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Dr Oeendrila Lahiri

Historian Aishwarya Tipnis Architects

the dutch in india & chinsurah A Historical Perspective

The Dutch in India & Chinsurah A Historical Perspective Dr Oeendrila Lahiri Historian, Aishwarya Tipnis Architects

India in the 17th century: An overview International trade between Asia and Europe dates back to thousands of years. Over millennia trade was conducted over land and river routes of which the Silk Route is the most well known. A sea route was finally established in 1498 with the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope by Vasco da Gama opening the spice markets of South and SouthEast Asia to the joint stock companies of Europe. This discovery coincided with the crisis in European feudalism which demanded an expansion of trade and the labour market. As such the 'Vasco da Gama epoch' 1 witnessed the development of transnational trading networks between various competing nations of Europe and kingdoms of Asia across the Indian Ocean and the consequent changes that were wrought upon the geo-political landscape of South Asia. Portugal naturally was the first to arrive and lay claim to the spice and textile trade in India in 1497. England and Netherlands soon followed by establishing chartered monopoly companies –Honourable East India Company (1600) and the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (1602) respectively. Ships were set out to claim and acquire contacts in India and South East Asia for trade in spices and luxury items. The Indian subcontinent under the Mughal Emperor Akbar had already well established long-distance trade with not just the Ottomon and Persian Empires but also with Southern Europe and East Africa. The Islamic states of the region had developed an interactive network where Persian merchants annually embarked on maritime voyages to Daybul and Calicut in India, China, and East Africa. Besides fabric, Medieval India

1A phrase coined by K.M. Panikkar in Asia and Western Dominance, London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1959


traded mainly in silk, cotton textiles, pepper, sandalwood, and ivory which were exchanged for metal goods, horses, and porcelain among other items. Akbar welcomed the European companies to his empire. The Companies likewise quickly gathered roots in the various seaports of India and expanded their trade. By the first quarter of the seventeenth century black pepper exports to England, Portugal, and Holland peaked at 7 million lb.2 From 1660 onwards demand for Indian textiles soared in the European market with the English East India Company importing 4.2 million sq meters of Indian cotton cloth in 1664 alone. 3 The Dutch imports were of an equal strength. Other important items which soon became dominant in the Indian Ocean trade were silk, indigo, saltpetre and later opium. India lacked precious metals and the Emperor insisted that European trade fulfilled this lack. Silver and gold were readily agreed upon in the absence of any marketable goods from Europe to the subcontinent. 4 Availability of American silver from the midsixteenth century also made it infrastructurally possible for both companies and private individuals to build a strong Indian base. At the beginning, the imperial reserves under Akbar did not experience a slough. Careful administration, plunder from war, and territorial expansion kept the reserves full so that even in 1605 Akbar's coffers could boast over a 150 million silver rupees excluding the mass of precious stones and jewels which may be valued to have been of an equal amount.5 However, the prosperity of Mughal India under Akbar began to wane after his death in 1605. The stability lasted somewhat through Humayun and Shah Jahan's reign but Aurungzeb unleashed a rule of religious intolerance. This intolerance was also accompanied by a tax on Hindus to the consternation of the various tribute paying kingdoms of India. His zeal for establishing an Islamic state in India was also complemented by his ambition for territorial expansion from Punjab to Ladakh in the north and the reorganisation of Mughal power from Bengal to Bijapur. The Deccan


John F. Richards, The Mughal Empire: New Cambridge History of India, Vol 1, Part 5, Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1993, Pg 197 3 Ibid, pg 199 4 J.S. Stavorinus, Voyages to the East Indies, Vol I, trans. Samuel Hull Wilcocke, London, 1789, pg 328; Om Prakash, The Dutch East India Company and the Economy of Bengal 1630-1720, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1985 5

Tapan Raychaudhuri, 'Inland Trade,' in Tapan Raychaudhuri and Irfan Habib (ed), The Economic History of India, Vol 1, Cambridge University Press, 2008


Wars which began in 1680 with the Mughal invasion of the insurgent Bijapur ended after twenty seven years in 1707. The rise of the Maratha Empire and the defeat of Aurangzeb caused the break-up of the Mughal Empire and the rise of independent kingdoms in Oudh, Bengal, Kashmir, the Afghan region, and Hyderabad. The dissolution of the empire was complete with the invasion by Nadir Shah in 1724. The disintegration of the Mughal Empire also meant that newer powers could rise and take its place. European players on the subcontinent attempted to seize this opportunity. Both royal and Company intrigues grew rife as each tried to sabotage the political ambitions of the other. The climates of peace and war in India among the European nations were also frequently determined by treaties and deals made on European or American soil. Thus, a series of wars and treaties involving the British, Dutch and French Companies in India and abroad both propelled and revealed their political ambition and plans for the subcontinent. The Carnatic Wars are most revealing in this aspect. By the early decades of the 18th century, France would become a formidable competitor.6 The eighteenth century thus witnessed the emergence of three key European powers on Indian soil and waters – the French, the Dutch and the English. All three nations through their respective companies had been responsible for changing the political contours of the subcontinent, and, remarkably, indigenous networks of trade and governance, although interrupted, adapted to this new mercantilism of fortified ports and settlements. The Deccan splintered into independent kingdoms after the fall of Aurungzeb. This led to the usual scrambling for the throne in the royal courts. The French East India Company had long harboured ambitions to extend their territorial reach in India. On finding the conditions favourable, Governor Johannes Francois Dupleix decided to capture the British port on the pretext of extending support to the Nawab of Arcot’s desire to obtain Madras. This move was also a consequence of the War of Austrian Succession in Europe where the French were fighting the British and the Dutch forces. However, once the fort was captured in 1742, Dupleix reneged on his promise to the Nawab and held on to Madras but lost Pondicherry to Robert Clive of the British East India Company. Madras was finally exchanged for Pondicherry when the War of


Ibid, Pg 394


Accession ended with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chappelle in 1748. But peace was short-lived and hostilities ensued again in the same year with the Second Carnatic War (of succession between the Nizam-ul-Mulk’s son Nasir Jung and the deceased Nizam’s grandson, Muzaffar Jung, over the Nizam’s seat). Muzaffar Jung was supported by Chanda Sahib who also eyed the throne of the deposed Nawab of Arcot. Again, the French intervened. They backed Chanda Sahib while the British, seeing that stakes were high in the rearrangement of native political power, threw in their lot with the deposed Nawab’s son and Nasir Jung. Eventually, due to Clive’s military prowess, Arcot was captured by the British, the Treaty of Pondicherry was signed in 1754, and Nasir Jung was made the Nizam of Hyderabad. Affairs remained stable for a mere three years until the Seven Years’ War broke out in America in 1754 between France and England. This war was mainly caused by a dispute between Britain and France over the ownership and administration of the frontier regions of North America. As a reaction, British forces swiftly captured Chandernagore in 1757, the same year as the Battle of Plassey. Pondicherry too was seized by the British in 1761. In the same year the two countries signed the Treaty of Paris whereby both these satellite towns were returned to the French on the condition that the French should forfeit their administrative powers over them. This effectively established the British as the single most powerful European trading company in India, having already defeated and subdued the Dutch in Bengal and Coromondel.

The Dutch in India : A Historical Perspective In 1602, the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) or the Dutch United East India Company was formed and granted monopoly rights to trade in Asia. The Dutch trade initially focussed on trading and importing spices, especially pepper which soon accounted for nearly sixty per cent of company trade between 1619-21. The VOC established trading ports in Bantem and Batavia and clearly ‘dominated shipping volume in the early East India trade, returning 65 ships to England's 35 during 1615-25.’7 In Indonesia, the Dutch relentlessly pursued monopoly contracts with their spice

7 Douglas A. Irwin “Mercantilism as Strategic Trade Policy: The Anglo-Dutch Rivalry for the East India Trade,” The Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 99, No. 6, (Dec., 1991),pg 1300


supplying regions to outdo competitors and managed to sign treaties with the local kingdoms, acquire land, and build forts. In India too they followed the Portuguese example of fortifying their factories and building settlements although plans for colonisation were never really made till the English started to gain power in Bengal. Estado de India, or the Portuguese Empire, had stoked the maritime ambitions of other European powers. The Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) began with the Spice Islands but quickly established a foothold in India by dint of their naval superiority over the Portuguese and a bit of help from the Mughals. They realised as early as 1605 that cotton was an important Indian item of barter with the Islands which could be successfully traded to establish a monopoly over clove, nutmeg, mace, and textile. Thus they focussed on building an intra-Asian trading network. They established the first factories between the Godavari and Krishna where high quality chintz was available for export to Bantam, Achin, Malacca, and Manila. The Dutch built around textile rich areas, setting up posts in Tegenapatnam and Pulicat in 1610. Surat took longer to come up because of the Portuguese alliance with the Mughals. Nevertheless, under the direction of Peter van den Broecke they established their first factory in Gujarat in 1617. The Dutch aggressively followed their ambition to become the “masters at sea� over the Indian Ocean. They blockaded the high seas and obstructed Indian merchants, especially Gujaratis, from reaching the spice markets of the Moluccas. The combined advantages of maritime strength and firepower were often put to use. The Dutch restricted access to straits and seas to European rivals, especially the Portuguese from whom they had inherited the ingenious pass system.8 In 1620, the Dutch captured several native ships in a blatant act of piracy which had serious consequences. Indian merchants complained to the Mughal court as well as to the Nawab which led to the frequent imprisonment of Dutch employees. Frequent maritime blockades also roused Mughal displeasure and proved to be a diplomatic faux pas. The royal court turned a deaf ear to whatever plights the Dutch faced on land forcing them to take cognisance of their actions. Finally negotiations were made and a more agreeable relationship between the Mughals and the


The pass system or cartaz in Portuguese was introduced to restrict the movement of foreign ships. The Portuguese Armada traded passes for a fee which were valid for a year to foreign and Indian ships. These passes could also have stipulations regarding items of trade.


Dutch was established with the latter relaxing their ban on the Indian trade in tin.9 This aggressive policy that lasted well into the 1660s, established the Hollanders as both notorious and formidable before the Mughal court. However, the two powers recognised their respective areas of jurisdiction – one owned the sea while the other ruled the land. The Dutch also had an unusually persistent presence in the Mughal court in spite of the volatile relationship. The Dutch agent in Agra, Geleyussen de Jongh, regularly visited the court and held weekly meetings with Asaf Khan, the nephew of Shah Jahan. They were even known to borrow from the Royal Treasury from time to time against Heeren policy. 10 By the mid-seventeenth century the VOC had factories at Surat, Cochin, Pulicut, Negapatam, Masulipatam, Patna, Cossimbazar, Baranagore, Balasore, and Hooghly, which were self-contained settlements with Dutch armed guards, similar to those of other European Companies. Hedges’ Diary records in reference to the factory in Chinsurah, ‘the Dutch are never without 3 or 4 such vessels here, wherewith they trade from Port to Port all year long, sometimes buying Rice and other Provisions where they are Cheape and transport to Better Marketts, other whiles they are employed as men of war (but never Idle), and by these meanes they cleare at years end all the great charges they are att upon his coast.’ 11 The factory compounds housed both goods and Company men. The Heeren XVII, or the Council of Seventeen, in Amsterdam instituted committees that oversaw accounting, capital management, billing, trading accounts, shipments, and trading seasons. The VOC men manned the Company ships and were armed to protect themselves against rival powers. Dutch factors were placed as heads of important factories such as the one in Chinsurah and Coromandel. Indian middlemen were engaged to fix the price and wages of textiles, commodities, artisans and weavers. Gradually four zones of concentrated trade developed in India. These were Gujarat, northern and southern coasts of the Coromandel, and Bengal. The Dutch impact on the local economy was quite pervasive. This was because they hired wholesalers as middlemen who would procure the required goods from areas

9 Hans van Santen, ‘Shah Jahan wore Glasses: Remarks on the Impact of the Dutch East India Company on Northern India and Some Suggestions for Further Research,” in Jos Gommans and Om Prakash (ed.) Circumambulations in South Asian History: Essays in Honour of Dirk H.A. Kolff, Brill Publications: Leiden, 2003, pg 49 10 Op cit, Hans van Santen 11 As quoted in L.S.S. O’Malley and MonMohon Chakravarti, Bengal District Gazetteers: Hooghly, Calcutta: The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, 1912


outside the immediate factories. For instance, in Machilipatnam, Coromandel, the Dutch placed orders for cotton cloth with Telegu merchants who, in turn, assigned the orders to head weavers. These head weavers were not located centrally in the towns but were spread over the coastal districts. Thus, Dutch trade indirectly and directly stimulated these local economies. In Bengal, the Dutch conducted trade worth 903,353 florins in 1663 and by 1707 the VOC was purchasing goods worth 3.2 million florins.12 The good fortune of the Dutch in India was largely attributed to its exclusive rights of trade with Japan during the latter’s policy of exclusion between the years 1641-1853. As mentioned before, the Mughals insisted on silver and gold; specifically, Coromandel required gold while other parts traded in silver. The friendly relations between Netherlands and Japan resulted in the former gaining the exclusive privilege to continue her diplomatic and trade relations; a privilege that was denied to all other European nations: Japan allowed the Dutch to open a factory in Hirado in 1609 in return for Chinese silk and textiles. Thus, while the French and the English factories had to depend on American silver to arrive, the Dutch had an easier option in Japan. During the years of isolation Japanese silver was traded for Taiwanese gold which was channelled and invested in India for textiles which, in turn, the Dutch traded for pepper and spices with Indonesia. For the better part of the seventeenth century the Dutch outsmarted the English and the French by carefully laying out this trans-asiatic trade network throughout the corners of Asia and stayed ahead of her European rivals.13 But a real lifeline was discovered with the realisation that Bengal was exploitable for cheap raw silk for which there was always a ready market in Japan. This influx of Japanese bullion and the full time employment of ten per cent of Bengal’s weavers by the seventeenth century greatly enhanced the imperial coffers and Bengal’s economy. Thus, with the gradual domination of Bengal silk over the European markets, the largely agrarian Bengal economy quickly shifted to the cultivation of mulberry. However, the wealth and prosperity of the Dutch began to suffer from the mideighteenth century.

The factory on the Malabar Coast had consolidated Dutch

monopoly in pepper from Kayamkulam. The king of Travancore, Marthanda Varma’s intention to incorporate Kayamkulam raised dangers of a British inroad into the pepper supply in Coromandel. When the negotiations with the king failed, battle ensued which

12 13

Op cit, Richards, pg 202 Om Prakash. The Dutch East India Company and the Economy of Bengal 1630-1720, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985


resulted in the usurpation of the black pepper trade by Travancore. The Battle of Colachel in 1741 fought between the Dutch Governor, Gustaaf Willem van Imhoff, and Marthanda Varma of Travancore resulted in the destruction of the Dutch troops. More importantly, with the subsequent Treaty of Mavelikkara of 15th August, 1753, the Dutch were forced to renounce all political authority and abort alliances with native chiefs and Malabar princes. This effectively translated into the formal end of Dutch control in South India as the fiscal health of the Company was already suffering with the formation of rival companies with Dutch capital in Denmark, Sweden, and Belgium. Further, trade interests in the Caribbean and growing military expenses in Batavia also affected DutchAsiatic trade. The battles of Colachel and Biddera in Bengal were the last nails in the coffins because with them the the political will of the company became severely compromised.

The Dutch in Bengal & Chinsurah Origin of Chinsurah: By the end of the sixteenth century, Hooghly was an established trading port and a thriving town peopled by Europeans, Armenians, Mughals and natives. Although the Dutch finally settled in Chinsurah in the second quarter of the seventeenth century, the first contact was made much earlier when the Dutch merchant and historian, Jan Huyghen Van Linschoten, passed through Bengal in 1589.14 The Portuguese had already founded Hooghly-Chinsurah (then known as Tjutjura)15 in 1579 in the ancient kingdom of Bhurshut. They had arrived in the time of Akbar who was most hospitable to them, allowing them to build churches and preach the gospel, but Jahangir only tolerated them as they protected the Bay of Bengal from pirates. ............................. In 1622, the Dutch Commander, Jan Corenelisz Kunst, was sent to Bengal with a fleet of three Dutch ships - the Scheidem, the Muys, and the Jagger - to buy saltpetre, textiles, and sugar, and to generally explore the potential for business. Gradually trade began, with Cossimbazar providing silk and Pipli supplying saltpetre and slaves. In 1627, the Governor in Coromandel directed some of the Company men to settle in Bengal but that initiative remained tentative. When the Portuguese fell out of favour with the Emperor Shah Jahan and were expelled from Hooghly in 1632 a more favourable and opportune environment was created for the Dutch to enter the fray, and by then Cossimbazar’s silk 14 15

Kalikinkar Datta, The Dutch in Bengal and Bihar 1740-1825 A.D, Patna: University of Patna, 1948 Variously spelt at this time as Chunchura, Tjutjura, Sjunsura, Tsunsura, Sintsure


had grown in prominence in the Dutch intra-Asian trade. Finally, in 1638 the VOC obtained an official firman from Shah Jahan which allowed them to trade anywhere in Hooghly, Balasore, and Pipli. The Bengal Directorate was established in 1655 by a directive from Batavia. Upon the establishment of the Directorate, the Dutch set up their trademark styled settlements in Pipli, Balasore, Cossimbazar, Patna, Dacca, and Hooghly– a head factory next to the seaport/river-front with a surrounding town producing and supplying export items. JeanBaptiste Travernier, a French traveller, wrote: “Hollanders send away all their merchandise which they fetch out of Bengala by water, through a great canal that runs from Kasembazar in to the Ganges, for fifteen leagues together; from whence it is as far by water down the Ganges to Ouguely, where they laid their ships.” 16 At first, Cossimbazar was chosen by Pieter Sterthemius, the VOC’s first Bengal Director, as the headquarters but flooding led him to later shift the headquarters to Chinsurah, which became the chief seat of operations with a ground rent of Rs 1574 and annual revenue of Rs 582.

Fort Gustavus: The factory at Chinsurah was built sometime between 1655 and 1665. Most visitors at the time lauded its grandeur and stateliness. The Dutchman, Gautier Schouten, visiting Chinsurah in 1665 wrote, ‘There is nothing in it (Hooghly) more magnificent than the Dutch factory. It was built on a great space at the distance of a musket shot from the Ganges, for fear that, if it were nearer, some inundation of the waters of the river might endanger it, or cause it to fall. It has indeed more the appearance of a large castle than of a factory of merchants. The walls are high and built of stone, and the fortifications are also covered with stone. They are furnished with cannon, and the factory is surrounded by ditches full of water. It is large and spacious. There are many rooms to accommodate the Director, the other officers who compose the Council, and all the people of the Company. There are large shops built of stone, where goods that are bought in the country, and those that our vessels bring there, are placed.’ 17 The factory grounds housed the fiscal's quarters, office quarters, the 2nd Director's house, the 1st Director's house, the court, workshop, factory for making the sails of ships, medicine house, secretariat, anchor store, and rope and cable store.18

16 Akshay Adhya, Hooghly Chuchurar nana katha: A Collection of Articles based on Historical Events, Hooghly: Hooghly Shamvad, 2005,pp 54-55 17 L.S.S. O’Malley and Monmohon Chakravarti. Bengal District Gazetteers: Hooghly, Calcutta: The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, 1912 18 Op cit, Adhya


Two Dutch cannons are still standing at the Prasad Sen Ghat in Chinsurah. Most of the factories that the Dutch built around this time were reported to be ‘handsome’ and ‘stately’ such as the ones in Cossimbazar and Pipli. 19

However, the factory at

Chinsurah stood out in Asia.20 By all accounts it is clear that it befitted an imperial port such as the Hooghly. In the words of Thomas Bowrey it was “the largest and completest Factorie in Asia.’21 ........................................................ William Milburn described it as an ‘oblong square’ – the longest sides about 650 ft long, the shortest about 320 ft; it had three gates – one to the north, one to the south, and one to the river; the stone walls were 15ft high.


Fortifications were carried on

intermittently over the next hundred years. Two stones bearing the date 1687 and 1692 were found on the fort’s northern and southern gates respectively. The beams of the edifice were made of imported Java teak which survived the test of time for a century and half. George Toynbee located the fort in the area of the Dutch buildings next to the racket court occupying an area of 65 beeghas. The fort is believed to have existed between Datta Ghat in the south and kachari ghat; and north of the present Hooghly Collegiate School area where the fiscal house and godown were located.23 The oil painting of 1665 by Hendrik Van Schuylenburg commissioned by Director Sterthemius provides a vivid description of the rich life within and around the walls of the fort. In the painting the fort is divided symmetrically into several rectangular grounds with a large official building at the centre. Two Dutch flags are seen flying at the north-east corner of the fort near the current Prasad Sen Ghat where the first Dutch pillar once stood. On the western wall of the fort a pillar is shown with the words ‘Ougly 1665’ – possibly indicating the date of the fort. There are four entrances to the Fort North, South, East, and West. Inside the Fort on the Western side are seen two large wells. Four rectangular plots in the Western quarter of the Fort are dedicated gardens of coconut trees. A native caretaker is shown taking care of the kitchen gardens while two Dutch women stroll through the grounds. The northern gate led into the main official


Kalikinkar Datta, The Dutch in Bengal and Bihar, 1740-1825, Patna: University of Patna, 1948,

pp 8-9 20


21 Op cit, O'Malley and Chakravarti. 22 George Toynbee, A Sketch of the Administration of the Hooghly District from 1795-1845, Chinsurah: Ganesh Nandy, 2006 23 Op cit. Adhya, pg 59


part of the fort with two rows of houses/quarters on either side. This is shown to be the busiest part of the grounds with native coolies and employees scuttling in and out of the fort’s eastern gate which is also lined with trees on either side. The VOC complex in Chinsurah looked after warehouses for cotton, hemp, ginger, and opium. Bengal silk was also stored at the factory to be exported to Batavia and Japan. This part of the building could have been the godown quarters storing these items of import and export. The main large building at the centre has two spiral staircases leading to the first storey; presumably it belonged to the highest officials. Jute drying, weaving and the like are seen within the boundaries of the Fort. In the painting, life outside the fort is busy and bustling. We find indigenous coolies waiting around the gate with a palanquin. There’s a burning pyre and a hooker swinger surrounded by onlookers, both Dutch and native. This could be the Shandeshwar Temple area. There is also a timber factory and a mausoleum around the factory grounds.

In 1695, Shobha Singh, a small zamindar in the Chetwa-Barda region of Medinipur attacked the Raja of Bardhaman, Krishnaram Rai, after a dispute over land. Shobha Singh invaded Bardhaman and killed Rai in January, 1696, gaining more financial and military strength. Next, Singh decided to turn his forces against the Mughals and vowed to oust them from Bengal. The pathan, Rahim Khan, joined him in this endeavour. They repeatedly raided Chandannagar and attacked Hooghly between January and April. 24 The then subehdar of Bengal was ineffective in controlling the uprising and his faujdar, Nurulla Khan, caved in and took refuge at the Dutch factory. This was the first time when the Dutch became involved in the region’s politics. The VOC at Chinsurah not only provided refuge to the ineffective faujdar, but upon the request of the townspeople in Chinsurah sent a force to chase Shobha Singh away.25 It was also the incident that provided the Dutch with a legitimate reason to militarise their fort.26 Between 1743 and 1753, the Director of the Bengal factory, Jan Albert Sichterman, perceived the plundering Marathas as a threat to both Mughal and European settlements in Bengal, initiated final fortifications around the factory, and named it Fort Gustavus after the then Governor-General of Batavia and Sichterman’s nephew by marriage,

24 Op cit, Adhya, pg 51 25 Nitish K. Sengupta, Land of Two Rivers: A History of Bengal from the Mahabharata to Mujib, Delhi, Penguin Books, 2012, pg 142 26 Op cit, Adhya. However, this has been argued by Toynbee to be a misconception.


Gustaaf Willem Baron van Imhoff.27 The old fence around the buildings was replaced by solid walls, the two entrance gates were integrated, four bastions were added on each corner with Dutch names – Amsterdam, Middleburg‘t, Noorderkwartier, and De Maas. New gardens were added to the southern side and a canal was dug around the fort. However, in a letter to his successor written in 1744, Sichterman complains about the damage inflicted by vermin on the tunnel around the fort. The Company Men: The town of Chinsurah had a chairman, treasurer, and some departments for the collection of revenue, toll tax, abwab, and a person who looked after municipal concerns. The VOC enjoyed cordial relations with the natives and maintained two separate courts for natives and Europeans. The Bengal Directorate comprised a council of seven members who aided the Director who was, in turn, answerable to Batavia. The Council was divided into two blocs – five members with voting power and two members who primarily acted as advisors. The Director enjoyed the highest privileges. Besides a rather hefty salary, he was allowed large emoluments in the form of concessions on goods sold, and, for a while, he had the Company’s permission to trade privately. He lived in state ceremony and was shown military honours. His annual income exceeded everyone else’s such that when Director George Lodewijk Vernet (1763-69) put down his annual household expenses at Rs 36000 per annum, a rather generous sum, it was considered to be far less than his predecessors.28 The Director was also the only one granted the comforts of a palanquin. Aside from these advantages, several peons, chobdars, and servants waited on him. By the mid eighteenth century, he occupied a position of supreme power. He supervised all the VOC servants, oversaw their adherence to the Company laws, administered justice in civil and criminal court cases, and was also in charge of sorting out the textiles. Second in position to the Director was the senior merchant. He oversaw the business in Cossimbazar and was superior to the Dutch Company’s Resident in the Murshidabad mint. Next in rank to the senior merchant was the chief administrator who managed warehouses and the general commerce of the company and enjoyed the same rank as the senior merchant in Kalikapur. The fiscal or sheriff of the Company was also the Mayor of Chinsurah. As a sheriff he was to check the rampant private trade carried on by employees, resolve all disputes amongst natives traders and employees on the 27

Dirk de Jong, Nearly fifteen years of VOC service in Bengal: Jan Albert Sichterman, based on Jan Albert Schterman: VOC- dienar en ‘koning’ van Groningen. Wiet Kuhne van Diggelen, REGIO-Projekt, Groningen, 1995 28 Op Cit, Toynbee, pg 13


Company’s payroll, and maintain trade records and payments. Moreover, he was to be compulsorily present at the time of departure of Company ships. By way of judiciary, the Company had a “Council of Justice” consisting of a President, some junior merchants and two military officers. This Council had the power to pass sentences of death with the consent of Batavia and within the precincts of Company grounds. The extravagance that accompanied the Company men is well recorded in history. It was manifest in the ritualistic exchange of gifts between the Dutch and the Nawabs as well as in the protocols observed before other European powers. Gifts were imported from Japan and Europe for the Mughal Emperor – they ranged from lacquered ware to silver to wine. In return, the Emperor entertained the Dutch with equally expensive and elaborate gifts; an elephant and a rhinoceros were gifted to the directors on two separate occasions.29 Johann Splinter Stavorinus (1739-88), the naval captain who extensively travelled across Holland’s possessions in the East, narrates a particular trip to Calcutta undertaken by the Director in 1770 that may be taken as characteristic of the Company's profligacy. The Director's entourage comprised a detachment of eight persons, twenty four privates, a garrison, and an officer. Their departure was accompanied by a salute of twenty one guns. Two boats full of kitchen stores and a total of thirty three vessels embarked on this journey from Chinsurah to Calcutta. The reception at the other end was equally elaborate and lasted for an hour. The Director was also expected to return the favour within half an hour and so another meeting of forty five minutes followed. Finally at half past twelve dinner was served and soon after he was taken to Belvedere where an amateur concert waited for him. Invitees were dressed elegantly and women were decked in ‘a profusion of jewels.’30 This state of affairs was kept up even at the time of his departure from Calcutta when twenty one gun salutes were observed again at Fort William. The Dutch were particular about their dress and decorum. Although temperatures often reached forty degrees in Chinsurah, the ladies always closely followed the fashion in London, dressed in voluminous silk and cotton gowns, and never forgot their hat. The men also dressed after the European fashion with a waistcoat complete with a heavy velvet jacket, wig, and hat. Only at home in the night did they exchange the heavy layers

29 30

Op cit, de Jong Op cit. Toynbee, pg 12


of silk for light cotton wear. 31 Stavorinus comments that the Dutch stringently maintained social and class distinctions in the eighteenth century. ‘Every individual is as stiff and formal, and is feeling alive to every infraction of his privileges, in this respect, as if his happiness of misery depended wholly upon the due observance of them.’ 32 Dress, conduct, dinners, funerals and every other form of social etiquette was meticulously followed. The women were especially conscious of their husband's ranks and laid claim to every prerogative of their privileged positions. The Directors rode out in fancy dress into the towns, in full state with Indian standard bearers, musicians, and armed attendants. This state of affairs lasted till 1768 when the Heeren XVII called for a drastic downsizing. Of course these luxuries were not shared by junior clerks, soldiers, or sailors. Stavornius also noted the arrogance with which the Dutch treated their own soldiers and servants.33 Another aspect of the VOC settlements was that the Dutch employed their own skilled craftsmen and manual workers. These were Company servants who came originally as the ship's carpenters, caulkers, riggers, and ‘dockyard-mateys'. The factories had a quarter, called the Ambachtskwartier' or ‘craftsmen's quarters'. The ones in Batavia employed carpenters, wood-workers, furniture-makers, blacksmiths, locksmiths, armourers, gunsmiths, gun-founders, type-founders and cutters, masons, bricklayers, glaziers, cobblers, tailors, dyers, and jewellers. The craftsmen lived and worked together supervised by a European overseer. This system gave rise to a highly skilled workforce who was responsible for the high quality baroque ebony furniture of the Company. Growth of Chinsurah: Laurent Garcin, resident physician, described Chinsurah in the following words, ‘Chinsurah was a big village on the bank of the Ganges. Native houses were scattered, roads were narrow, sometimes even two men could not walk side by side. The houses of the Dutch were big, built of bricks. There were godowns for storing the goods, an observer post in one of the residency where there were 25 soldiers. By the side of the factory, was a beautiful garden and in between a charming avenue. Director Vuyst was the Chief of the Dutch factory.’34 Another commentator, Alexander Hamilton, found Chinsurah in the early 1700s to be a mile long town, inhabited by company officials, Armenians, and Indians. All the houses had attached kitchen gardens – a feature of Dutch domestic architecture which was to persist till the end. To the south of 31 Op cit, de Jong 32 Op cit. Nandy. 33 Op cit, Stavornius, pg 146 34

Research interview with Dirk de Jong, notes on charulal mukherjee


the fort, beyond the buildings of the Company and 27 kms to the south of Chinsurah, in Baranagul, weavers worked away in safety. Pleasure houses were opened for travellers and inhabitants alongside the river. Chinsurah was a compact town where weary visitors were accommodated before they went up to Patna or Cossimbazar which were far smaller establishments. A description of a hotel in Chinsurah which could be speculated to be the historic Masonic Lodge (no longer extant) is provided by Elizabeth Fenton, ‘There is a kind of hotel of a very second rate order here, seldom or never frequented by ladies, a sort of lounge for billiard players; and there the whole detachment had taken up their quarters. It quite disturbed my nerves to enter the general sitting room, disorder, litter, dust, and heat reigned..The room was filled with idle young men, and the aggregate to me was horrible. After some delay we found a servant to announce our visit to the colonel.’35Obviously, in the eighteenth and nineteenth century such lodges were mostly frequented and patronized by men – travelers, merchants, soldiers – who stopped over en route to other factories and ports. Guests were entertained with a range of Dutch cuisines, a delectable variety of fruits, and with rides in pleasure boats on the Hooghly. An interesting account of the settlement is also given by Tavernier, who visited it on 26th February, 1666. “I arrived at Hughli, where I stayed till the 2nd of March, during which time the Hollanders bid me very welcome, and made it their business to show me all the diversions which the country was capable to afford. We went several times in pleasure-boats upon the river, and we had a banquet of all the delicacies that the gardens of Europe could have afforded us; salads of all sorts, colewarts, asparagus, pease; but our chiefest dish was Japan beans, the Hollanders being very curious to have all sorts of pulse and herbs in their gardens, though they could never get artichokes to grow in that country.”36 The traders evidently were as fond of gardening as they were of gardens. Dutch peas or ‘Olandan Shooti’ were eventually introduced and extensively grown in Chinsurah. The town itself was famous for throwing extravagant balls and garden parties. Hickey's Bengal Gazette has an entry for the 11th December, 1780, reporting on a ball thrown by a Mr. Law in Chinsurah. ‘The whole of the house was magnificently illuminated and decorated, which appeared very beautiful when viewed from the River…Two or three Ladies of Dutch extraction appeared more like Angels, than mortals, in the dresses of Shepherdess's with their crooks, nothing could excel...their Beauty and Simplicity...A 35

Elizabeth Fenton. The Journal of Mrs Fenton: A narrative of her life in India, the isle of France (Mauritius), and Tasmania During the Years 1826-1830; London, Edward Arnold,1901, pg 218 36 Op cit. O' Malley and Chakravarti.


Punch and his Wife does infinite merit to the Gentlemen who supported it;...A black Domino with a Mungo's face, gave inexpressible merit to the wearer, by his Antic postures and mimicking Gesture...A Dutch skipper very properly dressed and the part well adopted to the Wearer...A collision of danced by four Dutch Gentlemen, and four Dutch ladies, the figure tolerable but we fancy the party conceived they were seating by the many twiels and Outline strokes.’37 Hickey himself was to build a beautiful house in 1796 close to the Governor's house and move to Chinsurah around 1810. The Dutch also built an impressive and beautiful garden house named Champonade in Chandernagore. Albert Sichterman, the architect of the Fort in the 1740s, went on to build an imposing house named “Welgeleegen” (well-situated)


which is now the Bungalow of the

Divisional Commissioner of Burdwan. Company garden parties were hosted in the garden of Welgeleegen. A tablet in the staircase of this house bears the date 1687 with the company monogram. Incidentally, the steeple of the Dutch Church was also a gift from Sichterman to Chinsurah. It stood immediately above the ghat and according to George Toynbee "at the entrance of the town.”39 This would mean that Ghanta Ghat was the main ghat of the town. Sichterman erected the steeple with a chime clock in 1744, twenty four years before the church was built by Sir G. Vernet. The Dutch Church at one time housed fourteen memorial tablets of the various governors.40 In 1691 William Carr praised the Directors in Amsterdam as good Christians who were devoted to the spread of the Gospel in India. The Bible was printed in several Indian languages and shipped to various colonies. The church was demolished in 1988 by the Government of West Bengal. The Dutch Church stood opposite General Perron’s house. Perron was a French general who arrived in India in 1774 as a common sailor on a French frigate and was engaged by De Boigne in 1789. At the time of his surrender before Lord Lake of the British contingency in 1803 he was enlisted in the service of Scindiah. Thereafter, he settled in Chinsurah as the town was close to French Chandernagore. Perron’s house passed into the hands of Prankrishna Haldar, one of the leading zamindar of Hooghly who was also


Op cit. Nandy, pg 96 38 Translation from Stavorinus, Voyages from the East Indies Vol 1, trans. Samuel Hull Wilcocke, London, 1789, pg 121 39


Op cit. Toynbee, pg 14 These tablets have been with the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam since 1949.


one of the more profligate hosts of Durga Puja and nautches in Chinsurah.41 A part of the Hooghly Collegiate School building in Chinsurah dates back to Dutch times. The Calcutta Gazette of 1784 describes the large river facing house as being under the occupancy of Mr N. Grucher.42 It came with a bungalow, a garden, cook room, six store rooms, and two large ‘bottle cannahs’.


The Hooghly Mohsin College and the

Collegiate School was bought by Halder at the beginning of the 19th century. He added the Thankurdalan and the rear part of the building to the existing colonial bungalow as is evident from the architectural layering of the structure. He is also credited with the construction of underground rooms in the premises of the Hooghly Mohsin college. The Seal family of Chinsurah had lent Prankrishna money as mortgage of the house, but the house was sold in 1834 to the Civil Court in execution of a decree for another debt. Perron’s house ultimately became the main seat of the Mohsin College in 1836.

Figure 5 The Church & Residence of a Rich Baboo. Chinsurah (British Library Online Gallery)

Around the 1740s a Dutch cemetery was built on Gorosthan Road. The oldest grave is that of Sir Cornelius Jonge who died in Chinsurah on 10th October, 1743. The mausoleums are typical of the then architectural style and are similar to those found in other Dutch cemeteries in South India. The southern part measures 200 by 100 meters and is home to twenty four extant Dutch tombs. The tombs are of three types – pyramids, tomb boxes, and plain gravestones dating between 1762 and 1846. There seems to have been an older Dutch cemetery in 1680 to the north-west of Chinsurah next

41 Rachel Fell Mcdermott, Revelry, Rivalry, and Longing for the Goddesses of Bengal: The Fortunes of Hindu Festivals. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011, pg 11 42

W. S. Karr, Selections from the Calcutta Gazette, 1789-1797: Showing the political and social conditions of the English in India, Vol II, Calcuta, 1784, pg 40 43 This can be corroborated from the Old Dutch Map of 172, the location of the structure matches the old building of the Colleigete School.


to a ‘water-body’ in the Dharampur village.44

Figure 6 Photograph of the Dutch Cemetery Chinsurah

Other places of burial included the sixty beeghas of land that came with the house on Taldanga Road, near Tolaphatak. It belonged to Susanna Anne-Marie Yeats who bequeathed the house and land to the town. This property was known as Ayesh Bagh and was used as a burial ground for English and Dutch residents. Susanna herself is buried in the garden. Her will dated 21st November, 1805, also bequeathed a sum of Rs 4000 as a trust for the upkeep of the graves belonging to her and her two husbands.45

Figure 7 The panoramic view of the Tomb of Sussana Anna- Marie Yeats

44 Op cit, Adhya, pg 49 45 Ibid, pg 201


The Dutch built connecting roads from the factory to the town around it. The metalled Golaghat road connected their old factory at Golaghat in Hooghly, south of the Imambara, to the Fort. Parts of the underground drainage, pillars, and dyke built by them are still to be found next to the Hooghly Mohsin College, the Dutch Villa, Tola Phatak road, and the railway station respectively. They also seem to have constructed confinement rooms in the area known as Kamarpara. A school now stands in its stead.

Figure 9 Photograph of the CBP (Cantonment Boundary Pillar)

Figure 8 Photograph of the still visible Dutch drain

In the mid-eighteenth century the town of Chinsurah could be covered on foot in forty five minutes. The houses were humid and this perhaps contributed to the high mortality during the summers. Glass windows had not yet been introduced; frames of twisted cane were used instead. It is speculated that Dutch pankhas were finally introduced by a Governor towards the end of the eighteenth century to the relief of the inhabitants. The first reference to education in Chinsurah is to be found in a letter written by the Accountant General dated 25th March, 1824. In it, he records that the collector had continued to pay the British Reverend Mundy Rs 800 per mensem on account of the 19

native schools supported by the Government at Chinsurah and its vicinity, indicating that such a scheme was in place during the Dutch rule. In the following year he was further authorized to pay Rs 50 a month on behalf of the Chinsurah Free School to Mrs Overbeck and other members of the Chinsurah School Society. 46The Secretary to this Society was Reverend Lacroix. This payment was to be effective from 7th May, 1825, the date of the handover of Chinsurah to the British. The school was previously supported by the Chinsurah Poor Fund that was established by the Dutch Government which is evident by the reports of Mr May who landed in Chinsurah in the year 1812 and immediately set upon teaching native children. He gained the charge of three schools in Chinsurah – the Native Free School (containing 110 children), the Chandernagore School (containing 51 children), and The Chinsurah Free School (containing 218 children). 47 Mrs. Mundy on her arrival in Chinsurah successfully opened the women’s branch of the Free School for the Portuguese girls in the town. A Bengali Female School was also transferred to Chinsurah from Hooghly which reported an enrollment figure of 25 girls in 1835.48 The Dutch set up the Chinsurah Poor Fund presumably before 1795. The fund comprised bequests and donations, confiscated property, and the fines collected by the European Court. During British occupation of Chinsurah between 1795 and 1819 the Fund was continued by Special Commissioner, Mr. Richard Birch, who contributed Rs 200 per mensem to it while the Reformed Church managed its affairs. Once Chinsurah was restored in 1817 the capital was augmented by the philanthropist Mrs. Susanna Yeats by Rs 4000 and amounted to Rs 32, 927. The capital amount, nevertheless, was emptied out by the Dutch when they ceded Chinsurah to the British in 1825. 49 Furthermore, George Vernet had allotted a house for the widows of Governors who were not financially stable, the rent of which used to be later donated to the Poor Fund by Daniel Overbeck, the last Dutch Governor of Chinsurah. The recipients of this charity were, at first, 'respectable' persons only but the English extended this support to include destitute of all sorts, creeds, and conditions; it also supported a native hospital and a free school. The Collector, and later the Chaplain, paid


Ibid, pg 171 47 The Missionary Register for the year 1815 Containing an Abstract of the Proceedings of Missionaries throughout the World, Vol III. London: L.B. Seeley Publishers, pg 425. 48 The Report of the Directors of the 40th General Meeting of the Missionary Society, Usually called The London Missionary Society, London, 1835, pg 39 49 Ibid, pg 201


off the pensioners. Vacancies on the pension list under the British were filled up by those recommended by the local agents as against the earlier Dutch policy of enlisting only Dutch and Portuguese persons as pensioners. The Dutch also opened a Chinsurah Orphan Chamber which was charged with the responsibility of looking after minors without legal guardians and underprivileged orphans. This institution was taken over by the British from 1825. Daniel Overbeck (the Dutch Governor), Mr Herklots (the Fiscal), and other Dutch residents were members of the Chamber. As far as physical remnants of the geographical extent of Dutch Chinsurah are concerned, it may be mapped according to the four obelisks that stood marking the four coordinates of the fort. At the crossroads of the present Guard Road and Netaji Subhash Road stood a Dutch obelisk; second stood near Prasad Sen’s bathing ghat; a third in front of the Shiv Temple of the Datta family at the western end of Kuthi’r math; and a fourth near the Ghanta Ghat. The Police barracks, ghorir mor (clock tower), police hospital, Madrasah, Duff School, all the present administration buildings and residential quarters, the Dutch villa, Gorkha grounds, and teen kuthi’r math would fall within the boundaries of these coordinates.50 Multicultural Chinsurah: The relationship of the Dutch with the natives was peaceful. They did not seem to have interfered with local culture or society. Intermarriages were few and far between and as early as 1617, the Heeren XVII in Netherlands forbade marriages with Asian or Eurasian women unless they were baptised Christians. The children as well as their slaves of Dutch officials were to be raised strictly in the faith. Later prospective brides were required to demonstrate an extensive knowledge of Dutch and Portuguese. Nevertheless, the wealthy echelons of both races mingled freely as proved by William Hickey’s report. Most of these associations were based on a firm business relationship. Albert Sichterman refers to “the cunning Bengali Totaram and the Moor Chan Mameth” who he had employed as ‘benjans’. These Bengali traders served as middlemen for the Company, and impressive as they were often reached the highest political levels as advisors and spin doctors. 51 Men like Totaram, Jagat Seth, and other Armenian and Persian merchant communities were synapses of power between the Mughals and 50

Op cit, Adhya, pg 59 51 Op cit, Dirk de Jong


Europeans. In fact, the Armenian merchant prince, Khwaja Wajid, became so powerful that between 1720 -1730 he was in the same league as Bengal's Jagat Seth and Umichand, and earned the title of ‘Fakhru'l-Tujjar (Pride of the Merchants)’. 52 Chinsurah strategically located on the Ganges and rising rapidly in mercantile importance became the natural home of these merchants and traders who not only rose to incredibly powerful positions but also contributed to the growth and structure of the town. One such native merchant, Nrisingha Das Mallick who built the tulsi temple in 1726 on the Jetty Ghat, was a dewan of the VOC. He is speculated to have migrated to Chinsurah during either the Shobha Singh revolt or the Maratha attack. The Jetty Ghat, one of the most important ghats of Dutch time, provided an entrance to the southern end of the fort and the Church. The chime clock at the mouth of the ghat gave the latter its present name – Ghanta Ghat. Nrisingha also built a temple which is now known as 'Mallickbari' or 'Choto Jagannathbari.'53.

Figure 10 A view of Chinsurah the Dutch Settlement in Bengal (A drawing by William Hodges 1781)

52 Sushil Chaudhuri, “Trading Networks in a Traditional Diaspora – Armenians in India.” Paper presented at the XIII International Economic History Congress, “Diaspora Entrepreneurial Networks, c.1000-2000,” Buenos Aires, 2002, pg 14 53 Op cit, Adhya, pg 178


The Lahas moved to Chinsurah around the 1740s from the village of Barashul. Rajiblochan Laha was the first proper settler. His sons, Prankrishna, Nabakrishna, and Shrikrishna Were all traders in silk, salt and other commodities with the East India Company. Durgacharan Laha is remembered and credited with the introduction of clean drinking water in 1822. Durgacharan’s brother, Shyamcharan was the first Indian to set up an office in Manchester. He was the Director of the Himalayan Railway Director, a Presidency Magistrate in Calcutta, an advisor to the East India Company Railway, and a member of the Kashipur Municipality Commission.54 The Shomes were a very important and powerful family in Chinsurah. Generations of the family worked for the VOC and held distinguished positions. Balabhadra Shome’s son, Ganga Narayan Shome (1663-1749) was made ‘sarkar’ by the VOC. His son Ramchandra Shome (1686-1751) built a huge mansion, the remnants of which can be seen in front of Sri Sri Mata Karunamoyee Temple on Shyam Baboo Ghat road. Ramcharan had two sons – Baboo Totaram and Baboo Shyam Ram (1700-1784).The latter became the Dewan of the VOC as did his son Ghyansham Shome (1799-1860) who served as the Chief Agent of the Company. Totaram’s son Bhabani Charan was an officer in the VOC. The Shomes were originally from Chandannagar but moved to Chinsurah in the seventeenth century when they gained employment with the VOC. Around the same time the Boses moved to Chinsurah. The Bose family had had a close relation with the powers that be in Bengal since the early fourteenth century. Their forefather Mohipati Bose was given the title 'Subudhi Khan' by the then Nawab of Bengal Alauddin Hossain Shah (1494 - 1519). Generations of the family worked directly under the Nawabs, the most famous being Purundar Khan or Gopinath Bose who was born in the village of Shiakhala in Hooghly. Purundar Khan's daughter married Balabhadra Shome (15081576) in Chinsurah. Khan was a devotee of the Sun and soon after his son-in-law became a convert to the faith. The idol of the Sun god at the Sandeshwari temple Ghat was established there by Balabhadra's descendent, Shyamram Shome (1700-1784). Shyamram also built a ‘garden house’ which still stands as a secondary school known as the Shiv Chandra Shome Training Academy.


Mr. Ananta Dev Mukherjee


The Sandeswari temple complex was extended and built by the Seals and is home to one of the historic Shiv temples of eastern India. Baba Sandeshwar, an avatar of Lord Shiva, was installed by Digambar Haldar who, as the legend goes, was visited by the god in a dream.55 Daniel Overbeck, the last Dutch Governor, gifted the temple two brass drums and a brass snake. An old description of the place is to be found in Tyerman and Bennett’s Journal of Voyages and Travels where they mention ‘the famous place of resort, a Saraishortollah or the residence of the Bull god'. They describe the complex as 'a square area, on which, beneath the umbrage of one vast banyan tree, stand several temples, dedicated to different popular idols, to accommodate all classes of comers....The principal object of veneration is a large, unshapen block of black stone, in one of the temples under the tree, which thousands come from the remotest provinces of the peninsula to worship.' 56 Other smaller temples in this complex include the Kali Mandir, Durga Mandir, Jagannath Mandir, Radhakrishna Mandir, Ramkrishna and Sharadamani'r Mandir, and Hangshababa'r Mandir.

Figure 11 The panoramic view of the Shandeshwar Tala Temple & Ghat

The Seals settled in Kanakshali, south west of the Dutch factory in 1858. Nilambar Seal prospered in business with Radhakanta Pal and built a stately mansion south of the Dutch kuthi in 1767 which came to be known as the “Boro Seal Bari.” Nilambar constructed several temples including the Jagannath temple that once stood near the present Gorkha Grounds. It was demolished along with other mosques and temples to build the Chinsurah barracks in 1829. The ghat next to the Sandeshwari temple and the neighbouring market and courtyard were also built by Nilambar Seal. 57 His wife, Padmabati Seal, was equally famed to be generous and charitable. She kept aside a


According to the legend, almost five hundred years ago, the night after ‘shiv ratri’, Digambar Haldar along with five local men (Nilmoni and his brothers and sons) rescued the deity from the waters of the Ganges along with two tridents and other ritual paraphernalia, making the deity the oldest among the gods and goddesses in the temple square of Shandeshwaritala. 56 James Montgomery (ed). Journal of the Voyages and Travels by the Rev Daniel Tyerman and George Bennett,Vol 3, New York: Jonathan Leavitt, 1832, pg 131 57 Ibid, Pg 153


sizeable fund by selling some of her jewellery for the construction of ponds for local townspeople. The Seals used a portion of this endowment to construct the Datta Ghat, named so because the ghat was a gift (‘datta’ in Bengali means 'award') of Padmabati to Chinsurah. Jagmohan, Nilambar Seal's son, was the proprietor of General Perron's House for a while, having bought it from Prankrisshen Haldar. The property was chosen as the site for the Hooghly-Mohsin College in 1836. Jagmohan traded in salt and looked after his father's currency exchange business. Like his father, Jagmohan was not merely an able businessman but also a generous philanthropist. He established several temples across the province and even invested in the building of the Dhaniakhali road in 1837/38.58 His brother, Krishnomohan Seal, and his son, Ramchandra Seal, were patrons of Indian classical music. Ramchandra was trained in khyal – Indian classical vocals – in the Gwalior gharana. Being a religious family, the Seals were renowned for their cultural and religious celebrations and donations. The thakurbari'r dalan (courtyard for worship) which was built by Madanmohan Seal in 1803 was witness to many a grand celebration of Lord Kartik. The Dutch and, subsequently, the English took an active interest and part in this annual festivity when the carpets would be rolled out, the chandeliers lit up, and the perfumed halls filled with nautches, western music, skits and performances. Ramchandra, remained a patron of music, culture, and education, and initiated various English schools with the help of the British in Chinsurah. The Mondols were originally inhabitants of Bolgona. Like others they were forced to seek refuge and re-establish themselves in Hooghly and Saptagram after the long decade of the Maratha attacks (1741-51). Lakshminarayan Mondol built his home in Kamarpara. His descendent Nandokishor was the collector of Baleswar. Nandokishor's son, Padmalochon Mondol, was a man of many accomplishments. He was a merchant of rice with an exclusive lease to farm salt in Orissa and became a zamindar after the Permanant Settlement. He also held the office of Dewan in Medinipur. Padmalochon's son, Umesh Chandra Mondol, procured the Dutch Villa in 1893 for a hundred rupees. The erstwhile residence of the Director soon became the hub of nineteenth century Bengali intellectuals and reformers. Many of the old Dutch houses were bought over by wealthy natives. Another example of this was the property taken over by Narendranath Datta. On 30th April 1789, a house

58 Ibid, pg 155


matching the description of Narendra Bhavan was advertised for sale. It then belonged to Mr A. Boggard, Second in Council at the VOC. The advertisement describes it as a stately house ‘consisting of two halls, 8 lower rooms, and one large upper room, with a great many outhouses, and every convenience to it which might be required for a large family, altogether very elegant, and every part has been new built in the course of only six or seven years since.’ 59 This house may have been occupied earlier by Charles Weston till 1784 and was probably known as the 'Linden Rust’. The old layout of the house had one hall, four rooms, and two north and south facing verandas. The south balcony measured 63 ft by 22 ft. A large tank was located in the north of the house. The house, cook -room, bottle-connah, godown etc was pucca built. The front facade of the house was painted and opened into a garden that measured 24 beeghas and 17 cottahs.60This house is speculated to be the Narendra Bhawan of today. Rajendra villa is yet another instance. Madhav Chandra Sadhu, who traded in candles, bought the old Dutch residence in the late 1700s. Later improvements were made by his grandson Rajendra Sadhu, a district sessions judge (during the late 1800s) after whom the street and the house are currently named.61 An octagonal tower at the north-western corner of the building is part of the barracks as seen in the map.62

An interesting picture of native lifestyle may be gauged from the descriptions of Prankrishna Haldar’s bungalow by Fenton, an Englishwoman, who briefly lived in British Chinsurah. Her journal provides a rare glimpse into the extravagance of the native lifestyle embodied in the persona of Haldar: ‘There is a splendid house belonging to a native close to the church; I would call it a palace, the verandahs in this country so much increase the apparent extent of the houses. The proprietor of this building is called Praw Kinson Holdar; he professes to be a devout admirer of English people and habits, and gives splendid nautches. His houses is furnished according to the Indian idea of European style, and I am told he is highly flattered when the military visit him (italics mine).’63 A little later in the journal she gives us a description of the celebrated thakur dalan of Haldar and a commentary on the general condition of such palatial buildings: ‘The lower apartments of these large houses here are extremely dirty, as they are


W. S Seton Karr, Selections from the Calcutta Gazette, 1789-1797: Showing the political and social conditions of the English in India, Vol II Calcuta, 1865, pg 498 60 Ibid, Calcutta Gazette, 1784-1788, Calcutta, 1864, pg 41 61 Field notes 62 Map reference 63 Op cit, Fenton, pg 35


generally filled with lumber, palkees, water goglets, slippers, hookahs, and a lazy chokadar in keeping of the place, like a dog on his mat. You ascend to a suite of spacious reception and dining rooms, furnished with damaak satin couches and low ottomans, brilliant with crystal lustre and beautifully painted well-shades, which when lit up must doubtless have an extremely good effect. There were some fine paintings, and mixed with these in true Hindoostanee taste, wretched daubs of water-coloured drawings, like a child’s first attempt. Various punkahs covered with crimson silk and fringed with gold met your view in every direction. ..Of these were what they termed sleeping rooms, which never had been slept in and never were to be so appropriated. It made my head ache even to look on the little stiff pillows stuffed with cocoa-nut; indeed the whole aspect of these rooms was enough to murder sleep. Vast and lonely the chairs and tables all looked, as if growing out of the floor. But what especially delighted me was a small room which Praw Kinson, in the innocence of his heart, called a readingroom. It contained a writing table whereon lay an edition of Murray’s Reader perforated by ants, and an old newspaper and an Annual Register. Only fancy his idea of an English library!....There still remained to be seen the zenana, or women’s hosue, which was separated from the one we were leaving; this I put off visiting for another day. It (the house) also contains a sort of place of devotion, or shrine for their pagan worship … A large square, surrounded by beautiful arches, one row above another supported by pillars of white Chunnan, so purely white I had never before seen anything which fixed my attention for the moment so much.’64 Fenton’s description is an honest appraisal of the nature of the truck between Europeans and natives; the idea of ‘extravagance’ of both based on an understanding of the other that left much to the imagination. The historical structures and infrastructural foundations of Chinsurah were a result of initiatives undertaken by the communities that had made the town their home. They remain a testimony to Chinsurah’s multiculturality. As a booming trading port the town witnessed both migrants from the subcontinent as well as from Persia, Armenia, Portugal, Dutch, and the English. These communities contributed heavily to the cultural and fiscal health of Chinsurah. For instance, the first Imambara of the town was built by a Persian merchant, Haji Karbalai Muhammad, in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. This Imambara was situated in the Moghultolee Lane in Barabazar, Chinsurah. In 1801 Karbalai Muhammad 64

Ibid, pg 39-40


left a trust fund for the upkeep and religious ceremonies at the Imambara. The original structure upon which the present Imambara stands was built by Mahomed Mutahar. The old Imambara building was one storeyed but the part where the mutwali lived was two storeyed. The main door was large and roofed. The door opened to an open space and was contiguous with the roof of the prayer hall. Black and white quadrangular pillars supported the roof. The prayer hall which was to the east of the court could accommodate about two hundred people. It was lit with chandeliers, lanterns, and glasses. The foot of the pulpit was decorated with figurines of two huge sharks. On the southern side of the courtyard was a row of rooms - some for the officials and some for the tosakhana. On the west stood the tazeah in front of the prayer hall with figurines of peacock on either side. A large compound with a two storeyed building stood to the north on the riverbank which is now the present prayer hall. The upper storey, with a cupola on top, was the madrassa while the lower one housed the English school which later shifted to town. Further north of this was the sufakhana with a unani medicine dispensary. On the southern side of the main road were few rooms from where a gong would be sounded to indicate time. On the north-western side of this road there was a mosque which the then mutwali, Keramut Ali, demolished. This was the mosque from which the Mouasim would chant his azan. The road in front of the Imambara was decorated with rows of debdaru trees on either side. A market was held along the street sides twice a week. The old houses were destroyed by the mid nineteenth-century and the entire landscape had changed quite drastically by the time of construction of the new Imambara.65 The new Imambara was built with the funds from the income of the Syedpur Trust Estate established by Hajee Mohammad Mohsin. He inherited the zamindari of Pargana Syedpur. And as he had no heir, Mohsin created a waqf on 20th April, 1806 for the maintenance and upkeep of social and religious institutions.66


Op cit, Toynbee 66 Collection of Papers Relating to the Hooghly Imambara, Calcutta: Writers Building, 1875.


Figure 2 Dwelling of a Mogul merchant, Chinsurah (British Library Online Gallery)

As per his wish, a local committee was set up to decide on the site for a college in Hooghly. It was decided that the College was to be built on the unoccupied land between the Imambara and the tomb of Mahomed Mohsin (1732-1812). Eventually General Perron's house was purchased for Rs 20,000 from Jagmohan Seal, together with about three beeghas of adjacent land and the Hooghly-Mohsin College was established on August 1, 1836. 67 A hospital was also opened in Chinsurah with the funds left by Mohammad Mohsin and with the efforts of Dr Thomas Wise, the first civil surgeon in Hooghly. The Armenians, for their part, was the first to gift a church to Bengal. The Armenian Church which still stands today in Armanitola was built by Khawaja Joseph Margar. The Armenians arrived in Bengal in the early 1600s and flourished because of their close familial networks, their proximity to the darbar (court), and their business acumen. BY the eighteenth century the community exerted enough power across the subcontinent to


Op cit, George Toynbee, pg 177


have direct trading relations with European rivals. <photograph of the Armenian Church or the painting of the Church steeple from the riverfront> The epitaph of Johannes Margar, son of Joseph Margar, testifies to their influence: "Here lies interred the famous Kharib of foreigner Coja Johannes, the son of Marcar, an Armenian, from Julpha, of the country of Shosh. He was a great merchant, honoured with the favour of Kings and Viceroys. He travelled north, south, east, and west, and died at Hooghly, in Hindustan, 7th November 1697."68 Johannes Margarâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s tomb is the oldest tomb in the Armenian cemetery which is attached to the church. The church was originally built without a steeple. The present spire was erected in 1822 under the patronage of Mrs Sophia Bagram in memory of her husband Simon Phanoos Bagram. The foundation stone was laid by Daniel Anthony Overbeck, the last Dutch Governor of Chinsurah. There might have been another Armenian cemetery in Chinsurah around a place called 'Suripara' (now known as Kharua Post Office area). The only tombstone still standing belongs to Thang Khatoon, the adopted daughter of a Gaspar, who died in 1747. The Catholic chapel was built in 1740 and was donated to the church by Mrs Sebastian Shaw. The original Church was made of mats and straw.69 Mir Sulaiman Khan Bahadur was another extremely powerful inhabitant of Chinsurah.. Sulaiman Khan was a merchant and money-lender from Azerbaijan who arrived in India between 1712-48 during the tumultuous period of Mughal decline. Soon he became a close associate of the Emperor Shah Alam II and decided to settle in Chinsurah because of its proximity to European trading powers and its burgeoning mercantilism. He built his grand mansion in Jora Ghat and kept a stable full of horses and elephants and an extensive mango, coconut, and black plum garden. He was also the only one to have a private hamam in the region of Hooghly and perhaps even Calcutta.70 Another eminent merchant was the Persian merchant Khan Jahan Khan. Khan Jahan who arrived at the Mughal court from Tehran in the middle of the eighteenth century, inherited the office of faujdari in Hooghly and also acquired zamindari in Chandernagore and Bhadreswar. His grand estate was located west of present day Motijheel. This estate boasted of a beautiful garden called 'Nabob-bagan' where Khan

68 Ibid, pg 14 69 Asiaticus, pg 44 70 Op cit, Adhya, pg 103


Jahan Khan is said to have hosted many a ball. With the decline in Jahan Khan's status, most of this property was sold off to another Persian merchant Nusrat-Ulla-Khan and the native Kshetranath Seal. Khan Jahan died in poverty in the 1820s after Robert Clive scrapped the office of the faujdar. 71 His body is buried in the grounds of the Motijheel Mosque built by Nusrat-ulla-Khan. This once magnificent mosque still exists but without its former glory. It was constructed in 1832 with its golden minarets modeled on the Prince Golam Mohammad Masjid in Calcutta. Nusrat-ulla-Khan also built a garden, west of the mansion, in the memory of his father, Alef Khan. He named the garden 'Alef Khan Ber' which is now known as the Miya'r Ber.72 Dutch Trade and its Decline: As noted above, the Dutch began their trade in the Bengal in gold, silver, lead, mercury, copper; spices such as cloves, nutmegs, mace, pepper, ivory, porcelain, toys and curiosities; and smaller items included benzoin camphor, areca nuts, sandalwood, cowries, sugar, coral, ebony, gems and jewellery. But it mainly traded in textiles and slaves. Bengal, the third largest silk producing area, was at the forefront of the competition by 1636. By the 1700s its supply of silk surpassed that of Persia and China. From clothing African slaves in 'arse clouts' with coarser versions to dressing the women with the most delicate variety in silk and cotton, Indian textiles proved to be useful for a range of purposes. But the Bengal factory became extremely important to the VOC over the next two centuries because it provided them not just with silk and cotton but also with a remarkable trade in opium with Batavia. The trade in opium flourished 1680s onwards and till the mid-eighteenth century Bengal opium constituted fifteen per cent of the total VOC income in Batavia.73 Alongside regular business private trade quickly mushroomed. Every employee more or less traded on the side throughout the seventeenth century. In India, Company employees began trading privately as early as 1603. Not long after its establishment in Bengal, the VOC was riddled with corruption even though the Heeren XVII allowed each man to bring back a sea-chest of Oriental items. The losses incurred by the company due to rampant corruption were so high that the fall of the VOC is sometimes 71 Op cit, Adhya, pg 122 72 Ibid 73 Jacob S' Hugo, 'Vedara Revisited: The Dutch Expedition of 1759', in Circumbulations in South Asian History: Essays in Honour of Dirk H.A. Kolff, ed by Jos Gommans and Om Prakash, Brill, Leiden, 2003, pg 119


attributed to this lack of goodwill and loyalty of those on its payroll. In Japan, too, the Company’s employees were guilty of embezzlement and corruption. The private trade of company servants was aided by Bengali or native middlemen who functioned as investors and private partners. It is to be noted that while Albert Sichterman also had direct trade relations with the French and the locals, and although the Company suffered losses due to private trade, Sichterman’s perspicacity rendered the company free of debts by the time he completed his term as director in Chinsurah.74 On the other hand, threats from local and foreign invasions were never too far away. In 1748 Shamshir Khan’s followers invaded the Dutch factory at Futwah causing the Dutch a loss in goods worth up to Rs 65000. The Marathas too were a potential threat. Nevertheless, by and large, the trade in Bengal was prosperous and bestowed the Dutch with the ‘premier rank’ amongst the European powers on the Ganges. 75 They were favoured by most of the Nawabs in Bengal. Shuja-ud-din and Alivardi renewed the firmans in 1730 and 1748 respectively, forbidding any harassment or hindrance to the Dutch. One of the biggest achievements of this relationship was the exclusive right of trade in opium which they obtained in 1746. Relationship with the Nawabs and European rivals: The relationship of the Dutch with the Viceroys and Nawabs in Bengal were in most parts peaceful as has been mentioned above. The same cannot be said about its relationship with the French and the English. There were occasional flare ups and misunderstandings, a large part of which was determined by the status of goodwill between the parent countries at home. In India the political situation in the eighteenth century was unstable and was attributable largely to the gradual disintegration of a centralized Mughal power. The lifeline of Indian politics thus was vulnerable to not just local politicking but also to the repercussions of international wars which in one way or another reverberated on Indian soil. However, Alivardi Khan (1740-56) as Nawab of Bengal ensured for his time that the kingdom was safe against the ripples of the Austrian War that shook South India in the mid-eighteenth century. The War of Austrian Succession in Europe had encouraged the French to commit open hostilities in the Carnatic against the British, setting off the Carnatic War in India. Alivardi was suspicious of the warrning nations and correctly comprehended that given a chance the Europeans would soon claim sovereignty over

74 Op cit, Dirk de Jong. 75

Op cit, Kalikinkar Datta, Pg 7


Indian land. He remained neutral in the Deccan wars, refusing to support the French in their calculations. He explicitly forbade the three powers – France, England, and Netherlands – to turn Bengal into a battlefield. But the three nations continued to simmer below the cover of cordiality. For a while the English and the Dutch were on peaceable terms and stood united against the French– a direct effect of the Anglo-Dutch pact during the War of Austrian Succession (1740-48). When the French forcibly occupied the Dutch garden house of Champonade in 1748 on account of the Anglo-Dutch boycott, the English intervened to protest this violation of “the neutrality of the Ganges.” At other times, the three countries would take a united stand. When a Prussian vessel was feared to arrive in Bengal in 1753 all the three powers on the Ganges were joined in their forces to abort any Prussian dreams of settling on the Hooghly. 76 On another occasion, when the Nawab’s government in 1752 passed an order that all bullion and rupees were to be minted at Murshidabad into siccas and all transactions were to be conducted in the same, the Dutch, English, and French decided to write individual petitions stating the losses each would incur and requested that they be allowed to trade in bullion and rupees as usual.


The joint effort worked and the old system was

maintained. Again, this friendship was not without its hiccups. In 1739 the Dutch factory in Patna seized the saltpetre bought by the English. They repeated the offense in 1741 in an attempt to monopolise the supply of saltpetre. Finally, an agreement was made between Mr Barwel, Mr Gulliman, and Mr Drabbe, chiefs of the English, French, and Dutch factories respectively that the Dutch would be the sole merchant and supplier of Dobara saltpetre to the other European powers. This continued roughly till the 1746 when the three agreed to buy their saltpetre from the native merchants Omichand and Deepchand. However, disputes and problems arose and the relation between the Dutch and the English suffered. Finally, under the leadership of Robert Clive, the East India Company completely took over the saltpetre farms in Bihar thereby establishing British monopoly. The growing prosperity of the Dutch and the ambitions of the English found expression in the political equations with other actors. Siraj-ud-daula’s deteriorating relationship

76 Ibid 77 Ibid


with the English in 1756-57 had a deleterious effect on the Dutch as well when they refused to comply with the Nawab’s requests for assistance in attacking the English in 1756. Adrian Bisdom (1755-60), the Dutch Director, was threatened with a fine of twenty lakhs and complete ruin by the Nawab for disobeying his orders. It was only upon the intervention of Khwjah Wajid, the Nawab’s friend and an extremely influential Armenian merchant, that the fine was reduced to four lakhs. The payment of this temporarily secured the Nawab’s pleasure who immediately promised the Dutch the necessary parwanas for trading rights and privileges. However, the British under the reins of Robert Clive soon re-conquered Calcutta in January 1757 and subjugated the Nawab to their various demands. Siraj-ud-daula’s position was considerably weakened and exposed to machinations within his own camp. The Dutch tried to assert their own superiority but was not successful as the Nawab was overwhelmed by the worrying news of the British conquest of Chandernagore as well as his troubled relationship with Mir Jafar. The Dutch were not favourably viewed by the English either because they had refused to help the English combat the Nawab's forces in 1756. The Dutch reiterated their position of neutrality as merchants which forbade them to interfere and participate in armed combat. They, however, granted the English fugitives protection in Fultah after careful consideration. The victory over the Battle of Plassey sealed the fate of the English as the most powerful European force around the Ganges and rekindled the political and commercial rivalry between them and the VOC. After 1857 a change in government in Bengal was effected at the commands of the British. Mir Jafar was installed as the new Nawab but denied any real power. The Nawab was gradually coming to realize this arrangement when the Dutch decided to use the Nawab to further their political hold in the province. In this plan they were assisted by their old friend Khawaja Wahid. The step was, perhaps, prompted by the fact that the Dutch had gained complete control over Jakarta in 1755 and

ambition of an Indo-

Batavian empire seemed not too implausible. These machinations continued till 1759 when the English directly accused the Dutch of planning a military attack. This accusation stemmed from a rumour in the July of 1859 that ships laden with Dutch and Malay soldiers were moving up the Ganges. Mir Jafar immediately denied any involvement. The Dutch armament reportedly left Batavia in June 1759 and, according


to the Dutch, it was headed for Coromandel. Netherlands also claimed that the ship Visiolet was separated by a storm and had to move up to the Ganges. The English alleged that it was but an unbelievable coincident that the second ship, unaware of the course of the first, should immediately re-embark in Coromandel to join the Visiolet in Bengal.78 The days following the 20th of November were eventful. Colonel Forde of the East India Company captured the Dutch factory at Baranagore. He thereafter proceeded to Chinsurah to prevent any further attempts of the Dutch troops to disembark. The Dutch did not pay heed to the English warnings and over the next two days Dutch ships anchored very close to the English and on one of the occasions disembarked seven hundred European and eight hundred Malay soldiers. A fight ensued on the waters of the Hooghly. The same day Colonel Forde was attacked by a Dutch garrison of seven hundred Europeans and three hundred Malay soldiers on the way to Chinsurah. But Forde routed them out of Chandernagore and into Chinsurah where, in the evening, he was joined by troops from the Charnock and Tannah batteries. On the 25th of November, Forde met reinforced Dutch troops on the plains of Bidera. The Dutch had an infantry of two hundred and forty soldiers, eighty of the train, a cavalry of fifty Europeans, besides eight hundred sepoys and seven hundred European soldiers. But the battle only took half an hour to decide their fate. The English won forcing the aggressors to immediately submit to them and call for cessation of hostilities. In the end, the Dutch signed an agreement with Miran, the Nawabâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s son. The agreement directed the Dutch to remain neutral in war; they were prohibited from enlisting troops or further fortify their settlement; they were allowed to retain hundred and twenty five European soldiers at the factories in Chinsurah, Cossimbazar, and Patna; and they were asked to immediately send back all their troops and all ships but one out of Bengal. The violation of any of these pacts was going to result in expulsion. The Nawab also restricted the passage of Dutch ships along Kulpi, Falta, and Mayapur. The British agreed to release all Dutch ships and prisoners in lieu of payment for all the damages incurred by them. The Dutch agreed to send back most of the new Europeans to the Netherlands as demilitarized their fort to a considerable extent.

78 A Defence of the United Company of Merchants of England Trading to the East Indies, and their Servants, (particularly those at Bengal) against the Complaints of the Dutch East India Company: Being a Memorial from the English Company to his Majesty on that Subject, London, 1762


Figure 13 The map of ‘Plan of the Attack of Oudanulla’ (National Archives)

Anglo-Dutch Relationship in Europe and in India: The Battle of Bidera sealed the status of the VOC as a subordinate power on the Ganges but the hostilities between the two nations did not cease. From this moment on the position of the Dutch would never regain the kind of status it had enjoyed for hundred and fifty years. Their hold over their Indian settlements was to undergo many waves of political instability. While peace had reigned between the mother countries between 1756 and 1759, the tides were to change soon. England was already saddled with multiple maritime foes in the American War of Independence. In 1781 Holland joined the Armed Neutrality, a league of Baltic powers challenging the doctrines of international maritime law drafted by Britain as these laws were mainly directed at subjugating Britain’s enemies and neutrals. Britain declared war on Netherlands and seized Dutch settlements in Negapatam and Trincomali in India. On receipt of the news of war with Holland the Council of the East India Company in Calcutta directed their armies at every station to take over Dutch settlements in Bengal and Bihar which included factories in Baranagar, Patna, Cossimbazar, and of course, Chinsurah. The Dutch strength having been considerably reduced on account of the pact made post-Bidera forced them to submit without resistance. The treasury, magazine, warehouses, and storehouses were brought under English control. A full account of the balances of trade along with the money was provided to the British Commissaries. Individuals were required to reveal the property they owned. No individuals or residents were manhandled during the transfer of Chinsurah and Dutch


properties over to the British. New Indian sircars were appointed to take charge of the warehourses and stores â&#x20AC;&#x201C; Kali Charan Bose, Ganga Narain and Govind Roy, and Nanda Kumar Chakravarty immediately took charge of their responsibilities. This state of affairs lasted till 1783 when the Treaty of Versailles was signed between England and France. As per the Treaty all possessions were to be returned and restored to their respective countries at the same time or in the same period. This being the condition, Dutch possessions including Balsore and Chinsurah were not immediately returned because General de Bussy refused to return Pondicherry and other British possessions. The delay caused by the French affected the British handover of Chinsurah to the Dutch. However, other aspects of their relationship were amicable. In 1784 Batavia sent rice to Calcutta for relief distribution in famine affected Carnatic and the English were duly grateful. Likewise, in 1788 when the Chinsurahâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Governor, Hon. Isaac Titsingh, expressed his displeasure to Lord Cornwallis over the insolence of the English resident at the Balasore factory, Cornwallis readily asked the resident, Mr. Wordsworth, for an explanation and promised to take necessary action against him should he be found guilty. It was also around this time, in 1795, that the two powers amicably exchanged the Dutch settlement of Baranagore for an area near Hooghly which the VOC in Chinsurah desired. 79 Holland was under siege from 1794 when Napoleon invaded the country causing the Stadholder to flee to England. England gained possession once again of all Dutch properties and possessions in the East to protect both the interests of the Dutch and the English against France. The Peace of Amiens was short-lived and the English continued to hold its sway over the VOC areas and retained them till the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. But various negotiations left a neat transfer of powers wanting. Matters came to a head when Sir Stamford hoisted the British flag on Singapore signaling the establishment of Britain as a power in the dominion. It was the historic consummation of the rivalry between the two nations over the control of Malay. The Dutch questioned the validity of the British ascendency to Singapore as Sultan Johore was still under the sphere of influence of Holland. However, the Dutch were unable to stop the growth of Singapore as talks with Britain failed twice in 1820 and 1823. An understanding was finally reached by which the British promised not to encroach upon Dutch dominions south of the Strait of Malacca and ceded Fort Marlborough in Bencaloon in exchange for

79 Op cit, Kalinkar Datta.


all Dutch settlements in India and territories north of the strait. This Treaty of London was signed on March 1824 and had important repercussions for Chinsurah. Conclusion Chinsurah was formally handed over to the English on May 7th, 1825. Over the years the Dutch had opened six factories in Bengal – Chinsurah, Cossimbazar, Balasore, Patna, Dacca, and Malda. They had prospered and, in turn, Bengal had prospered as well. By the third quarter of the seventeenth century Bengal supplied sixty three per cent of Indian textiles and 55 per cent of the total textiles from Asia. By the 1700 the single province of Bengal dominated 40 per cent of the imports into Holland.80 Between 1678 and 1718 in Bengal around 33,000 to 44,000 artisans were under the direct employment of the VOC. Chinsurah was a leading commercial settlement in the district of Hooghly. The fifteen years between 1825 and 1840 saw many other fundamental changes. Once the British took over Chinsurah and other Dutch factories in Bengal, the employees were given a choice to gain employment with the East India Company or become pensioners of the state. The last Dutch Governor, Daniel Overbeck, and the Fiscal of Chinsurah, Gregory Herklots, chose to live as private citizens on a small pension in the town till their death. In 1829, Fort Gustavus and Government House were demolished and in their place the present barracks were built by Captain W. Bell. In 1836, Persian ceased to be the official language to be replaced by English and Bengali. In 1838 a report by the Magistrate on the condition of Hooghly and Chinsurah claimed that Hooghly and Chinsurah were the only ‘proper towns in the district…Considerable care had been bestowed upon the streets and roads, and the towns presented ‘an appearance of neatness and regularity not often observable in the towns of the Lower Provinces.’” 81 Two sweepers and two ameens were engaged for the cleaning and maintenance of the roads respectively. The roads were also repaired out of a fund called ‘"Mushahira Bazeyafti,” and metalled with the material from the old Portuguese and Dutch forts. However, in spite of the upkeep of the municipality, a rather desolate picture is painted by Fenton, ‘But here the character of things is gloomy, gloomy without the imposing

80 Om Prakash, The New Cambridge History of India: European Commercial Enterprise in PreColonial India Part II-5, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, pg 212 81

Op cit, Toynbee, pg 181


effect produced by the mighty relics of art, or the sublime changes of nature. We frequently pass the dwellings of rich natives, large ruinous houses, looking like MRs Radcliffe’s romances, the window frames half decayed, the walls black with damp, no pretty garden or clumps of trees and shrubs, but a formal range of mango or tamarindtrees; nothing to excite the imagination. The materials are so perishable, it cannot be otherwise; these flimsy edifices are erected with brick, mud, or stucco; no dark granite walls, eloquent of the past, defying time and circumstances.’ 82 Although Fenton’s journal is also an unfolding of her disillusionment with the exotic East so to speak, it also testifies to the larger than life character of the town in the days of the Dutch and the uneasy rehabilitation of both the native and the foreigner post 1825. Many of the native mansions and houses are lost and some are still standing. The Dutch Church which started Protestant services after the British took over was demolished thirty years ago. The present Circuit House stands on the foundation of this church. Herklot’s residence and office now houses the current Public Works Distribution. The colonial structures within the old cantonment area which have survived the years are Hooghly Mohsin College, Divisional Commissioner's Bungalow, Court building, Duff High School, Madrasah High School, Chinsurah head post office, Chinsurah Sadar Thana, Animal Hospital, the present four playgrounds, the ghats, and a few private houses.


Op cit, Fenton, pg 216



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The Dutch in India & Chinsurah by Dr Oeendrila Lahiri  
The Dutch in India & Chinsurah by Dr Oeendrila Lahiri