Before we start exploring the various historical sites and structures of Kolkata, we will try to recreate that ‘Calcutta’ which the British settled in late 17th century. We all know by now that the city of Calcutta was predated by three villages, i.e., Sutanuti, Gobindapur & Kalikata, which the British received from landlord family of Sabarna Roy Choudhury. So they became the new landlords. But where were these villages located in respect of current geography of the City? We will try to ascertain that from some old books on the city written by eminent English authors and old maps seen and studied by the Author of this Post.
In 1784 Lt. Col. Mark Wood drew a detailed map of the European settlement in Calcutta for the Commissioner of Police, which became a reference for years to come…
Calcutta, in late 17th century, was set amid marsh and forest. Surprising, but true. Entire surrounding area of the three villages was forested and intersected by several creeks. There were two major creeks cutting through the settlements, which marked the border of the villages. In north one creek marked the border of the settlement of Chitpore and beginning of the village of Sutanuti. Hatkhola locality of current Kolkata marks the most approximate location of the village of Sutanuti. Somewhere between present day Shovabazaar Ghat and Ahiritola Ghat, had Job Charnock anchored his ship on 24th August 1690. There was a big tree marking the location, referred to as ‘the great tree’ in his official report. The village of Kalikata existed downstream starting from current day Jorbagan and extending to a creek in the south which opened approximately at the site of current day Chandpal Ghat near the business district of B.B.D. Bag. The eastern boundary of the settlements was the Chitpore Road, now called Rabindra Sarani and continued into Bentinck Street. Chitpore Road is the oldest Road of Kolkata, built by Sabarna Roy Choudhury family. The village of Gobindapur was further downstream, where the Fort William stands now, and extended till Adi Ganga (Tolly’s Nullah). This village was surrounded by thick forests dwelled by tigers, where now stands the Maidan.
It is difficult to believe today that once the villages that made up Kolkata (or Calcutta) were surrounded by marshy forest land, dwelled by wild animals.
Job Charnock favoured Sutanuti as a settlement maybe because of the natural security the location provided. It was protected by the river Hooghly on west and by marshy forest on south and east. So the first Fort William was set up in Kalikata in 1698, in current day B.B.D. Bag (or Dalhousie Square), with Sutanuti in North and Gobindapur in South. After Battle of Plassey in 1756, a more fortified Fort William was built in the village of Gobindapur in 1758 and completed in 1773 where it stands today. But the name Kalikata remained.
This way, the village of Gobindapur became the British Headquarter, Kalikata became their business Center and Sutanuti the old town where the natives resided. A walk or drive across the present Central and North Kolkata will entail a ride through time, where the remnants of colonial history stands testimony to what it has witnessed.
The police map of Calcutta prepared by Colonel Mark Wood in 1784 and published in 1792 by William Baillie gives a detailed depiction of the localities at that time (image above). This map, articles in Wikipedia, other websites on colonial Calcutta and a book, Calcutta – Past and Present (1905) by K. Blechynden forms the basis of this article. And the Post Author’s love for current Kolkata resulted in their compilation.
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