1902 Encyclopedia > Calcutta, India

Calcutta
(also known as: Kolkata)




CALCUTTA, the capital of India, and seat of the Supreme Government, is situated on the east bank of the Húglí River, in latitude 22º 33´ 47" N. and longitude 88º 23´ 34" E. It lies above 80 miles from the seaboard, and receives the accumulated produce which the two great river systems of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra collect throughout the provinces of Bengal and Assam. From a cluster of mud villages at the close of the 17th century, it has advanced with a rapid growth to a densely inhabited metropolis, which, with its four suburbs, contains a population of 892,429 souls. The central portion, which forms the Calcutta municipality, has a population returned in 1872 at 447,601. In the same year its maritime trade amounted to 52 1/2 millions sterling, of which the exports formed 31 3/4 millions, and the imports 20 3/4, showing an excess of exports of 11 millions sterling.

Calcutta map

Ground Plan of Calcutta


The history of Calcutta practically dates from the year 1686. In 1596 it had obtained a brief entry as a rent-designed to form a semicircle round the town, and to be connected at both ends with the river, but which was never completed, combined with the natural position of Calcutta to render it one of the safest places fro trade in India during the expiring struggles of the Mughul empire. It grew up without any fixed plan, and with little regard to the sanitary arrangements required for a town. Some parts of it lie below mark on the Húglí, and its low level throughout rendered its drainage a most difficult problem. Until far on in the last century, the judge and paddy fields closely helmed in the European mansions with a circle of malaria; the vast plain (maidán), with its gardens and promenades, where the fashion of Calcutta now displays itself every evening; was then a swamp during three months of each year; the spacious quadrangle known as Wellington Square was built upon a filthy creek. A legend relates how one-fourth of the European inhabitants perished in twelve months, and paying village in the survey of Bengal executed by command of the Emperor Akbar. But was not till 90 years later that it emerged into history. In 1686 the English merchants at Húglí, finding themselves compelled to quit their factory in consequence of a rapture with the Mughul authorities, repeated about 26 miles down the river to Sutánatí, a village on the banks of the Húglí, now within the boundaries on Calcutta. Their new settlement soon extended itself along the river bank to the then village of Calcutta, and by degrees the cluster of neighboring hamlets grew into the present town. In 1689-90 the Bengal servants of the East India Company determined to make it their headquarters. In 1696 they built the original Fort William, and in 1700 they formally purchased the three villages of Sútanatí, Calcutta, and Gobíndpur from Prince Azim, son of the Emperor Aurungzebe.

The site thus chosen had an excellent anchorage and was defended by the river from the Marhattás, who harried the districts on the other side. A fort, subsequently rebuilt on the Vauban principle, and in moat, during seventy years the mortality was so great that the name of Calcutta, derived from the village of Kálighát, was identified by mariners with Golgotha, the place of a skull.

The chief event in the history of Calcutta is the sack of the town and the capture of Fort William in 1756, by Suráj-ud-Daulá, the Nawáb of Bengal. The majority of the English officials took ship and fled to the mouth of the Húglí River. The Europeans remained were compelled, after a short resistance, to surrender themselves to the mercies of the young prince. The prisoners, numbering 146 persons, were driven at the point of the sword into the guard-room, a chamber scarcely 20 feet square, with but two small windows. Next morning only 23 were taken out alive, among them Mr Holwell, the annalist of the "Black Hole." This event took place on June 20, 1756. The Mohametans retained possession of Calcutta for about seven months, and during this brief period the name of the town changed in official documents to Alinagar. In January 1757 the expedition despaired from Madras, under the command of Admiral Watson and Colonel Clive, regained possession of the city. They found many of the houses of the English residents demolished, and other damaged by fire. The old church of St John’s lay in ruins. The native portion of the town had also suffered much. Everything of value had been swept away, except the merchandise of the Company within the fort, which had been reserved for the Nawáb. The battle of Plassey was fought on June 23d, 1757, exactly twelve months after the capture of Calcutta. Mir Jáfar, the nominee of the English, was created Nawáb of Bengal, and the treaty which raised him to this position he agreed to make restitution to the Calcutta merchants for their losses. The English reserved £500,000, the Hindus and Mahometans £200,000, and the Armenians £70,000. By another clause in this treaty the Company was permitted to establish a mint, the visible sign in India of territorial sovereignty, and the first coin, still bearing the name of the Delhi emperor, was issued on August 19th, 1757. The restitution money was divided among the sufferers by a committee of the most respectable inhabitants. Commerce rapidly revived, and the ruined city was rebuilt. Modern Calcutta dates from 1757. The old fort was abandoned, and its site devoted to the Customs House and other Government offices. A new fort, the present Fort William, was commenced by Clive, a short distance lower down the River Húglí. It was not finished till 1773, and is said to have cost two millions sterling. At this time also the maidán, the park of Calcutta, was formed; and the salubrity of its position induced the European inhabitants gradually to shift their dwellings eastward, and to occupy what is now the Chauringhi (Chowringhee) quarter.

From this time the history of Calcutta presents a smooth narrative of advancing prosperity. No outbreak of civil war nor any episode of disaster has disturbed its progress, nor have the calamities of the climate ever done mischief which could not be easily repaired. A great park (maidán), intersected by roads, and ornamented by a garden, stretches along the river bank. The fort rises from it on its western side, the stately mansions of Chauringhi with Government House, the high court, and other public offices, line its eastern and northern flank. Beyond the European quarter lie the densely populated cluster of huts or "village" which compose the native city and suburbs. Several fine squares, with large reservoirs and gardens, adorn the city, and broad-metalled streets connect its various extremities.





Up to 1707, when Calcutta was first declared a presidency, it had been dependent upon the older English settlement at Madras. From 1707 1773 the presidencies were maintained on a footing of equality; but in the latter year the Act of Parliament was passed, which provided that the presidency of Bengal should exercise a control over the other possessions of the Company; that the chief of that presidency should be styled Governor-General; and that a supreme court of judicature should be established at Calcutta. In the previous year, 1772, Warren Hastings had taken under the immediate management of the Company’s servants the general administration of Bengal, which had hitherto been left in the hands of the old Nahometan officials, and had removed the treasury from Murshidábád to Calcutta. The latter town thus become the capital of Bengal, and the seat of the Supreme Government in India. In 1834 the Governer-General of India, ad was permitted to appoint a Deputy-Governor to manage the affairs of Lower Bengal during his occasional absence. It was not until 1854 that a separate head was appointed for Bengal, who, under the style of Lieutenant-Governor, exercises the same powers in civil matters as those vested in the Governors in Council of Madras or Bombay, although subject to closer supervision by the Supreme Government. Calcutta is thus at present the seat both of the Supreme and the Local Government, each with an independent set of offices. Government House, the official residence of the Governor-General of India, or Viceroy, is a magnificent pile buildings to the north of the fort and the maidán, Built by the Lord Wellesley in 1804. The official residence of the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal is a house called Belvedere, in Alipur, the southern suburb of Calcutta. Proposals have been made from time to time to remove the seat of the Supreme Government from Calcutta. Its unhealthiness, especially in the rainy season, its remoteness from the centre of Hindustán. And its distance from England, have each been animadverted upon. These disadvantages of Calcutta have now, however, been almost entirely removed, or their consequences have been mitigated, of science and moderns engineering. The railway and the telegraph have brought the Viceroy at the Calcutta into close with every corner of India; while an ample water supply, improved drainage, and other sanitary reforms, have rendered Calcutta the healthiest city in the East, -- healthier, indeed, than some of the great European towns. English civilization has thus enabled Calcutta to remain the political capital of India. The same agency still secures the city in her monopoly of the sea-borne trade of Bengal. The River Húglí has long ceased to be the main channel of the Ganges; but Calcutta alone of all the successive river capitals of Bengal has overcome the difficulties incident to its position as a deltaic centre of commerce. Strenuous efforts of engineering are required to keep open the "Nadiyá Rivers," namely, the three off-shoots of the Ganges which combine to form the Húglí. Still greater watchfulness and more extensive operations are demanded by the Húglí itself below Calcutta, to save it from the fate of other deltaic streams, and prevent it from gradually silting up. In 1853 the deterioration of the Húglí channel led to a proposal to found an auxiliary port to Calcutta on the Matlah, another mouth of the Ganges. A committee, then appointed to inquire into the subject, reported that "the River Húglí was deteriorating gradually and progressively." At the time "science had done nothing to aid in facilities in navigation,’ but since then everything has been done which the foresight of modern knowledge could suggest, or the power of modern capital could achieve. Observations on the condition of the river are taken mostly hourly, gigantic steam dredgers are continually at work, and the shifting of the shoals is carefully recorded. By these means the port of Calcutta has been kept open for ships of the largest tonnage, and now seems to have out-lived the danger which threatened it.

Statistics.—Calcutta may, in one sense, be said to extend across the Húglí, and to include Howrah on the western side of the river, as well as the three separate municipalities on the eastern bank. Known as the suburbs of Calcutta, the north suburban town, and the south suburban town. The total population of the area thus defined was returned by the census of 1872 at 892,429 souls. Calcutta proper, or the central portion, which lies, roughly speaking, between the old Marhatta ditch and the Húglí, is governed by a distinct municipality. In 1752 Mr Holwell estimated the number of houses within its limits at 51, 132, and the inhabitants at 409, 056 persons ; but both these estimates wee probably much too high ; in 1822 the number of inhabitants was returned at 179,917 ; in 1831 at 187,081 ; in 1850 at 361,369 ; and in 1866 at 377,924. In 1872 a regular census was taken under the conduct of the municipality. The results present features of doubtful accuracy. They were as follows : -- Area, 8 square miles ; number of houses, 38,864 ; population, -- Hindus, 291,194; Mohometans, 133,131; Buddhists, 869; Christians, 21,356; "other" denominations not separately classified, 1051grand total 447,601; total, 447601; total of males of all denominations, 299,857; females, 147,744; average number of persons per house, 11; number of persons per square mile, 55,0950. The length of the roads in the town is about 120 miles. The present governing body was created in accordance with the provisions of Act 6 of 1863 (Bengal Council). It consists of the justice of the peace for Calcutta. With a salaried chairman, who is a member of the civil service. All the members are nominated by the Government, but a deputy chairman is chosen by the justices out of their own body. As the justice are not in any sense representive, the power and responsibility are to a great extent centred in the chairman ; but of late years by means of departmental committee, the co-operation of the ordinary members has been enlisted. Out of about 100 justices who are resident in Calcutta exactly one-half are Europeans. In 1874 the ordinary revenue of the municipality amounted to £240,656, of which £160,000 was raised by rates, and £37,000 by licences. The ordinary expenditure fro the same year amounted to £233,374 of which £80,000 was devoted to interest on loans and sinking fund, £32,000 to general expenses, £30,000 to roads, two items of £22,000 to lighting water supply, and £13,000 to conservancy. Including capital account, receipts, loans suspense account, and cash balances, the total amount at the disposal of the justices during the years was £433,938. The aggregate expenditure under both revenue and capital account amounted to £382,823. The total loan liabilities of the corporation are £1,466,060, and the total of interest and sinking fund payable yearly is £100,474. The average rate of municipal taxation per head of the population is about 10s. 8d. The most important undertaking under the care of the municipality is the water supply. The present system dates from 1865, when the sanction of Government was given to the construction of works which now pour upwards of 6 million gallons a day of filtered water into the city. The source of supply is from the Húglí at Palta, about 16 miles above Calcutta. The works there consist of two large suction pipes, 30 inches in diameter, through which the water is drawn from the river engines, each of 50 horse power nominal ; the water is then passed into six settling tanks, each 500 feet long by 250 feet wide. Here it is allowed to stand for 36 hours, when it is permitted to run off to run off to the filters, eight in number, the area of each being 200 by 100 feet. After filtration the water is made to flow over a marble platform, where its purity can be observed. It is then conducted to Calcutta by a 42-inch iron main. These works cost £525,432, They were finished in 1870, and connected with pipes laid under 100 miles of streets. The total number of house connections up to December 31,1874, was 8159. The total quantity of water delivered during that year amounted to 2,524,566,300 gallons, being considerably over the estimáted average of 6 million gallons daily or about 13 gallons per head of t he population. The total cost for same year of the water-supply (inclusive of interest) was £55,547, or about 5d. per 1000 gallons.

St Paul's Cathedral, Calcutta, India image

St. Paul's Cathedral, Calcutta (Kolkata)


The drainage works are on an equally effective scale. The main sewers are underground, and for the proper discharge of their contents in the direction of the Salt Lake, a pumping station is maintained at an annual cost £3000. The system underground drainage, although not entirely completed, had cost in 1874 a capital sum of £620,000 In 1863, on the constitution of the present municipality, a health officer with an adequate establishment was appointed The practice of throwing corpses into the river has been put down, and the burning gháts and burial-grounds have been placed under supervision. All refuse and night-soil are removed by the municipality, and conveyed by a special railway to the Salt Lake. The town is lighted by a private gas company 2723 gas lamps and 730 oil lamps being paid for at the public expense. The fire brigade consists of 2 steam fire-engines, and 5 hand engines, its annual cost being about £2000. The police of Calcutta is under the control of a commissioner, who is also the chairman of the justices Beneath him there is a deputy-commissioner. The force consists of 4 superintendents, 155 subordinate officer of various grades, 1292 constables, and 6 mounted constables, maintained in 1873 at a cost of £41,227, of which Government contributed one-fourth. Several minor bodies, such as the river police, Government guards, &c., bring the entire strength of the force in the town and on the river to 2313 men. The great majority are natives, the number of European sergeants and constables being only 50.

In 1872-73 the statistics of education in Calcutta were as follows : -- There wre 3 Government colleges, namely, the Presidency College, founded in 1855, and attended by 709 pupils; the Sanskrit College, established in 1824, attended by 26 adult pupils, of whom 17 are Bráhmans; the Calcutta Madrásá or Mahometan College founded in 1781, number of pupils 528. There are also five colleges mainly supported by missionary efforts, aided by Government, and attended by 305 pupils. The total number in Calcutta reported on by Educational Department is 260, with 19,445 scholars ; 157 of them are male schools, teaching 16,155 boys ; the remaining 103 are for girls, and teach 3290 pupils. According to a different principle of classification, 36 schools teach English to 9445 boys. 121 teach the vernacular only to 6620 boys 99 are vernacular schools for girls with 3244 pupils and 4 are normal schools, instructing 90 male teachers and 46 female. Of the total number of pupils in these schools, 47·7 per cent are ascertained to be Hindus, 13·5 Christians, 2·6 Musalmáans, and the remaining 36·2 percent are of unascertained religions. The total ascertained expenditure was £25,011, of which sum the Government contributed £9160. The Government School of Art was attended in 1872-73 by 94 students, of whom 88 are Hindus, 4 Musalmáns, and 2 Eurasians Calcutta has also an important school of medicine, or medical college, with a large hospital attached and every facility for a thorough scientific training.





The medical charities of Calcutta comprise the Medical College Hospital, just named the General Hospital, the Native or Mayo Hospital, the Municipal Pauper Hospital, and minor dispensaries Of these the General Hospital is confined almost solely to Europeans. The total amount contributed by Government to these institutions is £30,000. The number of persons treated during the year 1872-73 was 251,039, of whom 20,805 were indoor patients. Of these 64·9 per cent. Were men, 16·3 women, and 18·8 children. The rate of mortality in cholera cases was 484·3 for every thousand treated.

Mortuary returns are collected in Calcutta by the police inspectors, and compared with the registers kept by paid clerks of the municipality at the burning gháts and burial-grounds. In 1873 the total number of deaths thus ascertained was 11,557, or 25·82 per thousand. The death rate among the Christians was 31· 5, among the Hindus 26·1, and among the Mahometans 24·7. The highest death rate was in January, November, and December, and the lowest in June and July.

The mean temperature of Calcutta is about 79º Fahr. The highest temperature recorded during the last 18 years is 106º in the shade, and the lowest 52º·7. The extreme range is therefore a little over 53º, while the mean temperature of December and May, the coldest and hottest months, are 68º·5 and 85º respectively. The average rainfall during 36 years has been 66 inches,-- the highest rainfall on record being 93·31 inches in 1871, and the lowest 34·61 inches in 1837. By far the greater part of the rain falls between the months of June and October.

Like the rest of the seaboard of the Bay of Bengal, Calcutta is exposed to periodical cyclones, which do much mischief. The greatest pressure of the wind registered is 50 lb to the square foot. In the storms of 1864 and 1867 the anemometer was blown away. A great loss of life and properly was caused along the Húglí by the storm of October 5th 1864. In Calcutta and its suburbs 49 persons were killed, and 16 wounded, 102 brick houses were destroyed, and 563 severely damaged ; 40,698 tiled and straw huts were leveled with the ground. The destruction of shipping in the port of Calcutta appears greatly to have exceeded that on record in any previous storm. Out of 195 vessels only 23 remained uninjured, and 31, with an aggregate tonnage of 27,653 tons, were totally wrecked. On November 2, 1867, the force of the wind was not less violent, but there was no storm wave, and consequently the amount of damage done was much less.

THE PORT OF CALCUTTA, extending 10 miles along the Húglí, with of working channel of 250 yards, and with moorings for 169 vessels, is under the management of a body of 9 European gentlemen styled "Commissioners for making Improvements in the Port of Calcutta." This body was constituted in 1870, and has since that date received considerable additions to its powers. In 1871 they were appointed "Bridge Commissioners," to charge of the floating bridge over the Húglí, and to work it when completed. This bridge, finished in 1874, now supplies a permanent connection between Calcutta and railway terminus on the Howrah side of the river. It is constructed on pontoons, and affords a continuous roadway for foot passengers and vehicles. The traffic returns for 41 weeks in 1875 were £7593; the cost of the bridge has been £220,000. The main duty on the Port Commissioners has hitherto consisted in providing accommodation, by jetties and warehouses, for the shipping and native boats, which carry on the great and increasing trade of Calcutta.

In the year 1873-74 the income of the commissioners from all sources was £114,709, and the expenditure £78,260. The total amount of capital expended up to that year was £580,339, including a debt of £400,123. The number of vessels arriving and departing in 1861-62 was 1793, with an aggregate tonnage of 1,337,632 tons; in 1873-74, the number of vessels was 1927, tonnage 2,437.The number of steamers , and especially of steamers passing through the Suez Canal, is greatly on the increase.

The growth of the commerce of Calcutta may be seen from the following figures:--In 1820 21 the total value of the exports and imports, including treasure was £10,454,910; in 1830-31, £8,756,382; in 1840-41, £15,202,697; in 1850-51, £18,754,025; in 1860-61, £31,794,671 ; in 1870-71, £49,316,738. The value of the customs duties (including salt) was in 1820-21, £151,117; 1830-31, £121,321;1840-41, £495,515; 1850-51, £1,038,365, 1860-61, £2,232,654; 1870-71, £3,548,926. Cotton goods first became an important articles of import in 1824; oil seeds were first exported in 1835 ; the exports of jute on a large scale date from 1860, those of tea from 1864. Among the chief articles of import in 1870-71 were—apparel, value £186,767; beer, £140,359; coal, £109,185; cotton manufactured, £11,624,712; machinery, £194,198; metals, £1,311,547; railway materials, £710,357; salt, £652,632; spices, £150,150; spirits, £162,635; wine, £214,191; wood, £156,903; woolen manufactures, £347,116; treasure, £2,255,244; Government shipments, £981,557; total value of imports, £21,198,478. Among the chief articles of export in 1870-71 were—cotton raw, £2,020,159; cotton manufactured, £811,825; dyeing materials, £153,113; grain and pulse, £2,630,451; hides and skins, £1,573,655; indigo, £2,285,202; jute, £2,585,390; jute manufactured, £664,898; lac, £194,576; metals, £215,920; opium, £5,490,395; saltpetre, £440m133; seeds, £2,921,117; silk, £1,508,801l silk manufactured, £244,076; spices £215,018; sugar, £674,149 ; tea, £1,117,712; tobacco, £152,716; woolen manufactures, £136,052; bullion and treasure, £1,021,638; Government treasure, £228,534; total value, of exports, £28.118.260.

The internal trade of Calcutta is conducted partly by railway, and partly by water traffic. There is no railway station within the limits of the municipality, but three separate railways have their terminus in the immediate neighbourhood. The East Indian Railway, whose terminus is across the river at Howrah, brings down the produce of the North-Western Provinces and Behar, and connects Calcutta with the general railways system of the Peninsula. The Eastern Bengal Railway and the South-Eastern Railway have their terminus at Siáldah, an eastern suburb of Calcutta. The former is an important line running across the Delta to the junction of the Ganges and Brahmaputra at Goalandá. The latter is a short railway, intended to connect the metropolis with Port Canning, in the Sundarbans. The three chief lines of water traffic are –(1), the Calcutta canals, a chain of channels and rivers passing round and through the Sundarbans, open at all seasons of the year, and affording the main line of communication with the Ganges and the Brahmaputra; (2), the Nadiyá rivers, three in number, which branch off in a more directrly southern course from the Ganges, above its junction with the Brahmaputra, and ultimately become the Húglí—these are with difficulty navigable during the dry season; (3). The Midnapur and Hijili canals, leading south towards Orissa. (W. W. H.)



The above article was written by Sir William Wilson Hunter, M.A., LL.D. C.I.E, K.C.S.I.; Director-General of Statistics to the Government of India, 1871; edited the Imperial Gazeteer of India; author of A Brief Account of the Indian Peoples, A Statistical Account of Bengal and Assam, and Life of the Marquis of Dalhousie.




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