Develpoment on Indian Cities (1850 - 1900) | Indian History

In the beginning of 1600s all three cities - Madras, Calcutta and Bombay were originally fishing and weaving villages. They became important centres of trade due to the economic activities of the English East India Company. Company agents settled in Madras in 1639 and in Calcutta in 1690. Bombay was given to the Company in 1661 by the English king, who had got it as part of his wife’s dowry from the king of Portugal. The Company established trading and administrative offices in each of these settlements. By the middle of the nineteenth century these settlements had become big cities from where the new rulers controlled the country.
The first all-India census was attempted in 1872. Thereafter, from 1881, decennial (conducted every ten years) censuses became a regular feature. This collection of data is an invaluable source for studying urbanisation in India. The introduction of railways in 1853 meant a change in the fortunes of towns. Economic activity gradually shifted away from traditional towns which were located along old routes and rivers. By the eighteenth century
Madras, Calcutta and Bombay had become important ports. The settlements that came up here were convenient points for collecting goods. The English East India Company built its factories (i.e., mercantile offices) there and because of competition among the European companies, fortified these settlements for protection. In Madras, Fort St George, in Calcutta Fort William and in Bombay the Fort marked out the areas of British settlement. Indian merchants, artisans and other workers who had economic dealings with European merchants lived outside these forts in settlements of their own.

Thus, from the beginning there were separate quarters for Europeans and Indians, which came to be labelled in contemporary writings as the “White Town” and “Black Town” respectively. Once the British captured political power these racial distinctions became sharper. From the mid-nineteenth century the expanding network of railways linked these cities to the rest of the country. As a result the hinterland – the countryside from where raw materials and labour were drawn – became more closely linked to these port cities. Since raw material was transported to these cities for export and there was plentiful cheap labour available, it was convenient to set up modern factories there. After the 1850s, cotton mills were set up by Indian merchants and entrepreneurs in Bombay, and European-owned jute mills were established on the outskirts of Calcutta. This was the beginning of modern industrial development in India. Although Calcutta, Bombay and Madras supplied raw materials for industry in England, and had emerged because of modern economic forces like capitalism, their economies were not primarily based on factory production. The majority of the working population in these cities belonged to what economists classify as the tertiary sector. There were only two  proper “industrial cities”: Kanpur, specialising in leather, woollen and cotton textiles, and Jamshedpur, specialising in steel. India never became a modern industrialised country, since discriminatory colonial policies limited the levels of industrial development. Calcutta, Bombay and Madras grew into large cities, but this did not signify any dramatic economic growth for colonial India as a whole.

After the Revolt of 1857 British attitudes in India were shaped by a constant fear of rebellion. They felt that towns needed to be better defended, and white people had to live in more secure and segregated enclaves, away from the threat of the “natives”. Pasturelands and agricultural fields around the older towns were cleared, and new urban spaces called “Civil Lines” were set up. White people began to live in the Civil Lines. Cantonments– places where Indian troops under European command were stationed – were also developed as safe enclaves. These areas were separate from but attached to the Indian towns. With broad streets, bungalows set amidst large gardens, barracks, parade ground and church, they were meant as a safe haven for Europeans as well as a model of ordered urban life in contrast to the densely builtup Indian towns.

The temperate and cool climate of the Indian hills was seen as an advantage, particularly since the British associated hot weather with epidemics. Cholera and malaria were particularly feared and attempts were made to protect the army from these diseases. The overwhelming presence of the army made these stations a new kind of cantonment in the hills. These hill stations were also developed as sanitariums, i.e., places where soldiers could be sent for rest and recovery from illnesses. Because the hill stations approximated the cold climates of Europe, they became an attractive destination for the new rulers. It became a practice for viceroys to move to hill stations during the summer months. In 1864 the Viceroy John Lawrence officially moved his council to Simla, setting seal to the practice of shifting capitals during the hot season. Simla also became the official residence of the commander-in-chief of the Indian army. In the hill stations the British and other Europeans sought to recreate settlements that were reminiscent of home. The buildings were deliberately built in the European style. With the setting up of tea and coffee plantations in the adjoining areas, an influx of immigrant labour from the plains began. This meant that hill stations no longer remained exclusive racial enclaves for Europeans in India.

1500-1700 European trading companies establish bases in India: the Portuguese in Panaji in 1510; the Dutch in Masulipatnam,
1605; the British in Madras in 1639, in Bombay in 1661, and in Calcutta in 1690; the French in Pondicherry in 1673
1757 Decisive victory of the British in the Battle of Plassey; the British become rulers of Bengal
1773 Supreme Court set up in Calcutta by the East India Company
1803 Lord Wellesley’s Minute on Calcutta town improvement
1818 British takeover of the Deccan; Bombay becomes the capital of the new province
1853 Railway from Bombay to Thane
1857 First spinning and weaving mill in Bombay
1857 Universities in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta
1870s Beginning of elected representatives in municipalities
1881 Madras harbour completed
1896 First screening of a film at Watson’s Hotel, Bombay
1896 Plague starts spreading to major cities
1911 Transfer of capital from Calcutta to Delhi



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