with Memoirs of His Late Father and Friends .. Oxford University. Vol. 1. London: Colburn and Bentley. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=xsK6QCfrXPQC&hl=en.

Anonymous. 2004. “Middleton Nathaniel.” Sotonopedia. 2004. http://sotonopedia.wikidot.com/page-browse:middleton-nathaniel.

Bagchi, P.C. 1938. The Second City of the Empire. Calcutta: Indian Science Congress Assoc. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.43887/page/n9/mode/2up.

Blechynden, Richard. 2011. Sentiment and Self: Richard Blechynden’s Calcutta Diaries, 1791–1822. Edited by Peter Robb. New Delhi: Oxford U P. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=9PQtDwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.

Blochmann, Henry. 1868. Calcutta during the Last Century: A Lecture. Calcutta: Thomas Smith. https://books.google.com.au/books/about/Calcutta_During_Last_Century.html?id=1iIUvwEACAAJ&redir_esc=y.

Busteed, Henry Elmsley. 1908. Echoes from Old Calcutta; Being Chiefly Reminiscences of the Days of Warren Hastings, Francis and Impey. London: Thacker. https://archive.org/details/echoesfromoldcal00bustuoft.

Cohen, Ashley. 2018. “Fencing and the Market in Aristocratic Masculinity.” In Sporting Cultures, 1650-1850., edited by Alexis Tadie Daniel O Quinn. Toronto: Toronto University. https://books.google.com.au/books?redir_esc=y&id=xoBSDwAAQBAJ&q=soubise#v=snippet&q=soubise&f=false.

Cohen, Ashley. 2020. “Julious Soubise in India.” In Britain’s Black Past, edited by Gretchen H Gerzinz. Liverpool: Liverpool U.P. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=ojfWDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA215&lpg=PA215&dq=julius+soubise+britain%27s+black+past&source=bl&ots=If5xkJmj-y&sig=ACfU3U3_7EEHLEjLsSShYgWW59kbgjMFcg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjU3MD0mrPoAhXzwTgGHfayC6cQ6AEwBnoECAsQAQ#v=onepage&q=julius.

Dahiya, Hema. 2013. Shakespeare Studies in Colonial Bengal: The Early Phase. New Castle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=hiBJDAAAQBAJ&pg=PP4&lpg=PP4&dq=Dahiya,+Hema.+(2013).+Shakespeare+studies+in+Colonial+Bengal:+the+early+phase.+New+Castle+upon+Tyne:+Cambridge+Scholars.&source=bl&ots=nSfRNhXIup&sig=ACfU3U2r7ne30FqWFwdLv1GM8IA-mFJVdQ&hl.

Fryer, Peter. 1984. Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain. London: Pluto. https://books.google.com.au/books?redir_esc=y&id=J8rVeu2go8IC&q=soubise#v=snippet&q=soubise&f=false.

Long, Rev. James. 1859. “Calcutta in the Olden Time – Its Localities: Map of Calcutta, 1792-3.” Calcutta Review 36. https://doi.org/10.1016/0003-6870(73)90259-7.

Miller, Monica. 2009. Slaves and Fashion: Black Dynamism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity. London: Duke U.P. https://books.google.com.au/books?redir_esc=y&id=Bh4I_r6qV_8C&q=soubise#v=snippet&q=soubise&f=false.

Spencer, Elizabeth. 2015. “The Female Phaeton: Catherine Douglas, the Duchess Who Set the World on Fire.” In Difficutwomenconference May 1, 2015. https://difficultwomenconference.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/the-female-phaeton-catherine-douglas-the-duchess-who-set-the-world-on-fire/.

Sukhdev, Sandhu. 2003. London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined a City. London: Harper. https://www.harpercollins.com.au/9780006532149/london-calling-how-black-and-asian-writers-imagined-a-city/.

TEA: ITS SOCIOCULTURAL DIMENSIONS IN COLONIAL INDIA

Tea, ‘the second most commonly drunk beverage after water’ Ellis, is now being cultivated in more than 61 countries (2018), and consumed by not less than 54 nations (2016). There have been so many varieties of tea, prepared and consumed in so many different ways, all tuned in their respective ecological as well as sociological settings. Britain had no tea of its own, India had. Yet it was the British who grew a tea culture of its own since the time of King Charles II, more accommodative than the ceremonial tea of the Chinese and Japanese traditions, which later globally accepted as a standard.

TeaTypeTable
Camellia Sinensis Categories Courtesy:@Leaves of Tea Ring

While the tea culture varies, the tea as such is one and the same everywhere – basically a wild shrub called camellia sinensis. The ancient wisdom of tea processing has been modernized in colonial India. The manufacturing process transforms the tea into six types – black, oolong, green, yellow, white, and pu-erh each having distinctive characteristics requiring special ways of preparing, serving and taking for enjoying the drink most satisfyingly. In the beginning tea was prepared with spices and herbs, and consumed as medicine. The remedial value apart, herbal tea is always a popular beverage in countryside because of its strong aroma and heady taste. Nonetheless, herbal tea is a misnomer as it is made of alternative combinations of herbs and spices, milk and butter, sugars and salts and optionally tea leaves. Gandhian ‘Tea Recipe’, for example, lists no tea at all. Sanyal The recent herbal teas sound like new versions of Gandhian tea now being marketed as Tulsi tea, Adrak tea, Malai tea, Rhododendron tea, and the like. The Kahwa tea, is however different being the soul-warming drink of the Kashmiris and a part of their culture. All these refreshment drinks of dissimilar taste and flavour meant for people of different mind-sets than those who enjoyed tea the way Tagore’s Gora did, or a Nazrul did in Favourite Café.

 

 

poeticTea
Poetic Tea. Lu Yu’s book, the Ch’a Ching, tea ceremony

The branded tea of the modern society is rooted in ancient culture. Kakuzō Okakura found a subtle charm in the taste of tea which makes it irresistible and capable of idealization. It has no arrogance of wine, the self-consciousness of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of cocoa. Okakura The first book on tea, Ch’a Ching, that the gifted poet and tea-expert, Lu Yü (733-804), penned with precise details on tea’s origins, cultivation, processing, and preparation. A thousand year later the British drew upon the classic when they started producing tea themselves. Koehler  It is important to note that the British accepted the practical and spiritual aspects of tea making believing that the magic of making tea comes, when the leaves begin to develop their unique flavours and aromas, almost mystically transforming into something far richer.

Darjeeling’s Toy Train by Carsten Bockermann
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway 1881. Photocredit:Carsten Bockermann

As the process has been simplified from Lu Yu’s instructions formulated thirteen centuries ago, machines instead of hands do the rolling now. Fermented tea is essentially baked rather than pan-cooked—it sticks to ancient principles. In Darjeeling, tea makers remain ‘stridently, adamantly orthodox’ in their processing. Orthodox tea contains just a handful of steps to turn  green leaves into finished Darjeeling black tea before the tea gets sorted, graded, and packed. Koehler From the beginning to end, tea, except low-grade commercial tea/ tea-bags, is dealt with human touch, even when the process is mechanized. Tea is not industrialized, but grabbed the full advantage of industrialization for worldwide distribution and marketing of finished products from the remote gardens whence the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway opened in 1881, cutting travel time and transport costs significantly. Darjeeling tea found its final footing within five years as reflected in 1885 statistics of sales reaching 9 million pounds. Bengal

II

Like most of the colonial things – bungalows, furniture, utensils, dresses or dishes, Indian teas are Indian by origin – pure or crossbred, which the Britishers shaped their way to lead a comfortable and decent life. As we know, Britain never grew tea until 2005, but grew a tea culture over two centuries ago that they enriched a great deal in colonial India, apparently with newly acquired intelligence of Chinese and Japanese tea traditions.
The British tea culture follows the ancient norm that ‘tea drinking should be treated with reverence and be accompanied by beauty but also restraint’, moderation is the very essence of tea. Ukers It demands a tad of sophistication nurtured in modern societies. One needs to acquire a taste for the cup of tea that a British queen and a Chinese sage may savour spiritually rather than palatably. When today’s tea culture is overwhelmingly British in character, it is already popular in most of the tea loving nations, including United States. Sirkin
Tea grew naturally in Indian soil, while tea culture grew in Indian mind through a long process of social interactions under influences of political and economic events. To my perception, the politics and economics had played a significant part in bringing in the ‘tea habit’, contrary to ‘tea culture’. Taking tea is discouraged by Swadeshi followers on the plea that tea is ‘injurious to heath’ and a ‘foreign’ drink. Gandhian political agenda against tea was directed to ‘tea habit’.

Gandhiji and other leaders during the Swadeshi Movement

Gandhi, once himself a tea lover, recommended his atypical ‘Tea Recipe’ for the mass that had no tea leaves in it to risk habit formation. Sanyal  It seems to be his Swadeshi fervor that made a scientist like Acharya P.C. Ray to declare tea a poisonous drink ignoring factual findings. In response, the Tea Board did publish a statement of Dr. Meghnad Saha in favour of tea, to counter Swadeshi deterrent. There had been also a section of Brahmos and their sympathizers who boycotted tea in protest of British planters’ inflicting torture on the coolies found and reported first by Ramkumar Vidyaratna and Dwarkanath Ganguly, two volunteers of Sadharan Brahmosamaj Banerjee. The political aversion to tea was an issue reflected in Naukadubi of Rabindranath, Parinita of Saratchandra, and possibly many more contemporary stories. Interestingly, both the writers and most of their contemporaries and immediate successors happened to be tea devotees. So was Swami Vivekananda.Vivekananda The kind of tea they enjoyed was generally the British black tea, with milk/ sugar, or none just like the one Abdul Rahman served to Syed Mujtaba Ali in 1930’s Kabul (vide Deshe-Bideshe).

When people drink tea, they are expected to acquire certain manners and behave in a particular way, in terms of which a tea culture is defined. Tea etiquette, styles of tea-ware, ambience of tearooms – all contribute to a tea culture distinguished from all others. Close interactions between any two cultures enrich both. We have understood this better in this era of rapid globalization, which is also an era of collaborative entrepreneurship. The manufacturing of Chinese tea-pots in British fashions is a case in hand. The Chinese, so far we know, brewed tea directly in the cup instead of using a teapot, which they never had. The traditional Chinese teacups had a lid but no handles, presumably because they liked to feel the warmth of the tea while holding the cup. If it’s too hot to hold, it’s too hot to drink. Fixing handle, or ear, to a cup is an idea implemented by the British. The design of teapot we use today is basically European. The first teapots created in Europe were of a heavy cast with short, straight, replaceable spouts. “At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the East India Company recognized the growing demand for such items as teapots and began importation in larger numbers. The company commissioned china directly from Chinese artists and craftsmen, using patterns sent from England and geared to European tastes, stereotypes, and market values”. Designs fell into four main areas (1) mock-ups of Oriental designs, (2) designs adapted from European prints, (3) coat of arms for major European families,(4) and the innovative teapots -such as those with the now standard internal spout drain. The Company directors were especially concerned that teapots not drip and so stain the valuable linen that they also marketed. Anonymous]

Not only teapots but the entire range of tea-ware was fashioned by the British, often with Indian motifs and materials, and increasingly by Indian artisans in spite of their being obliged to do work by hand, while the Europeans both accelerated and perfected by means of machinery. Williamson  The tea-set, including cups and saucers, tea-spoons and tea-strainers, milk-jug and sugar-pot, teapot, tea cozies, tea-mats, sets the mood of a tea drinker before s/he takes tea. Tea-drinkers ‘take tea’ in a special way, which, I fear cannot be described aptly by any English verbs that we know. Surely, it is not that we ‘drink’ tea as we do drink milk or water, or even coffee. We do not sip tea like sherbet either, but do it by faint smacking of our lips inaudibly on the brim of the tea cup and relish slowly the enigmatic taste and aroma of the golden liquid afloat inside.Tea retains a strong association with nature. A good tearoom must be having a like ambience with windows to allow natural light, and flowers around.

Tearoom is quite different from a coffee shop, which often tend to be set up more like a bar, offering quick coffee drinks that can be drunk while standing or while seated on a bar stool or similar chair unsuited for long sitting.Goodwin Tearoom needs everything there should be styled to allow sitting for hours long as tea incites endless parleying – being an acknowledged stimulant for adda, or rap sessions without agenda. Tea and adda are inseparable components of tea culture.

TeaTable @Purwaaii. – Friends Caffe. Courtesy: Kolkata on Wheel. – Adda. Courtesy: @Scoopwhoop. – India Coffee House, Albert Hall

The word ‘adda’, found in Sanskrit and Pali literature was used in various senses by ancient writers, like Bharata and Chanyakya. Das As it was broadly indicated, adda once meant a place of assemblage for a purpose, like the ‘Buddhist adda’ once found in old Dhurrumtollah Street. The modern usage of the word broadens its import. As Collins Word online suggests, ‘It is a form of intellectual exchange among members. They talk about almost everything in jovial mood’. In context of tearoom, adda simply means chatting or free discussions with no agenda, participated by regulars and casuals as often as they like. It is a process of exchanging minds on any subjects imaginable. It is a common privilege of the tea-room goers to take part in adda but not without submitting to the unspoken norms of tea-culture prevailing there. While the tea-room-adda is a global trend, its pattern of behavior differs widely depending on the given living standards and traditions.

Japanese takes no sugar in tea, and their teahouse never serves sugar determinedly, but obliges customers cordially if they want it for sweetening an English tea instead. The English, while taking tea, detests letting out audibly a ‘ssss’ sound of breath through the mouth past the tongue. Appreciation of sound depends on one’s culture. It needs a cultured refinement to appreciate a pianissimo in western or Hindustani classical music, when a bursting sound of fireworks needs no cultural refinement at all. Appreciation of a quality black tea can never be expected from uninitiated tea drinkers to whom an herbal tea is the best choice and an orthodox black tea insipid.

We learnt from history that India have had tea before the British smuggled the Chinese tea to India. Along with the tea plants they also brought in India the stolen Chinese know-how of tea gardening, which India never had occasion to know because of not having any tea gardens but forests of tea trees.  The tea habit in India was grown initially by the British through massive propaganda launched by the governmental agencies and industries for economic gain. Their objectives were only to introduce tea to the people and promote sales. One has only to glimpse through the old newspaper ads and publicity posters to realize nothing was there to motivate a tea culture. Neither the study books tell about the tea etiquette, nor any leaders spoke anything contributing to the tea culture, yet the India historically speaking has imbibed a strong cultural affinity toward tea. And that culture, largely in British way, but certainly not exclusively British, as we have already exemplified in my last post ‘Ways of life in colonial Calcutta’. The scenario of Calcutta tea culture found in the hundred year old Favourite Cabin crowded by the firebrand intellectuals had little in common with Flury’s grand ambience except that they both served black tea in ceramic cups. It is unthinkable for the Favourite Cabin to keep Flury’s gentle silence with the presence of a buoyant Nazrul at tea table.

ANYTIME TEA TIME Courtesy: Tea-Pot, Fort Kochi

Their tea-table manners were also more like Indian. As the expert admits that whatever tea seeds you sowed in Darjeeling, it grows to a ‘Darjeeling tea’; similarly, the British tea culture grown in India turns into Indianize British tea culture, more Indian than British. European ladies and gentlemen have always some fixed times for socialization over warm cups of tea, while in Indian culture it is anytime a tea time

Here, in India, it is adda that takes the first position in defining tea culture. The old deshi tea-rooms in Calcutta never cared much for manners and etiquette unlike the British ones. The tea-rooms were being used in Calcutta as meeting spots for lively exchange of minds and hearts, sharing views and news with known, half-known folks or even strangers. The spirit was somewhat akin to the Oxford coffeehouses of 1650s, where ‘the mind-stimulating benefits of the beverage complemented the spirit of sober academic discussion and debate evident at the university there’.White After 1860s, tea took the place of coffee as the major beverage and served in the British coffee houses, including ‘Mr. Lloyd’s Coffee-house’ in London, favoured by ship owners, merchants, and marine insurers – the origin of the celebrated insurance firm, Lloyd’.

These archaic coffeehouses were called ‘penny universities, because for a penny any man could obtain there a pot of tea, a copy of the newspaper, and engage in free conversation with wits. They served as a basic model for the English gentlemen’s private clubs popularized by English upper middle-class men and women in the late 19th century and early 20th century. By the close of the 18th century the popularity of coffeehouses had declined dramatically. Already by the 1750s consumption of tea, which many people found to be a sweeter, more palatable drink of choice, easy to make and cheaper, was beginning to rise. Cowan

The Club. Engraving by James Doyle

Literary and Political Clubs rose in popularity and the frivolities of coffee-drinking were lost in more serious discussion. Tea was also gaining in importance as Society’s beverage of choice. The East India Company at this time had a greater interest in the tea trade than the coffee trade. The Government’s policy was to foster trade with India and China and it offered encouragements to anything that would stimulate the demand for tea. Tea had become fashionable at Court and in the Tea Houses and was growing in popularity with the public. Boswell

India never had a coffee culture parallel to English one, its production and consumption being confined in some South Indian states, yet it seems that the bygone institution of British coffeehouse had surprising similarity with the tearoom culture developed in colonial Calcutta.

III

This century begins with a startling fresh digital memory of billions of terabytes to absorb the swiftly outdating modern-time and an alarmingly fast growing social dementia making the yesterdays already fuzzy in public mind. I fear, we have already forgotten many old acquisitions. The tea culture is one such thing.  The millennium citizens become insentient to identify its fine distinctions. We pain to see tea is now being redefined in terms of the medicinal masala chai that was in vogue before the beginning of the tea cultivation  – a long stride backward.

The real tea has lost its relevance in the 21st century society. A recent opinion survey of NDTV on Tea versus Coffee discloses the increasing popularity of coffee among Indians. It was ‘a moment of triumph for the coffee shops walked into a tea-drinking country’ offering a luxurious and genteel beverage as alternative.Channi-Tiwary Some historians of coffee-house culture, however, were skeptical of the innate politeness of coffee since there were also some coffee-houses like a Molly King’s Coffee-House, notorious haunts of London’s lowlife.White

As indicated before, coffee-culture in India has been geographically restricted and historically insignificant, contrary to the British experience. Coffee had the same place in London and Oxford of 17th and 18th centuries as the tea had in colonial India. Coffeehouses were then club-house like joints somewhat akin to Indian tearooms in spirit. The rejoinders of NDTV survey marked a reverse trend of opening up across the country tearooms like Chaayos, Taj Mahal Tea House, Bubble Tea Café, etc. These offer the comfort of a beverage many of us love, reinvented and served in a relaxed and casual café environment. Channi-Tiwary

April this year, Quora published an interesting response to their question ‘Why do the majority of Indians like tea rather than coffee?’ The responder claims it was not tea but coffee, black or espresso, what the majority of Indians prefer. It was also observed that some senior citizens still stick to tea out of habit, and currently many people take green tea because it is good for health. Quora The tea habit is a concept closely related to tea culture, which is still being maintained by the senior citizens, and most likely it will end with them, leaving an assortment of reinvented herbal chai for the newer generations broken away from nearly two thousand year tradition of Lu Yü to start a new one from zero.

Before Calcutta bids it a farewell, we may recite a requiem to the tea culture, remembering some good things it did to our society:

  1. The early tearoom in Calcutta was a place to take tea, talk, read news, and collect worldly knowledge paying a thin dime just for the cup of tea; everything else were free. We may call those tearooms by the name of Penny University as the Londoners did for their Coffee shops operated in mid-18th Century as cheap learning centres. Among other things tearooms in Calcutta helped bringing about necessary attitudinal change to tolerate differences in socio-cultural values and political idiosyncrasies.
  2. Tea has been popular among rich and poor. It had an egalitarian character that incited rich social mixing. Vernacular tearooms, or deshi tearooms, offered space for meeting with friends and strangers free from the social conventions of class and deference.
  3. Tea has no arrogance of wine, the self-consciousness of coffee, neither the simpering innocence of cocoa. Okakura The cups that cheer but not inebriate.Cowper The tearoom has a ‘civilizing’ atmosphere, and a role in urbanizing the migrants from less advantaged locations. It was analogous to musafirkhana where travelers get first taste of the city life, or where students get oriented to new campus life.
  4. Tea was instrumental in bringing family together. Even before the introduction of instant tea bag, making a cup of tea has always been a simple and quick process for anyone to perform. Taking tea comfortably at home prepared by the caring hands of fair ladies was a good reason for meeting family members and family friends more frequently.
  5. Tea-making happens to be also a new occupation for a housewife. Women for the first time through tea parties, take leading position in social gatherings, administering tea-shops or running tea-stalls.
  6. Tea in India and many other places, like Ireland, is served as a gracious offering to guests as welcoming gesture. Tea has been a symbol of bonhomie in tribal as well as in civilized society. To the writer of Religion of Man, Rabindranath Tagore, making tea personally for his guests was always a pleasure. Chanda.

    Tagore with Count Okuma, PM Japan at tea in 1916

Every human institution decays, so does the tea culture. History records ups and downs, and often interprets every step in terms of their relationship with immediate past and latest trends. Likewise we may consider the followings as possible reasons why the tea culture goodbying Calcutta, the city that nurtured it.

It is the altering value systems of the city that destabilized the climatic condition necessary for the tea culture to sustain. To the millennium everything advertised in the name of ‘tea’, for example, gulabi tea, mallai tea, etc. are readily acceptable as tea. Except the manufacturing companies, not many are there who can smell the difference between a bagged black tea and orthodox leaf tea..

The litterateur and intelligentsia, like Nazrul Islams and Subhas Boses, ceased to be seen in deshi tearooms. The plebian city sticklers occupied the empty seats there for quick energizing sips.
The newspaper in tearoom has lost importance. Current affairs and general knowledge are now readily and cheaply available in social media. The dwindling leisure time in modern life is almost entirely used up by mobile chatting, which is largely responsible for making the generation lonely and egocentric,  apathetic to tearoom culture.

REFERENCE

  1. Anonymous. (2009). History of Tea, LGOL27 Portal. Last updated : 23-Feb-09. https://www.gol27.com/HistoryTeaChina.html
  2. Banerjee, Dipankar. (2006). Brahmo Samaj and North-East India. Delhi: Anamika. https://books.google.co.in/books?id=GE2o4QQV7UgC&pg=PA35&lpg=PA35&dq=Ramkumar+Vidyaratna+and+Dwarkanath+Ganguly&source=bl&ots=6ominLanpJ&sig=ACfU3U2mTX2VU3Z25u5yr1of9Og3mh2bBQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiNgLjk7cbmAhV_zjgGHYewBpQQ6AEwA3oECAgQAQ#v=onepage&q=Ramkumar%20Vidyaratna%20and%20Dwarkanath%20Ganguly&f=false
  3. Bengal District Gazetteers: Darjeeling ; Ed.by Arthur Jules Dash. (1947). Calcutta: G.P.Press. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.150149
  4. Boswell, James. (1791). The life & times of Doctor Samuel Johnson. Stories of London – portahttp://stories-of-london.org/samuel-johnson-5/
  5. Chakraborty, Sumita. 2016. “শান্তিনিকেতনে চিন ও জাপান.” Parabas, 2016. https://www.parabaas.com/rabindranath/articles/pSumita_china-japan.html
  6. Chanda, Rani (2007). Gurudev. Calcutta: Visvabharati. https://archive.org/details/Gurudeb-Rani-Chanda
  7. Channi-Tiwary, Harnoor. (2018). Tea vs Coffee: Which is India’s Favourite Hot Beverage? In: NDTV Convergence, Updated: March 12, 2018 https://food.ndtv.com/opinions/tea-vs-coffee-which-is-indias-favourite-hot-beverage-1246860
  8. Cowan, Brian. (2005). The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse. Yale UP. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjq4JGVmsfmAhUpzjgGHb0hB-MQFjABegQIAhAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fbhsecglobal.files.wordpress.com%2F2014%2F03%2Fsocial-life-of-coffee.pdf&usg=AOvVaw2ynOBv82H95N20ip5E-Ikg
  9. Das, Jnanendra Mohan. (1917). Bangla Bhasar Abhidhan ( বাঙ্গালা ভাষার অভিধান). Allahabad: Indian Press. https://archive.org/details/Bangla_Bhasar_Abhidhan_1917_by_Jnanendra_Mohan_Das
  10. Ellis, Markman. (2014). Tea, the second most widely consumed drink, after water — a meme. Tea in Eighteenth-Century Britain April 21, 2014. https://qmhistoryoftea.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/tea-the-second-most-widely-consumed-drink-after-water-a-meme/
  11. Goodwin, Lindsey (2017) Coffee Bar Definition. The Pruce Eats Portal. Updated 11/27/17
    https://www.thespruceeats.com/coffee-bar-definition-765033
  12. Koehler, Jeff. (2015). Darjeeling: a history of the world’s greatest tea. London: Bloomsbury. https://www.goodreads.com/user/new?remember=true
  13. Lu Yu. (1974). Cha ching. The classic of tea. Boston; 1st ed. Little, Brown
    https://www.amazon.com/Classic-Tea-Origins-Rituals/dp/0880014164/ref=pd_sbs_14_t_1/147-0179330-7137150?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=0880014164&pd_rd_r=dddc49fc-6a1f-4754-b82c-ffc76e13cbcb&pd_rd_w=zAATb&pd_rd_wg=mR0UB&pf_rd_p=5cfcfe89-300f-47d2-b1ad-a4e27203a02a&pf_rd_r=HC08A16M8H6139AZTY99&psc=1&refRID=HC08A16M8H6139AZTY99
  14. Mandelslo, Johann Albrecht von. 1669. Voyages Celebres & Remarquables, Faits de Perse Aux Indes Orientales. London: John Starkey, and Thomas Basset. https://archive.org/details/voyagescelebresr00mand/page/n8.
  15. Okakura, Kakuzō . (1906), The Book of Tea. London: Putman’s
    https://archive.org/details/bookoftea00okakrich/page/n8
  16. Quora, Opinion survey (2015).Why most of the Indians like tea but not coffee? Quora Portal. Ap 14 2015
    https://www.quora.com/Why-do-the-majority-of-Indians-like-tea-rather-than-coffee
  17. Sanyal, Amitava. 2012. “Mahatma Gandhi and His Anti-Tea Campaign.” BBC News Magazine, May 2012. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17905975.
  18. Sirkin, Austin. (2013). Hey, America—You’re Drinking Your Tea Wrong! In: WonderHowTo Portal. 01/10/2013. https://steampunk.wonderhowto.com/how-to/hey-america-youre-drinking-your-tea-wrong-0141235/
  19. White, Matthew. (2018). Newspapers, gossip and coffee-house culture. In: British Library newsletter; 21 June 2018. https://www.bl.uk/restoration-18th-century-literature/articles/newspapers-gossip-and-coffee-house-culture

WAYS OF LIFE IN COLONIAL CALCUTTA: CHRONICLE OF ACCULTURATION

Dedicated to the memory of my dear friend Dr. Alok Ray (March 1937- June 2019)

 

Calcutta International Exhibition 1883_84

ঔপনিবেশিক কলিকাতায় সাংস্কৃতিক বিনিময়

PROLOGUE
If we believe that acculturation is an interactive process that brings about changes in lifestyles as well as moral and aesthetic values of two or more autonomous cultural systems, then it was a two-sided process of acculturation that happened in nineteenth-century Calcutta merging interests and identities of the two civilizations in encounter between a technologically superior Western society and a non-Western society inclined toward its empirical traditions. Acculturation in colonial India is generally interpreted as a deliberate process initiated by the British Orientalists and the English-educated enlightened Indians notwithstanding the dominating spirit of the 19th century nationalism in Victorian sense. In fact, on either side, players were products of the 18th-century world of rationalism, classicism, and cosmopolitanism. [Koff] Many Orientalists, notably William Jones, H. T. Colebrooke, William Carey, H. H. Wilson, and James Prinsep, made significant contributions to the fields of Indian philology, archeology, and history. On the other hand, Rammohun, Dwarkanath, Radhakanta, Debendranath, Vidyasagar and so many Indian reformists encouraged their fellowmen to get exposure to western science and literature, on top of vernacular sagacity. They effected in remarkably short time a widespread dissemination of western knowledge through institutionalized means like schools and colleges, printing-press and newspapers. By 1821, the Calcutta School-Book Society, sponsored by a number of public spirited individuals like David Hare, Rammohun, Radhakanta, belonging to different religious denominations, without any backing of Government grant, produced and distributed as many as 126446 copies useful works in different languages; no fewer than 14,792 were books in the English language’. Another interesting feature was the decrease in the demand for books in the Sanskrit, Arabic, and Persian languages, ‘being the spoken language of no one’. By 1835, the Society had sold 31,864 books in English. Five year before the Medical College in Calcutta started professional courses in English, it was claimed that Calcutta had in 1830 nearly 200 who wrote English as naturally as their mother tongue. As for Bengali language, long before the coming of the English in Bengal, the mother tongue of the majority had been discounted as simplistic and unworthy of official status. ‘The languages of the superior civil and commercial stations were English, Portuguese, and Persian, and ambitious Hindus made certain that of these they knew at least Persian’. It was Halhed who first urged upon British civil officers the necessity of acquiring knowledge of it for the efficient transaction of their duties. He argued for the Bengali language, before anyone else ever did, specifying its inherent qualities: ‘its plainness, its precision and regularity of construction, than the flowery sentences and modulated periods of Persian.’ His Grammar printed and published in Calcutta, gave practical support to his arguments, by providing British officers with a book from which they could learn the language. [Clark, 1956]

The earliest printed book in Bengali

No sooner Bengali becomes a popular medium of communication it started borrowing words from English and the English from Bengali as well. There have been many familiar words, e.g. coolie, cowrie, cot, curry, godown, pagoda, etc., originated from some other languages, commonly used by the English and the Bengalese. There are also some distinctively of Bengali origin, like babu and bungalow. A glimpse through Hobson-Jobson may reveal many interesting evidences of liberal linguistic behavior of the Colonial Bengal despite the racial bias of which the world is continuing to suffer till today. As we understand from Sarah Ogilvie the author of ‘Words of the World’ that the former OED editor Robert Burchfield found to be an inward-looking anglocentrics who had erased 17 per cent of the ‘loanwords’ and ‘world English words’,  Indic included, that had been added by earlier editor Charles Onions. [Ogilvie]

While all these conscious efforts of magnificent persona of both the camps created a short-lived glorious age of awakening and also a golden opportunity for a giant leap toward a modern society at par with global standards. Around 1880s that opportunity got lost. Western education reached a tiny proportion of the Indian population largely confined to the major urban centres. A chauvinistic nationalism back lashed the progressive movements. The undercurrent of acculturation, however, continued to flow effortlessly as conscious and unconscious acceptance of new ideas, often with the intention of revitalizing Indian cultural practices and institutions. Slowly steadily new things and ideas percolated through layers to the bottom level of society undergoing series of changes through interactions. [Peers] What were those ‘new’ things and ideas? Historically speaking, the things and ideas branded ‘colonial’ are supposed to be grown out of Industrial Revolution directly or indirectly, which may be as big as Indian Rail or as small as a gramophone pin – everything targeted to make living in the colonial society convenient and agreeable.

Nipper, the dog is listening to a wind-up gramophone. New Vector Records September 1905 ad. Courtesy: HMV

It was still an industrial age when the Colonial style of living was being shaped through interactions with native environment. Changes incorporating new things and ideas were taking place faster and in an unprecedented large scale than ever happened in history because of the boon of technology. The Industrial Revolution, however, may not be seen as a movement for achieving speed and volume in industrial sphere. Its ultimate gain for the human society proved to be more an attitudinal change toward accepting values associated with new products than productivity itself. Acculturation during the colonial era may be more meaningfully interpreted, essentially in terms of the attitudinal changes.

EUROPEAN HABITATION IN CALCUTTA BEFORE 1830s
Captain Williamson provided immaculate descriptions of the living conditions of late 18th century Calcutta that provides us with significant resource for identifying some down-to-earth relationship between the ‘new products’ of the Industrial Age and the formation of the ‘new society’, which yet to be fully surfaced.

The EIC officers adopting some local customs while remaining distinctly British_doyely

To the gentlemen coming to settle in Calcutta on civil, military, or naval service of the Hon. East India Company, Captain Williamson offered in his Vade Mecum many practical advices along with cautionary against belittling the native sagacity unwittingly while finding the most suitable mode of living for them. During Williamson’s time, between 1787 and 1798, a new Calcutta suburb was being born south of Town Calcutta to meet the craving of the settlers for ‘airy’ life close to Nature in the Gangetic Bengal mingled with the comfort and convenience of European way of living. New townships at Chowringhee-Dhurrumtollah locality were then only at their initial stage. In 1793-94, all over the town there were no fewer than 1114 pucca houses; in 1821 it increased to 14,230. [Oneil] The new suburbs grew faster with masonry houses built by Europeans and deshi well-to-dos as nucleus of new urban experience of ‘airy habitation’.

It is worth noting that the English inhabitants were still chiefly to be found ‘where their fathers had lived before them’ in the year 1810, Colonel Sleeman spoke of the residences of the Europeans as lying mainly between Dhurrumtollah and China Bazar; and the Tank Square was in the middle of the posh ‘Belgravia of his day’. [Cotton] This happens to coincide with the timeframe Williamson depicted in his Vade Mecum pinpointing some cultural issues involved in modeling ‘airy’ homes to live in comfy liberal style, which European settlers aspired to attain once they crossed Cossitollah toward further south. And so they did achieve their ‘model home’ through an intricate acculturation, after more than three decades of trials and errors, by coming into terms with indigenous methods and means of house building that the settlers initially tended to neglect. [Williamson 1810]

IN SEARCH OF A EUROPEAN MODE OF LIVING
Williamson was one who believed that taking the general outline of indigenous customs should be considered an axiom for the settlers in exploring a new possibility of improving their quality of life. All the European settlers remained anxious to see airy habitations, through which the wind could pass freely in every direction. When the English first visited India, they adopted a mode of building by no means consistent with common sense, and displaying a total ignorance of the most simple of nature’s laws. For instance, they wasted much time to ‘become convinced that the most insupportable heats are derived from the glare of light objects’ and were to be judiciously used in designing habitats. Williamson’s advice to the settlers was ‘to coincide with the habits of the natives, to a certain extent if they mean to retain health or to acquire comfort’.
Upon arrival, travelers learnt from local doctors that nine out of ten of the advices prescribed by doctors at London, would infallibly have sent them to ‘kingdom come!’ but readily approve the homie piece of good sense that ‘do as one should find the old inhabitants do’.
Travelers, he observed, often suffer extreme inconvenience, and expose themselves to much danger because of the fact that they “bent on the refutation of the most reasonable assertions, and influenced by a ridiculous determination to support some equally ridiculous hypotheses”. Williamson tipped them with a piece of his mind: however absurd many indigenous practices may at first appear, it will ordinarily result that ‘necessity was their parent’.

British Styled Bungalow. Photographer: James Kerr (pumpparkphotos.com) c1880

All the buildings forty to sixty years old were, “like the celebrated Black-Hole, constructed more like ovens, than like the habitations of enlightened beings”. The doors were very small; the windows still less, in proportion, while the roofs were carried up many feet above both. Those roofs were in themselves calculated to retain heat to an extreme, being built of solid tarras, at least a foot thick, lying horizontally upon immense timbers, chiefly of teak, or of saul wood. Until around 1790s, the whole of the family resided in the first floor; leaving the whole of the ground floor as basements for reception of palanquins, gigs, cellars, pantries, and even stables. Since around 1780s their preferences changed in many ways. Living in single-floored thatched houses, styled as bungalows, became the way of European life. The settlers remained engaged indefatigably to improve upon the habitability of bungalow. They closed up all the intervals between the thatch, and the walls, on which it rested; so as to exclude the external air, as well as the dust: a practice religiously observed even to the present date. They improved upon the arrangement by installing a tin ventilator near the summits of the thatches. [Williamson 1810]

The shape and size of bungalows changed further having their apartments surrounded by a veranda, of full fourteen feet in width; with apertures, of a good size, in the exterior wall, corresponding with those of the interior. This arrangement renders the generality of bungalows remarkably pleasant; but, it must be noticed, that there was a very wide difference in the expense incurred in rendering them so, both as relating to the labor, and to the materials.

COLONIAL LIVINGSTYLE INVENTED
As we discussed, Europeans modeled their new home and styled a new way of living for themselves through a continuous process of interactions between their own perceptions and desi sagacity. The model was generally found most comfortable and highly adaptable for living in changing Gangetic Bengal climate, and therefore the overall cost of a complete bungalow in tune of Rs 40,000, found quite acceptable by the well-to-do families of different cultural origin. Besides Europeans, there were quite a few desi families moved to Chowringhee-Dhurrumtollah to their newly owned bungalows. The natives of the land, on the other hand, increasingly appreciated whatever the settlers fashioned for their everyday use including bungalows, furniture fixture utensils wearable, as wonderful user-friendly amenities.

The spread of English education might have a partial role in changing people mindset toward western culture – the way of life and the things they use every day. The ‘new products’ we talk about, however, more often than not, were made of old familiar things into new design; like a folding umbrella, for example. The settlers learnt by experience that it should be a madness to use a European umbrella, like a parapluie or a parasol, against a heavy Indian shower or a blazing sun. So they designed a new tough umbrella employing seasoned bamboos and heavy canvas to stand Indian weather best, and then add a collapsible holder inside to turn the old chattah into a surprisingly convenient ‘folding umbrella’. This novelty item was expected to be on high demand in Chandney shops, and the shops were expected to store umbrella and its parts as well to promote use of umbrella to all communities of Calcutta society.

A Fakir with umbrella. Details not known. Source: ebay

Bengalese Babu. Courtesy: Mary Evans.

Like the umbrella, there happen to be a innumerable new products originally designed and developed by the European settlers out of local ingredients generally employing local tools and technology to facilitate their living a decent comfortable life in India as they were used to. Such products of Colonial origin not anymore sensed as foreign to local habits and practice, and the locals feel at ease in using those, hand in hand with things they use traditionally in everyday life. Today, after a lapse of two centuries, Indian populace in general, have converted their mode of living so completely that rarely a dhoti-clad babu can be spotted on road unless he was to attend a special festive occasion. Desi dresses, Desi dishes ending with a bouquet of Benaresi pan will be soon things of forgotten past together with many essential items that remained parts of our heritage so long. The way the tune of Senhai is giving way to the resounding Rock music, every single item of our traditional pieces of life and art will be replaced with newer kinds in course of never-ending societal change.

Colonial-inspired house and interior design Courtesy: @myLusciousLife

HOUSE & FURNITURE
Colonial Scenario:
In all parts of the country houses are let with bare walls. Rent was expensive; some two hundred rupees a month for small house; which was then equal to three hundred pounds yearly. [Williamson 1813] Terrace-work is substituted for plank; and, being covered with a fine kind of matting, made of very hard reeds, about the thickness of a crow-quill, worked in stripes of perhaps a foot or more in breadth each gives a very remarkable neatness to the apartments; many of which, however, are laid with ‘satringes’ (সতরঞ্চি), or striped carpets, made of wool, or cotton, during the cold season. Carpets, in imitation of those manufactured at Wilton and Brussels, are now made in India; some of which are of incomparable excellence and beauty.
The necessity which exists for keeping the doors and many windows open at all times renders it expedient to guard the candles, which are invariably of wax, from the gusts of wind that would speedily blow out every light. Shades, made of glass, are put over such candles as stand on tables.

Present-day Scenario
Majority lives in rented accommodation; mostly unfurnished. Few have preference to ethnic furnishing with satringes’ (সতরঞ্চি), or striped carpets, sitalpapties, madoors, chics, ctc., while the generality love showy interiors with sofas, chairs centre table, side tables and so on. Urban folks keep doors closed, windows open all seasons except when gusty wind blows. Even then there was no need to guard candles as no candle was there any more, but modern homes still need shades for cutting the glare of electric lamps. As it appears, the mode and style of living in Calcutta now and then in many respects alike outwardly, yet an attitudinal difference remains much to explain why the homes of today so ill-kept in contrast with the spic and span Colonial home. The other notable difference is that the modern families ‘sacrifice comfort to appearance’ contradicting the principle of the Colonial Style as we have already discussed at length.
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GARMENTS & OUTFITS
Colonial Scenario:

Major-General Charles Stuart (circa 1758 – 1828), wrote  his first article in 1798 about military clothing and there he professed the use of Indian clothing and accessories, as they are convenient and appropriate, attacking European prejudices. Better known as ‘Hindu Stuart’, Charles was not just an admirer of the Indian religions but also an enthusiastic devotee of Indian fashions. In a series of disputed articles in the Calcutta Telegraph he tried to persuade the European women of Calcutta to adopt the sari on the grounds that it was so much more attractive than contemporary European fashions. Because of his Hindu craze, Charles Stuart was certified as ‘gone native’.  [Dalrymple]

The friends of the English young men, who are sent to the East Indies, generally fit them out with a great variety of apparel, and other articles, enumerated in the slop-merchant’s list under the head of “Necessaries” that basically include quantities of the followings: Calico Shirts, Stockings, Trousers, Drawers, Jackets, Waistcoats, Night Caps, Hats, Handkerchiefs, Neck Kerchiefs Or Bandana, etc. “Of these a large portion is entirely useless.” Among the indispensables, according to Williamson, should be a good stock of wearing apparel; generally speaking, white cotton, manufactured into various cloths; such as dimity, calico, if not made of nankeen. The beauty of some fabrics of this description was considered ‘very striking’. Thirty suits will not be found too many for a European in Calcutta society. [Williamson 1813]

 

A European, probably Sir David Ochterlony (1758-1825), in Indian dress, smoking a hookah and watching a nautch in his house at Delhi. Artist: unknown. c.1820. Courtesy: BL

Present-day Scenario
Inside home, Calcutta men commonly wear pajama kurta (পাঞ্জাবী), and the ladies stuck to sari (শাড়ি) wherever they go, inside or outside, till around 1980s when a wave of Anglo-American fashion maxi midi mini dresses became choices of convenience for the young ladies that ultimately gave way to oriental varities of salwar kamiz. Outside, almost all men folks and children of both sexes appear in western attire – but with no caps on head. The corporate or institutional dress codes in Calcutta do not insist to wear a headdress – a useful accessory for resisting weather bite, but a necktie around the neck to look smarter at the cost of agonizing physical discomfort. There were quite a few things Europeans invented for tropical climate that become obsolete now in spite of their latent advantages. The Sola-topee or topi, may serve a good example of such things. Topi is made of lightweight sholapith covered with khaki or white cloth. The reason for using sola is its lightness and its heat-resistant capacity for protecting head from the scorching tropical sun, cleverly fitted with two tiny holes at both sides for ventilation. Colonial men and women loved to wear it for convenience and comfort, Indians rejected it possibly because of its prosaic appearance on the first place.

KITCHEN & TABLEWARE
Colonial Scenario:
The favourable oriental dejeuner usually consisted of tea, coffee, eggs, toast, and fish, (either fresh or slightly powdered with salt, rice, &c.). Many gentlemen, especially those from North Britain, add sweetmeats and soogee; the latter corresponding with porridge, oats, which were not cultivated in India. Of all things of European liking Hilsa might be the foremost. The fish tasted ‘remarkably fine’ especially when baked in vinegar, or preserved in tamarinds worcestersauce.

The knives and forks were all of European manufacture, though, within few years, some excellent imitations appeared in market. The greater part of the plate, used throughout the country, was made by native smiths, who, in some instances, might be seen to tread very close on the heels of English jewelers. Table cloths and napkins were manufactured in several parts of the country, where ‘piece goods’ were made, especially at Patna.

Present-day Scenario
Not for breakfast alone, tables for lunch and dinner (or supper as it was called then) resemble by and large what commonly Calcuttans having these days. Although, Bengalese still prefer to use hands in dining at home, cutlery are being used increasingly along with a large number of local variety of tableware like Tea Cups and Plates, Tea Cozy, Pepper Grinder, Salt Shakers, Napkins, and Pickles, Vinegar & Sauce as for instance. The English, as we all know, is basically a highly traditional race who still calls their lamb cutlet a ‘mutton cutlet’ retaining the French legacy of the product they had borrowed. Following the same tradition they call many products of Indian origin with vernacular appellations. On the contrary, in case of the colonial products, which they designed and developed using local ingredients and technology, reference to the source of origin is rarely provided. The story of the world famous Worcestershire Sauce and the theme British Curry may exemplify my view point adequately.

LEA & PERRINS® .The story of Lea & Perrins® famous Worcestershire Sauce begins in the early 1800s, in the county of Worcester. Returning home from his travels in Bengal, Lord Sandys, a nobleman of the area, was eager to duplicate a recipe he’d acquired. On Lord Sandys’ request, two chemists, John Lea and William Perrins, made up the first batch of the sauce but were not impressed with their initial results. They needed few years more to find right kind of aging process to turn the ingredients into a delicious savoury sauce. Without any kind of advertising, in just a few short years, it was known and coveted in kitchens throughout Europe.

Portrait of William Fullerton of Rosemont, Dip Chand, Murshidabad, India, 1760-1763. Opaque watercolour on paper. Company Painting. Courtesy: VAM

In the space of a few years Duncan, a New York entrepreneur, was importing large shipments to keep up with demand. Lea & Perrins was the only commercially bottled condiment in the U.S., and Americans loved it right away. Almost 170 years later, Lea & Perrins sauce remains a favorite in households across the U S.

BRITISH CURRY. “The idea of a curry is, in fact, a concept that the Europeans imposed on India’s food culture. Indians referred to their different dishes by specific names … But the British lumped all these together under the heading of curry.” [Collingham] In fact, there are many varieties of dishes called ‘curries’. In original traditional cuisines, the precise selection of spices for each dish is a matter of national or regional cultural tradition, religious practice, and, to some extent, family preference. Such dishes are called by specific names that refer to their ingredients, spicing, and cooking methods. Curry, which becomes now Britain’s adapted national dish, is largely viewed as an Anglo-Indian theme. Luke Honey, a columnist, writes “how fond I was of Anglo-Indian curry powders; the sort of thing I chuck into stews and then have the nerve to call ‘curry’”. He made his own version of Dr Kitchener’s curry powder, as described by Mrs Beeton. He slightly adapted it for the modern kitchen and added cardamom and black pepper. [Honey] Wyvern’s recipe for basic powders reveals a large number of similar ingredients, hinting at very similar flavour profiles. They all include turmeric, cumin seed, fenugreek, mustard seed, black peppercorns, coriander seed, poppy seed and dried ginger and chilies.

In 1810, the entrepreneur Sake Dean Mahomed, from the Bengal Presidency, opened the first Indian curry house in England: the Hindoostanee Coffee House in London. The theme of British Curry, as distinguished from Proto-Curry and Anglo-Indian Curry, presumes that Curry is the result of over four hundred years of British interaction with India. As the findings of a recent British academic research suggests, Curry is a way that the British made Indian cuisine understandable in their minds and on their palates. It is more than a mixture of Indian spices, an idea or a symbol of the success of British imperial endeavors in possessing, converting and incorporating an object of other i.e. of India, into their world. [Waldrop]

BRITISH GIFT OF TEA CULTURE TO INDIAN PEOPLE

British Tea
Tea Culture of India, Calcutta in particular, tells a fascinating story of social dynamics involving the ways of life of the British and the Indian people. The British gifted Tea Culture to India where they cultivated tea plants of native origin as well as the Camellia sinensis variety that Robert Fortune smuggled from China in 1849 for the East India Company. In Britain initially it was a luxury of the high society under the spell of Braganza the Queen Consort of Charles II during 1662 -1685, who happened to be the primary motivator behind the emerging British tea culture. Because the British East India Company had a monopoly over the tea industry in England, tea became more and more popular; and as its prices slowly fell, the luxury of drinking tea became middle-class habit. At the close of the 18th century tea – a cheaper drink than bear – turned out to be the drink of Britons of every class. There have been, nonetheless, the ways of making tea and taking tea remain distinctive of every class conforming nuances of tea culture. The popularity of tea, its respectability and domestic rituals, supported the rise of the British Empire, and “contributed to the rise of the Industrial Revolution by supplying both the capital for factories and calories for labourers” . Tea became the national drink of Britain. [Mintz]

Colonial India
In late 1870s the drinking of tea was in fashion all over India and commonly a part of everyday informal social meets. [Mandelslo] We can see from contemporary writers that ladies and gentlemen had occasions to socialize themselves many a time a day – at breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, supper, dinner, and after-dinner – and never without cups and shimmering teapots to induce sharing of minds. Calcutta was then a city of ceremonials and carnivals. Tea-parties were enlivened with spirit of sociability where anything could be discussed, less the delicate subjects like tea growing and its politics and economics. Tea and the Britain have a shady history. ‘The British brought tea to England by way of monopolistic trade, smuggling, drug dealing, and thievery’ as modern research admits [Petras]. The Colonial India produced highest bid tea in auction markets by employing bonded labourers from Assam and North Bengal. From Calcutta, troops of hair-dressers and shoe-makers of Chinese origin were also called to join on the presumption that every Chinese a good tea-plucker. The plight of these hapless slaves was first known when Ramkumar Vidyaratna and Dwarkanath Ganguly reported in Sanjibani (সঞ্জিবনী) aroud 1886 [Ganguly] long before Mulk Raj Anand portrayed their misery in his famous Two leaves and a bird appeared in 1937. [Anad]

Recent Scenario
The Tea Culture in India virtually started with the Tea Cess Bill of 1903 provided for levying a cess on tea exports – the proceeds of which were to be used for the promotion of Indian tea both within and outside India. Large hoardings and posters for tea recipes were put up in Indian languages, on several railway platforms; at Calcutta tram terminals they distributed free cups of tea, added with milk and sugar to make the drink agreeable to uninitiated tongues, and the like promotional plans put into operation to convert the teetotaler Indian public, especially the Bengalese, into a tea-addict race to whom ‘every time a tea time’. The plans, however, failed to meet their goal so long the aggressive opposition from the Swadeshi camp was in force. Gandhi called tea ‘an intoxicant’, in the same class of avoidable substances as tobacco and cacao. In the early 1920s, Acharya Prafulla Ray, an eminent chemist and a passionate nationalist, published cartoons equating tea with poison [Sanyal], in contrast of the British outlook that drinking tea is good for health of every family member including the dog. “Young dogs are frequently kept in health by a cup of tea being given to them every day.”[Roberts]

Tea Set. Oil on canvas. Artist: Jean-Étienne Liotard. 1781-83. Courtesy:Getty Center

Rabindranath Tagore, to whom the spirit of nationalist was never chauvinistic, welcomed tea cordially not only as a refreshing drink but an engaging Culture as he had experienced in Japan in 1916. He also established at Santiniketan a unique café exclusively for tea, ‘Cha-Chawkro’ (চা চক্র) in around 1929 – an addaa for the চা-স্পৃহ চঞ্চল চাতক দল tea lovers, [Chakraborty 2019]. Cha-Chawkro probably was the third stand-alone Tea Room in India, the first being The Favourite a typical vernacular tea joint set up in1918, and the second, a typical well-groomed Anglican tea-shop that the Swish Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Flury opened in 1927 under the banner “Flurys”.

Today’s Flurys is no more a tea-room – but surely a brazen joint best known for its exquisite breakfast meals. The décor has given away its colonial vibe for a fusion of cultural trends of no character of its own. [Majumdar,2009]

The old Favourite Cabin, however, still continuing with its inimitable tea-culture indigenously developed since 1918. Excepting the tea tables, crockery and the style of tea making, Nutan Barua, and his elder brother Gaur, borrowed nothing from the English to steer this first stand-alone tea room making a history contributed by generations of regular customers, many of them were firebrand writers, political activists, and young intellectuals. The tea-table manners were guided by the unwritten codes the customers formed themselves over the years that surely helped the cafe in continuing with its esprit de corps so long. [Bhaduri]

Other than the three pioneering tea shops we discussed Calcutta had quite a few local bistros famous for their addictive teas, often with some fried specialties. Basanta Cabin, Jnanbau’s tea stall, in North, Radhubabu’s stall, Sangu Valley, Bonoful in South, and Café de Monico at the city centre had been then crowdie hangouts of different social groups who were largely responsible for hauling an independent tea culture of this colonial city. Although the tea industry is still looking optimistically for the prospect of India’s National Drink status, the culture of Tea is seemingly dying a silent death. Already assaulted by coffee and the American soft-drink lobbyists, it may not stand the shock of being robbed its very identity in recent time. The good name of ‘tea’ is now being abused to mean some novelty refreshments that have little or no tea content, but mostly made of heady spices often with large proportion of milk and sugar. Such brands of desi teas sound like new versions of Gandhian tea now being marketed as Tulsi tea, Masala tea, Malai tea, Rhododendron tea, and the like. The Kahwa tea, is however different being the soul-warming drink of the Kashmiris and a part of their culture. All these refreshment drinks, of dissimilar taste and flavour, meant for people of different mind-sets than those who enjoyed tea the way Tagore’s Gora did, or a Nazrul did in Favourite Café, or someone, not necessarily an intellectual like Sydney Smith [Smith], who thanks God for tea, wondering “What would the world do without tea! How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea.”

 

END NOTE
It is highly interesting to note, all these ‘new things’ created by the Europeans for themselves proved in no time to be equally good for Indian homes. Those products actually gave indigenous people an exposure to alternative styles of living and an opportunity to preview their relative merits that instigated necessary attitudinal change to tolerate differences in socio-cultural values and accept what found ‘best’ for them objectively. This attitudinal change we may consider as an indispensable condition for bringing about the ‘Awakening of Bengal’ and its recurrences around 1880s and 1930s.

 

REFERENCE

Anand, Mulk Raj. 1937. Two Leaves and a Bud. Bombay: Kutub.

Bhaduri, Arka. 2019. “ফেবারিট কেবিন.” Indian Express, May 9, 2019. https://bengali.indianexpress.com/west-bengal/favourite-cabin-a-century-old-kolkata-cafe-college-street-100180/.

Biswas, Oneil. 1992. Calcutta and Calcuttans From Dihi to Megalopolis. Calcutta: Firma KL. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.149376.

Chakraborty, Sumita. 2016. “শান্তিনিকেতনে চিন ও জাপান.” Parabas, 2016. https://www.parabaas.com/rabindranath/articles/pSumita_china-japan.html.

Chunder, Rajarshi. 2016. “Dishes and Discourses: Culinary Culture at Jorasanko.” Sahapedia. 2016. https://www.sahapedia.org/dishes-and-discourses-culinary-culture-jorasanko.

Collingham, Lizzie. 2006. Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors. London: Vintage Books. https://books.google.co.in/books/about/Curry.html? id=Sr3GUyWe3O0C.

Cotton, H E A. 1907. Calcutta: Old and New; a Historical and Descriptive Handbook of the City. Calcutta: Newman.https://archive.org/details/calcuttaoldandn00cottgoog/page/n3

Dalrymple, William  (2002). White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in 18th-century India. London: Harper.

Davies, Pauline. 2013. “East India Company and the Indian Ocean Material World at Osterley, 1700-800,.” Internet: East India Company at Home. 2013. https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/eicah/osterley-park-middlesex/osterley-case-study-winds-of-trade/.

Gandhi, Arun. 2014. Grandfather Gandhi. NY: Atheneum Books. https://books.google.co.in/books?id=wduwz6-DapAC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.

Honey, Luke. 2008. “Dr Kitchener’s Curry Powder.” The Greasy Spoon. 2008. https://lukehoney.typepad.com/the_greasy_spoon/2008/11/dr- kitcheners-curry-powder.html.

Koff, David. 1969. No TitleBritish Orientalism And The Bengal Renaissance 1773-1835. Calcutta: Firma KL. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.98306/page/n7.

Mahomet, Sake Deen. 1794. The Travels of Dean Mahomet : A Native of Patna in Bengal, through Several Parts of India, While in the Service of the Honourable the East India Company. [Ireland]: Cork. https://archive.org/details/b28742898/page/n5.

Majumdar, Rakhi. 2009. “Into the Future: Apeejay Surrendra Group Post Jit Paul.” ET :Jun 04, 2009, 2009. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/into-the-future-apeejay-surrendra-group-post-jit-paul/articleshow/4617853.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst.

Mandelslo, Johann Albrecht von. 1669. Voyages Celebres & Remarquables, Faits de Perse Aux Indes Orientales. London: John Starkey, and Thomas Basset. https://archive.org/details/voyagescelebresr00mand/page/n8.

Mintz, Sidney W. 1993. “The Changing Roles of Food in the Study of Consumption.” In Consumption and the World of Goods; Ed. by Brewer, John; Porter, Roy. NY: Routledge. https://www.amazon.com/Consumption-World-Goods-Culture-Centuries/dp/0415114780.

Ogilvie, S. (2012). Frontmatter. In Words of the World: A Global History of the Oxford English Dictionary (pp. I-Vi). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139129046″>https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139129046

Peers, Douglas M. 2006. No TitlIndia under Colonial Rule: 1700-1885. NY: Routledge. https://books.google.co.in/books? id=dyQuAgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_book_other_v ersions_r&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false%0A%0A.

Petras, Claire. 2013. “British Tea 17th-19th Century.” Clairepetras.Com. 2013. http://clairepetras.com/history/ .
Roberts, Emma. 1837. Scenes and Characteristics Hindostan,with Sketches Of Anglo-Indian Society. Vol. 1 (2). London: Allen. https://archive.org/details/scenesandcharac04robegoog.

Sanyal, Amitava. 2012. “Mahatma Gandhi and His Anti-Tea Campaign.” BBC News Magazine, May 2012. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17905975.
Shastri, Shibanath. 1909. রামতনু লাহিড়ি ও তৎকালীন বঙ্গসমাজ. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Calcutta: SK Lahiri. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.111.479.1009-a.

Smith, Sidney. 1855. A Memoir of the Reverend Sydney Smith. By His Daughter, Lady Holland. With a Selection from His Letters. NY: Harper. https://archive.org/details/memoirofreverend02smituoft/page/n6.

Waldrop, Darlene Michelle. 2007. “A Curried Gaze: The British Ownership Of Curry.” Univ. Georgia.

Williamson, Thomas. 1810. East India Vade Mecum; or, Complete Guide to Gentlemen Intended for the Civil, Military,or Naval Service of the Hon. East India Company; Vol. 2 (2). London: Black, Parry. https://www.scribd.com/document/305022589/The-East-India-Vade-Mecum-Volume-2-of-2-by-Thomas-Williamson.

Williamson, Thomas. 1813. Costume and Customs of Modern India from Collection of Drawings by Charles Doyley… Ed. by Thomas Williamson. Oxford University. Vol. XXX. London: Edward Omre. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=VNFbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP7&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false.

Continue reading “WAYS OF LIFE IN COLONIAL CALCUTTA: CHRONICLE OF ACCULTURATION”

DHURRUMTOLLAH STREET: WAY TO BENGAL RENAISSANCE

A triple portrait of the East India Company ship Royal Charlotte – Indiaman (1758-1770. Oil on canvas by Robert Dodd. Couresy: National Maritime Museum,

নবজাগরণের যাত্রাপথে ঐতিহাসিক ধর্মতলা স্ট্রিট

LEAD UP
As early as in May 1772 when Dean Mohamet (1784–1851) arrived, Calcutta was already a major center of commerce for the English East India Company, prosperous and entrepreneurial. [Dean Mahomet] Calcutta was then just a township desperately in need to grow into a city to fulfill the common ambition of the Company Bahadur and the British colonialism under the administration of Lord Clive and his immediate followers. It is interesting to note that the Industrial Revolution, the critical turning point in modern history, had its origin in village Sutanuti cotton market that allured the British traders to settle and exploit. The wave of Industrial Revolution, which had started a decade ago in Britain with manufacturing of textiles, reached the shore of river Hughly by then, and let its impact felt in the planning for Town Calcutta expansion beyond the up-coming Fort William at Govindpore. Its chronicle gradually discloses a co-relation between industrialization and urbanization.

It all started with the initiation of the new Fort that set off huge mobilization of the Europeans southward and of the natives of Govindpore to Kumartooly, Sobhabazar, and Burrabazar at north and to Taltola at east. Both the parties had to spend lengthy time experimenting with new realities before they settled themselves in changed environment. That was the time since when new occupations being introduced as the unheard-of opportunities coming up as a result of scientific inventions and industrial diversification. Calcutta in the process of urbanization started experiencing effect of industrialization. The external economic orientation of Calcutta to England emerged in18th and 19th centuries, provided the young city with an industrial prospect. It took however pretty long time to develop some minimum indigenous technological systems of production, transportation, construction, and the logistics required for large concentrations of people in urban areas. [Ghose] The progress slowed down because of the typical political apathy and cultural lethargy of colonial Calcutta.

THE CLIMATE

Until 1813 the commercial relations between India and England was free from industrial capitalist exploitation. Trade with India had been relatively small. Its huge potential, however, was foreseen by the industrial capitalist who wasted no time to frame policies for maximizing capital gain to feed British machine industry. They defined their policy with the objective, set out by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, to make India an agricultural colony of British capitalism, supplying raw materials and buying manufactured goods. British rule brought the destruction of traditional handicrafts as well as their technical proficiency, carried off plunder, and revenue extraction. [Sarkar] By 1814 the Company servants themselves had begun to invest their capital in Agency Houses born out of an alliance between the private trading interests of the Company’s servants and the Free Merchants. This unseemly alliance had been continuing since early days of East India Company. We understand from a scholarly note on the Company’s ship Royal Charlotte – Indiaman (1758-1770) featured at the top, that the Company placed bulk orders for official goods with the ships’ captains and supercargoes encouraging the flourishing network of private trade that supported the regular inflow of luxury commodities into Europe. This form of ‘regulated corruption’ was sanctioned through indulgences in Company policy. [Davies]

Despite all the mighty negative forces driven by the political machinery, industrialization happened in Bengal as well as other provinces in India at uneven pace mostly on European initiatives, excepting few instances of Indian entrepreneurship. Calcutta and its neighborhood were on the threshold of a small scale industrial revolution. The local business community embarked upon a broad range of steam-powered industries. Calcutta became ‘a seat of numerous extensive manufactories, vying with many British cities.’ [Stocqueler] The scenario changed in the second half of the 19th century. Faster transportation, and a uniform legal framework, in particular, expanded possibilities of capital and labour movements. ‘The Empire encouraged factor-market integration, increased the scope of public-private partnership and the separation of banking from trading and of trading from manufacturing. This diversification of risk was a key impetus to the industrialization drive.’ [Ray] It was the English who exploited the opportunities most. The natives of Calcutta missed it almost because of their so called entrepreneurial backwardness – a deeply-seated socio-cultural attitude. ‘Power over land, not mercantile or industrial enterprise, was the economic hallmark of social statuses.’ Trade was associated with low ranking castes, Brahmins and Kayasthas considered only the intellectual and administrative professions as proper occupations. Thus the indigenous Bengali elite turned its back on business and left modern industry and international commerce in Calcutta to Europeans. [Sarkar] Neither the shrewdness of colonial policy nor the apathy of general Bengalese toward business could stop Industrialization Revolution that brought forth radical and innovative changes in manufacturing and transportation from manual to mechanical mode. We may note in this context that it all had started with the bonanza of British textile industry at the cost the death of Indian cotton hand mill tradition. The first textile industry in India, Bowreah Cotton Mills, was established in 1818 by British at Fort Gloster near Calcutta; the first jute mill at Rishra started spinning in 1855 when they brought its machinery from Dundee. Industrialization produced a new market economy, and most importantly, a new society desirous of using innovative products and transports to set the revolution go.

Dhurrumtollah Bazar – a section of the coloured lithograph depicting Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart created before 1838 (pub. 1848) by Sir Charles D’Oyly. Courtesy Heidelberg U Univ.

DHARRUMTOLLAH IN CONTEXT

Walking around the Dhurrumtollah Street we may still find few footprints of Industrial Revolution that modernized the ‘process of manufacturing consumer goods and capital goods and of building infrastructure in order to provide goods and services to both individuals and businesses.’ The industrial orientation was discernable more markedly in the new township around the Fort covering the entire southern expansion up to Surman’s Park including villages of Govindpore, Birji, Chowringhee and sections of Colinga – the area commonly understood today in terms of east and west Dhurrumtollah. That time Taltola, or Talpooker, with its segment Jaunbazar was an undeveloped swampy land of Colinga mouza nearest to ‘Bazar of Govindpore on the site of Fort’ (also referred to as ‘Dhurrumtollah Bazar). The only landmark it had was a shrine of Dharmathakur, or the Dharmatala. A road to Dharamtala that known to exist in 1762 as a causeway immediate north of Dingabhanga or Jala Colinga was reinforced with Birbhum gravel in 1796 just after the new Dhurrumtollah Bazar established. [Setton-Kerr]

As we have already noticed, during the time of expansion of the Town Calcutta and construction of the new Fort, there had been massive mobilization from all directions. The Europeans moved toward south, the Govindpore villagers toward north and east where the later had to take up new occupation for living. In addition, there had been a steady inflow of people from outside India of varied cultural background and expertise for doing business or working as professionals or employees in government and private institutions. The uprooted Govindpore folks gained prospect of living in civil areas and availing new job opportunities in exchange of homes they lost. The opportunities were not limited to serving the European and the Native aristocracy as domestics, but also in public places and at the Fort site as coolies, road-labourers, or palanquin-bearers who in those early days were customarily natives of Bengal. So far we understand, the Hindu settlers from Govindpore had no serious involvement in the process of developing Dhurrumtollah into a neighborhood of historical importance. In our collective mind, the area of ‘Dhurrumtollah’ today no more includes the eastern part of Jaunbazar, which found its own identity after Pritaram Das had built his palatial house in 1810s – the hallowed site where Rani Rashmoni, his daughter-in-law, lived her distinguished life of spiritual, social and political significance. As we conceive, Dhurrumtollah of recent time comprises the entire area between the Lindsay Street and the Dhurrumtollah Street. The road was widened up in 1836 allowing the adjacent land to develop fast into a modern colony next to Chowringhee, but unlike Chowringhee, it was for people of all shades, not white alone. So to speak, such liberal inclusion was a striking exception to the administrative directions pronounced for removing ‘native inhabitants from the black town and to build houses for themselves on another spot, at a greater distance from the fort’. We gather from the English traveler, Edward Ives that this was ‘owing to the governor and council’s resolution in consequence of Colonel Clive’s advice, to enlarge and well secure Fort William, which could not be done, whilst the Indian town was standing. [Ives]

The White Town concentrated around the Tank Square. The region centering on the Govindpore Fort, including Chowringhee, Park Street, Dharmatala, Esplanade, formed the European part of the town. [Wallace] Dharmatala, though commonly designated as a European district, can hardly justify so by its mixed populace and liberal lifestyle, which has been encouraged to diversify further culturally and economically, keeping pace with the changes taken place in global societies through ever increasing Calcutta connections.

GreatMarket_Solvyns,
Of the Nations Most Known in Hindoostan. Solvyns, Les Hindous, Vol. III. 1811

The crowd of Dhurrumtollah Street is always different from anywhere else in Calcutta – “full of the People of India, walking in family parties and groups and confidential couples. And the people of India are neither Hindu nor Mussulman — Jew, Ethiop, Gueber, or expatriated British” (like James Augustus Hickey, Justice Le Maitre, or a David Drummond). “They are the Eurasians, and there are hundreds and hundreds of them in Dhurrumtollah now.” [Kipling] Because of the presence of British insiders, Dhurrumtollah milieu is essentially more inclusive than the grey town Murgihatta, and may be justly called a global town. On this road, Rev. C Cesry found in 1881 many faiths, many occupations, and many institutions existing next to each other. [Cesry] The road becomes congested with swelling population and their multifarious activities – commercial, professional, humanitarian, devotional, and recreational.

Calcutta may aptly be called ‘a city of shop-keepers’ if ‘getting and spending’ proves to be the essence of its economic life. This was what Sambhoo Churn wrote in Mookherji’s Magazine in 1861. The most respectable of its inhabitants were merchants, and the next might be the judiciary and law practitioners in Calcutta. Those days their profession found highly profitable. So were the medical practitioners. Englishmen in those days carried on other professionals as well. They were jurymen. Besides, they were engaged in different trades as coach-making, watch-making, tavern-keeping, tailoring, wine-dealing, shoe-making, hair-dressing, tanning and the like. [Biswas]

NEW PHENOMENA
A glance through the street directories of late 18th century or early 19th century Calcutta should show the changing pattern of occupations in Dhurrumtollah Street with “addresses of Engineers, Under¬takers, Chemists, Doctors, Midwifes, Photographers, Professors of Music, Horse Doctors, Auctioneers, Jewelers, Book-sellers, Publicans, Barbarians, Scythians, Bond and Free. [Cesry] There were more, most importantly the teachers who contributed singularly to awakening of a new Bengal. The role of Dhurrumtollah Academy of David Drummond and certain other extraordinary institutions carried out gently their grand missions on this rowdy street of ‘shops and bazars’. To Rudyard Kipling the street was like Hammersmith High¬way – the main shopping street in Hammersmith, London.

As we have elsewhere discussed at length about the old bazars of Dhurrumtollah, including the Chandney Market that still exists. [puronokolkata] The old Chandney was altogether a different class of market. It was set to cater raw materials like cloth lengths, threads and needles, or tools like scissors, knives, hammers or a fishing rod, but barely any ready-made consumer goods like garment to wear or fishes to eat. It was also a good shopping centre for household wares. I believe it still continues with the tradition to a large extent.  This apart, I like to draw your attention to the variety of specialty shops in Dhurrumtollah locality that sale, repair and offering services and products of modern technology.

Madan Theatre by Night” by Gaganendranath Tagore. Held at National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi. Image Courtesy: NGMA

There was no dearth of photographic studios, camera shops, professional cameramen, gramophone players, and music records, projectors and films, and above all there was the pioneering Indian cinema production company, the Madan Theatres to show how very receptive the ambience of Dhurrumtollah has been to innovative merchandise. Even today one goes there for a treasure hunt for rare music records, and some finds the master mechanic for gramophones and cameras in its lanes and bi-lanes. Such experience veritably takes us back to the old days of Dhurrumtollah.

CamelCarriage_Atkinson_1860
Camel Carriage. Coloured lithograph by F. Jones after Captain G.F. Atkinson. 1860

The scenario Kipling described did not grow overnight but an outcome of a slowly built tradition since 1762 – the time when Dhurrumtollah Street was a muddy road frequented now and then by animal-drawn carts pulled by bullocks, horses, and possibly elephants and camels.
The road became wider in 1867; building plots were numbered in 1843 and revised in 1869. Along with the continuous improvement of the Street and its surroundings, changes take place not only in mode of transportation, or form of vehicle, but in people’s lifestyle and the design of the institutions within the orbit of Dhurrumtollah Street.

OBSERVATIONS
Dhurrumtollah Street is, as we see, one of the few roads of the 18th century Calcutta that may claim to be a distinctive reserve for augmenting the history of making Calcutta a modern City out of the colonial ‘Town Calcutta’. The Street carries the traces of the socio-cultural progress on the route to urbanization basking in the glow of Industrial Revolution. It turned up in Dhurrumtollah rather than in any other part, because of two reasons, I believe. First, it was a free society and a learning society, continuously adjusting itself with new ideas and technological inventions. Second, the resolute role of institutions and few little-known, liberal forward-looking people that made it all happened.

CHAPIN PUMPING ENGINE.Dwarkanath imported this technology from England for his business ventures

Contrary to this view, there is a general notion that ‘the early and prolonged exposure to British administration resulted in the expansion of Western education, culminating in development of science, institutional education, and social reforms in the region, including what became known as the Bengali renaissance.’ [Bengal Chamber] When there is no denying that India owes to the British for the revival of its heritage, the British had little to contribute to the formation of the liberal spirit of Bengal Renaissance simply because they never had such values in their national character founded on the rock of convention.

Neither the contemporary business world had much to effect a change in Bengali mind-set. We know many illustrious names of the 19th century business and industrial leaders, British and Indian, from Andrew Yule to Octavius, from Dwarkanath to P C Ray. Among the Indian entrepreneurs there were many great public figures but hardly any persuasive leader capable of being an agent of social change. When Dwarkanath launched his firm, Young Bengal found a hero, and expected the Bengalis to ‘compete with the nations of Europe and America, not only in English literature, but in fine arts, sciences and commerce’. [Sarkar]

There had been however many renowned adorable renaissance men, including foreigners like a David Hare, and many more unacknowledged people who readied the Calcutta society at large with their open and inquisitive mind imbibed with liberal values. The society was shaped by those extraordinary minds behind the scene that produced leaders to instill new values in public mind, and influence politics of the land. While the industry, the political power, the social elites all had their respective roles to back the new society to flourish, essentially it was the work of the unaccounted activists – the mind-makers.

ENDNOTE
To illustrate my views I shall present few cases, starting with Chandney Bazar, an obscured offshoot of the industrial age. It will be followed by profiles of some magnificent men who left their invisible signatures on some very important chapters of Calcutta history leading to Bengal Renaissance. They came from dissimilar walks of life at different points of time – two horsemen, one Caribbean the the other French by birth, a atheist teacher of Scottish birth, and one Brahmoite  American Unitarian activist. Hopefully, you would enjoy their stories so far unheeded, when come out on puronokolkata pages before long.

REFERENCE
[Anonymous]. 1816. Sketches of India; or, Observations Descriptive of the Scenary, Etc in Bengal. London: Black, Purbury and Allen. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=tEcVAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false.
Bengal Chamber of Commerce. 2016. Discover Bengal: A Guidebook Of Business Prospects In West Bengal. Calcutta: Bengal Chamber. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwi77uKz1PnhAhUk63MBHQ8vDkYQFjAAegQIAxAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bengalchamber.com%2Feconomics%2Fdiscover-bengal.pdf&usg=AOvVaw1V8wDJ0_pSUMaxTwj7VrZ9.
Bengal Hurkaru. 1838. Bengal Directory and Annual Register 1838. Calcutta: Samuel Smith. https://archive.org/details/dli.bengal.10689.14012/page/n5.
Biswas, Oneil. 1992. Calcutta and Calcuttans From Dihi to Megalopolis. Calcutta: Firma KL. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.149376.
Cesry, Rev. C. 1881. Indian Gods Sages And Cities. Calcutta: Catholic Orphan Press. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.128152.
Chunder, Bholanauth. 1869. Travels of a Hindoo; to Various Parts of Bengal and Upper India; Vol.1. London: Trubner. https://archive.org/stream/travelsahindoot00chungoog#page/n9/mode/2up.
Davies, Pauline. 2013. East India Company and the Indian Ocean Material World at Osterley, 1700-800, East India Company at Home (May 2013). https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/eicah/osterley-park-middlesex/osterley-case-study-winds-of-trade/
Dean Mahomet. 1997 The Travels of Dean Mahomet: an eighteenth-century journey through India; ed. By Michael Fischer. California: UCPress,1997 https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520207172/the-travels-of-dean-mahomet
Forbes, James. 1834. Oriental Memoirs: A Narrative of Seventeen Years Residence in India; Vol.2. 2nd ed. London: Bentley, Richard. https://archive.org/details/orientalmemoirs00montgoog/page/n10.
Ghose, Benoy. 1960. “The Colonial Beginnings of Calcutta Urbanisation without Industrialisation.” The Economic Weekly, no. August 13: 1255–60. http://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/1960_12/33/the_colonial_beginnings_of_calcuttaurbanisation_without_industrialisation.pdf?0=ip_login_no_cache%3Dfc8386086015fc6e2268f71b76bece16.
Kipling, Rudyard. 1899. City of Dreadful Night. New York: Alex. https://archive.org/details/citydreadfulnig02kiplgoog/page/n7
Puronokolkata. (2018). Durrumtollah And Its Old Bazars. Retrieved from https://puronokolkata.com/2018/05/08/dhurrumtollaha-bazars/
Roy, Tirthankar. 2014. “Trading Firms in Colonial India.” Business History Review 88 (1): 9–42. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007680513001402.
Sarkar, Suvobrata. 2013. “Bengali Entrepreneurs and Western Technology in the Nineteenth Century: A Social Perspective.” Indian Journal of History of Science 48 (3): 447–75. http://www.insa.nic.in/writereaddata/UpLoadedFiles/IJHS/Vol48_3_4_SSarkar.pdf.
Sen, Amit pseud. [i.e. Susobhan Sarkar] ]. 1947. Notes on Bengal Renaissance. Bombay: People’s pub. https://archive.org/details/notesonthebengal035527mbp/page/n6.
Setton-Karr, W. S. 1865. Selections from Calcutta Gazettes; Vol.2. Calcutta: Military Orphan Press. https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.44506/2015.44506.Selections-From-Calcutta-Gazettes–Vol-2#page/n3/mode/2up/search/beerbhoom.
Stocqueler, J.H. 1845. Handbook of India: A Guide to the Stranger and the Traveller, and a Companion to the Resident. 2nd ed. London: Allen. https://books.google.co.in/books?id=SelHAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA348&lpg=PA348&dq=a+seat+of+numerous+extensive+manufactories,+vying+with+many+British+cities.&source=bl&ots=O-V1sg-gc6&sig=ACfU3U1bRKpuM94feKVkwAc3A7wwaWsOPg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi8hbmhlO3hAhWKP48KHYEm.
Wallace, Robert Grenville. 1822. Fifteen Years in India; or, Sketches of a Soldier’s Life Being an Attempt to Describe Persons and Things … U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries. London: Longman. https://doi.org/10.1016/0003-6870(73)90259-7.

Holy Street Dhurrumtollah

 

Dhurrumtollah ka Rustah

উদারপন্থী ধর্মতলা জনপথ

Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart in Calcutta on Dhurrumtollah Street: Col Lithograph. Artist: Charles D’Oyly. c1833. Courtesy: BL

Preliminaries

This is a sequel of the story ‘Finding Dhurrumtollah’ I posted last June 4. It was an attempt to trace back the situation of Dhurrumtollah within the province of huge marshy land of Colimba-Talpukur, populated with very different varieties of flora and fauna, and people of different cultural orientation and faith.

The aboriginal Dhurrumtollah continued to exist till the old city of Calcutta stretched across Govindpore and Chowringhee villages amidst forest of sundari trees. Around 1764 the beaten jungle path toward the east was made over by the East India Company as ‘Dhurrumtollah ki Rustah’. But the place ‘Dhurrumtollah’ where to the muddy dusty street supposed to lead remains curiously unspecified in historical records since Mark Wood’s map of 1784-85 sited its name and location.

Should this ‘Dhurrumtollah’ necessarily be an outstanding devotional edifice like temple, mosque or a church? If so, how far realistically we can think of such construction in a forlorn marshland? An answer to this should conceivably help to resolve at least one of the two old theories. The one advocated in 1859 by James Long, that the name ‘Dhurrumtollah’ was originated from an ancient Mosque; the other initiated by Augustus Frederic Rudolf Hoernlé in 1888, that it was originated from a Buddhist adda in the neighborhood of Jaunbazar.

Before we come closer to look into these theories, often restated by later writers, we must get prepared to free our mind of all sorts of ethnic bias that prevented native communities to accept some other’s faith likewise divine. Calcutta has had a relatively short history of communal living but a long torturous memory of bloody relationship between Hindus and Muslims because of sheer religious predisposition politically instigated time and again. In spite of its many ugly episodes, Calcutta has been regarded a glorious seat of divine cultural heritage of Hindu-Muslim creative alliance in the form of Hindustani music, for instance.

Dhurrumtollah Street has too many religious institutions of diverse faiths standing peacefully side by side. We will see in course of our ongoing discussions that this street was a playground for experimenting with liberal principles in social, economic, educational, and spiritual orders as well.

 

Ghulam Muhammad’s Mosque on the left and the spire of the Roman Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart on the right taken by Frederick Fiebig in 1851. Courtesy: BL

View along Dhurrumtollah Street with Ghulam Muhammad’s Mosque on the left and the spire of the Roman Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart on the right taken by Frederick Fiebig in 1851. Courtesy: BL

At the very beginning of the Street stand an elegant mosque and a Catholic Church. The view set a blessed disposition, which quickly disappears journeying further into the crowded thoroughfare passing by bazars and commercial houses, public and private institutions and residences of European, Eurasian and native families. There have been also a number of religious houses in close proximity of each other attended by Islamic, Christian and Hindu devotees.

In this ‘street are the Union Chapel, the American Mission Home – the small old and the new large Methodist Churches, the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and besides the good looking Tipu Sultan Masjid at least 5 more mosques, and 2 minor temples. We can add few more to Rev Cesary’s list, and make the aggregate more impressive, but that would hardly improve our understanding of the historicity of holy Dhurrumtollah, which this article aims to establish.  [Cesary]

 

Ancient Mosque in Dhurrumtollah

Rev. James Long says there had been an ancient mosque, since demolished, on the very site of Cook’s stables, where tens of thousands Musalman devotees assembled to observe the Kerbaladay. The ground of mosque and its neighboring land were owned by a zealous Musalman, Zaffir, who happened to be a Zamadar employed under Warren Hastings. Though Long specifies no direct source, he subscribes to the idea that the ‘local sanctity’ due to the mosque’s presence lent it the name ‘Street of Dharamtolah’, or the holy street.[Long].

Before 1888, when Frederic Hoernlé talked about his theory about the presence of Buddhism in Bengal, there had been no other theory available except what Rev. Long had proposed and many accepted him unquestioningly. Rangalal Bandyopadhyay was one of them.

“ধর্ম্মতলার পূর্ব নাম এভেন্যু অর্থাৎ বারাসৎ, কারণ তাহার উভয় পার্শ্বে বৃক্ষ শ্রেণী ছিল। ধর্ম্মতলা নাম হইবার কারন এই যে হেষ্টিংশ সাহেবের জমাদার জাফের নামক এক মুসলমান, যেখানে এখন কুকের আড়গোড়া রহিয়াছে সেখানে এক মসজিদ নির্ম্মাণ করে। পরে সে স্থানে বর্ষে বর্ষে কার্বালার সময় সহস্র সহস্র মুসলমান একত্র হইতে থাকিলে ধর্ম্মতলা নাম হয়।“[Bandyapadhyay]

 After Rangalal, writers like William Carey, A K Ray, Evan Cotton, Harisadhan Mukhopadhyay, keep both the ideas alive by repeating Rev. Long and Dr. Frederic Hoernlé without making attempt to check their veracity.

Dhurrumtollah Street Scene. Calcutta Ladder, Cook &. Calcutta. (Old Picture Postcard) Courtesy: Ebay

The alleged Mosque was told to be built on Zamadar Zaffir’s land and that should have happened during the tenure of Warren Hastings who employed Zaffir. The Mosque was worn out before Cook’s livery stables occupy the plots at nos. 182 and 183 Dhurrumtollah Street. It was originally an enterprise of Chevalier Antoine de L’Etang who came to Calcutta in 1796 and opened a riding school on Park Street and a horse repository on Dhurrumtollah Street to conduct weekly auction sales of horses. [Roberdeau] Most likely, the alleged mosque was built after Plassey and disappeared at the end of 18th century. During its existence the Musalman population in Calcutta had never been so high to let us imagine tens of thousands Musalman devotees at Karbala, as Long says. The Census reports that the Musalman population In Calcutta grew from 37848 in 1752 to 48162 in 1821. It is also interesting to note that the ancient mosque, as Long indicated, was situated close to the entry point of the Street and needed no approach-road or a ‘Dhurrumtollah ka Rastah‘.

Lastly, the scope of general acceptance of an Islamic shrine by other religious sects, Hindus in particular, sounds unrealistic in the historical context of socio-cultural relationships primarily based on religious practices, rites and ceremonies. What Alexander Hamilton writes in early 18th century remains still relevant that “In Calcutta all religions are freely tolerated”, but there have been polemics, as always, to shatter the harmony in living together instigated by vested interest in gaining power and glory. The extract from East India Chronicle published in 1801 shows a short and sharp picture of the conflicting situation, and the social and political attitude to buy quick solution rather than any permanent gain.

“The Mussulman Mohurrum, and Hindu festival in honour of Doorga, happened to occur at the same time from the former being regulated by Lunal Calculate, disputes between the two sects took place in many parts of India, and their contests were attended with bloodshed. During the Government of Ally Verdi Khan, the Hidoos were publicly prohibited from celebrating their festival, whenever it happened to interfere with that of the Mahomedans. – An event proof of the bigotry and intolerant spirit of them and their arbitrary government of the Hindoos.” [Hawksworth] The kind of 1801 reportage discourages us to admit Rev. Long’s view as plausible theses that presupposes acceptance of non-idyllic Musalmans are equally virtuous and Masjid a holy (ধর্মীয়) institution. Thus the presence of the Ancient Mosque and its association with the naming of Dhurrumtollah Street may remain a mere myth until researchers bring to light sufficient supportive evidence.

 

Jaunbazar Buddhist Adda and Dharmaraj Temple

We have come to know from Evan Cotton that Dr Hoernlé discerns in the name ‘Dharamtala’ a reference to Dharma, one of the units in the Buddhist Trinity, and he also points to the ‘Buddhist Temple in Jaun Bazar hard by’, in confirmation of his theory. Cotton, however, left no citation for the readers to reach Hoernlé’s exact version in context. [Cotton]

Augustus Frederic Rudolf Hoernlé (1841-1918), the India born British Indologist of German origin, is better known as philologist. He spent nearly his entire working life studying Indo-Aryan languages, editing and translating manuscripts. His work, ‘Manuscript remains of Buddhist Literature from Eastern Turkestan’, was brought out in 1916. [Grieson] . Those interested may find a complete list of his works in OCLC WorldCat Identities. http://worldcat.org/identities/lccn-n83172870/

Jataka. Turkish version. Courtesy: Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities

Hoernlé was associated with the Asiatic Society of Bengal since long and presumably had occasions to share views with MM Haraprasad Shashtri (1851-1931) working then as the Director of Operations in Search of Sanskrit Manuscripts. Haraprasad became famous for discovering the Charyapada, the earliest known examples of Bengali literature. One of his most important scholarly contributions is ‘Living Buddhism in Bangal’ where he elaborates his theses of Dharma Cult and its relationship with Bengal Buddhist trends in plain language. In an attempt to substantiate his ideas Haraprasad introduces us to a Dharma-Thakoorbari in Jaunbazar, which seems most likely  the one Hoernlé had in mind.

Charyapada. 12th Cetury. Pre-modern Bengali

Haraprasad suggested that the imagery, symbolism and worship of Dharmaraj bore very close resemblance to Buddhist notions of the sacred. He dedicated his entire career to pursue his ideas that resulted in numerous publications. His basic tenet that the worship of Dharmaraj was nothing more than a remnant of decaying Buddhism in Bengal stayed vir­tually unchallenged for almost half a century. It was Khitish Prasad Chattopadhyay who, based on his anthropological field studies, first questioned his hypothesis in 1942. Khitish Prasad noticed “a preponderance of tortoise-shaped stones” and inferred a tortoise cult that was later absorbed into Buddhism.  He thus intro­duced the novel idea of pushing the origin of Dharmaraj back even farther into the past by equating Dharmaraj with the Vedic deity Varuna. [Korom] Soon after Sukumar Sen suggested in an article that it was Dharma worship that influenced Buddhism and not otherwise. The antiquity of Dharmaraj, he believed, predated the Vedas, and the cult in its most primitive form was brought in by the Austric immigrants. This view got a support from grammarian Suniti Kumar Chatterji who independently proposed the Austric origin of Dharmaraj based on philological evidence.

The most cautious review of Haraprasad was brought out in 1946 by Shashibhusan Dasgupta in his book, Obscure Religious Cults. Having critically examined archival resources he comes to a conclusion that proves to be most significant for our discussion. As he perceives, Dharma cult can be said to be a crypto-Buddhist only so far as it bears faint relation to that form of later Buddhism, more than 90% of which belong to religious systems other than Buddhism – including the beliefs and practices of the Hindus, Muslims, and even of the non-Aryan aborigines. This might be the kind of reasons why Nihar Ranjan Ray in his book, বাঙ্গালীর ইতিহাস (Bangalir Itihas), pronounces ধর্মঠাকুর বৌদ্ধধর্ম থেকে উৎপন্ন নয়’ (Bouddhism not the origin of Dharma cult) [Ray]

As we have already noticed, the researchers involved in the discovery, identification and interpretation of Dharmaraj are generally coming either with literary or anthropological background. Asutosh Bhattachayya belongs to both the camps. Like every other scholars in this field he acknowledged the pioneering works of Haraprasad and other veterans but at the same time felt that the various opinions put forth by them might apply to a specific location without producing a gen­erative model for the whole area in which Dharmaraj is worshipped. [Korom] I fear, our story of Jaunbazar temple, to be told in a moment, might contribute some more issues to clear up before looking for such a generative model.

 

Dharma Cult and Jaunbazar Dharmalay

Old Jaunbazar Native Shops. Chromolithograph  By William Simpson. 1867. Courtesy: BL

We learnt from Haraprasad that the Calcutta temple of Dharma, situated at the premises no. 45 Jaun Bazar Street contains six prominent images namely Dharma on a simhaśana, with his conspicuous eyes and his tapering head representing the light of the Adi Buddha. This is a miniature of the chaitya. Below the simhaśana are big images of Ganeça and Pancánand as a form of Mahádeva. Below these is a stone with eruptions representing small-pox. This is çitalá. There are Sasthi, the goddess of procreation, and Jvarásura, the demon of fever, also to be found in the room. According to him,“çitalá or Háriti is a constant companion of Dharma in Nepal. Ganeça and Mahákála are regarded as Dváradevas, the gods at the door of Dharma.”

Haraprasad then draws our attention to ‘something very curious in the Calcutta temple’. He found there three regular shaped stones forming one object, the middle one being smaller than the other two. They are decked with brass or silver nail-heads fastened on the stones with wax. One is led to suspect that ‘this is the ancient representation of Dharma, Samgha and Buddha in one piece of stone. This representation is very ancient, – much older than the present form of Budhism in Nepal’ (my emphasis). To his estimate, ‘the Calcutta temple is a very old one and represents a very ancient state of religion in this part of the country”. [Shastri]  This is an extraordinary view in the context of the findings of Shashibhusan that the Dharma cult originated and spread only in some parts of Western Bengal, which is proved beyond doubt by the local references found in the ritualistic works and the semi-epical Dharmamangal works. The stone-images of Dharmathakur, as exists in Jaunbazar Temple, are still being worshipped in West Bengal. He believes, “Dharma cult, developed in Bengal out of the admixture of some relics of decaying Buddhism, popular Hindu ideas and practices, a large number of indigenous beliefs and ceremonies, and ingredients derived also from Islam” as well.

Shashibhusan endorses fully the insightful statement of Haraprasad that “no religious movement of long-standing cultural influence can be eradicated all at once from a land by any other religious movement or political or religious causes. Buddhism, even in its Tantric from, was pushed aside and was gradually assimilated into the cognate religious systems among Hindus and the Muslims, and the Dharma cult is the outcome of such a popular assimilation.” It may not be difficult for us to appreciate that the followers of Dharma cult with their monotheistic belief in the formless God could easily have responsive terms with the Muslims who had the same monotheistic belief in the formless God and who were particularly antagonistic to the polytheistic belief of popular Hinduism. Hindus, like Dharmites themselves, regard Dharmathakur either as a form of Vishnu or of Shiva. They do not have anything to oppose until Dharmathakur is claimed to be the supreme deity – the creator of Hindu Trinity.

  Dharmaraj in Differnet Forms

Dharmathakur is also called Dharma Thakur, Dharma Raja or Dharma Ráya. Dharmathakur is known in different places by different names, such as, Chand Rai, Kalu Rai, Dolu Rai, Bankurha Rai, Banka Rai. Dharma cult is a far more popular among common folks – unsophisticated and the less advantaged populations forming a huge body of devotees to frequent Dharamtala – to worship Dharmathakur presumably at the foot of a tree, as the suffix ‘tala’ (তলা) indicates [Beverley. Census, 1876], A temple has been built there only toward the end of the 19th century, in 1300 BS at premise no. 45 Jaunbazar Street, [Shastri]

Of late, we come to know from the locals, including a sevayet and a purohit, that immediately before, it was only a small shrine next to the pond, talpukur, within the same Taltala area, where Dharma Raja had his home under the patronage of Rani Rashmani. As before Gajan is being held every year two days before Chaitra Sankranti – an occasion of great festivity for the locals – no matter Hindus and Muslims.

Dharmatala

Dharmatala. In a unique celebration of Buddha Purnima. Courtesy: Anandabazar

The findings of Haraprasad should have been well-known in the academic world of his time and thereafter. Yet the existence of Jaunbazar Thakurbari is sadly overlooked by all but a few. Pranotosh Ghatak, a 20th century journalist, is one of them. He narrates the story of Dhurrumtollah Street justly pointing to the hallowed seat of Dharmathakur on Jaunbazar Street as the origin of the name of Dhurrumtollah Street.  Pranotosh provides whereabouts of the few other Dharma Thakurbaris around Dhurrumtollah. A Banka Rai Street, goes behind the Wellington Square connecting Dhurrumtollah Street, and a temple of Banka Rai remains there. In Bengal & Agra Annual Gazetteer for 1841 he also finds citations of places of Dharma worship in the localities of Dinga-Bhanga Lane and Doomtala Street.

Until very lately, we were unsure about the exact address of the Jaunbazar Street Thakurbari that Haraprasad had visited and referred to as premise no. 45 and not no. 51 as found in the Bengal & Agra Alamanacfor1841.

Temple Foundation Stone

Another directory, namely, the Bengal Directory for 1876 shows it at premise no. 48, instead. As one may find today, the ‘Thakoorbari’ now known as Sitalamandir, though inscribed ‘Dharmalay’ on a stone-slab dated 1300 BS when the temple was built by Harish Chandra De (referred to by Haraprasad as ‘Hari Mohan De’ whom he met personally), stands on number 45 Surendranath Banerjee Road (formerly Jaunbazar Street).

During the last hundred years the temple ‘Dharmalay’ and its ambience have considerably been changed and more so the situation inside the holy chamber of gods and goddesses. While many of the idols Haraprasad described still show up, some seemingly go missing or misplaced. Unfortunately, the single-piece stone with three regular shaped figures, which Haraprasad belived to be ‘an ancient representation of Dharma, Samgha and Buddha’ was not found by recent visitors.

 

Dharmaraj Sila wth metallic Eyes. Taltala Dharmalay Temple. 2018. Photo.: Author

The most important among the available ones is the Dharmaraj sila – with two metallic eyes set on the uncut primeval stone placed above three separate stone tablets bearing symbols of Kurmo avatar, matsya aavatar and a pada-padma of exqusite minimalistic style of ancient Indian art. Besides the idol of Dharmaraj with two metallic eyes fitted on black granite in primeval form, there are idols of kurmo avatar and matsya(?) avatar and a padma-pada made of stone..

 

More uncertainties like this may remain for the future researchers to settle, but it is, I believe, the facts discussed here should be convincing enough to accept that ‘Dharmatala’ or Dhurrumtollah, where ‘Dhurrumtollah Ki Rasta’ originally destined for, was actually the seat of Dharmathakur discovered on Jaunbazar Street in recent past. The entire region remained for few centuries predominantly under the spell of the pre-Aryan religious sect of Dharma cult, supposed to be ‘much older than the present form of Buddhism in Nepal’. This is not a hasty conclusion but actually conceived long back by Haraprasad, Shashibhushan redefined it, and since then generally accepted and retained by informed people. [See:  অগমকুয়া http://sisirbiswas.blogspot.in/2016/01/blog-post.html%5D

 

 Origin of the Dharmaraj Shalgram and the Missing Chaurangiswar

 A question, which never been asked ever before, is being put forward here for understanding how and where from the ancient cult of Dharma worshipping came and settled at Jaunbazar  Dharamtala, in the neighborhood of Dinga-Bhanga, Talpukur. How and when this non-Aryan religious sect, outwardly Buddhistic, propagated? Who inspired this faith in this part of the country? The subject sure enough goes far beyond the colonial Calcutta but not unrelated to the topics we discuss in puronokolkata. The issues need handling with sophistication and perhaps a different platform. However, I intend to address the questions summarily to share with you my perceptions and also to encourage researchers to undertake intensive studies to reveal an obscure ethnic cultural link with ancient Calcutta.

In Paschimbanger Sangskriti, Benoy Ghosh suggests that it was the migrated fishmongers from Ghatal/Arambagh settled in the locality of Jeleparha who initially started worshipping Dharma-Thakur. Sadhus from the riverside go to Dharmatala to pay homage, take part in Gajan and Mela organized by the fishermen under the patronage of Rani Rashmoni. The Dom-pandits played the role of ministers in performing rites and ceremonies of Dharma-Thakur. Those apart there has been a well-established  community of Nath-Pandits, who also act as ministers to Dharma-Thakur. [Ghosh] There are some Dharmamangal narratives that contain regular mixture of the legends of the Nath literature and the Dharma literature, where prominent Nath siddhas along with gods, goddesses and demigods are worshipped in line with some Dharma-puja-vidhana. [Shashibhushan] Most significant poets of Dharmamangal are Rupram Chakrabarty (17th century) and Ghanaram Chakrabarty (17th-18th century). Manikram completes his work in circa 1725 (4th Jayistha 1703 Saka era). The recency of Dharmamangal kavyas and the era of Rani Rashmoni dispute the theory that Dharma-cult was introduced in Calcutta by the Jelepara fishing community.  Moreover, the primeval shalgram of Dharma-Thakur found in Jaunbazar-Dhurrumtollah Sitala-temple differs radically from the depictions of Dharmamangal kavya, being more akin to the pseudo-Buddhist notion of Nath-cult. The most prominent among the Nath-siddhas are Minanath (or Matsyendranath), Goraksanath, Jalandhari and Chauranginath – all included in the list of the Buddhist Siddhacaryas. Since the last mentioned Nath-siddha ‘Chauranginath’ happens to be our focal point, I may be allowed to dwell upon the legend of Chauranginath without delving into the history of Nath-cult which appears to Shashibhushan as a ‘hotchpotch of esoteric Buddhism and yogic Saivism’ representing a particular phase of the Siddha cult of India.

Chauranginath, or Chaurangi Swami, is regarded as one of the apostles of Bengal. Dinesh Sen writes “The Aryans who came to Bengal and settled here had distinctly a high religious object in view. From Silabhadra, Dipahkara and Mahavira to Minanath, Gorakjanath. Hadipa. Kalupa, Chaurangi and even Ramai Pandit — the apostles of Bengal all proclaimed to the people the transitori­ness of this world and the glory of a religious life. [Sen]

Nath_Siddha Lineage

Vajradhara surrounded by smaller figures of Telopa, Naropa, Marpa and Milarapa Hanging scroll (mounted on panel). Courtesy of the Freer Sackler Gallery.

Chauranginath (c1400), a contemporary of Kabir(1398-1518), lived few generations behind Śīlabhadra (529AD-645AD), Atīśa-Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna(980AD_1054AD), and Gorakshanath (11th- to 12th-century). He is one of the nine nathgurus and according to some traditions a direct disciple of Minanath. We know little of Chauringhi but some unverified stories like the ones retold by Harisadhan in his book.

  1. Legend has it that the sacred granite bearing the face of Kali the Goddess was discovered by Chauringi swami or his disciple Jangalgiri, and thereafter the jungle covering the area between Lal Dighi and Southern end of Govindpore was named Chowringhee after his name. Though we get this from flimsy source, it may be worth exploring since, other than hearsay, there is no clue as yet how and where from the vigraha of Kali was brought into the Kalighat temple. We learnt from Kalikshetradipika that it was found in the wilds by a wandering sanyasi: “যাহা হউক ইহা অবশ্য স্বীকার করিতে হইবে যে কালীঘাটে কালীমূর্ত্তীর প্রথম প্রকাশ অবশ্য অরণ্যবাসী বা গৃহত্যাগী ভ্রমণ তৎপর কোন না কোন সন্ন্যাসী বা ব্রহ্মচারী দ্বারা হইয়া থাকিবে। কোন সময়ে এবং কাহা দ্বারা কি প্রকারে প্রকাশিত হয় তাহা স্থির করা বড় দুরূহ।“
  2. Harisadhan gathered from an octogenarian that long back there were four Shivalingas being worshipped by sanyasis within the jungle of Chouringhee and its neibourhood. Nakuleswar discovered and reestablished in Kalighat by one Tarachand Sikh; Jangaleswar Mahadeva, said to be relocated somewhere in Bhowanipore Kansaripara by Jangalgiri – a disciple of Chauringinath; Nangareswar Mahadev exists near Burrabazar Pan-posta; Chouringiswara Mahadeva is said to have been unearthed while the Asiatic Society building was being constructed and removed afterwards to some unknown destination. We may recall that the land upon which the Society’s building constructed had been occupied previously by Antoine de L’Etang’s riding school.

A K  Ray, however, rejects Chauringinath as there is “no tangible evidence that Chauranga Swami ever came to Calcutta and lived in its jungle”. The original name of “Chowringhee”, he believes, is “Cherangi”, and suggests that the goddess Kali herself, called Cherangi from the legend of her origin that they trace back the name of ‘Chowringhee’”.

AK Ray is right so far as there is no hard evidence that Chauranga Swami ever came here. But there is no evidence either that he never did, especially being an acknowledged apostle of Bengal. The interpretation that the jungle was called after the Goddess Kali who herself called ‘Cherangi’ may not be readily acceptable.

Map of Calcutta Before the English. 1680

As we experience, a place name evolves from what it is being frequently called by. The name ‘Cherangi’ is little known and does not appear in the 1001 names of Kali. It is therefore very unlikely to be a valid ground for accepting the name ‘Cherangi’ as an alias of Kali the Goddess.

We know from Dinesh Sen that one of the Bengal apostles is Chaurangi swami. He and his disciples are known as Chaurangis in the sense that their religious life was to stand the fourfold test of ascetics, viz., parama-tapssita(great privation), parama-lukhata (great austerity), paramajegucchita (great loathness to wrong-doing), and parama-pavivittata ( great aloofness from the world). No wonder Chauringi swami and his disciples find the jungle adjacent to river Ganges an ideal retreat for them, and the jungle becomes then known by the name of Chaurangis.  The jungle Chaurangi had been in existence long before the English occupation. The earliest map of Calcutta made in the 16th Century shows its topography covering the entire region between the Creek and Kalighat opposite Govindpore. It was for the first time, the map Mark Wood prepared in 1784-85 charted the chunk of land separated from Chowringhee as Colinga. Colinga includes two subareas: Talpooker and Jala Colinga where Jaunbazar-Dhurrumtollah belongs to. It is the site of Dharma-Thakur Temple very much within the domain of Chaurangi. Here the Nath devotees of Dharma put their obscure religion into practice and made it adored by people of all sects. In course of time Dharmatala turns into a holy place for all, and a landmark of Calcutta then and now.

 

 

CITATIONS

Bandyopadhyay, Rangalal. 1850. Kalikata Kalpalata (কলিকাতা কল্পলতা). Calcutta: n.p. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/KolikataKolpalata/page/n0)

Carey, William. 1882. Good Old Days of Honorable John Company; Vol.1. Calcutta: Quins Book. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/goodolddaysofhon00careuoft)

Cesry, Rev. C. 1881. Indian Gods Sages And Cities. Calcutta: Catholic Orphan Press. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.128152).

Chattopadhyay, Suryakumar. 1891. The Antiquities of Kalighat; or, কালীক্ষেত্র দীপিকা. Calcutta: Bhowanipore Parthib Yantra. Retrieved (https://ia801904.us.archive.org/23/items/in.ernet.dli.2015.354023/2015.354023.Kalikhetra-Dipika.pdf)

Cones. 1874. Calcutta Directory, 1874. Calcutta: Cones. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.94126).

Cotton, Evan. 1907. Calcutta, Old and New: A Historical and Descriptive Handbook to the City. Calcutta: Newman. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/calcuttaoldandn00cottgoog)

Dasgupta, Shashibhusan. Obscure Religious Cults as Background of Bengali Literature. Calcutta: C.U., 1946. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.31035/page/n3)

Ghatak, Pranotosh. n.d. Kolikatar Pathghat (কলিকাতার পথ ঘাট). Calcutta: Indian Associated Publishing. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.355340/page/n7).

Ghosh, Benoy. Paschim Banger Sanskriti (পশ্চিম বঙ্গের সংস্কৃতি). Kalikata: Pustak Prakash, 1950. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.354330/page/n7

Grierson, G A. Augustus Frederic Rudolf Hoernlé. In: The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.(Jan., 1919), pp. 114-124. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25209477

Hawksworth. East indian Chronologist. Calcutta: Hircurrah Press, 1801. https://archive.org/stream/eastindianchrono00hawkuoft#page/70

Korom, Frank J.” Editing Dharmaraj: Academic Genealogies of a Bengali Folk Deity. In: Western Folklore Vol. 56. No. 1 (Winter. 1997). pp. 51-77. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1500386?read-now=1&loggedin=true&seq=27#page_scan_tab_contents

Long, James. 1852. “Calcutta in the Olden Time – Its Localities.” The Calcutta Review 18:275-. Retrieved (https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/002715346)

Mukhopadhyay, Harisadhan. 1915. “Kalikata: Sekaler O Ekaler (কলিকাতা একালের ও সেকালের).” Retrieved (https://archive.org/stream/Kalikata-Sekaler-O-Ekaler-Harisadhan-Mukhopadhyay/Kalikata%20Sekaler%20O%20Ekaler%20-%20Harisadhan%20Mukhopadhyay#mode/2up)

Ray, A. K. 1902. Calcutta: Town and Suburbs; Pt.1 A Short History of Calcutta. Calcutta: Bengal Secretariat. Retrieved (https://books.google.co.in/books?id=-Lo5AQAAMAAJ&q=calcutta+town+and+suburbs+ak+Ray&dq=calcutta+town+and+suburbs+ak+Ray&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjDnrz11MnXAhUCN48KHdgEDQUQ6AEIJzAA).

Ray, Niharranjan. Bangalir itihas (বাঙ্গালীর ইতিহাস); Adi Parba. Calcutta: Dey’s, 1356 BS. https://archive.org/details/BangalirItihasAdiparbaByNiharranjanRoy/page/n3

Roberdeau, Henry.’Accounts of life in Calcutta in 1805. (Editorial Notes)” In: Bengal Past And Present Vol.29, 1825. https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.32669/2015.32669.Bengal-Past-And-Present–Vol29#page/n139/mode/2up.

Sen, Dinesh. History of Bengali language and literature. Calcutta: C.U., 1911

https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.47773/2015.47773.History-Of-Bengali-Language-And-Literature#page/n439/mode/2up/search/chaur

Shastri, Haraprasad. 1897. Discovery of Living Buddhism in Bengal. Calcutta: Sanskrit Press. Retrieved (https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.47680/2015.47680.Discovery-Of-Living-Buddhism-In-Bengal#page/n3/mode/2up).

Shastri, Haraprasad. Remnants of Buddhism in Bengal. Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal December. Calcutta: The Society, 1894. https://archive.org/details/proceedingsofasi94asia/page/134

Thacker Spink. 1876. Bengal Directory, 1876. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.68578)

Wilson, Horace Hayman. 1846. Sketch of the Religious Sects of the Hindus. Calcutta: Bishop’s College. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/sketchofreligiou00wils/page/n5)

 

 

Chowringhee: Against the Backdrop of Fort William II

Chowringhee Road. 1787. Artist and engraver: Daniell, Thomas

চৌরঙ্গীঃ কোলকাতার দক্ষিন দ্বার

Genesis of Chowringhee

After Plassey, the necessity of keeping the English factory at Calcutta within the Fort was at end.[6] There was no felt need any more for reviving the ravaged Fort that proved its inadequacy in defending the old town and its own bulwark. The Fort was encumbered with houses close by, and had no proper esplanade for guns. Their triumph might not have been spirited enough to free the minds of English commanders from the dread of another war. That was why the East India Company favoured Clive’s decision of erecting a second Fort William expending two millions sterling.[8] The new Fort essentially differs from the old one being exclusively a military establishment and not a fortified factory of English traders as the old Fort was styled. Its construction set off in 1758 on the riverside ground of Govindpur village about a mile away from the old Fort. Before the Battle of Laldighi, the English were cooped up in the neighbourhood of the old Fort.[17] The prospect of an aerial, liveable habitation in the neighbourhood of the New Fort, attracted the European population to gradually move from the already crowded old township around the Tank Square and the old Minta, to settle in commodious Chowringhee.[6]

New Fort in Backdrop

Equipped with huge defense machinery and a formidable military architecture, the new Fort William was ready by 1773, but had no occasion ever since to exchange fires with enemies. Instead its resounding  tope of canon ball routinely announced mid-day hours to regulate working life of the Calcuttans. The presence of the imposing Fort on Maidan silently reminds us of the significant role it had played in transforming the town Calcutta into a city – famously called ‘City of Palace’, the centre of British India. Following inauguration of the Fort, the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William was founded. The Governors of Bengal became the Governor Generals of India. Calcutta was reborn ushering a modern society to stay connected with rest of the world.

Fort William, Govindpore. Chowringhee Gate. Photographer: unidentified. 1880’s Source: eBay,

Beyond the European buildings lying around the Old Fort were four villages of mud and bamboo, all of which were included in the zamindary limits of the first settlement. These villages were the original three with the addition of Chowringhee. Chowringhee in 1717 was a hamlet of isolated hovels, surrounded by water-logged paddy-fields and bamboo-groves, interspersed with a few huts and small plots of grazing and arable lands. The chosen site of the Fort was on the river-bank of village Govindpore, considerably south of the old Mint. As Colonel Mark Wood’s Map of 1784 inscribes.[19] Govindpore began where the Northern boundary of Dhee Calcutta ended at Baboo Ghat, and then went up to the Govindpore Creek, or Tolly’s Nullah and that was the extreme end of the English zamindary. As Rev. Long indicated, it was ‘immediately to the South of Surman’s gardens, marked by a pyramid in Upjohn’s map.’ [17] At West, the area includes King’s Bench Walk  with a row of trees separating it from the riverbank between  Chandpaul Ghaut  and  Colvin’s Ghaut , then called  Cucha-goody Ghaut  At North, Esplanade Row, from Chandpaul Ghaut, hard by the New Court House on the riverside, runs into Dhurumtollah in a straight line past the Council House and the old Government House standing side by side.

Govindpore was a populous flourishing village when its entire population was removed to make room for the new Fort and its infrastructure. The inhabitants were compensated by providing lands in places like Toltollah, Kumartooly, Sobhabazar expending restitution-money. In Govindpore itself great improvements took place. The jungle that cut off the village of Chowringhee from the river, was cleared and. gave way to the wide grassy stretch of ‘Maidan of which Calcutta is so proud’.

Pallanquin on jungle road. Illustration in book ’India’ by Richard Mayde 1876

The jungle, presumably, had been once a part of the Great Soonderband (সুন্দর বন).  Many traces of trees were found at a considerable depth below the surface of the ground. These remains are thought to be those of the soondrie forest that covered the site of Calcutta when newly emerged from the waters of the Gangetic Delta. [6] Early 1789, Government resolved on filling up the excavations in the Esplanade and levelling its ground. The plan was prepared for the benefit of Calcutta in general, and of the houses fronting the Esplanade in particular. The plan extended to drain the marsh land, in expectation that the digging a few tanks will furnish sufficient earth and thus save the project cost and time. A new tank was made at the corner of Chowringhee and Esplanade, which existed till the dawn of the twentieth century. [20]

Road to Chowringhee

The road dividing the Maidan and Chowringhee was named, Road to Chowringhy [sic] by Colonel Mark Wood in his 1784 Plan of Calcutta, which in fact was a midsection of the oldest and longest thoroughfare of Calcutta, known as Pilgrim Way  starting from Chitpore, Chitreswari temple at extreme North and ending at Kalighat temple in South. As late as in 1843, the proclamation included in the  Special Reports of the Indian Law Commissioners has no mention of ‘Chowringhee locality’, but of a ‘Chowringhi[sic] High Road’.

The Road to Chowringhy[sic] was initially a short stretch between Dhurumtollah and Park Street that subsequently developed into an 80 feet broad and nearly two miles long roadway commencing from the  Creek  where it crossed Cossitollah (later Bentinck Street) between Waterloo Street and British India Street, and ended at Theatre Road where from Rossapagla Road took the queue. Before the modern Chowringhee came into being, Cossitollah, was thronged with a large proportion of European shops and often called ‘the Indian Elysium of plebeians’. [6]. The eastern side of the Chowringhee Road is lined by handsome houses, facing the fine grassy Maidan which lies between them and the river. Houses are generally ornamented with spacious verandahs to the south, that being the quarter from which the cool evening breeze blows in the hot weather. [12] The Bishp’s Palace was the most imposing among those.

Changing Landscape

When Josua Conder visited Chowringhee, this city was ‘the quick growth of a century’, and ‘still half jungle’. He wrote, “at Chowringhee, where you now stand in a spacious verandah supported by Grecian pillars, only sixty short years ago, the defenseless villagers could scarcely bar out the prowling tiger.” His presumptions about the future of Chowringhee however were all wrong. Contrary to his beliefs, in sixty more years the city never depopulated but its strength intensified; and all these perishable palaces of timber, brick, and chunam did not disappear but multiplied more time than it should have. [7]

Calcutta. A French map. 1839. credited to Dufour and Benard. [Read ‘Rue’ for ‘Road’]
So far back as 1714 ‘Cherangy’[sic] is named among the township neighbourhood within the Pergunnah of Calcutta either possessed or desired by the Company.[23] Originally, Chowringhee was an ancient village named after one  Jungal Giri Cherangi, a pious worshipper of Kali. Between 1726 and 1737, Cherangi (sic) came to be treated as a part of the English settlement. It was still separated on the West from Govindapur by jungle, where now the grassy level of the Maidan extends. The creek wandering inland past the southern wall of the burying ground divided Chowringhee-Govindapur from the Old Town – the township around the Old Fort. Until then Chowringhee had been a native portion of Dhee Calcutta and Bazar Calcutta.[23] There were “only a few miserable huts thatched with straw : a jungle, abandoned to water-fowl and alligators, covered the site of the present citadel and the course, which is now daily crowded at sunset with the gayest equipages of Calcutta”. [8]

The above 9 lithographs of William Wood’s paintings included in his album, Views of Calcutta.published in 1833. The elegant forms of the buildings of European Calcutta heralded an important stage in the history of architecture of the subcontinent: the evolution of Western styles into forms which would become commonplace in the Indian context. This building depicted shows what became the conventional pattern, a two or three storeyed block, well-proportioned and set in a garden, and with columned verandahs protecting its rooms from the heat. Courtesy British Library

Colonel Mark Wood in 1784 marked Chowringhee on the South of Park Street away from the original locale of the village Cherangi. A decade later, Upjohn put back the district of Chowringhee as Dhee Birje, on the North of Park Street. The boundaries were shown with Circular Road on the East, Park Street on the South, Colingah on the North and a part of Chowringhee Road on the West. [17] After half a century, Dufour and Benard in 1839 put Chowringhee on both the sides of Park Street spreading over Dhurumtollah to Theatre Road. [3] Bit by bit its boundaries extended from the village at North of Park Street, then called the Burying Ground Road, to cover the whole South-East part of Calcutta. In 1802 Lord Valentia writes : “Chowringhee, an entire village, runs for a considerable length at right angles with it (the Esplanade) and altogether forms the finest view I ever beheld in any city.” In 1810, Miss Graham found Calcutta ‘like London a small town of itself ‘, but its suburbs swell it to a prodigious city. [14] Chowringhee in 1824, is no more a mere scattered suburb, but almost as closely built as, and a very little less extensive than Calcutta. [23] , “separated from Calcutta by an ancient John bazaar [Jaun Bazaar]”.[16] Chowringhee, to Rev W K Firminger, was the  West End  of Calcutta, socially but not geographically,  a district bounded by Park Street on the North, Lower Circular Road on the East and South, and the Maidan on the West. [13]

The modern view ignores the historicity of Chowringhee. The row of buildings on Esplanade Row at the edge of Maidan becomes its Northern skirt. Its territory is nowadays more or less compatible with old Govindpore – a place no more exists.

Chowringhee Road View from No 11 Esplanade Row , across Dhurrumtollah Tank. Col. Lithograph. Artist: Sir Charles D’Oyly

Growing Chowringhee

A year before the construction of Govindpore Fort stared, there had been only a couple of European houses in Chowringhee. One at the corner of Dhurumtollah with entrance from that street, the other was at a little distance from it, with an entrance facing the Maidan. Most likely the first house was the General Stibbert’s House in the west end of the Dhurumtollah and in the vicinity of the Esplanade, where Mr. Farrell’ New Calcutta Academy moved in from Cossitolla Street as gazetted on 31st May 1804, much before the foundation of St Paul’s School, which was sometimes referred to as one of the two first houses in Chowringhee. The second one was indisputably the manor of Lord Vansittart at number 7 Middleton Row. It was better known as Sir Elijah Impey’s house where Impey happily stayed surrounded by an expansive deer park. In those days Maidan was ‘strangely treeless’, and Impey’s manor happened to be the foremost erection stood across it’s stretch. The site is now occupied by the Loreto Convent.

The number of houses continued to grow in isolation till 1770s. Between Jaun Bazar Road (or Corporation Street as called later), and Park Street, forty European residences, mostly with large compounds, are depicted in Upjohn’s Map. An equal number may be counted in Dhee Birjee – the quarter immediately south of Park Street. Even so late as 1824, Chowringhee was regarded as a suburb. Miss Eden calls it the Regent’s Park of Calcutta. Miss Emma Roberts spoke about suburb Chowringhee of 1831-33 – the favourite residence of the European community. From the roofs of their houses, they viewed “a strange, rich, and varied scene discloses itself: the river covered with innumerable vessels,— Fort William, and Government House, standing majestically at opposite angles of the plain,— the city of Calcutta, with its innumerable towers, spires, and pinnacles in the distance,— and nearer at hand, swamps and patches of unreclaimed jungle, showing how very lately the ground in the immediate neighbourhood of the capital of Bengal was an uncultivated waste, left to the wild beasts of the forest.” [25]

“In this part of the town,” notes Mr. Beverley in his census report for 1876, “ the streets are laid out with perfect regularity, very different from the rest of the town” – the town rising about the old Fort. [9] The report was contrary to what Miss Emma viewed over half a century ago and said, “No particular plan appears to have been followed in their erection, and the whole, excepting the range facing the great plain, Park-street, Free-School street, and one or two others, present a sort of confused labyrinth,”. and then she added ,”however, it is very far from displeasing to the eye; the number of trees, grass- plants, and flowering shrubs, occasioning a most agreeable diversity of objects.” [25] The difference between the observations of Miss Emma of Beverley evidenced the good works done in between by the Lottery Committee. “To them Calcutta is indebted for a long catalogue of improvements: and they may justly claim to be held in grateful remembrance as her second founders. Roads and paths were run across the Maidan and the familiar balustrades set up. Numerous tanks were excavated The New Market, which was built between 1871 and 1874, is another monument to the energy of the Justices which the ordinary citizen of Calcutta probably feels better able to appreciate. The grand success of the Lottery Committee encouraged the government to undertake further developmental programs under the management of the Fever Committee [9]

Chowringhee Redefined

An illustration is from a picture drawn by Captain F. J. Bellew, illustrating his book entitled, A Griffen, on Landing at Calcutta, 1818

Chauringi [sic]) is a place of quite modern erection, originated from the rage for country houses.”, At the beginning of 19th century the people of Calcutta, as of Bombay and Madras, loved to live in garden-houses midst trees and flowers. They preferred living away from the hot, unhealthy and already crowded Town of Calcutta, to a place ‘where they could enjoy some privacy’.[17] They admired the landscape of Chowringhee. Chowringhee premises themselves were often very extensive, the principal apartments looking out upon pretty gardens, decorated with that profusion of flowers which renders every part of Calcutta so blooming. [25] The surroundings were mostly open fields among which were scattered villages, with here and there a garden house, standing in wide grounds where roamed plenty of deer, water birds, particularly the adjutant birds, or the Indian stork with a pinkish-brown neck and bill, and a military gait seen walking around. Camels and mules were not uncommon sight on Chowringhee Road. Jackals roamed at night mischievously to undermine foundations of old houses, as they did so to the Free School’s old house that fell in 1854. In spite of such small inconveniences the ‘lordly Chowringhee stood ‘equal to the finest thoroughfare anywhere; and the blessed Maidan – that enormous lung responsible for all the health and happiness of the people of Calcutta’. [20]

The name ‘Chowringhee’ denotes a new found ‘comfort zone’ in the South of Town Calcutta for the Europeans who loved a trendy hassle-free life to lead in airy environs. Whenever their comfort-zone shifted its focus the habitat moved along revising its boundaries but keeping the name unchanged. The historical maps may well justify redefining ‘Chowringhee’ in terms of habitation socially and not geographically in terms of territorial location. Chowringhee like two other old localities, John Bazaar and Taltallah, ‘came adrift from their moorings and carried away by the surging tide of population beyond Dhurumtollah toward Bhowanipore.[18] Somewhat like a Gypsy camp, the community moved on southward leaving some cohabitants behind in lesser locations.

Chowringhee Stratified

Plan of Calcutta. 1784 & 1785. Credited to Colonel Mark Wood

Chowringhee, we may notice, is a cluster of residential blocks of distinctive characters, categorized by racial, religious, economic differences. Blanchard in his memoir mentions: “A house in the “City of Palaces” is very apt to look like a palace. But the comparison applies only to that portion of the town where dwell the Europeans of the higher ranks, the Civil and Military officers, and principal merchants of the place. These congregate for the most part in the Chowringhee road and the streets running there from, which make up the only neighbourhood where it is conventionally possible for a gentleman to reside.” [5] This description of Blanchart found inapplicable to the whole of Chowringhee, but to some exclusive neighbourhood like. Hastings Place, at the southern end of Chowringhee. The group of streets which commemorate the various titles of Lord Hastings and his wife, who was Countess of Loudoun in her own right, are also the work of the Lottery Committee, and were designed to afford access to the Panchkotee (92 Elliot Rd ?), or five mansions, which will be found surrounding Rawdon Street, Moira Street, Hungerford Street and Loudoun Street (as it should be properly spelt). [9] We are informed by different authors that while barristers had their houses in the neighbourhood of Supreme Court, the officials, medical men, and merchants, have their residences in Garden Reach, and the numerous streets contained in the district rejoicing in the general name of Chowringee [sic]. [16] All these points out to the practice of social ranking among the European residents in Chowringhee. Chowringhee was built by Europeans for residing there in European way life, surpassing the standard of living prevailed in their homeland. Montgomery Massey penned an intimate and lively picture of Chowringhee of relatively recent time covering half a century from 1870s. [20]

Social & Religious Reservations

Procession of the Churruckpooja in Chowringee. Coloured lithograph by Charles D’Oyly. 1848

For a long time Indians had no place in Chowringhee, excepting very few. We find in a late 18th century map three Rustomjees on Chowringhee Lane, Jamsedjee Ruttunjee on Lindsay Street. Chowringhee allowed these rich business men of Parsee community to stay with the sahibs rightfully. It took a hundred year for the native gentlemen to share the privilege liberally with the Europeans to settle in Chowringhee. Some of those privileged ones were: Kumar Arun Chundra Singha at house 1(?) Harrington Street, Sir Rajendranath Mookherji’s house on 7 Harrington Street, Sir B. C. Mitter’s 19 Camac Street, Raja Promotho Roy Chowdhury’s 9 Hungerford Street. The presence of native houses in Chowringhee before coming of Europeans may not be improbable. Rev. Long spoke of a ‘large house’ identical to Sir Elijah Impey’s, stood on the very spot, nearly half a century before Impey. That house as referred to in the ‘Plan of Calcutta’ of 1742 ‘cannot have been an English residence’ he continued, ‘and was possibly the property of a native official’. [17]

Chowringhee in its first two centuries had been exclusively a Christian colony. The two early Bengali converts, Rev. K. M. Banerjee, and Gunendra Mohun Tagore had houses in European quarter on Bullygunge Circular Road at premises numbers 1 and 2. We are never sure if Chowringhee would have welcomed these two native Christians as residents, if so they desired. It is interesting to note, however, that there was a Hindu, of European origin, living in posh Wood Street area. Hindu Stuart was more a conservative Hindu than many native Hindus were. The European residents had tolerated Stuart’s conformity to idolatrous customs. It shows that the Europeans had no problems with native faith as such, but to them the native way of living was utterly disgraceful and unhygienic. Besides their own experience, the reactions of the overseas visitors gathered from their memoirs and letters, reinforced European antipathy toward the way of living of the Calcutta people in general, and of the lower-class in particular. One of the serious objections they had against native citizens was ‘lack of sensitivity’ and indifference toward their own surroundings. They called the native town, a black town, as it was a ‘wretched-looking place – dirty, crowded, ill-built, and abounding with beggars and bad smells’ [30]. Beyond Black Towns, even the best neighbourhoods were not completely free of such menace. “The whole appearance of Chowringhee is spoiled by the filthy huts that exist everywhere, almost touching the ‘palaces’.” These eyesores are to be seen even in the ultra-fashionable Park Street and Middleton Street, and on the Maidan in front of Chowringhee. [12] It is a repulsive scene for civilized members of any society. The problems are often thought of economy oriented and related to lower-class of the society, overlooking their cultural significance.

Living Conditions and Style

The Black Towns also includes the upper-class genteel who lived in ‘handsome houses enclosed in court-yards between the mud huts, the small dingy brick tenements, and the mean dilapidated bazaars of the middling and lower classes of natives. These Armenian merchants, Parsees, and Bengallee gentlemen of great wealth and respectability’ did never mind their environment. [25] Interestingly, the lowly tribal folks of Bengal, like the santals, keep their homes and villages clean and beautiful. The underlined social malady is an issue of critical importance for investigating the root cause of stagnation of the vernacular society. The matter is beyond the scope of present discussion. Elsewhere we discussed related issues in historical context. See: Rajendra Dutta 1818-1889

 

Chowringhee Today & Tomorrow

Since 1754 Chowringhee revealed itself variantly in maps, paintings, and texts. It is almost impossible to separate Chowringhee from boundary areas, or to imagine a Chowringhee excluding North of Park Street, a Chowringhee without the old Hogg Market, the Museum, Bible House, The Grand, and Firpo’s, and the like – attractions of old and recent past. For Chowringhee goers, riding an Esplanade-bound tram across the green of Maidan was a special pleasure. Alighted at Esplanade they felt already in Chowringhee, and perceived the two as inseparable. To them and some modern scholars, Chowringhee and Esplanade denote the same place and are generally called by any of the two names irrespectively. The comprehensive view of modern Calcutta embraces the grand view of Maidan and on its opposite, shiny lines of shops, hotels, restaurants, cinema halls and range of magnificent edifices built mostly by the Armenian architects who were responsible more than others for upgrading Calcutta to the City of Palace. Minney in his time wondered “if all these mighty edifices will be abandoned some day by those for whom they were built. Will the Britons say to the Indians, “We built all this for ourselves, and for you; but we can no longer live together?” [20] And so it happened. Calcutta has been losing her Oriental identity for good. The little collective will the society had earned to resist the lure of westernization is being siphoned off in the process of misconceived globalization.

 

NOTES
The name of the rural Cherangi (চেরাঙ্গী) changed during its transformation into urbane Chowringhee (চৌরঙ্গী). The original vernacular name [26] acquired variant renditions with some twists to suit English tongues, and spelt out fancifully by writers of last three centuries. Among the good alternatives, ‘Chowringhee’ is found most popular in the works consulted. That is the only reason why I used ‘Chowringhee’ and some other place names in certain anglicized forms as standard.

REFERENCES
1. Anonymous. 1859. The East India Sketch-Book; Comprising an Account of the Present State of Society in Calcutta, Bombay, Etc. London: Bentley.
2. Bellew. 1880. Memoirs of a Griffin; Or, a Cadet’s First Year in India, by Captain Bellew. London: Allen. Retrieved (https://books.googleusercontent.com/books/content?req=AKW5QaeFDZ31SuKS9kDHiV6UQ99iWso9Gpe7upyHKD7uJymaDFKZOeWiERI3n2I2aX4TozdjSzDJP8KSMGKwxIp2QyYMijIkC9LDrZ5rrD8ee7utuIuTAt4mkqAM9uu-jq3vjAx2M3xYMFMxXW8OHNamEuOXWPDkU0yA-yq9EUwZPN8_ifFCoA2tHKD61OGFj9SPebPjy).
3. Benard, Dufour and. 1839. “Calcutta 1839: A French Map 1839_DufordandBernard.” Retrieved (http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00maplinks/colonial/calcuttamaps/rouard1839/rouard1839.html).
4. Bengal Almanac. 1851. BENGAL ALMANAC , With A Companion a N D Appendix. 1851st ed. Calcutta: Samuel Smith. Retrieved (https://books.google.co.in/books/about/The_Bengal_Almanac_for_1851.html?id=4UNBAAAAYAAJ&redir_esc=y).
5. Blanchard, Sidney Laman. 1867. Yesterday and Today in India. London: Allen. Retrieved (https://archive.org/stream/yesterdaytodayin00blan#page/n3/mode/2up).
6. Blechynden, Kathleen. 1905. Calcutta Past and Present. London: Thacker. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/calcuttapastand02blecgoog).
7. Candor, Josua. 1828. Modern Traveller: Popular Description, Geographical, Historical, and Topographical ; Vol.3 India. London: Duncan. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/moderntraveller05condgoog).
8. Carey, William. n.d. Good Old Days of Honorable John Company; vol.1.
9. Cotton, Evan. 1907. Calcutta Old and New: A Historical and Descriptive Handbook of the City. Calcutta: Newman. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/calcuttaoldandn00cottgoog).
10. Curzon,George Nathaniel, Marquis of Kedlesta. 1925. “British Government in India; vol.1.” Retrieved (https://books.google.co.in/books?id=t_qdnQAACAAJ&dq=british+government+of+India+curzon&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjtgteC2MnXAhVEqI8KHe-DBeoQ6wEILTAB).
11. Deb, Binaya Krishna. 1905. The Early History and Growth of Calcutta. Calcutta: RC Ghose. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/earlyhistoryand00debgoog).
12. Dewar, Douglas. 1922. Bygone Days in India; with 18 Illustrations. London: John Lane. Retrieved (https://archive.org/stream/bygonedaysinindi00dewauoft#page/n15/mode/2up).
13. Firminger, W. K. 1906. Thacker’s Guide to Calcutta. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink. Retrieved (https://archive.org/stream/thackersguidetoc00firm#page/n7/mode/2up/search/’socially+but+not+geographically).
14. Graham, Maria. 1813. Journal of a Resdence in India. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Costable. Retrieved (https://archive.org/stream/journalaresiden00callgoog#p age/n6/mode/2up).
15. Hamilton, Alexander. 1727. A New Account of the East Indies; Being the Observations and Remarks of Capt. Alexander Hamilton from 1688-1723. Vol.1. Edinburgh: John Mosman [print]. Retrieved (https://books.googleusercontent.com/books/content?req=AKW5QacjxhiAm8rzif8UIk9TDXspCahRSpGTJAm4B4cNBUSur1ofIcI-zAg5Za6SGU0KEoBJJ0rawcvPDm3vIiVfY_AZMXqlsbCB7DFd_Q2mmMeTe-lppWWArhBGhJyND193wpzwke4Pr80-cyeInTGT6QK0EtQ5684QSuXLM8N5EGEHC5kHd6fucZw-MT5827LyRLvNA).
16. James, Edward. 1830. Brief Memoirs of John Thomas James, D.D: Lord Bishop of Calcutta. London: Hatchhard. Retrieved (https://archive.org/stream/briefmemoirsofla00jamerich#page/n5/mode/2up/search/ancient).
17. Johnson, George W. 1843. The Stranger in India; Or, Three Years in Calcutta. Vol. 1(2). London: Henry Colburn. Retrieved (https://archive.org/stream/strangerinindia00johngoog#page/n46/mode/2up).
18. Long, Rev.James. 1852. Calcutta in the Olden Time – Its Localities. Art.2 – Map of Calcutta. Retrieved (https://books.google.co.in/books?id=cQc2AAAAMAAJ&pg=PA275&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false).
19. Mark Wood. 1792. “Plan of Calcutta: 1874-1875.” Retrieved (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/Kolkata_Old_Map.jpg).
20. Massey, Montague. 1918. Recollections of Calcutta for Over Halh a Century. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink. Retrieved (https://www.google.co.in/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjRr_WylsPXAhUDV7wKHTWJAXcQFggxMAI&url=https%3A%2F%2Farchive.org%2Fdetails%2Frecollectionsofc00massiala&usg=AOvVaw3uvydXqyjqB3xbkOOZe4jp).
21. Minney, R. J. 1922. Round about Calcutta. London: Oxford U P. Retrieved (https://archive.org/stream/roundaboutcalcut00minnrich#page/n5/mode/2up).
22. Monkland. 1828. Life in India, or the English at Calcutta; vol.2.
23. Montefiore, Arthur. 1894. Reginald Heber: Bishop of Calcutta, Scholar and Evangelist. New York: Revell. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/reginaldheberbis00bric).
24. Ray, A. K. 1902. Calcutta: Town and Suburbs; Pt.1 A Short History of Calcutta. Calcutta: Bengal Secretariat. Retrieved (https://books.google.co.in/books?id=-Lo5AQAAMAAJ&q=calcutta+town+and+suburbs+ak+Ray&dq=calcutta+town+and+suburbs+ak+Ray&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjDnrz11MnXAhUCN48KHdgEDQUQ6AEIJzAA).
25. Roberts, Emma. 1843. “Memoirs of Emma Roberts. In Memoirs of Literary Ladies of England; Ed. by Mrs Elwood; vol.2.” in Oxford University, vol. 2. London: Colburn. Retrieved (https://books.google.co.in/books?id=ROsQAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA333&lpg=PA333&dq=memoirs+of+emma+robert&source=bl&ots=c_ubDSyGKS&sig=PW6CgPPZ3uZuZq0Ev71kl_Ll7vU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiI5PPQ0cjXAhXHto8KHTQ7DFQ4ChDoAQgmMAA#v=onepage&q=memoirs of emma robert&f=false).
26. Thacker, Spink. 1776. “Alphabetical List of the Streets in Calcutta, Howrah, and the Suburbs.” Calcutta: Thacker, Spink.
27. Wilson, Charles R. 1895. The Early Annals of the English in Bengal; Summarised, Extracted, and Edited with Introductions and Illustrative Addenda; Vol.1. London, Calcutta: Thacker. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/earlyannalsofeng01wilsuoft).

Fort-City Calcutta, A Faded Legacy

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

 

দুর্গ-নগর কলকাতা : ১৭০০-১৭৫৬

 

FOREWORD

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

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

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

BACKDROP

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

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

THE BEGINNING

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

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

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

THE OLD FORT LOCALE

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

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

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

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

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

WHITE-TOWN BLACK-TOWN

Old Court House Street. Thomas Daniell

European Buildings at Calcutta. Etching by François Balthazar Solvyns

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Market Place for Nationalities and Races. Frans Balthazar Solvyns c1790s

]

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

 

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

FENCED-CITY

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

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

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

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

 

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

CALCUTTA UNBOUND

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

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

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

Half-sisters. Painted by Johann Zoffany

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

BLEND OF WHITE & BLACK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END NOTE

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

 

 

REFERENCE

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