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.

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Fort-City Calcutta, A Faded Legacy

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

 

দুর্গ-নগর কলকাতা : ১৭০০-১৭৫৬

 

FOREWORD

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

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

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

BACKDROP

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

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

THE BEGINNING

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

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

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

THE OLD FORT LOCALE

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

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

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

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

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

WHITE-TOWN BLACK-TOWN

Old Court House Street. Thomas Daniell

European Buildings at Calcutta. Etching by François Balthazar Solvyns

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Market Place for Nationalities and Races. Frans Balthazar Solvyns c1790s

]

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

 

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

FENCED-CITY

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

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

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

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

 

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

CALCUTTA UNBOUND

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

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

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

Half-sisters. Painted by Johann Zoffany

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

BLEND OF WHITE & BLACK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END NOTE

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

 

 

REFERENCE

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

The First English Settlers: Sutanuti Sahibs, 1690 – 1706

View of Calcutta from Hooghly River by William Hodges. c1789

View of Calcutta from Hooghly River by William Hodges. c1789

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

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

bazar india

Cloth merchant measuring cloth. Artist Unknown. 1820

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

Black (Gentoo) Pagoda, Chitpore-Daniel

Gentoo Pagoda and House – Thomas Daniel. c 1787

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

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

Circular Road Calcutta, by Edward Prinsep. 1848

Procession of the Goddess Kali - Calcutta October 1841

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

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

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

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

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

Chitpore Road Calcutta, by Simpson William. 1867

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

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

EsplanadeRow-River-CouncilHouse-x

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

 

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

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

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

Job_Charnock_founding_Calcutta,_1690-2

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

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

 

SOURCEBOOKS

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

 

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

Cowrie Currency and Calcutta’s Money Market

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

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

Merchants-of-calcutta--1887

Marwaris

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

Money-changer 1920

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

Money-changer-Hindu-1859

Hindu money-changer. 1859

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

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

Portuguese Church, Dharmatala Street, Calcutta, 1848

পর্তুগিজ গির্জা, ধর্মতলা স্ট্রিট, কলকাতা, ১৮৪৮
In 1690 Charnock founded Calcutta. Portuguese from Hugli settled here much before, as some new historical evidences suggest. It is a rare view of the Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart in Calcutta. This was originally a Roman Catholic Church for the Portuguese community in Calcutta. The Catholic Emancipation Act had been passed in 1829, and the church was built by Mrs Pascoa da Souza, a member of the prominent Portuguese family, the Barrettos, between in 1832 and 1834. It was erected behind Dharamtola Bazaar on Dhurrumtollah (Dharamtola) Street at the centre of British Calcutta.
This coloured lithograph, dated 1848, is taken from plate 7 of Sir Charles D’Oyly’s ‘ Views of Calcutta and its environs’.

Cathedral of the Most Holy Rosary; or, Portuguese Church, Murgihata, Calcutta, 1826

পর্তুগিজ গির্জা, মুরগীহাটা, কলকাতা, ১৮২৬
In 1690 Charnock founded Calcutta. Portuguese from Hugli settled here much before, as some new historical evidences suggest. They built a chapel and were attended by Augustinian priests. The chapel was replaced by the beautiful church dedicated to Our Blessed Lady of the Rosary, which is used today as the cathedral, commonly known as the Portuguese Church, and the street on which the Church is situated was named Portuguese Church Street until recently, in the area of Murgihata adjacent to Lalbazar. The main Church of the Padroado in Kolkata till 1834, when it became the first parish Church of the newly erected Vicariate Apostolic of Bengal, the Salesians, who took over charge from the Jesuits in 1921, handed it over to the Diocesan Clergy in 1972. The Cathedral Annexe was built in 1979.
Coloured aquatint by James Baillie Fraser, Plate No.17 from ‘Views of Calcutta and its Environs’. It may be noted that the location as indicated on the Plate, is not Lollbazaar (Lalbazar) but Mughihatta (Murgihata).