Indian Army's Achievements from East / North East India
Fort William was built as a symbol of British Raj and was perceived as an icon of imperialism for two centuries, the Fort adapted with remarkable alacrity to its new role - a military base of a democratic and secular nation, avowed to preserve its territorial integrity and internal security. The changed role has been accomplished with a human face resulting in forging strong bonds between the soldiers and citizenry.
Fort William occupies a unique mystic and a pride of place in the history of West Bengal, nay the Bengali psyche and the present narrative seeks to capture its story through a historical continuum.
The site of old Fort William was located at the present GPO, the Eastern Railway Office, Custom House and the Government Office complexes on the banks of river Hoogly.
Based on the East India Company trading policy shift, from voyage to factory and to establishment of fortresses, the construction of the old fort commenced at Sutanuti (Calcutta) in 1698 and was completed in 1706. It was named Fort William in honour of the King of England. Interestingly, though built for defence, there was no moat around this fort.
Headquarters ofEastern Command
The raison-d-etre of the fort was the security and the safety of East India Company trading interest in Bengal. However, the defences of the fort crumbled and could not brave the attacks of Nawab Siraj-Ud-daula forces in 1756. This led to the capitulation of the old fort to the Nawab's forces.
The capitulation of old Fort William rudely shattered the illusion of security nurtured by the English Company in Bengal.PRESENT FORT WILLIAM
To consolidate its mil power and provide security to its trading interests, the East India Company commenced construction of the present Fort William at an approx cost of 2 million sterling pounds. The construction of the fort was completed by 1770.
Fort William roughly occupies an area of 177.42 acres on ground and has a regular octagonal shape with 5 sides towards the land and 3 sides towards the Hoogly river. The ramparts around the fort housed hundreds of guns to meet any attack. The fort also housed the garrison strength of 1000 soldiers and rations consisting of 71 thousand maunds (1 maund=37 kgs) of food grains for use during famine besides storing ration, weapons and equipment for the troops.
By the time construction was completed the ascendancy of the East Indian Company in Bengal had been established. Thus in the entire history, not a single gun was ever fired from its ramparts. Fort William has a reputation of being the only fort in India which was never besieged.
Even after the shifting of the capital of the British Indian empire from Calcutta to Delhi, the fort continued to excite the public admiration because of its aura of regal grandeur.
Gun Park at Fort William
THE HISTORICAL BUILDINGS
The four story high Dalhousie Barrack is captivating. It accommodates one thousand soldiers leaving enough storage space for their rations, weapons and equipment.
The old government house may not attract attention today but it was the place where many a Governor General lived and worked. Bishop Heber, a noted ecclesiastic and a poet was a guest of Lord Amherst in the house.
The Granary Barracks constructed under the orders of Warren Hastings, stored 51,000 maunds of rice and 20,000 maunds of paddy (ie, 19,03,525 kgs of rice and 7,46,585 kgs of paddy) for use during famine. The bldg was used as a prison in later years.
The Kitchener's house was a residence of the British Commander-in-Chief in India. Its magnificent colonnades can be seen from across the treasury gate.
The ball tower was used for communicating messages to the ships on the Hoogly through Semaphore. Its height was utilised for giving time signal too. A ball was mounted on the tower at 1255 hrs and taken down at 1300 hrs.
Old Government House
St Peter's Anglican Church presently the Command Library was built in 1784 in the Gothic style. The biblical saga narrated in the medium of stained glass is one of the finest in the country.
Covering an area of 177.42 acres, the fort has six gates. The East Gate formerly called the Plassey Gate and the St George's gate are located on the main avenues.
Fort William is now the hub of military activity in the East and the NE. The capital of the East India Company which its directors were reluctant to "Bury in the stone walls", is paying dividends.