Bengal’s stately Raj Bhavans tell their stories in new book

They bore witness to many landmark events during British rule in India
In a large room in the south of the Raj Bhavan in Kolkata, an oil painting of the Mahatma by Jamini Ray hangs in the Governor’s study. Not many people know that some of the policies that shaped colonial India — the introduction of English education through Thomas Macaulay’s Minute, the Doctrine of Lapse, the Ilbert Bill, the Partition of Bengal, and many others — were chalked out in this very room. In the words of Lord Curzon, the room “has witnessed discussions as agitated and decisions as heavily charged with fate as any private apartment in the wide circumference of the British Empire”. Several anecdotes about the Raj Bhavan, Kolkata — the stately building that remained the seat of power for the entire subcontinent from 1803 to 1912 — have been the documented in a book titled Those Noble Edifices: The Raj Bhavans of Bengal . The publication was unveiled by West Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi here on Thursday. The new book includes references to documents such as a note dated April 1, 1857, in Governor-General Lord Canning’s own handwriting regarding the outbreak of the “disturbance” (the Revolt of 1857) at Barrackpore on the occasion of the disbandment of the 19th Native Infantry. It is believed that Lord Canning’s note was written at Barrackpore not far from where the “disturbances” broke out. Mr. Sengupta said that although the Government House at Barrackpore was a mere shadow of what Wellesley’s grand and ambitious plan could have produced, it was still spacious enough to serve as a country residence for Governor-Generals and Viceroys. After Independence, the Raj Bhavan at Barrackpore came under the care of the West Bengal Police, housing the police training academy. Now the academy has been shifted to another site and the building restored. The building now houses a museum. By the 1870s, Darjeeling became the summer seat of the Bengal Government and a suitable accommodation for the Lieutenant-Governor was built in the late 19th century. Unlike the Raj Bhavan at Kolkata, which was built without a garden, the Raj Bhavan at Darjeeling has always had one. “The main house was so extensively damaged by the Nepal-Bihar earthquake of January 1934 that it had to be entirely demolished, and replaced by a new Government House built in ferroconcrete during the tenure of Sir John Anderson (1932–37),” Mr. Sengupta writes.

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