ANTOINE DE L’ETANG : THE OTHER CHIVALROUS ADVENTURIST

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BACKDROP

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

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

DE L’ETANG IN VERSAILLES

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

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

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

DE L’ETANG IN PONDICHERRY

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

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

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

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

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

DE L’ETANG IN CALCUTTA

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

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

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

THE CALCUTTA REPOSITORY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AUCTION HOUSE

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

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

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

II

ENTERPRISES & EMPLOYMENTS

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

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

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

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

OUDH

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

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

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

REENSTATED IN CALCUTTA

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

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

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

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

PUBLICATIONS

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

ATTAINMENTS

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

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

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

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

RETROSPECTION

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

PAGE OF HONOR TO THE DAUPHINE ANTOINETTE

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

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

BODYGUARD OF THE KING’S GUARD DU CORPS

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

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

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

SUPERINTENDENT OF OF THE ROYAL STUDS, VERSAILLES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand Cross of the Order of Saint-Louis

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

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

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

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

END NOTES

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

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

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

REFERENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JULIUS SOUBISE: A MAGNIFICENT HORSEMAN IN 18TH CENTURY CALCUTTA

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

I

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

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

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

II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III

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

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

Begum Johnstone, the grandmother of the Earl of Liverpool

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

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

IV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

V

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VI

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

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

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

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

VII

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIII

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEA: ITS SOCIOCULTURAL DIMENSIONS IN COLONIAL INDIA

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

TeaTypeTable
Camellia Sinensis Categories Courtesy:@Leaves of Tea Ring

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

II

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

Gandhiji and other leaders during the Swadeshi Movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANYTIME TEA TIME Courtesy: Tea-Pot, Fort Kochi

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

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

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

The Club. Engraving by James Doyle

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

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

III

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Tagore with Count Okuma, PM Japan at tea in 1916

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

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

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

REFERENCE

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

WAYS OF LIFE IN COLONIAL CALCUTTA: CHRONICLE OF ACCULTURATION

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

 

Calcutta International Exhibition 1883_84

ঔপনিবেশিক কলিকাতায় সাংস্কৃতিক বিনিময়

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

The earliest printed book in Bengali

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

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

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

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

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

The EIC officers adopting some local customs while remaining distinctly British_doyely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bengalese Babu. Courtesy: Mary Evans.

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

Colonial-inspired house and interior design Courtesy: @myLusciousLife

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BRITISH GIFT OF TEA CULTURE TO INDIAN PEOPLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

REFERENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

পুরনো কেল্লা ফোর্ট উইলিয়মঃ দুর্গেশনন্দিনী নগর কোলকাতা

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

 

BACKGROUND

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

LOCATION

Fort location in Calcutta 1757 map

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

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

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

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

 

CONSTRUCTION

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

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

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

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

 

APRAISAL

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

 

REFERENCE

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

 

 

 

Barrackpore : Story of a Little Calcutta

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

ব্যারাকপুর – কলকাতার অদূরে ‘ছোট কলকাতা’

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

by Ozias Humphry, pencil, chalk and watercolour, 1783
Marquis Wellesley (1760-1842) by Ozias Humphry, 1783

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

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

barrackpore-bridge_fiebig1851
Barrackpore Bridge, hand-coloured photograph by Frederick Fiebig. 1851. Courtesy British Library

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

RIVER-SIDE

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

barrackpore-ghaut_fiebig_1851
Barrackpore Ghaut, A hand-coloured photograph by Frederick Fiebig. 1851. Courtesy British Library

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

THE PARK

conservatory-barrackpore-park-_fiebie1851
Barrackpore Ghaut, A hand-coloured photograph by Frederick Fiebig. 1851. Courtesy British Library

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

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

 

MENAGERIE

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

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

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

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

GAITIES

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

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

cheetah-chasing-a-deer-with-huntsmen_doyly1802
A Cheeta Hun in Wellesley’s Park. Lithograph ( coloured ). Charles D’Oyly.1802. Courtesy: British Library

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

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

hindoo-pagodas-hunt1824
Hindoo Pagodas below Barrackpore on the Ganges. Geoge Hunt. 1824. Courtesy: British Library

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

Bodies of the Dead

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

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

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

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

 

Ramdulal Dey: The Millionaire Bengal Merchant, 1752-1825

east-indiaman-calcutta-harbor-1974_frans-balthazar-solvyns
Frans Balthazar Solvyns captured this American East Indiaman at anchor in Calcutta harbour in 1794. His painting offers a tantalizing glimpse of America’s forgotten India trade in its prime.  Courtesy: Peabody Essex Museum.

 

রামদুলাল দে, ১৭৫২-১৮২৫

Backdrop

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

Early Life

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

ramdoolaldesarkar
Ramdulal De

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

diamondharbour_cargoships
Diamond Harbour Cargo Ships      Courtesy: Alamy

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

Banian of American Merchants

india-calcutta-launching-of-merchant-ship-circa-1798-by-frans-balthazar
Launching of Merchant Ship at Old Fort ghat Calcutta. c.1798. Artist Francis Balthazar. Courtesy: PEM

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

 

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

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

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

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

RajenDutt_andOthrs_Claymodel
Calcutta Banians (clay models) Courtesy: Peabody Museum

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

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

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

PHILADELPHIA
Messrs. Grant & Stone.

SALEM
Pickering Dodge, W. London

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

MARVELHEAD.
J. Hooper

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

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

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

Rags to Riches

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

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

End of Journey

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

 

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

 

 

Lal Dighi, Lal Bagh, Calcutta, 1690 –

WestSideofTankSquare
West view of Tank Square. by James Baillie Fraser. 1816

লালদিঘী, লালবাগ, কলকাতা, ১৬৯০ –

Lal Bagh
Before Plassey, British commercial interests were concentrated in and around the original Fort William at approximately the site where Job Charnock had established his East India Company trading settlement in 1690. The British generally resided in Fort William and its immediate vicinity, besides some individuals living in European garden houses at various locations within a three mile radius, including in the portions of the city subsequently known as the Black Town. [See Archer] The pivot of the settlement, as Cotton describes, was ‘Lall Bagh’ or the Park. In the centre was ‘Lall Dighi’, or the Great Tank, which had been in existence before Charnock’s arrival. Within the Park there was the enclosure of the Cutcherry house of the local Jaigirdar, Laksmikanta Roy Majumdar Choudhury (1570-1649). It was then the only conspicuous masonry building in the locality, the Portuguese Mass-house apart. Job Charnock had acquired the Cutcherry house for Company’s officials to stay and to store up Company’s records.
The local name of the Park area was supposed to be, ‘Lal Bagh’ or ‘Lall Bagh’, and the name of the Pond, Lal Dighi, or Lall Dighee’. The word ‘lal’ or ‘lall’ in vernacular stands for red colour. Interestingly, every anecdote that attempted to establish the origin of Lal Dighi went by explaining the use of the attribute ‘lal’ with some historical references. None of those, however, explained the origin of such names as Lal Bagh, Lal Bazaar, Lal Girja. There remained other possibilities to explore, like ‘imported names’. Calcutta might have imported a Lal Bagh from Murshidabad while under Muslim power, like the Londons in US were.

GOVERNMENT HOUSE AND COUNCIL HOUSE, CALCUTTA, 1794.
Government House and Council House, Calcutta. Source: M Grandpre’s book. 1794

At the very beginning, the Company men used to call the plot ‘the Green before the Fort’. It was because the greater part of the river-side edge of the Park, covering twenty-five acres of ground, was given over to the Fort, which lay between the points now demarcated by Fairlie Place and Koila Ghat. The stretch was commonly called ‘the Park’ and thereafter ‘Tank Square’ until the name ‘Dalhousie Square’ formally assigned. [See Archer]

View of the east side of Tank Square Calcutta,1894-baillie
East side of Tank Square Calcutta, Aquatint with etching. Artist/ Engraver: William Baillie. 1794

Alexander Hamilton wrote in 1702 that the Governor ” has a handsome house in the Fort;the Company has also a pretty good garden, that furnishes the Governor herbage and fruits at table, and some fish ponds to serve his kitchen with good carp (পোনা), callops (শিঙ্গি, মাগুর) and mullet (বাটা). William Carrey suggested that the Tank inside the Park was one of these fish ponds, and the garden might have been the Tank Square, which was within easy reach and much nearer than the Company Garden at Middleton Street.

‘The Green before the Fort’ was the place of recreation and shooting wild game for the Company’s factors, and in the middle of last century it was the scene of many a moonlight gambol of young people, and elderly ones, who, rigged out in stockings of different colours, yellow coat, green waistcoat, &c., &c., amused themselves on the banks of the ” fish-pond in the park.” inhaling the evening breezes, and thinking of the friends of whom they had heard nine months before ! [See Blechynden]  Mr. William Blacquiere, a Magistrate of the Town, died in 1852 at the age of 90, used to talk of having danced a minuet with Lady Jones, as a young man and of shooting wild fowl in the Tank Square. [ See Benoy Krishna Deb]

019PHO0000897S1U00059000[SVC1]
Old Tank in Calcutta; Etching, with line-engraving by Thomas Daniell. 1786
The wilderness described in early accounts of the old Fort area faded away even before the Battle of Lall Dighee took place in 1756. The battle was fought at the eastern side of the Tank Square. The enemy in multitudes took possession of each of the houses of that Square. They brought some heavy pieces of cannon through the lane twixt Minchin’s and Putham’s houses and planted them at the corner of the Tank, where two guns were already mounted on the Park by the Company’s defense force. [See Samuel Hill]

Tank Square Calcutta taken from the Scotch Church, 1847
Tank Square Calcutta taken from the Scotch Church/ Richard Fiebig. Lithograph.1847

The Battle, however, instigated a process of wide-ranging urbanization, although it had to wait over two decades to launch the projects under the leadership of Warren Hastings. Hastings did it. In 1789, when Captain de Grandpré visited Calcutta, the city impressed him greatly. Tank Square was still the centre of fashion. “As we enter the town,” he writes, “a very extensive square opens before us, with a large piece of water in the middle for the public use. The pond has a grass plot round it, and the whole is enclosed by a wall breast-high, with a railing on the top. The sides of this enclosure are each nearly five hundred yards in length. The square itself is composed of magnificent houses, which render Calcutta not only the handsomest town in Asia, but one of the finest in the world. One side of the square consists of a range of buildings occupied by persons in civil employments under the Company, such as writers in the public offices. Part of the side towards the river is taken up by the old fort, which was the first citadel built by the English after their establishment in Bengal. At sunset Calcutta became alive again: society went out for its airing; those who could not afford vehicles walked amongst the trees and shrubs round the great tank in Lall Diggee, or on the ramparts of the old Fort. [See Busteed]

LAL DIGHI, THE GREAT TANK

The Great Tank within the Park has its own story much of which remains missing. The Tank lay uncared for on the east of the fort for about 20 years since Charnock had acquired the tank as a part of the Cutcherry from the Jaigirdar family. Twenty years’ neglect had converted the waterbody into a dirty pond full of rank weeds and noxious matter, and it was now a standing menace to the health of the factors. [See AK Ray]  The tank was formerly more extensive, but was cleansed and embanked completely in Warren Hastings’ time. It has always been esteemed the sweetest water in Calcutta, and until the introduction of municipal water supply, was the chief source of supply of drinking water to the garrison at Fort and the European community at large. [See Cotton]

Tank Square and water carriers, Calcutta,1651-Fiebig-2
Tank Square and water carriers, Calcutta. Hand-colored photographic print by Frederick Fiebig. 1851

The Great Tank is fed by percolation from the river. When, in 1783-4, the tank was being deepened, a regular row of trees was found at a depth of forty feet from the surface. They were pretty fresh, and their colour revealed that the trees belonged to the evergreen soondrie family. There were similar records respecting some other tanks dug in the region of Chowringhee and the Esplanade in 1790s. All these records collectively suggested that once upon a time the city of Calcutta remained covered by the great soondrie forest, [See Blechynden]

In its early years, Calcutta had its water supply from open tanks, wells and river Hooghli. The staunch Hindus used nothing but Ganga waters. Baishnabcharan Seth of Burra Bazaar made a fortune by supplying the holy water to far off places. The river water was fit for drinking only from October to March. Some people collected rainwater, and used it when the river water became turbid during the rainy season. The privately owned tanks were foul smelling and unsanitary. The quality of the river-fed Tank at Tank Square remained good all the seasons. The great Tank was enlarged and deepened in 1709 to ensure a good supply of sweet water to the Fort and to European quarters in the neighbourhood. See Filtered water in Calcutta, Sodhganga As it appears from the contemporary reviews, the water of Lal Dighi was the sweetest and the best drinking water in the city. [See Sodhganga]

Dalhousie Square, photograph taken by A. De Hone in 1870s. New GPO appears at the west end.

As mentioned before, the major improvement of the Tank and the Park was made during the tenure of Warren Hastings. Since then many a change in the Tank Square and its ambiance have taken place by degrees under different Bengal Governors and Governor Generals. Lord Curzon, however, took a special initiative for its beautification. The end of 19th century witnessed a picturesque scenario of the Dalhousie Square surrounded by the grand old constructions and the new GPO.

 

 

Writers’ Buildings, Tank Square, Calcutta, 1780

Writers'-Buildings1885

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

WritersBuildings_Danniel_1786
Writers’ Buildings, 1786 Daniell, Thomas (1749-1840). Aquatint with etching.

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

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

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

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

writers'Buildings_Frase1826
Writers’ Buildings, 1826 Fraser, James Baillie (1783 – 1856) Medium: Aquatint, coloured

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

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

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

writers1851
Writer’ Buildings, 1851. Fiebig, Frederick Photographic print

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

writersBuildings1978
Writers’ Buildings, 1878 Photographer: Unknown Photographic print

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

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

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

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

Howrah Railway Junction Station, Howrah, 1854 –

হাওড়া রেল ইস্টিসন, হাওড়া, ১৮৫৪
Howrah railway station is the oldest and the largest railway complex in India. The station owned by the East Indian Railway (EIR) formed in January 1847 by merging the East India Railway Company and the Great Western Bengal Railway Company (GWBRC) into one. See GWBRC and Dwarkanath Tagore

Railway--EIR-HQ-14TheatreRdCalcutta-before1879
EIR HQ, prior to 1879 14, Theater Road, Calcutta.

On 17th August,1849, the Court of Directors of East India Company signed an agreement with EIR for construction of a short experimental line from Calcutta to Burdwan, originally proposed by the Company in 1845. The East Indian Railway Company’s Managing Director Macdonald Stephenson, George Turnbull, the company’s Chief Engineer, and the engineer Slater made on 7 May 1850 an initial survey from Howrah (across the River Hooghly from Calcutta) to Burdwan on the route to the Raniganj coalfields. Accordingly, the first train of EI Railway started its historic ‘zero mile’ journey in August 1854 from the very place where the Howrah Station stands now.

“The train flagged off full to its capacity from Howrah to Hooghly a distance of 24 miles. 3000 applications were received for the first ride, but only a few could be accommodated. The train having three first Class, two second class and three “trucks” for the third class passengers, a brake-van for the Guard all constructed in Calcutta,  left Howrah at 8:30 A.M. and reached Hooghly after 91 minutes. During the first 16 weeks, the company carried 109,634 passengers: 83,118 third class, 21,005 second class and 5511 first class. See Grace’s Guide  ”That day onward, the EIR ran a regular service, morning and evening, between Howrah and Hugli with stops at Bali, Serampore and Chandernagar. The fare ranged from Rs.3 by first class to 7 annas by third class.

The above photograph of first locomotive, christened “Multum in Parvo” (Latin, “much in little”), shown on the right and manufactured in England, which was used by the East Indian Railway Company in 1854 on its first line from Howrah to Hooghly, a distance of 24 miles. The locomotive on the left is the latest model of 1897, the year this picture was taken in the Jamalpur Railway Workshop, Eastern India. (Image source: Elgin Collection. British Library)

Initial plans for the first Howrah station were submitted by George Turnbull the Chief Engineer of the East Indian Railway Company on 17 June 1851. The government authorities, however, were not too keen to acquire as much land as the Railway Company required, taking into account the enormous anticipated growth rate of the proposed rail station. In May 1852 Turnbull resubmitted his station plans complete with details – a major work of him and his team of engineers. In October four tenders were received varying from 190,000 to 274,526 INR against an estimate of Rs 250,000.

HowrahOrhanage-locationOfPresentHowrahStation

Before EIR took possession of the land, Portuguese Missionaries of Dominican Sect had an orphanage there and a small church by its side. The orphanage was shifted to Calcutta when the Company moved in and made a make-shift arrangement installing few tin sheds to facilitate maintenance work, and train formation yard before train running. The rest of the empty space on northern side was utilized in storage of materials. Subsequently this became the stores depot of East Indian Railway. See Vibrant Edifice

eir-TicketCounter-Armanighat
EIR Ticket Counter. Armenian Ghat

There was no landing ghat on the Howrah side. Railway passengers had to go to Armenian ghat on the eastern riverbank to buy tickets from its booking counter. They “had to jostle their way through the ‘exciting’ crowd to the ‘Booking Window’ that issued tickets to all classes of passengers”.The train tickets included the fare of crossing the river to arrive at the provisional rail platform consisting of a tin shed. The scenario prevailed till the Howrah pontoon bridge was ready to replace the ferry service to Howrah station in 1886. See : The saga of Howrah Station. See Vibrant Edifice

As we understand from IRFCA source, there was no official image available with them to suggest what was ’the shape of the station shed before it was demolished to give place to the new station building’. The only visual document on their hand was a ‘Photograph’ of Howrah station printed in ‘The Steam Engine and the East Indian Railway‘ – the first ever historical work on E.I.R. by Kalidas Moitra, published in 1855.

The indistinct print, however, leaves open a possibility of its being a hand-drawn illustration, instead of a photograph, of the model of the first Howrah Station. This view can be well supported by a recently unearthed photograph entitled ‘Railway station near Calcutta’ captured in 1895 by American photographer, William Henry Jackson (1843-1942), for the World Transportation Commission. The photograph is featured here at the top.

There has been another vintage photograph that provides a clear view of the old station building. Unfortunately no date and relative details of the photograph are available for further investigation. Courtesy: National Rail Museum Archive:

So far we know that the old Howrah Station building was a spacious columnar structure, which was demolished later during the construction of the new station building. Initially it was a modest structure of red brick with corrugated Iron sheet roof and one platform. Another platform was added in 1865 for arrival departure of trains separately. The third platform was provided in 1895. These were not very long as sometimes as many as 5 coaches extended beyond platform. The coaches were only four wheelers. 8 wheeler coaches were introduced only in 1903. From this description provided in EIR source it appears that the first station building had been constructed not at one go but gradually by phases, and that is why specific dates of foundation, inauguration, or demolition of the old and new buildings have been found so rarely and often overlapping in historical records. See Vibrant Edifice

Due to a great increase of traffic, a new station building was proposed in 1901. The new station was designed by the British architect Halsey Ricardo. Construction begins in 1905 on a new, larger Howrah Terminus station with six platforms and provision for four more, to replace the older Howrah station in use from 1854, and inaugurated in 1906. See: Chronology of railways in India

HowrahStation-inItsFirstYr

The following lines picked up from a recent review of Calcutta’s past may neatly recap the story told here.

“Calcutta’s growth as a major railway junction continued. The East India Railway ran from Howrah all the way to the outskirts of Delhi in the North. The Bengal Nagpur Railway ran from Howrah to Nagpur in Central India, from where the Great Indian Peninsula Railway continued to Bombay. The East Bengal Railway’s line ran from Sealdah, then in the outskirts of Calcutta to the tea gardens of Assam and Northern Bengal. The Grand Trunk Road was built to replace the road built by Sultan Sher Shah Suri of Delhi in the sixteenth century, and now ran from Howrah to Peshawar in the Hindukush mountains. As it had been true for Rome in an earlier age, all roads now led to Calcutta”. See Rule Britannia

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