The Siege of Calcutta (1756) by the Nawab of Bengal inspired the British to capture India

Nawab Siraj and Holwell

Above image: Nawob Siraj-ud-daulah and Z.Z. Holwell, Black hole incident (1756), Calcutta..

On 18 June 1756, an important battle took place called the Battle of Lal Dighi between  Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah and the forces of British East India Company, leading to withdrawal of the British from Kalikata temporarily. The English Company  recaptured Calcutta from additional troops from Madras led by Robert Clive  who had emerged a hero in the siege of Arcot near Madras. Being diabolical and dishonest, Clive and his cronies  kept scheming and using various ruses to capture Bengal, a fertile place that would give them plenty of revenue. Using the dissident  Amirs in the court of the Nawab they tasted the first major victory in the Battle of Plassey, Behrampore  on 23 June 1757. 

Indian subcontinent 1760s

It was a turning point in British India history and, for the British, it was a wonderful opportunity to set their foot firmly on the Indian soil, with  Clive taking control of Bengal, finally it became part of the EIC's land. The siege of Calcutta by the Nawab's forces and the Black Hole tragedy gave them the spark to act effectively for the take over of the Indian subcontinent. The Bengal Nawab's wrong move blinded by intolerance and inability to weigh the pros and cons of his action in dealing with country's security and future, at last landed him in serious trouble, all to the advantage of the EIC. 

The Nawab of Bengal Siraj ud-Daulah (Nawab Aliwardi Khan made Siraj his successor) in 1756 CE caused severe indignation and anger among the race conscious British officials that ultimately led to the battles of Plassey - 23 June 1757, and later Buxar. Within a short period, the whole of Bengal and part of Bihar and Orissa changed hands from the rich Nawabs to the British trading company that successfully achieved their goal through  conceit, cheating and breach of trust over which they were never ashamed of.  From this huge victory, the British imperialists never turned back. The  Eldorado was in the making. Victories galore, most parts of the Indian subcontinent and the rulers  were at the mercy of  British masters by the middle of the 1800s. 

It was in Dalhousie Square, the old fort - Ft. William stood when it was raided by the Bengal Nawab for the reason that EIC not only failed to pay the  outstanding duty fees as specified in the trade treaty, but continued to defy the warning given by the Nawab  and  openly carried on the fortification work. Ft. William (old) was built to protect East India Company's trade in Calcutta. In 1756, EIC, to avoid confrontation with the French forces,  reinforced the fort without getting permission from the Nawab. Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah, unlike Aliwardi Khan who was quite amicable, was distrustful of the British and was not happy with their dishonest trade practices and was looking for a pretext to take on the British and drive them out of Calcutta.  

Marched on  to Calcutta with some 50,000 troops and only after two days of attack, the Nawab sized Calcutta in June 1756. Ill-prepared, the surviving British soldiers left the fort leaving behind 146 soldiers under the command of J. Z. Holwell.  When the fort came under the control of the Nawab, It is said, the prisoners were imprisoned in a small dungeon - underground cell with poor ventilation. What was later called the Black Hole of Calcutta became a controversial issue as to the number of casualty. The fact is many died from suffocation, shock and dehydration.  The city - renamed "Ali Nagar" by the Nawab  - was only lightly garrisoned by the Indians. Calcutta was recaptured in January 1757 by the British enforcement forces - both army and naval from Madras led by Robert Clive and Adm. Watson. The former  got a name in the Carnatic war of south India that saw the decline of French influence in the south. The war resulted in recognition of the status quo in the Treaty of Ali Nagar, signed on the 9th of February 1757 between Clive and the Nawab. This allowed the East India Company to remain in possession of the city and to fortify it, as well as granting them an exemption from duties.  

Ft. William, Calcutta, Black hole.

Above image: The site of the ever-controversial "Black Hole of Calcutta in Fort William; a stereoscopic view, 1908...................

1807 Ft. William, calcutta columbia edu.

Above image: A view of Calcutta from Fort William (1807); from a set of prints published
 by Edward Orme.
Archibald Campbell. builder new Ft.William, Calcutta.

The old Ft William was built under the supervision of  John Goldsborough in between 1696 and 1706 CE.  The SE bastion and NE bastion were built in 1769 and 1700 respectively and the factory (government house) in 1702. The entire work was completed in 1706.  The original building had two stories and projecting wings. An internal guard room became the Black Hole of Calcutta.  

Fort William, a view from the inside, c.

Above image:  The new fort was built in brick and mortar  by Archibald Campbell with meticulous care, using quality construction materials. Octagonal in shape it covers 5 sq. km with six gates  surrounded by 9m deep 15m wide dry moat. The design is that of a star fort- most suitable for  safeguarding  against cannon firing ...................

The siege of Calcutta led the British to build a new fort  in the Maidan and Robert Clive took the initiative. The construction was completed under the guidance of Archibald Campbell in 1781 at a cost of approximately two million pounds, indeed, a huge money in those days. The new fort is spread over an area of 70.9 hectares and is considered the most enduring edifice of the Raj era. The  old Fort was repaired and used as a customs house from 1766 onward. Today this fort  in the periphery of the lush green Maidan is the property of Indian Army. The headquarters of Eastern Command is functioning at Fort William. Being huge and heavy the fort has provisions for accommodating 100,000 army personnel. The Army guards it heavily, and civilian entry is restricted.

Waiting for the right opportunity to seize Bengal from the Nawab who  was not in the good book of either his subjects or the Amirs in his court, the  siege of Calcutta by Siraj-ud- Daulah  and the Black-hole incident  gave them  the needed excuse on one side and inspiration  on the other to go after the ruler.  After Calcutta was recaptured in 1757, Clive, with the help of William Watts, chief of Kasim bazaar factory hatched a plan by which the English company finally took full control over Bengal.  Their task was made easy by the  rulers' disunity and lack of  cooperation; they were busy squeezing each others throat. The growth of  British Imperialism was literally financed by the vast revenue from the rich and fertile land of Bengal.