In the 16th Century, when the Portuguese traders first arrived in Bengal, the Hooghly River was a major conduit for trade between Bengal and Europe. By the middle of the 18th Century there was a network of European trading posts (factories) on the Hooghly River. Some of these had grown to become major population centers.
Cossimbazar was a trade entrepôt with British, Dutch and French factories. Its importance lied with its proximity to the capital Murshidabad. Further downstream were the “European” ports of Hooghly (Portuguese), Chinsura (Dutch), Chandernagore (French), Serampore (Danish), Bankibazar (Austrian) and Calcutta (British).
The Carnatic Wars in the South East Indian coast were a wakeup call for rulers across India. The British and French East India Companies, primarily mercantile establishments were fast becoming territorial powers by proxy. The security guards of the factories were being transformed into standing armies employing mercenaries who were capable of challenging the authority of native rulers. In this climate the 23 year old Siraj ud-Daula, newly crowned Nawab of Bengal decided to tackle the problem head on. He laid down ground rules for the European commercial activities in Bengal, which included demolition of all unauthorized fortifications. Although the French were somewhat apologetic in their response, the British were defiant.
The title of this map alludes to the events that happened next. In May 1756 the Nawab’s army took over the British factory in Cossimbazar and in June 1756 with overwhelming force overran Calcutta. Many of the British escaped, however 146 were taken prisoner and locked up in a small cell where most of them died. This garrison cell became infamous as the “Black Hole of Calcutta”.
The humiliation of Calcutta and the incident of the “Black Hole” were rallying points for the British who would return with a vengeance under the leadership of Robert Clive to retake Calcutta.
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