19th century Calcutta

Views of bygone Calcutta on the Hooghly River, courtesy of the British Library.  In that city, Dalhousie Square was the home of the East Indian Company’s local headquarters, while the global headquarters were at East India House on Leadenhall Street, London.

Bourne and Shepherd, 1890. Photograph of shipping on the Hooghly, from the Elgin Collection: 'Spring Tours 1894-98', taken by Bourne and Shepherd in the 1890s. Square-rigged sailing ships moored in the Hooghly off the Maidan, Calcutta with the High Court visible in the distance to the north. The nearest vessel is the three-masted ship Glengarry of Liverpool; local craft can be seen in foreground. Calcutta is a city and port in eastern India and the capital of West Bengal. It was founded in 1690 by the British East India Company on the banks of the Hooghly River, a distributary of the River Ganges. The port provided access from the sea to the hinterland of Bengal, India’s richest province. In little more than half a century the original trading port grew into a considerable city, clustered round the Company’s fort. The modern port was commissioned on 17 October 1870 under the Calcutta Port Act and went on to become the premier port in British India.

View of ships on the Hooghly (Hugli) River, from the Elgin Collection: 'Spring Tours 1894-98', taken by Bourne and Shepherd in the 1890s.

Calcutta. The Fort & the River Hooghly. Photograph from an album of 62 views of India and Ceylon. It was reproduced in Montague Massey, 'Recollections of Calcutta for Over Half a Century' (Calcutta, 1918), and there credited to Johnston & Hoffmann. View from inside Fort William, looking across the buildings of the fort towards shipping moored on the Hooghly. The High Court can be seen on the skyline in the right background. Fort William was initially built in 1707 and in 1742 a defensive moat was dug to fortify it against threat of attack by the Marathas. In 1757 when Robert Clive retook Calcutta from the forces of Siraj-ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Bengal, a new Fort William was conceived and constructed within ten years. In the process, large swathes of jungle were cleared around the fort, an esplanade was created, and in the following decades the levelled ground provided ample space for the erecting of the glittering white colonial structures which impressed Calcutta's visitors and made it look a prosperous imperial city.

The Hooghly River, Calcutta. View on the Hooghly (Hugli), from the Elgin Collection: 'Spring Tours 1894-98', taken in the 1890s. Looking north over the rooftops towards the Hooghly River at Calcutta, with the Howrah Bridge in the distance. The Export and Import Jetties can be seen in the foreground.

This photograph of Dalhousie Square from the 'Walter Hawkins Nightingale (PWD) collection: Album of views of Calcutta, was taken by A. De Hone in the 1870s. Dalhousie Square, named after Lord Dalhousie who appointed Governor-General in 1847, was the main administrative area of Calcutta. The square also housed the headquarters of the East India Company known as the Writer's Building, the Currency Office, and the General Post Office. Dalhousie Square has been renamed BBD Bagh after three Indian nationalists Benoy, Badal, and Dinesh. St. Andrew's Church is visible in the background. View across Dalhousie Square from the top of the Telegraph Office, looking over the tank (water supply) towards the General Post Office. A portion of Writers' Buildings may be seen on the right, where employees of the East India Company, new to India, lived on their arrival in Calcutta.

This photograph of Currency Office in Dalhousie Square from the 'Walter Hawkins Nightingale (PWD) collection: Album of views of Calcutta, was taken by an unknown photographer in the late 1870s. The Currency Office, on the east side of Dalhousie Square, contained the Office of Issue and Exchange of Government Paper Currency. St. Andrew's Church is visible in the background.

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