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 tables are from 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]


The factories in the city and neighbourhood using English machinery are the Government foundry at Cossipore, having beautiful machinery for casting and boring brass ordnance; the Gloster mills, for making cotton twist; the sugar manufactory at Seebpore, using vacuum pans and steam machinery; and several corn, flour, and oil mills, and a manufactory for steam boilers, with a foundry attached. The mint has powerful and efficient steam and other machinery, for all the purposes of working the metals, and coin ing money. Ship-building was carried on formerly to a considerable extent, but is now nearly altogether extinct, owing, it is said, to the cheaper cost of construction in this country. The repairing of ships is, however, a considerable and lucrative business still; and the Government and private docks are extensive and commodious.


Calcutta is now the great emporium of the East, monopolizing the whole internal trade of Bengal, the nature and extent of which will be found at once fully and concisely exhibited in the following series of Tables:

The principal articles of export are opium, indigo, sugar, saltpetre, rice, raw cotton, raw silk, piece goods, hides, lac, &c. The principal imports metals, piece goods, twist, and yarn, salt, betel-nut, books, glasswares, wines, woods, woollens, &c.

The banks of the Hooghly, from the entrance of the river for many miles upwards, are low, flat, and covered with jungle. Ships cannot venture to make the river without taking on board a pilot from the pilot schooners of the Company stationed in the bay; and shifting sands, with a rapid stream, meeting a contending tidal rise, make the navigation of the river uncertain and dangerous, and demand the pilot’s constant watchfulness and care. Therefore, as early as 1669, the Company (then having a settlement at Hooghly only, 28 miles above Calcutta, and up to which large vessels could then sail), obtained permission from the Mogul Emperor to organize an establishment of pilots, and the present efficient body of Europeans forming the Bengal pilot service has been the result. Government and private steam tugs, now plying on the river, considerably lessen the risk of navigation, and lighten the labours of the pilots. The river, abreast of Calcutta, is about the breadth of the Thames at Gravesend. Ships of 1400 tons burden can sail up and anchor off the city in mid-channel, in 6 or 7 fathoms water, or may lie at moorings within a few feet of the bank.

Steam Communication with Great Britain

Besides the continuous communication kept up by fine passenger and other sailing vessels round the Cape of Good Hope, passengers and mails are carried once a month, to and from Calcutta, by what is called the overland route, namely, Alexandria, Cairo, and Suez. The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company undertake the mail service, under contract with the Imperial Government; and, at the same time, carry passengers in the large steamers employed by them, and which leave Southampton on the 20th, and Calcutta on the 8th, of every month. Two other companies are in the field! the one to be called the Eastern Steam Navigation Company, to occupy the same line as the Peninsular and Oriental, but their steamer to leave Plymouth on the 1st of the month for Alexandria, in correspondence with one from Calcutta; the other, the Screw Steam Navigation Company, now carrying a mail to the Cape of Good Hope, intend extending that line to Calcutta.

Government has sanctioned the construction of a railway from Howrah, opposite Calcutta, to Pundoah, with a branch to the Kanigunge collieries, in the district of Burdwan, in all about 130 miles An electric telegraph has recently been formed between Calcutta and Diamond Harbour, about 50 miles down the Hooghly; and it is intended to carry it down to near the mouth of the river.


The coins now coined and current in Calcutta and provinces are the Company’s gold mohur, rupee, and pice. The first is equal in value to 16 rupees, which are the silver currency, and one rupee is about the value of 2s. sterling. Each rupee is equal to 16 annas (a nominal coin); and each anna is equal to four pice, the copper currency. The bank of Bengal [560/561]

issues notes, which pass current for their respective amounts, and are received at the Government treasury and provisional collectorates as cash, in payment of Government revenue and other dues.

Related material


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. 21 November 2018.

Last modified 21 November 2018