In transcribing the following paragraphs from the Internet Archive online version of The Imperial Gazetteer’s entry on Calcutta (modern Kolkata), I have expanded the abbreviations for easier reading and added paragraphing and links. The map is in the original. The title-page bears the date 1856, but internal evidence in various entrees makes clear that the text dates from 1851. This discussion of a major city in British India has particular importance because it immediately precedes the 1857 Mutiny.— George P. Landow]

CALCUTTA [Kallee Ghattah, the ghaut or landing-place of the goddess Kallee]; in acts of Parliament, called the Town of Calcutta, and Factory of Fort-William, is a well-known city in Hindoostan, the capitol of the presidency and province of Bengal, and the seat of the supreme government of British India; latitude 22 33' 5" North; longitude 88 19' 7" East (R.), situate on a level tract, on the left or East bank, Hooghly, a branch of the Ganges, about 100 miles from the sea. It is about 4½ miles in length, Southeast to Northwest, along the course of the river; and in breadth, East to West, from 14½ to 14¾ miles at the broadest part, which is about the centre. At either extremity, the width does not exceed half a mile.

Beyond these limits, however, there are numerous suburbs, villages, and detached residences. A spacious way, called Circular Road, encompasses it on the land side, following the line of the ancient entrenchment called the Mahrattn ditch; and marks the boundary of the liberties of the city, and of the administration of English law. On the West side, or that next the river, is an extensive quay, or breast-work, about 2 miles long, called the Strand, 40 feet above low-water mark, and having landing-places or ghauts, at intervals throughout its entire length. The river, opposite the city, varies in breadth, from about two furlongs at the narrowest part, to about three quarters of a mile at the broadest.

The approach to the capital of British India, by the Hooghly, is thus described by Davidson:

On arriving at Garden lieach, the stranger may begin to imagine, that, not wholly without reason, Calcutta has acquired the title of the "city of palaces." From the lower part of this reach, on the right, the river bank is laid out in large gardens, each with a handsome mansion in its centre; and the whole scene speaks of opulence and splendour. On approaching the head of Garden Reach, the stranger all at once beholds Fort William, and the town of Calcutta spread out before him, and a splendid view it is. Should he arrive in the month of November or December, he will behold, per haps, the finest fleet of merchant shipping the world could produce.

Calcutta at mid-nineteenth century. Click on image to enlarge it.

Calcutta is divided into two distinct portions, the one, the North portion, is occupied by natives; the other, the South, by Europeans. In the former, the streets are narrow and dingy, the shops and warehouses mean-looking. The lower parts of the houses contain the bazaars, and the upper the dwelling-houses. This department of the city is crowded with a low and heterogeneous population; many being half naked, numbers entirely so, while others are bedizened in tawdry and fantastic gar ments; discordant noises of all sorts, and most offensive smells, complete the repulsive character of this portion of Calcutta. It is different with the South or European portion. Here the streets are spacious; the houses, most of them detached, large and handsome, built of brick, and stuccoed, which gives them the appearance of marble palaces.

Chowringhee, which lies East of the fort, is the fashionable and favourite quarter of the town, being apart from the quarter of trade and commerce. The streets there are wide, the houses handsome, and detached in their own grounds. Both the Episcopalian and Presbyterian burying-grounds are in this quarter of the city. The road which bounds Chow ringhee on the West is about 80 feet wide, and runs along the East side of the Maidan or plain, from North to South The new theatre, called the Sans Sottci (an elegant Grecian structure), and the Asiatic Society’s House (a plain building), are the only public edifices in this quarter. The ornamental character of some of its private houses, with their garden enclosures, is in some degree marred by the incongruous proximity of native huts, and open patches of unoccupied ground, which are, however, diminishing as building extends in this direction.

The suburbs of Calcutta are extensive; and Garden Reach, about 3 miles South of the town, is the most striking as to architectural and park-like features, which are seen and admired from on board the ships, while sailing up the river. The houses are occupied by Europeans. The grounds are extensive, and laid out with fine trees, and parterres of shrubs interspersed with the bright colours of tropical plants, while the scene is enlivened by the ships constantly passing up and down. On the opposite bank are the botanical gardens, remarkable for their extent and beauty, and for the noble banyan and other trees which adorn them; and lower down is seen, on the same side of the river, the elegant Gothic structure of Bishop’s College. Allipore and Ballygunge are other suburbs to the East, both healthy; and having also garden houses of Europe ans, but without the river view. East of Calcutta lies the suburb of Entally, chiefly inhabited by Eurasians or half castes, and natives. Further towards the North are the populous suburbs of Sealdah and Simleah, running into other like suburbs, containing the houses of wealthy natives, and the huts of their poorer countrymen; showing what is so common in Eastern cities a commingling of the stately mansions of the wealthy with the wretched hovels of the poor.

The houses of British residents in Calcutta have the fore court or garden surrounded by a wall; the dining-room on the ground floor; the middle story, surrounded by a verandah supported by pillars, occupied with the sitting-rooms of the family; and in the upper stories, the bed-chambers. Bath rooms are universally introduced; and all the apartments are supplied with a punkah, moving noiselessly by means of a silk cord led into an adjoining apartment. Europeans, early in the morning, take out-of-door exercise, the air being then cool. At nine o clock, after bathing, they take breakfast; when, in the case of a family, they disperse for their several ocations. At the approach of sunset, every one seeks recreation on horseback or in carriages, till eight o clock, when dinner is served; everything being conducted on the most splendid scale, and including every attainable luxury. The ice used is brought in large blocks from America, and is preserved in ice-houses. In the cooler season, theatricals, concerts, balls, and horse-racing, give a variety to the social entertainments.


Blackie, Walker Graham. The Imperial Gazetteer: A General Dictionary of Geography, Physical, Political, Statistical and Descriptive. 4 vols. London: Blackie & Son, 1856. Internet Archive online version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 7 November 2018.

Last modified 21 November 2018