Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Black Hole of Calcutta - June 20th, 1756

The Black Hole of Calcutta

(The following are excerpts taken from the Scots Magazine of February 1758!)
(A genuine narrative of the deplorable deaths of the English gentlemen, and others, who were suffocated in the Black Hole in Fort William, at Calcutta, in the kingdom of Bengal, in the night succeeding the 20th day of June 1756. In a letter to a friend)
The narrative as rendered by Mr. J.Z. Holwell, Esq to Mr. William Davis, Esq;
Holwell says;
"The ill conduct of Drake, the late Governor of Calcutta, having unjustly imprisoned a very famous  merchant of the country, whose name was Omychand, and who was a Gentoo, drew the resentment of the Viceroy 'the Suba ' (Surajud-Dowla, Viceroy of Bengal).
The Viceroy retaliated against Drake, causing Drake to desert his men, and Mr. Holwell taking command, which further incensed the Viceroy, causing the Viceroy to take 146 persons including Mr. Holwell as prisoners to the Black Hole prison in the fort. 
Black Hole Prison
The inside of the Black Hole prison room where these men were imprisoned:
The floor was 324 square feet.
This divided by 146, gives a space of something more than 26 inches and a half by 12 inches to each person; which if reduced to a square will be 18 inches by 18 inches
Holwell says
" Figure to yourself my friend, if possible the situation of 146 wretches, exhausted by fatigue and action, thus crammed in a square of about 18 feet, in a close sultry night in Bengal, shut up to the eastward and southward (the only quarters from whence air could reach us) by dead walls, and by a wall and door to the north, open only to the westward by two windows, strongly barred with iron, from which we could receive scare if any the least circulation of fresh air
Many unsuccessful attempts were made to force the door, but having nothing but our hands to work with, and the door opening inward, all endeavours were vain and fruitless"
The night ended with few survivors including Mr. Holwell and the rest dead!
The publisher's note:
Interestingly Mr. Holwell in his narrative did all that he possibly could to assuage the condition of his soldiers and men;
1. Request to stay disciplined
2. Offer of money to the Jemmautdaar (Sergeant) to get half the men into another cell, Rs. 1000/- the first time and Rs. 2000/- the second time, but to no avail
3. Allowing men to strip their uniforms
4. Allowing the use of Hats to fan air
5. Request for Water
The Scot Magazine:

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