Saturday, February 26, 2011

Conspiracy to overthrow Siraj (contd-1)

Mir Jafar and the Seths desired that the confederacy between the British and himself be kept secret from Omichand, but when he found out about it, he threatened to betray the conspiracy if his share was not increased to three million rupees (300,000 pounds). Hearing  this, Clive suggested an expedient to the committee. he suggested that two treatise be drawn - the real one on white paper containing no reference to Omichand and the other on red paper, containing Omichand's desired stipulation, to deceive him. The members of the committee signed on both treaties, but Admiral Watson signed only the real one and his signature had to be counterfeited on the  fictitious one. Both treaties and separate articles for donations to the army, navy squadron and committee were signed by Mir Jafar on 4 June .


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Conspiracy to overthow Siraj .

The Nawab was infuriated on learning of the attack on Chandenagore. His former hatred of the British grew. Though he was plagued by the fear of attack from the north by the Afghans under Ahmad Shah Durrani and from the west by the Maharathas. Therefore he could not deploy his entire force against the British for fear of being attacked  from the flanks. A deep distrust set in between the British and the Nawab. As a result Siraj started secret negotiations with Jean law, chief of the French factory at Cossimbazar, and de Buray. The Nawab also moved a large division of his army under Raj Durlabh to Plassey, on the Island of Cossimbazar 30 miles south of Murshidabad.     

Popular discontent against the Nawab flourished in his own court. The Seths, the traders of Bengal, were in perpetual fear for their wealth under the reign of Siraj, cotrary to the situation under Alivardi's reign.They have engaged Yar Lutuf Khan to defend them in case they were threatened in any way.William Watts, the Company representative at the court of Siraj, informed Clive about a conspiracy at the court to overthrow the ruler.  The conspirators included Mir Jafar, paymaster of the army, Raidurlabh, Yar Latif Khan, and Omichand(Amir Chand), a sikh merchant, and several officers in the army. When communicated in this regard by Mir Jafar, Clive referred it  to the select committee in Calcutta on 1 May.The Committee passed a resolution in support of the alliance . A treaty was drawn between the British and Mir Jafar to raise him to the throne of the Nawab in return for support to the British in the field of Battle and the best of all of large sums of money upon them as compensation for the attack. On 2 May, Clive broke up his camp and sent half the troop to Calcutta an the other half to Chadernagar.    

The Character of Siraj-Ud-Daulah

Siraj-Ud-Daulah is usually regarded as a freedom fighter in modern India, Bangladesh and Pakistan for his opposition to the British annexation. As a teenage, he led a reckless life, which came to the notice of his  grandfather. But keeping a promise he made to his dear grand father on his death bed, he gave up gambling and drinking alcohol totally after becoming the Nawab.
     "Siraj-Ud-Daulah has been pictured ," says the biographer of Robert Clive , " as a monster of vice, cruelty and deprivity". In 1778, Robert Orme wrote of the relationship with his maternal grandfather Alivardi Khan.
Two Muslim historians of the period wrote of him.
Ghulam Husain Salim wrote,
"Owing to Siraj-Ud Daulah's harshness of temper and indulgence, fear and terror had settled on the hearts of everyone to such an extent that no one amongst his generals of the army or the noblemen of the city was free from anxiety. Amongst his officers,  whoevet went to wait on Siraj Ud Daulah despaired of life and honour, and whoever returned without being disgraced and ill-treated offered thanks to God . Siraj ud-Daulah treated all the noblemen and generals of Mahabat Jang with ridicule and drollery, and bestowed on each some contemptuous nickname that ill-suited any of them and whatever harsh expressions and abusive epithet care to his lips, he uttered them unhestatingly in the face of everyone , and on one had the boldness to breath freely in his presence."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Holwell Monument

The Black Hole of Calcutta was the British Raj's first chamber of horrors. It served as a pretext and justification for conquest and violence in India. As Nirod Choudhuri said " it threw a moral halo over the British conquest of India." Perhaps because of this reason, it continues to attract Britons to write books about it. It is significant that in the last three decades to Indian historian or writer has been tempted to write on the event. The book under review is by a journalist with the Financial Times. The revival of interest took place in the hands of two great paladins of the British empire. One was Lord Macaulay, who in 1840 described it as "that great crime memorable for its singular atrocity. " The other was Lord Curzon, who restored the monument after he was moved by the "moral agony of the Black Hole"   Dalley follows the myth-making, but also gives details about the battle for Calcutta in 1756 when Siraj attacked the place.
For many years, it stood close to Laldighi (later known as Dahousie Square and then BBD Bagh,through burst of post-colonial myth-making) an  obelisk to commemorate the victims of the Black Hole. It was erected by Holwell himself at his own expense and thus known as Holwell Monument,Newspapers in Britain in 1758 carried extracts from his recollections of captivity, but then the report died down. No new edition of his account appeared. Most contemporaries of Holwell, the British historian, Linda Colley notes,did not accept Holwell's velification of Siraj ud-Daulah.
The history of the Black Hole monument in the early 19th century is significant. It was allowed to fall into ruin, and in 1821, under the orders of the Marquis of Hastings, Lord Moira, the then Governor general, it was taken down. Before it was brought down , Cotton records in Calcutta old and new , the obelisk, the monument to British suffering, had become a godown or waterhouse and was filled with goods.
The Black Hole made a dramatic reappearence when Thomas Babington Macaulay in 1840 descrribed it as that crime memorable for its singular atrocity Lord Curzon, at the begining of the 20th century restored the crumbling Holwell Monument, and erected in 1901 at the corner of Dalhousie Square, which was said to be the Black Hole.
At the apex of the Indian Independence movement, the presence of this monument in Calcutta was turned into nationalist course celebre. Nationalist leaders like Subhas Chandra Bose lobbied energetically for its removal. As a result, Abdul Wasek Mia of   Nawabganj thana (now in Bangladesh), a student leader of that time, led the removal of the monument from Dalhousie Square in July, 1940. The monument was re-ercted in the graveyard of St. John's Church, where it remains even today.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Black Hole of Calcutta (contd-2)

The Holwell account :
Holwell wrote an account of the incident in which he claimed that of 146 prisoners, 123 suffocated when imprisoned in the 14ft x18 ft room. His version of events, which was not challenged by other survivors, was widely accepted at the time in Britain.
Sir William Meredith, during the parliamentary inquiry into Robert Clive's actions in India, vindicated Siraj ud-Daulah of any charges surrounding the Black Hole incident.
" It is true , that when he took Calcutta a very lamentable event occurred, I mean the the story of the Black Hole, but that catastrophe can never be attributed to the intention, for it was  without the knowledge of the prince.I remeber a similar incident happening in St. Martin's roundhouse, but it should appear very ridiculous, were I, on that account , to attribute any guilt or imputation of cruelty to the memory of the late king,in whose reign it happened.A peace was however agreed upon with Siraj ud-daulah, and the persons who went as ambassadors to confirm that peace, formed the conspiracy , by which he was deprived of his kingdom and life."
Controversy about Holwell's Account :
Holwell claims that one hundred and twenty three died out of one hundred and forty six held. While his account was not questioned in Britain at the time, other contemporary accounts claimed a larger number and differed on other details such as the room size and whether there was a window. In 1915, British scholar J.H. Little challenged Holwell's claims in his article, "The Black Hole- the question of Holwel's Veracity.", arguing that Holwell was an unreliable witness and his veracity is questionable. Little went so far as to label Holwell's version "a gigantic hoax". Other historians, including Indian scholar Brijen Gupta, disagreed with Little's strong belief, but neverthless downplayed Holwell's account.
The following arguments have been listed against Holwell's account.
Absence of any independent confirmation : It is stated that apart from Holwell' account no other source mentioned such an incident. Historian R.C.Majumdar in his An advance history of India   says that Holwell's story is entirely baseless.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Black Hole of Calcutta (contd-1)

Certain modern historians believe that some 43 members of the garrison were dead or missing for other reasons. Because so many non-combatants were present in the Fort when it fell, the number who died cannot be stated with any precision. 
The corpses were thrown into a ditch . Holwell and three others were sent as prisoners to Murshidabad, the rest of the survivors obtained their liberty after the victory of a relief expedition under Robert Clive. The Black Hole was later used as a waterhouse, and obelisk, 50ft. high, was erected in memory of the dead.  
The following description are obtained from 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica which portrays Holwell's ponit of view vividly;
The dungeon was a strongly barred room and was not intended for the confinement of more than two or three men at a time. There were only two windows, and a projecting veranda
outside and thick iron bars within impeded the ventilation, while fires raging in different parts of the Fort suggested an atmosphere of further oppressiveness.  The prisoners were packed so tightly that the door was difficult to close.
One of the soldiers stationed in the veranda was offered 1,000 rupees to have them removed to a larger room. He went away, but returned saying it was impossible. The bribe was then doubled, and he made second attempt with a like result, the Nawab was asleep and no one dared wake him.
By nine o'clock several had died, and many more were delirious. A frantic cry for water now became general, and one of the guards, more compassionate than his fellows, caused some to  be brought to the bars, where Mr. Holwell and two or three others received it in their hats, and passed it on to the men behind. In their impatience to secure it nearly all was spilt, and little they drank seemed only to increase their thirst. Self-control was soon lost, those in remote parts of the room struggled to reach the window, and a fearful turnult ensued, in which the weakest were trampled or pressed to death. They raved, fought, prayed, blaspherned, and many then fell exhausted on the floor, where suffocation put an end their torments.
About 11 o'clock the prisoners began to drop off fast. At length, at six in the morning, Siraj-ud-Daulah awoke, and ordered the door to be opened. Of the 146 only 23, including Mr. Holwell remained alive. and they were either stupefied or raving. Fresh air soon received them, and the commander was then taken before the nawab, who expressed no regret for what had occurred, and gave no other sign of sympathy than ordering the Englishman a chair and a glass of water .  Notwithstanding this indifference, Mr. Holwell and some others acquit him of any intention of causing the catastrophe , and ascribe it to the malice of certain inferior officers, but many think this opinion unfounded.            

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Black Hole of Calcutta

The Black Hole of Calcutta was a small dungeon in the old Fort William at Calcutta, India, where troops of the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj Ud-Daullah, held the British prisoners of war after the capture of the Fort on June 19, 1756. Nearly four days of fighting insued, with many British casualities. The prisoners were initially treated well, but after some of them attacked the Nawab's guards, they were confined in a guard room and locked up overnight. This room would become the infamous Black Hole of Calcutta. Accounts differ on whether the Nawab himself or its soldiers initiated the imprisonment. 
Fort William was established to protect the East India Company's trade in the city of Calcutta,  its principal Presidency Town of the Bengal Presidency. In 1756, with a view to the possibility of conflict with French forces, the British began building up the fort's military strength and defences. The Nawab of Bengal, Siraj Ud-Daulah, was unhappy with company's interference in the internal affairs of his province and perceived a threat to its independence.He ordered an immediate stop to the Fort's military enhancement, but the company paid no heed . As a consequence, Siraj organised his army and laid seize to the Fort, whose defenders took many casualities. The Garrison's commander organised an escape and left a token force in the Fort under the command of John Zephaniah Holwell, a one-time military surgeon who was a senior East India Company civil servant. However, desertions by allied troops, mainly, Dutch, made even this temporay defence untenable, and the fort was taken.
The Black Hole of Calcutta, was a 14 by 18 ft room with two small barred windows. The night was hot and there was no water in the room. The guards did provide some water when the prisoners begged for it. According to Holwell's account, some prisoners were akready dead by 9 p.m. and the room was not opened until  6.00 a.m., the next morning.Out of 146 prisoners allegedly confined in the Black Hole of Calcutta, only 23 survived.          
Experiments have tested whether the alleged amount of people confined in the Black Hole could have actually physically fit into a space of those dimensions. Bengal land lord Bholanath Chunder found that much less than 146 of his tenants could fit into a 15 by 18 ft area and Bengal villagers are on average smaller than English soldiers. Holwell's figures would have left each prisoner with only 1.8 sq.ft. A 50 ft. obelisk was erected on the site of the trajedy in honour of the victims , but it was removed to the nearby St. John cemetery in 1940, as Indian nationalists, under the leadership of Subhas Chandra Bose found its implications offensive.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Siraj-Ud-Daulah was a Mughal ruler who also became the Nawab of Bengal in the 1756 AD. Siraj-ud-Daulah succeeded his maternal grandfather, Alivardi Khan. He was also known as Mirza Muhammad Sirajud Dawla and was considered to be Nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Assam. The start of the British East India Company was marked by the end of his rule over Bengal, and later, the company got hold of all of South Asia. Siraj-Ud-Daullah was also known as 'Sir Roger Dowlett' by several British who were not able to utter the name properly in Hindustani.
The father of Siraj was Zain Ud Din, who was the ruler of Bihar and his mother Amina Begum Nawab Alivardin's youngest daughter. Since Nawab had no son, Siraj Ud Daullah, as the Nawab's grandson, got very close to him and therefore his childhood was regarded by most people as successor to Mutshidabad's throne. He was raised accordingly at the palace of the Nawab with all required training and education necessary for a future Nawab. Young Siraj accompanied Alivardi in the year 1746,  in his military endeavour against the Marathas. In the year 1752, Alivardi Khan officially announced his grandson Siraj-Ud-Daullah as the successor and Crown Prince to the throne, making not a single division in the royal court and the family.
Mirza Muhammad Siraj succeeded Alivardi Khan as the new Nawab of Bengal in the month of April 1756 and he took the name of Siraj-Ud-Daullah. His nomination to the Nawabship triggered the enmity and jealousy of Ghaseti Begum, the eldest daughter of Alivardi, Mirjafar Ali Khan, Raja Rajballav, and Shawkat Jung (the cousin of Siraj). Ghaseti Begum had huge wealth, and that was the source of her strength and influence.Siraj seized her  wealth and kept her in confinement. He offered top post to his favourites , Mir Madan who became the Bakshi(the paymaster of the arrmy) replacing Mir Jafar. Mohanlal was promoted to the rank of peshkar of his Dewan Khana and he had a vital influence in the administration. Lastly, Siraj suppressed Shaukat Jung , who was the governor of Purnea and was also killed in a clash.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Alivardi Khan

Alivardi Khan ascended to the throne of the Nawab of Bengal after his army attacked and captured the capital of Bengal, Murshibad. Alivardi's attitude to the Eurpeans of Bengal is said to be strict. During his wars with the Marathas, he allowed the strengthening of fortifications by the Europeans and the construction of The Maratha Ditch in Calcutta by the British. On the otherhand, he collected large amounts of money from them for the upkeep of his war. He was well-informed of the situation in southern India, where the British and the French had started a proxy war using the local princes and the rulers.     
Alivardi did not wish such a situation to transpire in his province and thus excercised caution in his dealings with the Europeans. However, there was continual friction, the British always complained that they were prevented from the full enjoyment of the farman of 1717 issued by Farrukhsiyar. The British, however, protected subjects of the Nawab, gave passes to native traders to trade custom-free and levied large duties on goods coming to their districts- actions which were detrimental to the Nawab's Revenue.
But Alivardi Khan died in April 1756 and he was succeeeded by his nineteen years old grandson, Siraj-ud-daulah.     

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Battle of Plassey (contd-1)

By the early 18th century, the British East India Company had a strong presence in India with the three main stations of Fort St. George in Madras, Fort William in Calcutta and Bombay Castle in western India. These stations were independent presidencies governed by a President and a council, appointed by the court of England . The British adopted a policy of allying themselves with various princes and Nawabs, promosing security against usurpers and rebels.The Nawabs often gave them concessions in return for the security. By then, all rivalry had also ceased between the English East India Company under Louis XIV and had two important stations in India  - Chandernagar in Bengal and Pondichery on the Carnatic coast, both governed by the presidency of Pondichery. The French were a late comer in Indian  trade, but they quickly established themselves in India and were poised to overtake Britain fot control. 
The war of the Austrian Succession marked the beginning of the power struggle between Britain and France and of European military ascendancy and political intervention in the Indian subcontinent. In Sept. 1746, Mahe de La Bourdonnais landed off Madras with a naval squadron and laid siege to the port city. The defences of Madras were weak and the garrison sustained a bombardment of three days before surrendering. There was disagreement between Bourdonnais and Joseph francois Dupleix, the Governor general of the Indian possessions of the French Govt. At the same time, the Nawab of Carnatic Anwaruddin Muhammed Khan intervened in support of the British and the combined forces and a battle lasted for Pondichery for 31 days and the battle ended with an agreement in 1748 with Madras back to British in return for Louisbourg and Cape Breton Island in North America.

In the meantime Alivardi Khan ascended to the throne of the nawab of Bengal..

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Battle of Plassey, 23rd June 1757

The Battle of Plassey , 23 June 1757, was a decisive  victory of the British East India Company rule over the Nawab of Bengal and his French allies. The battle took place at Plassey of Bengal on the river banks of  Bhagirathi, 150 km. from Calcuuta, near Murshidabad.   The battle was preceded by the attack and plunder of Calcutta by Siraj-ud-Daulah and the Black Hole trajedy.The British sent reinforcements under Colonel Robert Clive and Admiral Charles Watson from Madras to Bengal and recaptured Calcutta.  The Clive then took the initiative to capture the French  possession.

This is referring to an event that may have occurred at the Black Hole of Calcutta, which was the name of the converted guard room/holding cell of Fort William in Calcutta, India. After the fort was taken by the Naweb from the British on June 19, 1756, the Naweb held all of the British prisoners of war in this tiny room, during which time most of the prisoners were crushed to death or suffocated. This event's accuracy is dubious, and some believe that it's a tall-tale invented for British propaganda purposes. My source is linked below.