I’m perversely pleased to see this old chestnut can never die. ‘Sham scandal’ Marx called it. Holwell was writing two years afterwards, and in the wake of Clive’s retaliatory massacre of Suraj-ud-daulah at Plassey. I will refrain from some sort of pun on the name Holwell, but notice that embedded journalists are not exactly a new fold in the fabric of imperialism. But for my take on Plassey, and the quotes from Marx, see here.
The Hindu of course does not go so far as to do more than hint at ‘disputed veracity’.
A survivor’s account of Calcutta’s Black Hole
Bangalorean has the article from ‘The Scots Magazine’
A rare copy of an 18th century publication that contains a first-person account of the imprisonment of British men, women and children in the infamous Black Hole of Calcutta (now Kolkata) is now in the possession of a Bangalore-based document collector. The Scots Magazine contains an account of the episode by one of its few survivors, J.Z. Holwell.
The February 1758 edition of The Scots Magazine carried a 10-page article titled ‘Holwell’s account of the sufferings in the Black Hole’, which recalled the events at a dungeon in Fort William on the night of June 20, 1756, following the defeat of the East India Company by the forces of Siraj-ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Bengal. Holwell, in his account, claimed that 123 of the 146 prisoners put in a crammed dungeon died. But, later, historians have disputed the veracity of his account.
“There are only four known copies of the February 1758 edition in the world,” collector Sunil Baboo, told The Hindu. “It cost me a fortune,” he said, unwilling to reveal the amount.
What is in Mr. Baboo’s collection is the 10-page portion of the magazine that is in good condition. “While two are in the U.K., the other is in the U.S. These three are fully bound in leather-and-marble covers,” he said.
This document collector recently got the part of the magazine from a U.S.-based collector.
“It took a little while to get the copy from him as I had to convince the collector to part with this little piece of history,” he said.
The dungeon, according to Holwell, was a cube of about 18 ft (324 sq. ft) with only two windows in which 146 prisoners were crammed. He recounted the travails of the prisoners in the extremely hot conditions and no fresh air, which left them exhausted and extremely thirsty. He wrote of their attempts to bribe the guards to help them and their efforts to break open the door, all of which came to nought. Finally, a few survivors were brought out of the dungeon on the orders of Siraj-ud-Daulah.
However, while publishing the entire account of Holwell — a letter written to his friend William Davis on February 28, 1757 on board a vessel while returning from East Indies (India) — The Scots Magazine also cautioned its readers about the account being a “little passionate in some places” and in others “somewhat diffused”.