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The Black Hole of Calcutta

2015-09-14 | 🔗

In 1756, after a skirmish between the British East India Company and the nawab of Bengal, dozens of captives were put into a holding cell intended for only a few people overnight. Most of them didn't make it out alive.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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i will mention that i had not heard of it before i started researching it betrays he had so in our sample set of two there's though only a fifty percent great so well well i my knowledge of it came from a non history class source and not even our histories historically accurate farce does that the very first job i ever had i worked as a summer employee at a finance office at the place that my mom that they had a file room that the the finance manager referred to as the black hole of calcutta and it was extremely hot and extremely crowd then it streamlines dirty and i gleaned from all of that that's the dark hole of the black hole of calcutta was a dark thirty high oppressive terrible place but i did not know anything else specifically about it so the black hawk
calcutta actually refers to two things or rather the same thing but in two different ways so first it was in fact a small prison cell like a kind of like the the sell you would put be no people they were intoxicated in overnight in we western like it was a small little sell that was what william which was in calcutta we're gonna talk a little bit about fort william but second it also refers to this specific incident that is quite horrific and happened there in that so in the mid seventeen hundreds and if you like i should explain why i just laughed in the background which is that i grew up in north carolina where the angry there was on tv at all times and there is a i mean in hindsight is very sad if an alcoholic named otis you locked himself up in jail in and the image of that made me that's why you're talking exactly those kind of what i think of tea lake this was roughly a kid
like the poky in the integrated suit like it was intended to be like a small misdemeanor situation and we'll talk about that some more as we go on but first we're gonna kind of set the political scene that was going on in india the time in the late sixteen hundred than early seventeen hundred of really a time of rising tensions in india the middle empire was losing its power and had decentralized provincial governed is known as no i ve shared the power that was previously held by the mobile dynasty and british crucial efforts had set up a base of trade operations in calcutta and they had erected a fort for william to safeguard these interests the east the company had been slowly building its power base their over the year since the late sixteen hundreds and they have reached a point where it basically told all of the commerce in the city in fact calcutta is the
the final version of the city's name which was the official name until two thousand and one at that point the in government renamed the city kolkata more closely reflect the bengali pronunciation so our went to leave the title of the episode with the angles i've name to reflect the way that this story is known calcutta more accurate name for the city yes we're going forward it will use the more accurate name but i ain't doing it search online using the kolkata spelling it used just redirect you back to calcutta if it finds things surround that's why we're leaving the episode name that way why not the balance that unites can have to strike sometimes between an episode that people can identify from the name and know what it's about enough to want to actually listen to it and then find out the more accurate story right then also offer
stability online it's you know will we'll take it with both of the way so that people can easily find it but we're just gonna fall in line with some of these historical events first for going to talk about two men in particular who ended up being really pivotal players in this event and the first surrounding all down who was the norm bingo having succeeded grandfather in the position in seventeen fifty six irrational dalla was born somewhere between seventeen twenty nine seventeen thirty three depending on which sort you look at but basically he was in his mid twenties when he power and was in the midst of this john whole well was born in dublin in seventeen eleven he was a third by trade and he took a position as a third and made on a ship that was bound for kolkata in seventeen thirty two he was event fired as a surgeon major for the east india company and he settled in kolkata in seventeen thirty six so
the middle of the eighteenth century the east india company had a garrison in fort william to defend the city and british interests there and there have been repeated structures throughout the years from the parent company to those running things in kolkata to ensure that the ports in the company holdings were always protected end quote to make your fortifications strong enough to discourage or sustain any attempts of the moors but in his power in a manner as you can the easterly accompany her already been fortifying fort william for some time by the summer of seventeen fifty six which incensed bengal know of it had further step that these efforts and the anticipation of a conflict with france eventually manifested as the seven years war siroc dollar was to put it mildly quite displeased with this increase defensive effort on the part of the british
so the new tab believing that always fortification was really a direct challenge to his power since in order to the british to cease with this fortification project and no response was given to this the british didn't even acknowledge that they had ever got minutes and the work on the fort continue they were both shoring up the go for it and bringing in more troops and so sir i shall dollar feeling that here but choice attacked kolkata his forces included between thirty thousand and fifty thousand men along with five hundred elephants and fifty cannons their approach billy systematic and moved first through the outlying areas of the city working their waste the inward this attack began on gene sixteen seventeen fifty six as the army of the new approach the fort the governor roger drake his staff and other british residents of the fort fled they made their way to harbour into awaiting ships and this
find a number of women and children about a hundred and seventy two or maybe soldiers which were commanded by john f oh well johnson full well that we talked about earlier and drake was later dismissed by the company after this whole incident he was charged with incompetence go as ferajji dollar advance the people and for william grew increasingly aware of the very poor odds that they were facing on the evening of june eighteenth it was this that all european women still remaining should be escorted to boats on the river and that whole well having been left there alone rallied what he could even those who had not been in the military to prepare to defend themselves and those behind by roger drake and he ended up with approximately five hundred people in total we have of those we europeans the other half was made of armenians in the portuguese and indians wednesday
a dollar and his men reached fort william on the morning of june twentieth oh well and have meagre crew really did not have much of a chance their morale was extremely poor there has been talk of retreating to the harbour and taking flight and ships although all the boats work by this time some of their remaining makeshift military simply ran in it to be ridiculously outnumbered their defence at fort william were virtually non existent so they had to mortars at the fort but they were useless because all of the powder had gotten where this is also a very human area and it had really been cared for and stored properly and the grapes at that they had on hand had also been damaged integrated in storage sort of ironic when you consider that part of what had incensed the bang gone along with the fact that we're william was building up its defences apparently they were not doing a very good job of that on the weapon sprint
many case whole well stood as commander of the forts garrison and it was simply being one of the highest ranking british men left there he was kind of nominated into that position by the people that were left behind here the zero military experience recall that he was in fact a surgeon and the men under him were actually soldiers had not civilian volunteers basically mutinied they knew that whole well was not the of handling them or the situation and many of them deserted so in the end the ended up with about a hundred and fifty men so who will end up surrendering within hours after the few available firearms had exhausted the small ammunition supply that was on hand you believe that and those with them would be treated honourably caldwell was brought before surprise you expressed his disdain for the european fortifications william the non europeans who had stood along with all well were released
and whole wow and all the other european captives were left with syringes guards in some of the captives were apparently intoxicated in that hold mutiny apparently there was a break in twosome liquor supplies and these intact you two people got a little aggressive with the guards they were just a little difficult to handle and at some stage of these crimes tents interactions the guards became really frustrated to the point that someone insisted that these captives absolutely have to be confined that night around eight p m whole well men several of whom were wounded and somewhere between one five women accounts really very on how many were locked up in a cell that was nickname the black hole and before we get to the details of the night that these prisoners spent in the black hole we're gonna paw before it gets because it gets kind of dark here coming up sorgen oppose now for a word from one of the great sponsors who keeps us going this episode of stuffy miss than history glasses brought eu by love book
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very somewhat in terms of whose description you're reading and the bill was actually demolished and eighteen eighteen so verification on this one is a lost cause it wasn't a recess fell into the ground or two small borrowed windows in the black hole and now this ace as you mentioned earlier was built in the four as a sort of law for minor offences and it certainly was not intended to hold the number of people that were shut into it that night to compound the horror situation in the weather at this time was sweltering really hot not uncommon for temperatures in in june to reach the high nineties fahrenheit which is the mid high thirty celsius ass and again this is one of the things where we only have historical accounts but there are several people would say that it reached record some close to record highs this particular year so even surpassing those numbers i'm a people that were crammed into the black hole together were climbing
for each other for access to the eu it was in a chance at just getting a breath of fresh air and they also left minimal water for the night so they fought over the meagre supply that they had the prisoners called to the guards were assistance or mercy but there please we're really met with laughter they tried to bribe the guards but to no avail whole will likely serve i've because he was often near the window is trying to reason with the guards were some kind of assistance and there is actually part of whole wells description of this event where he talks about one guard that did seem almost sympathetic to their plight and it seemed like this ray of hope and this geller guard was offered money to shift some of the prisoners from the cell in the black hole too any other place that they could be confined in the guard left and it seemed like he was going to do some action but then he returned after a little while and said that the new tab with
leaving and no one was allowed to wake him to ask if moving the prisoners would be acceptable thirdly one of the prisoners drank the sweat rolling off of whole well and into his sleeves oh well said that here tempted to drink his own urine and desperation that it could not handle the taste when another guard brought a small amount of water like a died in the account is it there were two small skins of water for the group because these people were all sweating the air was getting heavy with just moisture and they were just getting super too high he did but a fight ensued and a lot of hot water was actually spilled and whole well really felt that like this may have been a nice gesture but the bottom line was that it did more harm than good
and is the evening went on some of the men they were just exhausted just laid down on the floor and died quietly while others made sort of these last desperate russia's for the windows at one point how well pulled out his knife and intended to cut his own arteries and commit suicide bet he reconsidered here losing consciousness a short time later and according to hotels account one hundred and forty six people were locked into that tiny room and this account widely disputed we'll talk about the numbers a little bit more in a bit but even the reduced number of people that we're gonna discuss that some modern scholarship has a sort of determined was more accurate it still would have been an incredibly tight and frankly inhumane
situation and so when the door was open the next morning only twenty three people were still alive the rest had either died of suffocation or by having been crushed as multiple people tried to break the door open on mass it took more than twenty minutes to clear the bodies away from the door to let the survivors the ten hours and the black hole get out how well was found under a pile of bodies once there is who were still alive were free of the cramped room they were allowed to lie down on the grass at the front of the fort and the handling of the dead is described a little bit differently from account to account in sum the bodies were hastily buried in sort of a mass grave or a pit and in others they were merely thrown into an existing ditch whole was taken before sunrise
right to tell the know how of the horrible ordeal that he had somehow managed to survive but sir i wasn't interested in the story instead wanted information about a rumoured stronghold of riches that was somewhere in the fort oh i didn't know of any such thing which really frustrated serafine ordered the whole well be sent away so this point john hall well was taken with three other prisoners to mersham bud and his health at this point was extremely poor he was covered allegedly in boils and after several weeks as part of a prisoner of war he was released on july seventeenth and in part this is because it was recognised that during his time in calcutta he had
the indian population really quite well and particularly he had been very kind to those in need of medical attention and even kind of helping out in his role as a doctor for people that really he had no responsibility to take care of its five months for whole wealth and get back to great britain and he did so on asleep called the siren during his time at sea he pen his account of what had happened during those ten hours trapped in a small room with dozens of people meanwhile while he was traveling word of these many deaths that it occurred at fort william reach the east india companies offices in madras and by our toper a two pronged military attack was launched against syringe robert clive led land forces that attacked fort william and adam charles watson lit a fleet of ships to bombard the stronghold from the harbor ingenious seventeen thirty seven british forces regain control of the fort from the new and his troops
sir i shall dollar was once again defeated by the british the battle of policy in june of seventeen fifty seven and he was executed this is often cited as a major turning point in the history of india is it marks the true establishment of british power there so before we get to some of the discrepancies in these stories that were told him and hotels account verses what was the realistic numbers we're gonna have another brief word from a great sponsor this episode of stuff you miss than history classes brought to you by norton three sixty with lifelong but they are shopping online with a smartphone its super feels like ear personal information is just right there in your hand but that's not always the case because as soon as you hit submit your point
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twenty five percent or more of your first year go to norton dot com slash history that's norton dotcom slash history for twenty five percent off so after the horrors of the black hole incident were revealed to the public the story actually used to bolster anti indian sentiment in britain it was touted as what was obviously an example of how primitive and savage people of other lands were when they didn't have sensible leadership from great britain in an effective became this piece of pro empire propaganda never mind the fact that you know this british company had come in and taken over a city in another country clearly that city needed it according to the point of view that was put forth by people who really wanted to use the story to benefit
their interests but one had any strong desire at this point either to question whole wells details in the matter or verify any of his numbers because they were too busy focusing on getting revenge and that's one eighth century the details of polos account have really been called into question and nineteen fifteen june little a schoolmaster from britain noted a number of discrepancies in hotels description of the event and really discredited his version of the story you're there were just a lot of little things that when you go back and look at the details in the records there are a lot of things i just dont quite at up again we ve talked about before how one memory is fallible incredibly valuable and two particularly view no
post trauma situation some things can get really worked in its debts as happens naturally so i dont want to payment like people think her well was just being a big favor he does wrong about some of the details additionally another author and professor bridging gupta conducted his own research into the matter in the nineteen fifties and he used again records anson calculi chickens to determine the real number of men put into the black hole was less than half of what was reported by whole well probably sixty four and the number of survivors however was very similar gupta puts it at twenty one versus orwell's account of twenty three so that
portion of survivors was actually much higher than had been believe for more than a hundred and fifty years up to that point that's really a huge number of people to be in a space that ties in that level of heat there yet even it half of what ho ho reported it still a horrific situation for people to be him does research trivial but all accounts that had been given about the night of june twentieth seventeen fifty six were blinked backed a whole well so in other words none of them was given independently without his influence which is again naturally these people i knew each other and had been through this traumatic event but it is believed that well may have kind of help to bolster his own story in talking about it with other people the way people who shall eyes and they'll go do you remember when that thing happen and it was like this and think they're kind of collective recollection got a little worthy and in addition to this discrepancy in numbers these later examined the events also indicates through their research that no one
irrational dollar actually did not order this cruel incarceration of the prisoners he was in fact likely completely unaware of it until after the fact so even when whole well was brought before him the next morning he was trying to explain what had happened there roger was it like oh you haven't people die that's great whenever worth worse where's the golden rubies he really had idea what had taken place than before so you might the january whole well would have never wanted to return to kolkata but in fact he did just that in seventeen fifty nine he was named governor in seventeen sixty but disagreements with the east india companies boredom there's led him to resign just a few months later and during his time governor orwell erected a monument near the site of the black hole in memory of the people that had died there although this monument was pulled down reasons unknown in eighteen twenty one and after his rest
and he once again returned home to britain and he retired there he spent the rest of his ears in pinner he died in late seventeen ninety eight there is an obvious mama in calcutta although it's not in the location of the black hole it was certainly erected in nineteen o to the actual black hole site but it was moved to the grounds of saint john shirts was built by the east india company in the nineteen forty you're that church had been there since i think the seventeen hundred so after the many deaths by any accounting whether you take the amended numbers or not in the black hole this event was still use
cautionary tale about lack of variation enclosed spaces and considering that the space in the black hole was somewhere around three hundred square feet or twenty eight square metres that it was very hot in the space of little air circulation it was just an obvious recipe for disaster but it wasn't something that had been thought of in that way prior to this event if the prisoners had stayed absolutely perfectly still more of them might have survived but there still would have likely been quite a few deaths because of the extreme heat and the dehydration and of course there's who died for being crushed and suffocated during the attempt to break down the door would have been spared as well you have what we just don't know i mean it's kind of like the hot car situation except it's like putting dozens of people in a slightly larger hot car but that's basically what we're doing
about so i know in reading some account senators people talking about it online there like how can all those people die so quickly it just in there sl there were windows and it's gonna know like we're retirement really actually horrific conditions so that is the rather jarring and horrible story the black hole of calcutta or calcutta if you use the modern pronunciation or the accurate pronunciation i think it's all a bit of a downer but it's pretty fascinating and it doesn't make you think about how sort of simple negligence because some awful moment in history yet a foul rim at my first startled definitely not that horrifying it was just a dark room in an attic that with night air conditioner didn't full of looming boxes of files which can also be dangerous
i back the engineer yet it is an interesting when because when you read historians discussing this today there sort of this sense that at no point was anybody like oh we will shovel these people in here to die they just we're not considering lethal the environment was so it again it's just through or negligence than like intent even its very horrifying i can't imagine what an awful situation that would be by that is the story of the back all it's a completely different context but it reminds me of stories now if people who are trying to cross a border sometimes because they are fleeing atrocities in their own country who windup suffocating unlike the backs of tracks and under sea think cars and stuff like that because that's just so high which is like
horror in a whole different way yeah so we're gonna shift gears now i'm gonna listener mail with minimum of feeding thank goodness much happier listener this is from our listener anna and she said creasy holly i am a new listened earlier podcast rule over six months but i've been binge listening to make up for lost time i really love how you hit so many different topics in yours keep an interesting i recently went on a trip to china so i listen to all of your china related pine cast before i left and i considered it studying she's i was listening to me to your virginia after podcast very nicely done and i was amused along with you that a huge breakthrough in medicine came from the simple concept of all look at the baby i wish i could tell you that concept has since been fully grasped but it has i work as a nurse in a large pediatric i see you there lots of monitors wires bells and whistles attached to our patience and they do not always cooperate
as they should they alarm when nothing is wrong or vice versa the nurse that trained we used to say quotes these monitors nothing except that i need to look at my patient at times it has even arguments with doctors i once had a resident refused discharge a patient there was all but and ready to go home with a family very excited to leave the hospital he said it was because the patient had unstable heart rhythms overnight i had heard nothing of this from the nightmare so have a show me where he was talking about on the monitor scream i assured him that those there are irregularities were from someone patting the baby but he would not believe me i had to have him watch monitor while i went over and patted the baby reproducing the unstable heart rhythms to convince him in the bay in his very relieved parents were happy to go home later that day all that to say we may have technology out the wazir but one still has to look at the baby i feel like that should be a shirt now to look at the baby
we should get on that and we also need a moon beavers lunar be refer this right working work another winter beavers when i haven't got it where i want it but was oh oh there was the one that i want that says miss pronunciative since it we'll do it anna goes on to say i know you guys like to hear what people do while they listen to your podcast i make takes i'm only part time nurse and i now have my own custom kate design studio called savior fork i appreciate you guys keeping me company for long hours and the bakery i e anna back but oh my goodness the cake eggs are art there so incredibly lay all new so goods does everything from leg sort of fun whimsical stuff to just crazy elegant beautiful things i'm envious of her skill and completely wowed by it i am saddened not live in other fields and were at him he like hey i have a thing coming up there those are some good looking cakes
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Transcript generated on 2020-02-02.