A Statistical Account of Bengal/Volume 1/Preface

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We are of opinion,’ wrote the Court of Directors in 1807 to their servants in Bengal, ‘that a Statistical Survey of the country would be attended with much utility: we therefore recommend proper steps to be taken for the execution of the same.’ The despatch from which these words are quoted forms an example of a long series of instructions, in which the East India Company urged the acquisition of accurate and systematic knowledge concerning the territories which it had won. The first formulated effort in Bengal dates from 1769, four years after the civil administration of the Province came into its hands; the latest orders of the Court of Directors on the subject were issued in 1855, three years before the government of India passed from the Company to the Crown. During the long interval, many able and earnest men had laboured at the work, manuscript materials of great value had been amassed, and several important volumes had been published. But such efforts were isolated, directed by no central organization, and unsustained by any continuous plan of execution.

The ten years which followed the transfer of the government of India to the Crown produced a new set of efforts towards the statistical elucidation of the country. Conspicuous among them was the work commenced under the orders of Sir Richard Temple in 1866, when Chief Commissioner of the Central Provinces; and in 1867, the Governor-General in Council, in obedience to orders received from Her Majesty’s Secretary of State, directed a Statistical Account to be prepared for each of the twelve great Provinces of India.[1]

The Local Governments struck out widely different schemes for conducting the work. It was as if an order had issued from some central power for a Statistical Survey of all Europe, and each nation had set about its execution on a separate plan. It became apparent that large sums of money were likely to be expended, while considerable uncertainty existed as to the results. Meanwhile several public bodies pressed on the Government of India the necessity of a systematic organization, with the view to ensuring uniformity of plan in the execution of the work. Without such uniformity, the Council of the Asiatic Society pointed out that when the local compilations came to be finally digested into the General Account of India, there would be no basis for comparative statistics, and much ‘of the original work would have to be gone over again de novo.’

The Governor-General in Council arrived at the same conclusion; and in 1869 directed me to visit the various Local Governments, to ascertain what each had done in the matter, and to ‘submit a comprehensive scheme for utilizing the information already collected, for prescribing the principles according to which all local Gazetteers are in future to be prepared, and for the consolidation into one work of the whole of the materials that may be available.’

In obedience to these orders, I submitted, in 1869, a Plan for an Imperial Gazetteer of India. It was found necessary, in the first place, to provide that the materials collected by each of the Local Governments should afford a common basis for the comparative statistics of the country, when eventually consolidated into the one final work for all India. In the second place, to devise measures for ensuring the compilation of the materials thus obtained within a reasonable time, and on a uniform plan. The District forms the administrative unit in India, and I took it as the unit of the Statistical Survey in the work of collecting the materials; the Province forms a large administrative entity, and was taken as the basis of the organization for compiling the materials when obtained. With a view to securing uniformity in the materials, I drew up, under the orders of Government, six series of leading questions,[2] illustrating the topographical, ethnical, agricultural, industrial, administrative, medical, and other aspects of an Indian District, which might serve as a basis for the investigations throughout all India. With a view to securing certainty of execution, provincial editors were appointed, each of whom was made responsible for getting in the returns from the District officers within the territory assigned to him, supplementing them by information from the Heads of Departments and local sources, and working them up into the Statistical Account or Gazetteer of the Province. In this way the unpaid co-operation of the whole body of officers throughout the two hundred and twenty-five Districts of India was enlisted, the best local knowledge was brought to bear, and in each Province there was an editor directly responsible for the completion of the Provincial Account on a uniform plan and within a reasonable time. The supervision of the whole rested with me, as Director-General of Statistics to the Government of India.[3] Under this system, the materials for the whole of British India have now been collected, in several Provinces the work of compilation has rapidly advanced, and everywhere it is well in hand. During the same period the first Census of India has been taken, and furnished a vast accession to our knowledge of the people. The materials now amassed form a Statistical Survey of a continent with a population exceeding that of all Europe, Russia excepted.[4]

In addition to my duties as Director-General of the undertaking throughout India, the Provincial Accounts for Bengal and Assam were placed in my own hands. These now separated administrations comprise one-third of the entire population of British India. The District Accounts which I have myself prepared, as provincial editor for Bengal and Assam, derive their materials from four distinct sources. My inquiries, circulated to the District officers, form the basis of the whole; but they have been supplemented by special reports from the provincial Heads of Departments; by papers on individual subjects, obtained for me by the Government; and by my personal researches in the Bengal Districts, and among the manuscript records of the Government at Calcutta, and in the India Office, London.

No effort has been spared to ensure accuracy. But it would be unwise for a central compiler, drawing his materials from so distant and widely-separated sources, to hope that in this respect he had obtained a complete success. It should not be forgotten that until the Census of 1872 we were without precise statistics of the population of any single District in Bengal or Assam; and that whereas the estimate had stood at forty millions for the Province, the total by the Census amounted to sixty-six and three-quarter millions. But these corrections were only obtained by special Census machinery for arriving at the facts, District by District. No such machinery has been available for the present work; and it only pretends to the degree of accuracy which intelligent officials on the spot can arrive at, without any statistical staff for sifting evidence or testing conclusions. My lists of inquiries were issued by the Government of Bengal in 1869-70, and during the next three years the District officers collected the information asked for. In some cases their reports have amounted to several hundred pages for a single District. As they came in, I tested them by the replies obtained from adjoining localities, and by personal inquiries in travelling through the Districts. Figures officially furnished to me by Heads of Departments or by Secretaries to Government have as a rule been accepted without verification. The proof-sheets of each volume, after being read by myself, have been revised by the Government before according its sanction to publication; and in some cases have been sent by it to the District Officers, with a view to obtaining their comments.

But notwithstanding these safeguards against error, the reader will find that on several points I have to warn him to accept my statistics as approximate estimates only; in other cases he will perhaps detect inaccuracies which have escaped my notice. The failures throughout a century of previous efforts (a single one of which had extended over seven years, and cost the East India Company £30,000) stand as warnings against excessive elaboration of any sort. I was ordered to produce an Account of each District, completed on a moderate scale, and within a very short time. The Provinces of Bengal and Assam have a population more varied in character and more numerous than that of England, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Holland, Switzerland, and Italy put together. In three years I had to collect, without the help of a single paid local assistant, the information for this vast tract; and in four more years the compilation of the whole is to be finished, in addition to my work as Director-General of the whole operations throughout India. During the next fifteen months (1875-76), I shall have the help of five local assistants in Bengal; and my obligations to the two gentlemen in my personal office have been very great. But I beg that those who come after me may, in improving on my work, remember the conditions under which it has been done. When it was commenced six years ago, no one knew precisely the population of a single District in Bengal; and the Departments of Government were wont to base their estimates on separate and often widely discrepant estimates, both as to the number of the people and the area of its territory.

Each volume will deal with a group of Districts representing on an average a population of about four million souls, or nearly one million more than that of Scotland. The present five volumes exhibit the statistics of a population more than six times the inhabitants of that country. The complete work will contain the results of my Statistical Survey of the whole fifty-nine Districts of Bengal and Assam. Each volume proceeds on a uniform plan, dealing with the same subjects in the same order of sequence, and, as far as possible, in the same words. In adjoining Districts which possess many features in common, this system involves frequent repetitions. But such repetitions are unavoidable, if a complete separate Account of each District is to be given. In every District I start with a description of its geography, general aspects, and physical features. I then proceed to the people, their occupations, ethnical divisions and creeds, with their material condition and distribution into town and country. Agriculture follows, with special details regarding rice cultivation and other crops, the condition of the husbandmen, the size of their farms, their implements, land tenures, prices and wages, rates of rent, and the natural calamities to which the District is subject. Its commerce, means of communication, manufactures, capital and interest, and other industrial aspects are then dealt with. The working of the District Administration is next exhibited in considerable detail,—its revenue and expenditure at present and at previous periods; the statistics of protection to person and property, the police, the jails, and the criminal classes; the statistics of education and of the post office, with notices of any local institutions, and the statistics of the Administrative Subdivisions. Each Account concludes with the sanitary aspects of the District, its medical topography, endemic and epidemic diseases, indigenous drugs, medical charities, and such meteorological data as can be procured.

The fifty-nine Districts of the Lieutenant-Governorship of Bengal and the Chief-Commissionership of Assam comprise an area of 248,231 square miles, and a population of 66,856,859 souls. I have now (1875) collected the materials for the whole of this territory, and compiled the Accounts for one-half of the Districts. The present five volumes deal with 13 Districts—the 24 Parganás, Sundarbans, Nadiyá, Jessor, Midnapur, Húglí, Bardwán, Bírbhúm, Bánkurá, Dacca, Bákarganj, Farídpur, Maimansinh — containing 21,425,353 souls.

My general plan of operations has been to begin with the seaboard and to work inland. The first volume deals with the great metropolitan District of the 24 Parganás, and the wild seaboard jungles and solitary swamps of the Sundarbans. Calcutta, the capital city of India, lies within the 24 Parganás, but forms a separate jurisdiction, and will receive separate treatment. My statistics of the 24 Parganás, and all averages or comparisons based upon them, are exclusive of Calcutta; but for the sake of convenience, I give a bare outline of the metropolitan population among the towns of the District. The tract dealt with in this volume exhibits the typical features of a delta. In the more inland parts, the land, although to the eye a dead level throughout, is fairly well raised, and little subject to inundation either from the rivers or tidal waves. But as one approaches the coast, the level gradually declines to an elevation which throughout many hundred square miles is scarcely raised above high water-mark, and which at particular spots is below high water, being protected from the inroads of the sea by sandhills blown up by the south-west monsoon. This lower region of the Sundarbans forms a sort of drowned land, covered with jungle, smitten by malaria, and infested by wild beasts; broken up by swamps, intersected by a thousand river channels and maritime backwaters; but gradually dotted, as the traveller recedes from the seaboard, with clearings and patches of rice land.

The statistics in the following pages were collected in the years 1870-73. This first volume deals with an area of ten thousand square miles, containing a population (inclusive of Calcutta) of nearly three million souls.

  1. These Provinces, or rather political divisions under separate administrations, are :—(1) Bengal; (2) Bombay; (3) Madras; (4) North-Western Provinces; (5) Panjáb; (6) Assam, in 1867 included within Bengal; (7) Central Provinces; (8) British Burmah; (9) The Berars, under the Resident of Haidarábad; (10) Mysore and Coorg; (11) Rájputana; (12) Central India.—Orders of the Government of India, No. 1758, dated 19th Oct. 1867.
  2. Subsequently circulated to the Local Governments under the title of ‘Heads of Information required for the Imperial Gazetteer of India.’
  3. The above narrative is as accurate as a comprehensive sketch can be made without going into very minute details. Thus in one Presidency, Madras, a more elaborate system of separate District Accounts has been adopted; while the Gazetteers of one of the minor administrations (the Central Provinces) and of the Haidarábád Assigned Districts (the Berars) were commenced and practically done before the introduction of the system above described. Again, with regard to Native States, considerations of public policy have rendered anything like rigid uniformity in my demands for information impracticable.
  4. Population of Europe in 1872, 301,600,000, according to the tables of E. Behm and Dr. H. Wagner of Gotha. Population of Russia in Europe (including Finland and former kingdom of Poland), 71,207,786. Europe in 1872, less Russia, 230,392,214. British and Feudatory India in 1872, over 240 millions; now estimated at nearly 250 millions.