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

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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).

Dalhousie Institute, Hare Street, Calcutta, 1865

DalhousieInstitute1863

ডালহৌসি ইন্সটিট্যুট, লাল দিঘীর দক্ষিন পার, কলকাতা, c১৮৬৫

The Dalhousie Institute, situated on the south side of Dalhousie Square, was originally constructed as a Monumental Hall to accommodate busts and statues of great men associated with the history of British India, as well as to provide a resort for mental improvement and social intercourse for all classes. The foundation stone of the institute was laid on March 4, 1865 by the then Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, the Hon’ble Cecil Beadon.
As it is revealed in Archiseek, an Irish architectural journal, that Mr. C.Q. Wray, architect, was assigned for designing the Dalhousie Institute, and that the Institute, as we stated at the time, is intended to be built on a site adjoining Government House at the estimated cost of Rs 25,000 . The cost of its construction was met partly by public subscription and partly from funds raised to commemorate the heroic deeds of those who distinguished themselves in the mutiny of 1857.

The large hall is to be used as a concert and public-meeting room, and will accommodate 1,000 persons seated. It is also to be appropriated to the reception of statues and other memorials of distinguished men. On either side of it are lecture-rooms, lavatories, and an extensive library. The design, externally, may be described as a Corinthian prostyle temple, octastylos; with a lower building, Ionic, on each side. The two outer columns on each side in the portico are close together, and the tympanum is filled with sculpture. Three statues take the place of acroteria on the pediment. The great hall has single Corinthian columns with antae projecting from the wall, on each side at intervals, and a vaulted ceiling, panelled, with lunettes above the entablature of the order. A recces at one end will receive an organ.”dalhousieinst-hall A view of the grand interior of the Institute’s Great Hall where people assemble to witness the statues exhibited.

During World War II, the Institute was requisitioned for the use of US troops and, in 1948, it was shifted from Dalhousie Square to its present location where the original marble plaque commemorating the event has now been relocated in the entrance hall of the current premises at 42 Jhowtalla Street. The building was designed by Walter Granville. The Institute was not a social club in its early years – no drinks were served and no ladies were admitted as members till 1887.As published in The Builder, January 24, 1863. Demolished in 1950

DalhousieInstitute-HareStreetxThis photograph of Hare Street from the ‘Walter Hawkins Nightingale (PWD) collection: Album of views of Calcutta, was most probably taken by photographer Samuel Bourne in the late 1870s. Dalhousie Square, named after Lord Dalhousie who was appointed Governor-General in 1847, was the main administrative area of Calcutta. The square also housed the headquarters of the East India Company known as the Writer’s Building, the Currency Office, and the General Post Office. Pictured here is a view from the top of the Telegraph Office, with the Dalhousie Institute situated below. The Dalhousie Square, with a corner of the Dalhousie Tank, and the General Post Office are in view on the right. This is an edited and enlarged version of the original image.

[A revised version replacing Nov. 28, 2013 post]

Munshis, or Native Language Scholars, Calcutta, Company Era

Munshi RiceandCurry
মুন্সি তথা দেশীয় ভাষাবিদ শিক্ষক, কলকাতা, কোম্পানি আমল
The role of British orientalists is to bring to light documents and information that would have been kept secret and lost in the dark cells of Indian priests, were it not for their unremitting dedication. This official and impersonal discourse demonstrates the intellectual superiority and effective domination of British scholars over Indian scholars. Their talents were used in researching, compiling and translating materials, but their labour as well as intellectual abilities were not considered worth noticing. It was the British approach and treatment of this new source of knowledge, their curiosity and wisdom, which were ultimately praised. Indian scholars were not legally admitted into the circle of British orientalism until mid-nineteenth century. The procedures of the Asiatic Society founded in Calcutta in 1784 clearly states that Indians cannot be taken in as full members of the Society although their contributions to the annual publication of the Asiatic Researches are welcomed.
As Edward Said said orientalism as a science was bound to collude with colonialism or to take in the history of European domination over the East. There is indeed clear evidence that, until the 1830s, the British believed that the colonization of India could not be sustained without a deep understanding of Indian society. Warren Hastings, governor general of India from 1773 to 1785, confirms that this collusion between native informants and native scholars is the best option the British have to maintain a firm grip on the newly conquered provinces. “Every instance which brings their real character home to observation will impress us with a more generous sense of feeling for their natural rights, and teach us to estimate them by the measure of our own. But such instances can only be obtained in their writings: and these will survive when the British dominion in India shall have long ceased to exist” See. Hastings gained this view through his personal interactions with native scholars and teachers; one of them was Nabokrishna Deb whom he employed as Persian tutor in 1750. European Gentleman in India learning Arabic
Lord Wellesley founded Fort Williams College on 10 July 1800 to train the Civil Servants locally. The idea was to teach the British rookies understand the Oriental culture, tradition, law and administration to better coordinate in the governance. The period was of immense historical importance for bringing about Bengal renaissance. In 1815, Ram Mohan Roy settled in Calcutta, establishment of The Calcutta Madrassa in 1781, the Asiatic Society in 1784, and the Fort William College in 1800, completed the first phase of Kolkata’s emergence as an intellectual centre. Fort William College aimed at training British officials in Indian languages and in the process it fostered the development of Asian languages dominated: Arabic, Hindustani, Persian, Sanskrit, Bengali; and later Marathi and even Chinese were added. Some of the eminent scholars who contributed towards development of Indian languages and literature are: William Carey (1761–1834); Matthew Lumsden (1777 – 1835); John Borthwick Gilchrist (June 1759 – 1841); Mrityunjay Vidyalankar (1762?–1819); Tarini Charan Mitra (1772–1837); Lallulal (also spelt as Lallo Lal), the father of Hindi Khariboli prose; Ramram Basu (1757–1813) ; Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820–91) ; Madan Mohan Tarkalankar (1817–58)[ Picture at left -> A European Gentleman with his Moonshee, or Native Professor of Languages, plate 1 from ‘The European in India’, published 1813 (hand-coloured aquatint) – a hand-coloured aquatint, painted by Charles D’Oyly (1781-1845) in c1813.]
Because they needed to conduct business in Indian languages, British soldiers and administrators labored to acquire local vernaculars. Indian scholars were a key figure in the construction of British knowledge of the Orient, although their participation was not systematically acknowledged.- See. British orientalists would normally refer to moonshee when talking about their Persian language teachers and to brahman or pundit, when referring to their Hindu interlocutors. A brahman is a member of the highest or priestly caste among the Hindus”, and a munshi is a secretary; a language teacher”. Although there has always been distinction between Persian and Hindu cultures, it is not noticeable in context of language teaching. The title Munshi denotes the family’s role in teaching native languages such as Urdu, Hindi, Persian and Bengali or as secretaries to the Europeans. There is a place called Munshibari estate established in the 1700s was held by a landed, Anglo-Indian family of Munshis in Chandpur now in Bangladesh.  This may suggest possible intermarriages with the British as an outcome of a cordial relationship developed between them and their Munshis.
The lithograph “Our Moonshee,” displayed here at the top, is from one of the 40 plates by George Francklin Atkinson depicted with dry humor life in a “typical” English “station” in the second half second half of the 19th century during his stay in India.

Calcutta Cricket, Maidan, Calcutta, 1792

CricketMatch-1861-x
কলকাতার ক্রিকেট, ময়দান.১৭৯২
The cricketing historian Cecil Headlam, travelling in India during the 1903 Delhi Durbar, reflected on its place in the imperial scheme: cricket was part of their colonizing mission. ‘First the hunter, the missionary, and the merchant, next the soldier and the politician, and then the cricketer – that is the history of British colonization. And of these civilizing influences the last may, perhaps, be said to do least harm’. NationalArmyMuseum, UK

The oldest references to the sport in India can be dated as early as the year 1725 when some sailors played a friendly match at a seaport in Kutch. By the year 1792, the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club had been formed, and a yet another Cricket club had been formed at Seringapatam by the year 1799.BritishSailors playing eariestCricketIn India
Calcutta Cricket & Football Club, founded in 1792, is one of the oldest sports clubs in the world. The photograph on the left shows some members of the Calcutta Cricket Club watching play from under a banyan Tree in 1859.criccketClubMembers In the absence of a permanent venue, the Calcutta Cricket Club played its games on the esplanade, parallel with the river Hooghly, between Fort William and Government House. By the 1820s, the members felt the need for a permanent ground. In 1825, the Calcutta Cricket Club managed to obtain the use of a plot of land on the Maidan. In 1841 the Club was relocated to the eastern boundary of the Auckland Circus Gardens.
The Club made several representations asking for permission to ‘erect a suitable pavilion and finally on 19 April 1864 the long awaited approval arrived. A handsome and well built pavilion measuring 125 ft by 25 ft was promptly constructed out of the finest teak brought from Burma. The pavilion no longer exists. It was pulled in the mid 1970s for the construction of the Cricket Association of Bengal’s modern B.C. Roy Clubhouse.

The most famous of all sports clubs – the Marylebone Cricket Club – was founded in 1787, a fact gathered from a poster for a cricket match in 1837 announcing the Club’s golden jubilee. If there was any written evidence of its official launch in 1787, it was destroyed by a fire at Lord’s in 1825. The present day Calcutta Cricket & Football has absorbed several sporting clubs over the centuries. Calcutta Cricket Club of 1792 vintage, Ballygunge Cricket Club (1864-1950), Calcutta Football Club (1872-1877) and the revived Calcutta Football Club set up in 1884. It is important to remember that these were not separate clubs but very much a part and parcel of the great and historic institution known today as Calcutta Cricket & Football Club.
Cricket Match, 68th Light Infantry. This coloured print by P Carpentier shows a 68th Light Infantry team playing a cricket match in Calcutta on 15 January 1861 against the Calcutta Cricket Club

East Indian Railway, Fairlie Place, Calcutta, c1925

EastIndianRailways,FairlyPlaceOLD
পূর্ব ভারতীয় রেল কোম্পানি, ফেয়া্রলি প্লেস, কলকাতা, ১৯২৫
Prince Dwarkanath Tagore, a rich businessman in the 40s of 19th. Century, owned quite a number of collieries in Raniganj and Rajmahal area. Dwarkanath visited England in January 1842 when he had a ride on a train. He could visualize railways role in facilitating faster movement of goods and passenger.
Back from England in January 1843, he formed a company called “Great Western Bengal Railway Company” with the aim of transporting coal from his Raniganj colliery, and thereby the seed of railway was sown in Bengal. In the mean time Mr. McDonald Stephenson had already floated shares for East India Railway Company incorporated in England. Dwarkanath wanted a railway line to his collieries and proposed to raise one third of the capital for this portion of the line.  When Dwarkanath revisited England in 1845 to negotiate with the Company bosses, he faced bitter opposition and the Company disagreed to permit a company under “native management” to construct such an important railway line. Dwarkanath came back to India with a broken heart and died on 1st August 1845. Immediately after his death the Carr Tagore and Company went into liquidation. Dwarkanath had already spent a large sum on his railway project. After his death the “East Indian Railway Company” and Dwarkanth’s ” Great Western Bengal Railway Company” merged into one and in January 1847. The new Company was named ” East Indian Railway” or “E.I.R.” as popularly known afterwards. Dwarkanth’s dream of connecting Raniganj to Howrah by rail came true after 10 years of his death in 1855. In May,1855, the East Indian Railway Co. was founded. The managing director of this company Mr. R. McDonald Stephenson,  the founder of the East Indian railway.
The present building Eastern Railway Head Office at Fairlie place was not so big and was having a different look. The picture here shows after being taken over by E.I.R. in 1879,the building was remodeled The exact date of the picture is not available probably some time in 1925. The history of the building says it was initially this place where the old Fort William was situated just by the side of the Hooghly. and Siraj-ud-ulla conquered this Fort and many English “fighters” were killed in the war. Prior to being occupied by E.I.R. this building housed Indian National Museum, Calcutta temporarily for about two years. Photo courtesy- CWM-Liluah See

Bengal Pilot Service on River Hooghly, c 1850s

hooghlyRiverBank
হুগলী নদীর জলযান পরিসেবায় নিয়জিত বেঙ্গল পাইলট সার্ভিস, ১৬৬৯-১৯৪৫
According to James Prinsep’s Chronological Tables, in the year ‘1669 orders from home were received, to institute a pilot establishment at Hoogly, to build a pinnace to be manned with intelligent seamen from the Indiamen, to take charge of the shipping up and down’. Thus originated the Bengal Pilot Service.
Hazards of Navigation on the river Hooghly are known world over. A slight deviation from the normal course can spell a near disaster. The problems of navigation in the waters of Hooghly river approach are considerable with low lying foreshore, shoaling and no distinguishable land marks. Furthermore, the seasonal period of poor visibility during monsoon or during winter and hazards during cyclone, often makes the Pilots’ life miserable
It is worth pointing out to those who do not know, that where access to a port was any distance up a river, such as Calcutta, lying some 120 miles up the Hooghly, the size of sailing ships without any auxiliary means of propulsion that could gain access to such ports was very limited. Strong tides and currents, narrow channels constrained by hazardous sandbanks and a winding course likely to bring a sailing ship’s head foul of the wind all tended to inhibit if not totally prevent access under sail except under rare favourable conditions. With the development of effective steam propulsion manoeuvring large sailing ships up such rivers became feasible, either by the installation of secondary engines aboard the sailing ship or by the use of steam tugs. Even with an engine fitted aboard, the services of a Pilot with local knowledge was usually mandatory. The development of steam also greatly enhanced the prosperity of such ports by rendering them more accessible to ships and therefore trade. See There is a unique unpublished history of the Bengal Pilot Service in the Historical Manuscripts Collection of the National Maritime Museum by Brice and Labey. It covers a wide range of aspects to do with the service and its employee’s e.g. Appendix G ‘Obituaries’ comprises information from various sources for men of the Pilot service and their families.
The above view of series of sailing boats on Hooghly riverside near Babu ghaut was captured by an unidentified photographer, date unknown.

Play House, Old Fort, Tank Square, Calcutta, 1786

PLAY HOUSE OldFortWilliamরঙ্গালয়, পুরনো কেল্লা, লালদিঘী, কলকাতা, ১৭৮৬
The Play House was the earliest theatre in Calcutta. The position of the old Fort, built in 1692 and dismantled in 1819, was to the west of the Writers’ Buildings and Holwell’s monument, on the other side of the old Fort Street, where stands the Customs House thereafter. The Play House was established in 1755, a year before the Battle of Lal Dighi took place. The Play House served as an advantageous position of offense for Serajuddulah who seized it, and thus played a prominent part in his siege of Calcutta in 1756. The Play House must have ceased to exist sometime between Oct. 1781 and 1784 A.D. Unfortunately we possess no detailed account of this early English Theatre, nor as to what plays were performed there, as there was no Gazette, nor newspaper at the time. It was very likely that Messrs. Drake and Holwell took some active interest in it as it appears that the house though built by voluntary subscriptions was patronised by the Company. The rest, however, is lost in the hoary mist of the past. See more. It has become particularly difficult to tell apart the accounts of the Old Fort Play House and the Calcutta Theatre that came up in Lal Bazar area in 1776, often called the New Play House for distinction.
The above coloured etching with aquatint by Thomas Daniell (1749-1840) describes the location of the Old Fort, Playhouse and Holwell’s Monument in Calcutta  taken from ‘Views of Calcutta’ published in 1786. This view looks along Clive Street. The eastern wall of old Fort William can be seen on the left. Hollwell’s Monument is on the right that erected in 1756 and removed from this site in 1821.

Belvedere House, Alipur, Calcutta,1838

বেলভেডিয়ার হাঊস, আলিপুর, কলকাতা, ১৮৩৮
The Belvedere Estate consists of Belvedere House and the 30 acre (120,000 m²) grounds surrounding it with a beautiful garden, located in Alipore opposite the zoo. Belvedere House was the former palace for the Viceroy of India and later the Governor of Bengal. the National Library of India is housed, since 1948. The Governor-General resided in Belvedere House, Calcutta until the early nineteenth century, when Government House (present Raj Bhavan) was constructed. In 1854, after the Governor-General moved out, the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal took up residence in Belvedere House. When the capital moved from Calcutta to Delhi in 1912, the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, who had hitherto resided in Belvedere House, was upgraded to a full Governor and transferred to Government House. It is believed that while Mir Zafar Ali Khan was in Calcutta, he built many buildings in the area and gifted Belvedere House to Warren Hastings in the late 1760s. It is believed that the roots of Belvedere House lie in the late 1760s from approximately the time when Mir Jafar Ali Khan, the Nawab of the province of Bengal was compelled by the British East India Company to abdicate his throne at Murshidabad to Qasim Khan in 1760. Mir Jafar moved to Calcutta where he is thought to have owned a large court house, and settled within the safety of English East India Company fortifications at Alipore. It is believed that while he was in Calcutta, he built many buildings in the area and gifted Belvedere House to Warren Hastings. After the Battle of Buxar in 1764 Hastings left for England. He returned to Calcutta as Governor in 1772 and to his garden house, the Belvedere with a certain Baroness Inhoff by his side. The grounds of Belvedere Estate were witness to a duel between Warren Hastings and his legal officer, Philip Francis. The duel may have been over the Baroness Inhoff, or was the outcome of political conflict between the two. It is believed that Hastings finally sold Belvedere House to a Major Tolly in the 1780s for the sum of Rs. 60,000. Charles Robert Prinsep (1790–1864), lived at Belvedere Estate for a time. Prinsep served as standing counsel to the East India Company and then as the Judge Advocate General of India during the time when he resided at Belvedere. After this it was turned into the official residence of the Viceroy of India. National Library of India, Kolkata, is housed in the Belvedere Estate since 1948. The main building, however, is presently under the care of the Archaeological Survey of India, as heritage building.
The view of the Belvedere Estate has been captured by the Anglo-Indian merchant and amateur painter William Prinsep in 1838.

Council House [Old], Calcutta, 1764

CouncilHouseCalcuttaকাউনসিল হাউস [পূর্বতন] , কলকাতা, ১৭৬৪
Adjoining Government House to the west stood the Council House. After the recovery of Calcutta there was no Council Room for a twelve month to carry out business of the settlement. The dwelling house of the late Richard Court was purchased for the Honble. Company in 1758 and appropriated to the above use. .. It was probably a house near the hospital, and remained in use till 1764, when the Council House on the Esplanade was built, and gave its name to the street. Contiguous to it a house for the Governor was built. These two buildings continued in use till 1799, when Marquis Wellesley built the present Government House, on the site they had occupied.
Aquatint, coloured painting by Thomas Daniell, Plate three from the second set of’ Oriental Scenery

East India House, Leadenhall Street, London, c1817

East_India_House_THS_1817_editedইস্ট ইন্ডিয়া হাউস, লন্ডন, c১৮১৭
The Company’s headquarters in London, from which much of India was governed, was East India House in Leadenhall Street. After occupying premises in Philpot Lane, Fenchurch Street, from 1600 to 1621; in Crosby House, Bishopsgate, from 1621 to 1638; and in Leadenhall Street from 1638 to 1648, the Company moved into Craven House, an Elizabethan mansion in Leadenhall Street. The building had become known as East India House by 1661. It was completely rebuilt and enlarged in 1726–9; and further significantly remodelled and expanded in 1796–1800. It was finally vacated in 1860 and demolished in 1861–62. The site is now occupied by the Lloyd’s building.
As drawn by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, c.1817.