Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Barrackpore House (West Bengal), habitual summer residence of Governor Generals - early colonial period

Restored Barrackpore House.telegraphindia.com
Summer House of Barrackpore, thefridaytimes.com
The Barrackpore House is a historical building in Barrackpore town (located 14 miles from Calcutta), West Bengal that had been  widely used  as a summer house after 1864  for a long time  by Viceroys and  Governors of Bengal; it was also a sort of   country house on the  week-ends for relaxation free from official commitments. During the heyday of the early colonial rule it was more or less a ''White'' town, more so than any other towns.  The town was characteristic of parallel  well-maintained roads with fine intersections, well-mowed lawns, rows of bungalows each built separately, and near-by Cantonment separated by water body branching off the river with a nice bridge over it, water front facing the river, park, etc.  Particularly, the beautiful  park was widely used for pleasure pursuits.
Summer House of Barrackpore 1807, puronokolkata.com
Mind you, these places were meant only for the white settlers and not for the natives.
Barrackpore House was occupied by as many as twenty-four Governors-General of India until it ceased to be the residence of the Viceroy in 1912. Till such a time the small town  with a placid river was believed to be an enchanting green gem in in the Raj.  After independence, the park and the colonial buildings, including the Government  House were in poor condition due to negligence and poor upkeep. It is a sad story, in countless places in India, the interesting facets of history get lost in the loss of heritage monuments or their disintegration.  Fortunately, in 2016, heritage lovers of Bengal approached the state government  about Barrackpore House and the park and, later with their cooperation and others like Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach), the colonial building and the park along with the bridge, the lotus fountain and the marble sundial were  restored back to old glory, thus preserving  the  heritage value of this wonderful site; it was brought back  almost from  near oblivion.
Gov. Gen. Warren Hastings, Presidency of Calcutta.  en.wikipedia.org
The Southern Facade of Government House before restoration.thehindu.com
Above image: This summer residence of the Governor-General in Barrackpore, West bengal  was designed by Captain Thomas Anbury, in English Rennaissance style. The watercolor painting was made by Charles Ramus Forrest. ..................


Fascinated by the quiet and serene ambiance,  Lord Wellesley took over the Commander-in-chief's residence and landscaped the garden with an aviary. He was the first  one to find Barrackpore  more desirable for the race-conscious British people to live a peaceful  life in style in the middle of greenery. The  vast green space reminded him of undulating meadows of the English countryside.  On his visit to the Barrackpore park in 1798, the cool  breeze from the Hoogley river brushed his face and impressed him. Now, he was keen to have a government house built in the middle of a large garden and  a government palace amidst an English park.

Gov.Gen. of India Richard Wellesley,en.wikipedia.org
 Above image:  First to discover  Barrackpore a great place for peaceful living in style and was keen  to build government palace amidst an English park., Richard Colley Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley, KG, PC, PC (Ire), (20 June 1760 - 26 September 1842) was an Irish and British politician and colonial administrator;  2nd Earl of Mornington. in 1799, he was granted the Irish peerage title of Marquess Wellesley. He  served as theb Governor-General of Bengal between 1798 and 1805, and later as Foreign Secretary in the British Cabinet and as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. It was under his direction and command the invasion of Mysore  was undertaken in February 1799 ; this campaign was yet another glorious chapter in British India history that saw the quick conclusion by the capture of Seringapatam on 4 May 1799 and the killing of Tipu Sultan, the ruler who had been a source of trouble for the land-hungry British company, Now, the coast was wide open in southern India for them to control the vast natural resources  ...................................

On 31st December, 1800, Wellesley advised Sir Alured Clark, the Commander-in-Chief, that his official residence  was to be used by succeeding Governor Generals.  He acquired 900 bighas  to build a summer resort, much grandeur than the one in Calcutta (Kolkata) for the Governor general and Wellesley  moved into the house temporary built when the construction was on. The estimated cost was  whooping four lakhs of rupees.  While the construction was going on, Wellesley's relationship with the company's board members  was on the lowest ebb  and in July 1805, when its structure had come up to the plinth  level, Wellesley returned to England after  resigning his post. The board thought the outlay of the project being under way was very large and found  this project and others such as his  Mysore campaign, Ft. William college project, etc were  extravagant.  Though his tenure in India was a scandalous one, Wellesley remained upright and untouched. 
Barrackpore, West Bengal mapsofindia.com/

As for the big summer resort project and its design and plan, no details are available  as time and vagaries of weather have taken away  and buried them. The credit goes to warren Hastings who took upon himself the task of completing the  small but simple  house, built by Wellesley with fine  relevant decorations  such as those in front of the South entrance - the impressive  lotus basin and the marble fountain specially from Agra. Besides, he converted the house into a cosy and  comfortable residence for the Governor, his family members and some guests as well. Knowing that additions would spoil the beauty of this building no  other major  structural changes had been made  except for  some minor modifications and additions of certain features.  Later Sir George Barlow (1805-1807)  built  small rooms at every corner of the southern verandah. Lord Hastings (1813-1823) added side wings, a Portico, and the upper Entrance Hall that was used later as a billiard room. These structural changes, however, ruined the prospect of its being a good summer residence. What needed was “a series of rooms which would  catch the South breeze at night” – this was possible in the original three-room house. 

Subsequent Governor Generals right from Hastings and others respected Wellesley's love for Barrackpore House  and the park, and made minor additions to enhance it  beauty and style. The balcony on the Western side; iron staircase on the South front, a wooden porch and electrification of the building were carried out  respectively by Lord Auckland (1835 – 1842), Lord Lytton (1876-1880),  Lord Ripon (1886-1884)  and  Lord Minto (1905-1910).

The central hall was once a venue for week-end balls and entertainments. The main central drawing room served  for prayer and services  before Barrackpore Church was built in 1847. Here,  famous preacher Bishop Heber  (who unfortunately died in Tiruchirapalli town, TN while on a visit) preached in 1823. Famous evangelists  Carey, Marshman and Ward frequently visited Barrackpore House as guests of the Governor General.
 
So many historians are of the view  that  there was nothing remarkable about the Government House which is a plain one-story structure with  large  rooms and very ordinary furniture. Had Wellesley completed this building  long before his final departure for England, the Barrackpore House in the park would have been one of the finest and stylish  colonial buildings in  Bengal. An interesting fact is Lady Canning 's passion for the park was so overwhelming that she loved this place very much. She designed an informal sitting place under the Grand Banyan Tree, which is estimated to be 350 years old, older than the Indian Botanical Garden. Besides, She even designed a balustraded terrace in the Barrackpore Park around the Lotus Fountain called  the Lady Canning Terrace.  She, after her demise, was buried in a part of the park. There is a museum in the Govt. House and here on display are British era arms and ammunition, old paintings of Barraackpore house, etc.
https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/house-proud/articleshow/68119849.cms

https://puronokolkata.com/2017/02/18/barrackpore-house-its-english-park-1803-1912/