Published On: Mon, Oct 21st, 2019

East India Company Architecture under Lord Wellesley & Lord Clive

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Although purely a commercial company, and ostensibly having no political intent, the East India Company proved an important stepping stone to establishing the British Raj in India. One major reason for this was the manner in which company employees behaved whilst out in India. It could be said that many of the successful employees of the East India Company behaved after the fashion of princes and this was nowhere more apparent than in the buildings they created for themselves in India.

The two residences which were first perceived to be representative of British power and superiority were inhabited by Lord Clive and Viceroy Wellesley and were the Madras Government House and Calcutta Government House. These properties were both built in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Although the East India Company had strong reservations regarding the design and building of such massive and imposing structures, they were allowed to remain.

Madras Government House, India

The Madras Government House was erected for Lord Clive, son of Clive of India. Building this edifice initiated the following comments to him from his employers, the East India Company: “It by no means appears to us essential to the well-being of our Government in India that the pomp, magnificence and ostentation of the Native Governments should be adopted by the former; the expense to which such a system would naturally lead would prove highly injurious to our commercial interests”. Although Clive was recalled to England shortly after Government House was completed, the building, which was representative of the growing dominance of the British Raj, remained.

Madras Government House was modelled on a classical, palatial style and surrounded by a vast country park. The house was marked by a two story colonnaded verandah but the outstanding feature of this structure was the completely separate banqueting hall.

East India Company Architecture under Lord Wellesley & Lord Clive

The banqueting hall was set on a high podium and had Roman columns rising through the two stories which were also apparent inside the banqueting area, which was on the first floor. Traditional sphinxes guarded the entrances and the pediments of the building were decorated with images of the two major conquests that could have been said to establish the Raj – the siege of Seringapatnam in 1799 and the battle of Plassey in 1757. Statuary and portraits of famous Indian officers ensured that this building could well have been termed a “neo-classical temple for hero worship”. according to academic Sten Nilsson.

Calcutta Government House Built by Lord Wellesley (Duke of Wellington)

Calcutta Government House was modelled on Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire which was built by Adam, however it was far larger and more imposing. Built in magnificent and opulent style, this building rose three stories and had lavishly decorated state rooms.

The building cost Wellesley his job too – as he was recalled to Britain by the East India Company shortly after the official opening of the residence.

In Wellesley’s defence Lord Valentia wrote shortly afterwards that India should be ruled “from a palace not from a counting-house with the ideas of a Prince not with those of a retail dealer in muslins and indigo”. He was commenting on the East India Company’s indignation at the Wellesley building and also stated that India was a country of “splendour and extravagance” which needed a ruler who could “conform himself to the prejudices of the country he ruled over”.

Although both of these buildings have been viewed as indicative of Britain’s pretensions to rulership and sovereignty of India, it must be remembered that, at the time they were constructed, the East India Company was a major commercial business in India which faced formidable difficulties from a number of sources.

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