Monthly Archives: March 2010

Glimpses of Colonial India.2.College of Fort William, Calcutta

College of Fort William, Calcutta, which was opened in 1800, instructed the newly appointed East India Company officials in vernacular languages.The professors were all European, but their assistants, called Munshis, were native. In the College setting the master- slave relationship transcended the student- teacher relationship

In 1810, a student named Kennedy beat his teacher, Ananda Mohan Sharma, a Munshi in the Sanskrit-Bengali department.The native teacher’s crime was that the  meaning he gave for  a Bengali word did not match the meaning given in Fortster’s  Bengali dictionary. As it turned out , subsequently  Forster’s dictionary was not reprinted because it was declared to be full of errors.

In 1811, a student, Mr Collins,could not find a particular word in the dictionary.He then asked his  teacher, Munshi Ghulam Hasan ,whose  long and tedious explanation  the Sahib could not quite comprehend. Thus annoyed, the student whipped his teacher.When asked to explain his conduct, Mr Collins wrote that ” he was not aware that these people were entitled to be consideed a Gentleman”.


Das, Sisir Kumar (1978) Sahibs and Munshis: An Account of the College of Fort William ( Calcutta: Papyrus, reprint 2001), pp.123-124.

Glimpses of Colonial India. 1. Elihu Yale in Madras

American-born Elihu Yale (1649-1721) is best known as the benefactor of what was later named Yale University. He was the governor of Madras from 1687 to 1692. The following incident was characteristic of him.

His native  butler left his service without proper notice.Yale directed that he should be hanged.The British law indeed  prescribed death sentence for a number of crimes. But leaving employment without notice was not one of them. Yale decreed that the butler be charged with piracy.And so the man was hanged.


Kinkaid, Dennis (1938) British Social Life in India, 1608-1937. (London: Routledge,2nd ed. 1973), p.65