Chinsurah, West Bengal once a prosperous Dutch trading center and settlement

Dutch settlement, Hooghly, WB

Above image: The Trading Post of the Dutch East India Company in Hooghly, Bengal India, Hendrik van Schuylenbergh, 1665. Chinchrah.........................

The Dutch East India company first landed in Pulicat near the coastal area  in what is now Tamil Nadu and later to guard their merchandise and raids by other European competitors in that area built a fine fort there in a strategic location from which they could access the Bay of Bengal and Coromandel coast.  With trading activities in full swing, the garrison in the fort protected the sea routes on the coromandel coast. Over a period of time,  the Dutch expanded their trading activities in other parts of India.   The first factory by the Dutch  came up  at Masulipatnam, Andhra state  in 1605. The Dutch conquered Sri Lanka from the Portuguese in 1656. Following this victory, they had  a series of forts on the Malabar coast built to protect against invasion. They also established a settlement in Bengal near Kolkata on the banks of Hooghly river. The small town of Chinsurah in the later years became a center of Dutch hegemony here.

Chinsurah, Dutch settlement,

Above image: A masonic work with royal Dutch motifs; For trading Dutch East India Company used European currency instead of the rupee. These coins were primarily used in Indonesia, and sometimes used in India too. The Dutch East India Company, officially the United East India Company or Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) was founded in the early 17th century.  
Between 17th and 19th centuries, Chinsurah was a prosperous trading post of the Dutch East India Company. “Dutch, Armenian and native Bengali merchants” lived there in harmony during this period, trading in “saltpetre, spices, cotton and indigo”........................

Dutch saltpeter factory, Chappra, Bihar

In 1635, a settlement was established in Bengal at Chinsurah adjacent to Hooghly to trade in opium, salt, muslin, and spices by the Dutch Company. In 1655, a separate organization, Directorate of Bengal, was created.  Chinsurah, served as an important Dutch colony  for roughly 200 years and  still carries the vestiges of Dutch influence  and architecture. The Dutch  were a dominant force to reckon with and their business grew manifold during the later period. Believe it or not, historically less known fact is this small town was a key trade center between the  western  trade capital Amsterdam on one hand and its Eastern counterpart in Batavia. VOC's Asian history will be incomplete without Chinsurah, West Bengal  with which Dutch's  maritime history is intertwined.  In 1656 after the decline of the Portuguese,  the Dutch took advantage of the emerging political situation and occupied the western bank of the river Hooghly. 

It is one among the Dutch settlements  where one can see a large number of graves in the cemetery.   The Dutch left the country in 1825, but their legacy is still being retained  in places like Chinsurah, WB,  Pulicat, Tamil Nadu, Cochin and Kollam, Kerala, etc., - all  former Dutch settlements. 

Chinsurah in 24 Parganas district is 35 kilometers north of Kolkata and  on the banks of Hooghly River. In  1825  when it came under the control of EIC,  numerous Dutch monuments faced destruction. However, some of them escaped the fury and the Chinsurah cemetery is one among them along with the court house, commissioner's house and garrison, still carrying the Dutch heritage and architectural  legacy.  Chinsurah town may be in the midst of  the ruins of its majestic colonial buildings but  the remnants highlight  its glorious past.

It is quite deplorable, at many places, the former colonial cemeteries including those of the English, Scotts and French are not being maintained with care. It is a painful experience for the European descendants to search for the tombs of their forefathers who  were buried here centuries ago. In the last decades efforts are being made by Indang historians,heritage lovers and the related European countries' missions  to save various  cemeteries across India.  

Chinsurah Dutch Cemetery is an important heritage site just like popular cemeteries like Kolkata’s Park Street cemetery, Meerut's British Cemetery and  Dutch and Armenian cemeteries at Surat, Gujarat.

Commissioner House, Chinsurah  R: VOC (Dutch  Co' logo) 

Chinsurah Court

Chinsurah (Chuchura) Court

Above image:  The Hooghly District Court – the centre of law and justice associated with the Kolkata High Court. The design of the building is influenced by European architecture and is  lined with  colonnaded spaces and wooden louvered doors with roofs supported by wooden beams and latticed windows. About 300 meters (presently 266 meters) east and west, it was  built as the barracks for British soldiers in 1827–1829 on the foundations of Fort Gustavus, when the Dutch ceded Chinsurah to EIC. The court corridor is considered to be  one of the longest buildings in Asia..............

Dutch cemetery, Chinsurah,

Chinsurah a main port for the Dutch company between 1615 and 1825.  Dutch company  (VOC -Vereenigde Ostindische Compagnie), Armed with legal trade rights VOC  had a flourishing business and made it an important export center.

In 1656, with the establishment of a factory by the Dutch,  the competition among European powers became so  serious an issue to procure Indian stuff the Dutch improved the security of the town.. In the later years the competition continued without any break, so the factory was walled in 1687 to protect it against attacks and in 1740, during the directorship of Jan Albert Sichterman, rebuilt into a fort with four bastions. The fort was named Fort Gustavus in 1742, after governor-general Gustaaf Willem van Imhoff.  Director Sichterman also had a church tower built in 1742; it became part of a church building in 1765.  Dutch territorial property and possessions were  confined within the confines of Chinsurah and Baranagore, which was a gift  to them from the local ruler. It was for all purposes subordinate to the government at Batavia.  VOC was particular about  safeguarding   their factory and trading activities. 

Dutch Cannons.  Fort Gustavus,

The only surviving feature of Fort Gustavus, is its artillery wall. Today it is part of the buildings of the Hooghly Madrasah, a 19th century construction raised on the remains of the fortification. Four Dutch cannons scattered on the site are reminders of  the power  of Dutch traders who were keen to protect their trade and settlement.. (Courtesy: Aishwarya Tipnis Architects,

In 1742 the fort  was renamed, Fort Gustavus after Governor-General Gustaaf Willem van Imhoff. The Dutch cemetery and a few buildings bear testimony to  their heyday and their decline under the compelling political scenarios.