Introduction : Historical.


B E N G A L P I L O T S E R V I C E.

Being an Account of the

Navigation of the Hooghly River.

Park Complied by

Captain G. T. Labey, M. B. E., M. C.

Branch Pilot, Bengal Pilot Service, (Retired).

Park Compiled and Edited by

Captain R. K. H. Brice,

Branch Pilot, Master Mariner,

Member Institute of Navigation

and of the

Honourable Company of Master Mariners.

Bengal and Hooghly Pilot Services (Retired).




As the Hooghly flows through the Indian State of West Bengal a brief history of the State would not come amiss, to the better understanding of the early struggles of the Honourable English East India Company, and the formation of the Bengal Pilot Service.

The name Bengal is derived from Sanskrit geography, and applies strictly to the country stretching southwards from Bhagalpur to the sea. The ancient Banga formed one of the five outlying kingdoms of Aryan India, and was practically identical with the delta of Bengal. It derived its name, according to the etymology of the Pundits, from a prince of the Mahabharata, to whose portion it fell on the primitive partition called Bangala, near Chittagong, which, although now washed away, is supposed to have existed in the Mohammedan period, appears to have given the name to the European world. The word Bangala was first used by the Mohammedans; and under their rule, like the Banga of old Sanskrit times, it applied specifically to the Gangetic delta, although the later conquests to the East of the Brahmaputra were eventually included within it.

In their distribution of the country for fiscal purposes, it formed the central province of a governorship, with Behar on the North-West, and Orissa on the South-West, jointly rules by one deputy of the Delhi emperor.

Under the English the name has designated very different areas. Francis Fernandez applies it to the country from the extreme East of Chittagong to Point Palmyras in Orissa, with a coast line, which Purchas estimates at 600 miles, running inland for the same distance and watered by the Ganges. This territory would include the Mohammedan province of Bengal with parts of Behar and Oriesa. The loose idea thus derived from old voyagers became the of the archives of the East India Company.

All its North-Eastern factories, from Balasore, on the Orissa coast, to Patna in the heart of Behar, belonged to the “Bengal Establishment”, and as British conquests crept higher up the rivers, the term came to be applied to the whole of Northern India.

The presidency of Bengal, as opposed to those of madras and Bombay, eventually included all the British territories North of the Central Provinces, from the Mouths of the Ganges and Brahmaputra to the Himalayas and the Punjab.

In 1831 the North-Western Provinces were created, which were later included with Oudh in the United Provinces; later still the whole of Northern India was divided into four lieutenant-governorships of the Punjab, the United Provinces, Bengal and Eastern Bengal and Assam.

It was Lord Curzon who first partitioned Bengal in 1905 into two parts; Bengal, which included Behar and Orissa, and Eastern Bengal and Assam; then in 1912 described it as follows:-

“What is termed officially “the province of Behar and Orissa” has been formed by transferring thereto the Bhagalpur, Patna, Tirhut, Chota Nagpur and orissa divisions of Bengal, comprising 21 districts, but excluding the Darjeeling district of the Bhagalpur division, which has been placed in the Rajshahi division of Bengal. The Presidency of Fort William in Bengal comprises the Chittagong, Dacca, and Rajshi divisions administered since 1905 by the Lieutenant-Govenor of Eastern Bengal and Assam, and the Presidency and Burdwan divisions as hitherto administered by the Lieutenant-Govenor of Bengal. Including Darjeeling there are 27 districts. Assam reverts to the status of a Chief Commissionership, and its limits are the same as when it was incorporated with Eastern Bengal nearly seven years ago.

Lord Carmichael has taken charge as Govenor of the Presidency, Sir Charles Stuart Bayley is the Lieutenant-Govenor of Behar and Orissa while Sir Archdale Earle has taken charge as Chief Commissioner of Assam.”

In 1947, thirty-five years later the Bengal Presidency, as created above, was again partitioned. It was on the 15th Augusts, 1947, on the transfer of power from Britain to India when the latter was granted her independence, that Bengal was partitioned into the two asparate States of West Bengal of India, and East Bengal of Pakistan.

The political history of Bengal naturally forms an integral part of the general history of India. The Northern part, Behar, constituted the ancient kingdom of Magadha, the nucleus of the imperial power of the successive great dynasties of the Mauryas, Andhras and Guptas; and it chief town, Patna, is the ancient Pataliputra (the Palimbothra of the Greeks) once the Capital of India. The Delta or Southern part of Bengal lay beyond the ancient Sanskrit polity, and was governed by a number of local kings belonging to a pre-Aryan stock. The Chinese travelers, Fa Hien in the 5th century, and Hauan Tsang in the 7th century, found the Buddhist religion prevailing throughout Bengal, but already in a fierce struggle with Hinduism, a struggle which ended about the 9th or 10th century in the general establishment of the latter faith.

Until the end of the 12th century Hindu princes governed in a number of small principalities. But in 1199 Mohammed Bakhtiyar Khilji was appointed to lead the first Mussulman invasion into Bengal. The Mohammedan conquest of Behar dates from 1197 A. D., and the new power speedily spread Southwards into the delta. From about this date until 1340 Bengal was ruled by governors appointed by the Mohammedan emperors in the North. From 1340 to 1539 the governors enjoyed a precarious independence, and assumed the role of sovereigns on their own account. From 1540 to 1576 Bengal passed under the rule of the Pathan or Afgan dynasty, which commonly bears the name of Sher Shah.

On the overthrow of this house by the powerful arms of Akbar, Bengal was incorporated into the Mogul empire, and administered by governors appointed by the Delhi emperor, until the treaties of 1765, which placed Bengal, Behar and Orissa under the administration of the East India Company.

The Company formed its earliest settlements in Bengal in the first half of the 17th century. These settlements were of a purely commercial character. In 1620 one of the Company’s factors dates from Patna; in 1624 the Company established itself by the favour of the emperor, on the ruins of the ancient Portuguese settlement of Pippli, on the coast in North Orissa near the mouth of the Hooghly. In 1640-42 an English surgeon, Gabriel Boughton, obtained establishments at Balasore, a small port, also in Orissa, and at Hugli, on the river, some 25 miles above Calcutta.

In 1651 the Bengal Pilot Service was founded.

The vexations and extortions to which the Company’s early Agents were subjected more than once almost induced them to abandon the trade, and in 1677-1678 they threatened to withdraw from Bengal altogether. In 1685, the Bengal factors, driven to extremity by the oppression of the Mogul Govenors, took up arms and enjoyed sufficient fortune to be able to purchase, in 1696, the villages which have since grown up into Calcutta, the metropolis of India, from the grandson of Aurangzeb.

During the next fifty years the British had a long hazardous struggle alike with the Mogul governors of the province, and the Mahratta armies while invaded it. In 1756 this struggle culminated in the great outrage known as the “Black Hole” of Calcutta, followed by Clive’s battle of Flassey and recapture of Calcutta, which avenged it. That battle and the subsequent years of confused fighting, established British military supremacy in Bengal, and procured the treaties of 1765, by which the provinces of Bengal, Behar and Orissa passed under British administration.

To Warren Hastings (1772 – 1785) belong the glory of consolidating the British power, and converting a military occupation into a stable civil government. To another member of the civil service, John Shore, afterwards Lord Teignmouth (1786 – 1793), is due the formation of a regular system of Angle-Indian legislation. Acting through Lord Cornwallis, then Governor-General, he ascertained and defined the rights of the landholders in the soil, in 1793 Lord Cornwallis declared their rights perpetual, and made over the land of Bengal to the previous Minders, on condition of the payment of a fixed land tax. This piece of legielation was known as the Permanent Settlement of the land Revenue. This wise decision was a great benefit to the East India Company, as it settled the fears of the local landlords, as to the Companies demands on their land, and created an atmosphere of co-operation, so essential to trade.

In 1857 the India Mutiny broken out with the rebellion of the sepoys of the Bengal Army which spread rapidly along the valley of the Ganges from Barrack pore (14 miles from Calcutta) through Patna to Delhi.

The Mutiny sealed the fate of the East India Company after a life of more than two and a half centuries. It fell to the lot of Lord Canning both to suppress the Mutiny and to introduce the peaceful revolution that followed. On November 1st, 1858, at a Grand durbar held at Allahabad the royal proclamation was published which announced that Queen Victoria had assumed the government of India.

Peace was proclaimed throughout the whols of India on the 8th July, 1859.

On the 1st January, 1877, Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India at a Durbar of great magnificence, held on the historic “Ridge” overlooking the old Mogul capital of Delhi.

In 1947 on the 15th of August, the British Government handed over power to the Indian people, and India became a free independent Sovereign State, who eventually chose to become a Republic in the British Commonwealth of Nations, acknowledging Queen Elizabeth 2 as Head of the Commonwealth.

On the 15th May, 1948 the Bengal Pilot Service was abolished.


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