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

 

 

 

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Rajendra Dutt 1818-1889

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

রাজেন্দ্র দত্ত ১৮১৮-১৮৮৯

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

Dutta Family of Wellington

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

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

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

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

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

familyTree_AkrurDutt

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

Upbringing

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

Maritime Merchant

Indiaman owned by Dudley Leavitt Pickman and partners_orgnl

Friendship of Salem owned by Dudley Leavitt Pickman and partners

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

RajenDutt_Partner_Dudley_Leavitt_PickmanRev

Dudley Leavitt Pickman Partner of Rajendra Dutt

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

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

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

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

Charles Eliot Norton, by Samuel Worcester Rowse

Charles Eliot Norton, by Samuel Worcester Rowse

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

Philanthropy

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

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

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

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

Savitri Library

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

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

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

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

A Tragic Hero of Bengal Renaissance

rajedraDutta

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

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

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

This is an input for inspiring research

Calcutta Peoples, 1876-1901

India'sMostKnownHindoosthan - Solvyn
কলকাতার লোকজন, ১৮৭৬-১৯০১
Calcutta was purchased by the English in 1698, and declared a Presidency Town of the East India Company in 1699. A long time after, following the treaties made in 1765 between the East India Company and the Mughal Emperor and Nawab of Oudh the Bengal Presidency turned into an administrative unit that brought Bengal, Meghalaya, Bihar and Odisha under direct control of the Company.
The characteristics of the Presidency town, its demographic pattern and behavior have been fast changing ever since. Researchers find that the early estimates of the population were partial and untrustworthy. The Calcutta population, estimated by Holwell at 409,000 in 1752, appeared to be ‘very far too high’, and arrived at also by including some outlying villages, beyond the Maharatta Ditch. It also conflicts with the contemporary statistics of Calcutta houses, which was still less than 15,000.

HinduBuildings-Solvyn

Hindu Buildings

It was not before 1876 that a complete Census was taken. The population then enumerated for the whole area of modern Calcutta was 611,784, which grew to 612,307 in 1881, to 682,305 in 1891, and to 847,796 in 1901. On the last two occasions the increases have amounted to 11 and 24 per cent, respectively. The city was seriously overcrowded by European standards,; more than half the population have less than half a room per head and 90 percent, have three-quarters of a room or less. In Burrah Bazar no less than 9,531 persons out of 31,574 are crowded four or more into each room.
In 1901 the mean density was 41 persons per acre for the whole city, and 68 in Calcutta proper. The wards in the centre of the native commercial quarter were the most crowded ward is Colootolla with 261 persons to the acre, followed by Jorasanko (202), Jorabagan (201), and Moocheepara (199). Whereas, in the southern part, the suburbs of Alipore and Ballygunge were of lowest density. The greatest increase in population during the previous decade has occurred in the wards already most populous in 1891.
It can be noticed that young Calcutta with its broad-based multi-ethnic character was destined to be a cosmopolitan city. Only a third of the population of Calcutta in 1901 had been born there, and the rest in other parts of Bengal and one-seventh in other parts of India. The number of persons born in other countries in Asia is 2,973, in Europe 6,701, in Africa 96, in America 175, in Australia 80, and at sea 9. In the whole population there are only half as many women as men. This is due to the large number of immigrants, among whom there are only 279 females to 1,000 males.
Of the number born in other parts of Bengal, the Twenty-four Parganas supplies nearly one-fifth, and large numbers come from Hooghly, Gaya, Patna, Midnapore, and Cuttack. Of those from other parts of British India, the majority are admitted from the United Provinces, chiefly from Benares, Azamgarh, Ghazlpur, and Jaunpur. Of other Asiatics, the Chinese, who congregate in China Bazar and the Bow Bazar and Waterloo Street sections, account for 1,709, of whom only 141 are females. Of those born in Europe, 5,750 are British and 951 come from other countries, France (176), Germany (168), and Austria (108) alone having more than 100 representatives.

EuropeanBuildings-Solvyn

European Buildings

No less than 57 different languages are spoken by people living in Calcutta, of which 41 are Asiatic and 16 non-Asiatic. The Bengali-speaking population numbers 435,000 and the Hindi-speaking 319,000. About 31,000? persons speak Oriya, 29,000 English, and 24,000 Urdu.
By religion 65 per cent are Hindus, 29-4 per cent, Muhammadans, and 4 per cent. Christians, leaving only about 1 per cent, for all other religions combined including 2,903 Buddhists, 1,889 Jews, and 1,799 Brahmos. Hindus preponderate in the north of the city, while the chief Musalman centres are Colootolla and Moocheepara, and the outlying wards near the docks and canals.
Brahmans (83,000) are the most numerous caste, and with Kayasths (67,000), Kaibarltas (37,000), Subarnabaniks and Chamars (25,000 each), Goalas (23,000), and Tantis (21,000) account for more than half the Hindu population. Among the Muhammadans 91 per cent, are Shaikhs and 5 per cent. Pathans, while Saiyids number 8,000. Europeans number 13,571, and Eurosians 14,482. See Imperial Gazetteer of India, v.9 for more

Official statistics apart there are varied types of personal writings, including history, memoir and travel books reflecting on demography and ethnography of Calcutta. There were also some painters who left faithful visual representations of Calcutta populace. Baltazard Solvyns, a Belgian artist, during his stay in Calcutta (1791-18040 did more. He committed himself to portray systematically the people of Calcutta, categorized by race, religion, language and occupation, living in White Town and Black Town. Three of his etchings are being posted here.Courtesy: Robert L. Hardgrave, Jr, Solvyns Project at Texus Univ.

The view at the top is of a marketplace crowded by men and women in varied dress-styles – an etching by Balthazar Solvyns; captioned: Of the Nations Most Known in Hindoostan.

Opium clipper Red Rover on river Hooghly, Calcutta, c1830s


হুগলি নদীতে আফিংবাহী রেড রোভার  জাহাজ, কলকাতা, আনুমানিক ১৮৩০ দশক
Opium was grown in large quantities in Bengal. East India Company had been granted the monopoly in trading the drug in 1773, and the right to grow it in 1793. They were looking for something that the Chinese would accept instead of silver, to pay for the goods they bought at Canton. Opium was a valued medicine which could deaden pain, assist sleep and reduce stress. But it was also seriously addictive and millions Chinese became dependent on the drug. By 1839, illegal opium sales to China were massive. In 1842, the Opium War came to an end after the signing of the Treaty of Nanking giving England control of Hong Kong. From this base of operations, opium smuggling grew with each passing year using these sleek opium clippers. Red Rover was the first British opium clippers. Built in Calcutta in 1829, Red Rover was a rakish bark of 254 tons, 97 feet long, 24 feet wide. The voyages of this vessel were quite astonishing and unparalleled, and “until now considered incompatible from repeated failures of the finest men-of-war to make passage up the China sea against the monsoon”. This clipper proved to be fast, making a noteworthy passage from China to Bengal in 1834 in only 23 days, 19 hours. The vessel was skippered by Captain William Clifton, a pioneer of the British Opium Traders, and finally lost in sea in early 1870s. See and also
The above oil painting shows the ship Streatham of the Honourable East India Company, with the opium clipper Red Rover at anchor in the Hooghly River, Calcutta. The buildings of Calcutta dominate the skyline in the background. Two thirds of the painting is sky which emphasise the vast scale of India. The artist of the oil painted in British style remains unknown. The date of the work is presumably 1830s.

Churrack Pooja, Calcutta, 1896

ChurrackPuja-HindooHolidayচড়ক পূজা, গঙ্গাতীরবর্তী অঞ্চল, কলকাতা, ১৮০৬
View on the Banks of the Ganges with representation of the Churruck Poojah, a Hindoo holiday. Charak Puja is a very delightful folk festival, also known as Nil Puja celebrated in Bengal on Chaitra Songkranti, the last day of the month Chaitra. Charak Puja, a colourful festival was celebrated all over Bengal with much pomp and show on the eve of the Bengali New Year. As described in হুতুম প্যাঁচার নকশা by Kalipranna Singha, the famous mid 19th century Bengali satire “The city of Calcutta is rocking at the sound of drums, the devotees are warming up, the blacksmiths are making all kinds of hooks”. The festival was known to the English in Calcutta as “hook swinging festival”. See more
Aquatint with etching by and after James Moffat (1775-1815), published at Calcutta in c1806

Charak Puja, Calcutta, 1848

ChrrackPuja-d'Oylyচড়ক পূজা,কলকাতা, ১৮৪৮
Charak Puja is a very delightful folk festival, also known as Nil Puja, celebrated in Bengal on Chaitra Songkranti, the last day of the month Chaitra. This is a view of a large procession in Calcutta during Charak Puja. The painting reminds us of the lively version of Charak festival given by Bishop Heber of Calcutta: “All the persons who walked in the procession, and a large majority of spectators, had their faces, bodies, and white cotton clothes daubed all over with vermilion, the latter to a degree which gave them the appearance of actually being dyed rose-colour. They were also crowned with splendid garlands of flowers … many trophies and pageants of different kinds were paraded up and down, on stages drawn by horses, or bullocks.” Charak Puja, a colourful festival was celebrated all over Bengal with much pomp and show on the eve of the Bengali New Year. As described in হুতুম প্যাঁচার নকশা by Kalipranna Singha, the famous mid 19th century Bengali satire “The city of Calcutta is rocking at the sound of drums, the devotees are warming up, the blacksmiths are making all kinds of hooks”. The festival was known to the English in Calcutta as “hook swinging festival”.
This coloured lithograph is taken from plate 9 of Sir Charles D’Oyly’s ‘Views of Calcutta and its environs’ in 1848.

Suttee : Preparing for the Immolation of a Hindoo Widow, 1826

সতী সহমরণ প্রথা, ১৮২৬
Preparing a Hindu widow for immolation as seen in this painting is a realistic depiction of the rite of Sati as was practiced in Hindu society. The practice was formally banned in 1798, but continued in the surrounding areas. From 1812 onwards, it was Raja Rammohun Roy who started his own campaign against Sati. His petition against Sati also took place in 1829. The practice finally was banned by The Bengal Sati Regulation of 1829 – a legal act promulgated in British India under East India Company rule, by the then Governor-General Lord William Bentinck. This made the practice of the immolation of a Hindu widow on the funeral pyre of her deceased husband—illegal in all jurisdictions of British India and subject to prosecution.
This painting is made by Robert Melville Grindlay (1786-1877), a self-taught amateur artist, who served with the East India Company’s military service from 1804-20 and during this period made a large number of sketches and drawings recording the life and landscape of India.

Chowringhee Theatre, Theatre Road, Lower Chowringhee, 1833

থিয়েটার রোডের অধুনালুপ্ত রঙ্গালয়, ‘চৌরঙ্গি থিয়েটার’, ১৮৩৩
This image shows the imposing theatre on the corner of Theatre Street and Lower Chowringhee Road. The whole site between Chowringee Road and Elysiam Row (Now Lord Sinha Road) was occupied by the Chowringee Theatre. The adjacent house to the north was known as Ballards’ Place. The expenses of the construction and the cost of the materials for the stage were borne by a number of gentlemen subscribing amongst themselves the shares of Rs. 100 each. It was beautifully crowned with a dome. The Chowringhee Theatre (1813 to 1839) was the principal theatrical venue in the city.  Some affluent British theatre-lovers along with a few Bengali elites founded Chowringhee Theatre. Accordingly, this also came to be known as the ‘Subscription Theatre’ Among the illustrious patrons who donated generously for this Theatre, the names of Mr. Hares Heman Wilson, D.L. Richardson, Dwarakanath Thakur etc. deserve mention. It was inaugurated on 25th November, 1813 and the maiden play held here was a remarkable tragedy named ‘Castle Spectre’. Several dramas were performed here in course of time. The actors in the initial days were amateurs. Later, some renowned professional actors joined this troupe breaking away from the big banners. But, the Theatre was staggering due to acute financial stringency. In 1835, Prince Dwarakanath Thakur purchased it and made some drastic renovations. Unfortunately, in 1839, this Theatre was completely incinerated. After that it was never revamped and play acting was never resumed here. – Interestingly, the female roles at the theatre were played by professional actresses but male roles were taken by amateurs, such as William Princep, whose memoirs describe his theatre work in detail, both as actor and set designer, and give us insights into the running of the building.
This lithograph of painting dated 1833 is taken from plate 22 from ‘Views of Calcutta’ an album of paintings by William Wood.

Calcutta General Post Office, Dalhousie Square, 1864

জিপিও-  কলকাতার (তথা বাংলার) প্রধান ডাকঘর, লালদিঘী, কলকাতা, ১৮৬৪
A view of the Lal Dighi (tank or reservoir) and the Post Office in Dalhousie Square, or Tank Square as it was called for a while, the largest of all the Chowringhee area of Calcutta and had been converted from a pond into a fresh water supply in 1709. General Post Office, Calcutta is located on the site of the first Fort William and is alleged to be the site of the infamous Black Hole of Calcutta (1756). It is highly recognizable for its high (220 feet) domed roof and Ionic-Corinthian pillars. Designed by Walter B. Grenville, the general post office was built in 1864 for a total cost of was RS. 6,50,000. A second opinion suggests the date as 1868. A Philatelic Bureau is located on the southwestern end of the building. On the eastern staircase, an inscription is visible even to this day which reads “The lines in the adjacent steps and pavement, mark the position and extent of part of the South East bastion of old Fort William. The extreme South-East point being 95 feet from this wall.” A Postal Museum was built in 1884 and displays a collection of artifacts and stamps.
Photograph was taken by W. G. Stretton in 1870s

Banian Tree in Commissioner Grote’s Garden, Alipoor, c1850

বটবৃক্ষ
গ্রোট সাহেবের বাগান, c১৮৫০
Arthur Grote (1814–1886) held the offices of Chairman of Revenue Board of Bengal, and President of the Royal Agricultural Society of India, and of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. He wrote many papers on Natural History subjects.