The Black Hole of Calcutta & The End of Islamic Power in India (1756—1757)

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History of British Migration to India

Huegli River (18th Century).

British East India Company Grows Rich:— The British East India Company were originally awarded trading rights from the Mughal Empire during the middle-ages, but exploited local villages by plundering them of their spices, rice, sugar, saltpeter, opium, tobacco, chintz, ginger, bamboo, and gunnies.[1] In 1715 they strengthened this relationship by sending the Mughal emperor gifts worth an estimated £30,000 pounds, along with a personal doctor-surgeon named William Hamilton (who was able to treat the Mughal emperors swollen groin, and as a result the East India Company were given further rights to another 37 villages).[1][2][3] These areas were exploited even further much to the disappointment of it's residents, as the British were able to do whatever they wanted without interference (the natives did not benefit at all and grew increasingly frustrated). After Emperor Aurangzeb died in 1707,[4] the Mughals became increasingly corrupted as did the British East India Company.[1] Self interest was driving the weakening of the Mughal state,[n. 1] though as of yet the Mughals were ignorant of it (or chose to be).[1] Such was the ineffectiveness of the Mughals that the invading Marathas were able to plunder India and the Sikhs were instigating rebellions in the north by mudering Muslim towns and attacking entire cities. The Mughals were busy just "fondling concubines" at this point.[1] In the middle of the 1700s the British came to occupy 3 miles2 of land and populating it with 400,000 British.[1]

The Black Hole—The British and Indian Versions of the Events

British Arrogance & Nawabs Greed:— Trade was brisk, and estimated at amounting to a staggering £1 million pounds per year.[1] The British even built themselves a 650x360 ft castle, with 18 ft walls, armed with soldiers and cannons.[1] The British East India Company's power grew so much so that the Nawab of Bengal, the Siraj-ud-Daula, approached Dum Dum, Calcutta to see it for himself.[1] As he approached he noticed that the British had set fire to the bazaar outside in panic.[1] Angered by this insult, he marched his soldiers to the fort and laid siege to it, capturing it a short while later.[1] Siraj didn't execute them, but ordered that they be placed into jail cells until he could decide what to do with them later.[1] The Nawab had in actual fact been angry that the fort was built in his territory without his permission, and this was reason enough for him to challenge the East India Company for what he saw as arrogance.[5] What would then—allegedly—occur would go down in English history as one of the cruellest episodes of British imperial India.[5] The prisoners were all ordered into a tiny cell where many of them died.[5] However during the 1950s university students were able to demonstrate that it was not possible to cram 63—146 prisoners into the tiny cell, even if they were small enough or drunken.[5] Nevertheless the story grew so spectacular it was seen as a great tragedy in Britain.[5] The British East India Company formally decided to act, and marched 3,000 well-armed soldiers to the fort.[5] Unfortunately for the Nawab, the weather had turned for the worst and soaked his gun powder supplies.[5]

Siraj-ud-Daula.
An artists depiction of the "Black Hole of Calcutta". Note the artist never formally visited Fort William.[6]

Number of Prisoners:— The "Black Hole" itself measured 18x14 ft (8x6m),[6][7] and was originally designed to hold 3—4 soldiers who exhibited improper behaviour, such as drunkeness.[7] It consisted of only a doorway and two small heavily barred iron windows. Accounts however vary on the amount of British that were housed inside this cell, with some claiming at bare minimum only 69 prisoners were jailed,[8] whereas others claim up to 146 were crammed inside.[6][7][n. 2] Placing this many people in the cell was bound to cause suffocation, dehydration and a lack of proper air flow (with only those closest to the windows being spared the entire ordeal). However it is not known if the Nawab actually knew any of this suffering would occur. The prisoners were held there on June 20th, 1756 for approximately 14 hours;[6][7] and one man who had survived it harrowingly described later having been forced to move closer towards the windows as the dead lay motionless, and when he did eventually inspire air, felt his breathing growing "short" and "painful".[6] This was allegedly down to the fact that conditions were so cramped that prisoners' knees pressed against his back, along with someone's entire body weight—whether dead or alive—concentrated on his head.[6] It—allegedly—took eight months for that one survivor to recount the tale (who's account is actually disputed by Indian historians as a fabrication).[6][9] Only 23 individuals are believed to have survived the ordeal according to this survivor.[10]

The British Reaction:— The British thirsted for revenge, and after neutralising the Nawab, the story was endlessly told in schools and homes across Britain, especially by Victorian nannies. According to British historians however, after the gun powder supplies had been sufficiently wetted by the stormy weather, the Nawab's troops still might have been able to fight on, but were thwarted as a result of the mass panic of their elephants.[5] The British had made a gamble and decided to shoot and injure the elephants instead of facing the prince's troops directly.[5] After the gunfire started, the elephants erupted into a stampede and crushed the soldiers to death.[5] Whilst the mass panic was occurring the British Grenadiers ran forward and shot the survivors.[5] At the end of the battle thousands of dead lay on the field.[5] Clive, who commanded the battle, later charged the British East India Company £200,000 pounds for this victory, but he was criticised for taking such a large chunk; justifying it by claiming that the company had made £3 million pounds from his victories that they should be "astonished at his own moderation".[5] The French who had also been defeated by his hands, lost control of whatever trade colony they had had left in Islamic India.[5] This sealed off France from India and may have even contributed to the French Revolution and it's resulting Reign of Terror (1792).[n. 3] The Terror consisted of French secularists massacring, and raping suspected royalists in kangaroo courts across Paris, affecting thousands and killing thousands.[11]

Siraj-ud-Daula.
The Indians portrayed taunting the British.

Contradictions & Propaganda:— However, despite this story, modern authors dispute the event and doubt it even ever occurred. Historians have particularly noted the inconsistency in the only survivor account. For example, it is physically impossible even place in 146 thin Bengali civilians into a cell of that size, let alone 146 "well-built Europeans". In the account given by Holwell, he claimed he wasn't able to move around, but he claimed he was able to at least walk. Additionally, he claimed it was pitch dark, but could see his watch and read the time. He also claimed he could see the "agonized faces" of others in the cell. Karl Marx, the influential philosopher and father of communism also doubted the events of the British; remarking that they "have been making so much" of the "sham scandal to this day!". Furthermore, the East India Company never claimed any sort of compensation for the deaths of so many Europeans from the Mughal authorities. What really happened, and which is far more believable is that the Company was expanding their territory by expanding Fort William, and the prince soon became suspicious of this activity. He then showed his military strength as he marched towards them as a warning, wanting to emphasise they had no sovereign rights in India. The East India Company then panicked and "rashly embarked upon confrontation". Thereafter, when the Mughals had laid siege to the fort, they could not then find any money as compensation for British aggression, and through a "bungle", some Europeans ended up dying.[1]

Legacy

Legacy:— Perhaps the most important legacy left behind by the incident is that it gave the British a firm foothold over Islamic India, with the British Raj being considered to have started at this point by some.[12] Clive was, effectively, given the excuse to attack and war with the Bengal prince in 1757 and his victory ensured years of Islamic and Hindu suppression, although the British did not fully get rid of the Mughals until exactly 100 years later after the 1857 Indian Rebellion (1857—1859),[13] which aimed to overthrow the British Raj.[14][15] This rebellion unfortunately failed, and India was further exploited up until 1947,[16] resulting in the deaths of millions of Indians at the hands of the British.[n. 4] Another important note, is that the term "black hole"—the gravitational bodies in space—actually have their etymology originate with the story of the Black Hole of Calcutta.[17] Physicist, Hong-Yee Chiu used the phrase at a conference, and when asked about the etymology of the word, said it actually originated from a story he was told in 1960 or 1961 by another physicist Robert Dicke.[17][18] Dicke himself described the celestial bodies to Chiu as being "like the Black Hole of Calcutta".[17] Another scientist, called John Wheeler,[19] then started using the term several years later, but Wheeler never claimed the term originated with him.[17] However according to Western authors, Wheeler's importance was however was that he gave credence to the word within the wider scientific community.[17] Thus the etymology of the word black hole originated with this incident.

Representation of a black hole from US space exploration organisation, NASA.

History of British Migration to India

Huegli River (18th Century).

British East India Company Grows Rich:— The British East India Company were originally awarded trading rights from the Mughal Empire during the middle-ages, but exploited local villages by plundering them of their spices, rice, sugar, saltpeter, opium, tobacco, chintz, ginger, bamboo, and gunnies.[1] In 1715 they strengthened this relationship by sending the Mughal emperor gifts worth an estimated £30,000 pounds, along with a personal doctor-surgeon named William Hamilton (who was able to treat the Mughal emperors swollen groin, and as a result the East India Company were given further rights to another 37 villages).[1][2][3] These areas were exploited even further much to the disappointment of it's residents, as the British were able to do whatever they wanted without interference (the natives did not benefit at all and grew increasingly frustrated). After Emperor Aurangzeb died in 1707,[4] the Mughals became increasingly corrupted as did the British East India Company.[1] Self interest was driving the weakening of the Mughal state,[n. 5] though as of yet the Mughals were ignorant of it (or chose to be).[1] Such was the ineffectiveness of the Mughals that the invading Marathas were able to plunder India and the Sikhs were instigating rebellions in the north by mudering Muslim towns and attacking entire cities. The Mughals were busy just "fondling concubines" at this point.[1] In the middle of the 1700s the British came to occupy 3 miles2 of land and populating it with 400,000 British.[1]

The Black Hole—The British and Indian Versions of the Events

Siraj-ud-Daula.

British Arrogance & Nawabs Greed:— Trade was brisk, and estimated at amounting to a staggering £1 million pounds per year.[1] The British even built themselves a 650x360 ft castle, with 18 ft walls, armed with soldiers and cannons.[1] The British East India Company's power grew so much so that the Nawab of Bengal, the Siraj-ud-Daula, approached Dum Dum, Calcutta to see it for himself.[1] As he approached he noticed that the British had set fire to the bazaar outside in panic.[1] Angered by this insult, he marched his soldiers to the fort and laid siege to it, capturing it a short while later.[1] Siraj didn't execute them, but ordered that they be placed into jail cells until he could decide what to do with them later.[1] The Nawab had in actual fact been angry that the fort was built in his territory without his permission, and this was reason enough for him to challenge the East India Company for what he saw as arrogance.[5] What would then—allegedly—occur would go down in English history as one of the cruellest episodes of British imperial India.[5] The prisoners were all ordered into a tiny cell where many of them died.[5] However during the 1950s university students were able to demonstrate that it was not possible to cram 63—146 prisoners into the tiny cell, even if they were small enough or drunken.[5] Nevertheless the story grew so spectacular it was seen as a great tragedy in Britain.[5] The British East India Company formally decided to act, and marched 3,000 well-armed soldiers to the fort.[5] Unfortunately for the Nawab, the weather had turned for the worst and soaked his gun powder supplies.[5]

An artists depiction of the "Black Hole of Calcutta". Note the artist never formally visited Fort William.[6]

Number of Prisoners:— The "Black Hole" itself measured 18x14 ft (8x6m),[6][7] and was originally designed to hold 3—4 soldiers who exhibited improper behaviour, such as drunkeness.[7] It consisted of only a doorway and two small heavily barred iron windows. Accounts however vary on the amount of British that were housed inside this cell, with some claiming at bare minimum only 69 prisoners were jailed,[8] whereas others claim up to 146 were crammed inside.[6][7][n. 6] Placing this many people in the cell was bound to cause suffocation, dehydration and a lack of proper air flow (with only those closest to the windows being spared the entire ordeal). However it is not known if the Nawab actually knew any of this suffering would occur. The prisoners were held there on June 20th, 1756 for approximately 14 hours;[6][7] and one man who had survived it harrowingly described later having been forced to move closer towards the windows as the dead lay motionless, and when he did eventually inspire air, felt his breathing growing "short" and "painful".[6] This was allegedly down to the fact that conditions were so cramped that prisoners' knees pressed against his back, along with someone's entire body weight—whether dead or alive—concentrated on his head.[6] It—allegedly—took eight months for that one survivor to recount the tale (who's account is actually disputed by Indian historians as a fabrication).[6][9] Only 23 individuals are believed to have survived the ordeal according to this survivor.[10]

Siraj-ud-Daula.

The British Reaction:— The British thirsted for revenge, and after neutralising the Nawab, the story was endlessly told in schools and homes across Britain, especially by Victorian nannies. According to British historians however, after the gun powder supplies had been sufficiently wetted by the stormy weather, the Nawab's troops still might have been able to fight on, but were thwarted as a result of the mass panic of their elephants.[5] The British had made a gamble and decided to shoot and injure the elephants instead of facing the prince's troops directly.[5] After the gunfire started, the elephants erupted into a stampede and crushed the soldiers to death.[5] Whilst the mass panic was occurring the British Grenadiers ran forward and shot the survivors.[5] At the end of the battle thousands of dead lay on the field.[5] Clive, who commanded the battle, later charged the British East India Company £200,000 pounds for this victory, but he was criticised for taking such a large chunk; justifying it by claiming that the company had made £3 million pounds from his victories that they should be "astonished at his own moderation".[5] The French who had also been defeated by his hands, lost control of whatever trade colony they had had left in Islamic India.[5] This sealed off France from India and may have even contributed to the French Revolution and it's resulting Reign of Terror (1792).[n. 7] The Terror consisted of French secularists massacring, and raping suspected royalists in kangaroo courts across Paris, affecting thousands and killing thousands.[11]

The Indians portrayed taunting the British.

Contradictions & Propaganda:— However, despite this story, modern authors dispute the event and doubt it even ever occurred. Historians have particularly noted the inconsistency in the only survivor account. For example, it is physically impossible even place in 146 thin Bengali civilians into a cell of that size, let alone 146 "well-built Europeans". In the account given by Holwell, he claimed he wasn't able to move around, but he claimed he was able to at least walk. Additionally, he claimed it was pitch dark, but could see his watch and read the time. He also claimed he could see the "agonized faces" of others in the cell. Karl Marx, the influential philosopher and father of communism also doubted the events of the British; remarking that they "have been making so much" of the "sham scandal to this day!". Furthermore, the East India Company never claimed any sort of compensation for the deaths of so many Europeans from the Mughal authorities. What really happened, and which is far more believable is that the Company was expanding their territory by expanding Fort William, and the prince soon became suspicious of this activity. He then showed his military strength as he marched towards them as a warning, wanting to emphasise they had no sovereign rights in India. The East India Company then panicked and "rashly embarked upon confrontation". Thereafter, when the Mughals had laid siege to the fort, they could not then find any money as compensation for British aggression, and through a "bungle", some Europeans ended up dying.[1]

Legacy

Representation of a black hole from US space exploration organisation, NASA.

Legacy:— Perhaps the most important legacy left behind by the incident is that it gave the British a firm foothold over Islamic India, with the British Raj being considered to have started at this point by some.[12] Clive was, effectively, given the excuse to attack and war with the Bengal prince in 1757 and his victory ensured years of Islamic and Hindu suppression, although the British did not fully get rid of the Mughals until exactly 100 years later after the 1857 Indian Rebellion (1857—1859),[13] which aimed to overthrow the British Raj.[14][15] This rebellion unfortunately failed, and India was further exploited up until 1947,[16] resulting in the deaths of millions of Indians at the hands of the British.[n. 8] Another important note, is that the term "black hole"—the gravitational bodies in space—actually have their etymology originate with the story of the Black Hole of Calcutta.[17] Physicist, Hong-Yee Chiu used the phrase at a conference, and when asked about the etymology of the word, said it actually originated from a story he was told in 1960 or 1961 by another physicist Robert Dicke.[17][18] Dicke himself described the celestial bodies to Chiu as being "like the Black Hole of Calcutta".[17] Another scientist, called John Wheeler,[19] then started using the term several years later, but Wheeler never claimed the term originated with him.[17] However according to Western authors, Wheeler's importance was however was that he gave credence to the word within the wider scientific community.[17] Thus the etymology of the word black hole originated with this incident.

Sources

Footnotes

  1. ^ As the central power loosened, the structure which kept the empire together fell into solvency, and the provinces were simply drained of their wealth; and with no income, the empire grew weaker.
    1. Indian History. Allied Publishers. p. 30. ISBN 978-81-8424-568-4.
  2. ^ The London Chronicle however notes that 175 went in and only 16 came out, resulting in the deaths of 160 British men. This source was only written about a year after the events.
    1. William Fuller Maitland (June 5th—7th, 1757). The London Chronicle. The London Chronicle. p. 545-546.
  3. ^ The lack of such a lucrative colony such as India would have given anyone an economic and military disadvantage.
    Quote: "The direct cause of the French Revolution was the inability of the Royal Treasury to resolve its problems. The fiscal crisis, which, from 1786, took a sharp turn for the worse, can be traced far back into the past, for the state had been living beyond its means since the beginning of the seventeenth century."
    1. Florin Aftalion (22 March 1990). The French Revolution: An Economic Interpretation. Cambridge University Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-521-36810-0.
  4. ^ For example, millions of Indians died during the colossal famines of the 19th century, 10% were illiterate by 1911, and regular massacres also occured such as those of Amritsar.
    1. James Belich (5 May 2011). Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld. OUP Oxford. p. 469. ISBN 978-0-19-960454-8.
  5. ^ As the central power loosened, the structure which kept the empire together fell into solvency, and the provinces were simply drained of their wealth; and with no income, the empire grew weaker.
    1. Indian History. Allied Publishers. p. 30. ISBN 978-81-8424-568-4.
  6. ^ The London Chronicle however notes that 175 went in and only 16 came out, resulting in the deaths of 160 British men. This source was only written about a year after the events.
    1. William Fuller Maitland (June 5th—7th, 1757). The London Chronicle. The London Chronicle. p. 545-546.
  7. ^ The lack of such a lucrative colony such as India would have given anyone an economic and military disadvantage.
    Quote: "The direct cause of the French Revolution was the inability of the Royal Treasury to resolve its problems. The fiscal crisis, which, from 1786, took a sharp turn for the worse, can be traced far back into the past, for the state had been living beyond its means since the beginning of the seventeenth century."
    1. Florin Aftalion (22 March 1990). The French Revolution: An Economic Interpretation. Cambridge University Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-521-36810-0.
  8. ^ For example, millions of Indians died during the colossal famines of the 19th century, 10% were illiterate by 1911, and regular massacres also occured such as those of Amritsar.
    1. James Belich (5 May 2011). Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld. OUP Oxford. p. 469. ISBN 978-0-19-960454-8.

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z Krishna Dutta (January 2003). Calcutta: A Cultural and Literary History. Signal Books. p. 15-20. ISBN 978-1-902669-59-5.
  2. ^ a b Helaine Selin (12 March 2008). Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 159. ISBN 978-1-4020-4559-2.
  3. ^ a b ndian Historical Records Commission (1976). Proceedings of the ... Session. The Comission. p. 229.
  4. ^ a b Munis D. Faruqui (27 August 2012). The Princes of the Mughal Empire, 1504-1719. Cambridge University Press. p. 307. ISBN 978-1-107-02217-1.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab Michael Lynch (27 July 2012). The British Empire: Teach Yourself. Hodder & Stoughton. p. 50. ISBN 978-1-4441-6039-0.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Judith Kidd; Rosemary Rees; Ruth Tudor (2000). The Early Modern World. Heinemann. p. 187. ISBN 978-0-435-32595-4.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h James Stuart Olson; Robert Shadle (1991). Historical Dictionary of European Imperialism. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 60. ISBN 978-0-313-26257-9.
  8. ^ a b John F. Riddick (2006). The History of British India: A Chronology. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-313-32280-8.
  9. ^ a b Nigel Kelly (1998). Britain 1750-1900 and The Twentieth Century World. Heinemann. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-435-30963-3.
  10. ^ a b William R. Nester (2000). The First Global War: Britain, France, and the Fate of North America, 1756-1775. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-275-96771-0.
  11. ^ a b Douglas Fermer (20 November 2013). Three German Invasions of France: The Summers Campaigns of 1830, 1914, 1940. Pen and Sword. p. 4. ISBN 978-1-4738-3145-2.
  12. ^ a b Partners of British Rule. Allied Publishers. 2006. p. 165. ISBN 978-81-7764-868-3.
  13. ^ a b Sat D. Sharma (May 2012). India Marching: Reflections from a Nationalistic Perspective. iUniverse. p. 140. ISBN 978-1-4759-1422-1.
  14. ^ a b Akbar S. Ahmed (1997). Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin. Psychology Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-415-14966-2.
  15. ^ a b Fred S. Kleiner (5 January 2009). Gardner's Art through the Ages: Non-Western Perspectives. Cengage Learning. p. 39. ISBN 0-495-57367-1.
  16. ^ a b Ian Copland (10 July 2014). India 1885-1947: The Unmaking of an Empire. Routledge. p. 9. ISBN 978-1-317-87785-1.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Science News (26 April 2016). Einstein's Gravity: One Big Idea Forever Changed How We Understand the Universe. Diversion Books. p. 102. ISBN 978-1-68230-469-3.
  18. ^ a b Marcia Bartusiak (2015). Black Hole: How an Idea Abandoned by Newtonians, Hated by Einstein, and Gambled on by Hawking Became Loved. Yale University Press. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-300-21085-9.
  19. ^ a b Paul Dickson (1 May 2010). A Dictionary of the Space Age. JHU Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-8018-9504-3.

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