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, images, and links. The black-and-white illustration 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]

At the South West extremity of the city is a large space of verdant, level ground, about 1 ¾ miles in length, and about 1 mile in breadth, called the Maidan, bounded, East by the Chowringhee Road, and West by the Hooghly. In this plain, about 1 mile from the city, and commanding the river, being separated from it only by the Strand Road and the Wet Ditch, stands Fort-William, one of the largest and most regular fortresses in India. It was constructed by Lord Clive, after the battle of Plassey (1757); and has cost altogether £2,000,000 sterling. It mounts 619 guns, from 12 to 32 pounders; will hold, for the purposes of defence, 15,000 men; contains 80,000 stand of arms, and is usually garrisoned by one European, two native regiments, and a detachment of artillery. Within its walls are store-rooms, ordnance-yards, powder-ma gazines, barracks, a church, &c.

The Government House and Treasury, Calcutta, from the old Course. “After a Drawing by William Prinsep, esq.”

Around the East margin of the Maidan, are a series of walled tanks. At the South extremity is the grand jail, and the race-ground, of a triangular form, with a course of about 1½ miles in length. At the North side, which is called the Esplanade, is the Government-house, the place of the Governor-general, a magnificent pile, built by Marquis Wellesley. It has four wings, with a stupendous dome in the centre; and is surrounded by a colonnade of Ionic pillars. In a line with the Government-house, and fronting the Esplanade, are splendid mansions, with handsome verandahs, supported by lofty columns. This is one of the healthiest localities in the city; it is also a favourite resort of the fashionable world, being the Hyde Park of the Indian capital.

Another favourite promenade is the Strand, where both Europeans and Indians go to enjoy the cool of the evening; and where, on such occasions, is to be seen an imposing display of handsome equipages, with crowds of ladies and gentlemen on horseback, all attended by a horse-keeper to each horse, called a Syce. After the Government-house, the principal edifices worth noticing are the townhall, supreme court, Government treasury, writers buildings, the Metcalfe Hall, the mint, where it is said, 500,000 coins can be struck off in 24 hours, and in which nearly 300 workmen, chiefly natives, are employed; the Hindoo college, the Madrussa or Mahometan college, the General Assembly of the Established Church of Scotland’s institution, the Free Church of Scotland’s institution, the Bengal Club, the theatre, the medical college, the general hospital, the native hospital, the mechanics institute, the orphan-school, the ice-house, the Martiniere, the race-stand, the Asiatic Society’s rooms, and the Ghaut, for burning the dead bodies of Hindoos.

Left: Lord William Cavendish Bentinck (1774-1839) by Sir Richard Westmacott, RA. Middle: Monument to Bishop Reginald Hebe by Sir Francis Chantrey. Right: Monument to Thomas Abbott, L.L.D. by William Pistell. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

The monuments are, General Sir David Ochterlony’s pillar, on the Maidan; the statue of the Marquis of Wellesley, in an open Grecian building, in Tank Square; Prinsep’s ghaut, South of the fort; the bronze statue of Lord William Bentinck, in the esplanade; and the bronze statue to Lord Auckland, on the South of Government-house; the marble statues of the Marquis of Cornwallis, and others, within the townhall; and to Bishop Heber, and others, in the new and old cathedrals; and the monument between the West gate of Fort-William and the river, erected by Lord Ellenborough in commemoration of the victory gained at Gwalior, during his government. [I, 558]


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 20 November 2018