September 12, 2010

A History of Ancient Bombay (Part IV)

Continued from previous post
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Bombay-built ships were better and larger than any built during hat period principally because they were constructed using the finest Malabar teak. They were half the cost of the same class of ships built in Europe. In all the Wadias, between 1735 and 1863, built 170 war vessels for the Company and the British, 34 man-of-war for the British Navy, 87 merchant vessels for private firms, and three vessels for the Queen of Muscat at Bombay docks. On October 19, 1817 was launched the “HMS Trincomalee”, a frigate of 46 guns and displacing 1065 tons. This is perhaps the most well-known ship built by the Wadias. It was used at the Battle of the Nile under the command of Lord Nelson. This is the oldest surviving ship of the Royal Navy built in Bombay restored at Hartlepool in England and is still afloat as a maritime museum there.
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In 1870 the Bombay Port Trust (BPT) was formed. The Princess Dock was built in the year 1885 and the Victoria Dock and the Mereweather Dry Dock in 1891. Alexandra Dock was completed in 1914. The Gateway of India was built much later and completed on 4 December 1924 to commemorate the visit of King George V and his consort Queen Mary for the Darbar (Court) at Delhi in 1911. The visit was the first by a British monarch to India. The land for the Gateway was reclaimed from the sea between 1915 and 1919. The total construction cost was Rs 21 lakhs.
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From time-to-time the Dockyard was modernized and its southern portion underwent a sea of changes. At one time, the Yatch Club (opp. the Gate Way of India) and the Sailor's Home (now office of the Inspector General of Police) formed part of the Docks. The area now known as Cooperage derives its name from the Coopers who used to manufacture shipping appliances. The area around the Rope Walk Lane on Rampart Row (now K. Dubash Marg) was where roping for sea-going vessels was made.
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The rapid growth of Bombay's commerce had led to a large influx of migrant workers. In the 1891 census the population of Bombay was counted to be 820,000. Most of the mill workers (over 70%) lived in crowded chawls. The city services were not geared towards the well-being of this part of the population and various diseases were endemic to the chawl slums. The closing years of the 19th Century, therefore, were tragic for Bombay as the bubonic plague caused great destruction of human life once more. In September 1896 the first case of bubonic plague was detected in the slum chawls of Nowroji Hill close to Dongri by Dr. Acacio Gabriel Viegas from Goa who was a medical practitioner in the city. His timely discovery helped saved many lives in the city. He was also credited with the inoculation of 18,000 residents against the dreaded disease. He later turned to politics (1899) and became the first native Christian president of the Bombay Municipal Corporation in 1906. The plague spread rapidly to other parts of the city from Mandvi area, and the death toll was estimated at 1900 people per week through the rest of 1896. Many people fled from Bombay at this time, and in the census of 1901, the population had actually fallen to 780,000. At its height the plague took a toll of 3000 lives every week during the closing months of 1899 and the beginning of 1900. One significant result of the plague epidemic was the creation of the City Improvement Trust (CIT) on 9th December 1898 by an act of the British parliament. This in later years encouraged the development of the suburbs for residential purposes to remove the congestion and unhygienic conditions prevailing in the fortified city. One of the measures taken by the CIT was the building of roads, like Princess Street and Sydenham Road (now Mohammed Ali Road), which would channel the sea air into the more crowded parts of the town.
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The Dadar-Matunga-Wadala-Sion scheme of 1899-1900 was the first planned suburban scheme in Bombay. Access to the scheme was through the newly completed Mohammed Ali Road. The CIT formulated this plan in order to relieve congestion in the center of the town. The plans regulated constructions with well-laid out plots, gardens, and emphasis on proper sanitation. No building was to be more than three storeys high, and the buildings were to have open spaces between them. The land-use was planned to be a mix of residential, commercial and institutional constructions. 440 acres of land was procured and leased to the Government for selling. For the first time housing cooperatives were formed to take advantage of newly developed land. The Mancherji Joshi Parsi Colony and Hindu Colony in Dadar-Matunga and the Tamil colony in Matunga-Sion were developed in this way. Matunga became an educational institution hub due to the shifting of the Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute (VJTI) from Byculla in 1923, where the building provided to it by Sir Dinshaw Manockji Petit was not sufficient for the growing number of students. The same was the case with the Don Bosco High School which shifted to Matunga from Tardeo in 1937. The Khalsa, Ruia and Podar Colleges were all constructed from private funds in 1937-1938.
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The origins of the present day Bombay police can be traced back to a militia organized by the Governor of Bombay in 1669 and housed in Mahim, Sewree and Sion barracks. Three years later the judicial overview of courts was introduced to attract immigration to Bombay from the mainland. The situation remained unchanged through the Maratha wars. In 1811, with the port of Bombay safe from Maratha attacks, a new system was introduced with a Senior Magistrate heading the police, judiciary and the municipal administration. The Police Chief, a post created in 1779, was subordinated to the Magistrate. The first Police Act was passed in 1812. The first traffic control rules were set up to govern bullock and handcarts in 1815. The next change was in 1864, when the three Presidency towns of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras were given Commissioners of Police. On Dec 14, 1864, Sir Frank Souter was appointed the first Police Commissioner of Bombay. He remained in office for 24 years, till July 3, 1888. The year 1864 was also notable for the first appointment of an Indian, Khan Bahadur Sheikh Ibrahim Sheikh Imam, to a police officer's post. Robert Hampe-Vincent, a German, was Commissioner from 1893 to 1899. In 1896 the Commissioner's office moved to the Gothic building opposite the Crawford Markey that it still occupies.
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In 1851 and again in 1874 riots broke out in the city between the Parsis and the Muslims. The Muslims alleged that an objectionable reference had been made regarding their religion/prophet in a publication whose author was a Parsi. On October 7th 1851 a "jihad" (holy war) was declared on the Parsis and their quarters in the city were mercilessly attacked and looted. The Police, under British command, did not interfere laying the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Parsis. In February 1874 the Muslims again attacked the Parsis, this time targeting their fire-temples instead of residential quarters. Several fires were extinguished and the religious books burned. The Parsis had to put up with shocking atrocities, such as defilement of their corpses.
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As Bombay's superintendent of police in 1885, Charles Forjett was a favorite of the Indian people and was able to broker a peace between the Muslims and the Parsis. Many wept openly when he returned to England. He sacked British constables who unduly harassed the locals and cracked down on the Parsi 'mafia' which was involved in the liquor business in the Falkland Road area. This area, once a Parsi stronghold, also included the famous "Play House" that was demarcated in 1895, the locals corrupting the name to "Pilhouse". The "Pilhouse" area would acquire notoriety in later years for its infamous "cages" housing Bombay's red-light district. Actually this area was set up by the British for recreation of their troops (both Indian and English) and had nautch or mujra (dancing) girls as well as sex workers. Mujra, originally all rapid turns and rhythmic footwork, dumped itself down to a tease-art to pleasure first the Hindu kings and then the Mughal court at Delhi. When feudal patronage became unreliable with the arrival of British rule, mujrawalis, hailing mostly from Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, took to the cities like Banaras, Allahabad, and of course Bombay (where the real money was to be made). When the British left in 1947 the area, Kamamthipura, was taken over by Indian sex workers and the nautch or mujra girls gradually disappeared. The area also has a large number of movie theatres with names like Alfred (originally Ripon Theatre), New Roshan, Royal, Coronation, etc. Interestingly, most of these theatres had Muslim dargahs (Muslim chapels) on their premises. This was because the land on which the theatres were constructed in that part of Bombay once formed part of a Muslim graveyard! In 1913 the first Indian silent film, Raja Harishchandra, directed by Dadasaheb B. Phalke was released. It was a very serious film that told the tragic story of Raja Harishchandra. A Parsi theatre group soon came up with a play of the same name that was in fact a parody of the original story. Naturally, this did not amuse the Hindus.
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Incidentally, Forjett was also responsible for turning the central part of the old Bombay Fort, where cotton was traded (also referred to as the Bombay Green), into the Elphinstone Circle (later named Horniman Circle) around 1875.
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Another detective with the Bombay Police who made a name for himself in the sensational “Bawla Murder Case” was Simon Favel who served during the tenure of Sir Patrick Kelly (1922-1933), Commissioner of Police. Favel was a Russian of Jewish descent but how he landed up with the Bombay Police Force is not known. On January 12, 1925 an attempt on the life of Bawla, a well-to-do Bombay businessman, was made with a single shot fired from a hand-gun. Apparently Bawla was out on a stroll with his girl friend Mumtaz at the Hanging Gardens on Malabar Hill when he was attacked. He died the next day in hospital without being able to give the police any clues to the identity of his attacker. Inspector Favel was put in charge of the case. It turned out that Mumtaz was the former mistress of the Rajah Holkar of Indore. It was strongly rumoured that Holkar, in a fit of jealousy, had Bawla killed by sending an Indore police officer to carry out the dastardly deed. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who was one of Bombay’s top lawyers at the time, was involved in the case as counsel for the defense. Jinnah can be said to have won the case as the Rajah was never prosecuted because Indore was a sovereign state within British India at that time.
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The historic Royal Opera House of Bombay was built in 1909 on Queen’s Road, about a mile away from the infamous “Pilhouse” area. Built at a time when cement and concrete were yet to become the mainstay of construction, it was the brainchild of Maurice E. Bandmann, a famous entertainer from Calcutta and Jehangir Framji Karaka, who headed a firm of coal brokers. Its design borrowed styles from European and Indian architecture. There were 26 ‘boxes’ behind the stalls where the Europeans sat with their families, having left their babies in the care of nannies at home. Excellent acoustics, chandeliers (donated by the David Sassoon family from their Mansion ‘Sans Souci’ at Byculla), and ornamental features were installed. King George V inaugurated the building in 1911 during his visit to India. The Opera House was completed in 1915 at a total cost of 7.5 lakhs of rupees, but performances began even before that date. Bal Gandharva and Dinanath Mangeshkar were among the illustrious performers. Lata Mangeshkar, the most famous female playback singer of India, gave her first performance at the Opera House. After independence operas and plays were rarely held there and the Opera House was converted in to a cinema. Due to arrival of the video, cinemas began to close down one by one. Opera House was closed down in 1991.
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The Hanging Garden was built in 1880 and named after Sir Pherozshah Mehta. The garden are placed over a large reservoir that was renovated in 1921. The layer of soil is as little as 6 inches and as much as 30 inches in places. Hence there are no trees in the garden as the soil is not deep enough. However, there are shrubs that are trimmed in the shapes of various animals. After renovation in 1921 its capacity was increased up to 30 million gallons of water. The water is cleaned, chlorinated and supplied to the entire Fort, Malabar and Cumballa Hill areas.
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Electric tram cars started plying in Bombay towards the end of the nineteenth century. However, attempts seem to have been made earlier to provide some kind of a stage-transport system. An 1819 issue of the Bombay Courier carried an announcement by a certain firm, named "Architect and Coach-maker". It said that if the scheme received adequate support the firm would start a horse-coach service from the Fort to Sion, stopping at suitable places. The residents of the Byculla-Parel area were particularly assured that such a service would be a great convenience to them. Another year that stands out in the history of the city is 1872: the year of the establishment of the Municipal Corporation for the city. The citizens were given local self-government; the rate-payers could elect their representatives on the body. With the city growing at such a pace, a well-organized road transport system became a necessity. Soon the Bombay Tramway Company Ltd. was set up.
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In 1865, an American company applied to the government for a license for running a horse-drawn tramway service in the city of Bombay. The license was granted on certain conditions, but the project did not materialize because the American Civil War ended rather abruptly. The boom in cotton trade brought on by the war was suddenly over, and there was a financial crash. The city's economic life was badly disrupted. A large number of firms went into liquidation. The economic disaster snuffed out the tramway project.
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It was not until 1873 that the Bombay Tramway Company Ltd. was formally set up. The first tram cars, introduced by Stearns & Kittredge of USA, were of two kinds: those drawn by one horse and those drawn by two. The Company started with a fleet of twenty cars and two hundred horses. When it closed down in 1905, it had as many as 1,360 horses in service. The service first started on 9th May 1874 was over two routes: Colaba to Pydhoni via Crawford Market, and Bori Bunder to Pydhoni, via Kalbadevi. The fare from Colaba to Pydhoni was initially three annas. The fare was brought down to two annas within months and by 1899 it had dropped to one anna.
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The tram car was not at first received with the enthusiasm shown for the railway or the gas light. The Company had to make a special effort to persuade the public that this mode of transport was fast and smooth, and that it was cheap too. The persuasion included free rides in the first few days. On the third day (12th May, 1874), the Times of India expressed its doubts about the prospects of the tramway. Characteristically for those times, a section of the educated public was suspicious of the innovations imposed by the white foreigners, and to them the tram car was one such innovation. Dadoba Pandurang Tarkhadkar, a renowned grammarian, voiced the sentiments of that section when he wrote: "Our people here are in distress for lack of employment, and yet since these seven or eight years some wealthy fellows from Boston in far away America have been carrying on this business. The local horse-drawn for hire vehicles are dwindling in number and these fellows sitting in America are regularly making hundreds of rupees profits."
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In 1899, the Stearns & Kittredge Company applied to the Municipality for permission to run its tram cars on electricity. The application inter alia pleaded that considering the heavy expenditure the company would have to incur on the new project, the Municipality should waive its right of taking it over in 1901 as per the original contract. But even before the application was disposed of, the Municipality decided to exercise its right to take over the Company. This gave rise to several legal complications, but finally in 1905, a newly formed concern, The Bombay Electric Supply and Tramways Company Ltd. (BEST) bought the Bombay Tramway Company. During its 31 years tenure, the old company had served the city well with its network of tramway routes. On the first day (9th May 1874) of its service the number of passengers carried was 451 and the takings amounted to Rs. 85 only. On the last day (1st August 1905) the number of passengers was 71,947 and the takings amounted to Rs. 4,260. These figures should give a fair idea of how the service had expanded during the years.
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The first motor car had appeared on Bombay roads in 1901. And the first motorized taxis began plying in 1911. With the coming of motorcars to Bombay, the introduction of electric trams in 1907 and of taxis in 1911, the creation of a Traffic Police was inevitable. The department was created in 1924. In 1942, during the Quit India movement, Pancham Bala was appointed the first woman police constable. In 1944, with Independence only 3 years away, a Detection Police (CID) branch was created. The first Indian Commissioner of Police, J.S. Bharucha a Parsi, took over the job on Independence Day, 1947. After 1947 changes continued to come thick and fast. In 1964 tram services in Mumbai were discontinued (bus services had already started in 1926). The last tram ran from Bori Bunder (or Victoria Terminus) to Dadar Tram Terminus at 10 PM on 31 March 1964. A canine squad was set up in 1965. Computers were first used by the Bombay police in 1976. A Narcotics Cell to combat drug crimes and an anti-terrorist Special Operations squad were created in 1989. In 1995, the control room was computerized, and finally, in 1997, the Mumbai Police were connected to the internet.
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The sudden outbreak of the First World War (1914-1918) delayed the electric tramways project. Finally in 1922, it was the Municipality that started putting pressure on the Company to commence work on it and Bombay had its first tram car on 11th February 1926. By all accounts, the people of Bombay gave a warm welcome to the electric tram car. The service was formally inaugurated on 7th May, 1927 by Vallabhdas Thakersey, the then Chairman of the Municipality. The service started regularly from the next day. It drew nothing but praise for its speed, its comfort, and its low fares. But, unfortunately, there occurred a bad accident on the very first day. A passenger, named Malvankar, fell off a running tram and one of his legs got under a wheel. The leg had to be amputated. Pedestrians were run over often and there were many accidents with handcarts and ghoda-gadis. The speed of the electric trams was soon reduced for public safety.
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After the Second World War (1939-1945) the city's population suddenly started soaring at an unprecedented rate. And soon it all gathered such a pace that the tram car was out of step and out of date with the hectic pace of life, and it just faded out one night. That was the night of 31st March 1964. Those modest, if rather noisy, vehicles had devotedly carried the Bombay-man up and down the city for ninety years. The last of them, packed to capacity and festooned with light bulbs, left Bori Bunder for Dadar Tram Terminus at ten that night. Crowds lined the route all the way even at that late hour to bid farewell to the much loved, if old-fashioned, transport of the common man. It was a sad farewell. Earlier that evening this author had taken a tram from King's Circle to Museum (Regal) and back, retaining the ticket as a memento. Most of the tram drivers were retired and the conductors absorbed in the city's growing bus service.
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In 1911 England’s King George and his Queen Mary visited India for a grand durbar at Delhi. They landed by steamer at Bombay. A pavilion was erected at Apollo Bunder to receive them officially. The spot they landed in Bombay was marked by the construction of the Gateway of India that was completed in 1924. The Lion of Bombay, Sir Phirojshaw Mehta, met the King during which he made the remark that “India is the brightest jewel in the British crown”. Afterwards the British themselves began using this metaphor. In those days the names of several Indian mercantile magnates and captains of industry became synonymous with Bombay’s social life. Among these were Sir Cowasji Jehangir Readymoney, Sir Dinsahaw Petit, Sir Pherojshaw Mehta, Bomanji Wadia, Khatau Makanji, Dharamsey Punjabhai, James Greaves, George Cotton, Morarji Goculdas, Sir Ibhrahim Rahimtoola, Merwanji Panday, Sir Jamsetji Jeejeebhoy, Sir Jamshedji Tata, Tapidas Varajdas, Currimbhoy Ibhrahim, Thackersey Mulji, Mulji Jetha, Mancherji Banaji, Sir David Sassoon, and many others. They all donated generously towards many charitable causes, promoted arts and education, and wielded considerable civic and political influence in Bombay.
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The foundation for constituting a University at Bombay was laid by Jagannath Shankarshet and Dr. John Wilson among others who had petitioned the Directors of the East India Company in London in July 1854 for major improvements in the system of government as well as improving education, especially for girls, in India. Accordingly the Bombay University was established under Act XXII of 18 July 1857 during the governorship of Lord Elphinstone (1853 to 1860). The first matriculation exam was held in October 1859 and the first B.A. was granted in 1862. For more than 17 years the University had no permanent building of its own. The University Library, Convocation Hall and other buildings were completed in November 1878 at the total cost of Rs. 548,000 covered by a gift of Rs. 400,000 by Premchand Roychand in 1864. The tower was 260 feet tall was made of Porbunder stone with carvings of 8-feet high figures representing races of people of western India carved by students of the J.J. School of Art under the direction of John Lockwood Kipling. Roychand also gave the University Rs.200,000 for the clock tower, which was named in honor of his mother, Rajabai, and a further sum of Rs.200,000 for the purchase of books for the new library.
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By the 1867 there was good telegraphic and postal communication established between Bombay and Europe, so that the latest books, reviews, newspapers, magazines, journals, opera music, and fashion was available before they were outdated. In 1870 the Bombay-London cable was laid. The underwater cable went from a spot on Marine Drive to Aden, and from there through the Suez to London.
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The first printing press to be imported was in 1670 under the governorship of Aungier. But the oldest surviving commercial printing press in Bombay was founded by Nanabhai Rustomji Ranina in partnership with Nowrowji Framji in 1857. The Union Press, which was started in Kalbadevi, later moved to its present location in the Horniman Circle (formerly Elphinstone Circle), named after B.G. Horniman, a Gandhian and editor of the Bombay Chronicle. The Union Press still survives to this day and his currently run by the Chinoy family.
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Sun Life of Canada was the largest foreign insurer operating in India since 1892. In 1905 the company shifted its offices to the newly built Canada Building on Hornby Road (now Dadabahi Naoroji Road). The building was designed by the Bombay firm of Architects Gostley, Chamber and Finchley, now almost certainly defunct.
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Between the Great Western Hotel building on Apollo Street (now a commercial office building) and the Scots Kirk church stood the round building with an external staircase called the Ice House. Ice imported from Ms. Tudor and Company, of Boston USA, from 1836 and was stored here. However, in 1843 Bombay’s first ice factory was started at Mazagaon and by 1857 they stopped importing ice from USA. The Ice House was used as a godown until its demolition in 1930. The K.R. Cama Oriental Institute now stands in its place. Aerated waters had begun to appear by 1835 and Parsis were once again at the forefront and aerated waters companies such as Rogers, Turf, Premier, etc. were established. None of these have survived.
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Continued below