Bazaar Firms and Small-scale Trades, Calcutta, 19th Century

BlackTownBazaar Leading to Chitpore Road of 1819-JamesFraser
কলকাতার ঘরোয়া ব্যবসা-বাণিজ্য, ঊনবিংশ শতাব্দী
The retail sector was divided mainly between the modern firms based on the British model of the partnership company and the bazaar firms where the traditional Indian trade practices being followed, disregarding the overwhelming  developmental trend of modern retailing trade in the port city of Calcutta. The bazaar sector of the city’s markets includes small scale trade. There was a large-scale involvement of the native population in this sector. Nearly a third of the inhabitants of Calcutta are engaged in manufactures, and nearly a fourth in trade, while personal service accounts for a sixth. Assuming that a man does not begin to work until fifteen years of age, it would appear that no less than 96 per cent, of the males above that age are actual workers ; the corresponding proportion in the case of women is only 32. The industrial population is most numerous in the areas of Colootolla, Moocheepara, Jorasanko, Bhawanipur, Intally, and Beniapukur.  Jorasanko, Burra Bazar, and Jorabagan wards have the greatest number of persons engaged in business of commerce. The professional element is strongest in Burtolha in the north, and in Bhawanipur in the south of the city.



Calcutta itself contains but few factories, only three jute-mills and two jute-presses lying within its limits. In the outskirts of the city, however, several smaller industrial concerns are situated, including 63 oil-mills chiefly worked by cattle, 24 flour-mills, 2 rice-mills, 16 iron foundries, and 12 tanneries, which employ less than 13,000 persons all told.

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


The chief home industries are pottery and brasswork. Calcutta exports little of its own manufactures.
Calcutta came into existence as a trading town, because its position enabled merchants to tap the rich tratific of the valley of the Ganges. The luxurious courts of the Mughal rulers had fostered the manufacture at Dacca and Murshidabad of beautiful silks and muslins, which were eagerly bought up in Europe. The saltpetre of Bihar was in great demand in England for the manufacture of gunpowder during the French wars; and rice, sesame oil, cotton cloths, sugar, clarified butter, lac, pepper, ginger, myrabolans, and tassar silk werealso in request. Bengal produced all these articles, and Calcutta was the only seaport from which they could be exported.

(c) Asian Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation


The racial division within the retail trade was obviously a major distingui-shing factor in retailing in such a colonial city. All European shopkeepers shared to some extent the elite status of the ruling power and the special privileges which British trades¬men won for themselves in trade. The existence of an almost exclusively Indian bazaar sector also affected the development of the elite European retail trade. There were goods and services which were offered very cheaply by the bazaar firms that their equivalents were not marketed by elite shops. For instance, fresh food was marketed through the bazaar and Calcutta possessed no European greengrocers or butchers. The effect of the bazaar competition was noted by a visitor to Calcutta as early as 1840: “European tradesmen must be very industrious and methodical and produce excellent workmanship for everyone of them has a host of would-be native rivals in the bazaars.”  He added that “even in the streets where Europeans are numerous there are many native dealers; these dealers are very content with a small profit and can live comfortably a whole year on a sum which would not support the European shopkeepers more than a few days.”  In the early days, the European shopkeeper had the advantage of easier access to prized imported goods (even of a prosaic nature) but by the mid-19th century the bazaar was dealing with a wide range of imported manufactured goods. Consequently the European shops became even more exclusive: they did not deal in “cheap lines:” they stressed the quality of their goods and services. See Furedy

(c) Asian Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation


In respect of internal trade, the principal articles which make up the imports to Calcutta are :—from Bengal, raw and manufactured jute, rice coal, linseed, opium, tea, grain and pulses, hides and skins, silk, and indigo ; from the United Provinces, opium, oilseeds, grain and pulses, hides and skins, and wrought brass ; from Assam, tea, oilseeds, grain and pulses, and lime. In 1901-2 the imports from Bengal were valued at nearly 49 crores.
For More See
The painting featured at the top represents a view in the Lal Bazaar leading to the Chitpore Road, by James Baillie Fraser in 1826. – The Native Shop in Calcutta Bazar, a chromolithograph reproduction of a painting by William Simpson, 1867 – Above representations of the three local trade shops of potters, brassware-makers, and blacksmiths, are paintings by Arthur William Devis in early 19th century


Calcutta Peoples, 1876-1901

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


Hindu Buildings

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


European Buildings

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

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

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

General Assembly’s Institution, Calcutta, 1830


জেনেরেল অয়াসেম্বলি’স ইন্সটিট্যুশন, কলকাতা, ১৮৩০
The college founder, Rev. Alexander Duff, was the first missionary to India from the Church of Scotland. His idea was to set up an institution which linked western education with Christian mission and the eventual progress of the people. Years later,   Duff committed himself to building education institutions aiming at academic excellence along with social awareness and character building.

Duff opened his first school in a house located at upper Chitpur Road in the Jorasanko neighborhood of Calcutta. Feringhi Kamal Bose, an affluent Hindu, made the house available. The school soon expanded into a missionary college, known as the General Assembly’s Institution that was founded by Duff and his fellow Scottish missionaries with the help of Raja Rammohan Roy, the illustrious social reformer in 1830. In 1834, Duff returned to Britain broken in health. During that sojourn, he succeeded in securing the approval of his church for his educational plans and in arousing much interest in the work of missions in India. In 1836, the Calcutta institution was moved to Gorachand Bysack’s house in the Garanhata neighborhood. On 23 February 1837, Mr. MacFarlon, the Chief Magistrate of Calcutta, laid the foundation stone for a new building belonging to the mission itself. John Gray designed the building while Capt. John Thomson supervised the construction, both of the British East India Company. The construction of the building was completed in 1839. In 1840, Duff returned to India. At the Disruption of 1843, he sided with the Free Church and gave up the college buildings, with all their effects. With unabated resolve he set to work to provide a new institution, later known as the Free Church Institution. After the unification of the Church of Scotland in 1929, these two institutions – General Assembly’s Institution and the Free Church Institution later merged to form the Scottish Churches College. Duff had the support of Sir James Outram, Sir Henry Lawrence, and the encouragement of seeing a new band of converts, including several young men born of high caste. In 1844, governor-general Viscount Hardinge opened government appointments to all who had studied in institutions similar to Duff’s institution. In the same year, Duff co-founded the Calcutta Review, of which he served as editor from 1845 to 1849.

It is important to mention hereabout the equation of Duff with the Derozians – the Young Bengal group of radical Bengali free thinkers emerging from Hindu College – named after their firebrand teacher, Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (1809 – 1831). The Young Bengal Movement peripherally included Christians such as Reverend Alexander Duff, and his students like Lal Behari Dey (1824–1892), who went on to renounce Hinduism. Because of their irreconcilable westernized stand, these argumentative scholars of Duff’s college were branded as ডেঁপো – a Bengali ascription coined after the name of Duff. Latter-day inheritors of the legacy of the Young Bengal Movement include scholars like Brajendra Nath Seal (1864–1938), who went on to be one of the leading theologians and thinkers of the Brahmo Samaj. Duff regarded the Derozians as rootless egoistic sophists with no ultimate care save for their own interests.. From their ranks, however, he hoped would come the leaders of the new India. But first they must replace their volatile skepticism with a more securely based commitment, that in Duff’s view, could only be adherence to Christianity. See

Several important Indian figures were products of Duff’s Institutions. Most notably, Rev. Lal Behari Dey, who wrote two books (Folk Tales of Bengal and Bengal Peasant Life) that were widely distributed among Indian schools, and Krishna Mohan Banerjee, who became registrar at the University of Calcutta and later became a co-founder of the Indian National Congress. Through the years a long line of illustrious personalities have been educated in these hallowed halls of learning. The splendorous architecture of the College including its magnificent prayer hall is eloquent testimony to its timeless heritage and the pioneering vision of its founding fathers. See