“Jim with a few of his soldiers stood surrounded by a large contingent of the Nawab’s forces. Soon Jemmaatdaars shepherded the Captain Commandant with soldiers and civilians into a small room. This is when the horror began.
Packed like sardines in the room, delirious from lack of air and acrid smoke from the burning godowns filling their lungs, the prisoners started feeling suffocated and begged the guards for water. In their despair, they started offering whatever money they had to the Nawab’s guards outside. “One thousand rupees! Two thousand rupees!”
Though finding it difficult to breathe himself, Jim passed the little water that was brought in to others using his hat. But in the frenzy that ensued with the prisoners struggling to get to the window, most of the water was spilled. Worse, people were getting trampled.
Jim shouted over the ravings and rantings, “Gentlemen, we need to help each other, we need to keep our heads if we are to survive this night”.
He could dimly see a Captain frothing at the mouth and collapsing. Jim himself was losing consciousness from the heat and exhaustion. As he slowly crumpled in a heap on the ground, strangely enough the last image which fluttered across his mind’s eye was the suffused glow of the pearl and emerald necklace he had glimpsed briefly the previous night.”
Snippet: After the fall of East India Company’s Fort William to Nawab Siraj Ud Daulah’s forces on 20th June 1756, the surviving English soldiers, Indian sepoys along with some civilians were rounded and locked up in a small room for the night. Next morning only twenty odd prisoners had survived, the remaining around forty to sixty having perished from exhaustion, suffocation and stampede. The incident came to be known as the Black Hole tragedy of Calcutta and directly led to the British seeking revenge by overthrowing Siraj Ud Daulah as the Nawab of Bengal by defeating him at the Battle of Plassey the following year.
The fall of Fort William and the Black Hole Tragedy feature in the story ‘The Chronicler of the Hooghly’, part of my forthcoming book of the same name.
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