by Tathagata Neogi
1686 was a turbulent year for the English East India Company (henceforth EIC) in Bengal. The Governor of the Company’s fledgling Bengal operations William Hedges had just resigned, embittered by his failure to curb private trade by his compatriots. He was also frustrated by the numerous fruitless and often misleading trade negotiations with the octogenarian but shrewd Mughal Governor of Bengal, Shaista Khan, and his equally manipulative customs officer Balachandra Das. EIC’s Court of Directors in London had then taken the potentially disastrous decision to defy Shaista Khan’s authority outright by citing the right to establish a factory and conduct trade in Hooghly that they had received from the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan back in 1645. Shaista Khan did not take such defiance lightly, and skirmishes broke out between the mighty and well-trained Mughal army posted in Bengal and the handful of EIC troops posted there. Although there was a promise of military help from both EIC’s Madras factory and England, time was running out for the Hooghly factory.
Job Charnock, a 56-year-old, well respected and trusted EIC employee suddenly found himself the Chief of the Hooghly factory in this precarious situation. He immediately realized that the EIC factory in Hooghly could not afford to face an outright war with the mighty Mughal army. He decided to sail south for safety, but the Mughal navy (supported by the Portuguese) was always at Charnock’s heels, cannonading from a safe distance as the motley EIC ships slowly made their way south towards Diamond Point in search of the open sea. When all seemed lost, the English ships arrived at the big market village of Sutanuti, known among European traders for its salt and saltpeter. Here peace was finally brokered between Charnock and the Mughals by Puran Mal, a Rajput noble and trader who was probably in charge of the Ameerabad Pargana in which the Sutanuti village and market was situated.
In 1690, Charnock and the EIC were finally forgiven by a Royal Charter from Emperor Aurungzeb and allowed to set up a factory near what we now know as Dalhousie Square. Charnock instantly began negotiations with the local Zamindars, the Majumdars, more popularly known as the Savarna Roychowdhuries of Barisha in modern-day Behala. However, contrary to the popular belief, the negotiations took years to complete, and Charnock died in 1693. It was only on the 9th of November 1698, that Sir Charles Eyre, the son-in-law of Job Charnock, and then the Chief Agent of the Bengal operations of the East India Company officially signed the purchase deed, known as Bainama, to purchase the Zamindary of the villages of Sutanuti, Dihi Kalkattah, and Gobindapur, which constitute the skeleton of the city of Kolkata today.
As a part of Heritage Walk Calcutta‘s commitment to liberating historical research from the archives and making it more accessible for a non-academic audience, we have reproduced the English version of the bilingual sale deed below.
BAINAMA or Deed of Transfer of Zemindary Rights of Calcutta, 1698
We submissive to Islam, declaring our names and descent: namely, Manohar Deo, son of Bas Deo, the son of Raghu, and Ramchand the son of Bidhyadhar, son of Jagdis; and Ram Bahadur, the son of Ram Deo, the son of Kesu; and Pran, son of Kaleswar, the son of Gauri and Manohar Singh, the son of Gandharb, the son of (sic); being in a state of legal capacity and to enjoyment of all the rights given by the law; avow and declare upon this wise: that we conjointly have sold and made a true and legal conveyance of the village Dihi Kalkattah, and Sutanuti within the jurisdiction of Parganah Ameerabad and village Govindpur under the jurisdiction of the Parganahs Paeqan and Kalkattah, to the English Company with rents and uncultivated lands and ponds and groves and rights over fishing and woodlands and dues from resident artisans, together with the lands appertaining thereto, bounded by the accustomed notorious and usual boundaries, the same being owned and possessed by us up to this time the thing sold being in fact and in law free from adverse rights or litigations forming a prohibition to a valid sale and transfer in exchange for the SUM OF ONE THOUSAND AND THREE HUNDRED RUPEES, current coin of this time, including all rights and appurtenances thereof, internal and external; and the said purchase money has been transferred to our possession from the possession of the said purchaser and we have made over the aforesaid purchased thing to him and have excluded from this agreement all false claims, and we have become absolute guarantors that if by chance any person entitled to the above-said boundaries should come forward, the defence thereof is incumbent upon us; and henceforth neither we nor our representatives absolutely and entirely in no manner whatsoever, shall lay claim to the aforesaid boundaries, nor shall the charge of any litigation fall upon the English Company
For these reasons we have caused to be written and have delivered these few sentences that when need arises they may be evidence.
Written on the 15th of the month Jamadi 1 in Hijri year 1110, equivalent to the 44th of the reign [of Emperor Aurangzeb] full of glory and prosperity (November 9, 1698).
The original document is in the British Museum (doc. 39, m.s. 24039)