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Colonial Cities | Class 12 History Notes

The chapter introduces students to the towns and cities of colonial and pre-colonial times. It describes the history of the cities and why they were built, also what were the benefits that the colonial rule took from them altogether. It also highlights the segregation, town planning and architecture of Madras, Calcutta and Bombay.

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Town & Cities In Pre Colonial Times


What gave the town its character?


In the countryside people subsisted by cultivating land, foraging in the forest, or rearing animals. Towns by contrast were populated with artisans, traders, administrators and rulers.


  • Towns dominated over the rural population, thriving on the surplus and taxes derived from agriculture.


  • Towns and cities were fortified by walls which symbolised their separation from the countryside.


The separation between town and country was fluid. Peasants travelled long distances on pilgrimage, passing through towns; they also flocked to towns during times of famine.


There was also a reverse flow of humans and goods from towns to villages. People often sought shelter in the countryside when towns were attacked.


Traders and pedlars took goods from the towns to sell in the villages, extending markets and creating new patterns of consumption.


Towns Built By Mughals


The Mughal towns were known for their dense population, enormous architecture, and imperial majesty and wealth.


Agra, Delhi, and Lahore were significant imperial administrative and control centres. The mansabdars and Jagirdars in these cities were responsible for the upkeep of the dwellings. In these locations, a wide range of services was available.


For lords' residences, artisans created special goods.


For the city people and the army, grain from the countryside was carried into urban markets.

The imperial capital also housed the treasury. The emperor lived in a fortified palace, and the town was surrounded by a wall, with different gates controlling admission and exit.


Gardens, mosques, temples, tombs, colleges, bazaars, and caravanserais were built in these communities. The town's attention was drawn to the palace and the main mosque.


The temples were the main emphasis in the towns of South India. Madurai and Kanchipuram, for example, were prominent trade centres. Religious holidays sometimes coincided with fairs, tying pilgrimage and commerce together. The ruler was, in general, the supreme authority and the primary supporter of religious institutions.


Their status in society and in the town was established by their relationships with other groups and classes.


Mediaeval cities were places where everyone was expected to understand their place in the ruling elite's social order.


This order was maintained in North India by the imperial officer known as the kotwal, who was in charge of the town's internal affairs and policing. Before the Revolt of 1857, Ganga Dhar Nehru, the father of our previous Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, was the kotwal of Delhi.





Changes in the Eighteen Century


The loss of old towns led to the development of new towns, and the slow erosion of Mughal power resulted in the extinction of towns linked with their rule.


Delhi and Agra, the Mughal capitals, lost their political power. The growing prominence of regional capitals — Lucknow, Hyderabad, Seringapatam, Poona (modern-day Pune), Nagpur, Baroda (modern-day Vadodara), and Tanjore – represented the rise of new regional powers (present-day Thanjavur).


In quest of work and patronage, traders, bureaucrats, artisans, and others travelled from the ancient Mughal capitals to these new capitals.


Local notables and officials linked to the Mughal administration in North India took advantage of the opportunity to establish new urban settlements such as the qasbah and ganj.


Political decentralisation had a mixed effect. In some regions, economic activity resurfaced, but in others, conflict, pillage, and political unrest resulted in economic downfall.

Changes in the trading network were also noted:


Early in the Mughal era, European commercial companies established bases in various locations: the Portuguese in Panaji in 1510, the Dutch in Masulipatnam in 1605, the British in Madras in 1639, and the French in Pondicherry (now Puducherry) in 1673.


Towns built up around these trading centres as commercial activity flourished. The formidable sea-based empires of India superseded the land-based empires. The nature of society was now defined by forces of international trade, mercantilism, and capitalism.


As trade shifted to other locations, the commercial centres of Masulipatnam, Dhaka, and Surat, which had thrived during the seventeenth century, began to dwindle.


When the East India Company built colonial port cities, Madras, Calcutta, and Bombay quickly emerged as new economic centres.


They also served as administrative and political hubs for the colony. New structures and institutions arose, and urban spaces were reorganised. People came to these colonial cities as new occupations arose. They were the largest cities in India in terms of population by around 1800.



Finding Of Colonial Cities


Colonial records and urban history


Regulating British business required meticulous record-keeping. To keep track of life in the growing cities, they conducted regular surveys, acquired statistical data, and produced numerous government reports.


The Colonial government was a big fan of mapping because they believed that knowing the topography and understanding the landscape required good maps.


When communities began to emerge, maps were created to organise development, develop commerce, and concentrate control.


The town maps show the location of hills, rivers, and vegetation, all of which are vital for designing defence structures.


They also depict the position of ghats, the quantity and quality of dwellings, and the alignment of roadways, which are used to assess economic opportunities and taxing techniques.


The British attempted to fund the tows' administration by collecting Annual Municipal Taxes. To avert confrontation, Indian delegates were appointed.


The Municipal Corporation was established to manage critical services such as water supply, sewage, road construction, and public health. Municipal corporations' actions resulted in a completely new set of records to be kept in municipal record rooms.


Regular headcounts were used to track the growth of cities.


In 1872, the first effort at an all-India census was made. Following that, decennial (every ten years) censuses became the norm starting in 1881. Historians have also discovered that data can be deceiving and that the data should be thoroughly examined before being considered.


The census commissioners created categories for categorising various groups of people. This categorization was frequently arbitrary, failing to convey people's fluid and overlapping identities.


The populace frequently refused to participate with the government, believing that census activities were being done in order to impose new taxes.


Women were meant to remain hidden within the interior of the household and not be subjected to public gaze or inquiry, thus upper-caste individuals were likewise reluctant to disclose any information about them.


Officials from the Census Bureau discovered that people were claiming identities that they linked with better social rank.


Mortality and sickness statistics were difficult to come by since not all deaths were recorded, and illness was not always reported or treated by qualified doctors.


Trends of Change


A close examination of census data reveals some surprising patterns. After 1800, India's urbanisation was slow. After 1800, India's urbanisation was slow. In India, the proportion of urban residents to the total population was extremely low and had remained stable.


Between 1900 and 1940, the urban population expanded from roughly 10% to almost 13% of the total population.


In different regions, there were substantial differences in urban growth trends. Smaller communities had few opportunities to develop economically.


Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras, on the other hand, flourished quickly and expanded into huge metropolises. These three cities' expansion as new economic and administrative centres came at the expense of other metropolitan centres.


In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these served as collection depots for the export of Indian manufactured goods such as cotton textiles.


This pattern was reversed with the Industrial Revolution in England, and these cities became the entry point for British-manufactured commodities as well as the export of Indian raw materials. These colonial cities stood out from India's traditional towns and urban settlements due to the nature of their economic activities.


In 1853, the installation of railways changed the fate of communities.


Traditional towns, which were positioned along old routes and rivers, saw a gradual shift in economic activity. Every railway station was transformed into a raw materials gathering site and a distribution centre for imported commodities.


For example, when a railway link to Bombay was built, Mirzapur on the Ganges, which specialised in gathering cotton and cotton items from the Deccan, fell. With the expansion of railway networks, railway settlements and workshops arose.





What Were The New Towns Like?


Ports, forts and centres for services


Madras, Calcutta & Bombay became the important ports by the 18th century; the settlements that came up here were the convenient points for collecting goods.


Factories were built near these ports by the East India Company; these mercantile offices were fortified for protection because of competition among the European companies.


In Madras, Fort St George, 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.


There were separate quarters for Europeans and Indians, labelled as the “White Town” and “Black Town” respectively. These racial distinctions became sharper once the British captured political power.


The expanding network of railways linked these cities to the rest of the country. The hinterland, the countryside from where raw materials and labour were drawn, became more closely linked to these port cities.


The raw material was transported to these cities for export and cheap labour was available, making it convenient to set up modern factories.


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. The Calcutta, Bombay and Madras also supplied raw materials for industry in England.


The majority of the working population in these cities belonged to the tertiary sector.


Proper industrial cities: Kanpur (leather, woollen and cotton textiles) & Jamshedpur (steel). Due to discriminatory colonial policies, industrial development was limited hence India never became an industrialised country.





A New Urban Milieu


Political power and patronage shifted from Indian rulers to East India Company merchants.


Indians worked as interpreters, middlemen, traders, and goods suppliers in these new cities.


Docks and ghats are the result of economic activity near rivers. Along the coast were godowns, mercantile offices, shipping insurance agencies, transport depots, and banks. The Company's main administrative offices were inland.


Writers' Building in Calcutta. Around the Fort, European merchants and agents built palatial houses in European styles.


Some built suburban garden houses. The ruling elite had their own clubs, racetracks, and theatres.


In Black Town, wealthy Indian agents and middlemen built large traditional courtyard houses. It was a long-term investment for them.


To impress their English masters, they threw lavish festivals. They built temples to prove their social status.


The poor worked as cooks, palanquin bearers, coachmen, guards, porters, construction workers, and dock workers for their European and Indian masters.


After the 1857 revolt, the British feared another. They believed towns needed to be better defended, and whites needed to be segregated from the “natives”.


‘Civil Lines' was created by clearing pastures and agricultural fields.

Safe enclaves were built around Indian cantonments commanded by Europeans. Separate but connected to the Indian towns.


For the British, the “Black” areas represented chaos, anarchy, filth, and disease. The British were mostly concerned about the “White” areas' cleanliness.


As cholera and plague epidemics killed thousands, colonial officials felt the need for stricter sanitation and public health measures. Sanitation regulations were strict and building activity in Indian towns was regulated.


Around this time, underground water supply, sewerage, and drainage systems were installed. This became another way to regulate Indian towns.





The First Hill Stations


The hill stations were a distinctive feature of colonial urban development. The founding and settling of hill stations were initially connected with the needs of the British army.


Simla (Shimla) was founded during the course of the Gurkha War (1815-16). The Anglo-Maratha War of 1818 led to British interest in Mount Abu.


Darjeeling was wrested from the rulers of Sikkim in 1835. Hill stations became strategic places for billeting troops, guarding frontiers and launching campaigns against enemy rulers.


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.


It became a practice for viceroys to move to hill stations during the summer months as it was an attractive destination.


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 was also the official residence of the commander-in-chief of the Indian army. The introduction of the railways made hill stations more accessible to a wide range of people including Indians.


Upper-and middle-class Indians such as maharajas, lawyers and merchants were drawn to these stations because they afforded them close proximity to the ruling British elite.


Hill stations were important for the colonial economy. With the setting up of tea and coffee plantations in the adjoining areas, an influx of immigrant labour from the plains began. The hill stations no longer remained exclusive racial enclaves for Europeans in India.



Social Life in the New Cities


New transportation options like horse-drawn carriages and later trams and buses allowed people to live further from the city centre.


Home and work have become increasingly entwined. Taking public transportation from home to work or the factory was new to me.


The twentieth century saw exciting new forms of entertainment and social interaction created by public places like parks, theatres, and cinema halls.


Cities spawned new social groups, and old identities faded. People from all backgrounds moved to the cities.


Many jobs needed to be filled. As a result, the "middle classes" grew.


They could now attend schools, colleges, and libraries. Because they were educated, they could express themselves in newspapers, journals, and public meetings.


This shifted the public debate and discussion environment. Society's traditions, rules, and customs were questioned.


Social change was difficult in the past. Cities, for example, opened doors for women. Women from the middle class wrote in journals, autobiographies, and books.


Conservatives feared that educating women would upend society and jeopardise its very foundations.


Most reformers, including those who advocated for women's education, still saw women as wife and mothers who should be kept at home.


Women entered new fields like manufacturing, teaching, and theatre and film acting. Women who left the home and entered the wider world faced social stigma for a long time.



Segregation, Town Planning And Architecture Madras, Calcutta And Bombay


As Madras, Calcutta and Bombay gradually developed into the big cities, here are the detailed characteristics of each city.


Settlement and Segregation in Madras


The Company began its commercial operations in the well-known port of Surat on India's west coast. British traders on the east coast were looking for textiles.


They founded a commercial post in Madraspatana around 1639. Locals refer to this village as Chennapatnam.


The Nayaks of Kalahasti, local Telugu lords anxious to boost economic activity in the region, had sold the right of settlement to the Company. The British fortified Madras and granted their agents extensive political and administrative control in order to compete with the French East India Company.


Madras became more secure when the French were beaten in 1761, and it began to develop into a major commercial centre. The British dominance and the Indian merchants' subordination were most obvious here.


Around Fort St, George grew the White Town, which housed the majority of the Europeans. With walls and bastions, this was a one-of-a-kind enclave.


The Fort's residents were chosen based on their race and creed. The Dutch and Portuguese, as well as the English, were allowed to stay since they were Europeans and Christians.


White individuals were likewise favoured by the administrative and judicial systems. Madras expanded to meet the needs and ambitions of the town's white minority, and Europeans were in charge.






The Development of the Black Town


The Black Town developed outside the Fort. It was laid out in straight lines, a characteristic of colonial towns.


It was demolished in the mid-1700s and the area was cleared for a security zone around the Fort. A new Black Town developed further to the north. This housed weavers, artisans, middlemen and interpreters who played a vital role in the Company trade.


The new Black Town resembled traditional Indian towns, with living quarters built around its own temple and bazaar. Distinct caste-specific neighbourhoods were there, Chintadripet was an area meant for weavers.


Washermanpet was a colony of dyers and bleachers of cloth.


Royapuram was a settlement for Christian boatmen who worked for the Company.


Madras developed by incorporating innumerable surrounding villages and by creating opportunities and spaces for a variety of communities. Several different communities came and settled in Madras, performing a range of economic functions.


The dubashes were Indians who could speak two languages – the local language and English. They worked as agents and merchants, acting as intermediaries between Indian society and the British.


They used their privileged position in government to acquire wealth. Their powerful position in society was established by their charitable works and patronage of temples in the Black Town.


The jobs in the company were monopolised by the Vellalars, a rural caste that took advantage of the new opportunities provided by British rule. With the spread of English education in the nineteenth century, Brahmins started competing for similar positions in the administration.


Telugu Komatis were a powerful commercial group that controlled the grain trade in the city. Gujarati bankers had also been present since the eighteenth century. Prayers and Vanniyars formed the labouring poor.


The Nawab of Arcot settled in nearby Triplicane which became the nucleus of a substantial Muslim settlement. Mylapore and Triplicane were earlier Hindu religious centres that supported a large group of Brahmins


San Thome with its cathedral was the centre for Roman Catholics.


All these settlements became part of Madras city. The incorporation of many villages made Madras a city of wide expanse and low density.


The resident Europeans began to move out of the Fort. Garden houses first started coming up along the two main arteries – Mount Road and Poonamallee Road – leading from the Fort to the cantonment.


Wealthy Indians too started to live like the English.


As a result, many new suburbs were created from existing villages around the core of Madras. This was of course possible because the wealthy could afford transport


The poor settled in villages that were close to their place of work. The gradual urbanisation of Madras meant that the areas between these villages were brought within the city.



Town Planning in Calcutta


In colonial cities, modern town planning began with the regulation of urban land use.


This image reflected a supposed government exercise of power over urban lives and spaces through "development." Sirajudaula, the Bengali Nawab, raided Calcutta in 1756, destroying the British traders' cargo warehouse fort.


For many years, the East India Company refused to pay customs duties and operate under the terms set. Sirajudaula desired dominance.


After Sirajudaula was destroyed in the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the East India Company planned to build a strong fort.


Calcutta grew from Sutanati, Kolkata, and Gobindapur.


The Company cleared a space in Govindapur's southern settlement and asked the traders and weavers to leave.


A large open area around the rebuilt Fort William became known as the Maidan.


This was done to allow the Fort to fire directly at an approaching enemy force.


As the British became more confident in their long-term presence in Calcutta, they began to build mansions around the Maidan. Naturally, Calcutta's urban planning history doesn't stop there.


Governor-General Lord Wellesley (1798). In Calcutta, he built himself a magnificent mansion called Government House, symbolising British dominance.


Seizing the opportunity, he set out to clean up the city's Indian quarter.


Afraid of the noxious vapours from marshlands and stagnant water, the British worried. The tropical climate was considered unhealthy in itself.


More open spaces were one way to make the city healthier. Lord Wellesley established several committees to plan the town in 1803.


Villages, ghats, burial grounds, and tanneries were all cleared or destroyed. From then on, "public health" became a theme in town clearing and planning projects.


Following Wellesley's departure, the Lottery Committee (1817) continued town planning with government assistance.


As a result of public lotteries, the Lottery Committee was named.


The Lottery Committee ordered a new map of Calcutta to complete its picture. Projects included building roads in the Indian section of town and clearing encroachments from the riverbed.


To clean up Calcutta's Indian areas, the committee demolished huts and relocated the working poor to the city's outskirts.


The threat of diseases added to the urgency of city planning. The plague struck in 1896, after cholera in 1817.


The government acted on the widely held belief that living conditions directly correlated with illness spread. As a result, the Bustis were demolished.


Workers, hawkers, craftsmen, porters, and the unemployed were once again forced to relocate. The frequent fires prompted new building regulations in 1836, which prohibited thatched cottages and mandated tiled roofs.


With "healthy" and "unhealthy," the new racial split of "White Town" and "Black Town" was reinforced.


Indian council members slammed the municipality's discriminatory bias in favour of the town's European areas. Protests against these government actions fueled anti-colonial and nationalist sentiments among Indians.


The British preferred Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras as imperial capitals.


As if the cities' splendour had to reflect imperial power. Town planning had to express the British ideals of rational planning, flawless execution, and Western aesthetic values. Cities needed to be cleaned, organised and planned.


Architecture in Bombay


There are many different types of constructions that can be found in cities, from forts to government offices to schools to religious buildings to memorial towers.


Simple constructions were rarely used to serve functional demands like defence, administration, or commerce. They were frequently used to signify imperial authority, national pride, and religious splendour.


Bombay was originally made up of seven islands. The islands were connected to generate more space as the population swelled, and they eventually merged into one large city. Bombay was colonial India's commercial capital.


Bombay was the hub of international trade, with half of India's imports and exports passing through the city.


  • Opium, which the East India Company exported to China, was a significant part of this commerce.


  • Indian merchants and middlemen supplied and participated in this trade, allowing Bombay's economy to be linked directly to the opium-growing regions of Malwa, Rajasthan, and Sind. The Company's participation was profitable, and it resulted in the rise of an Indian capitalist class.


  • The capitalists of Bombay came from a variety of backgrounds, including Parsi, Marwari, Konkani Muslim, Gujarati Bania, Bohra, Jew, and Armenian.


When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, demand for Indian cotton, farmed mostly in the Deccan, skyrocketed. Once again, Indian traders and intermediaries discovered a way to benefit handsomely.


The Suez Canal opened in 1869, significantly strengthening Bombay's ties to the global economy.


  • The Bombay government and Indian merchants took advantage of the opportunity to declare Bombay Urbs Prima in Indis, or the most significant city in India, in Latin.


  • Indian merchants in Bombay were putting their money into new businesses like cotton factories. They also supported the city's construction industry.


  • From the mid-nineteenth century, as Bombay's economy increased, there was a need to expand railways and ships, as well as strengthen the administrative framework. At this period, a lot of new buildings were being built.


  • These buildings reflected the culture and confidence of the rulers. The architectural style was usually European.


This importation of European styles reflected the imperial vision in several ways.


  • First, it expressed the British desire to create a familiar landscape in an alien country, and thus to feel at home in the colony.


  • Second, the British felt that European styles would best symbolise their superiority, authority and power.


  • Third, they thought that buildings that looked European would mark out the difference and distance between the colonial masters and their Indian subjects. Initially, these buildings were at odds with the traditional Indian buildings.


India adopted European architecture and made it it's own. Similarly, the British adapted Indian styles to their own.


For example, government officers in Bombay and India used to live in bungalows.

The word bungalow comes from Bangla, a thatched Bengali hut.


The colonial house was placed on large grounds, providing solitude and separation from the Indian world. The bungalow's typical pitched roof and veranda kept it cool in the summer. The complex housed a retinue of domestic servants.


The Civil Lines bungalows became a racially isolated enclave where the ruling classes could live independently without daily contact with Indians.


Public buildings were built in one of three styles. Two of these were direct imports from England.


The first was neo-classical. Its features included geometrical constructions with tall pillars.


It was based on a Roman architectural style that was revived, updated, and popularised throughout the European Renaissance.