Thursday, October 10, 2013

Black Hole of Calcutta

The Black Hole of Calcutta was a small dungeon in Calcutta, India where British POWs were held captive in 1756. As the story goes, India was upset with Britain meddling in their internal affairs and laid siege to a British military fort in an Indian province. Allegedly, 146 soldiers were captured and locked in "the black hole," a 14x18 ft cell, for 10 hours and 123 of them died from suffocation, heat exhaustion and crushing. The number of soldiers has been debated, with some claiming that there were only 64 soldiers…etc.blahblahblah. Whatever the number, this is my new #1 way I would not want to die.



The following excerpts are from a 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica:
The dungeon was a strongly barred room and was not intended for the confinement of more than two or three men at a time. There were only two windows, and a projecting veranda outside and thick iron bars within impeded the ventilation, while fires raging in different parts of the fort suggested an atmosphere of further oppressiveness. The prisoners were packed so tightly that the door was difficult to close. 
By nine o'clock several had died, and many more were delirious. A frantic cry for water now became general, and one of the guards, more compassionate than his fellows, caused some to be brought to the bars, where Mr. Holwell and two or three others received it in their hats, and passed it on to the men behind. In their impatience to secure it nearly all was spilt, and the little they drank seemed only to increase their thirst. Self-control was soon lost; those in remote parts of the room struggled to reach the window, and a fearful tumult ensued, in which the weakest were trampled or pressed to death. They raved, fought, prayed, blasphemed, and many then fell exhausted on the floor, where suffocation put an end to their torments 
About 11 o'clock the prisoners began to drop off fast. At length, at six in the morning, Siraj-ud-Daulah awoke, and ordered the door to be opened. Of the 146 only 23, including Mr. Holwell (from whose narrative, published in the Annual Register for 1758, this account is partly derived), remained alive, and they were either stupefied or raving. Fresh air soon revived them, and the commander was then taken before the nawab, who expressed no regret for what had occurred, and gave no other sign of sympathy than ordering the Englishman a chair and a glass of water. Notwithstanding this indifference, Mr. Holwell and some others acquit him of any intention of causing the catastrophe, and ascribe it to the malice of certain inferior officers, but many think this opinion unfounded.
After the doors were opened, the dead were discarded and the remaining prisoners were sent away or obtained their liberty. A monument was erected in 1901 at the supposed site of the Black Hole but was later moved in 1940 to the graveyard of St. John's Church where it remains.


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