Home > Bengal History, Day Trips from Calcutta (Kolkata), General > Canning House, the last remains of the failed Canning Port Project

Canning House, the last remains of the failed Canning Port Project

Canning House, 24 Parganas (South)

The last remains of the failed Canning Port Project

Since the late 17th century Calcutta (now Kolkata) has flourished as a flourishing river port and contributed a chunk of the trade of East India Company. It also served as the Capital of British India and was considered the second city of the British empire.

Canning House, Canning, 24 Parganas (South)

Canning House, Canning, 24 Parganas (South)

Plan for a new port: But In the early 1850s it was found that the river was first silting up and the East India Company decided to make a new port further down the river. Surveyors were sent deep into the Sundarban area and they finally came up with a spot on the banks of the Matla River.

Canning House, Canning, 24 Parganas (South)

Canning House, Canning, 24 Parganas (South)

The small fishing village on the banks of the Matla was soon to be transformed into a flourishing port that would put Kolkata in the back seat.

The village was named as Canning after the then Governor-General Charles Canning.

But things came to a sudden stop with the Revolt of 1857, but it was soon suppressed and work started on the new post under Lord Canning, who was then the first Viceroy of India.

The port had begun operations in 1861-62, and the new port was connected to Kolkata by rail in 1863. In 1864 Ferdinand Schiller set up the Port Canning Land Investment, Reclamation and Dock Company. Plans were laid out for hotels, promenades, parks and even tram tracks.

Henry Piddington, sketch by Colesworthey Grant

Henry Piddington, sketch by Colesworthey Granth (Source: wikipedia Commons)

Predication of a disaster: Henry Piddignton was a lowly shipping inspector based in Kolkata. He finds several mentions in Amitav Ghosh’s bestselling novel Hungry Tide.

Amitav Ghosh, The Hungry Tide
Before coming to India Piddington-shaheb had lived in the Caribbean, and some-where in those islands he had fallen in love – not with a women not even with a dog, as it was often the case with lonely Englishmen living in faraway places. No, Mr. Piddington fell in love with storms.

When Pidington heard about the ambitious project of Port Canning he at once smelt disaster. From his experience, he knew that the port was located too deep inside the mangrove forest and was prone to cyclones.

He predicted that a cyclone will destroy the port with 15 years. He started drafting letters to high officials, including the viceroy but no one replied and he became a laughing stock in town.

The disaster: But the cyclone did hit in 1967 much earlier than Piddington had predicted. It was not one the great cyclones that are common in Bay of Bengal but just a tidal surge, but it was enough to destroy the entire Canning Port. The devastation was so great that in 1871 the port was finally abandoned. Sadly Piddington did not live to see his prediction come true, he died in 1858 and was laid to rest in the French Cemetery, Chandannagar.

Canning Hosue, Canning

Canning today: Today Canning is connected to Kolkata by the suburban railway via the Sealdah south section. The journey takes 1 hour and 15 minutes. Today it is a sleepy small town at the edge of Sundarban. An old two-storied building is all that left of the once famed Canning Port.

Located just 2 km north of the Canning railway station it is locally known as Lord Canning’s House, but did Lord Canning really live here? Or, was it the office of the Port Canning? There are no concrete records to justify either of the claims. But it seems unlikely for the Viceroy of India to live in a house at the edge of one malaria and tiger-infested jungle.

Canning House, Canning, 24 Parganas (South)

Canning House, Canning, 24 Parganas (South)

The two-storied brick building consists of an arched porch and has 22 rooms. Sadly it is in a very bad stage and is on the verge of collapsing. Presently it is under the protection of the West Bengal Heritage Commission. Boards in English and Bengali narrate the history of the building. There are plans to restore the building. One can hope the only remains of British India’s disastrous Port Canning project can be restored back to its former glory.

Necessary Information:

  • Getting there: Canning Railway station is connected with Sealdah south section. The journey takes 1 hour 15 mins and cost ₹ 15
  • Getting there: Canning House is located about 1.5 km from the station. Autos charge about ₹ 50 (subject to bargaining) for a round trip along with waiting time. If the weather is favorable it is better to walk
  • Places to eat: Eateries near the station provides basic food
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