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Chapter Two: Beginnings - The English East India Company

The Company’s Settlements by George Lambert (1700-65) and Samuel Scott (1702-72)
In addition to Rysbrack’s chimneypiece and mahogany furnishings, the Directors commissioned six oil paintings in about 1730 to hang on the walls of their Court Room. The young English artists, George Lambert and Samuel Scott, who often combined their respective talents, painted these scenes as a series. Lambert (an English landscape specialist) collaborated with Scott (a marine painter) on waterfront views. The Court Minutes recorded payment of fifteen guineas per picture to Lambert on 1 November 1732 and shortly afterwards, George Vertue noted that ‘six pictures of the principal Forts & settlements belonging to the East India Company having lately been set up in their house in Leadenhall Street the buildings and Landschape part by Mr. Lambert and the shipping by Mr. Scott’. Four of these pictures, Fort William and Tellicherry (on the west wall), with St Helena and the Cape of Good Hope (on the north wall), are seen hanging above large framed mirrors in Shepherd’s watercolour. The two remaining pictures, Fort St George and Bombay above the doors on each side of Rysbrack’s chimneypiece, are not visible. While four scenes represent the Company’s main Indian settlements, those of Jamestown on the island of St. Helena, and the Cape of Good Hope were important ports of call on the sea route to the subcontinent. Almost certainly composed by the painters to hang above the spectators’ eye level, these stately compositions would have complimented Rysbrack’s allegorical bas-relief of ‘Britannia receiving the riches of the East’. There can be little doubt that the shipping in the relief, symbolically represented as sailing eastward (the chimneypiece was on east wall) linked directly with the images of the Company’s settlements, ranged high around three of the walls in the Directors’ Court Room. In fact the entire Court Room probably exhibited an early Georgian scheme of decoration that was probably unique when completed in about 1730, and which later Directors were keen to preserve when Richard Jupp’s major rebuilding of East India House took place towards the end of the eighteenth century.

The Sale Room, East India House
The Sale Room adjoining the Directors’ Court Room on its north side was also known as the General Court Room. Besides being the venue for auctions, it was used by the Company Proprietors for their regular meetings. While the decor of the Directors’ Court Room represented the Company’s success in its trading ventures, the decorative theme in the Sale Room was quite different. But besides being the venue for meetings and auctions, it became a hall of fame in which heroes of the Company were commemorated in marble.

Company Commissions: Sculptures at East India House
In September 1760, the Proprietors of the General Court decided to honour three of their leading officials in marble. Robert Clive (1725-74), Stringer Lawrence (1697-1775), and George Pocock (1706-92) had all recently returned from India. Having sought permission from each of them, the Proprietors agreed that ‘their Portraits or Statues be taken in order to be placed in some conspicuous parts of this House, that their Eminent and Signal Services to this Company may be ever had in remembrance.’ Clive, as the hero of the battle of Plassey, was considered to have brought security and large revenues to the Company in Bengal, while Lawrence and Pocock, serving in south India, had done much to eliminate French power in the subcontinent. By July 1764, three full-length standing statues by Peter Scheemakers (1691-1781), who had worked in Rome, were ready for display. Representing early examples of the Neo-classical influence on portrait sculpture in Britain, each man was attired in the traditional Roman costume of warriors with a sword in the right hand and a classical stance. The ‘conspicuous parts of this House’ were in the Sale Room, the upper storey of the apse where three niches were created specially. Pocock was placed in the centre, flanked by Clive (in the southern niche, left) and Lawrence (in the northern niche, right). Like Rysbrack’s chimneypiece these statues were also lit by natural light, from the circular skylight above. To be carved in marble, rather than portrayed in the less expensive medium of oil paint, was a special honour granted several years before their respective careers ended.

In 1788, a statue of General Eyre Coote in military uniform by Thomas Banks (1735-1805) joined the sculptures. Coote had died in office in Madras in 1783, and Banks also designed his monument for Westminster Abbey. On 23 January 1793, the Court of Proprietors, praising the ‘very gallant and important services’ of Lord Cornwallis, who had successfully concluded the third Mysore War in 1792 by treaty, also resolved that his statue be placed in the General Court Room. In 1798, the marble statue of Lord Cornwallis by John Bacon the elder (1740-99) was placed in the niche opposite Eyre Coote. Fortunately the Directors’ Court Room, the Sale Room and its statues, all survived the rebuilding programme that began under Richard Jupp in 1796. In fact the Sale Room not only survived, but it was also refurbished with extra niches introduced to accommodate more statues.

Government House, Calcutta
Meanwhile in 1798, while the Company Directors in London were overseeing construction of East India House, the newly appointed Governor General, Marquess Wellesley, was considering plans for a new Government House in Calcutta. Twenty-five years had passed since the Bengal Presidency had been granted higher status with special powers over Madras and Bombay. Finding old Government House totally unworthy of a city that was the seat of British authority in India, Wellesley planned a Neo-classical structure that would exceed the splendour even of the Company’s London headquarters. The designs by Lieutenant Charles Wyatt (of the Bengal Engineers) were selected in preference to those of Edward Tiretta (the Company’s architect), probably because Wyatt’s plan was the more spectacular. The vast site on Esplanade Row, created by the demolition of old Government House and adjoining Council House, was chosen for the new edifice. Nearby residences were also demolished to provide land for the spacious grounds. Without consulting the Directors in London, Wellesley went ahead with his grandiose project.

Since a palatial building was required, the design of a grand English country house was most appropriate. The plan of Keddleston Hall in Derbyshire, built in the mid-eighteenth century, was selected from James Paine’s, Plans, elevations, and sections of Noblemen’s and Gentlemen’s houses of 1783. While Paine’s plan with its striking quadrant wings linked to corner pavilions, forming a rhythmic symmetry, provided the basic layout for Government House, Wyatt’s exterior elevation bore little resemblance to this prototype. The foundation stone was laid in February 1799, and the structure was almost complete four years later. A grand Ionic portico and flight of steps formed the main entrance on the north facade, while the garden front with its domed loggia faced the Esplanade to

New Government House Calcutta 1824
New Government House Calcutta 1824
Private Collection

the south. The four quadrant wings not only added elegance but also catered to the Calcutta climate by catching any breeze from different directions. The garden was enclosed by iron railings with four magnificent gateways, based partly on Robert Adam’s design for the gateway to Syon House near London (fig.18).

At a meeting in Calcutta on 21 February 1804, while Wellesley was still in office, the citizens decided to construct a Town Hall ‘for the convenience of the settlement and the reception of statues of the Marquess Wellesley and Marquess Cornwallis’. The Town Hall was to replace the Old Court House on Tank Square, which had been used for meetings and entertainments until its demolition in 1792. Bengal’s Chief Engineer, John Garstin (1756-1820) prepared the design, and construction began in December 1807, once the designs and costs (met by a lottery) had been approved. It was not without structural problems, however, and took longer to build than Government House, situated almost next door to the east.

Statue of Marquess Cornwallis 1803
Statue of Marquess Cornwallis 1803
British Library OIOC: P 524

The Town Hall was a two-storied Palladian building with a Doric portico above a short flight of steps to the south (fig. 21), and a carriage entrance to the north. A large marble hall, to which the public were admitted, occupied much of the ground floor. Although the statue of Wellesley was yet to be commissioned, that of Cornwallis was ready for display. When the statue of Cornwallis by Bacon the elder was placed in the Sale Room at East India House in 1798, the Calcutta citizens had requested one for their own city. It was designed by Bacon the elder and completed by his son. While the appearance of Cornwallis is almost the same in both versions, two allegorical figures representing Prudence holding a serpent and Truth holding a mirror, were added to create a group composition for Calcutta. Cornwallis had been re-appointed Governor-General in 1805, largely to counter Wellesley’s expansive policies. Within months, however, he died on 5 October at Ghazipur while travelling up-country. Following its display at the Royal Academy’s annual exhibition in London in 1808, the statue of Wellesley in court robes by John Bacon the younger was shipped to Calcutta. About a century later, both statues were moved from the Town Hall to the Victoria Memorial, Calcutta.

Jonathan Duncan (1756-1811)
In general, public statues were reserved for those in the highest offices, such as the Governors-General, Commanders-in-Chief and Governors. One of the principal monuments by John Bacon the younger in St Thomas’ Cathedral in Bombay was erected to the memory of Governor Jonathan Duncan, who died suddenly at Government House, Apollo Street on 11 August 1811 (fig. 22 b).

Monument to Jonathan Duncan in St Thomas'
Monument to Jonathan Duncan in St Thomas' Cathedral, Bombay About 1812
V&A: E 1553-1931

Born in Scotland, Duncan had arrived in Calcutta aged sixteen as a Writer. He became British Resident at Benares in 1788, and was appointed Governor of Bombay in 1795. Duncan’s monument notably reflects his popularity among the Indian people.

Besides John Bacon the elder and younger, other early sculptors whose works were commissioned for India included Thomas Banks (1735-1805), Richard Westmacott (1747-1808), John Flaxman (1755-1826), Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841), Henry Weekes (1807-77), and Thomas Woolner (1825-92). As the nineteenth century progressed, the Company increasingly commissioned statues and monuments also for their cantonment towns, which likewise became Company icons throughout its expanding network.