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This Day in History

World History

Sunday, June 20, 1756. :   British prisoners are captured and imprisoned in the infamous "Black Hole of Calcutta".

     The "Black Hole of Calcutta" was a 4.3 by 5.5 metre detention cell found at Fort William in Calcutta. Fort William had been established to protect British East India Company trade in the city of Calcutta. Expecting skirmishes with French forces, the British military increased their defences at the Fort, a move which was perceived as a threat to the rule of the Nawab (provincial governor) of Bengal, Siraj Ud Daulah. When Siraj organised an army and laid siege to the fort, the British commander organised an escape, and left a token force in the fort under the command of John Zephaniah Holwell, an ex-military surgeon who was a top East India Company civil servant.

On 20 June 1756, Indian soldiers took the surviving 64 to 69 men of the British contingent prisoner, binding them for security. They also captured Anglo-Indian soldiers and other persons of mixed ancestry, imprisoning them all in the small guard room that came to be known as the "Black Hole of Calcutta". Original reports indicated that 146 prisoners were detained there, with all but 26 dying from heat stroke, suffocation, or trampling in the stifling summer heat. They were not released until the following morning.

Later accounts and analysis proved the number to be exaggarated. Investigations indicate the figure would have been closer to 70 prisoners, with modern historians believing that, at most, 43 men were dead or missing: an atrocity on a smaller scale, but a tragic atrocity nonetheless.

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