GPO of Kolkata - an inspiring colonial building built on the land that was once Ft. William

Rudimentary postal service was introduced during the earliest colonial time to exchange messages between departments and later people. EIC in 1688 opened a post office in Bombay followed by similar ones in Calcutta and Madras.  It  was Robert Clive who first gave a boost to the  postal  system of service in 1766 whereby runners had to carry mails  along specified routes and he ordered the Zamindars and  landlords to supply runners to get the communication going. 

Under the EIC there were certain laws on rates of delivery and no postal stamps. The rates varied depending on the distance. This service was quite useful to the military department  where an officer would handle the mails. In 1774  Warren Hastings organized  the Post Office to handle the mails.  After 1793, when Cornwallis introduced the Regulation of the Permanent Settlement, the financial responsibility for maintaining the official posts rested with the zamindars. Under the crown in 1850 the postal Commission was formed and in 1854 postal acts were introduced.    India under the British Crown  joined  the Universal Postal Union in 1876 followed by Savings bank services in 1882. 

The GPO building Kolkata in December 2011

Located in the prime area of the B. B. D, is a remarkable imposing GPO building and it  has been a landmark in this part for a pretty long time. 

The GPO building Kolkata

dome interior, The GPO building Kolkata 

Built on the site of  the first Fort William, (earliest EIC's settlement) the GPO was designed  in 1864 and  and completed in 1868 and its architect was  Walter B. Grenville (1819-1874),  who worked for  the government of India from 1863 to 1868.  He designed Calcutta High Court and the Indian Museum.  An alley close to the P.O once had a  the guardhouse  dungeon prison which in 1756 was dubbed as Black Hole of Calcutta. The ruler Siraj raided Ft. William as the company  persistently  violated trade agreement and without approval began further fortification of the fort. The Nawab took over the fort and a commander on his own decision, put the British captives (British soldiers and their families) in the dudgeon with poor ventilation that resulted in their death mainly due to suffocation. It was not a premeditated incident but the the nawab was held responsible for this unfortunate ghostly incident,  This tragedy was hyped up in the British media and using it as a ruse the British under Robert Clive, over a period of time, grabbed Bengal slowly, but carefully to become masters of the land. Their monument (black hole martyrs) in nearby St John's churchyard is the second to have been built, at Lord Curzon's request, and the story is still repeated today. The story told by one Holwell was full of holes. This incident was highlighted to mask British  atrocity and outright cheating in their maritime trading activities. 

The GPO building Kolkata

 The only vestige of old Ft. William  was a brass plate  near the staircase at the eastern side of the GPO features a brass plate,  marking  the eastern end of the fort. In the recent past  a marble plaque had been installed on the Eastern walls of GPO, which highlight the Brass Plate. 

The Kolkata Collectorate,  was to the north of the GPO   which was once the office of the regional ‘Collector’, this position was created after 1857  by the English in lieu of  traditional Zamindars.

old image. The GPO building Kolkata

Above image: Here you see a small part of a waterbody  called Lal Dighi meaning Red Tank.  It was in the middle of B. B. D. Bagh, earlier known as Tank Square or Dalhousie Square, in the heart of Kolkata. GPO's huge lantern-topped dome is an amazing sight. Opened on 2nd October 1868, a sum of Rs.630000 was spent on the construction.  

The most impressive parts of the GPO are the huge dome with high roof  rising over 220 feet and tall Ionic-Corinthian pillars. A happier monument to the British presence here is the splendid building which still graces the site, "a noble, even stately structure of considerable sophistication dominated by a corner dome and punctuated by huge rusticated pylons which are linked by Corinthian colonnades." Following this account of it, Philip Davies judges it to be "Granville's best classical composition," noting also that the main hall, rising the full height of the building, "provides a grand setting for the tide of humanity that ebbs and flows beneath the dome"(Victoria Web).


A postal museum that was built in 1884 displays a collection of artefacts and stamps. The Philatelic Bureau is located on the southwestern end of the building.  At that point of time, it is believed,  among the five Philatelic Bureaus in the country (others being Mumbai GPO, Chennai GPO, Parliament Street, and New Delhi GPO) that are authorized to sell the United Nations stamps, Kolkata GPO was one of them.   

Lord Robert Clive, EIC,

 Above image: Robert Clive who laid the first foundation of British Imperialism was the father of Indian postal system. He established a postal plan (known as Jamidara Pratha) on 24 March 1766 in West Bengal that  was further developed by Warren Hastings. Lord Hastings  later established  the Calcutta G.P.O. under a Postmaster General.  
The Post Office Department of the East India Company was first established on 31 March 1774 at Calcutta, followed in 1778 at Madras and in 1792 at Bombay. After 1793, when Cornwallis introduced the Regulation of the Permanent Settlement, the financial responsibility for maintaining the official posts rested with the zamindars

1931 postal,_Kolkata