Sunday, 27 December 2020

Ft. William (1780-81), Kolkata built by the British East India Company, never faced any attack!!

rebuilt Ft. William Calcutta in 1807

rebuilt Ft. William Calcutta 1807. en.wikipedia. org

Plan of Ft. William, Calcutta C.1844

The Fort William is a famous  historical and heritage  site in the city of Kolkata (Calcutta)  rebuilt by the East India Company in the place called Maidan, a British  legacy that still survives and  has surprised many  historians and high ranking army men. Many of us are  not aware of the fact that this fort that came up during 1780-1781 in the early stages of  the English company's  growth,  is one the few forts in India, perhaps in the world  that never faced an attack. In this respect, it differs from other forts  across the globe for the simple but historical fact  that it had never fired a single shot in its defense in its long history. Nor was it under  siege or  had experienced  any violent act with in the fort. Perhaps, you may call this early colonial fort  as one of its kind in the world for which the British must be proud. We 've hardly ever heard or read about a fort of bygone era where the cannons were on the silent mode and had been never used by the ever watchful gunners. 

The reasons  for the absence of threats to the fort are: 01.  By that   time  EIC had gained military supremacy in this region backed by the British government in London, 02.  There was no  strong  and worthy enemy with a powerful army  to  challenge  their military superiority, 03. Gradual decline of other European powers in that region and other powerful Indian rulers, 04. The family members of the local ruler  became powerless. like a venomous serpent  without flanges and pointed teeth. 

Unethical or not, Robert Clive gets the credit for causing instability in the rulers family by fomenting mischief and enticement. Being diabolical, as he was  as the head of the ESI's operations in Bengal Lord Robert Clive had   the ruler Nawab Siraj-ud-daulah killed by his own relatives  soon after the battle of  Plassey (1757).  Nawab Siraj   never toed their line and was up against them with arms. Calcutta was purchased by the English in 1698 and declared a Presidency Town of the East India Company in 1699.

That the Nawab was angry with the English company for their dishonesty and breach of trade agreement between them is quite natural. The unethical English company  never paid the customs duty for a few years  and it caused a drain on the Nawab's treasury. Further, EIC, in collusion with  decedent Amirs like Mir Jaffer, et al in his  court,  worked against  the ruler to topple him.  This row led him with his huge army  to  capture  their old  Ft. William  where the black-hole incident took place. The Nawab had nothing to do with this tragedy and the English made him a scapegoat to get sympathy at home. 

early founder of the brutish empire, Robert

Above image: Robert Clive, (1725-1774)   was an architect of British rule in Bengal after his decisive win in the battle of Plassey ( also  Palashi in West Bengal) Native of Ireland from a modest family,  he was  not a distinguished  student at school, He  entered the East India Company‘s service (1743) in Madras (now Chennai, Tamil Nadu) at the age of eighteen. As a cadet he used to lead a very forlorn and solitary life and suffered periodically from melancholia. His victories in the Carnatic war, S. India  won him laurels. and they brought to light his daredevil disposition. Back in Madras in 1755, he was made  a lieutenant colonel by the British crown. Soon in status and fortune, he soared high  and never turned back on his old hardscrabble  days in Madras............

Ft. William a room called black hole, Kolkata.

Above image: A fenced display of the Black Hole of Calcutta, old Ft. William  (1908), The black hole was a dungeon in the Fort  measuring 4.30 × 5.50 ⁠meters (14 × 18 ⁠⁠feet), in which troops of Siraj ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Bengal, held British prisoners of war on the night of 20 June 1756. The Nawab was held a scapegoat and the modern historians believe that 64 prisoners were sent into the Hole, and that 43 died there and not more than 120 as  reported by the British. Cause of death: Heat and suffocation

Robert Clive with  his enforcement army arrived from the EIC's settlement in Madras and successfully liberated the old fort and later over a period of time using his administrative skill and political maneuvers  made a dissident Amir the Nawab of Bengal, a puppet in his hand. After the battle at Buxar 

The battle of Buxar, Bengal 1764,

(October 1764) the English company took  control of the huge province of Bengal with vast natural resources and revenue. Thus the English company with amazing fire power and administrative  acumen coupled with intrigues had begun to expand their   empire  and rule over other parts of the subcontinent. with money generated from Bengal. Obviously, in the light of the British Crown allowing them to operate as a proxy government with ample support from the British government,  they needed a strong fort to establish their authority and guard their interest . Thus the new  Ft. William  was better planned and executed  as a strong structure against the invading enemy. It was Robert Clive  who started rebuilding the fort in 1758,  soon after the Battle of Plassey (1757), but the  construction was completed only in 1781.  It was built at a cost of approximately two million pounds. The area around the Fort was cleared, to have a clear view of any enemy movements  and the Maidan became "the Lungs of Kolkata". It is a  big chunk of land stretching  3 km in the north–south direction and is around 1 km wide.

Calcutta, Ft. William, Rampart and

original Ft. William Calcutta 1696.

The recaptured old Fort was repaired and used as a customs house by the EIC from 1766 onwards. Named after King William III in 1700, it was  in 1696  the original fort was built and  it took a decade to complete it. The newly rebuilt fort retained the original name. Designed by Captain John Brohier in 1757 base on  Vauban’s 17th century defensive concepts, the work was completed  by Archibald Campbell because Captain John left the service for dereliction of duty. The fort  is a  good example of the  typical European fortification and a  garrison of 15,000 men were needed for its defense.. 

Location map. Ft. William, Kolkata,

In the shape of an irregular octagon, the rebuilt  Ft William covers an an area of 5 sq. km km with five of its sides  facing toward the land, and three toward  the Hooghly River, a branch of the Ganges river and has an access  to  the sea. The addition of a  dry moat 9 meters (30 ft) deep and 15 m (49 ft) wide all around the fort gives it extra protection.  Strategically located  and provided with six gates,  the reason for the peculiar design - that of a star is  to  defend itself against the  cannon  firing from  near-by enemies. The design of the moat is that it  can be flooded  and it serves as an area  to use  enfilade fire (a gunfire directed against an enfiladed formation or position, is also commonly known as "flanking fire; see the accompanying image) against any soldiers  accessing the walls.

in enfilade.

Above image: Diagram showing units "in enfilade" (red) and "in defilade" (blue) with another unit (green) providing enfilading fire ..............

There  is a non-functional Anglican Church  -  St. Peter's within the fort. and it is turned into a library. During the early colonial rule, it  used to serve as a chaplaincy center for the British citizens of Kolkata,  Going through the museum there and various war  weapons, etc., the visitors both foreign and India are quite surprised by the operational mechanism  used in the past to lift   cannon balls from the magazine to  higher  ground  overlooking the rampart for firing purpose.  The 329 year old fort is serving as the headquarters of the Eastern Command of the Indian Army, the largest one in India.  Considered as one  of Kolkata's most enduring  colonial-era structures, it extends over an area of 70.9 hectares. There is a war  memorial at the entrance of the fort, and the fort also houses a museum. On display there are   artifacts from the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 that liberated  East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) from treacherous and war mongering Pakistan, now a  breeding ground  for hard terrorists  who kill innocent people across the globe.,_India