1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bombay City

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18087451911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 4 — Bombay City

BOMBAY CITY, the capital of Bombay Presidency, and the chief seaport of western India, situated in 18° 55′ N. and 72° 54′ E. The city stands on an island of the same name, which forms one of a group now connected by causeways with the mainland. The area is 22 sq. m.; and the population of the town and island (1901) 776,006 (estimate in 1906, 977,822). Bombay is the second most populous city in the Indian empire, having fallen behind Calcutta at the census of 1901. Its position on the side of India nearest to Europe, its advantages as a port and a railway centre, and its monopoly of the cotton industry, are counteracted by the fact that the region which it serves cannot vie with the valley of the Ganges in point of fertility and has no great waterway like the Ganges or Brahmaputra. Nevertheless Bombay pushes Calcutta hard for supremacy in point of population and commercial prosperity.

The Bombay Island, or, as it ought to be more correctly called, the Bombay Peninsula, stands out from a coast ennobled by lofty hills, and its harbour is studded by rocky islands and precipices, whose peaks rise to a great height. The approach from the sea discloses one of the finest panoramas in the world,—the only European analogy being the Bay of Naples. The island consists of a plain about 11 m. long by 3 broad, flanked by two parallel lines of low hills. A neck of land stretching towards the south-west forms the harbour on its eastern side, sheltering it from the force of the open sea, and enclosing an expanse of water from 5 to 7 m. wide. At the south-west of the island, Back Bay, a shallow basin rather more than 2 m. in breadth, runs inland for about 3 m. between the extreme points of the two ranges of hills. On a slightly raised strip of land between the head of Back Bay and the harbour is situated the fort, the nucleus of the city of Bombay. From this point the land slopes westward towards the central plain, a low-lying tract, which before the construction of the embankment known as the Hornby Vellard, used at high tide to be submerged by the sea. The town itself consists of well-built and unusually handsome native bazaars, and of spacious streets devoted to European commerce. In the native bazaar the houses rise three or four storeys in height, with elaborately carved pillars and front work. Some of the European hotels and commercial buildings are on the American scale, and have no rival in any other city of India. The Taj Mahal hotel, which was built by the Tata family in 1904, is the most palatial and modern hotel in India. The private houses of the European residents lie apart alike from the native and from the mercantile quarters of the town. As a rule, each is built in a large garden or compound; and although the style of architecture is less imposing than that of the stately residences in Calcutta, it is well suited to the climate, and has a beauty and comfort of its own. The favourite suburb is Malabar hill, a high ridge running out into the sea, and terraced to the top by handsome houses, which command one of the finest views, of its kind, in the world. Of recent years wealthy natives have been competing with Europeans for the possession of this desirable quarter. To the right of this ridge, looking towards the sea, runs another suburb known as Breach Candy, built close upon the beach and within the refreshing sound of the waves. To the left of Malabar hill lies Back Bay, with a promontory on its farther shore, which marks the site of the old Bombay Fort; its walls are demolished, and the area is chiefly devoted to mercantile buildings. Farther round the island, beyond the fort, is Mazagon Bay, commanding the harbour, and the centre of maritime activity. The defences of the port, remodelled and armed with the latest guns, consist of batteries on the islands in the harbour, in addition to which there are three large batteries on the mainland. There is also a torpedo-boat detachment stationed in the harbour.

No city in the world has a finer water-front than Bombay. The great line of public offices along the esplanade and facing Back Bay, which are in the Gothic style mixed with Saracenic, are not individually distinguished for architectural merit, but they have a cumulative effect of great dignity. The other most notable buildings in the city are the Victoria terminus of the Great Indian Peninsula railway and the Taj Mahal hotel. Towards the northern end of Malabar hill lie the Parsee Towers of Silence, where the Parsees expose their dead till the flesh is devoured by vultures, and then cast the bones into a well where they crumble into dust. The foundation-stone of a museum was laid by the prince of Wales in 1905.

Local Government.—The port of Bombay (including docks and warehouses) is managed by a port trust, the members of which are nominated by the government from among the commercial community. The municipal government of the city was framed by an act of the Bombay legislative council passed in 1888. The governing body consists of a municipal corporation and a town council. The corporation is composed of 72 members, of whom 16 are nominated by the government. Of the remainder, 36 are elected by the ratepayers, 16 by the justices of the peace, 2 by the senate of the university, and 2 by the chamber of commerce. The council, which forms the standing committee of the corporation, consists of 12 members, of whom 4 are nominated by the government and the rest elected by the corporation. The members of the corporation include Europeans, Hindus, Mahommedans and Parsees. The Bombay University was constituted in 1857 as an examining body, on the model of the university of London. The chief educational institutions in Bombay City are the government Elphinstone College, two missionary colleges (Wilson and St Xavier), the Grant medical college, the government law school, the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy school of art, and the Victoria Jubilee technical institute.

Docks.—The dockyard, originally built in 1736, has a sea-face of nearly 700 yds. and an area of about 200 acres. There are five graving docks, three of which together make one large dock 648 ft. long, while the other two make a single dock 582 ft. long. There are also four building slips opposite the Apollo Bandar (landing-place) on the south-east side of the enclosure. The dockyard is lighted by electricity, so that work can be carried on by night as well as day. Bombay is the only important place near the sea in India where the rise of the tide is sufficient to permit docks on the largest scale. The highest spring tides here reach 17 ft., but the average is 14 ft. Prince’s dock, of which the foundation-stone was laid by the prince of Wales in 1875, was opened in 1879, and is 1460 ft. long by 1000 ft. broad, with a water area of 30 acres; while the Victoria dock, which was completed and opened in 1887–1888, has a water area of 25 acres. South of the Victoria dock, the foundation-stone of the Alexandra dock, the largest in India, was laid by the prince of Wales in 1905.

Cotton Mills.—The milling industry is, next to the docks, the chief feature of Bombay’s commercial success. The staple manufacture is cotton-spinning, but in addition to this there are flour mills and workshops to supply local needs. The number of factories increased from fifty-three in 1881 to eighty-three in 1890, and that decade saw the influx of a great industrial population from the surrounding districts; but the decade 1891–1901 witnessed at least a temporary set-back owing to the ravages caused by plague and the effects of over-production. In addition to the actual mortality it inflicted, the plague caused an exodus of the population from the island, disorganized the labour at the docks and in the mills, and swallowed up large sums which were spent by the municipality on plague operations and sanitary improvements. After 1901, however, both population and trade began to revive again. In 1901 there were 131,796 persons employed in the cotton industry.

Population.—Owing to its central position between East and West and to the diversity of races in India, no city in the world can show a greater variety of type than Bombay. The Mahratta race is the dominant element next to the European rulers, but in addition to them are a great and influential section of Parsee merchants, Arab traders from the Gulf, Afghans and Sikhs from northern India, Bengalis, Rajputs, Chinese, Japanese, Malays, negroes, Tibetans, Sinhalese and Siamese. Bombay is the great port and meeting-place of the Eastern world. Out of the large sections of its population, Hindu, Mahommedan, Parsee, Jain and Christian, the Parsees are one of the smallest and yet the most influential. They number only some 46,000 all told, but most of the great business houses are owned by Parsee millionaires and most of the large charities are founded by them.

History.—The name of the island and city of Bombay is derived from Mumba (a form of Parvati), the goddess of the Kolis, a race of husbandmen and fishermen who were the earliest known inhabitants, having occupied the island probably about the beginning of the Christian era. Bombay originally consisted of seven islands (the Heptanesia of Ptolemy) and formed an outlying portion of the dominions of successive dynasties dominant in western India: Satavahanas, Mauryas, Chalukyas and Rashtrakutas. In the Maurya and Chalukya period (450–750) the city of Puri on Elephanta Island was the principal place in Bombay harbour. The first town built on Bombay Island was Mahikavati (Mahim), founded by King Bhima, probably a member of the house of the Yadavas of Deogiri, as a result of Ala-ud-din Khilji’s raid into the Deccan in 1294. It remained under Hindu rule until 1348, when it was captured by a Mahommedan force from Gujarat; and the islands remained part of the province (later kingdom) of Gujarat till 1534, when they were ceded by Sultan Bahadur to the Portuguese.

The island did not prosper under Portuguese rule. By the system known as aforamento the lands were gradually parcelled out into a number of fiefs granted, under the crown of Portugal, to individuals or to religious corporations in return for military service or equivalent quit-rents. The northern districts were divided among the Franciscans and Jesuits, who built a number of churches, some of which still survive. The intolerance of their rule did not favour the growth of the settlement, which in 1661, when it was transferred to the British, had a population of only 10,000. The English had, however, long recognized its value as a naval base, and it was for this reason that they fought the battle of Swally (1614–1615), attempted to capture the place in 1626, and that the Surat Council urged the purchase of Bombay from the Portuguese. In 1654 the directors of the Company drew Cromwell’s attention to this suggestion, laying stress on the excellence of its harbour and its safety from attack by land. It finally became the property of the British in 1661 as part of the dowry of the infanta Catherine of Portugal on her marriage to Charles II., but was not actually occupied by the British until 1665, when they experienced much difficulty in overcoming the opposition of the Portuguese, and especially of the religious orders, to the cession. In 1668 it was transferred by the crown to the East India Company, who placed it under the factory of Surat.

The real foundation of the modern city dates from this time, and was the work of Gerald Aungier (or Angier), brother of Francis Aungier, 3rd Lord Aungier of Longford and 1st earl of Longford in Ireland (d. 1700), who succeeded Sir George Oxenden as president of Surat in 1669 and died in 1677. At this time Bombay was threatened by the Mahrattas from inland, by the Malabar pirates and the Dutch from the sea, and was cut off from the mainland by the Portuguese, who still occupied the island of Salsette and had established a customs-barrier in the channel between Bombay and the shore. In spite of the niggardly policy of the court of directors, who refused to incur the expense of employing skilled engineers, Aungier succeeded in fortifying the town and shore; he also raised a force of militia and regulars, the latter mainly Germans (as more trustworthy than the riffraff collected in London by the Company’s crimps). In 1672 Aungier transferred his headquarters to Bombay, and after frightening off an imposing Dutch fleet, which in 1670 attempted to surprise the island, set to work to organize the settlement anew. To this task he brought a mind singularly enlightened and a sincere belief in the best traditions of English liberty. In its fiscal policy, in its religious intolerance, and in its cruel and contemptuous treatment of the natives, Portuguese rule had been alike oppressive. Aungier altered all this. With the consent of “a general assembly of the chief representatives of the people” he commuted the burdensome land tax for a fixed money payment; he protected all castes in the celebration of their religious ceremonies; and he forbade any compulsion of natives to carry burdens against their will. The result was that the population of Bombay increased rapidly; a special quarter was set apart for the banya, or capitalist, class of Hindus; while Parsees and Armenians flocked to a city where they were secure of freedom alike for their trade and their religion. Within eight years the population had grown from 10,000 to 60,000. The immediate result of this concentration of people in a spot so unwholesome was the prevalence of disease, produced by the appalling sanitary conditions. This, too, Aungier set himself to remedy. In 1675 he initiated the works for draining the foul tidal swamps; and, failing the consent of the Company to the erection of a regular hospital, he turned the law court into an infirmary. He also set up three courts of justice: a tribunal for petty causes under a factor with native assessors, a court of appeal under the deputy governor and members of council, and a court-martial. A regular police force was also established and a gaol built in the Bazaar.[1]

During this period, however, the position of Bombay was sufficiently precarious. The Malabar pirates, though the city itself was too strong for them, were a constant menace to its trade; and it required all the genius of Aungier to maintain the settlement, isolated as it was between the rival powers of the Mahrattas and the Mogul empire. After his death, on the 30th of June 1677, its situation became even more precarious. Even under Aungier the Siddi admirals of the Moguls had asserted their right to use Bombay harbour as winter quarters for their fleet, though they had failed to secure it as a base against the Mahrattas. Under his weak successor (Rolt, 1677–1682), the English waters, the value of which had now been proved, became the battle-ground between the rival navies, and for some years Bombay lay at the mercy of both. The Company’s rule, moreover, was exposed to another danger. The niggardly policy of the board of directors, more intent on peaceful dividends than on warlike rule, could not but be galling to soldiers of fortune. A mutiny at Bombay in 1674 had only been suppressed by the execution of the ringleader; and in 1683 a more formidable movement took place under Richard Keigwin, a naval officer who had been appointed governor of St Helena in reward for the part played by him in the capture of the island from the Dutch in 1673. Keigwin, elected governor of Bombay by popular vote, issued a proclamation in the king’s name, citing the “intolerable extortions, oppressions and exactions” of the Company, and declaring his government under the immediate authority of the crown. He ruled with moderation, reformed the system of taxation, obtained notable concessions from the Mahrattas, and increased the trade of the port by the admission of “interlopers.” But he failed to extend the rebellion beyond Bombay; and when a letter arrived, under the royal sign manual, ordering him to surrender the fort to Sir John Child, appointed admiral and captain-general of the Company’s forces, he obeyed.[2]

Meanwhile the Company had decided to consider Bombay as “an independent settlement, and the seat of the power and trade of the English in the East Indies.” But a variety of causes set back the development of the city, notably the prevalence of plague and cholera due to the silting up of the creeks that divided its component islands; and it was not till after the amalgamation of the old and new companies in 1708 that the governor’s seat was transferred from Surat to Bombay. In 1718 the city wall was completed; settlers began to stream in, especially from distracted Gujarat; and a series of wise administrative reforms increased this tendency until in 1744 the population, which in 1718 had sunk to 16,000, had risen to 70,000. Meanwhile the Mahratta conquest of Bassein and Salsette (1737–1739) had put a stop to the hostility of the Portuguese, and a treaty of alliance with the Siddis (1733) had secured a base of supplies on the mainland. The French wars of 1744–1748 and 1756–1763 led to a further strengthening of the fortifications; and the influx of settlers from the mainland made the questions of supplies and of the protection of trade from piracy more pressing. The former was in part settled by the acquisition of Bankot (1755) as a result of an alliance with the peshwa, the latter by the successful expedition under Watson and Clive against Vijayadrug (1756). During this period, too, the importance of Bombay as a naval base, long since recognized, was increased by the building of a dock (1750), a second being added in 1762. The year 1770 saw the beginning of the cotton trade with China, the result of a famine in that country, the Chinese government having issued an edict commanding more land to be used for growing grain. This, too, was a period of searching reforms in the administration and the planning and building of the city; the result being a further immense growth of its population, which in 1780 was 113,000. This was still further increased by the famine of 1803, which drove large numbers of people from Konkan and the Deccan to seek employment in Bombay. A great fire broke out in the fort in the same year and caused enormous loss; but it enabled the government to open wider thoroughfares in the more congested parts, and greatly stimulated the tendency of the natives to build their houses and shops outside the walls of the fort in what are now some of the busiest parts of the city.

The British victory over the Mahrattas and the annexation of the Deccan opened a new period of unrestricted development for Bombay. At this time, too (1819), its fortunes were vigorously fostered by Mountstuart Elphinstone, and in 1838 the population had risen to 236,000. But in the next fifty years it more than doubled itself, the figures for 1891 being 821,000. This great leap was due to the influence of railways, of which the first line was completed in 1853, the opening of the Suez Canal, and the foundation of cotton factories. In 1866–1867 the tide of prosperity was interrupted by a financial crisis, due to the fall in the price of cotton on the termination of the American war. Bombay, however, soon recovered herself, and in 1891 was more prosperous than ever before; but during the ensuing decade great havoc was played by plague (q.v.) with both her population and her trade. In addition to a decline of 6% in the population, the exports also declined by 7%, whereas Calcutta’s exports rose during the same period by 38%.

See S. M. Edwardes, The Rise of Bombay (1902); James Douglas, Bombay and Western India (1893); G. W. Forrest, Cities of India (1903); Sir William Hunter, History of British India (London, 1900); Imp. Gazetteer of India (Oxford, 1908), s.v. “Bombay City.”

  1. Hunter, Hist. of British India, ii. pp. 212, &c.
  2. See Hunter, op. cit. ii. 205, &c. He received a full pardon, was appointed later to the command of a frigate in the royal navy, and fell while leading the assault on St Christopher’s (June 21, 1690).