Mumbai (1661-1947) | The Company and Frere Town

Mumbai (1661-1947) | The Company and Frere Town
Urban Development along the Esplanade in the second half of the 19th century © Maharashtra State Archives, Mumbai

In exchange for help from the British against the Dutch, Bombay was a marriage dowry offered by the Portuguese Crown to King Charles II of England alongside with Tangiers and two million cruzados (David, 1995, p.21).  Humphrey Cooke who took over Bombay found the seven islands is nothing more than a fishing village where their annual revenue did not even exceed £1000.  It was “proved” to be a drain of resources to manage Bombay. However, having a “well-sheltered 12-mile-long and six fathom deep”, the British East India Company set their eyes on it as they believed the control of the seas is essential to protect the trade (Griffiths, 1946, p.70).   Albeit rejecting the offer by the Crown on taking charge of the seven islands at first, another opportunity arrived 7 years later when Charles II was loaned £50000 at 6% interest from the Company for his shipbuilding and defence projects (Dossal, 2010, p.13).  In return, Bombay was given to the Company at an annual rent of £10 (David, 1995, p.27).

 

In order to promote trade and agriculture to make Bombay a profitable venture for the Company, a range of incentives such as offering protection to merchant and ship owners from pirate attacks, financial to the bhandaris were made available in an attempt to attract people settling in Bombay.  Furthermore, settlers could construct their houses wherever they chose provided that the location would not cause interference to the defence of the islands or commercial interest of the Company (Dossal, 2010, p.34)

 

Frere Town, located in the erstwhile Fort of South Bombay, was one of the most magnificent urban development projects in the 19th century which developed to be the new commercial and financial centre for Bombay.   Ramparts Removal Committee was set up in November 1862 to demolish the fort walls, ramparts, ravelins, and town gates as well as plan the new Central Business District.   Functional and symbolic significance that displayed superiority and stability of the British Empire through the buildings along the Esplanade and the waterfront of the western shore.  Strict regulations such as specification in size of plot, building heights, construction materials, a continuous and protected street frontage controlled by the width of arcades, and provision of drainage and sewerage system were established in the development.  To ensure early completion and buoyant property prices, building works should be finished “within three years from the date of the sale of land”, or else the lessee will be penalised.  “In case of further delay, the land forfeited”. (Dossal, 2010, p.135)

Plan of the unwalled town of Bombay © 1886, W.J. Addis; redrawn by Prasad Gogate
Plan of the unwalled town of Bombay © 1886, W.J. Addis; redrawn by Prasad Gogate
Urban Development along the Esplanade in the second half of the 19th century © Maharashtra State Archives, Mumbai
Urban Development along the Esplanade in the second half of the 19th century © Maharashtra State Archives, Mumbai

The success of Bombay is mainly due to the civil discipline among servants that the Company is known for.  The hierarchy of civil officials are as effective and disciplined as military forces.  Certain standards of conduct were observed and strong beliefs on the English Law, commercialism, patriotism, and individualism were possessed in servants of the Company led the British Empire to supremacy in the 19th century. (Spear, 1965, p.4-5)

 


 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

C.I.E. Griffiths, P.J. (1946) The British in India. London: Robert Hale Limited.

Spear, Percival. (1965) The Oxford History of Modern India 1740-1975. 2nd Edition. Dehli: Oxford University Press.

David, M. (1995). Bombay, the city of dreams. Bombay: Himalaya Pub. House.

Dossal, M. (2010). Theatre of conflict, city of hope. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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