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much further from it than the present Strand, were about twenty upper-rooined houses, almost as large as those now lb Chowringhee, and many smaller ones. The first upper-roomed residence built in the latter road remains in all its strength, and is now St. Paul's School. Of the twenty on the Strand, not one is to be found. They stretched away for half a mile on each side of the old fort, and had spacious and separate enclosures; under the north-east bastion of the fort was the English church; and, accordingly, the buildings so thoroughly blocked in the fort, that it was almost incapable of defence. Its side to the east and west extended 210 yards, the southern side 130, and the northern 100; it had tour bastions, mounting each ten guns; the curtains were only four feet thick, and terraces which formed the roofs of chambers, formed the top of the ramparts, and windows belonging to these chambers were in several places opened in the curtains. The gateway on the eastern side projected, and mounted five guns, three in front, and one on each flank, towards the bastions. Under the western face, and on the brink of the river, was a line of heavy cannon, mounted in embrasures of solid masonry; and this work was joined to the two western bastions by two slender walls, in each of which was a gate Of pallisadoes.
The road we call Chowringhee was crossed in three places by large ditches, and they were recrossed in a primitive fashion by raised arch-work. A wide road, at right angles with the river, ran straight up easterly from the fort, across the midaun (then covered with thickets, though no longer a marsh), and over Chowringhee, straight forward and over Circular Road, and there stopped.*
For six hundred yards behind the fort, that road could show a house or two jutting on to it, as well as a battery, which acted as a barrier. There was also "The Park," and Eden Gardens may probably touch upon one end of it. It contained an enormous tank. Opposite was the church, before alluded to. Adjacent to the fort, and forming two of the twenty pretentious houses, were the residences of Mr. Eyre and Mr. Cruttenden. Of still larger dimensions, and immediately on the river, with a flight of steps leading down to it, was the Governor's house; and all these buildings, together with the church, were made places of refuge for the Europeans on the fatal day of the Black Hole atrocities. It was on the south-east bastion of the fort that Mr. Holwell, who survived those Black Hole horrors, stood with his flag of truce in reply to the Nabob's one, and it was there
* I believe that Dhurrumtollah now represents that road.
also that a Mr. Bailey, who was standing at Mr. HolwelFs side, was shot.
Cossitollah was then as important as Chowringhee, and was not distinguished from it. Where the great squares of buildings between Cossitollah and the river now stand was portion of the old forest, and had been fertilised and thinned like the rest. A tank, possibly the one we see to-day, indicated the future Tank Square; and if a diagonal line were taken across that sheet of water from the corner at Burkinyoung & Co.'s to the corner by the Custom House, straight across the road, it would pass through the centre of the Black Hole. It stood where the east and west roads in Tank Square intersect each other, and precisely in the centre of the intersection. Many of the dwellings, warehouses, and other buildings which I have named, were destroyed in the conflagration, by order of Suraj -ud-Dowlah.
The broad road or avenue which I have spoken of as crossing the midaun, and leading to Circular Road, was used as a ropewalk, and, upon the day of the siege, many Europeans were killed there.
The Import Warehouse now occupies the site of the old fort, and the Black Hole was a small prison-house contiguous to it. As this sketch would be imperfect were the horrors of the event which has given to that locality such an infamous fame left unrepeated, I will give verbatim the account rendered by Mr. Holwell:—
"By narratives made public, you will only know, that of one hundred and fortysix prisoners, one hundred and twenty-three were smothered in the Black Hole Prison, on the night of the 20th June 1757. Few survived, capable of giving any detail of the manner in which it happened; and of these, none I believe have attempted it. For my own part, I have often sat down with a resolution, and as often relinquished the melancholy task, not only from the disturbance and affliction it raised afresh in my remembrance, but from the consideration of the impossibility of finding language capable of raising an adequate idea of the horrors of the scene I essayed to draw. But as I believe the annals of the world cannot produce an incident like it, in any degree or proportion, to all the dismal circumstances attending it, and as my own health of body and peace of mind are once again in a great measure recovered from the injuries they suffered from that fatal night, I cannot allow it to be buried in oblivion; though still conscious that, however high the colouring my retentive memory may supply, it will fall infinitely short of the horrors accompanying this scene.
"Before I conduct you to the Black Hole, it is necessary you should be acquainted with a few introductory circumstances. The Soubah and his troops were irt possession of the fort before six in the evening. I had, in all, three interviews with him: the last in durbar, before seven, when he repeated his assurances to me, on the word of a soldier, that no harm should come to us; and, indeed, I believe his orders were only general, that we should for that night be secured, and that what followed was the result of revenge and resentment in the breasts of the lower jemadars, to whose custody we were delivered, for the number of their order killed during the siege. Be this as it may; as soon as it was dark, we were all, without distinction, directed by the guard over us to collect ourselves into one body, and sit down quietly under the arched verandah or piazza to the west of the Black Hole Prison, and the barracks to the left of the Court of Guard, and just over against the windows of the Governor's easterly apartments. Besides the guard over us, another was placed at the foot of the stairs, at the south end of this verandah, leading up to the south-east bastion, to prevent any of us escaping that way. On the parade were also drawn up about four or five hundred artillerymen, with lighted matches.
"At this time, the factory was in flames to the right and left of us,—to the right, the armoury and laboratory; to the left, the carpenters' yard,—though at this time we imagined it was the pucka warehouses. Various were our conjectures on this appearance. The fire advanced with rapidity on both sides, and it- was the prevailing opinion, that they intended suffocating us between the two fires; and this notion was confirmed by the appearance, about halfpast seven, of some officers and people with lighted torches in their hands, who went into all the apartments under the easterly curtain to the right of us, to which we apprehended they were setting fire, to expedite their scheme of burning us.
"On this, we presently came to a resolution of rushing on the guard, seizing their scymitars, and attacking the troops upon the parade, rather than be thus tamely roasted to death. But, to be satisfied of their intentions, I advanced, at the request of Messrs. Baillie, Jenks, and Revely, to see if they were really setting fire to the apartments, and found the contrary ; for, in fact, as it appeared afterwards, they were only searching for a place to confine us in; the last they examined being the barracks of the Court of Guard behind us. Here I must detain you a little, to do honour to the memory of a man, to whom I had in many instances been a friend, and who, on this occasion, demonstrated his sensibility of it in a degree worthy of a much higher rank. His name was Leech, the Company's smith, as well as clerk of the parish. This man
had made his escape when the troops entered the fort, and returned, just as it was dark, to tell me he had provided a boat, and would ensure my escape, if I would follow him through a passage few were acquainted with, and by which he had then entered. (This might easily have been accomplished, as the guard put over us took but very slight notice of us.) I thanked him in the best terms I was able; but told him it was a step I could not prevail on myself to take, ,as I should thereby very ill repay the attachment the gentlemen and the garrison had shown to me, and that I was resolved to share their fate, be it what it would; but pressed him to secure his own escape without loss of time. To which he gallantly replied, ' he was resolved to share mine, and would not leave me.'
"To myself and the world I should surely have stood excused in embracing the overture above mentioned, could I have conceived what immediately followed. We now observed part of the guard, drawn up on the parade, advance to us, with the officers who had been viewing the rooms. They ordered us all to rise, and go into the barracks to the left of the Court of Guard. The barracks have a large wooden platform for the soldiers to sleep on, and are open to the west by arches, and a small parapet wall, corresponding to the arches of the verandah without. In we went most readily, and were pleasing ourselves with the prospect of passing a comfortable night on the platform, little dreaming of the infernal apartments in reserve for us. For we were no sooner all within the barracks than the guard advanced to the inner arches and parapet wall, and, with their muskets, presently ordered us to go into the room at the southernmost end of the barracks, commonly called the Black Hole Prison, whilst others from the Court of Guard, with clubs and drawn swords, pressed upon those of us next to them. This stroke was so sudden, so unexpected, and the throng and pressure so great upon us next the door of the Black Hole Prison, there was no resisting it; but, like one agitated wave impelling another, we were obliged to give way, and enter. The rest followed like a torrent—few amongst us, the soldiers excepted, having the least idea of the dimensions or nature of a place we had never seen; for if we had, we should at all events have rushed upon the guard, and been, as the lesser eviL by our own choice cut to pieces.
"Amongst the first that entered were myself, Messrs. Baillie, Jenks, Cooke, T. Coles. Ensign Scott, Revely, Law, and Buchanan, I got possession of the window nearest the door, and took Messrs. Coles and Scott into the window with me, they being both wounded (the first I believe mortally). The rest of the abovementioned gentlemen were close round me. It was now about eight o'clock.
"Figure to yourself the situation of a hundred and forty-six wretches, exhausted by continual fatigue and action, thus crammed together in a cube of about eighteen feet, in a close sultry night in Bengal, shut up eastward and southward (the only quarters from whence air could reach us) by dead walls, and by a door and wall to the north; open only to the westward by two windows, strongly barred with iron, from which they could receive scarce any the least circulation of fresh air.
"What must ensue appeared to me in lively and dreadful colours, the instant I cast my eyes round, and saw the size and situation of the room. Many unsuccessful attempts were made to force the door; for, Jiaving nothing but our hands to work with, and the door opening inwards, all endeavours were vain and fruitless.
"Observing every one giving way to the violence of passions which I foresaw must be fatal to them, I requested silence might be preserved while I spoke to them; and in the most pathetic and moving terms which occurred, I begged and entreated that, as they had paid a ready obedience to me in the day, they would now for their own sakes, and the sakes of those who were dear to them, and were interested in the preservation of their lives, regard the advice I had to give them. I assured them, the return of the day would give us air and liberty; urged them, that the only chance we had left for sustaining this misfortune, and surviving the night, was the preserving a calm mind and quiet resignation to our fate; entreating them to curb, as much as possible, every agitation of mind and body, as raving and giving loose to their passions could answer no purpose but that of hastening their destruction.
"This remonstrance produced a short interval of peace, and gave me a few minutes for reflection ; though even this pause was not a little disturbed by the cries and groans of the many wounded, and the more particularly of my two companions in the window. Death, attended with the most cruel train of circumstances, I plainly perceived, must prove our inevitable destiny. I had seen this in many shapes, and accustomed myself to think on the subject too much, to be alarmed at the prospect ; and, indeed, felt much more for my wretched companions than myself.
"Among the guards posted at the windows, I observed an old jemadar near me, who seemed to carry some compassion for us in his countenance; and, indeed, he was the only one of the many in his station who discovered the least trace of humanity. I called him to me, and, in the most, persuasive terms I was capable, urged him to
commiserate the sufferings he was a witness to, and pressed him to endeavour to get us separated, half in one place, and half in another, and that he should in the morning receive a thousand rupees for this act of tenderness. He promised he would attempt it, and withdrew; but in a few minutes returned, and told me it was impossible. I then thought I had been deficient in my offer, and promised him two thousand rupees. He withdrew a second time, but returned soon, and (with, I believe, much real pity and concern) told me it was not practicable; that it could not be done but by the Soubah's orders, who was sleeping, and that no one dared awake him.
"During this interval, though their passions were less violent, their uneasiness increased. We had been but a few minutes confined, before every one fell into a perspiration so profuse, you can form no idea of it. This consequently brought on a raging thirst, which still increased, in proportion as the body was drained of its moisture.
"Before nine o'clock, every man's thirst grew intolerable, and respiration difficult. Our situation was much more wretched than that of so many miserable animals in an exhausted receiver: no circulation of fresh air sufficient to continue life, nor yet enough divested of its vivifying particles to put a speedy period to it.
"My thirst grew now insupportable, and difficulty of breathing much mcreased; and I had not remained in this situation, I .believe, ten minutes, when I was seized with a pain iu my breast, and palpitation of my heart, both to the most exquisite degree. These roused, and obliged me to get up again ; but still the pain, palpitation, thirst, and difficulty of breathing increased. I retained my senses notwithstanding, and had the grief to see death not so near me as I hoped; but could no longer bear the pains I suffered without attempting a relief which I knew fresh air would and could only give me. I instantly determined to push for the window opposite me, and by an effort of double the strength I ever before possessed, gained the third rank at it, with one hand seized a bar, and by that means gained" a second, though I think there were at least six or seven ranks between me and the window.
"In a few moments my pain, palpitation, and difficulty of breathing ceased; but my thirst continued intolerable. I called aloud for water for God's sake. I had been concluded dead, but as soon as they heard me amongst them, they had still the respect and tenderness for me to cry out 'Give him water, give him water I' Nor would one of them at the window attempt to touch it until I had drunk. But from the water I found no relief—my thirst was rather increased by it; so I determined to drink no more, but patiently wait the event, and kept my month moist from time to time, by sucking the perspiration out of my shirtsleeves, and catching the drops as they fell, like heavy rain, from my head and face. You can hardly imagine how unhappy I was if any of them escaped my mouth; no Bristol water could be more soft or pleasant than what arose from perspiration.
"By half an hour past eleven, the much greater number of those living were in outrageous delirium, and the others quite ungovernable—few retaining any calmness but the ranks next the windows. By what I had felt myself, I was fully sensible what those within suffered, but had only pity to bestow upon them, not then thinking how soon I should myself become a greater object of it.
"They all now found that water, instead of relieving, rather heightened their uneasiness ; and 'Air, air !' was the general cry. Every insult that could be devised against the guard; all the opprobrious names and abuse that the Soubah, Manickehund, &c., could be loaded with, were used, to provoke the guard to fire upon us,—every man that could, rushing tumultuously towards the windows, with eager hopes of meeting the first shot. Then a general prayer to Heaven, to hasten the approach of the flames to the right and left of us, and put a period to our misery. But these failing, they whose strength and spirits were quite exhausted laid themselves down and expired quietly upon their fellows ; others, who had yet some vigour left, made a last effort for the windows, and several succeeded, by leaping and scrambling over the backs and heads of those in the first ranks, and got hold of the bars, from which there was no removing them. Many to the right and left sunk with the violent pressure, and were soon suffocated; for now a steam arose from the living and the dead, which affected us, in all its circumstances, as if we were forcibly held with our heads over a bowl full of strong volatile spirits of hartshorn. Nor could the effluvia of one be distinguished from the other; and frequently, when 1 was forced, by the load upon my head and shoulders, to hold my face down, I was obliged, near as I was to the window, instantly to raise it again, to escape suffocation.
"When I had borne this conflict above an hour with a train of wretched reflections, and seeing no glimpse of hope on which to found a prospect of relief, my spirits, resolution, and every sentiment of religion gave way. I found I was unable , much longer to support this trial, and could not bear the dreadful thoughts of retiring into the inner part of the prison, where I had before suffered so much.
Some infernal spirit, taking advantage of this period, brought to my remembrance my having a small clasp-knife in my pocket; with which I determined instantly to open my arteries, and finish a system no longer to be borne. I had got it out, when Heaven interposed, and restored me to fresh spirits and resolution, with an abhorrence of the act of cowardice I was just going to commit. I exerted anew my strength and fortitude; but the repeated trials and efforts I made to dislodge the insufferable incumbrances upon flie, at last quite exhausted me, and towards two o'clock, finding I must quit the window, or sink where I was, I resolved the former, having borne infinitely more for life than the best of it is worth.
"In the rank close behind me was an officer of one of the ships, whose name was Carey, who had behaved with much bravery during the siege (his wife, a fine womaD, though country-born, would not quit him, but accompanied him into the prison, and was one who survived.)* This poor wretch had been long raving for water and air. I told him I was determined to give up life, and recommended his gaining my situation. On my quitting, he made a fruitless attempt to get my place; but the Dutch seijeant who sat on my shoulder supplanted him.
"Poor Carey expressed his thankfulness, and said he would give up life too; but it was with the utmost labour we forced our way from the window (several in the inner ranks appearing to m'e dead standing). He laid himself down to die; and his death I believe was very sudden, for he was a short, full, sanguine man. His strength was great; and, I imagine, had he not retired with me, I should never have been able to have forced my way.
"I was at this time sensible of no pain, and little uneasiness. I can give you no better idea of my situation than by repeating my simile of the bowl of spirits of hartshorn. I found a stupor coming on apace, and laid myself down by that gallant old man, the Reverend Mr. Jervas Bellamy, who lay dead with his son, the lieutenant, hand in hand, near the southernmost wall of the prison.
"When I had lain there some little time, I still had reflection enough to suffer some uneasiness in the thought that I should be trampled upon, when dead, as I myself had done on others. With some difficulty I raised myself, and gained the platform a second time, where I presently lost all sensation. The last trace of sensibility that I have been able'to recollect, after my lying
* This unfortunate lady fell a prey to the lusts of Mecr Jaffier Khan, and ended her eventful life in his zenana.
down, was my sash being uneasy about my waist, which I untied and threw away from me.
"In my own escape from absolute death, the hand of Heaven was manifestly exerted. The manner was as follows: when the day broke, and the gentlemen found that no entreaties could prevail to get the door opened, it occurred to one of them (I think to Mr. Secretary Cooke) to make a search for me, in hopes I might have influence enough to gain a release from this scene of misery. Accordingly, Messrs. Lushington and Walcot undertook the search, and, by my shirt, discovered me under the dead upon the platform. They took me from thence; and, imagining I had some signs of life, brought me toward* the window I had first possession of.
"At this juncture the Soubah, who had received an account of the havoc death had made amongst us, sent one of his jemadars to inquire if the chief survived. They showed me to him, told him I had appearance of life remaining, and believed I might recover if the door was opened very soon. This answer being returned to the Soubah, an order came immediately for our release, it being then near six in the morning.*
"The fresh air at the window soon brought me to life ; and a few minutes after the departure of the jemadar, I was restored to my sight and senses. But oh! Sir, what words shall I adopt, to tell you the whole that my soul suffered at reviewing the dreadful destruction around me? I will not attempt it; and, indeed, tears (a tribute I believe I shall ever pay to the remembrance of the scene, and to the memory of those brave and valuable men) stop my pen."
This is a long extract, but it would have been bad taste to have attempted a story of the memorable tragedy in my own language, when one by the principal victim remained, and of which I was able to avail myself. Mr. Holwell's appearance was so pitiful, when he entered the presence of the Soubah, that the latter ordered him to be seated, and gave him water. He then accused Mr. Holwell of being privy to the fact that great treasures were secreted in the fort, and told him that, if he expected favour, he must confess where they lay.
There being no treasure, Mr. Holwell could not arrange the suggested stipulation, whereupon he was ordered prisoner under
* By two o'clock in the morning not more than fifty were alive. When the day broke, the survivors were reduced to twenty-three. One hundred and twenty-three festering corpses were heaped upon the floor and platform of that horrible charnel-house, and afterwards flung, one upon the other, into a ditch of the fort.—D. L. R.
Meer Muddon, general of the household troops, and, with three gentlemen selected to be his Companions, sent the same day to the camp, and soon loaded with fetters. After enduring much pain and ill-treatment, they were transferred to Moorshedabad, and there deposited in an open stable, adjacent to the Soubah's palace, under a guard of sepoys. The change was, however, an agreeable one. The French and Dutch chiefs of Cossimbazar did all that lay in their power to aid the victims, and a considerable amount of similar feeling was evinced by Mr. Warren Hastings, and Mr. Chambers (afterwards knighted), who then happened to be at Moorshedabad.
In the dark pages of history, no night of horrors stands out in such revolting vividness as the one Mr. Holwell has just described. And yet, it would be unjust to accuse the Soubah of actually being the cause of the suffering; in fact, the evidence of Mr. Holwell is in the chiefs favour, and the responsibility of the guilt lies at the feet of his menials. For extremity of suffering, even the cruelties of Nero rank below it; and that bell which tolled on the memorable midnight in Paris, 1572, ushering in the fearful massacre of the Huguenots, chimed to immediate death and brief agonies, and not to a whole night of protracted individual suffering.
Major D. L. Richardson, of whom I have much to say when treating of the literary men of Calcutta, wrote a charming little sketch of the Black Hole atrocities. He says : " John Zephaniah Holwell was born atDublin in 1711. He was educated forthe medical profession. He elected, however, a different line of life, and came out to India, in 1732, as a clerk in the service of the East India Company. Only four years later, he was a Member of the Council in Fort William. In 1751 he was Zemindar of Calcutta.* Five years after, he took command of Fort William, his seniors in office having abandoned their post in the hour of danger. He visited England in 1758, and returned to India in the following year. On the 8th of February 1760 he succeeded Lord Clive as President of the Council and Governor of Fort William. He resigned the service on the 29th of September 1760. He soon after returned to England, where he died, in -the eighty-seventh year of his age."
Mr. Holwell was not a person of brilliant genius or fine accomplishments, but he was a valuable public officer, and was greatly esteemed by all who knew him well either
* A Zemindar acted in the double capacity of Superintendent and Collector of Revenue, and a Judge. Calcutta was purchased by the English as a Zemindary in the year 1698.