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In the month of October, 1589, a body of English merchants addressed a memorial to her majesty, Queen Elizabeth, requesting licence to equip three ships for the purpose of trading to the East Indies: this request appears to have been favourably received, and in 1591 the first English commercial voyage was commenced in three vessels. It proved a disastrous one; but considerable experience was obtained, and the ardour of the English merchants was but little damped by the result.
In 1599 an association of merchant adventurers was formed in London, with a capital of 30,000l., for the purpose of trading “to the East Indies and countries thereabout;” and the royal assent was applied for and obtained to this project, “intended for the honour of their native country, and the advancement of trade and merchandise within the realm of England.” The Charter was dated, 31st December, 1600. This association, which may be looked upon as the foundation of the present East India Company, led to a succession of voyages more or less fortunate, which, before long, resulted in the Company obtaining establishments at various places on the coast of the Peninsula, as well as among the eastern islands. The Presidencies of Madras and Bombay were first established; but that of Bengal, although the latest, was soon rendered by circumstances the most important of the three, and is now the seat of the supreme government of India.
On the 20th December, 1687, Mr. Job Charnock, the agent for the Kossimbazār factory on the Hoogly, finding it no longer safe to remain at that place, moved down to the village of Chuttanuttee, on the present site of Calcutta, with all the ships, troops, and property, where they commenced to intrench themselves. They were afterwards forced to move down the river to Ingellee, in which pestilential climate the whole force would have been carried off, had not the Emperor Aurungzebe made overtures to Mr. Charnock and allowed him to return to Chuttanuttee. In 1691 they were allowed to form a settlement there: it increased rapidly, and was permanently fixed upon as the head-quarters of the Company’s establishments in Bengal.
Chuttanuttee occupied the site of the present native portion of the city; Govindpoor stood where the new Fort William is erected; and the European part of the city, including the site of the old Fort, is built within the precincts of Kalleeghatta, hence originated the modern appellation of Calcutta; and as the founder of that city, Mr. Job Charnock’s name will probably be remembered as long as the British Empire in India shall exist. He died in 1692, and was buried in the old Cemetery, where his tomb is yet to be seen in the old burying-ground of St. John’s Cathedral, being one of the few allowed to remain when that building was erected.
In 1695, a rebellion having broken out in Bengal, the local government applied to the Nawāb for permission to put their factories in a state of defence, and on the request not being positively refused, they hastened to erect walls of masonry, with bastions or flanking towers at the angles, round their several factories, and thus originated the fortifications of Calcutta. In 1699, Sir Charles Eyre was re-appointed to the charge of Bengal, which was then for the first time raised to the rank of a Presidency. Orders were issued that the fortifications should be strengthened and rendered regular, so as to afford a safe retreat for all their servants and property; and it was recommended to give the outline of the buildings the form of a pentagon, if possible, that being at the time considered the strongest figure of defence. In 1701–2, the court issued orders that the Fort should be made a regular pentagon with bastions, and the works be made extensive enough to accommodate all the establishments of the out-factories. In the year 1707–8, the rival interests of the “Old London” and the new “English Company” were merged into “The United Company of Merchants trading to the East Indies.”