Lady Charlotte Canning and the Government House, Barrackpore near Kolkata

Among the Indian cities Mumbai, Calcutta and Chennai are dotted with countless colonial  govt. buildings,  public buildings, Bungalows, etc constructed during the British rule . Initially most of them were in European style -neo classical with strong emphasis on Gothic features. In the later years, the architects like Chisholm and Erwin introduced new changes in design blended the local native style with  European features imparting them a different and distinct look so that native would feel at home under the English administration. 

The Government House (often referred to as old Governor General's House) in the prime area of Barrackpore Cantonment (the oldest in India), 14 km from Kolkata close the river Hooghly,  is a massive mansion built in classical style. Richard Wellesley,  Gov. Gen fascinated by its serene ambiance near the river started using it as a weekend  retreat and was keen to develop it  and the Cantonment for future use. He added landscaped garden, aviary, theater, etc. The EIC officials did not encourage him and the project was stopped mid way. However, some developments were  going on in the later period. Sir George Barlow, Governor-General from 1805-1807, converted the verandah into a series of smaller rooms. In 1814-15, Warren Hasting  added a new storey  and successfully completed  the work on the Govt. House at Barrackpore. As  expected by Wellesley, it became a regular weekend getaway in the later years for several  high officials to have fun and frolics - balls, sumptuous dinner, etc. 

One among the high officials  being lord Charles Canning, Governor General and his wife Lady Charlotte Canning, a charming intelligent and inquisitive woman of exceptional talents. Fond of  paintings and travel in India, she had a soft corner for the natives. As for Gov. Gen. Canning, he introduced several reforms in favor of the natives and  was instrumental in abolishing  the Doctrine of Lapse (introduced by Lord Dalhousie). The natives liked him very much for  his mild and tolerant policy, The couple did not have children.

Lady Charlotte Canning,

Above image:  Lady Charlotte Canning: Elder daughter of the British Ambassador to France, born and raised there,  She moved over to England  with her family in 1831. After her marriage with  Canning four years later from 1842 to 1855,  she  served as a Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Victoria. Obviously, the British Queen  became her most favorite  monarch. Upon Canning's appointment as the Governor General of India with the English company, lady  Charlotte Canning moved over to Calcutta in 1856, In 1858 when the British Crown took over the administration of India from the EIC after 1857 great rebellion, Lord Canning became the first Viceroy of the Raj till 1862 and she became India's first lady of the Raj. 

Canning hunting tiger near

Above image: 1858 painting by Lady Canning from the hoehah of an elephant. On a tiger hunting trip near Jabalpur by lord Canning......... 

Barrackpore, near Kolkata, W.Bengal.

Being a prolific painter, before her intended departure for England where Queen Victoria had already granted her rangership of Greenwich Park, her pleasure trip to  Darjeeling hill resort in October 1862 for landscape paintings ended in tragedy. Contracted with Malaria, for which there was no cure then, she fell seriously ill upon her return to Barrackpore Govt. House and died there. She  buried in the nearby garden. The Victoria and Albert Museum has a vast collection of  some 350 watercolors  done by  her on her  four major tours in in India.  She was fond of  Bengali sweets and was sympathetic  toward  downstream natives. She was a dynamic woman with multi-faceted  personality and, once in a while, took part in the official discussions with bureaucrats..............

Govt. House summer residence, barrackpore,

Above image:  Govt. House, Barrackpore: The mansion and the garden, etc initiated by Richard Wellesley was completed by Warren hasting. Lady canning who liked this mansion and the surrounding made it popular and her fine paintings bear testimony to it..........

For Lord Canning, the unexpected death of his wife was a personal loss which made him grive a lot by visiting her grave daily. Canning  mentioned, ''It is a beautiful spot, looking upon that reach of the grand river which she was so fond of drawing, shaded from the glare of the sun by high trees and amongst the bright shrubs and flowers in which she had so much pleasure,”

Their  love for this quiet place with clean air was far beyond one's imagination.  Lady Canning  had so much attachment for Barrackpore never had she felt lonesome or forlorn in a strange hot tropical country with multitude of people with varied cultures. Charmed by the serene ambiance of this place away from the madding crowd,  lady Canning  wrote in her journal “The house faces a great reach of the river & is crooked to the bank. I want to set it straight to the eye by making another walk at the same angle … I have opened to view a beautiful banyan, of late hidden by shrubs”.

As she was in constant touch with the natives in interior places, her death cast a pall of gloom over Kolkata and the neighboring places which turned desolate. Her funeral lent an air of  melancholy to the scene because there was no proper burial place for the high officials and their families. Lady Canning was laid to rest in the corner of this site.   Across England Lady Canning's unfortunate death in Barrackpore at a young age  was widely reported. Various eulogies pouring in across  England bore testimony that she was a symbol of talents and wisdom, a perfect companion for Canning, a good EIC  administrator.

 Grief-stricken  Canning  sent details of his wife's  final days to Queen Victoria, who was also in mourning for the loss of a spouse. With the death of  Canning of liver disease in the following year  responsibility fell on to his heir  Hubert de Burgh-Canning, to arrange for the construction of her tomb. By 1913, her grave and memorial were located adjacent to St John's Church in Calcutta, which is now viewable to the public.

 ''Under the Banyan Tree - The Forgotten Story of Barrackpore Park''  an interesting book written by former Kolkata Police Commissioner and senior IPS officer Soumen Mitra and Associate Professor of English at Scottish Church College Monabi Mitra is an interesting book about various gripping incidents, rich paintings and the life style of the British community in this part of Barrackpore that was primarily for the  White community.