Calcutta: Past and Present/Chapter 4
Calcutta buildings in the eighteenth century—Government House—The Council House—Court House—Hospital—Burying-ground—Old Church and the Rev. Kiernander—The New Fort and Hastings.
WITH the triumphant reversal of fortune which followed Plassey, the necessity for keeping the English factory at Calcutta within the Fort was at an end. The town at once began to expand, and the European quarter to spread. At first, as was natural, new houses were built along the roads which already existed, chief among them "the Avenue"—Bow Bazar,—and the pilgrim road, Chowringhee, from which they diverged into Dhurrumtolla and Jaun Bazar. The wide spaces between these main lines were covered with villages, fields, tanks and watercourses, which year by year gave way before the advancing town, till at last the only traces of the old order that remained were to be found in the names of different divisions of the town, and in the bustees which in ever-dwindling numbers still lingered among the streets. Bow Bazar with its spacious width was long a fashionable quarter, and many of the old houses, given up now to squalor and decay, still show traces of their ancient splendour in their large and lofty rooms, beneath whose decorated ceilings ladies in hooped skirts and powdered hair once tripped lightly in the dance with gallant partners brave in lace ruffles and wigs, or passed through the tall doors and down the wide stairs to their sedan chairs or high swinging chariots, to be marshalled home by mussalchies with flaming torches.
The house which Clive occupied on the recovery of Calcutta, and from which Clive Street took its name, is thought by Doctor Busteed to have stood about the site of the present Royal Exchange, and to have been the house "behind the Play House" which Philip Francis rented, in 1776, at £100 per month. The following extract from a private diary, under date of October, 1795, would suggest rather that Clive's house stood in Lyons Range. The entry, which is in reference to a survey of the house in question on behalf of an intending purchaser, is as follows:—
"28th October, 1795. To Williamson's; it is Hamilton's house behind the Writers' Buildings. After examining the house carefully, I advised him to have nothing to do with it, either to repair it or purchase it. He wants a regular survey to be held upon it, so recommended him to call in Tiretta (Civil Architect).
"October 30th, 1795. Tiretta called; accompanied him to G. Williamson's. Tiretta is for building two rooms, I am for pulling the whole down; for to obtain these two upper rooms, he must build four, namely the two lower ones also, and these certainly at a loss, for they can never be put to any use, being so low, only level with the compound. Williamson said it was the Government House when he came out, but believes it was taken for that purpose merely because it had doors and windows to it; the Mohammedans had burnt those of other houses at the capture of Calcutta."
From the above description it seems clear that this cannot have been the house which Francis called "the best house in the town" when he rented it twenty years earlier, and Dr. Busteed's identification of the site of the Royal Exchange as the position of this latter house is probably correct. In the "Plan of the Territory of Calcutta in 1742," given as an inset in Upjohn's map, "Mr. Eyre's house" is shown to the north of St. Anne's Church, the position described by the diarist as "behind Writers' Buildings." In Upjohn's own map, 1792-3, what was presumably the same house is shown with the new Theatre adjoining it on the west, "Theatre Street" running between the two. The Theatre stood on the site of the present new China Bazar, which makes the position of the house correspond with the corner of the road from the Bazar into Lyons Range, and it is safe to conjecture that this was the house described in 1776, in the deeds relating to the lease of the land on which Writers' Buildings was built, as "the house in the occupation of James Huggins, merchant." Clive most likely occupied "Mr. Eyre's house," if such it was, during the three years of his first administration of Bengal, from January, 1757, to February, 1760, when he sailed for England, and lived in the larger and probably new house during his second administration.
The Governor's residence within the Fort was in ruins after the siege, and his private house outside the walls was too much injured for immediate occupation. It had been used as an outpost, but was abandoned on the second day of the siege. The house is said by Long to have been reoccupied as Government House, and to have been in so decayed and ruinous a condition in 1767, when it was surveyed by the Civil Architect, as to require immediate and thorough repair. It appears doubtful, to say the least, if the house referred to in the architect's report as "Government House" was the Governor's house of Drake's time, 1756, as in a letter to the court, dated December 31, 1758, the Calcutta Council report that they had "purchased Mr. Drake's house for the sum of twelve thousand rupees, to be used as an import warehouse when the old Fort was clearing out to be converted into barracks for the military." (These barracks were for use till the new Fort was completed.) It seems more likely that the Governor's house thus purchased was identical with the Bankshall of later years, which was pulled down in 1812, when it was in a state past repair. The present Small Cause Court occupies the site of the old Bankshall: an examination of old maps shows that the old building stood on the river's bank; this was conclusively proved in 1890, when the western extension of the Court was being built. The excavations then made for foundations revealed masonry remains, which were easily identified as a portion of the southern wall of the "New Dock" which was built adjoining the Bankshall just one hundred years earlier, in 1790, and was filled up in 1808.It is not clear where "Government House" stood up to 1789, when M. Grandpré, a French officer who published an account of his "Voyage
GOVERNMENT HOUSE AND COUNCIL HOUSE, CALCUTTA, 1794.
[Face p. 73.
As shown in the engraving, it was an ordinary house of two storeys, with a closed verandah on the upper floor and an arched one below. On the balustraded terrace was a single room with a sloping roof, apparently a wooden structure. At either end of the house was a wing in which were probably the A.D.C.'s and other officers' quarters. These wings formed a courtyard in front of the house, from which two square pillared gateways opened on to the Esplanade, and between them ran a low masonry wall surmounted by a light wooden railing. The house was so small that all public entertainments given by the Governor were held at the Court House, which was long the centre of Calcutta social gatherings; and so pinched was the accommodation for the household, that Lord Cornwallis, in 1793, rented a house in Old Court House Street, at Rs. 500 a month, for the use of his staff.
Adjoining Government House, to the west, stood the Council House, the two buildings together occupying the width of the present Government House grounds. For a twelve-month after the recovery of Calcutta there was no Council Room, as is shown by the "Consultations" for June 22, 1758, when it was agreed that—
"there being at present no proper places for the public offices, from which circumstance many inconveniences arise in carrying out the business of the settlement, and as it will be proper likewise to have a room to hold our Councils in contiguous to the Secretary's and Accountant's Offices, the dwelling-house of the late Mr. Richard Court be purchased for the Honble. Company, and appropriated to the above uses."
It is not likely that this house of Mr. Court's could have been to the south of "the Creek," as at that date, 1758, the settlement was only just beginning to extend on that side. It was probably a house near the hospital, and remained in use till 1764, when the Council House on the Esplanade was built, and gave its name to the street which led to it from the other public offices round the "Great Tank." The Proceedings for October 15, 1764, record that—
"the present Council Room being from its situation greatly exposed to the heat of the weather, and from its vicinity to the Public Offices very ill calculated for conducting the business of the Board with that privacy which is often requisite, it is agreed to build a new Council Room at a convenient distance from the offices."
Having experienced the heat of the weather in their old quarters, the Board selected an open situation which enjoyed the full benefit of the southerly breeze across the Esplanade of the New Fort, which by that time was nearing completion, and "contiguous" to it they built, either then or later, a house for the Governor. These two buildings continued in use till 1799, when the magnificent Marquis Wellesley built the present Government House, on the site which they had occupied.
Another public institution for which new quarters had to be found was the hospital. The old building adjoining the burial-ground was a veritable death-trap to those unfortunates who were driven to seek its shelter, and had been the subject of constant complaint for years. At last, in 1768, a house was purchased from a native gentleman for the purpose of a hospital. It stood to the south of the Esplanade, the Maidan, practically in the country. This house, with various alterations and additions including two other buildings erected in 1795, remained in use as the Presidency General Hospital up to the last few years, when it made way for a new hospital on the same site, in keeping with the requirements of modern science.
The considerations of public health which suggested the removal of the hospital to a more open situation and purer air led also to the closing of the old burial-ground, and the opening of the new cemetery at a distance from the town, that now known as South Park Street Cemetery. The records of the "Consultations" for the 25th of August, 1767, contain this entry: "The President acquainted the Board that, the New Burying Ground near Mr. Vansittart's garden being now ready, they desired the clergyman to consecrate it, as the sickly season is approaching"—a reference to the fever which prevailed at the close of the rains.
On the same date—August 25, 1767—the first interment took place in this ground, that of Mr. John Wood, a writer in the Council House. The monument over this grave was levelled some years later, when an addition was made to the ground, and the oldest tomb that remained was that of Mrs. Sarah Pearson, aged 19, who died on the 8th of September, 1767. It would appear, however, that the ground at this time had not been consecrated, for, on the 18th of May following, the chaplain, the Rev, William Parry, submitted a letter to the President and Council representing that the great distance of the New Burial Ground from Calcutta, "which I am required to consecrate for immediate use (if required), obliges me to request that you would please to make such an allowance for bearers to attend duty there as you may judge necessary and sufficient for that purpose." The allowance the Board judged sufficient for the reverend gentleman's palkee-bearers was thirty rupees a month, which amount was accordingly added to the chaplain's salary.
Palkee-bearers were at this time regular members of every household staff of servants, and a simple little joke of a clerical brother of Chaplain Parry, the Rev. J. Z. Kiernander, who spoke of his palankeen and bearers as his "coach and four," served to point a moral for many who took the worthy pastor in a literal sense, as even Dr. Busteed has done in later years, and shook their heads over his unbecoming extravagance, when the poor man fell into pecuniary difficulties, as he did in the closing years of his long missionary career. To the Rev. John Zachary Kiernander belongs the credit of having built what is now the oldest Protestant church in Calcutta—the Old or Mission Church—the second oldest place of Christian worship, the Armenian church being the oldest. Kiernander himself was the first Protestant missionary in Bengal; he came to Calcutta in 1758, from Tranquebar, at the instance of the S.P.C.K., in whose missions in Madras he had been working for eighteen years, and with the cordial approval, if not the direct invitation, of Clive. Kiernander was warmly welcomed in Calcutta, and received the friendly support of the Company's chaplain, the Rev. Henry Butler, who assisted him in obtaining subscriptions for the mission work.
It is not very creditable to the Calcutta community of that period and the Court of Directors that, after the destruction of St. Anne's Church in 1756, no English church was erected in the town till Kiernander built his Mission Church in 1770, and there was no Presidency church till 1787, when St John's Church was completed. When Kiernander arrived in Calcutta Mr. Butler was holding the English services in the Portuguese Chapel, the Roman Catholic priests having been temporarily banished from the settlement. This chapel was a small and damp brick building on the site now occupied by the Moorgehatta Cathedral, and here Kiernander, with the chaplain's permission, instituted a Sunday service in Portuguese, his Mission being addressed primarily to the Portuguese Roman Catholics, of whom there were an immense number in Calcutta.
These people, who formed the poorest class of natives, were descendants for the most part of the Portuguese adventurers and soldiers who had come to Bengal in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was always the policy of the Portuguese commanders in India to encourage marriages between their soldiers and the women of the country, with the idea of strengthening their rule by ties of interest and affection. At the same time, they steadily refused all official employment to the children of such marriages, and even debarred the children of Portuguese parents who were born in India from the higher offices of Government. Such a policy naturally worked its own ruin; the bolder and more enterprising members of the mixed community, disowned by their father's race, outcasts from their mother's kindred, repaid contempt with hate, and, taking to piracy and brigandage, became a terror to those who had outlawed them. While the more timid, priding themselves on their European descent, and clinging to a pitiful imitation of European customs, were driven to menial occupations for a livelihood, and, sinking deeper and deeper in the social scale, made the proud Portuguese names they had inherited a byword through the land for all that was vicious, idle, and degraded. Kiernander's mission work early bore fruit; during his first year in Calcutta he had the satisfaction of receiving fifteen converts, while during the twenty-eight years of his mission in Bengal he baptized over five hundred adult converts, Hindu as well as Portuguese.
Kiernander's wife, a sister of Colonel Fischer of the Madras Army, accompanied him to Calcutta, where she died three years later. A year after her death he married a wealthy widow, a Mrs. Ann Woolley, and at about the same time he received a legacy on the death of a brother in Sweden. This with his first wife's fortune placed him in comfortable circumstances, and in 1767, when his congregation had largely increased, he decided to erect a church at his own expense. The "Mission Church" was accordingly built, at a cost of over sixty-seven thousand rupees, of which sum Kiernander provided all but about two thousand rupees which was subscribed by sympathizers. The architect was a Dane, Martin Boutant de Mevell, and the church he raised was a bare and barnlike structure, very unlike what it is now, after undergoing various alterations and enlargements since its completion in 1770.
The church was consecrated under the name Beth Tephilla (House of Prayer), but the clumsy appellation seems never to have been used, and after other churches were built it was called simply the Old Church, a name by which it has been known by successive generations to the present day. The red-brick exterior of the church is said to have gained for it the name of Lal Girja, or Red Church, from the natives. It is sometimes said that the Dalhousie Square tank took its native name Lal Diggee, the Red Tank, from a red-brick bastion of the Old Fort which, reflected in its waters, gave them a ruddy appearance. Whether this was so, or the tank was known to the natives, as it certainly was to the early English, as the Great Tank is an open question. The name Lal Diggee may have been acquired later from the Lal Girja, in the same way as that of the upper part of Bow Bazar, Lal Bazar, was. It must be remembered that when Kiernander built his church there were no houses between it and the tank. One of the set of Baillie's engravings of 1794, already alluded to, gives a view of "Tank Square" which shows the church clearly. It is interesting to note, in view of the large buildings recently erected at this end of Old Court House Street, that, up to May, 1806, a restraint lay on this ground from building upper-roomed houses—a restriction possibly imposed long before, in connection with the Old Fort.
In addition to building the church, Kiernander erected a school-house and minister's house adjoining the church; and when, in 1773, his second wife died, he buried her in a plot of land adjoining the burial-ground in Park Street, which he purchased and devoted to the use of the Mission congregation. Kiernander had evidently a weakness for bricks and mortar, for in addition to the Mission buildings he built for himself a house in Camac Street, which he called Beth Saron, and a "garden house" at Bhowanipore, which he named Saron Grove, and which now forms a portion of the premises of the London Missionary Society. Unfortunately for himself, Kiernander's eldest son shared his father's taste, and, in 1787, he induced the old man to stand security for a large sum of money which he raised for the purpose of building houses, a form of speculation greatly in vogue at the time. Before the buildings were completed young Kiernander's creditors pressed for payment, and, finding him unable to meet their demand, they took alarm, and had his property attached and sold at a ruinous loss. The property of the elder Kiernander, as his son's security, was also seized, and the sheriff's seal was placed upon the Mission Church, the school-house, and the burial-ground. At this deplorable juncture a member of the Mission Church congregation, Mr. Charles Grant, of the Company's Civil Service, came forward to rescue the Mission buildings. The church, school-house, and burial-ground, which had cost altogether a lakh of rupees, were assessed at one-tenth of that sum only. Mr. Grant paid ten thousand rupees for the property, which he placed in the hands of three trustees on behalf of the Mission, and thus saved from partition, and perhaps destruction, the outcome of years of devoted toil.
The Kiernanders left Calcutta for the Dutch settlement of Chinsurah, where the old missionary was appointed chaplain, and where he remained till 1795, when the town passed into the hands of the English. His son had died in the interval, leaving a widow and young family, with whom the old man returned to Calcutta, where the last few years of his life passed peacefully. He died in 1799, at the great age of eighty-eight, and was laid to rest in the family vault he had prepared in the Mission Burial Ground, in Park Street. While Kiernander was the first Protestant missionary to Bengal, his successor, the Rev. A. T. Clarke, was the first Protestant missionary of English nationality in Bengal, his arrival, in 1789, preceding by four years that of the Baptist missionary, Dr. Carey, for whom the honour is sometimes claimed.One of the earliest duties Mr. Kiernander took up on his arrival in Calcutta was the charge of the Charity School, which he continued to conduct without payment for nearly twenty years, when advancing age and failing sight obliged him to resign. This Charity School, which in 1800 was amalgamated with the Calcutta Free School, was founded, as far back as 1727, by public subscription for the purpose of "educating poor European children in the Protestant religion." Mr. Richard Bourchier, a member of the Calcutta Council and Master Attendant, afterwards Governor of Bombay, took a leading part in founding the school; and when, shortly after, a Mayor's Court was established in Calcutta, this gentleman built a Court House for its accommodation, which he made over to the Government on
THE OLD COURT HOUSE, ABOUT 1784.
[Face p. 85.
During the years in which these changes were taking place and transforming Calcutta from a trading factory to a city, Fort William was gradually approaching completion. There had been considerable trouble with contractors and skilled labourers, and a large number of brick-layers and artificers were sent out from England by the Court of Directors "for the better carrying on of the works." These men received wages ranging from £60 to £90 a year, but, owing to the large number of houses which were being built and the consequent demand for labour, they were able to command much higher salaries from private employers, so that, in 1766,—
"the Committee of Works complained that out of nine hundred or one thousand bricklayers formerly in the Company's pay, all but twenty-three had been seduced into private employ by higher pay, and they asked for an order that the price of all labour should be determined by what the Company pay, and all skilled labourers should be registered and private persons be allowed to employ them only as they can be spared."
It would be interesting to know if the native term "mistery," applied to skilled workmen and artisans, took its origin at this time from the imported English workmen. The following suggestive passage occurs in Lofties' "London:"—
"No other city has permitted such a development of its misteries and trades, nowhere else in England have chartered associations of the kind attained such wealth and power. The very word 'mistery' often mis-spelled 'mystery,' implies skilled knowledge, or mastery of a branch of industrial art."
The very large number of English workmen, of every grade, employed for so many years on the building of the Fort, could not but make an impression on the great army of inferior workmen and coolies associated with them, and must have wrought a great change in Bengalee methods, while adopting all that was best and most suited to the climate.
It was at this period that the isolated little suburb of Hastings was formed, in the first instance as a temporary settlement for the workmen, and later as convenient for the dwellings of subordinates connected with the Fort. It was long known by its original native name of Coolie Bazar, but received its present style in later years from its proximity to Hastings Bridge over Tolly's Nullah, built in 1833, and named in honour of the Marquis of Hastings, under whose auspices the first iron bridge in India, a foot-bridge, had been erected in 1822, over Tolly's Nullah at Kalighat.
This iron bridge had a span of 141 feet, but was only 8 feet wide, and was approached by a steep causeway, being intended only for foot-passengers and pack bullocks. A carriage bridge was built in 1891, a little to the north of the old bridge, which was then pulled down, when a copper plate bearing the following inscription was removed from the structure:—
"Under the auspices of the most noble Francis, Marquess of Hastings, etc., etc., Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief in India, this Iron Bridge, the first of the description in India, is erected.
Lt. G. Aug. Schalch, Act. Mas. Mas.,
Anno Domini 1822,
Anno Lucio 5226."