Government House. Calcutta.
7026. Photo Johnston & Hoffmann
The Raj Bhavan is not just a heritage building, it is Kolkata’s outstanding landmark evoking the past and sublimating it.Raj Bhavan, Kolkata, the erstwhile Government House, used to be the seat of British Imperial power. Built in the years 1799-1803 when Marquis Wellesley was the Governor General, this historic and magnificent building was designed on the lines of Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, the ancestral house of Lord Curzon who later lived here as the Viceroy and the Governor General exactly 100 years after Wellesley.
This three-storied building with a magnificent central area consisting of large halls has curved corridors on all four sides radiating to detached wings, each constituting a house in itself. Raj Bhavan, Kolkata, was built over 1799 and 1803. Governor General Lord Wellesley took up residence in Government House, as it was then called, in 1803, even before the last of the artisans had vacated the mansion. Such was his impatience to live in a home worthy of a ruler of the British Empire in India. The magnificent edifice of Kolkata’s Raj Bhavan, or the Government House, was completed on January 18, 1803. Twenty-three Governors-General and, later, Viceroys lived in this house, until the capital shifted to Delhi in 1912.
In keeping with Lord Metcalfe’s imperial vision, this meticulously structured building was specially created away from the rest of the metropolis, magnificently proportioned amidst acres of formal gardens. Tall intricately patterned wrought iron gates with massive lions perched atop reiterated the same regal majestic message. The ‘plebeian’ and the ‘common man’ were to be kept out of what was the abode of the Governor General, the symbol of the power and might of the Monarch and the Throne.
Raj Bhavan, West Bengal (official website)
Story of Governor’s House (pdfs), Raj Bhavan, West Bengal website
In the early nineteenth century Calcutta (Kolkata) was at the height of its golden age. Known as the City of Palaces or St. Petersburg of the East, Calcutta was the richest, largest and the most elegant colonial cities of India. It was during this time that one of Calcutta’s finest colonial structures, Government House (later Raj Bhavan), was constructed. Before 1799, the Governor-General resided in a rented house, called Bukimham House, located in the same location. The land belonged to Mohammad Reza Khan, a Nawab of Chitpur. It was in 1799 that the then Governor-General of India, The 1st Marquess Wellesley, took the initiative of building a palace, because he believed that India should be ruled from a palace and not from a country house. Lord Wellesley wanted to make a statement to the imperial authority and power and so the building was done on a grand scale. After 4 years construction it was completed at a colossal cost of £63,291 (about £3.8 million in today’s estimate).
After the transfer of power from the East India Company to the British Crown in 1858, it became the official residence of the Viceroy of India, shifting here from the Belvedere Estate. With the shifting of capital to Delhi in 1911 it became the official residence of Lieutenant Governor of Bengal.