This Day in History (28-Dec-1885) – The Indian National Congress was founded

At the close of the First War of Indian Independence in 1857, the British government established an imperial headquarters on the subcontinent at Kolkata. Over the next twenty-plus years, administrators set out to engage the natives in order to avoid the rebellions which forced the East India Company to relinquish control in the first place. By 1883, the responsibility for developing this coalition became the personal mission of a retired district officer named Allan Octavian Hume. Capitalizing on the simmering desire amongst Indians for independence, he composed an open letter for a carefully-chosen group of graduates from the University of Calcutta explaining they would have to “make a resolute struggle to secure greater freedom for yourselves and your country.”

The idea of the Congress took concrete shape during a meeting of the Theosophical Convention in Madras in December 1884. In March 1885 a notice was issued convening a meeting at Pune in December of the same year, but due to a severe plague outbreak there, the meeting was later shifted to Bombay. Granted permission by the governor, the Viceroy understood Hume’s intention — coupled with that of natives like Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee and others — to be the creation of a single point of contact for the varying concerns locals might bring to the colonial government.

On December 28, 1885, a group of 72 delegates gathered at Gokuldas Tejpal Sanskrit College in Mumbai to form the Indian National Congress (INC) with W.C. Bannerjee in the chair and Hume assuming office as the General Secretary. Other important delegates included Dadabhai Naoroji, Justice Ranade, Pherozeshah Mehta, K.T. Telang and Dinshaw Wacha. Defining the objective of the Congress, the president spoke of the “promotion of personal intimacy and friendship among all the more earnest workers in our country’s cause in the parts of the empire and eradication of race, creed or provincial prejudice and fuller development of national unity”.

Subsequently, the Congress led India to Independence in 1947 after a long but remarkably peaceful struggle.


This Day in History (22-Aug-1639) – Madras (now Chennai) is Founded by the East India Company

The rulers of the Vijaynagar Empire who ruled the South India, appointed chieftains called Nayaks to rule various regions of the province independently. In 1639, when the Brtish East India Company arrived in the area to establish a factory, Darmala Venkatadri Nayaka, a Telugu king and a powerful chieftain who was in charge of the area, gave the British a piece of land sandwiched between the Cooum River and the Egmore River. The area was known NariMedu i.e. mound of jackals. A factory of brick was built upon the island, and mounted with cannon, and called Fort St. George. This small settlement of the British gradually drew the attention of other East India traders such as the Portuguese and the Dutch who gradually joined the settlement. By 1649, Fort St. George had 19,000 residents due to which the East India Company expanded Fort St. George by constructing an additional wall. This expanded area came to be known as the Fort St. George settlement. According to a treaty signed with the Nayaks, the British and other European Christians were only allowed to colour the outside of their buildings white. Because of this, gradually over time, this area began to be known as “White Town”.

Gradually weavers, washers, painters, and hosts of other artisans, flocked to the spot and eagerly entered the service of the British, and began to set up their looms and to weave, wash, and paint their cotton goods in the open air beneath the trees. A settlement grew up by the side of Fort St. George and soon the Europeans were outnumbered. These non Europeans, mostly Hindu and Muslims, were given place near white town to set up a settlement and a wall was constructed to separate this new non-European settlement from White Town. This new area was known as “Black Town”. Originally, White Town and Black town were together known as Madras, a name derived from ‘Medurasapatnam’, which simply meant ‘chief’s town on the mound’. Fort St. George still stands and is home to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly and the office of the Chief Minister.



This Day in History (27-Mar-1668) – English king Charles II gives Bombay to East India Company for just 10 pounds of gold a year

Mumbai was just seven islands Colaba, Mazagaon, Mahim, Parel, Bombay Island, Worli and Old Woman’s Island. They were separated by swamps: the land was dangerous and unhealthy.In 1534, the Portuguese captured the seven islands from Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat and established a trading centre there. The Portuguese called the place Bom Bahia, meaning ‘the good bay’, which the English pronounced Bombay. This trading place slowly grew, with local people trading products such as silk, muslin, chintz, onyx, rice, cotton and tobacco. By 1626, there was a great warehouse, a friary, a fort and a ship building yard. There were also new houses for the general population, and mansions for the wealthy.

In October 1626, whilst at war with Portugal, English sailors heard that the Portuguese had “got into a hole called Bombay” to repair their ships. They attacked Bombay, but the ships had already left. The English burned down buildings, and destroyed two new Portuguese ships not yet from the stocks. In May 1662, King Charles II of England married Catherine of Braganza, whose family offered a large dowry. Part of this gift was the Portuguese territory of Bombay. However, Charles II did not want the trouble of ruling these islands and in 1668 persuaded the East India Company to rent them for just 10 pounds of gold a year.

Within a few years the Company had transformed Bombay. Governor Gerald Aungier set about building up the port, with a new quay, warehouses and a customs house. The Company supported him and encouraged him to build a new city – they even sent him the plan of London as it was to be rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666. Aungier started a complex building programme: causeways to link the islands; forts and a castle to protect people; a church, a hospital, and a mint where coins were made. He made the city more populous by attracting Gujarati traders, Parsi ship-builders, and Muslim and Hindu manufacturers from the mainland.  In 1687, the Company made Bombay their Indian headquarters. The headquarters stayed there until 1708. During Mughal attacks in 1689, city lost its major manpower but bounced back by 1700 to become ‘gateway of India’.