|Little Europe is about the history of the European traders and their settlements on the banks of River Hooghly in West Bengal. It describes the rise and fall of the European powers beginning with the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch, the French and the Germans who were finally overpowered by the British in the middle of the eighteenth century.
Hooghly is the silent spectator and witness of many ups and downs, upheavals through the river bank and settlements for trade and power. It may be said historically Hooghly is one of the most interesting districts in the province of Bengal, indeed in the whole of India. But this interest is entirely correlated to matters in the last four centuries and is almost wholly European. Here within the space of a few miles of river bank, Portuguese, English, Dutch, French, Danes and Flemings struggled with each other, formed settlements. The battle for trade and power were fought on this river Hooghly by most of the European nations and converted the swampy little known corner of the country into a center of all attentions. The Portuguese at Bandel, the Dutch at Chinsurah, the French at Chandernagor, the Danes at Sreerampore and the English at Calcutta left their physical mark in these settlements. It’s like a little Europe that is still to be discovered in these places.
Hooghly & Bandel: The Portuguese Settlement
The Portuguese were the first European nations to visit and settle in India. They were also the first to come to Bengal. The arrival of Vasco Da Gama at Calicut on 26th August 1498 was followed a couple of decades later by the arrival of Portuguese in Bengal.
The Portuguese explorer to visit Bengal was Joao da Silveira in 1518. Portuguese traders began to frequent Bengal about 1530. In 1534, the Viceroy of Goa sent a fleet of nine ships to aid the reigning Nawab of Bengal against an invader, Sher Khan. In 1538, a number of Portuguese entered the services of the King of Gaur as military adventurers. It was during the reign of Akbar that the Portuguese regularly settled at Hooghly. A Portuguese captain Tavarez went up to Agra who was favourably received by Akbar and granted permission to choose any spot he liked near the Hooghly to erect a town and to build a Church. In 1599, it would seem, they built their fort and church. At low tide the foundations of two walls of the old Portuguese Fort may be seen jutting out from the river bank immediately in front of the present Hooghly Jail.
Bandel – means nothing more than wharf. About half a mile beyond the Church is the Circuit House which approximately marks the northern boundary, as the present Hooghly jail does the Southern of the old Portuguese settlement.
From the early sixteenth century, both private Portuguese merchants as well the official Portuguese representatives had begun to come to Bengal regularly, which often led to violent conflicts between them.
There was no Portuguese settlement at Hooghly prior to 1565, since the Portuguese used to transfer the goods from Bettore (opposite Howrah) by smaller boats to Satgaon. Satgaon known as Saptagram in ancient times was an important port town in medieval Bengal. It was a seat of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain culture in the pre-Muslim period. Saptagram is now in ruins but the survival of the traditional boat making centre at the neighbouring Balagarh is reminiscent of the thriving riverine trade in which boat builders had an important role.
Permanent Settlement at Hooghly
In Hamilton’s time it stated –
“The town of Hooghly drives a great trade, because all foreign goods are brought …. and all goods of the product of the Bengal are brought hither for exportation and the Mogul’s furze or custom house is at this place. ……”.
In 1632, the Mughals appeared before Hooghly to drive the Portuguese away from the Hooghly River. During this time the Portuguese settlement flowed into two directions. One that flourished in Bandel and Ugolim (as port town of Hooghly was known then) after getting the imperial fireman and the other that clustered around the mangrove forest in Sunderbans. The second group comprised outlaws, banished from the mother country and lived solely on piracy. In fact it was the plunder of the pirates that drove Shah Jahan to prosecute the ‘’rouge Europeans”. He stopped though, probably because of misinformation, targeting his wrath at the Portuguese of Bandel rather than those who lived by the mouth of the sea.
Ten thousands Portuguese were killed in the siege. The Mughals captured Hooghly on 13th September 1632. Some Portuguese escaped to Sagar Island. Later English and Dutch documents speak of the return of the Portuguese to Hooghly. European documents of the late 18th and early 19th century refer to a fireman of Shahjahan giving 777 bighas of land to the Portuguese at Hooghly.
With the growth of French commerce the Portuguese merchants had moved from Hooghly to Chandernagor under the French. Yet Hooghly was not abandoned as we find the arrival of a Portuguese ship there in 1740. By then the Portuguese had lost their ambition and resources to dabble in politics. However, in the field of culture, that the Portuguese left a lasting impression.
The Portuguese brought exotic fruits, flowers and plants which became part of Bengali civilization and culture. From the early days of their arrival the Portuguese did not object to marrying local women although the top jobs were reserved for white Portuguese men from Portugal. As a result many Portuguese words like chabi, balti, perek, alpin have come into the Bengali vocabulary.
They call her Our Lady of Happy Voyage. The presiding deity of Bandel Church continues to be revered ever since that stormy night over 300 years ago. A Portuguese merchant ship ran up against turbulent weather and was about to sink. However its devout occupants kept on hailing Mary till some hidden power tugged them to safety to the river mouth of the Sagar islands. It nudged the vessel further into the Hooghly till it reached Bandel. In sheer gratitude the captain of the ship presented his ship’s mast to the local church. The 40 feet wooden pillar testifies his faith as one enters the imposing structure.
Constructed in 1599, the second oldest church in the East dominates the landscape in all directions and stands sole witness – apart from the river some 100 yards away to the rise and fall of the Portuguese in Bengal.
The power and influence of the Portuguese at Bandel was almost extinct by the end of the 18th century. Today you just get to see steamboats ferrying cargo upstream.
The English Settlement
Barrackpore, situated on the River Hooghly about 20 kms north of Kolkata was a cantonment and the country residence or suburban weekend retreat of His Excellency, the Viceroy of Bengal. The place acquired its name as Barrackpore in 1772 as the first military troops were stationed here.
The country residence is situated in a noble park about 250 acres in extent, artistically designed finely wooded with stately and laid out in English style. The mansion commenced in 1812 by the earl of Minto, Governor-General and enlarged to its present size by his successor, the marquis of Hastings. As early as the days of Macpherson and Cornwallis, it was the country seat of the governor general.
The Park in which the House stands was designed and created by Lord Wellesley. Surrounding the house are charming gardens with English flowering annuals during the cold season and roses all the year round.
The principal objects of interest in the Park are Lady Canning’s Tomb and a Memorial hall erected by Lord Minto in 1813 ‘’to the memory of the brave”. It contains tablets commemorating the officers who fell at the conquest of the Isle of France (Mauritius) in 1810 and of Java in 1811.
The Memorial Hall
About 100 yards to the north of the house is a pure white building – a Memorial hall – in Corinthian style of architecture, built by the earl of Minto in 1813. The platform is ascended by twelve steps; the hall has colonnade of Corinthian columns on its four sides and resembles the Temple of Segesta in Sicily. Over the outside entrance is a black slab inscribed – TO THE MEMORY OF THE BRAVE.
Tomb of Lady Canning
A spot of melancholy is about 300 yards to the south of the house. Here on the bank of the river, under a beautiful spread tamarind tree, is the tomb of lady Canning, who died at Calcutta in 1861, of fever caught in the Tarai on the way from Darjeeling. The tomb is of white unpolished marble, surmounted by a St. Andrew’s cross. The tomb was surrounded by a polygonal stone base enclosure mounted with a bronze railing showing Lady Canning’s initials. The original monument now stands at St John’s cathedral in Dalhousie Square, Kolkata as it was suffering due to exposure to the weather.
The Parade Ground
The parade ground of Barrackpore has been the scene of two mutinies of native troops. In 1824 when the 47th B.N.I refused to serve ‘’across the black water”, in the first Burmese War and in 1857, when Mangal Pandey, after defying a score of English officers was arrested by ‘’the Chief”, Lied. General Sir John Hearsay. In the station cemetery is the last resting place of Hearsay’s third son, subaltern of Hussars, who was arrested here six years later.
The Dutch Settlement The Dutch formed their East India Company (V.O.C — Vereenigde Ostindische Compagnie) around 1602 two years after the East India Company of the English. This was merely the result of an act of union among some smaller joint stock companies founded by the Dutch maritime interests during the 1590’s.
The Dutch in West Bengal
Bengal was the important area for sugar, saltpetre, indigo and textiles. With the collapsing of the Portuguese and the fall of the port at Saptagram, migration of small traders and peasant communities slowly followed at Chinsurah, the Dutch got an entry to carry on trade here.
In 1638 the emperor Sahajahan issued a warrant to the Dutch to build ‘’Kothee” a factory to start business. The English started a factory at Hooghly in 1632 and the Dutch flowed as neighbours. Then Hooghly and Chinsurah were a truly invisible whole. They were twin towns.
The Fort Gustavas, the first Dutch factory adjoining the English one at Hooghly was swept away by floods. The Dutch then built a new factory lower down the river at Chinsurah, where they also constructed a large fort called Fort Gustavus, reportedly in 1656.
Besides Fort Gustavus at Chinsurah and silk factory at Cassimbazar, the Dutch had on the Hooghly River, a garden just south of Chandernagor, a factory for salting pork at Baranagar.
The description in the old Dutch records and historic maps indicate that Chinsurah was a very prosperous city during the 17th century at the time the VOC built fort Gustavus.
The Dutch ruled here till May 1825 when by the Treaty of London dated 17th March 1824, Chinsurah was finally ceded to the English.
English Military barracks
After the acquisition by the British it became a major military centre for the east India Company and a reception area for troops newly arriving from England. In 1871 the military station was given up but large blocks of early 19th century barracks and quarters remained. Fort Gustovas, the grand relic of the Hollanders, was thoroughly demolished along with their Governor’s House to make room for the extensive barracks, now used as the Court Building.
The French Settlement
Chandernagor, locally called Chandannagar, is believed to have acquired its name from the word Chandra or the moon due to its geographical location on the river Bhagirathi where the river turns like a crescent moon. There are other opinions too on the origin of the name.
Chandannagar grew up during the French regime covering mainly three villages – Borokishanpur, Khalisani and Gondalpara. It is famous for its handloom products. Hindus of different castes, Muslims, Europeans and Armenians inhabited it.
Early History of Chandernagor
The importance of Chandernagor in pre-colonial history lies in its strategic location on the river Saraswati. What is now a narrow stream was a swift river in mid 16th century and was a preferred route by colonial traders.
Arrival of the French
The first French settler in Chandernagor was Duplessis who first landed here in 1673. He built a warehouse and stayed up to 1676 but could not prosper. Then the first French factory came up at Gourhati in 1688. Chandernagar was occupied in 1690 but officially founded only on 23rd January 1693 through a fireman of Ibrahim Khan the Mughal Governor of Bengal. It authorized the French to settle their open loges (warehouses) wherever necessary in the kingdom of Bengal and Orissa and province of Bihar. The Loges of Chandernagar with its round baroque pediment in early Louis XV style was probably the first monumental building of the French in India.
In 1701 Chandernagar was made subordinate to Pondicherry. But little was done in the trade either by French or by the Danes, who shared the French settlement up to 1755. But by 1744, Chandernagar had risen to highest pitch of prosperity and was a greater centre of trade than Kolkata.
Dupleix and rapid Urbanisation
Joseph Francois Dupliex was the son of the Director of the French Company of the Indies. He first went on a voyage to India in 1714 at the age of 17. On his return to France he was appointed Second in Council at Pondicherry in 1720. The process of urbanization accelerated in the early years of the 18th century under Dupliex.
Chadernagar in Early 20th Century
The city was administered by a council, consisting of a governor-director and 5 members, besides 115 traders, 2 doctors, 1 artisan, 2 clergymen and 103 soldiers of whom 20 were Indians. In 1909 there were 2000 brick-built houses and a population of 26,831. The European area had a convent, the fort, the river-port, the residence of the governor, the Thistle Hotel, the church of St Louis built in 1726, a beautiful palace at Gourhati and a strand along the river.
During the tenure of Duplex from 1731 to 1741 French trade developed enormously in Bengal. Chandannagar continued as the commercial centre but completely banking on the local businessmen. Among them Indranarayan Chowdhury was the most prominent figure. In the year 1730 he was appointed the courtier of the Company. He received a gold medal from Louis XV, the king of France.
French English War
When the city of Madras capitulated to the French in 1746, Dupleix opposed the restoration of the town to the British, thus violating the treaty signed by La Bourdonnais. The conflicts between the French and the British in India continued till 1754 when the French government anxious to make peace sent a special commissioner to India.
The Battle of Chandernagor
Nawab Siraj snatched Calcutta from the hands of the English on June 20 in 1756. The English were then busy lessening the French suzerainty in the Deccan.
The English again snatched Calcutta from the Nawab on January 2, 1757. The English understood that in case of the French joining the Nawab, the reversal of fortune for the English was inevitable. The English plundered Hooghly to terrorise the French and the Nawab. Renault, the French Commander saw through the devilry of the English. The fall of Chandarnagar would mean the fall of Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah which simply would mean the conquest of Bengal by the English. On March 9, 1757, Clive’s army of marauders came to the north of Belur. Clive’s army set up their tents at Serampur on March 9. Shrewd Clive did not make haste. He was waiting for Watson. The naval might of Watson and the land power of Clive – these influenced the plan of Chandernagor battle. Armstrong and 150 soldiers joined Clive’s tent on March 11. On March 23, 1757, the Fort of Orleans fell at 4 pm and Renault surrendered.
Chandernagor never recovered from its destructions in 1757. In 1812 a new and lovely residence was constructed for the Administrator General. This imposing, yet gracious building is today the Institute de Chandernagor and is under west Bengal government
Mimic French Revolution on Hooghly
In 1789 the great French Revolution took place and its effects gradually spread to the French settlements in India. The Traite de cession was signed in Paris in 1951 and the “transfert de jure” took place on 9 June 1951. Chandernagor thus got its independence earlier than the four other French settlements in India. The territory was merged with West Bengal.
Modern Chandernagor is a very neat and well-kept little town as far as the European quarter goes. There is a fine promenade or strand along the riverbank, on the landward side of which stand the chief buildings of the town, the residence of the administrator, the Convent, the Jail, the Church of St Louis built in 1726. The strand was known as the Quai Dupliex.
The ancient history of Jaddhatri Puja in Chandernagor is unknown even today. The beginning of this probably dates back earlier than 1750. Indranarayan performed the Jagaddhatri Puja at his own house in Chandernagor. The fourhanded goddess is carried by the lion while an elephant lies at the feet of the lion. The wonder of illumination is a primeval glory of Chandernagor.
The Danish Settlement
The Danish East India Company was founded by King Christian IV of Denmark in 1612 chiefly on hopes that had been aroused by the enormous revenues produced by the initial ventures of the British and Dutch companies. The Danes first settled on the banks of the Hooghly at the same time as the French in about 1676. The Danes first settled near Hooghly in 1698. Their first settlement was at Gondalpara, the south east corner of the French territory of Chandernagor, the spot to this day known as Danemardanga.
The Danish settlement does not figure in the history at all during the first half of the 18th century. In the year 1755 they obtained the permission from Alivardi Khan, the then Viceroy of Bengal to settle and erect a factory at Serampore. The chief of the Danish factory, who took over Serampore, was named as Scotsman. The Danish east India Company built warehouses, paved the banks of the river, appointed native dewans and gomosta and conferred trading rights to both Native and foreign merchants to spread business on a wide scale.
During the war that ensued from 1757 to 1763, between France and England, the Danes took no active part, but their sympathies were naturally with the French, who had given them houseroom for so long in their own settlement at Chandernagor. Meanwhile in 1778 Serampur came under the direct administration of the King of Denmark. Colonel Ole Bie was appointed as the first Governor of Serampore who took charge of the Judiciary as well.
The Golden days
A few years later came the golden days of Serampur trade during the American War in 1780. England was at war with three great maritime nations – France, Holland and America. English vessels were exposed to the attacks of privateers who captured large number of Indiamen and rates of insurance were very heavy. During the war period the ships loaded with cargo under the Danish flag were found safe on sea due to the impartial and non aligned foreign policy adopted by Denmark. Goods shipped from Serampore went in neutral bottoms and naturally the Danish ships easily got valuable freights at high rates. The Danish East India Company made large profits.
Towards the end of the 18th century the Danish administrators could turn Serampur into an elegant and protected town and an attractive tourist resort with its magnificent palaces, widely built Strand Road along the river, Serampur was a charming town which drew the attention of foreign travellers.
The close of the 18th century ushered in a memorable era with the arrival of the missionaries in Serampur. The Serampur Mission, Serampur Mission Press and the Serampur College had a far reaching effect on the social, religious and cultural life of Bengal.
The English Settlement
The history of Kolkata as a British settlement, known to the British as Calcutta, dates from the establishment of a trading post there by Job Charnock, an agent of the English East India Company, in 1690. Charnock had previously had disputes with officials of the Mughal Empire at the river port of Hooghly and had been obliged to leave, after which he attempted unsuccessfully to establish himself at other places down the river. When the Mughal officials, not wishing to lose what they had gained from the English company’s commerce, permitted Charnock to return once more, he chose Calcutta as the seat of his operations. The site was apparently carefully selected, being protected by the river on the west, a creek to the north, and salt lakes to the east. Rival Dutch, French, and other European settlements were higher up the river on the west bank, so that access from the sea was not threatened, as it was at the port of Hugli. The river at this point was also wide and deep; the only disadvantage was that the marshes to the east and swamps within the area made the spot unhealthy. Moreover, before the coming of the English, three local villages—Sutanati, Kalikata, and Gobindapore, which were later to become parts of Calcutta—had been chosen as places to settle by Indian merchants who had migrated from the silted-up port of Satgaon. The presence of these merchants may have been to some extent responsible for Charnock’s choice of the site.
This area around Fort William—Calcutta—became the seat of the British province known as the Bengal Presidency.
Growth of the city
In 1717 the Mughal emperor Farrukh-Siyar granted the East India Company freedom of trade in return for a yearly payment of 3,000 rupees; this arrangement gave a great impetus to the growth of Calcutta. A large number of Indian merchants flocked to the city. In 1756 Siraj-ud-Daula captured the fort. A number of Europeans were imprisoned in a small lockup popularly known as the Black Hole of Calcutta, and many died. Calcutta was recaptured in January 1757 by Robert Clive, one of the founders of British power in India, and by the British admiral Charles Watson. The nawab was defeated shortly afterward at Plassey (June 1757), after which British rule in Bengal was assured. Gobindapore was cleared of its forests, and the new Fort William was built on its present site, overlooking the Hooghly at Calcutta, where it became the symbol of British military ascendancy.
Capital of British India
Calcutta did not become the capital of British India until 1772, when the first governor-general, Warren Hastings, transferred all important offices to the city from Murshidabad, the provincial Mughal capital. In 1773 Bombay (now Mumbai) and Madras (now Chennai) became subordinate to the government at Fort William. In 1706 the population of Calcutta was roughly between 10,000 and 12,000. It increased to nearly 120,000 by 1752 and to 180,000 by 1821. The White (British) Town was built on ground that had been raised and drained. There were so many palaces in the British sector of the city that it was named the “city of palaces.” Outside the British town were built the mansions of the newly rich, as well as clusters of huts. The names of different quarters of the city—such as Kumartuli (the potters’ district) and Sankaripara (the conch-shell workers’ district)—still indicate the various occupational castes of the people who became residents of the growing metropolis. Two distinct areas—one British, one Indian—came to coexist in Calcutta.
By successive stages, as British power extended over the subcontinent, the whole of northern India became a hinterland for the port of Calcutta. The abolition of inland customs duties in 1835 created an open market, and the construction of railways (beginning in 1854) further quickened the development of business and industry. It was at this time that the Grand Trunk Road from Calcutta to Peshawar (now in Pakistan) was completed. British mercantile, banking, and insurance interests flourished. The Indian sector of Calcutta also became a busy hub of commerce and was thronged with people from throughout India and many other parts of Asia. Calcutta became the intellectual centre of the subcontinent
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It is a pre-colonial town on the west bank of the Hooghly River. … many foreign merchants, such as the French, Portuguese and Dutch – established their … In 1755, the Danish East India Company sent a representative from its Tranquebar … Subsequently, the Danes acquired the Serampore, Akna and Pearapur mahals by …
… of West Bengal, India. It lies on the Hooghly River, 35 km north of Kolkata (Calcutta). …. Techno India Group Public School, co-ed, English. Abbot Shishu Hall …
Barrackpore, situated on the River Hooghly about 20 kms north of Kolkata was a … The place acquired its name as Barrackpore in 1772 as the first military troops … TheDutch Settlement The Dutch formed their East India Company (V.O.C …
Jan 14, 2015 – Serampore (Danish), Chandannagar (French), Chinsurah (Dutch) and … Danish Governor decided to sell it to the British East India Company.
Sep 9, 2013 – At that time Kolkata was the principal Dutch settlement in Bengal, used … Colonel Robert Clive of British East India Company Limited and …. Hooghly are running in the Court building owned by P.W.D., Govt. of West Bengal.
Before Chinsurah became a Dutch colony, it was already home to Calcutta’s … The Armenians funded the British East India Company to develop the city of Calcutta. … In 1777, after the Danish company went bankrupt, Serampore became a …
In 1580, they moved to a new settlement called Bandel de Hooghly. … The flag of theDutch East India Company that once flew over Chinsurah and Baranagore. … indicates that Calcutta had taken over Chandernagor as the center for trade with … In 1777, after the Danish company went bankrupt, Serampore became a …
… miles of each other, viz. at Hooghly, Chinsurah, Chandernagore, and Serampore. The East India Company subsequently formed factories at Cossim- buzar on …
tablish a trading post at Serampore (Srirampur) at the Hooghly. River in West Bengal, … companies, especially the Dutch East India Company, the Danish. East India … had acquired land and established separate posts or factories. (meaning …
2007 – Travel
On the Hooghly River, 25km north of Kolkata, Serampore was a Danish trading centre until Denmark’s holdings in India were transferred to the East India Company in … Only 1km south of Hooghly, Chinsura was exchanged by the Dutch for the …