Elliot Road: Reminiscent of a Colonial Man

Calcutta’s early history is intimately related to the British East India Company and those who served here. Hence it is a matter of little surprise that many of the thoroughfares, connecting streets and lanes were named after some of the illustrious officers of the Company. One such instance is Elliot Road which was named after John Elliot, an able administrator in the Company’s service.

Elliot Road stretches from Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Road (formerly Lower Circular Road) in the east to Royd Street in the west and Ripon Street in the north. Upjohn’s map of 1784 indicated that the earlier name of Elliot Road was Ahmed Jamadaur’s Street while the natives called it, Mehndee-Bagan-ka-rusta.

The road was later rechristened as Elliot Road after John Elliot of the Bengal Civil Service, who was, in the early years of the 19th century, President of the Boards of Police and Conservancy in Calcutta, and effected great and important reforms in the administration of the city.  HEA Cotton, the true chronicler of colonial Calcutta wrote: “As chief of the Police, he was largely instrumental in putting down the dacoits, a gang of robbers who were one of the principal pests of Calcutta during those days.” Long before the natives settled on Elliot Road, it used to be a jungle with a huge pond at the centre. Jackals and foxes

were often spotted in this jungle. John Elliot too, had his residence in this very locality.

“There are to be observed the remains of several old roads made by the late Mr. John Elliot, but most of these are so covered with jungle, their ditches filled up, bridges broken, and the jungle so impenetrable, that it is impossible to traverse them; the eastern suburbs I now allude to must at a former period have been in a very superior state to what they are now and there are several old brick houses, chiefly native, and apparently deserted, which go to confirm this fact”, wrote F. P. Strong in his Topography and Vital Statistics of Calcutta in 1849.

According to Cotton, this vigilant Magistrate survived Sir John Royds after whom the neighbouring Royd Street was named, by two years and died in Calcutta on January 28, 1818, at the age of 53. A handsome monument stands over his grave in the North Park Street (Lower Circular Road) Cemetery. The Bengal Obituary of 1848 had published the following epitaph from his grave: “Beneath this Monument are interred the mortal remains of John Elliot, Esq. late Judge and Magistrate of the suburbs of Calcutta, President of the Boards of Police and Conservancy for the Town of Calcutta, and Senior Merchant in the Civil Service of the East India Company, who died in the 53rd year of his age, and in the active discharge of his various official functions. Indefatigable, upright and zealous in his unmerited exertion to maintain good order and promote the welfare of the community within the sphere of his jurisdiction, not only by a valiant superintendence of the Police, but also by his personal attention to local improvement and works of general utility. His death was not less felt and regretted as a public loss than it was lamented as a private misfortune by his friends and family, to whom he was endeared by his social and domestic virtues. This monument has been erected by a voluntary association of persons who were long and intimately acquainted with his merits and character and who were desirous of thus evincing by a lasting memorial their sentiments of sincere esteem and regard.”

Elliot Road is a typical Calcutta thoroughfare with people sitting on the ledge of houses chatting, leisurely footsteps making way for small items of groceries from the neighbourhood stores, trams wriggling by and nameplate of homes bearing surnames like Brown and Smith testifying it as an Anglo-Indian neighbourhood. There is also subtle sense of decay, which hangs over the street despite the busy hubbub of daily life. The sad state of the road and neighbourhood would have surely caused dismay to the civil servant after whom it was named. Elliot Road Post Office, ACS fast food joint, Police Housing Estate and Loreto Day School are some of the popular landmarks of this road.

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