The Black Hole of Empire: History of a Global Practice of Power

By Partha Chatterjee | Go to book overview
Save to active project

CHAPTER TEN
The Death and Everlasting Life of Empire

BHOLANATH CHANDRA (1822–1910) was a successful businessperson and observant traveler.1 Although a prominent public figure in Bengal, he was never associated with nationalist political causes. Thus, he seemed somewhat unlikely to have initiated the process of the nationalist demolition of the narrative of the Black Hole of Calcutta.

The blow he dealt was small but telling. In a picturesque and often whimsical account of a journey by boat along the Hugli River, Chandra suddenly broached the subject of old Fort William and the Black Hole tragedy. On the latter, he said, he had “a very doubtful faith in its account.”

I have always questioned it to myself, how could 146 beings be squeezed into a room
18 feet square, even if it were possible to pack them like the seeds within a pome-
granate…. Geometry contradicting arithmetic gives the lie to the story. It is little
better than a bogey against which was raised an uproar of pity.2

The seeds of rational doubt were thus sown.3 Historians with more explicitly nationalist motivations would soon reap a rich harvest.


A GIGANTIC HOAX

Akshaykumar Maitreya, in his Sirājaddaulā, published as a book in 1897, took up the cudgels in earnest. After first presenting Holwell's account of the event in some detail, Akshaykumar announced that the Black Hole deaths could not be regarded as a settled fact of history. There were several reasons to doubt Holwell's account. First, why is the event not mentioned by any Indian historian of the time, including those severely critical of Siraj? Second, if this was such a calamitous and traumatic event, then why do we not find any mention of it in any contemporary British account except for that of Holwell? Third, while reparations were extracted from Mir Jafar for every little damage inflicted on the British during Siraj's attack on Calcutta, why did the elaborate list of the defeated nawab's crimes and their compensation include not so much as a mention of the Black Hole deaths? Fourth, if the crime of the Black Hole was the

-311-

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
The Black Hole of Empire: History of a Global Practice of Power
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 425

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?