The approach to the city from the fort is striking; — we crossed a large green plain, having on the left the Hooghly, with its forests of masts and sails seen through the stems of a double row of trees. On the right-hand is the district called Chowringhee, lately a mere scattered suburb, but now almost as closely built as, and very little less extensive than, Calcutta. In front was the esplanade, containing the Town Hall, the government House, and many handsome private dwellings, — the whole so like some parts of Petersburgh, that it was hardly possible for me to fancy myself any where else. No native dwellings are visible from this quarter, except one extensive but ruinous bazar, which occupies the angle where Calcutta and Chowringhee join. Behind the esplanade, however, are only Tank-square, and some other streets occupied by Europeans, — the Durrumfollah and Cossitollah are pretty equally divided between the diflferent nations; and all the west of Calcutta is a vast town, composed of narrow crooked streets, brick bazars, bamboo huts, and here and there the immense convent-like mansion of some of the more wealthy “Baboos” (the name of the native Hindoo gentleman, answering to our Esquire) or Indian merchants and banker.

Photograph of the Raj Bhavan used for the frontispiece of the Rev. R. K. Firminger's Thacker's Guide to Calcutta in 1906 (sky mottling digitally removed). The trees had not yet grown.

The Town-hall has no other merit than size, but the Government-house has narrowly missed being a noble structure; it consists of two semicircular galleries, placed back to back, uniting in the centre in a large hall, and connecting four splendid suites of apartments. Its columns are, however, in a paltry style, and instead of having, as it might have had, two noble stories and a basement, it has three stories, all too low, and is too much pierced with windows on every side. I was here introduced to Lord Amherst; and afterwards went to the Cathedral, where I was installed.

This is a very pretty building, all but the spire, which is short and clumsy. The whole composition, indeed, of the Church, is full of architectural blunders, but still it is in other respects handsome. The inside is elegant, paved with marble, and furnished with very large and handsome glass chandeliers, the gift of Mr. M'Clintoch, with a light pulpit, with chairs on one side of the chancel for the Governor-General and his family, and on the other for the bishop and archdeacon. We dined to-day at the Government-house; to a stranger the appearance of the bearded and turbaned waiters is striking. . . .

I am much disappointed as to the splendour of the equipages, of which I had heard so much in England; the horses are most of them both small and poor, while the dirty white dresses and bare limbs of their attendants, have to an unaccustomed eye an appearance of any thing but wealth and luxury.

Calcutta stands on an almost perfect level of alluvial and marshy ground, which a century ago was covered with jungle and stagnant pools, and which still almost every where betrays its unsoundness by the cracks conspicuous in the best houses. To the East, at the distance of four miles and a half, is a large but shallow lagoon of salt water, being the termination of the Sunderbunds, from which a canal is cut pretty nearly to the town, and towards which all the drainings of the city flow, what little difference of level there is being in favour of the banks of the river.

Between the salt lake and the city, the space is filled by gardens, fruit trees, and the dwellings of the natives, some of them of considerable size, but mostly wretched huts, all clustered in irregular groups round large square tanks, and connected by narrow, winding, unpaved streets and lanes, amid turfs of bamboos, coco-trees, and plantains, picturesque and striking to the sight, but extremely offensive to the smell, from the quantity of putrid water, the fumes of wood smoke, coconut oil, and above all the ghee, which is to the Hindoo his principal luxury. Few Europeans live here, and those few, such as the Missionaries employed by the Church Missionary Society in Mirzapoor, are said to suffer greatly from the climate. Even my Sircar, though a native, in speaking of the neighbouring district of Dhee Intally, said that he himself never went near the “bad water” which flows up from the salt water lake, without sickness and head-ache.

To the south, a branch of the Hooghly flows also into the Sunderbunds. It is called by the Europeans, Tolly's Nullah, but the natives regard it as the true Gunga, the wide stream being, as they pretend, the work of human and impious hands, at some early period of their history. In consequence no person worships the river between Kidderpoor and the sea, while this comparatively insignificant ditch enjoys all the same divine honours which the Ganges and thrHooghly enjoy during the earlier parts of their course. The banks of the Tolly’s Nullah are covered by two large and nearly contiguous villages, Kidderpoor and Allypoor, as well as by several considerable European houses, and are said to be remarkably dry and wholesome.

To the north is a vast extent of fertile country, divided into rice-fields, orchards and gardens, covered with a thick shade of fruit trees, and swarming with an innumerable population, occupying thf large suburbs of Cossipoor, Chitpoor, &c. This tract resembles in general appearance the eastern suburb, but is drier, healthier, and more open; through it lie the two great roads to Dum Dum and Barrackpoor. Westward flows the Hooghly, at least twice as broad as the Thames below London bridge, — covered with large ships and craft of all kind, and offering on its farther bank the prospect of another considerable suburb, that of Howrah, chiefly inhabited by shipbuilders, but with some petty villas interspersed. The road which borders Calcutta and Chowringhee, is called, whimsically enough, "the circular road," and runs along nearly the same line which was once occupied by a wide ditch and earthen fortification, raised on occasion of the Maharatta war. This is the boundary of the liberties of Calcutta, and of the English law. All offences committed within this line are tried by the “Sudder Adawlut,” or Supreme Court of Justice; — those beyond fall, in the first instance, within the cognizance of the local magistracy, and in case of appeal are determined by the “Sudder Dewannee,” or Court of the People in Chowringhee, whose proceedings are guided by the Koran and the laws of Menu.

From the north-west angle of the fort of the city, along the banks of the Hooghly, is a walk of pounded brick, covered with sand, the usual material of the roads and streets in and near Calcutta, with a row of trees on each side, and about its centre a flight of steps to descend to the river, which in the morning, a little after sunrise, are generally crowded with persons, washing themselves and performing their devotions, of which, indeed, ablution is an essential and leading part. The rest consists, in general, in repeatedly touching the forehead and cheeks with white, red, or yellow earth, and exclamations of Ram! Ram! There are some Brahmins, however, always about this time seated on the bank under the trees, who keep counting their beads, turning over the leaves of their banana-leaf books, and muttering their prayers with considerable seeming devotion, and for a long time together. These are “Georoos,” or religious teachers, and seem considerably respected. Children and young persons are seen continually kneeling down to them and making them little offerings, but the wealthier Hindoos seldom stop their palankeens for such a purpose.

Where the esplanade walk joins Calcutta, a very handsome quay is continued along the side of the river; resembling in every thing but the durability of material, the quays of Petersburgh. It is unhappily of brick instead of granite, and is as yet unfinished, but many houses and public buildings are rising on it, and it bids fair to be a very great additional ornament and convenience to Calcutta. Vessels of all descriptions, to the burden of 600 tons, may lie almost close up to this quay, and there is always a crowd of ships and barks, as well as a very interesting assemblage of strangers of all sorts and nations to be seen. Of these, perhaps the Arabs, who are numerous, are the most striking, from their comparative fairness, their fine bony and muscular figures, their noble countenances and picturesque dress. That of a wealthy Arab “Nacoda,” or captain, is pretty much what may be seen in Niebuhr's Travels, as that of an emir of Yemen. They are said to be extremely intelligent, bold, and active, but very dirty in their ships, and excessively vain and insolent whenever they have the opportunity of being so with impunity. [56-60]

Related material


Heber, Reginald. Narrative of a journey through the upper provinces of India, from Calcutta to Bombay, 1824-1825. Philadelphia: Cary, Lea, and Cary & Son, 1829. Vol. 1. Internet Archive online version of a copy in the University of Princeton Theological Seminary Library. Web. 25 November 2018.

Last modified 25 November 2018