Discovering Calcutta With Its Founder Job Charnock
Through the years Calcutta has developed as a cosmopolitan center by assimilating many cultures.
The busy administrative hub of Dalhousie area, in the picture, lies the Telegraph Office
But what shaped this cosmopolitan city is often overlooked. Together with Bombay, Madras, and Delhi, Calcutta formed one of the 4 major metro cities of British India. These are part of the colonial heritage that established these presidencies and steered the way for the cosmopolitan nature of the city. Calcutta was India’s Capital for a long time (until 1911) under the British Rule.
It was the British East India Company administrator, Job Charnock who is chiefly regarded as the founder of this city. Charnock came to Cossimbazar in Murshidabad, in 1656 when the Mughals were still ruling and Murshidabad was the capital of Bengal. At that time, nobody thought that this controversial figure would create a city out of 7 villages and make way for the British empire in India
Many argue that Calcutta was there much before Charnock laid his hand on the first village area Sutanuti back in 1690 which was to be inducted and converted together into a city. In fact, a Calcutta High Court ruling states that Charnock isn’t the founder of the city as they got the land from the zamindars of Calcutta or Kolikata, Subarna Roychowdhury.
Prior to this Charnock had been declared the chief agent of the East India Company in the Hugli region (Hugli refers to the distributary of Ganges, Hooghly which flows along Calcutta) in 1686
However, in many sense he is the founder of the city as it was this assimilation of 7 village areas and incredible administrative structures developed by the East India Company which created the thriving Calcutta Culture that you see today. In 1757, Robert Clive won the Battle of Plassey and captured Murshidabad the capital of Mughal Bengal. From that day onwards the British Colonial rule began, culminating into 200 years of oppression which finally ended in 1947
Charnock’s Calcutta developed in these 200 years and much of the traces of its earliest heritage remains - including the first cathedral of Calcutta where Charnock rests.
St. John’s Church, the first cathedral of Calcutta, was one of the earliest churches built in the city. The church standing at 2/2 Council House Street, in BBD Bagh, Dalhousie was near the seat of power in the city. This region has many iconic buildings including the Writer’s Building which was the Chief Minister’s office, the Governor’s house, a 100-year-old currency building which housed Indian Mint and later on housed the RBI headquarter, the Grand Post Office, the telegraph office, the High Court, etc. All these buildings were typical European style structures built more than 100 years ago but even today, they are still used as offices and for administrative purposes.
Amidst this chaos lies the 1784 built St. John’s Church where Charnock was buried. Built-in an otherwise factory set up on land donated by the zamindar of the Sobhabazar area, this church lies not so far from the Ganges. Which made it quite easy to transport all the red chunar sandstone material used for building it. The stones were transported all the way from Varanasi and the church came to be known as pathuria girja meaning a stoned church.
The church started as a modest building until Lord Minto added a Steeple and Corinthian columns in 1811 and 1863.
The chief attraction of this place is Charnock’s mausoleum built by his successor and son-in-law in 1695. Charnock died in 1693. His mausoleum is built with Charkonite material, a rock named after him as he discovered it. His epitaph is written in Latin. This mausoleum has been dedicated as a monument of national interest and protected by ASI.
The church premises is littered with monuments of importance like the Rohilla War Monument and replica of the Black Hole Monument which commemorates the Black Hole Incident were many British officers were killed by Bengal’s last Nawab, Siraj Ud Daula when he kept them in a dingy lit prison.
The church itself is of importance as it is surrounded by victorian statues dating back to the colonial era. One of the chief attractions of the church is a 100-year-old fully functional pipe organ which has traces of war on it. Another attractive feature is Sir Johan Zoffany rendition of the Last Supper. Zoffany was a notable British painter of German origin who was commissioned by the East India Company.
There are many such commissioned artists who made iconic pictures of colonial area buildings that still survive in the Victoria Memorial Museum, another iconic colonial Calcutta monument which was dedicated to Queen Victoria.
The Iconic Victoria Memorial built in 1905
The 1961 Royal Visit of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip to Victoria Memorial
Watch the video footage here https://footage.framepool.com/en/shot/298614072-victoria-memorial-filip-of-england-royal-tour-motorcade
however, Queen Victoria never visited India. Several years later a young Queen Elizabeth II visited the Memorial dedicated to her great great grandmother, much after India had gained independence from British Colonial rule.
An official commissioned painting of the church
You will find paintings of this church and several others under construction in the Victoria Memorial Museum galleries.
Now, coming back to the church. This spacious cathedral is lined up with a beautiful painted dome which lies just behind the altar. Beside it is the painted glass work. St. John’s was the Anglican Cathedral of Calcutta until 1847 when a newer and a larger cathedral called the St. Paul’s cathedral took its place. For nearly 100 years, this iconic church where Charnock rests was the Cathedral of Calcutta. Today, thousands of people throng the place in Christmas and the church built solely on the money collected by public lottery draws attention throughout the year.
Calcutta may have predated Charnock but it is his story that still survives here and makes Pathuria Girja and the Legend of Calcutta last, eternally.
Job Charnock the Founder of Calcutta by P T Nair