1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Surat

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SURAT, a city and district of British India in the northern division of Bombay. The city is on the site where the English first established a factory on the mainland, and so planted the seed of the British Empire in India. Local traditions fix the establishment of the modern city in the last year of the fifteenth century, and in 1514 the Portuguese traveller Barbosa described it as an important seaport, frequented by many ships from Malabar and all parts. During the reigns of Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan it rose to be the chief commercial city of India. At the end of the 16th century the Portuguese were undisputed masters of the Surat seas. But in 1612 Captain Best, and after him Captain Downton, destroyed the Portuguese naval supremacy and obtained an imperial firman making Surat the seat of a presidency under the English East India Company, while the Dutch also founded a factory. In 1664 Sir George Oxenden defended the factory against Sivaji with a bravery that deserves to rank with Clive’s defence of Arcot. The prosperity of the factory at Surat received a fatal blow when Bombay was ceded to the Company (1668) and shortly afterwards made the capital of the Company’s possessions and the chief seat of their trade. From that date also the city began to decline. At one time its population was estimated at 800,000, by the middle of the 19th century the number had fallen to 80,000; but in 1901 it had risen again to 119,306. Surat was taken by the English in 1759, and the conquerors assumed the undivided government of the city in 1800. Since the introduction of British rule the district has remained comparatively tranquil; and even during the Mutiny peace was not disturbed, owing in great measure to the loyalty of the leading Mahommedan families.

The city is situated on the left bank of the river Tapti, 14 m. from its mouth, and has a station on the Bombay, Baroda & Central India railway, 167 m. north of Bombay. A moat indicates the dividing-line between the city, with its narrow streets and handsome houses, and the suburbs, mostly scattered among cultivated lands; but the city wall has almost disappeared. On the river frontage rises the irregular picturesque fortress built about 1540. A fire and a flood in 1837 destroyed a great number of buildings, but there remain several of interest, such as the mosque of Nav Saiyid Sahib, with its nine tombs, the Saiyid Edroos mosque (1634) and the ornate Mirza Sami mosque and tomb (1540). The most interesting monuments are the tombs of English and Dutch merchants of the 17th century, especially that of the Oxenden brothers. Surat is still a centre of trade and manufacture, though some of its former industries, such as ship-building, are extinct. There are cotton mills, factories for ginning and pressing cotton, rice-cleaning mills and paper mills. Fine cotton goods are woven in hand-looms, and there are special manufactures of silk brocade and embroidery. The chief trades are organized in gilds. There are many wealthy Parsee, Hindu and Mahommedan merchants.

The District of Surat has an area of 1653 sq. m., and the population in 1901 was 637,017, showing a decrease of 2% in the decade. The district has a coast-line of 80 m., consisting of a barren stretch of sand drift and salt marsh; behind this is a rich, highly-cultivated plain, nearly 60 m. in breadth, at the mouth of the Tapti, but narrowing to only 15 m. in the southern part, and on the north-east are the wild hills and jungle of the Dangs. The principal crops are millets, rice, pulses, cotton and a little wheat. After Surat city the chief centre of trade is Bulsar. The district is traversed by the main line of the Bombay & Baroda railway, with a branch along the Tapti valley to join the Great Indian Peninsula railway in Khandesh. Near the coast, under the influence of the sea breeze, an equable temperature prevails, but 8 to II m. inland the breeze ceases to blow. The coast also possesses a much lighter rainfall than the interior, the annual average ranging from 30 in. in Olpad to 72 in Chikhli, while at Surat city the average is 39% in.

The Surat Agency consists of three native states: Dharampur (q.v.), Bansda (q.v.) and Sachin, together with the tract known as the Dangs. Total area, 1960 sq. m.; pop. (1901), 179,975. Sachin has a revenue of £17,000 and its chief is a Mahommedan.