The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle Vol.XLI

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Introductory notes

The Gentleman's Magazine was published from London. The periodical founded in 1731 ran continuously for almost two hundred years, untill 1922. The periodical edited by Edward Cave was the first to use the term 'Magazine'. The periodical published news and commentary on a broad range of mostly contemporary topics. The periodical originally published under the title, 'The Gentleman's Magazine or Monthly Intelligencer' changed its name to 'The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle' from 1736. Edward Cave, the editor also contributed articles to the periodical, under the pen name, Sylvanus Urban.

An account of the 1770 famine in Bengal was published at The Gentleman's Magazine in 1771. The account was published in form of an anonymous letter to the editor. The account offers an insight of the factors that led to the famine. The letter highlights the role played by the Company officials and the Black Marketeers in absorbing rice from the market which were sold at a higher price. The letter also offers a very lively description of the inhuman sufferings that the famine cause to the people of Bengal.

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An account of the 1770 famine in Bengal was published at The Gentleman's Magazine in 1771. The account was published in form of an anonymous letter to the editor. The account offers an insight of the factors that led to the famine. The letter highlights the role played by the Company officials and the Black Marketeers in absorbing rice from the market which were sold at a higher price. The letter also offers a very lively description of the inhuman sufferings that the famine cause to the people of Bengal.

Gentleman's Magazine
Historical Chronicle

SYLVANUS URBAN, Gent.LONDON. Printed at St.Johns Gate, by D.Henry, and sold by F.Newberry


[Page 402]

I HAVE just received the following account of the late famine in India, from a very worthy friend of mine in the Company's service at Calcutta; by inserting of which in your useful Repository, you will oblige an old Correspondent.

I am your's & c. J.C.


" As soon as the dryness of the season foretold the approaching dearness of rice, our Gentlemen in the Company's service, particularly those at the Subordinates, whose stations gave them the best oppurtunities were as early as possible in buying all they could lay hold of. When the effects of the scarcity became more and more sensible, the natives complained the Nabob at Muxadavad, that the English had engrossed all the rice, particularly in the Bahar and Purnea Provinces. This complaint was laid before the President and Council by the Nabob's Minister, who resides in Calcutta; but the interest of the Gentlemen concerned was too powerful at the board; so that the complaint was only laughed at and thrown out. Our Gentlemen in many places purchased the rice at 120 and 140 Seers for a Rupee, which they afterwards sold for 15 Seers for a Rupee. the Black Merchant; [...]so that the made great fortunes by it; and one of our writers at the Durbar, who was interested therein, not esteemed to be worth a thousand Rupees last year, has sent down, as it is said 60.000/ sterling, to be remitted home this year. The Black Merchants, who had made their gross purchases from our Gentlemen, brought down great quantities of their rice, and deposited in the Golahs or Granaries about Calcutta, where very unfortunately for the poor inhabitants, great part of it was destroyed by terrible fires, which we had in the months of April and May, before which time the English had sold off all they had on hand. The effects of the scarcity continuing to become daily more alarming, our Governor and Council bethought themselves, though by much too late, to send into the interior parts of the country to purchase what rice they could on the Company's account, fixed the price of sales in Calcutta at 10 Seers for a Rupee, and seized all they could upon the rivers. The Black Merchants remonstrated, that the charges of bringing the rice down the country, together with the high interest which they paid the Shroffs or Bankers for raising the money, and other contingencies, ran to excessively high, that they should, those terms, be losers by their purchases; upon which, by an order of Council, Seapoys were stationed at their Golahs, to prevent the delivering any riche without a permit or order; and notwithstanding all the orders for purchasing up the country on the Company's account, to so were the Company's Granaries here, that the Council were obliged to fend and take from the Merchants Golahs, what they wanted for the support of workmen on the fortifications at Calcutta and Budge Budge, who were threatening to desert for want of victuals; and it was deemed a great favour if the Merchants were allowed to carry from their Golahs a few Maunds to the Bazars, to fell for the support of the inhanbitants. The Nabob and several of the great men of the country at Maxadavad distributed rice to the poor gratis, until their stocks began to fail, when those donations were withdrawn, which brought many thousands down to Calcutta, in hopes of finding relief amongst us. By the time the famine had been about a fortnight over the land, we were greatly affected at Calcutta, many thousands [Page 403] whose bodies, mangled by dongs, jackalls and vultures in that hot season (when at best the air is very infectious) made us dread the consequences of a plague. We had 100 people employed upon the Cutcherry List on the Company's account of with doolys, fledges, and bearers, to carry the dead and throw them into the River Ganges. I have counted from my bed-chamber window in the morning when I got up forty dead bodies laying within twenty yards of the wall, besides many hundred laying in the agonies of death for want, bending double, with their stomachs quite close contracted to their back bones. I have sent my servant to desire those who had strength,to remove farther off, whilst the poor creatures, looking up the arms extended, have cried out, Baba ! Baba ! my Father ! my Father ! This affliction comes from the hands of your countrymen and I am come here to die, if it pleases God, in your presence. I cannot move; do what you will with me.- In the month of June our condition was still worse, only three Seers of rice to be had in the Bazar for a Rupee, and that very bad, which, when brought, must be carried home secretly, to avoid being plundered by the famished multitude on the road. One could not pass along the streets without seeing multitude in the last agonies, crying out as you passed. My God ! My God ! have mercy upon me, I am starving; whilst on other sides numbers of dead were seen with dogs, jackalls, hogs, vultures and other beasts and birds of prey feeding on the carcases. It was remarked by the natives, that greater numbers of these animals came down at this time than was ever known, which upon this melancholy occastion was of great service; as the vultures and other birds take the eyes and intestines, whilst the other animals gnaw the feet and hands; so that very little of the body remained for the Cutcherry People to carry to the River, notwithstanding they had very hard work of it. I have observed two of them with a dooly carrying twenty heads, and the remains of the carcases that had been left by the beasts of prey, to the river at a time. At this time we could not touch fish, the river so full of carcases; and of those who did eat it died suddently. Pork, ducks and geese, also lived mostly on carnage; so that our only meat was mutton when we could get it, which was very dear, and from the dryness of the season so poor, that a quarter would not weigh a pound and a half. Of this I used to make a little broth, and after I had dined, perhaps there were 100 poor at the door waiting for the remains, which I have often sent among them cut up into little pieces ; so that as many as could might partake of it; and after one had sucked the bones quite dry, and thrown them away, I have seen another take them up, sand and all upon them, and do the same, and so by a third, and so on. In the month of August, we had a very alarming phenomenon appeared, of a large black cloud at a distance in the air, which sometimes obscured the sun and seemed to extend a great way all over and about Calcutta. The hotter the day proved the lower this cloud seemed to descend, and for three days it caused great speculation. The Bramin pretended that this phenomenon, which is a cloud of insects, should make its appearence three times; and if ever they descended to the earth, the country would be destroyed by some untimely misfortune. They say, that about 150 years ago they had such another bad time, when the ground was burnt up for want of rain ; this is the second time of this phenomenon's appearing, and that they came much lower than is recorded of the former. On the third day, the weather being very hot and cloudy, with much rain, we could perceive them with the naked eye, bearing a continual buzzing. "About one o'clock they were so low as 30 feet from ground, when we saw them distinctly to be great number of large insects, about the size of a horse-stinger, with long red body, long wings and a large head and eyes, keeping close together like a swarm of bees, seemingly quite on a line. I did not hear of any that were caught, as the country people were much frightened at the prognosication of the Bramins. Whilst it rained, they continued in one postition for near a quarter of an hour; then theyrose five or six feet at once, and in a little time descended as much, until a strong North West wind came and blowed for two day successively, when they gradually ascended and descended in the same manner, but more precipitately, until next morning, when the air was quite clear. It was very remarkable, that for some days before the appearence of this phenomenon. [Page 404] the toads, frogs and insects, which in numbers innumerable always make a continued noise here the whole night, during the rains, disappeared and were neither seen nor heard except in the river.

"Whilst the famine continued news came down privately to Calcutta that the Nabob was dead and had died in his garden of the small pox. Many people would not give credit to the report, as the Governor and Council pretended they did not know it for three weeks afterwards, when Mahomed Reza Cawn came down from Muxadavad, and brought with him the young brother of the deceased Nabob, the only male heir remaining of Meer Jaffer's family, whom the laid Governor and Council, in the presence of some of their friends, proclaimed Nabob the very next day at the Court House. This lad is about 14 or 15 years old, under the tutorage of Mahomed Reza Cawn, as his brother was in his minority. He is of a milder disposition ; and it seems the general opinion of the country people, with whom I have conversed on the subject,that he also will soon die, either in his garden of seraglio, to make way for Mahomed Reza Cawn."

This is a selection from the original text


animals, bazar, famine, plague, plunder, relief, rice

Source text

Title: The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle

Subtitle: Vol. XLI

Editor(s): Sylvanus Urban

Publisher: D.Henry

Publication date: 1771

Place of publication: London

Provenance/location: This text was transcribed from images available at Internet Archive:

Digital edition

Original editor(s): Sylvanus Urban

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) pages 402 to 404


Texts collected by: Ayesha Mukherjee, Amlan Das Gupta, Azarmi Dukht Safavi

Texts transcribed by: Muhammad Irshad Alam, Bonisha Bhattacharya, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Muhammad Ehteshamuddin, Kahkashan Khalil, Sarbajit Mitra

Texts encoded by: Bonisha Bhattacharya, Shreya Bose, Lucy Corley, Kinshuk Das, Bedbyas Datta, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Sarbajit Mitra, Josh Monk, Reesoom Pal

Encoding checking by: Hannah Petrie, Gary Stringer, Charlotte Tupman

Genre: India > periodicals

For more information about the project, contact Dr Ayesha Mukherjee at the University of Exeter.