20 Jun: Inside The Black Hole of Calcutta

When the East India Company surrendered Fort William (in modern-day Kolkata) to the Nawab of Bengal on 20th June, 1756, dozens of British captives were imprisoned in a cell measuring only 18ft long and 14ft wide, with just two tiny windows – ‘the Black Hole of Calcutta’.

Among the prisoners was John Zephaniah Holwell, whose pamphlet describing the terrors of the airless room caused a sensation back in Britain and became a cause célèbre in the idealization of imperialism in India. Holwell claimed 123 men lost their lives in the cell, although it is now thought the number of deaths was exaggerated.

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly uncover Holwell’s mixed feelings around colonialism; consider how ‘the black hole of Calcutta’ became an enduring term of phrase; and reveal what connected Kolkata with Olly’s home village in Hertfordshire…

Further Reading:

• ‘A Genuine Narrative of the Deplorable Deaths of the English Gentlemen, and Others, who Were Suffocated in the Black-Hole in Fort-William, at Calcutta, in the Kingdom of Bengal, in the Night Succeeding the 20th Day of June, 1756, in a Letter to a Friend – By John Zephaniah Holwell’ (A. Millar, 1758): https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/A_Genuine_Narrative_of_the_Deplorable_De/xGg0Cg9WVNcC?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=Holwell+%2B+Calcutta&printsec=frontcover

• ‘The Black Hole of Calcutta – Kolkata, India’ (Atlas Obscura): https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/the-black-hole-of-calcutta

• ‘The Story of The Black Hole Of Calcutta – Britain’s Secret Homes’ (ITV Daytime, 2016):

#1700s #India #Empire #Macabre