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Anglo-Indian - in Ward's day this would have meant a person of British birth, or ancestry, living in India. In today's Calcutta it would mean someone of mixed race.

Anna - a coin; one sixteenth of a rupee.

Armenians - they had come overland by way of Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet as merchants. They settled at the invitation of Emperor Akbar, who made a Queen of Mariam Zamani. She allowed her kinsfolk to build a church in Agra in 1562. Armenians became the most respected and numerous body of foreign merchants in Calcutta. They traded with China to the East, and Persia to the West, and most places in between. (1) Mother Theresa was an Armenian from Calcutta.

Arminians - believed in the salvation of all men; e.g. the General Baptists and John Wesley.

Asiatic Society - founded by Warren Hastings in 1784, it was presided over by the Orientalist, William Jones. He argued that there was a common source for all Indo-European languages and evoked a golden age in India's cultural past. Racial privilege was anathema and he shared his discoveries with the native intelligentsia of Bengal.

Ayah - an Indian nanny, lady's maid, or nurse.

Bearer - servant who cooks, shops, and waits at table.

Bengali - of or relating to to the people, language, or culture of Bengal; a native of Bengal; the language spoken in Bengal.

Holwell's Monument to the Black Hole of Calcutta in Dalhousie Square. A view from an old postcard looking towards Bow Bazaar. The Writer's Building is on the left and the Tank in the centre of the square is on the right (the site of the original Fort William). The Eastern wall would have been on the far side of the Tank.

Black Hole of Calcutta - In 1756 Siraj-ud-Daula, the 25 year-old Nawab of Bengal, picked a quarrel with the East India Company and marched south on Calcutta from his capital Murshidabad with 30,000 foot soldiers, 20,000 cavalrymen, 400 trained elephants and 80 pieces of cannon in an attempt to enrich himself quickly.

Calcutta was a decently held place but it was not heavily fortified. Fort William (click on the link for an oil painting of Fort William looking west, the eastern wall housing the Black Hole is facing you) protected a number of warehouses, it included a large tank of rainwater and could be used as a refuge for the Europeans of the city. Apart from this there was the unfinished Mahratta Ditch. Captain Grant wrote 'every rupee expended in military service was esteemed so much loss to the Company.' To defend Calcutta there were 60 European soldiers and 350 others, including Armenians and Portuguese. There was only 1 officer who had seen active service. The military had wanted the houses overlooking the fort demolished but the owners refused to hear of it. On 16th June Siraj-ud-Daula was approaching Dum Dum and the British set fire to the native bazaars in his path. And then, perhaps 2,500 strong, the panic-stricken residents took refuge in the fort and locked the gates. By 19th June courage had oozed so fast that there was a rush to the boats anchored in the river. One of the first to take himself off was the Governor, Roger Drake.

John Zephaniah Holwell, a magistrate and Member of the Council, was still standing by his militia and other Europeans had not yet quit; and the first thing they did after the indecent rush to safety was to lock the river gate to stop more desertion. There were 21 vessels in the river when the siege began, only a few of them were still in sight. Holwell made signals for them to return but not one changed direction. The Nawab's men now came swarming over the fort walls with ladders, and although they took their captives valuables they didn't kill them, instead they lodged them in the punishment cell on the Eastern wall, at ground level, with an open verandah between it and the parade ground. It had a small barred window and it had always been known as the Black Hole by soldiers. Holwell reckoned it was an 18 ft. cube. It was an impossible place to put 146 people on the 20th of June, one of the hottest and sultriest nights of the year. There is no reason to suppose that what happened next was due to anything more than thoughtless stupidity by Siraj-ud-Daula.

With bodies pressed unbearably close, people soon began to die. With the floor soon strewn with corpses Holwell did enough to live by sticking near the window whenever he could. By 6 o'clock, when the door was opened, there were 26 people still alive - 120 had died. Most survivors were told to be out of town by sunset or their noses and ears would be cut off, but Holwell and 3 others were held for over a fortnight in case they could lead the way to treasure. The others made their way by ship to the Dutch settlement of Chinsurah where they were received with much care and attention.

Holwell put up a monument, at his own expense, to those who were in the Black Hole with him. The monument collapsed through neglect and Lord Curzon built another one in the 20th century. Today there is merely a tablet in an arch next to the General Post Office. (2)

Black Town - the segregated area where Indians, and other non-Europeans (chiefly Armenians, Portuguese, and Chinese), lived and traded.

Brahma - the Creator; one of the divine triumvirate of Hindu mythology. The others being Shiva the Destroyer and Vishnu the Preserver.

Brahmin - in the Hindu caste system the highest ranking of the four varnas, responsible for performing priestly functions, studying and teaching the Vedas, and acting as advisors to rulers.

British Raj - the name for British-ruled India.

Budgerow - a houseboat powered by sails, or by oarsmen. Also called a pinnace.

Bullock - a castrated bull; used in India as a pack animal, or to pull carts loaded with cargo.

Bungalow - a one storey home, often with a verandah.

Burrah-sahib - the most senior member of a community (the Superintendent of Baptist Mission Press was referred to as the Burrah-sahib).

Burrah-memsahib - the wife of the most senior member of a community.

Bustee - an area of slum dwellings. The huts are made of wattle, have tiled roofs, and mud floors. They are so congested that there is nowhere more than an arm's span in the dirt track lanes that separate one row from another. Open drains run down th middle of each lane. People sit in these lanes chopping wood, cooking at open fires, even buying and selling at tiny stalls. As many as 7 or 8 sleep one room. There is no electricity. (3)

Calvinists - believed in the concept of the predestination of the elect.

Cantonment - a military installation in India.

Cast system - a system by which Hindu society was divided into 4 hierarchical groups, or varnas: Brahmins, kshatriyas, vaishyas, and soodras. Outside the system were the untouchables.

Climate, Bengal - Calcutta is tolerable in winter when the temperature is often around 22°C. Between March and the monsoon the heat begins to sear the city and temperatures can rise to 46°C, with the thermometer sticking on 38°C for days on end. It rarely falls below 27°C at night. On top of the heat comes the humidity, often registering 100 per cent. Calcutta, before the monsoon, means being soaked with sweat after walking, slowly, for 50 yards. The monsoon breaks in the first week in June and comes down in a torrent to a smashing of thunder. It rains for several hours in solid straight shafts of water. It stops, and the city steams, then it rains as before. It goes on like this for four months. The total annual rainfall is 64 inches. Most of it falls in those 4 months and Calcutta is flooded. (4)

Company, The - The East India Company.

Crore - ten millions, or one hundred lakhs.

Dandy - an oarsman.

Dhobi - a washerman; one who does laundry.

Dhoti - a long, cotton loincloth, wrapped around the hips, with one end between the legs and fastened at the waist. Worn by Hindu men.

Ditcher - a colloquial term used until the Second World War for a European born within the Mahratta Ditch.

The goddess Durga

Durga - Durga derives her name from the god Durgu, whom she slew. She is depicted as a yellow female with 10 arms sitting on a lion (the form of Vishnu) as the giver of success to her worshipers. She is usually attended by her son Kartikeyu, who rides on a peacock. She wields a trident, scimitar, discuss, spear, club, bow, axe, the serpent weapon, and the hook for guiding an elephant. She has one foot on Muheshu, a giant, to show that she subdues the enemies of worshipers. In Ward's day many thousands of victims were annually slaughtered in front of her temple and offered to her image. (5) Her hands are covered in blood.

Durga Puja - the Hindu religious festival, devoted to Durga, that takes place in Calcutta during October every year.

Durwan - a doorkeeper.

East India Company, The - the British commercial enterprise chartered by the Crown in 1600 to trade with India. The Company gradually became involved in, and took over, Indian political affairs, acting as the agent for British imperialism in India from the early 18th century. The East India Company was dissolved after the Indian Mutiny of 1857, when the British Government took control of India.

Factor - an agent of the East India Company who bought goods for shipment to Britain and elsewhere.

Factory - the name given to East India Company trading stations. They became fortified warehouses, surrounded by towns.

Feringhi - a foreigner.

Fort William - the original Fort was started in 1696 on the site of the present tank in Dalhousie Square, and was completed in 1699. It was named after William of Orange. The Fort protected a number of warehouses on the river bank and included a large tank of rainwater. There were 4 bastions with between 8 and 10 guns apiece. The curtain walls were 18 feet high, but less than 4 feet thick. It was built out of brick dust, lime, molasses and cut hemp ('as hard and tougher than firm stone or brick' and known as pucca construction). Calcutta was besieged, and the Fort lost to Siraj-ud-Daula in 1756. After the battle of Plassey the Fort was rebuilt by Clive further south, to a larger scale, and to a more sophisticated defensive plan. The handicap of the previous Fort, of having no field of fire around it because the mansions of the rich were built far too close, and far too high, was replaced by the huge expanse of the Maidan, 2 miles square, which still exists as a park today. The Fort also still exists.(6) To see a 1730 oil painting of the original Fort William from the land side click on the link.

Fort William College - Founded by Lord Hastings in late 1800, and housed in the Writer's Building. It was intended to transform the young men of the East India Company, prone to instability under the social pressures of Calcutta, and a prey to the moneylenders, into reliable functionaries of government. In Hasting's words, 'To fix and establish sound and correct principles of religion and government in their minds at an early period of their life.' It was intended to be comparable to the institutions of Oxford and Cambridge. In the first 5 years of its existence the College produced more than a hundred works in oriental languages. In 1818 it could boast of having 11,335 printed and manuscript sources, at a time when the Spanish Escorial had 1,851 volumes, Oxford 1,561 and the Seraglio in Constantinople 7,294. (7) At the beginning of 1807 Fort William College was remodelled and reduced. A new college was established by the East India Company in England, at Haileybury, Hertfodshire.

Ghat - a broad flight of steps, or a ramp, leading down to a river, permitting easy access for bathing, particularly in the early morning.

Guru - a teacher.

Governor-General - Under the Regulating Act of 1773, the highest post in the administration of British India, with a residence at Government House (now Raj Bhavan) and a country residence at Barrackpore (on the opposite bank of the Hooghly to Serampore).

Gurmukhi - the script in which many of the sacred texts of the Sikhs are written, which is used also for modern secular writing and printing.

Gujerati - an Indic language spoken in the region and state of Gujerat in north-western India.

Half-caste - a person of mixed Indian and European descent.

Hindi - a group of Indo-European languages of Northern India, including Hindustani: a recent literary form of Hindustani, with terms from Sanskrit.

Hindu - a member of any of the races of Hindustan or India: a believer in a form of Brahmanism

Hinduism - the religion and customs of the Hundus.

Hindustani - a form of Hindi containing elements of other languages.

Hindu Trinity - Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

'Hints' - In 1816, Joshua Marshman published a small pamphlet called 'Hints relative to native schools, together with the outline of an institution for their extension and management'. It contained a programme for national compulsory education, no less, in which peasant children, of both sexes, would learn to read and write with a vocabulary of 4,000 words. They would also have simple arithmetic and later become conversant with astronomy, geography, natural philosophy, mineralogy and chemistry. This was in a city of half a million, containing educational places for 4,180 Indian children. (8)

Indiaman - any large, sturdy ship, with three masts, working for the East India Company and varying in size from 400 to 1500 tons; usually heavily armed to protect its cargo and crew.

Jemadar - an Indian Army officer below a Subahdar: an officer of police, customs, etc. Also a nightwatchman.

An old postcard of Kali Ghat.

Kali - Another form of Durga. Her hair is disheveled, her tongue hangs out, she holds in one hand a scimitar, in the other a skull, with another she forbids fear, and with the last is bestowing a blessing. Her four arms represent the 4 vedus; the two inspiring terror point out those portions of the vedu which relate to the destruction of enemies, and the other two allude to those parts which belong to devotion. Her dishevelled hair represents the clouds, her tongue is representative of lightning. She exhibits the appearance of a drunken frantic fury. She is the protectress of thieves, and her image at Kali Ghat is a head without a body. (9)

Kali Ghat - the temple devoted to Kali on Tolley's Nullah, in South Calcutta. It is the most sought after cremation site where bodies are burnt on sandal wood, goats are sacrificed daily, and flowers and fruit are offered to Kali by devotees.

Kanarese - of Kanara in western India: their Dravidian language, now called Kannada, is akin to Telegu.

Koran - the sacred text of Islam, the infallible word of Allah, as revealed to the profit Mohammed; the primary source for Islamic law.

Krishna - an incarnation of the god Vishnu.

Kshatriya - under the Hindu caste system, the second of the four varnas, to which warriors belonged.

Kulin - a high-caste Brahmin.

Kyast - one of the 'writer' caste.

Lakh - the number 100,000; usually written as 1,00,000.

The Central Institute for Indian Languages, Mysore.

Languagesthe languages of India. Links to the statistics pages of the Central Institute for Indian Languages, Mysore.

The Indian Language Families.
Scheduled Languages.

'Other 'Scheduled Languages.
Non-Scheduled Languages.
'Other' Non-Scheduled Languages 1.

'Other' Non-Scheduled Languages 2.

Laudanum - an alcoholic tincture made with opium, used at one time for medicinal purposes.

Leadenhall Street - India House, the headquarters of the East India Company in the City of London.

Lepcha - a member of a hill tribe living in Sikkim.

Lingam - the worshipped symbols of the organs of reproduction.

Mali - a gardner.

Maratha, Mahratta - a people of west-central India; a person who speaks the Marathi language; a loose confederation of Hindu rulers in west-central India whose soldiers were especially well trained and equipped.

Marathi, Mahratti - the Sanskritic language of the Maratha people. Maharastra in Sanskrit means great kingdom.

Mahratta Ditch - a defensive canal to the north-east of Calcutta, built in 1742, at a cost of 25,000 rupees, and designed to provide protection from attacks by the Marathas. It was intended to create a complete arc around Calcutta but was never finished as the threat from the Marathas receded. The salt lakes gave protection to the south and the Hooghly gave protection to the west. (10)

The Maidan - a wide open space in the heart of Calcutta, dangerous for anyone with a touch of agoraphobia. Twice as big as Regent's Park, London, as it covers 2 square miles of parkland. Originally designed as a defensive area around the new Fort William to avoid the mistakes of the original where attackers could fire into the fort from the mansions of rich English merchants that had been built too close to the walls.

Masjid - a mosque.

Mela - a religious fair.

Memsahib - a title of respect for the mistress of a household.

Moghul - a descendent of that group of nomadic herding and hunting tribes from the steppes of central Asia who conquered India in 1526.

Moghul empire - the great imperial dynasty founded in 1526 by Babur, king of Kabul, with its capital at Agra. The empire ruled India until the 18th century.

Mohurrum -the anniversary of the death on the battlefield of Hussan and Hussein, the two sons of Ali, the adopted son of Mohammed.

Monsoon - in Bengal the summer monsoon blows from the Bay of Bengal for 4 months, and brings with it stifling heat, strong winds and torrential rains.



'What life was like in the Jewel in the Crown, British India 1600-1905', Time-Life Books, 1999. 'Calcutta', Geoffrey Moorhouse, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1971. 'Chambers 20th Century Dictionary', 1983. 'William Carey', 1761-1834', S. Pearce Carey, Hodder and Stoughton, 1923.

(1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 10) 'Calcutta', Geoffrey Moorhouse, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1971.

(5 & 9) 'A view of the History, Literature, and Religion of the Hindoos', by the Rev. William Ward. From the Second Edition, carefully abridged and greatly improved, Hartford, published by H. Huntington Jr, 1824.


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