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]


Her Majesty’s supreme court of judicature, at Fort-William, was established by charter, 13 Geo. III., in 1774; which vested in it criminal, civil, admiralty, and ecclesiastical jurisdiction, subject only to an appeal to Her Majesty in her privy council. It has a chief, and two puisne justices, appointed by the Crown, who must be barristers of a certain standing, at the English or Irish bar; and either practising in that court, or in the courts at home. It has exclusive criminal jurisdiction (with jury trial), over all the I inhabitants of Calcutta who are placed under the protection of British law.

Civil Law and its Relation to British Law

The civil jurisdiction of the court is equally extensive; but with this reservation, imposed by the statute 21 Geo. III., cap. 70; namely, that the court shall administer their own respective laws of inheritance, succession, and marriage, and of contract to Hindoos and Mahometans. The entire common law of England, and the statute law then existing, so far as applicable to the state and condition of the settlement, were transferred to Calcutta, by virtue of the charter of 13 Geo. I., in 172G; establishing the first legal tribunal, called the mayor’s court. Acts of Parliament passed since, do not affect India, unless India be specially mentioned [emphasis added].

The Supreme Court

Beyond the limits of Calcutta, both the criminal and civil jurisdiction of the supreme court, extends over all British-born subjects of Her Majesty, and their lawful descendants, residing within the presidency of Bengal, and the provinces from time to time annexed thereto; and its civil jurisdiction extends also over native, and all other inhabitants of India, residing within these extended limits, who enter into written contracts with any British-born subject, and agreeing therein, that if dispute should arise, the matters between them should be determined by the supreme court. The practitioners in the supreme court are divided into two distinct branches, as in England, namely, barristers, called advocates, and attorneys.

Bankruptcy Court

An insolvent court, connected with the supreme court, was established in 1829. The present insolvent act is the English statute, 11 Viet., cap. 21; and, in respect of traders, it has provisions similar to those of the English bankrupt acts. A court for small causes (one of the judges in which is a Hindoo), exercises jurisdic tion, in some respects subject to, and confined within nearly the same local limits as the supreme court.

Police Courts

The police courts in Calcutta are presided over by paid magistrates justices of the peace who exercise a criminal jurisdiction, auxiliary and subordinate to the criminal jurisdiction as exercised by Her Majesty’s judges in the supreme court. The Calcutta courts of Sudiler Dewaney and Sudder Nizamut, being the chief civil and criminal courts of appeal from the East India Company’s local courts, in the provinces of Bengal, established under Government regulations, have no original or other jurisdiction within Calcutta. The Board of Eevenue in Calcutta is invested with certain original and appellate judicial, as well as with ministerial functions, created and defined by the Government revenue regulations, in relation to the Company’s revenue courts and officers, and the collection of the territorial revenue within 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 20 November 2018