Black hole tragedy?
The Black Hole tragedy took place at Fort William in Calcutta in the year 1756.
The Nawab of Bengal gave The East India Company certain special rights as traders in Calcutta and allowed them to build a small fort (the Company named it Fort William) and maintain a small army. A few years later, the Britishers, fearing an aggression from the French, started to strengthen the fortification of Fort William. They also started to increase their army and mounted guns on the walls of the fort.
Siraj-ud-daula, who was the Nawab of Bengal at that time, did not like it. He asked the Britishers to stop the fortification and scale down their military. They plainly refused the Nawab’s request. Seeing his authority being flouted, that too in his own dominions, further compounded the Nawab’s anger.
He launched an attack against the Britishers. After a feeble resistance of five days, the Britishers surrendered. By that time, most of them had managed to escape. Those few, who remained, were caught and taken as prisoners.
The Black Hole Tragedy:
These English prisoners, which included some women and children too, were lodged in the prison room of the fort for a night.The prison room was 18 feet long and 14 feet wide. The number of prisoners is told to be 146 and clearly the room was too small to hold such a large number of people.
Yet Nawab’s army shut up these many prisoners in the room. They cramped for space. In the scorching heat of June, excessive perspiration and suffocation took a heavy toll. Many died in the night itself. The next morning, when the prison window was opened, these suffocating prisoners trampled one over another to get near the window.
It is said that out of 146, only 23 came out alive.
According to J Z Holwell, one of the survivors, those who came out alive were “either stupefied or raving. The remaining were corpses who were thrown into a ditch.”
The East India Company used this episode as a propaganda device to further win support of the British public in favour of their war of aggression in Indian lands.
I have read somewhere that this incident was an inspiration behind NASA scientists naming the black holes in space as black holes.
There has been a lot of controversy regarding the number of prisoners being 146. This number is believed to be far lower. Many historians are of the opinion that JZ Holwell’s account is too exaggerated. And he was further encouraged by the British government as they were just looking for an excuse to wage war against the Nawab.
A few months later, Robert Clive and his troops were sent to ‘retaliate’. They fought a war (which we know as battle of Plassey) and defeated the Nawab. This marked the beginning of British rule in India as in the coming years they slowly expanded their hold to the rest of the Indian land.
Unfortunately, apart from Holwell’s account, no other source mentioning the incident exists. But many historians believe that the number of prisoners was far lower than what Holwell claimed.