September 12, 2010

A History of Ancient Bombay (Part III)

Continued from previous post
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The Brabourne Stadium was built on a piece of land reclaimed from the sea which Lord Brabourne, Governor of Bombay (1931-1937), presented to the Cricket Club of India (CCI) after being tempted with an offer of immortality in the bargain by being assured that the stadium would be named after him. It was officially opened on 7 December 1937 following with a match between the CCI and Lord Tennyson's team. The idea that the ground would be the Lord's of India (the CCI was regarded as the county's MCC) was the brainchild of a Goan, Neville de Mello. After it was built, the Pentangular (Europeans, Hindus, Parsis, Mohameddans, and the Rest - comprising of Buddhists, Jews and Christians) shifted here from the Bombay Gymkhana in 1937-38 season. The first test match played at the Stadium was between India and the West Indies 9-13 December 1948.
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In the days of the East India Company, big game hunting (shikar) and horse racing were the chief social diversions. Horse racing in Bombay has a long and chequered history dating back to at least 1797 at what is now the Oval Maidan. By 1882 this course was abandoned for racing purposes and a move was made to the present site at Mahalaxmi, where, under the guidance of army Major Hughes, the finest racing course in the entire East and one of the finest in the world, was laid. However, after 1857, other sports such as cricket, football, hockey, golf, and tennis were gradually introduced to Bombay. And the orbit of social amenities became wider. The Royal Bombay Golf Club was formed in 1842 and for a long time golfers had to be content with links on the Esplanade, the oval and Marine Lines maidans. But by 1922 the Presidency Golf Club was formed with exceptionally long 18-hole course at the Mazagaon-Sewri reclamation. There was an 18-hole golf course in Bandra and it was called Danda Green with an English style Club House on the top of the hill, surrounded by trees. Membership was only for the British who lived in Pali Hill. Each cottage had a stable for horses.
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The first Chinese, mostly Cantonese from Hong Kong, were brought to the city around 1820 by the East Indian Company to work as welders and fitters at the Mazagaon Docks. They settled down around Mazagaon and even now the main Chinese temple in the city is on Nawab Tank Road (formerly called Chinese Street), Mazagaon. When steel ships made their debut, the engine room in every ship that called at Bombay in those days was staffed by Chinese engineers and mechanics.
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The Cantonese were followed by the Hakka Chinese, who came from Kolkata where the community was more numerous. While the Hakka were largely in the tanning and shoe-making business, another group, the Hupeh, prospered in Bombay as dentists and restaurateurs. Sankli Street, Byculla and Grant Road were the hub of the community. Shuklaji Street near Grant Road station was Bombay’s unofficial “Chinatown”, with five Chinese restaurants and an equal number of social clubs. The community even had a cemetery on the street, before it fell into disuse and was converted into a basketball court. The Chinese then shifted their cemetery to Wadala where there was hardly anything else except fuel depots and godowns. Chinese dentists were popular among the lower middle-class in the Bhendi Bazaar-Falkland Road area. Just before the 1962 Indo-China War, there were more or less 15,000 Chinese in Bombay. However, as their loyalty began to be questioned, during and after 1962 with some Chinese establishments being stoned, a large number migrated to Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.
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On Saturday 16th of April, 1853 a 21-mile long railway line, the first in India, between Bombay's Victoria Terminus and Thana was opened. The Great Indian Peninsular (GIP) and the Bombay Baroda and Central India (BB&CI) Railway were started in 1860 and a regular service of steamers on the west coast was commenced in 1869. Also during this period Bombay enjoyed great economic wealth. Raw cotton from Gujarat was shipped to Lancashire in England through Bombay port, and after being spun and woven into cloth, returned to be sold in the Indian market. The outbreak of the American Civil War in 1860 increased the demand for cotton in Western Europe since exports of that commodity could not take place from America. Cotton fields in Mississippi and Arkansas were untended from 1860-1865, Europe, and especially England, was denied raw material for its weaving industry. The city of Bombay and the region around it extending upto Berar and Kutch emerged as a parallel hub for cotton yarn and finished cloth. Several personal fortunes were made during this period from the resulting speculative trade, India being the only country in the British Empire which could satisfy the demand. However, in 1866 the civil war in American ended abruptly and the Bombay cotton market crashed. Several companies and eminent businessmen went bankrupt almost overnight! The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 brought the West closer to Bombay, and as the city became more prosperous, many schemes were launched for reclaiming additional land and building more roads and wharves. Bombay began to attract fortune hunters by the hundreds and the population had swelled from 13,726 in 1780 to 644,405 in 1872, in a little over a hundred years. By 1906 the population of Bombay was to become 977,822.
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The BB&CI headquarters building at Churchgate was constructed in 1870. On the 10th of January 2001 this building will have completed 131 years. The headquarters of the BB&CI railway were originally at Surat, since that city was more prominent then Bombay at that time. They were shifted to Bombay in 1863 and located at Lal Baugh on Parel Island. In 1870 the offices were moved to Dhanji Street at Grant Road, and from there once again to Meadows Street, Fort and finally to Churchgate street. Earlier the trains originated in South Bombay from the Colaba station, which no longer exists. The first train departed from the Colaba in 1864. However, in 1933 the Colaba station was discontinued and the trains terminated at Churchgate.
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Bombay is the finest example in the world of high Victorian Gothic revival and its credit is due to Frederick William Stevens who practiced as an architect during the Gothic's most popular revival movement. The most famous landmarks of Stevens relate to Victoria Terminus (1888), Municipal Corporation Building, Churchgate Building and so on. Stevens designed the BB&CI Headquarters Building in 1893, construction commenced in 1894 and ended in 1899. His son and Raosaheb Khanderao assisted him. Stevens was awarded with the O.B.E. by the then Queen Victoria for his services to Bombay. This building is faced with the blue basalt stone, and the domes, mouldings, capitals, columns; cornices and carvings are in Kurla, Dhrangadhra and Porbander Stone. The style of the building blended the Indo-Saracenic with the Venetian Gothic and the final appearance tends more towards the Indian than the Italian does. On 14th November, 1905 the building was illuminated with oil lamps burning in coconut shells to grace the visit of Prince and Princess of Wales (later King George V). Around that time there was a fire in the building that was extinguished with the help of Railway, Army and Navy personnel but not before causing considerable damage. Within a year the building was reconstructed at a cost of Rs. 3 lakhs, under the supervision of F.W. Steven's son, Mr. Charles F. Stevens.
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Postal and telegraphic communication contributed to Bombay's importance as it connected her with other cities of India as well as with the mother country, England. But the actual postal service till 1854 was successfully organized by a Parsi, Mehervandaru Postwalla. From an office on his own veranda on Bazar Gate Street this enterprising individual undertook to post letters for the public at a fee of one pice per letter. He also employed clerks, who wrote letters at a fee for the illiterate on flimsy paper that they then rolled up in the form of a cigar and gummed, writing the address on a small space of the paper kept blank for the purpose. Most of the postal peons were Parsis. With the aid of an agency, letters were also distributed throughout the Presidency. Postage stamps were unknown and a letter from Bombay to Calcutta cost Re. 1 per tola, and a letter from Calcutta to Agra cost 12 annas, while the postage on a daily paper for a moderate distance in India was Rs 50 per annum. The mail service from Poona was controlled by Pestonjee Sorabjee who sent the post down the ghats by road in bullock carts, via Panvel in a shorter time than the trains later took it. This system went on till, as a result of a commission appointed in 1850 by the Government of India to report on the working the post office throughout the country, the Indian Post Act XVII of 1854 was promulgated, marking the commencement of the organization of the inland post office and systemizing postal rates, so that a letter not extending 1/4 tola in weight was conveyed any distance within the East India Company's territories for half an anna. In 1852 the Bombay Steam Navigation Company had entered into a contract with the Government of India for conveyance of mails between Bombay and Karachi. This continued till 1862 when the British India Steam Navigation Company undertook to run a bimonthly service on the same line. The Indian Postal Act was passed in 1856 and 10 years later the money order system of sending cash was started. All this took place under the Governorship of Sir Bartle Frere.
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At the beginning of the nineteenth century the usual means of carriage conveyance in Bombay had been what were called the "shigram" (horse-drawn), the "reckla" (bullock-drawn) and the "palkhi" (palanquin, carried by bearers). Now the "ghoda-gharry", a horse-drawn vehicle, joined them. A modified version of it was put on the roads in 1882 and the people called it “Victoria”. There were some twenty-five or thirty stands for victorias in the city - at Colaba, Apollo Bunder, the Municipal Offices at Victoria Terminus, the Portuguese Church at Girgaum, and at Lalbaugh. The fares were modest: for a mile's road, the horse-drawn vehicle charged four annas (twenty-five paise) and the "reckla" only three annas. Of course the wedding season or a dislocation caused by heavy rains was then, as now, something of a heaven-sent opportunity for the victoria-drivers to pitch their fares higher. Bullock carts carried all the heavier goods. There were no hand-carts (haat-gharry) as yet in Bombay.
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Following the First War of Independence (some British history books call it the "Sepoy Mutiny") of 1857 in which the heroic Queen of Jhansi and her adopted infant son were killed (on June 17, 1858), the East India Company was accused of mismanagement and the islands reverted to the British Crown in 1858. The Jhansi-ki-Rani or the Queen of Jhansi has a special place in India’s history for she bravely fought the British in battle with a sword in each hand and her infant son strapped on her back! This she did because she trusted nobody for the safety of her son and successor to the throne of Jhansi, for they could be easily bought over by the British.
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Although Bombay did not play any pivotal role in the ‘mutiny’ of 1857, as any commercial city it reacted to the news coming from northern India. The stock trading came to a halt as prices fell. An immediate panic seized the local businessmen and large sums of moneys were withdrawn from British-owned banks, Government securities became worthless as people holding them tried to sell them. Large-scale hoarding of essential goods commenced. Charles Forjett, of whom I shall write again later, was the Chief Police detective in Bombay at that time. His job was to maintain peace in the city and prevent any incident from occurring. His swarthy complexion and dark black hair, suggesting a non-British parentage, encouraged him to blacken his face, wear local dress and often walk the streets of Bombay in disguise gathering intelligence and feeling the pulse of the people. So intense was the fear among the Europeans of the native populations that they left their bungalows and quarters in Colaba and the Fort and moved on to British ships lying in the harbor for a time. It came to the ears of Forjett that there was dissent in the infantry garrison in the city, so he went under disguise to the house of one Ganga Prasad at Sonapur (near Marine Lines) where he uncovered a plot by the sepoys to attack the British in Bombay at Diwali time. He moved swiftly and arrested the ring-leaders, Drill Havildar Sayed Hussein of the Marine Battalion and Sepoy Mangal Gudrea of the 10th Native Indian Regiment. In order to make them an example to the rest of the native population Forjett decided to carry out the court’s sentence in a dramatic fashion. On October 15 at 4:30 pm the two unfortunate prisoners were brought out on the Esplanade, tied with their back to two canons and blown to bits. This macabre execution took place in front of a huge crowd of local and Europeans and was Forjett’s way of maintaining law and order in the city. After independence, almost a century later, the Esplanade maidan was re-named the Azad maidan in memory of those who fought for India’s freedom.
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In the meantime, Poona, was not far behind in revolting against the British. Rumblings were heard that placards had been put up offering a reward of Rs.5000/- for the head of the Governor, Lord Elphinstone. It was rumoured but never proved that the Peshwa, Nana Saheb, was hatching a plot and that the prominent Bombay businessman Jagganath Shankarshet was in cohoots with him. However, the truth was that British vested interests were using this rumour to eliminate Shankarshet. It was common, after the mutiny was crushed by the British, to accuse their business rivals of plotting against the Europeans and thereby removing them from the scene, as was also seen in Assam. Forjett arrested Shankarshet and he was to spend 11 days in custody where we are told he was tortured. Shankarshet was on good terms with the Governor and Forjett did find some incriminating documents, but a compromise was worked out, as no concrete plot was hatched, and the prisoner was set free. The Thakurdwar Road that runs from Dhobi Talao up to Girgaum was re-named Jugganath Shnkarshet Road in his honor. Also, his bust is memorialized on a roundel at Victoria Terminus. As for Forjett, a street that connects Tardeo Road with Cumballa Hill Road has been named after him.
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Queen Victoria’s proclamation, reverting India to the British Crown, was read out by Lord Elphinstone from the top-most step of the Town Hall in Bombay in 1858, thus bringing down the curtain on the old East India Company raj in India.
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By mid-18th century murmurs about the obsolescence of the fort were doing the rounds in Bombay. Finally, a committee was appointed which made the following observations: the Fort had become militarily irrelevant, commerce, industry and the population of Bombay was increasing and a fast developing railway network would stimulate growth even further, and lastly land was needed for much building work that had to be done to accommodate the new economic realities. In 1862 Sir Henry Bartle Frere was appointed Governor (the first Governor appointed by the Crown), an office which he held until 1867. It was he who ultimately gave the order to demolish the Fort. The contract to demolish the fort was given to a Parsi Shapoorjee Jeejeebhoy Lakdavala. However, two sons of this contractor soon died of cholera and the residents of the fort area began to view the demolition of the fort walls with trepidation. What became of the stones of Bombay Fort? Some were used to fill up the moats on the landward sides of the Fort, others were used in the reclamation of the Apollo Bunder where the Gate Way of India stands. The guns which were on the ramparts were dismantled and some allowed to be buried in the debris.
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Although long vanished, the city of Bombay once had many water tanks within its city limits. The tanks were once the sole source of water to the city. The only remaining testimony to their existence is the names of the roads in the vicinity which befuddles many citizens as to the original location to these mystifying relics of the past. The oldest tank was the Cowasjee Patel Tank built in 1775. A total of ten tanks were built between the 18th and 19th century. The tanks were named after philanthropic citizens who donated money to fund the building of these tanks so that the citizens of the city would get a fresh source of drinking water. The tanks were: 1) Cowasji Rustamji Patel Tank (CP Tank), 2) Gowalia Tank, 3) Khara Tank, 4) Two Tanks (Do Tanki), 5) Babula Tank, 6) Nawab Tank, 7) Framji Cowasji Tank, 8) Mumbadevi Tank, 9) Banganga Tank, 10) Bandra Tank. Out of this list only the Banganga Tank and the Bandra Tank are still in existence today. The CP Tank was built by Cowasji Rustamjee Patel in the Girgaon area in 1775. The Framji Cowasji Tank bordered Esplanade and was built by Framji Cowasji in 1831. All that remains of the tank is a plaque on a wall opposite. The Framji Cowasji Hall now stands where the tank once existed. The Babula Tank was built near the Grant Medical College and the Mumbadevi Tank was constructed by a pious woman named Putlibai. The Banganga Tank close to Haji Ali, has been present since ancient times, said to be from the time of the Pandavas, and is fed by a natural spring despite being only a few meters from the sea.
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The tanks were mostly constructed in the congested areas and their waters were prone to pollution and contamination. The scarcity of water was acutely felt in Bombay in those days and it was left to the mercy of the monsoon rains from July to September each year to bring relief to the citizens. According to the Bombay City Gazetteer published in 1909, the water-level in these tanks were often very low and had to be replenished by sinking new wells all over Bombay. In 1846, the city faced an acute water shortage following which Framji Cowasji sank three wells in its gardens to provide water by steam machinery. Later in 1856, the city once again faced a severe drought, and an edict was set out relocating all city cattle to the suburb of Mahim, which was the periphery of the city at that time. Thousands would gather daily around the tank at the Esplanade to collect water, while the government brought thousands of water in drums from far off distances to empty into wells at Bori Bunder, Chinch Bunder and Dongri areas. After regular piped water supply was established to the city thanks to the Vihar and Tulsi lakes around 1860, the tanks were declared redundant and soon became a breeding ground for mosquito and consequently were filled in. The famous Gowalia Tank Maidan is on top of the original tank of the same name.
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In 1825 Framji Cawasji Banaji, a merchant prince and Parsi sethia, bought the spacious ground called “Moog-bhat Wadi”, opposite the Cawasji Patel Tank (C.P. Tank). There he constructed 3 large wells. From these wells by means of steam driven pumps Framji supplied water through pipes to two reservoirs that were dug out at the eastern part of Kamathipura. Laying pipes to carry water in those days was a novelty. This area came to be known as Two Tanks (or “Do Tanki”). From these water reservoirs the thirsty congested areas of Kamathipura, Duncan Road and Girgaum were supplied with water. The Framji Cawasji Talao (later to be known as "Dhobi Talao") was built in 1831. For 29 years it served as a source of water supply to the then sedate city of the 1830s. But it was easily contaminated due to unhygienic conditions of use and was a source of diseases. It was soon to be filled up and today houses a busy road junction. In the mean time, the piped water supply from Tulsi and Vehar lakes (and later Tansa) was inaugurated around 1860 and Bombay could boast of 24 hours water supply at homes for the first time. Reservoirs at Malabar Hill and Bhandarwada (Dock Yard Road) were constructed to maintain pressure in the water taps. And until the late 1950s the force in the water supply was sufficient to permit filling up of overhead water-tanks in buildings up to four or five stories high in all of Bombay without resorting to the use of electrical or hand pumps.
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One reform which met with much superstitious opposition, before it was implemented, was the sealing and banning the use of water from open wells, "talaos" (ponds) and tanks that bred mosquitos. A good drainage system was also constructed at the same time. However, several decades later, the same wells were to serve Bombay by providing non-potable water to supplement the supply from the lakes. This was true especially during those years when the monsoons failed to provide sufficient water in the catchment areas of the lakes. However, well water is now used all over the city to supplement the water received from the lakes.
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By 1863 the town had spread over the lands reclaimed through constructions of causeways and it is from this date we have the rise of the modern city of Bombay. In 1864 a fountain was to be erected in honor of Sir Bartle at the Victoria Gardens by the Agri-Horticultural Society of Western India. It was built at a total cost of Rs. 47,000, Rs. 20,000 of which came from the purse of Cursetjee Fardoonjee Parekh. Somehow, the plans were changed at the last moment and the fountain, named after the Greek goddess Flora, was placed in the center of the city on what used be known as Hornby Road, at exactly the same spot where the Church Gate of the original British fort once stood. Curiously, no plaque was placed on the fountain to commemorate the name of Governor in whose memory it was supposed to have been erected although the name of the Parsi donor is mentioned.
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Lord Sandhurst governed Bombay between 1895 and 1900 and it was during his tenure that the bubonic plague played havoc with life in the city and it was partly as a result of his push that the Act was passed which constituted the CIT which, among other things, built the Sandhurst Road in 1910 and handed it over to the municipality. The Sandhurst Road railway station (upper level) was built in 1921 with steel girders imported from Glasgow in Scotland.
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Following the demolition of the Fort, the later half of the 19th century was also to see a feverish construction of buildings in Bombay, many of which such as, the Victoria Terminus, the General Post Office, Municipal Corporation, the Prince of Wales Museum, Rajabai Tower and Bombay University Buildings, Elphinstone College (which was originally built for housing the Government Central Press at a cost of Rs 7.5 lakhs) and the Sir Cawasji Jehangir Hall, Crawford Market, the Old Secretariat (Old Customs House), the Public Works Department (PWD) Building, and the Cama and Albless hospitals, built around the 1870s, still stand today as major landmarks.
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Named after Bombay's first municipal commissioner, Arthur Crawford, the Crawford Market was at the northern end of the old British part of the town, and faces the crowded inner city. An elegant covered market, it dominated the skyline with its clock tower and steeple. The cavernous spaces inside are divided into sections for fruits, vegetables and meat. The building, completed in 1869, was donated to the city by Sir Cawasji Jehangir. The friezes on the outside walls and the stone fountains inside were designed by John Lockwood Kipling. In 1996, due to congestion in Bombay city, the wholesale traders at Crawford Market were shifted to New Bombay.
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It was in the period from 1820 to 1857 that Bombay took its first strides towards becoming a modern city. The period witnessed many significant changes. The most important of them, probably, was the use of steamships for the voyage to England, and the opening of the "overland route". Bombay built its first steamer in about 1830. The ship was propelled by the paddle wheels on its sides. One went by steamer to Suez, then traveled by land to a Mediterranean seaport for taking a boat to England. This was the overland route. Up until then one had to take a voyage round the Cape of Good Hope, and it meant a voyage of no less than five months! Now it was a matter of a mere month and a half. With England thus brought closer, the trade between India and England began to expand. Bombay started wearing a new complexion. The entire water-front from Colaba to Mazagaon was soon lined by wharfs, docks, godowns and warehouses.
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The docks at Bombay are a monument of the industry, enterprise and integrity of the Wadia family that moved in from Surat at the instigation of the British. For it was in 1735, that Lowjee Nusserwanji, a Parsi foreman from the east India Company’s shipyards in Surat was invited by the British to build ships and modernize the Bombay shipyards. Lowjee’s arrival in the city with five members of his own family, marks the beginning of Bombay’s ultimate transformation into one of the busiest sea-ports in Asia. The British rewarded Lowjee Nusserwanji with vast lands in Bombay and gave him the title of “Wadia” (shipbuilder). The Wadia family built two palatial mansions: Lowjee Castle and Lalbaugh. The area where the Lalbaugh mansion stood is still known by that name.
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In 1832, the son Jamshedji Wadia, a master ship-builder constructed the "HMS Cornwallis", a frigate of 50 guns, for the East India Company, a success which led to several orders from the British Navy. The Treaty of Nanking, ceding Hong Kong to the British, was signed on board the Cornwallis. Also, the national anthem of the United States of America, “The Star Spangled Banner”, was composed by Francis Scott Key on a parchment while he was imprisoned aboard the British man-of-war “HMS Minden” built by the Wadias at the Duncan Dock in Bombay on the night of September 13, 1814. At that time, the guns of the British ships bombarded Fort McHenry at Baltimore throughout the night. However, when dawn broke, the American flag was still flying over the fort. That sight as seen by Key from his confinement quarters inspired him to pen the words in a poem “The Defense of Fort McHenry” that later was to later become the national anthem of a new independent nation.
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Continued below