Calcutta: Past and Present/Chapter 3
RECOVERY AND AFTER
The refugees at Fulta—Warren Hastings' first marriage—The recovery of Calcutta—The condition of the town and different buildings—The nawab's army—The last Battle of Calcutta—The taking of Chandernagore—"Billy" Speke—Plassey—The fate of Suraj ud-Dowlah.
WHEN Calcutta fell to the nawab's forces in June, 1756, a small fast-sailing ship hurried from the Hughly to Madras with despatches announcing the disaster. Four months later, in October, a fleet of three line-of-battle ships and eight smaller vessels sailed from Madras, bearing an avenging army of nine hundred Europeans and fifteen hundred native troops, under the joint command of Admiral Watson, and Clive—then in the early days of his fame. After numerous delays, the fleet arrived at Fulta on the 20th of December, and brought fresh hope and courage to the unfortunate people there.
Surgeon Ives, of H.M.S. Kent, the flag-ship of Admiral Watson, published some years later a journal of his adventures, which included the recapture of Calcutta and subsequent fighting. Of the refugees at Fulta, he wrote: "They were crowded together in the most wretched habitations, clad in the meanest apparel, surrounded by sickness and disease;" in spite of which miseries he speaks of their cheerfulness and courage as admirable. That they were by no means a prey to despair and lethargy is proved by the fact that several marriages took place in the forlorn little community. "The mutter of the dying never spoiled the lovers' kiss."
One of these marriages was that of Warren Hastings with his first wife, a lady who was long thought to have been the widow of Captain Campbell, who was killed by an accident a few days before the recovery of Calcutta. The Rev. H. B. Hyde, whose painstaking researches have thrown much light on the social history of Calcutta, found that this identification of the first Mrs. Hastings was a mistake, and that the lady was the widow of Captain John Buchanan, who, after assisting in the defence of Calcutta with much courage and ability, died in the Black Hole. His widow and baby-girl were among the refugees who escaped to Fulta, and Mr. Hyde considers it probable that Hastings married her there, and that the ceremony was performed by Admiral Watson's chaplain, Richard Cobbe, afterwards Chaplain of Calcutta in the room of the gallant old chaplain Jervas Bellamy, who perished in the Black Hole.
Mrs. Hastings died in 1759, at Cossimbazar, where her tomb still stands in the old Residency Burial-ground. Of the two children born of this marriage, a boy and a girl, the latter shared her mother's grave, the former was sent to England, where he died shortly before his father's arrival on his first visit home.
On the arrival of the Madras fleet at Fulta, the troops under Clive's command were landed on the eastern or Calcutta bank of the Hughly, and marched up to Calcutta, while Admiral Watson sailed his ships up the river.
When the troops arrived at Budge Budge they halted for the night within a short distance of a Mohammedan fort which was garrisoned by a small body of soldiers, who do not appear to have troubled themselves at all about the approach of the English. Clive proposed to attack the fort in the morning, but during the night one of the British soldiers, in a fit of drunken bravado, started off alone to reconnoitre the position. Climbing the wall of the fort unobserved, he stumbled into the midst of a party of the garrison who were beguiling their time on guard by playing cards and smoking. Taken by surprise the Mohammedans never doubted that Clive's army was upon them, and, crying to each other to save themselves, they fled precipitately, leaving the astonished soldier in possession of the fort. The story goes that the victor was reprimanded by Clive for being drunk and leaving camp, on which he exclaimed with an emphatic objurgation, that, if that was to be all the thanks he got, never again would he take a fort single-handed.
Clive's march was continued with little or no opposition, and on his reaching Calcutta, and Admiral Watson's ships sailing up at the same time to Fort William, the nawab's forces, comprising two thousand infantry and fifteen hundred cavalry, speedily retreated. On the 1st of January, 1757, the British flag was once more hoisted at Calcutta.
To punish the nawab and avenge the sack of Calcutta, the British, a few days later, advanced against Hughly, the centre of Mohammedan trade in Bengal, which town they captured and destroyed on the 10th of January. They then returned to Calcutta, and set about restoring order in the settlement, and preparing to meet Suraj-ud-Dowlah, who was collecting an immense army to march against them.
Few details can be found among the records of Calcutta as to the different buildings and their condition after the siege, but there can be no doubt that the town was in a deplorable state, owing to the wholesale and wanton destruction of property. The presence of the large body of troops added greatly to the difficulties of providing accommodation for the returned British, and for several years following the siege and recovery of Calcutta every building that could be rendered habitable was occupied to its utmost capacity.
The English church of St. Anne had been the scene of much fighting during the attack on the Fort, and was completely destroyed, but the two other churches in Calcutta, that of the Armenians, St. Nazareth, and a small Roman Catholic Church on the site of the Moorgehatta Cathedral, had both escaped uninjured. The Armenians continued to be an important section of the community, but the Roman Catholics had fallen into great disfavour. Clive, in one of his earliest reports to the court, states that the Government, immediately on their return to Calcutta, had interdicted "the public exercise of the Roman Catholic religion, and forbid the residence of their priests in our bounds." He gives as the reason for this step—"the inconvenience we experienced at the siege of Calcutta from the prodigious number of Portuguese women who were admitted for security into the Fort, the very little or no service that race of people are of to the settlement, added to the prospect we had of a war with France, in which case we had reason to suppose they would refuse to take up arms against an enemy of their own religion should we be attacked."
The priests having been banished from the settlement, the Roman Catholic Church was available for the English chaplain, who took it over, and conducted services in it for a couple of years. By that time the interdict against the Roman Catholics had been removed by desire of the court, who disapproved of the order, and the church was restored to the priests. A temporary chapel was then fitted up for the chaplain in the gateway of the old Fort, pending the building of a new church in the new Fort, but, as events proved, it was nearly thirty years before this temporary little chapel of St. John ceased to be the presidency church.
The new Fort was naturally the first consideration, and various sites were proposed before that at Govindpore was finally selected. Captain, afterwards Sir Robert, Barker, an engineer and captain of artillery who rose to the command of the Bengal Army under Hastings in 1773-4, made a report to the board in May, 1757, on some of these suggested sites for the new Fort. As regards one of these proposals he wrote:—
"Agreeable to a request made by the Governor, I have examined the ground to the eastward of the present Fort, and am of opinion that with very little expense a proper spot of ground might be cleared about six hundred yards directly to the east of it, sufficient for a Fort, and Esplanade round it of seven or eight hundred yards. . . . Nothing more is required than an avenue to the river, which is nearly already done, and would be completely so were the houses cleared away, from the Court-house to Mr. Cooke's house, when the old Fort is pulled down."
This ground to the eastward of the old Fort, is that occupied by Lal Bazar, and the avenue to the river would have been along Dalhousie Square North. The Court-house, as we shall see later on, stood on the ground now occupied by St Andrew's Church, St Anne's having stood at the other end of Dalhousie Square North.
Captain Barker's report continued—
"A canal may be brought from the river close to the Fort, and have wharfs and quays, with cranes for the embarking and disembarking of goods in boats, and at the same time furnish the town with water by having pipes of communication underground to large cisterns for that purpose in the Fort; may also supply the ditches with water with proper sluices to retain or let it out at low tides. The large tank will contribute greatly to accomplishing this canal, since the length is near one-third finished to our hands."
In the end this ambitious plan was put aside in favour of the simpler one of removing the village of Govindpore and building the Fort on the river bank, where the marshy plain on the land side formed a natural esplanade, and New Fort William was accordingly begun at the end of 1757. The original plans included all the public buildings within the fortifications, the
Not the wildest dreams of the gallant captain could have imagined the busy wharves and jetties of Modern Calcutta, the mighty cranes that embark and disembark goods from monster steamers, the miles upon miles of "pipes underground" that, fed by huge cisterns, supply the requirements of the metropolis of India.
[Face p. 57.
These changes, however, belong to later years, and Clive and Admiral Watson, when they had recaptured Calcutta, found themselves, in the opening days of 1757, confronted with many serious dangers. The nawab was marching from Murshedabad with a powerful army, Calcutta was in no condition to resist the attack, and, to add to the difficulties of the situation, France and England were on the eve of war, and the French at Chandernagore might at any moment move against the English settlement.
The English forces comprised some seven hundred European infantry; fifteen hundred sepoys, lately raised for the first time; eight hundred artillery with fourteen guns, nearly all 6-pounders; and the sailors from the fleet. Suraj-ud-Dowlah's army mustered eighteen thousand horse, fifteen thousand foot, ten thousand Bildars or Pioneers, forty pieces of heavy artillery drawn by oxen, fifty elephants, and an armed rabble of followers. This huge army crossed the river near Hughly, and, approaching Calcutta from the Dum Dum side, settled like a swarm of locusts on the villages which skirted the settlement.
A little to the south of where the Dum Dum Road then, as now, entered the town, stood the houses of two wealthy natives, Govindram Mittre, and Omichand. At the time the Mahratta Ditch was dug, it was carried round these two houses, although they lay outside its course, so as to include them in its protection. The nawab on reaching Calcutta established his head-quarters in Omichand's garden, leaving his body-guard of Mogul horse on the opposite side of the Ditch, with the main body of the army, whose outskirts extended nearly as far south as Ballygunge. On learning of the isolated position of the nawab's personal camp, Clive formed the bold plan to make a night attack on the enemy's artillery, spike the guns, and then, in the confusion, attack Suraj-ud-Dowlah's head-quarters, and thus strike terror into his army. The plan, though considerably altered in its execution, was entirely successful in its effect, and on the 5th of February, 1757, was fought the last battle of Calcutta, which left the British undisputed masters of their settlement.
When the nawab's army was marching on Calcutta, Clive formed an entrenched camp near Cossipore, about half a mile inland from the river. Here he placed a small force of Europeans and three hundred sepoys, an equal number garrisoned the Fort, the remainder were available for active operations. At three o'clock on the morning of Saturday, the 5th of February, Clive marched his column from the Cossipore camp, in a dense fog such as is common in Calcutta during the cold season. Four hundred sepoys led the way, an equal number brought up the rear, in the middle were six hundred and fifty European infantry and one hundred artillery. A body of six hundred sailors drew the guns, guarded them, and took charge of the lascars who carried the ammunition, and who would otherwise have deserted.
Marching silently through the fog, the leading troops surprised the enemy's outposts, who, after a hurried discharge of matchlocks and rockets, fled in confusion. Unfortunately one of the rockets struck a sepoy, and exploded his pouch of cartridges, setting fire to some of his comrades and disorganizing the advance for a time. When the march was resumed the leaders had lost their bearings, and the enemy's battery was missed: the column, however, marched steadily on through the fog, till they arrived opposite Suraj-ud-Dowlah's headquarters in Omichand's garden, but on the opposite side of the Ditch. Now for the first time an attempt was made to check their advance, and the Mogul horse bore down on them, but as they charged through the fog a deadly fire swept their ranks, they checked, swerved, and fled in disorder.
Clive's plan was to seize a causeway which crossed the Ditch into the town, a little to the south of Omichand's garden, on the line of the present road which passes the Gas Works, and, turning back from there, to fall on the nawab's camp. With this intention the march was continued rapidly, the guns in the middle of the column firing obliquely forward into the fog on either side, and the troops keeping up a discharge of musketry against the unseen foe. Thus dealing dismay and death around, the British reached the causeway without a check. But then occurred a fatal blunder. As the leading troops turned upon the causeway they came into the line of the fire of their own guns, and, before the firing could be stopped, several men had been killed and the whole column thrown into confusion. By this time the fog was beginning to lighten, and, before the troops could be re-formed and led to the attack of a barricade at the end of the causeway, they were suddenly swept by a deadly fire from two heavy guns, which, mounted in a small bastion in the lines along the Ditch, had been unsuspected in the darkness.
It was impossible to assault the barricade in the face of this fire, and the column hastily resumed the march beside the Ditch, making for the next causeway—that which carried the road which, leading to the main gate of the old Fort, was known successively as the Avenue and the Great Bungalow Road before it took its present name of Bow Bazar Street. The position was now one of great peril: the country to be crossed was a succession of rice-fields, dry and cracked at that season of the year, and divided by innumerable little banks over which the guns had to be dragged. The enemy's guns continued to fire on the column, which as it advanced came into range of two other guns, mounted in a similar position at the other causeway, while the Mogul cavalry, emboldened by seeing the weakness of the little force, made several charges on the rear.
With stubborn courage the British pressed on, keeping the enemy at bay, pausing from time to time to return the fire of the guns, till at last they reached the road and formed their ranks to attack the nawab's troops, both cavalry and infantry, who held the passage of the Ditch. In this they were splendidly successful—the infantry at once gave way before the assault, the cavalry did little better, though, closing on the rear, they captured a gun, only to surrender it again to a charge led by Ensign Yorke. Having cleared the passage, the column quickly crossed over, and marching along the Avenue—Bow Bazar—they shook off the pursuing troops, and reached the Fort before midday. From there they marched again in the evening, and returned by the river-bank to the camp at Cossipore. The scene of the last engagement with the nawab's troops lies within the boundaries of the terminus of the Eastern Bengal Railway at Sealdah.
The English losses in the operations numbered twenty-seven Europeans, eighteen sepoys, and twelve sailors killed; and seventy Europeans, thirty-five sepoys, and twelve sailors wounded. Among the killed were Clive's A.D.C., Captain Bridges, and his secretary, Mr. Belcher. The nawab's casualties numbered thirteen hundred killed and wounded, besides four elephants, five hundred horses, and three hundred draught cattle. The result was all that Clive could have hoped; the nawab retired in panic from the neighbourhood of Calcutta, and, camping near Dum Dum, sent conciliatory messages to Clive, offering to make restitution for the destruction of Calcutta, and professing a desire to conclude a friendly alliance with the British—offers to which the Calcutta Government were glad to make a favourable response.
The nawab's retreat having relieved the British commanders of their immediate anxiety, they turned their thoughts to securing themselves against French hostilities. They first proposed to the Governor of Chandernagore that the French and English settlements in Bengal should remain neutral; but to this the Governor felt himself unable to agree, as he was under the orders of the Governor of Pondicherry. Admiral Watson and Clive thereupon decided to take the initiative, and, obtaining a reluctant permission from Suraj-ud-Dowlah to attack Chandernagore, the British ships sailed up the Hughly, and, after some severe fighting, captured the French settlement on the 23rd of March. On the following day the English wounded were brought down to Calcutta, and most of them placed in the hospital under the care of Surgeon Ives, of H.M.S. Kent.
The hospital appears to have escaped destruction during the siege and occupation of Calcutta. It stood apart from the Fort, on the ground now occupied by Garstin's Place, in close contiguity to the burying-ground, which must have been a fruitful source of disease and death to the unfortunate patients.Among those wounded at Chandernagore were Captain Henry Speke, of the Kent, and his son William, a lad of sixteen, who was serving as midshipman on his father's ship. Ives, who was on the Kent tending the wounded during the action, gives in his Journal a long and pathetic account of poor Billy Speke's sufferings and death, and of the distress of his wounded father. It was the same shot which struck down both father and son: the captain was not dangerously wounded, but the poor boy had a leg almost torn off, the shattered limb hanging only by the skin when he was carried down to the surgeon in the arms of a quarter-master, who, while carrying the wounded lad, was himself killed by a cannon ball. The devoted son would not allow his wounds to be dressed till his father had been attended to, and bore the amputation
ADMIRAL CHARLES WATSON
[Face p. 65.
Here lyes the
Body of William Speke
Aged 18 son of Hy. Speke Esqr.
Captain of His Majesty's Ship Kent
He lost his leg and life in that ship
At the capture of Fort Orleans
The 24th March Anno 1757.
This inscription gives the boy's age as eighteen, whereas Ives says he was sixteen, and the date of the capture of Chandernagore is also wrongly stated, as the town was taken on the 23rd of March. Near Billy Speke's tomb is that of Admiral Watson, who died on the 16th of August, 1757, at the early age of forty-four.
Before Admiral Watson died, Clive had led his conquering army to Plassey and Murshedabad. The reasons which led to this change of policy are matters of history. Suraj-ud-Dowlah, while keeping at a respectful distance from Calcutta, had broken faith with the English, and was intriguing with the French to come up from Southern India, and oust the English from Bengal. The leading nobles at Murshedabad were disgusted with the folly and tyranny of their young ruler, and the commander-in-chief of his army, Meer Jaffir, opened negotiations with Clive to overthrow the nawab, and elect him in his room. The office of nawab had never been an hereditary one, and from time immemorial might had been right in the country, so that the proposal was quite in keeping with the traditions of native government, and Clive willingly entered into a treaty which promised safety and prosperity to the country under a stable government.
In the middle of June, 1757, Clive marched against Murshedabad. The nawab, alternating between defiance and terror, advanced with his army to meet the British, and, on the 23rd June, near the little village of Plassey, the two armies met, and the victory which made secure the foundations of the British Empire in India was won. The defeated Suraj-ud-Dowlah mounted a swift camel, and, accompanied by some two thousand of his army, fled to Murshedabad, leaving in his camp at Plassey several hundred women, who, according to Verelst, "Meer Jaffir sent to offer to Col. Clive."
From his deserted palace the stricken nawab fled again at midnight with the very few faithful women and servants who still followed his fortunes, and attempted to make his way up the river in boats, hoping to find an asylum in the northern provinces. But past misdeeds now rose against him: the party stopped to try and procure food at the cell of a Mohammedan recluse; this man, remembering a wanton insult received from the nawab in the past, detained the fugitives with promises of assistance, while he sent information of their presence to the new nawab, Jaffir Khan. The unhappy Suraj-ud-Dowlah, so long the petted and spoilt child of Fortune, was seized and carried back to Murshedabad, where, within a few days of the first anniversary of the Massacre of the Black Hole, he was murdered in cold blood as he lay fettered in a dungeon.
With the death of Suraj-ud-Dowlah the troubles of the English were at an end. The new nawab lost no time in sending to Calcutta the indemnity promised to the inhabitants for their losses and sufferings. From the depths of poverty and humiliation they were raised at once to wealth and power. The town gave itself up to general rejoicing, and at this happy time, says Orme, "Quarrels were forgotten and enemies became friends."