Reformist Danial Hamilton who converted a flooded land into a properous one in Bengal!!

Sir Daniel Hamilton, Reformist, British India Tiger Tourism Project

Hamilton's Bungalow. Gosaba, W. Bengal Wikimedia Commons

Above image:  This is the house built by  Sir Daniel Hamilton, the Scottish shipping magnate who founded the settlement in Gosaba, now West Bengal. He stayed here on this settlement for a pretty long time. The unique feature is his  house that was built on stilts,  in this cyclone -prone  area  can withstand the powerful winds.  When violent storms hit this place the gap between the earth and floor allows the wind to pass through, causing least structural damage. This is not so in other  solid structures built here in the past. it was from this house he introduced cooperative movements in this part of India ..........................
During the British Raj and earlier under the East India company rule, it is true, the Indian natives suffered a lot. Particularly, the EIC officials, apart from being corrupt, were arrogant and  repressive and  earned the irk of the natives. During the colonial rule, there were countless good hearted people from Britain who were not only sympathetic toward Indians and their causes but also came forward and helped them in every conceivable way.  Even among the government officials, there were many who won the heart and soul of Indian people. For example, engineer and military official Sir Arthur Cotton and engineer Col. John Pennycuick. In the area of irrigation and agriculture in South India, their contribution is vast. Sir Danial Hamilton, a rich man from Scotland could have spent his life in a cosy building and taking care of his family business and wallowing in money. Instead he chose the hard life of living among the very poor farmers of Bengal and his vision was to lift them above poverty and and be self-dependent. He toiled and succeeded in his mission by being a maverick. 

Sir Daniel Mackinnon Hamilton (6 December 1860 – 6 December 1939), a Scottish businessman who hailed from a business family on the island of Arran of coastal Scotland came to India in the 1880s to look after the mercantile company - Mackinnon Mackenzie' branch.  His wife was Margaret Elizabeth Hamilton and through sheer hard work he became the chief of that company's operations in Calcutta (Kolkata). His frequent trips to the rural areas and his interaction with the villagers over a period of time changed his personality and his attitude towards the villagers of Bengal. He was saddened by their abject poverty and the poor conditions under which they were leading a hand to mouth life. He not only made India his second home but also became a visionary and was keen to  work for their rural and social upliftment. 'Self help was the best help' became his motto.

In 1903, Daniel Hamilton, a wealthy, influential member of Lord Curzon’s council bought 10,000 acres of land from the government which in later years went up to 150,000 acres. They formed  a group of islands at the mouth of the Ganges, part of the Sundarban delta. Gosaba is one of the main deltaic islands in the region. He chose Gosaba  as his base of his operations of various cooperative programs in mind.  He had it reclaimed by felling the woods and raising embankment on the riverside to avoid flood waters overflowing the near-by areas. Motivated by his keen desire to help the poverty-stricken rural people, he  established a zamindari in Gosaba. He thought this could give him a free hand to  carry on his  innovative  experiments with various rural and social programs that would improve the quality and standard of villagers.  

Motivated by his desire to improve the living conditions of the rural people, for the first time, he introduced the Cooperative System in Gosaba, and in all of Sunderbans, and  created an awareness among them the joy of sharing responsibility along with other people. At that time the other parts of India was experiencing the growth of cooperative movement. Hamilton's championing of the cooperative society in the Sunderbans ran in tandem with the growth of the cooperative movement in India. As part of his experiment, he introduced  the cooperative credit society with 15 members in Gosaba. He provided an initial capital of Rs. 500 for the society, forming a small group of rural credit societies.  In 1918, he started a Consumers' Cooperative Society and in the following year in 1919 he set up a central model farm to experiment with paddy, vegetables and fruits.  This led to the founding of A Cooperative Paddy Sales Society  in 1923. In 1924 he established the Gosaba Central Cooperative Bank, and in 1927 he established the Jamini Rice Mill.  In 1934 he  founded  the Rural Reconstruction Institute, and two years later he began the issue of one rupee notes in Gosaba. The gradual growth of many societies in the Sundebans at the initiative of Hamilton would reveal his passion and commitments  to achieve his desired goal - a self sufficient and good life for the farmers of this region where there will be no room for poverty. In addition to above, he established a school there and also a desalinisation plant to make potable water available. Surprisingly, in this land there were no untouchables, no money lenders or loan sharks and most importantly no middleman who would make a big cut in the profit. The agricultural produce had direct access to the market, it meant more money for the farmers.  Being  a contemporary and close associate of the Nobel Laureate poet, Rabindranath Tagore, he had been in touch with him about his progress in reconstruction and cooperative societies. Tagore did visit his place once in December  1932. However, Gandhiji's secretary Mahadev Desai spent a week here in February 1935 on behalf of Gandhiji. Hamilton's experiments  at Gosaba would prove that, " if you have the will power and commitments backed by hard wok, you can convert even a bone dry sand dune filled desert into a fertile land".

As for Gosaba, 30 plus years ago it was a jungle in the flood plains. With innovative methods and hard work what was once a useless land, over a period of time, turned into a prosperous place of 10000 plus people, covering 25 villages. They are all connected with each other through a net work cooperative  societies. If there were disputes they would be solved amicably. Even the incidence of alcohol consumption came down drastically.

Bold Confidence

In "Harijan", the Gandhian weekly writing about his trip to Gosaba, Mahadev Desai mentioned about Hamilton “a remarkable man” of “lofty idealism”. If the landlord is sympathetic and reform-minded, not only will he become successful, but also make other villagers to be free from poverty.

Hamilton died on 6 December 1939 at the age of 79 and his truss and cooperative movements continued well. After independence, in the 1950s the Hamilton family became disillusioned with the local politicians and some of the local unscrupulous landlords who wanted the government  to take away the lands by dissolving the trusts.