FINDING DHURRUMTOLLAH

Calcutta. a steel engraving. 1839. Source: Meyer’s Universalism 1850.

ধর্মতলা সন্ধানে


DHURRUMTOLLAH STREET Away From Durrumtollah

Dhurrumtollah Street, nicknamed ‘Dhurrumtollah ka Rasta’, is an approach road to Dhurrumtollah – a vaguely indicated locality north of village Chowringhee that anonymously spreads over the marshy terrain known as Colinga at one time. None of the old maps of Calcutta specifies the place of Dhurrumtollah, though the Dhurrumtollah Street invariably shows up in its place since Mark Wood’s map of 1784-85.
The Dhurrumtollah Street came up in around 1762, so did Jaun Bazar Road (later ‘Street’), both running eastward leaving Dingabhanga in between [Mark Wood, 1784]. Originally it was a causeway raised by deepening the ditch on either side of a land then owned by Jafer, a zamadar in the employ of Warren Hastings.”[Cotton]

COLINGA

Topography
It was the time when the English territory south of Town Calcutta was partly jungle, an extension of Sunderban, where Hastings said to have had the pleasure of tiger hunting.
Before coming of the English, Calcutta topography had been much simpler as Barrel’s 16th Century Bengal map reveals. The vast surrounding area, where the English later founded their first zamindari, looked like populated by only three distant villages – Chitpore, Kolikata, and Kalighat, connected by an unnamed jungle path. The 1680 map ‘Calcutta before the English’ adds few more names pointing to Sutanuti, Govindpore, Chowringhee, and also the Creek, and Jannagar at the eastern end.

Bengal. 1550. River: From Hughli to Sea; according to Joao de Barrel and the Bengali poets. Source: Wilson.Annals.v.1

The landscape in the vicinity of the Creek was then viewed as an extension of village Chowringhee – unworthy of any distinction. 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 within its boundary. The two villages, Colinga, and Jala Colinga, however, were already enlisted in 1717, as ‘Colimba’ and ‘Jola Colimba’, among the 38 villages the English Company was permitted by the Emperor to buy. [Ray]
Talpooker was not in the buying list of villages. In Upjohn’s Mark Wood’s maps Talpooker was prominently placed and it still exists as Taltola, an old quarter of metropolis, bearing one of the most common rural-names in Bengal, featuring habitations centered on ponds bordered with palm trees.
Jala Colinga is better known by its sobriquet ‘Dinga-bhanga’, which originated after the great 1737 cyclone that wrecked a dinga, i.e. large boat, on swampy shoreline of the Creek – the vanished man-made canal for carrying cargo boats from Chandpal Ghat toward Beliaghata at the east end. [Blochmann]

Calcutta before the English 1680

The Creek was also referred to in Company documents as Calcutta khal. The vast territory extending from Calcutta Khal to the Tolly’s Nullah, covering the whole of the maidan spread a jungle tract of heavy undergrowth and giant trees. “This jungle was intersected by numerous creeks and watercourses, where the muddy yellow waters of the Hughly swept in with the rising tide, or ebbed with the drainage of the surrounding rain-drenched country”. The old bed of the Creek remained, long after the closing of its connection with the river had deprived it of its stream, and turned it into a ditch. [Blechynden]
We normally accept unquestioningly whatever presented in a historical map, while the opposite may not be true in all cases. Whatever not presented, cannot be read as non-existent for sure since the possibility of their being existed namelessly can never be overruled without verifying the circumstantial evidences. Colinga is one of such cases. With all its parts: Talpooker and Jala Colinga appear separately in the list of 19 mauzas, and Dhee Calcutta, composed during 1767-1857.

 

Colinga and the newly enlisted villages were not expected to come up suddenly out of nothing. Normally, it takes ages for a geographic entity to acquire a name of its own, unlike the modern way of deciding street names on board meetings, as did the English Company in 1792. For a prolong period, when it remained essentially a part of village Chowringhee, Colinga had been a thinly populated uncultivated landscape occupying north-east segments with Dingabhanga and Talpooker on the peripheries.

 

Etemology
The name Colinga, assigned in Upjohn’s and Mark Wood’s maps, is a derived form of a rare Bengali word কলিম্বা (Colimba), has multiple meanings. It poses a serious challenge for us to distinguish between the etymological and the popular sense of the word in current context. Vernacular lexicon shows 25 different sets of meanings, of which the followings are found plausible attributes contributing to the naming of the village Colimba (কলিম্বা), or Colinga:
(1) Trees: পাকুড় (Ficus religiosa, sacred fig) / শিরিষ (Lebbek Tree)/ কামরাঙ্গা (carambola) / তরমূজ (water melon) (2) Terrain: marshland (হাজা। “হাজালে কলিঙ্গ দেশ”) (3) People: Kol tribe, worshiper of Bonga (বঙ্গা) [Jnanendramohan]
On the basis of such semantic interpretations we may imagine how Colinga might have been before the increasing homesteads changed its ecology. Colinga and its surrounds, by lexical interpretation, apparently looked like a jungle of Sirish শিরিষ and Pakurh পাকুড় trees and a marshland (at Jala Colinga) with abundance of kamranga কামরাঙ্গা vegetation; lived by Kol কোল and such tribal folks.

The Banks of the Hooghly River, Calcutta, Source: The Graphic, v.24, no 646, Ap.15, 1882

Ecology
The soil of Calcutta, marshy and damp, has always been displeasing, particularly in the rainy season, and more so because of proximity of the river and a widespread lake – about 3 to 4 miles long and in no part above 18 inches deep, frequented by innumerable flocks of wild geese, duck, teals, etc. The site of Colinga was the nearest to that lake [Chattopadhyaya]

Colinga happened to be the last of the “typical swamp-type of vegetation including mangroves throve in and around Calcutta” for about 3000 years, as experts find. Perhaps, with the rise of land as a result of continued river silting and increased population the forest has since migrated southwards giving rise to the swampy forest of the present day Sunderbans. [Biswas]

Biodiversity

Since prehistoric eras the birds and animals travel Gangetic Bengal, migrate and settle colonies enriching natural resources contributing to improve quality of the soil and its landscape. As we all know, birds transport seeds and twigs from far and near across lands and oceans to germinate new variety of plant life, and they do it selectively by the atmospheric condition of a terrain. The birds living in and around Calcutta, and those visiting seasonally during last two centuries, have been systematically recorded by birdwatchers. Frank Finn is one of them. His Birds of Calcutta is more relevant to our theme than elaborated work, Pet Birds of Bengal [Law]. We find 24 species of birds, all familiar to us but some like Paddy-bird – once so prevalent in the City of Palace, gone out of sight for good. Those are:

House Crow পাতি কাক, Oriental Magpie Robin দোয়েল, Seven Sisters ছাতারে, Bulbul বুলবুল, King-Crow দাঁড় কাক, Common Tailorbird টুনটুনি, Oriole, বেনে বউ common? Mynah ভাত শালিক, Dhtalধুলাল, Sparrow চড়াই, Honey-Sucker মৌটুসি, Woodpecker কাঠঠোকরা, Coppersmith Barbet বসন্তবাউরি, Blue-Jay নীলকণ্ঠ, Kingfisher মাছরাঙ্গা, Swift বাতাসি, Koel কোয়েল, Parrot তোতা Owl প্যাঁচা, Vulture শকুন, Kite চিল, Dove ঘুঘু, Gull গাং চিল, Paddy-Bird ধান পাখি।

A cursory glance through the list may suggest that not all the species were fit for habitation in early Colinga environ. Flocks arrive at in stages with different compositions, adaptable for the ecological diversity, to contribute in transforming Colinga landscape from a marshland to cultivable woodland, orchard and paddy-field. There were no woodpeckers, honey-suckers at the beginning but gulls, kingfishers, snipes and the like. [Finn]

Route dans le Bangale. c1791-1823. Artist: François Balthasar Solvyns.

The landscape of Colinga before mid-18th century, so far we see, was much dissimilar to woody Govindpore, Birji and Chowinhee villages. Colinga remained a vast inhabitable wetland for centuries, infested with insects and aquatic creatures including water-birds. Initially, a number of coarse weeds began to invade the territory and a variety of thorny shrubs and other plants, not attractive to grazing animals advanced slowly, their seedlings sheltered by the weeds until large enough to escape the trampling. Eventually a thicket of small trees and shrubs appeared, of which, the commonest constituents should have been the thorny beri কুল, benchi বৈঁচি,and their near relative dumar ডুমুর,- a quick-growing, shrubby plant with coarse hairy leaves, also arrived early on the scene.

Finally appear the large trees – the lofty palms তাল raise their crowns of fan-shaped leaves, mangoes আম, tamarind তেঁতুল and the lighter green of a neem নীম amidst them can probably be seen, and in the cold season – the naked branches of a simul শিমুল, or the spreading crown of a siris শিরিষ covered with yellowish pods stands out conspicuously from the green around them. There were some 69 trees only that Benthall considered naturalized in the neighbourhood of Calcutta, 41 were thought to be truly indigenous, 20 are natives of other parts of India, 6 originated in America, and 1 each in Africa and Malaya. On the other hand several plants, which seem to have been fairly common even in 19th century Calcutta have become scarce or lost forever, like Croton Tiglium Linn জায়ফল. [Benthall]

Benthall writes in early 20th century, “Not much more than a hundred years ago the wild rhinoceros roared near Alipore, and panthers were often hunted in what is now part of the city of Calcutta. In those days jungle must have stretched from the Sunderban to the edge of the city … Around Calcutta the country consists of treeless swamp and lake, and broad expanses of paddy-fields, interspersed with roads and paths and villages.” In such country, Benthall maintains, waste land suitable for the growth of trees and shrubs is scarce, but here and there patches may be found which for some reason or other are neither cultivated nor planted with useful trees. [Benthall]

Banyan Tree. Artist: Unidentified. Source: Journal of Residence In India By Maria Graham. 1813

Colinga was certainly one such place of marshy land that remained till recent time uncultivated, in an atmosphere totally different from the then Kalighat, Govindpore, Calcutta areas. It was then wild marshy woodland lived by tribal in hutments making minimal anthropogenic hazards barring the manmade canal created for navigation by the early village dwellers. The scenario discourages us to believe of a presence of grand shrine revered by people of all faiths as a holly place. If at all any such generally acceptable shrine erected as a place of dharma (ধর্ম), it must have been created long after, but not later than, 1764 when ‘Dhurrumtollah ka Rasta’ was rolled over a muddy beaten track that supposed to lead to the holy place.

Modern Scenario
The reconstructed view of the expansive area of Colinga, earlier a part of the forested Chowringhee for about three centuries, may prove to be a rude contrast of what we see in the colonial paintings and photographs documented by the contemporary artists and lens men. Upjohn’s 1793 map gives an idea of the expansion by marking the site of Colinga Bazar Street, and of the Colinga Tank. Colinga Bazar Street stood at the south of Jaunbazar Street, and Colinga Tank, later Monohur Doss Tank, was shown on Maidan opposite the house of Messers Stone and Hoffmann. In Bailie’s map of 1792 Chowringhee contains 45 houses and plenty of paddy-fields. Europeans have moved eastwards and southwards to Bow Bazar Street and Circular Road, while Taltola, Colinga, and Fenwick Bazar are inhabited by native Indians. [Ray] During the end of the 18th century, Europeans came to stay here. The Bengal Gazette editor, James Augustus Hickey, Justice Le Maitre resided in this neighborhood. Since mid-19th century the Colinga Street became an infamous locality of European and Eurasian harlots.
In a Calcutta Municipal Corporation meeting of 17 July 1912, the previous name ‘Collingabazar Street’ was changed into ‘Collin Street’. By dropping the last two letters from its name,‘Collinga’, a variant of ‘Colinga’, turned into ‘Collin’, which the commissioners found necessary to make the Street sound more respectable and attractive to the prospective buyers of lands and houses. Following the decision, not the street alone but everything else known by its name got changed. Colinga was erased from Calcutta map and collective mind of the people, leaving Dhurrumtollah homeless, faceless unidentified geographic entity.

View of Circular Road, Calcutta. Artist: Edward Augustus Prinsep. 1848

There is perhaps another way of finding Dhurrumtollah by applying our mind more toward human elements than to the physical elements of issues. So far we attempted to understand the natural condition of the venue, now let us question how the human folks lived there when Colinga became habitable. We knew that on the plains of Bengal, two trees, peepul(অশ্বথ) and banyan(বট) tend to dominate all others, and Colinga might not be an exception. We may question now why the two are called sacred fig-trees, and try to examine how far Bentham was correct when he said, “Both these trees are venerated by the Hindus and are often planted for religious reasons near houses and temples and in villages. Beneath their branches may be seen little shrines marked by the presence of rounded stones, and sometimes small temples are erected in their shade” (my emphasis). [Benthal]

Endnote
The scenario reminds us of the beaten jungle path of pre-colonial days leading to a widely acknowledged dhurrumtollah, or ‘divine place’, where worshipers arrive from distant villages taking the eastward route that the present Dhurrumtollah Street follows. This street may not lead to a locality ‘Dhurrumtollah’ as the Chowringhee Road and Jaunbazar Street did – one to locality Chowringhee, the other to Jannagar. Instead, it can be in all probability a sacred location and not a locality. Before exploring new directions, it is important to settle a few questions bothering our focus. Should this dhurrumtollah necessarily be an outstanding devotional edifice like temple, mosque or a church? If yes, its location must have been somewhere off the street and not on the street or its sides. Secondly, how far realistically we can think of such an architecture erected before 1764 – the year Dhurrumtollah Street constructed?
I would like to take up these questions in my next post: THE HOLLY STREET DHURRUMTOLLAH

REFERENCE

Books

  1. Bagchi, P.C. 1938. The Second City of the Empire. Calcutta: Indian Science Congress Assoc.
  2. Benthall, A. P. 1933. Tree’s of Calcutta and Its Neighbourhood. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/TheTreesOfCalcutta).
  3. Biswas, Oneil. 1992. Calmtta and Calcuttans From Dihi to Megalopolis. Calcutta: Firma KL. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.149376).
  4. Blochmann,H. 1978 ‘Calcutta during the Last Century’ in Alok Ray edt. ‘Calcutta Keepsake’, Calcutta: Rddhi-lndia. (https://www.amazon.com/marsh-township-east-Calcutta-Department/dp/8170740738)
  5. Cotton, Evan. 1907. Calcutta, Old and New: A Historical and Descriptive Handbook to the City. Calcutta: Newman. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/calcuttaoldandn00cottgoog).
  6. Chattopadhyaya, Haraprasad. 1990. From marsh to township east of Calcutta: A tale of Salt Water Lake and Salt Lake Township. (Department of History, University of Calcutta, monograph) (https://www.amazon.com/marsh-township-east-Calcutta-Department/dp/8170740738)
  7. Frank Finn. 1904. Birds of Calcutta. 2nd ed. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/birdsofcalcutta00finnrich).
  8. Kathleen Blechynden. 1905. Calcutta: Past and Present. London: Thacker. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/calcuttapastand02blecgoog).
  9. Law, Satya Churn. 1923. Pet Birds of Bengal; v.1. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/petbirdsofbengal00laws).
  10. 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).
  11. 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).
  12. জ্ঞানেন্দ্রমোহন দাস. n.d. বাংলাভাষার অভিধান. Retrieved (https://archive.org/details/bub_man_c3ef006702a4d6c876970cc35b669346).

Maps and Plans

  1. Bengal. 1550. River: From Hughli to Sea in the 16th century;  according to Joao de Barrel and the Bengali poets. [Reprinted See:  Wilson.  page 129]
  2. Calcutta. 1680.  Calcutta before the English [map] [Reprinted See:  Wilson. page 126]
  3. Calcutta. 1792 & 1793.  Map of  Calcutta and its environs;  by A Upjohn (http://www.museumsofindia.gov.in/repository/record/vmh_kol-R565-C1737-2914)
  4. Calcutta. 1792-93 Map of  Calcutta and its environs From the accurate survey taken in the year 1792 & 1793 by A Upjohnhttp://www.museumsofindia.gov.in/repository/record/vmh_kol-R565-C1737-2914
    Calcutta. 1793. Plan of Calcutta; reduced by permission of the Commissioners of Police from the original one executed for them by Lietn Colonel Mark Wood of 1784-1785. Published in October 1792 by William Baillie. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/Kolkata_Old_Map.jpg
  5. Calcutta. 1847-49. Map of Calcutta from actual survey. Contributors: Simms, Thillier, and Smyth. London: Chapman, 1858 (https://www.loc.gov/resource/g7654c.ct001429/?r=0.604,0.19,0.07,0.03,0)

 

 

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Fort-City Calcutta, A Faded Legacy

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

 

দুর্গ-নগর কলকাতা : ১৭০০-১৭৫৬

 

FOREWORD

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

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

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

BACKDROP

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

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

THE BEGINNING

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

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

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

THE OLD FORT LOCALE

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

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

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

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

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

WHITE-TOWN BLACK-TOWN

Old Court House Street. Thomas Daniell

European Buildings at Calcutta. Etching by François Balthazar Solvyns

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Market Place for Nationalities and Races. Frans Balthazar Solvyns c1790s

]

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

 

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

FENCED-CITY

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

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

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

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

 

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

CALCUTTA UNBOUND

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

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

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

Half-sisters. Painted by Johann Zoffany

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

BLEND OF WHITE & BLACK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END NOTE

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

 

 

REFERENCE

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

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

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

পুরনো কেল্লা ফোর্ট উইলিয়মঃ দুর্গেশনন্দিনী নগর কোলকাতা

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

 

BACKGROUND

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

LOCATION

Fort location in Calcutta 1757 map

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

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

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

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

 

CONSTRUCTION

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

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

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

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

 

APRAISAL

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

 

REFERENCE

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

 

 

 

Barrackpore House & Its English Park: 1803-1912

government-house-barrackpore-from-the-south_bourne-1865

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

রাজভবন লাটবাগান

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

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

bungalow-in-the-park-barrackpore_ed1

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

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

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

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

aviary-in-barrackpore-park_fiebie1851s

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

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

BARRACKPORE
…….

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

[*Tom Raw, the Griffin. 1824]

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

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

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

Government House Walk. Photographer: Bourne, Samuel. c1865

Government House Walk. Photographer: Bourne, Samuel. c1865


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

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

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

II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bear Garden. Photographer: Fiebig, Frederick. 1851

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

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

elephants-stable-at-barrackpore

Elephant Stable. Barrackpore Details not known. Courtesy: Alamy

barrackpore-park_giraff_fiebie1851

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A view of Serampore Artist: Fraser, James Baillie 1826

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

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

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

REFERENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barrackpore : Story of a Little Calcutta

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

ব্যারাকপুর – কলকাতার অদূরে ‘ছোট কলকাতা’

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

by Ozias Humphry, pencil, chalk and watercolour, 1783

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

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

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

barrackpore-bridge_fiebig1851

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

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

 

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

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

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

maria_callcott_by_thomaslawrence

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

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

RIVER-SIDE

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

barrackpore-ghaut_fiebig_1851

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

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

THE PARK

conservatory-barrackpore-park-_fiebie1851

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

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

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

 

MENAGERIE

Menagerie at Barrackpore

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

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

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

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

GAITIES

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

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

cheetah-chasing-a-deer-with-huntsmen_doyly1802

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

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

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

hindoo-pagodas-hunt1824

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

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

Bodies of the Dead

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

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

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

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

 

Ramdulal Dey: The Millionaire Bengal Merchant, 1752-1825

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

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

 

রামদুলাল দে, ১৭৫২-১৮২৫

Backdrop

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

Early Life

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

ramdoolaldesarkar

Ramdulal De

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

diamondharbour_cargoships

Diamond Harbour Cargo Ships      Courtesy: Alamy

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

Banian of American Merchants

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

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

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

 

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

Salem_shipping_waterfront -colonial_color

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

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

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

RajenDutt_andOthrs_Claymodel

Calcutta Banians (clay models) Courtesy: Peabody Museum

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

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

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

PHILADELPHIA
Messrs. Grant & Stone.

SALEM
Pickering Dodge, W. London

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

MARVELHEAD.
J. Hooper

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

eastindiamarinehall

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

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

Rags to Riches

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

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

End of Journey

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

 

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

 

 

The First English Settlers: Sutanuti Sahibs, 1690 – 1706

View of Calcutta from Hooghly River by William Hodges. c1789

View of Calcutta from Hooghly River by William Hodges. c1789

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

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

bazar india

Cloth merchant measuring cloth. Artist Unknown. 1820

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

Black (Gentoo) Pagoda, Chitpore-Daniel

Gentoo Pagoda and House – Thomas Daniel. c 1787

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

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

Circular Road Calcutta, by Edward Prinsep. 1848

Procession of the Goddess Kali - Calcutta October 1841

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

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

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

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

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

Chitpore Road Calcutta, by Simpson William. 1867

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

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

EsplanadeRow-River-CouncilHouse-x

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

 

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

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

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

Job_Charnock_founding_Calcutta,_1690-2

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

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

 

SOURCEBOOKS

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

 

Writers’ Buildings, Tank Square, Calcutta, 1780

Writers'-Buildings1885

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

WritersBuildings_Danniel_1786

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

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

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

-daniell

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

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

writers'Buildings_Frase1826

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

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

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

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

writers1851

Writer’ Buildings, 1851. Fiebig, Frederick Photographic print

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

writersBuildings1978

Writers’ Buildings, 1878 Photographer: Unknown Photographic print

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

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

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

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

Outram Institute, Dum Dum, Calcutta, c1860

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

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

JamesOutram4x4

Lt. General James Outram

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

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

Outram_statue_unveiling

Unveiling of Statue of Outram on Horseback. 1874

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

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

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

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

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

Revised: 13 May 2015

Cowrie Currency and Calcutta’s Money Market

(c) British Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation কলকাতার পোদ্দারি কারবার , টাকা-কড়ির বিনিময়

By 1756 Calcutta had reached such a stage of industrial progress, that its trade is stated to have exceeded one million sterling yearly, and that some fifty vessels or more annually visited its port. To conduct business with Indian producers it became vital for the Company to have interpreters, brokers and other native agencies. The brokers, like the Setts and Basaks, were weavers by caste. The Setts controlled the broker’s office in Calcutta until the end of the dandi system in 1753. By the beginning of the 19th century they had become Shroffs. The shroffs were essentially money-exchangers whose main business was to test the purity of coins and exchange coins. They also exchanged bullion for currencies, and vice-versa. In wider sense, the shroffs, or saraffs, were moneylenders and bankers, who accepted deposits and transferred funds from one place to another by means of hundis, that included bills of exchange and promissory notes.

Merchants-of-calcutta--1887

Marwaris

The banking house of Jagat Seths played the most significant role in Bengal’s monetary economy in pre-colonial to early-colonial period. Jagat Seth, besides the enormous assets accumulated in his house, had enough control over the mint at Murshidabad to make use of its resources for meeting the demands of the credit-hungry European Companies.Their control over the urban money market in Bengal was so profound that no money merchant or bullion dealer dared offer a higher price than Seths did. The grand success of the house of Jagat Seths was largely because of the business climate sustained in that time in which money-changing and banking activities flourished vigorously, and naturally produced numerous sarrafs and bankers of lesser fame. Sarrafs dealing in rupee coin generally operated at urban commercial centres, where various types of rupee coins came for circulation and were exchanged with one another.

Money-changer 1920

In Bengal, however, low-value exchanges were dominated by the cowrie currency, and there was hardly any copper coin in circulation in the 17th-18th centuries. Copper Mint began operation in Calcutta in April 1865, and it provided all copper and bronze coins for India from 1889 until 1923. It is understood that there were many wealthy sarrafs qua sarrafs operated in urban Bengal who dealt in rupees and sometimes in gold coins. But there were a section of sarrafs operated in the rural markets – in haats and bazaars. They were called potdars – a term referred to in Chandimangal, the Bengali poetic work written in the second half of the 16th century. Potdars, as the book defined, were professionals engaged in exchanging gold, silver coin, and cowrie. More substantial cowrie dealing sarrafs got their stocks from domestic merchants who used to sell goods to cowrie-importing traders. Agents of big merchants and European companies needed cowries for procurement of goods, and they managed to receive these shells from the saraffs. There are another class of cowrie-dealing sarrafs, who operated at the lower-end of money-changing business and dealt with small rural vendors. In the early part of the day, the vendors took cowrie from them in exchange, and in the afternoon, bring back their cowrie and go away with the rupees. In the International sphere, a commodity currency that could not be clipped or fabricated, serverd at least partly, as a medium of exchange. In West Africa there was widespread circulation of cowrie. In some important European cities, like London, Lisben, Humbourgh, Amsterdam developed strong cowrie markets in the 17th and 18th centuries, and their chief supplier was Dutch East India Company. Overtime, the Dutch wrested control of the European cowrie trade from the Portuguese. Before the Mughals, cowries were exchanged with silver coins of the Afgan era. Mughals were not in mood to disturb the tradition of cowrie usage.

Money-changer-Hindu-1859

Hindu money-changer. 1859

We came to know from Chandimangal, a late 16th century work, the units of counting cowries, were One ganda = 4 pieces One pan = 80 pieces One kahan = 1,280 pieces The rates varied under changing conditions of demand and supply. When a particular currency became scarce, its price in terms of other currencies went up. As reported by C.R. Wilson, the quoted price of a silver rupee in cowrie at the Fort William was 2560 in 1703. Again by a proclamation dated 10th October, 1804, the collectors were asked to accept revenue in sicca rupees, failing that , in cowries, the rate of exchange being 4 kahans and 12 pans or 5240 pieces for one Calcutta sicca rupees. ‘The widespread circulation of cowrie represented a dualistic monetary structure in Bengal. … The decline of cowrie took place in a phase of vigorous empire-building launched by the colonizing state’. See for more

The picture featured above: John Mowbray, Calcutta merchant, seated at a desk piled with account books, attended by a banian or money agent and messenger. Oil on canvas by Thomas Hickey. Originally published/produced in c.1790.