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, subtitles, and links. 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]

Job Charnock, the agent of the London company, the first English East India Company incorporated by charter of Queen Elizabeth, in 1600, was the founder of Calcutta. The first factory in Bengal of this powerful Company was established at Hooghly, 28 miles higher up the river, under a firman of the Mogul Emperor of Hindoostan, Shah Jehan, dated 1644. In the year 1686, the Company’s then agent, Mr. Charnock, was with his council and factors driven out of it, by the Nawaub of Bengal, and on December 20, while sailing down the river, he was attracted by the shade afforded by a large tree in the village of Chuttanuttee (the present site of a part of Calcutta), and, accordingly, he and his people landed, and began to entrench themselves there. Finding it inexpedient to remain, they left in February 1687, and did not return until some time after the treaty with the Nawaub, of August 1687, was signed. In October 1688, they again took their departure, and went to Madras. Overtures, how ever, having been made to them by the Nawaub, by the orders of the Emperor, Mr. Charnock, with his council and factors, returned to Chuttanuttee on August 24, 1690, when the Emperor gave them permission to form a commercial settlement, but prohibited the erection of any fortifications. Here, then, the settlement was permanently fixed as the head quarters of the Company’s commercial establishments in Bengal.

One officer and thirty men came from Madras with Mr. Charnock, that being the military establishment originally allowed by the Emperor, to do honour to the principal agents. This period, therefore, may be considered the era of the foundation of Calcutta! Its founder, Charnock, died in 1692, and lies buried in the old cemetry, where St. John’s Church, the old cathedral, was afterwards built. The settlement rapidly in creased, being situated on a navigable river, and therefore well adapted for being the emporium of the trade of Hindoostan. In 1695, a grant was made by the Nawaub of Bengal, confirmed by the Emperor Aurengzebe, of the village of Chut tanuttee, together with two other villages called Kalleeghatta, and Govindpore adjoining, reserving an annual rent to be paid by the Company of 1195 rupees. Walls of masonry, with bastions at the angles, were first raised in the same year by the permission of the Nawaub, as a defence to the factory against a rebel Zemindar, or land-holder of Burdwan. Thus originated the fortifications of Calcutta.


The old fort, called Fort-William in honour of King William IV., was not begun to be built until the year 1699; and that fort, and the European part of the town, were erected on the site of the village of Kalleeghatta, and hence the name Calcutta. The fort occupied the site of the present import warehouse, extending to about the centre of Tank Square, then called Lall Bagh or the Park. Part of the present native portion of the city on the North occupies Chuttanuttee, while Govindpore has disappeared, and in its place we now see a magnificent maidan or plain, on the South of the city, in which is placed the new citadel, also called Fort-William, As late as the year 1717, a forest stood immediately in front of the town to the South on what is now the esplanade. In 1720, however, considerable improvements were made in the public buildings, and roads were opened, to contribute to the salubrity of the city. At this period, and for many years after, the maidan or plain, and the site of the present citadel, as well as the space now occupied by Chowringhee, were a complete jungle, interspersed with the huts of natives, patches of rice cultivation, and grazing ground.

Calcutta’s Eighteenth-Century Misfortunes

Calcutta, however, has had vicissitudes of fortune. In the year 1757, the town extended about half a mile above and below the old fort, and about 600 yards inland, the houses of the English were in number about 70, and were detached in separate enclosures. In the same year, Calcutta was captured and plundered by the Nawaub of Bengal, Sooraj-oo-dowlah, after a spirited defence; and many of our brave countrymen, after the ignoble flight of the Governor, were taken prisoners, and died from suffocation in the Black Hole, where they had been placed for safe custody. Colonel Clive (after wards Lord Clive), with about 3000 men, assisted by Admiral Watson, with a fleet of three King’s ships, were sent from Madras. They recaptured Calcutta in February of the same year; and Clive, a few days afterwards, attacked and routed the Nawaub in its vicinity. The latter then signed a treaty, dictated to him, by which, among other things, he agreed that the Company should fortify Calcutta in such manner as they should deem proper for its defence; and that money should be coined at Allenagur (Calcutta), in the same manner as at Moorshedabad. In the year 1758, Meer Jaffier, Nawaub of Bengal, granted a sunnud to the Company for the free tenure of Calcutta. From this date, Calcutta became, virtually, the seat of an independent power. [I, 561-62]

Sources: Davidson’s Trade and Travels in the East; Von Orlich’s Travels in India; Orme’s History of the War in Bengal; Ive’s Voyage; Bolst’s Considerations on India Affairs; Verelst’s State of Bengal; Bengal and Agra Guide; Charters, Acts of Parliament, and Parliamentary Reports; and Wilkinson’s External Commerce of Bengal.)


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