Storm chronicle: After Amphan, historians look back at past cyclones that hit Calcutta – Times of India

Kolkata News

Kolkata: The word ‘cyclone’ was coined in erstwhile Calcutta by British geo-scientist Henry Piddington, the first in the world to start storm research in the annals of the Asiatic Society. Looking at the structure of the natural phenomenon, Piddington compared it to the coil of a snake, which is what ‘cyclone’ means.
By the time he published his landmark, ‘Laws of Storms’ in 1842, the city had witnessed the Great Bengal Cyclone of October 11-12 in 1737 and would soon face another one, on October 5 in 1864. The former is considered one of the first five recorded cyclones of the world while the latter is also known as the Great Calcutta Cyclone. Both are counted among the most severe till date, in terms of wind speed and loss to life and property.
Amphan has brought the focus back on Piddington’s work, carried out at the Asiatic Society where he had set up the country’s first meteorology centre. Information about the 1737 cyclone is limited; some details can be found in the reports of ‘London Magazine’ and ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’, both published from London, said Shankar Nath, who has researched the storm for a Kolkata Municipal Corporation document. “It is in this storm that the steeple of St Anne’s Church, called the first English Church, which was located at the western corner of Writer’s Buildings, and the Nabagraha temple tower, built by Gobindaram Mitra near Kumartuli, fell,” Nath added.
The two foreign publications have quoted government records saying the storm induced 40ft-high waves and floods that inundated 60 leagues or 330km and killed over 300,000 people across Bengal, said A K Sensharma in his ‘Great Bengal Cyclone of 1737’.
The Great Calcutta Cyclone of 1864 raged between 4pm and 10pm. Satya Chandra Mukherji said, “The avenues of Fort William were destroyed, Eden Gardens was a wilderness, the iron rails overthrown, Garden Reach roads were blocked by trees, the roof of Free School, the Roman Catholic Church tower at Bowbazar, the steeple of Free Church of Scotland, the minarets of the mosque at Dharmatalla and the roof of St James’ Theatre were blown away. Even telegraph lines were broken, bringing communication to a halt,” he wrote.
Researcher Bibhor Das, who studied the impact of the 1864 cyclone on Bishop’s College in Howrah, cited reports of two ships — Vessel Bengal and Mail Steamer Nemesis — which broke into pieces and were flung on to the campus where IIEST now stands.
Historian Ramkrishna Chatterjee, also the publications secretary of Asiatic Society, said all the research on the two cyclones will be published in a special edition soon.