Calcutta: Past and Present/Chapter 5
IN HASTINGS' DAY
Jaffir Ali's deposition, and residence at Alipore—Hastings' connection with Alipore; his second wife—Mrs. Hastings' town house—Mrs. Fay and her house—Francis and his houses—The site of the duel—Major Tolly and "Belvedere," and Tolly's Nullah.
In 1760, three years after the battle of Plassey, the Nawab Jaffir Ali Khan, who had been created nawab by Clive, was deposed by Clive's successor in the Government, Mr. Vansittart, and his son-in-law, Meer Cossim, was made nawab in his room. The deposed nawab petitioned the Calcutta Board for permission, which was readily granted, to reside in Calcutta, on the ground that he "could not be safe in Bengal excepting under English protection." He accordingly took up his residence in the neighbourhood which has since been known as Alipore. It was a custom of Mohammedan rulers to rename any town or locality which they might occupy, and the distinctly Mohammedan name of Alipore, among the Hindu villages of Bhowanipore, Durgapore, and Kalighat, tells of an alien occupation, while any doubt that might remain is dispelled by the names which still cling to plots of land in the neighbourhood, such as Begumbari and Sahibabegan.
The exact site in Alipore where Jaffir Ali lived during the three years of his exile may be open to question, but it is permissible to conjecture that his house stood near where now stands the Court of the Judge of the Twenty-four Pergunnahs, and that, when his period of deposition came to an end in 1763, the house, and grounds, and adjoining lands passed into the hands of Warren Hastings. It seems probable that the nawab presented the property to Hastings as a gift, as a return possibly for kindness and attention received. That his was a grateful nature is shown by the terms of his legacy to Clive, to whom he owed his elevation to the gadi, which ran as follows:—
"Three lacs fifty thousand rupees in money, fifty thousand rupees in jewels, and one lac in Gold Mohurs, in all Five lacs of rupees in money and effects to the Light of my eyes, the Nabob firm in war, Lord Clive the Hero."
This magnificent legacy Clive, as is well
[Face p. 91.
Whether by gift or by purchase, the house and land in question were acquired by Warren Hastings, and in 1763, the year in which Jaffir Ali left Alipore on his re-instatement as nawab, Hastings requested "permission of the Board to build a bridge over the Kalighat (Tolly's) Nullah, on the road to his garden house"—which request was complied with.
"Hastings House," Alipore, was the house which Hastings built in later years, and which he occupied up to the time he left India finally. The house which he first acquired lay to the west of "Hastings House," and the grounds included the whole of the land lying within the sweep of the public road. The number of houses built in this neighbourhood during recent years, and the opening of the Judges Court Road, which divides the original block, have so altered this locality that it is difficult now to trace the boundaries which a few years back it was comparatively easy to define. Some years ago Dr. Busteed, in an interesting article contributed to the Calcutta Englishman of the 27th of May, 1892, transcribed an advertisement which he had found in a file of the Calcutta Gazette for 1785, in the British Museum. The advertisement ran as follows:—
"To be sold by Messrs. Williams and Lee, at the Old Court House on the 10th May next (a map of estate now lying for inspection at the Library), part of the estate of W. Hastings at Alipur, in 3 lots:
"Lot 1. The house opposite the paddock gate consisting of hall, a large verandah to the southward, and six rooms. Two small bungalows, large tank of excellent water, and above 63 biggas of land, partly lawn, but chiefly garden ground in high cultivation, and well stocked with a great variety of fruit trees.
"Lot. 2. An upper-roomed house consisting of hall and 2 rooms on each floor, a handsome stone staircase and a back staircase all highly finished with Madras chunam and the very best materials. A lower-roomed house containing a large hall and four good bed chambers: a complete bathing-house containing 2 rooms finished with Madras chunam: a convenient bungalow containing 2 rooms and a verandah all round, a large range of pucka buildings containing stabling for 14 horses, and 4 coach houses: other stables also (thatched) for 12 horses and 6 carriages, and 46 biggas of ground.
"Lot 3. The paddock, containing 52 biggas of ground surrounded with railed fence."
It is this advertisement to which Hastings alluded in one of his letters to his wife, who had preceded him to England, when he said, "I have actually advertised the sale of it in three lots, the old house and garden forming one, the new house and outhouses the second, and the paddock the third. I have parted with all my mares, except four which have colts."
The three parcels of land described in the advertisement formed one unbroken block, and the three lots were identified in the columns of the Englishman as follows:—
"When Warren Hastings' landed property at Alipore was sold in 1785 in three lots, the purchasers of the first two lots were Messrs. Turner and Jackson respectively: the third lot, the paddock, was purchased by a Mr. Honeycomb, an attorney of the Supreme Court. Some fifty years later 'the paddock' was acquired by D. W. H. Speede, the founder of the well-known arrow-root works, and he changed the name from the paddock to 'the Penn,' an obvious synonym, and so confused what was an unmistakable record of the old time. At the time of the transfer of the paddock to Honeycomb, the title-deeds were accompanied by a letter referring to the original grant of the land to Hastings. This letter was forwarded some years ago to the India Office by the present occupier of the property, through whose courtesy many of the above facts have been obtained."
The first lot, described in the advertisement, was the land lying to the west of Hastings House, and extending as far as Alipore Road. This ground, which is now divided by Judges' Court Road, and on which the Judges' Court House and other houses now stand, was at that time one unbroken block of sixty-three biggas. It was laid out in lawns and gardens, in which were planted cinnamon and other rare and valuable trees, which Hastings was desirous of introducing into Bengal. Separating this lot from "the Penn," or paddock, was a drive, leading to the principal gate of Hastings House; this is now a branch road, but was originally the carriage drive within the grounds. The paddock gate probably opened on to this drive, and facing it was "the old house," on a site occupied now by a house of later date, which may contain some
Still further changes have taken place during the last decade, and with the disappearance of the old "Penn" has gone the last trace of the past, for the modern residences which have arisen on the site have nothing in common with the old paddock in which Hastings' mares and their foals ran free.
HASTINGS' HOUSE, ALIPORE. NORTH VIEW.
HASTINGS' HOUSE, ALIPORE. SOUTH VIEW.
[Face p. 95.
"The description of the upper-roomed house in Lot 2 corresponds with the centre portion of Hastings House, which is all that existed in Hastings' time—the little house which seemed to Mrs. Fay a 'perfect bijou.' The stone staircase still stands, but can scarcely be called handsome, being narrow, winding, and steep. The back staircase is also in good preservation, it is built into an odd corner-cupboardlike wooden shaft, within a bath-room, and is lighted by a small-barred window which opens into the room. The Madras Chunam of the advertisement is lost under successive coats of whitewash.
"The hall and two rooms on each floor form the original house, the central block, while the wings are distinctly of a later period, as is evidenced by the style of the beams and burghas, and by the stucco work. The entire building is raised four feet from the ground, but only the wings are flued—another mark of the later period, and finally the walls of the wings do not 'bond' into those of the central block. This is very apparent on the southern front of the building."
In the same way as the surroundings of Hastings House are very different now to what they were ten years ago, so Hastings House of the above description was very different to what it has become since Lord Curzon rescued it from impending fate, and converted it into a state "guest-house" for Indian princes and nobles. At that time it had been vacant for many years, and stood forlorn and deserted, cut off from the outer world by its own spacious grounds, a melancholy spectacle of decay and desolation. Still more marked must have been the difference when the house was in the early days of its splendour: all that taste could suggest and wealth could supply had been lavished on its adornment, and the gracious presence of the brilliant Mrs. Hastings, the "beloved Marian" for whom this shrine had been prepared, shed a charm over all.
That Hastings House is the actual house in which Warren Hastings lived at Alipore is now indisputably proved, but that honour has repeatedly been claimed for "Belvedere." The mistake originated with Mrs. Fay, who, writing in 1780, spoke of Mrs. Hastings as residing at Belvedere House. Mrs. Fay was the wife of a barrister, and accompanied her husband to Calcutta in 1780, from where she wrote a series of lively, if not very accurate letters, to her relatives in England. More than thirty years later, when the writer had experienced trials and anxieties which, as she sadly complained, "had produced only a long train of blasted hopes and heart-rending disappointments," she published these early letters without apparently correcting her mistaken first impressions, and her statement that she had visited Mrs. Hastings at Belvedere House, about five miles from Calcutta, remained to puzzle and mislead successive generations of Calcutta residents.
Poor Mrs. Fay's "trials" began soon after her arrival in India, when she separated from her husband. Some years later, she, having in the mean time been home to England, returned to Calcutta with an "investment" of millinery and dresses, and two young ladies to assist her in disposing of her wares. She opened her shop in a house at the corner of Church Lane and Hastings Street, which overlooked the churchyard in the rear. This circumstance led to an entry in the Vestry records of St. John's Church, on the subject of a complaint by Mrs. Fay, regarding a boundary wall which shut out light and air from her lower rooms. In this record, dated 13th April, 1789, the house is alluded to as "formerly the Post Office," which gives us the origin of the name of "Old Post Office Street" directly opposite. The Post Office was probably removed from this house on account of its being reduced in size, as a portion of the building was pulled down about this period, when the erection of the church led to alterations in the neighbourhood, and Church Lane was widened by the addition of a strip of land taken from the old burial-ground. The house Mrs. Fay occupied, the "Old Post Office," still stands, and its windows overlooking the churchyard still lead to complaints, and disagreement with the Church authorities.
In Hastings Street, Mrs. Fay was a neighbour of her patroness Mrs. Hastings, whose "town house," which she had occupied in earlier years as Mrs. Imhoff, was at 7, Hastings Street, where some ancient punkahs, quaintly painted in crimson and gold, still remain, stranded waifs of the tide of fashion which once filled the old house with its flood.But to return to Alipore and Belvedere. One of the earliest, if not the earliest mention of the house after Mrs. Fay's mistaken use of the name, is in the account of the duel between Hastings and Francis in August, 1780, when, after the encounter, the wounded Francis was carried to Belvedere, the house of Major Tolly, or Foley, as it has been erroneously read. Major Tolly was an engineer officer who obtained a grant of the Govindpore Creek, or Nullah, which
KIDDERPORE HOUSE IN 1794.
MRS. FAY'S HOUSE IN 1895.
[Face p. 98.
Other bodies which were cast into the canal and the river, without even a form of cremation, were those of those unfortunate convicts, and they were many, who died while undergoing their sentences. Even as late as 1811, an observer, who seems to have been more curious than shocked, wrote in reference to the convict hospital and the deaths there—
"Their transition is remarkably easy: they lie down to sleep and go off like the snuff of a candle. Their irons are not taken off till they are ascertained to be dead, when they are thrown into the Nullah—Mussulmans, I believe, as well as Hindus."
When Tolly bought "Belvedere," for the sake, no doubt, of its convenient situation as regards his canal, he probably did so from the Murshedabad family. During the Nawab Jaffir Ali's residence in Alipore, his family and retainers must have occupied a very large number of houses, forming quite a colony, as happened in the almost parallel case of the King of Oudh at Garden Reach, a century later, and it was probably one of these houses which Tolly bought and adapted to European requirements, and named it "Belvedere."
There were possibly several such houses in Belvedere grounds, which up to a much later date included the present gardens of the Agri-Horticultural Society. In these latter there stood, until recent years, the crumbling ruins of an old tomb which was known as the Begum's Tomb, and was said to have been that of a member of the Murshedabad family. The tomb, which lies to the east of the tank at the entrance gate of the gardens, was levelled in 1890, and a handsome Bougainvillea trained over the spot to cover with its kindly veil, without disturbing, the unsightly remains.
Soon after the death of Colonel Tolly, as he had then become—in 1784, Belvedere was advertised for sale, but appears not to have found a purchaser, for in 1802 it was again advertised by order of the attorney to the administratrix of the late Colonel William Tolly. In this advertisement the property is described as "that large, commodious, and well-known house, called 'Belvidere House,'" and the rent, payable in London, was £350 yearly. Two other lots were also offered, comprising the land on each side of the road leading from Belvedere Bridge to Belvedere House, in the occupation of native tenants, and yielding a yearly rental of Rs. 600. When the house once more came into the market, which it did in 1809, it was described as "that superb mansion lately occupied by the commander-in-chief at the monthly rent of sicca rupees 450, and well-known as Belvedere House"—a detailed description of the nine rooms it contained is given; "also an elegant marble cold bath, and a hot bath," the whole "recently new matted."
"Belvedere" changed owners for the last time in 1854. It was then the property of Mr. Charles Prinsep, and was purchased from him by the Government to be the official residence of the Lieut.-Governors of Bengal. In Upjoin's map of 1794 the grounds of Belvedere are shown extending as far south as Belvedere Lane. Belvedere Road had not been made at that date, and the eastern boundary, which is now marked by that road, divided Belvedere grounds from those of "the Lodge," the garden house of Philip Francis, and now the residence of the Alipore magistrate. When the Government bought Belvedere the land had been divided, and a comparatively small portion went with the house. Some years later the remainder of the ground, one hundred biggahs, was offered for sale at a moderate price, but the Government declined to purchase; a little later it was put up for public sale, and a local butcher came forward as an intending purchaser of the land for grazing his stock. The mere suggestion of such a neighbour horrified the then Lieut.-Governor, and on his urgent representations the ground was purchased by Government at a considerable advance on the price asked before: forty biggahs were added to Belvedere, and the remaining sixty biggahs were subsequently made over to the Agricultural and Horticultural Society. At that time there was an old house on the ground, which was removed to make way for the Society's present building.
About the identity of the Alipore magistrate's house with the Lodge of Philip Francis, there is no question. When Francis owned it the house was a small lower-roomed dwelling, containing a hall and four rooms. The grounds were larger even than those of Belvedere, which bounded them on the west, and included the present jail, reformatory, and other buildings, the Nullah being the boundary on the other three sides. The entrance gate was near Belvedere, and the carriage drive, a portion of which is now the public road, remains unaltered to the present day. It was this house, in its splendid park, which Macrabie, Francis' brother-in-law, described as "pleasant to the last degree," and where choice spirits of Francis' acquaintance used to gather for a weekly symposium. Francis bought the property in 1775, about a year after his arrival in the country, and sold it for Rs. 30,000 in April, 1780, six months before he left India, to his friend Livius.
It is curious that Francis should not have been taken to the Lodge rather than to Belvedere, after he had been wounded in the duel with Hastings, but no doubt the distance he would have had to be carried, round and through the extensive grounds of both houses, was the reason for taking him to that which was nearest. A detailed account of the duel was written by Colonel Peace, Hastings' second, in the form of a letter addressed to a friend at home, with the object of putting the exact circumstances on record, so that "if any reports different from what I have related should circulate, and you should think them worthy of contradiction, I hope you will not scruple to use this letter for that purpose." This account is sufficiently well known not to need quotation here, with the exception of the paragraph dealing with the exact locality. Colonel Pearce wrote—
"The place they were at was very improper for the business; it was the road leading to Allipore, at the crossing of it through a double row of trees, that formerly had been a walk of Belvidere garden on the western side of the house. Whilst Col. Watson went, by the desire of Mr. Francis, to fetch his pistols, that gentleman proposed to go aside from the road into the walk: but Mr. Hastings disapproved of the place because it was full of weeds and dark: the road itself was next mentioned, but was thought by everybody too public, as it was near riding time, and people might want to pass that way: it was therefore agreed to walk towards Mr. Barwell's house, on an old road that separated his ground from Belvidere, and, before we had gone far, a retired dry spot was chosen as a proper place."
It will be noticed that Colonel Pearce wrote of "the road leading to Allipore" which implies that Belvedere was not included in Alipore, and that the name which may be taken as "the township of Ali" was applied, at that time, only to the group of the principal houses which had been occupied by Jaffir Ali. Hastings wrote repeatedly in his letters of his house as "Allypore Gardens," and the same name is used in the title-deeds of Hastings House, in one of which, dated 1806, the property is described as premises "known by the name of Allypore Gardens."
Colonel Pearce continued his description: "at the crossing of it through a double row of trees." The last survivors of a double row of trees, an avenue, still stand on the west side of the Alipore Road, opposite the west gate of Belvedere, and it is not a far-fetched conjecture to suppose that these trees, which still border a road leading towards "Mr. Barwell's" Kidderpore House, mark the spot within a few yards where, on that damp and steamy August morning a century and a quarter ago, was fought the memorable duel which drove Philip Francis from the field in which he had schemed and plotted for power, and left Warren Hastings in a position to write, "After a conflict of six years, I may enjoy the triumph of a decided victory."
SIR PHILIP FRANCIS.
[Face p. 106.
- Kidderpore House.