FAMINES IN THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT, 1500 to 1767
|1670 (a) [to 1671]: Bihar + Bengal|
|Documented causes: drought (including low Ganges) then flood|
|Documented effects: over 100,000 dead in Patna alone; depopulation; migration; voluntary slavery; cannibalism|
|Thomas Bowrey (ed. Sir R.C. Temple), "A Geographical Account of Countries Round the Bay of Bengal, 1669 to 1679" (1905)|
|"Notwithstandinge Pattana be soe fertile to afford graine to Such a plentifull countrey as Bengala, yett in the yeare of our Lord 1670 they had as great a Scarcitie, in so much that one Pattana Seere weight of rice (the plentifullest graine in the country) was sold for one rupee the Seere containing onely 27 Ounces [6 ounces less than the "standard" Seere], and in a few months, there was none at all to be had at that rate, in soe much that many thousands of the Natives perished in the Streets and open feilds for want of food, and many glad so Sell theire own children for a handfull of rice.|
And yett, at that time, the Nabobs Chiefe Wife had Severall very large Storehouses full of graine, and wold not dispose of any, unlesse they wold give the weight of Silver in one Scale of its weight of rice or wheat in the other. But it pleased God to frustrate her Covetous designe, and Sent them as great plenty as Ever they had. [Footnote indicates this "Nabob's wife" story is not found in any other source, but see the similar incident in the John Marshall quotations below, under 19 Jun 1671]."
|Nicolaus de Graaff, "Reisen van Nicolaus de Graaff, na de vier gedeeltens des Werelds …" (1701)|
|[Shafaat Ahmad Khan has translated a few sentences of this text to English in "John Marshall in India" (1927) p155. I have inserted these, headed Khan tr.]
pp105-6: [Doctor de Graaff's visit to the Dutch trading lodge at Soepra (=Chhapra) in Bihar, late 1670] "Wy alhier een klein getal Hollanders, en van levens-middelen wel versien, en wierden over al waar wy quamen als Princen ontfangen en onthaald, sagen onder d'eigen inwoonders een grote armoed en ellende, en was in dese Gewesten sulken hongers-nood en dieren tijd als by menschen leve oyt had geweest, [Khan tr. (from "sagen"- loosely) "We saw nothing but poverty and misery among the country folk. Scarcity and famine were greater than had ever been known within the memory of man."] door dien de rijs haar voornaamste voetsel dit Jaar niet wel was geslaagt. De menschen stierven by menigte en lagen op de wegen, in de Rivier, ja selfs op de straten en markt dood, en niemand wildese begraven of inde Rivier werpen, maar wierden vande Jakhalsen, Tijgers, Wolven en honden opgegeten en verscheurd. [Khan tr. "The people died in heaps and their corpses remained extended on the roads, streets and marketplaces, since there was no one to bury them or even throw them into the river. These corpses were torn and devoured by wild horses [no: "jackals"], tigers, wolves and dogs."] Sommige sagen wy leggen gestorven met stukken van stinkende vellen, ledere lappen en gras inde mond. [Khan tr. "We even saw some poor wretches who had still in their mouths grass, leather and suchlike filth."] Men kan denken of daar ellend en armoede was, daar de moeder haar eigen kind slagten op eet om [Khan tr. (very loosely) "They died in flocks. A woman ate her own child."] haar honger te versaden, welke vrouw ons in 't laast van December getoond weird. De menschen gingen quijnende en stervende langs straten en wegen, so dat wy qualijk ergens gaan konden of wierden van de selve by menigte omcingeld en vast gehouden, biddende en schreyende om een aalmoes of een hand vol droge rijs, latende ook niet af voor dat wy haar hadden getroost, so dat 't gehuil en gekerm so groot was dat een stenen hert sig moest erbermen.
Dit maakte de slaven en slavinnen goet koop: [Khan tr. (loosely) "Slaves could be bought for next to nothing."] want door de grote hongers nood gedrukt, verkogt de man sijn vrouw, de vrouw de man, de ouders haar kinderen, de kinderen dikmaal haar ouders, de broeders en susters malkanderen voor een geringe prijs; want om een hand vol rijs of twe konden wy een slaaf ofte slavinne kopen, en voor een Rijksdaalder oft twe koft men een schone jongen of jonge dogter van 10, 12, 16 of 20 Jaren, gesond van lijf en leden; dog van de honger uitgeteerd, welke haar gantse leven uwe lijfeigen moeten zijn, en die gy weder kond verhandelen of versenden naar u welgevallen.
Egter waren de sodanige gelukkig die in d'onse of d'Engelse haarhanden vervielen, en van kost en klederen versorgd; zijnde alle levens-middelen door 't overvloeyen van de Ganges dees tijd seer duur, voornamelijk de rijs haar voornaamste levens-middel, want deselve in plaats van brood gebruikt word. Men kogt 6 Ceren [=Seers], dat is ontrent negen Hollandse ponden voor een halve Rijksdaalder, komende in een vrugtbaar of gemeen Jaar 60, 70 en meer Ceren voor so een prijs kopen. [Khan tr. (from "door 't" very loosely) "The cause was the failure of the rice crop and the inundations of the Ganges : Rice cost half a rix dollar for 6 sers or 9 lb. Dutch weight, while in ordinary years, 60, 70, or more lb. could be bought for the same amount."] "
[NB: A French translation of this work was published under the title of "Voyages de Nicolas de Graaf aux Indes Orientales …" (1719)]
|Om Prakash "The Dutch East India Company and the Economy of Bengal, 1630-1720" (2014) p130:|
|prices of copper in Bengal: "with the resumption of copper supplies by the Dutch from 1670, the Bengal price again came down. The downward trend was further accelerated in 1671, when a local famine forced people to dispose of their copper vessels, among other things."|
|John Marshall, "Notes and Observations in Bengal, 1668-1672" (ed. S.A. Khan as "John Marshall in India", 1927)|
|pp114-127: 10 May . ... To Cutwallpore Surray, ½ Course [A common 17th century British spelling of "Kos"- but also of "coarse" as in "coarse rice"! ]. Here dined in a garden or under a row of Mango trees, where many poor people stayed till the heat of the day was over. They came from Pattana. Here I gave many Cowries away. Here one old woman came to mee laughing and yet beging. I told her shee that was so merry could not want any thing, but shee replyed that shee rejoyced to see mee because shee knew I would give her somthing, which I did.|
12 May. To Woodowa and Puttowra, 1 Course. Here a great Cowkedar who watcheth that no goods go from Rojamaul to Cassumbuzar without a Dustick. Hee would have had somthing of mee; but by reason hee told mee it was a custome for Englishmen that travelled that way to give him somthing, and that if I would not hee would stop what goods came that way, Therefore I would give him nothing, because I would breake that custome and extortion.
15 May. Before Sunrise set out from the Surray, but were stopped at the Gate by the Nabobs peons in whose Jaggeer this is, and was forced to returne to the Chowkee and (it raining) I went againe into the Surray, having sent my Dustick taken out at Rojamaul to the Governor, who kept it about an houres time, when put upon one of the Peons handkerchers 21 chops, which were for my selfe, 6 peons, 8 Caharrs, 4 Coolies, with two Doolies and 1 man with my Gun, and 1 Cook and 3 other Chaups for my Pallankeene and 2 Doolies. The chaup is only the impression of a seal ruped over with red stuff. I gave to the Jemmedar who brought the Chaup and to the Governor, 1 rupee, and to their servants, i rupee.
I stayed in the Surray by reason of the raine about 2 houres, and went againe to the gate, where was againe stopped by ditto Peons, who said I should not pass except I would give them somthing; so I sent my chopped clout to the Governor, who sent it to me againe by a Moor, who desired mee not to be angry, I told him I was not, but was resolved, if I stayd there a month, I would not give the Peons who stopped mee one cowry, because they told mee except I would, I should not pass. So the Moore gave mee the chopped clout and desired mee not to take notice of any abuse, for it was the Peons fault; so because hee was so civill, being a person of quality, I told him, if hee would send his servant with mee to the Doolies gon before, in which was my knives, I would send him one. Hee sent his servant, who went about 3 Course before, overtook the Doolies, when sent him a hornhafted knife, and gave the servant 1 pice for his pains.
20 May. ... To Dunira, 1 Course; these 6 Course no trees, passing most by River side, where see very great number of dead corps.
21 May. To Bohr 2½ Course; this a great towne having in it severall stone houses. All this day neare Ganges. Passed by 4 or 5 dead corps in the road; a very pleasant road. Here I was profered a Slave of 12 years old to be sold by his fathers and owne consent for ½ Rupee, but beeing so old and a Sheak Mussulman, I would not buy him, but gave him 4 pice and sent him away. Here fine rice 3 pice per seer and 33½ pice per Rupee. Here had a great storme but no raine. Here lay in a Surray, where a sad noise of poor starved people, who I thought would have pulled all my things out of my pallenkeen by force, having given them somthing this day.
22 May. To Gunsarpore Surray, 1½ Course. This day already see in the road 5 or 6 dead corps. Rice here 3 pice per seer and 33 pice per rupee. Here at Gunsurpore Surray bought Brinchee, a Slave, of Banisee his eldest brother. I agreed for 8 annas, but gave 1 rupee for him, also gave in sweet-meats, as customary when buy slaves, 4 pice; 2 pice to the Landlord of the Surray and 1 pice to the Barber for shaveing his head. ... To Biccerpore, ½ Course. In last 2½ Course see 27 or 28 dead corps and pieces of corps in the road. Near Rani I see Ducks eat the dead corps of men in the branch of the river. Here at Biccerpore rice 4½ pice per seer and 60 pice, being new sort, per Rupee.
23 May. ... In passing thorow Pattana see severall dead corps lie in the highway and many in the Bazar, and I see 9 dead corps lie in one gate house which I passed thorow, here in Pattana dying about 100 per day and hath for 4 or 5 months. The Coatwall causeth all the dead corps to be cast into Ganges every morning.
Here wheat is 2½ Rupees per Maund; Barly 2 rupees ; Rice fine, 4 rupees; Ditto coarse, 2½ rupees. Butter, 7½ rupees; oyle, 7 rupees. Beefe, 35 seer per Rupee. Goats flesh, 14 seer per Rupee, the maund being 80 English pound.
pp137-144 and 149-153: 31 May 1671. This day bought a Braminie slave boy for 4 rupees; his name was Mangah; his father (dead) was called Jankee, was a Bramany; his mother living, her name Dowkee. I now gave a new name to the boy and call him Abraham. I bought him in Pattana when his hight was 43 inches, his age 7 or 8 yeares.
In latter end of May 1671 there dyed of Famine in Pattana about 100 persons dayly, and had so for 3 or 4 months. Corne was then (vizt.) Wheate, 2½ Rupees per Maund; Barley, 2 rupees; Rice fine, 4 rupees; Ditto Course, 2½ rupees; Beefe, 1 1/8r.; Goat flesh, 2r.; Butter or Gue, 7½r.; Oyle, 7r. per Maund, which consists of 80 lb. English Averdepoiz.
19 Jun 1671. ... when came from [sic] Pattana from Singee, I see upon one peece of sand, about the middle way betwixt that city and the River, about 32 or 33 persons ly dead within about 10 yards compas from the middle of them, and so many by the River side that could not come on shore but by very many dead corps; also aboundance upon the sand besides. Now Rice fine, 4r. per Maund, beeing a little while since 4r. 7an., being somthing cheaper. Wood for firing, 4½Md. per Rupee ; Henns 5, and chickins 8 per Rupee.
Tis reported that since the begining of October there have died of Famine in Pattana and the Suburbs about 20,000 persons, and there cannot in that time have gone fewer from the City than 150,000 persons. The corps in the river generally ly with their backs upwords. Great number of Slaves to be bought for 4an. and 8an. per peece, and good ones for 1r. per peece; but they are exceeding leane when bought, and if they eat but very little more than ordinary of rice, or eat any flesh, butter or any strong meat, their faces, hands and feet and codds swell immediately exceedingly; so that tis esteemed enough to give them at first ½ seer of rice, and those very leane ¼ seer per day, to be eaten at twice.
The Famine reacheth from 3 or 4 dayes jorney beyond Bonarres to Rojamaul. The most of the poore that go hence go to Dacca for victualls, though there is thought to be great quantities of Rice in these parts; yet through the Nabobs roguery here is a Famine, and also somthing from the dryness of the last yeare.
23 Jul 1671. In Pattana about 23th July there dyed about 250 or 300 persons dayly of Famine in and about the City of Pattana, Rice being 5r. 5an. per Md., best sort. I have examined some dying of Famine, who told mee That within their bodies they were hot, but without cold, esp'ially on their Belly and privy parts. They are very thirsty and hungry, and so feeble that can neither go nor stand, nor scarce stirr any joynt. They have no pain in their head, but a great one in their Navill. Their urin is very red and thick like blood, and excrement like water, which runs often from them, but but little at a time. I examined one woman immediately before she died.
[This edition seems to omit the following note, quoted in Thomas Bowrey (ed. Sir R.C. Temple), "A Geographical Account of Countries Round the Bay of Bengal, 1669 to 1679" (1905) p226: "... August. Before the famine there were 4,000 houses inhabited in Hodgipore, and but now 1,800 inhabited, and out of them many have dyed"]
7 Aug 1671. 2 Merchants in Pottana threw them selves into a Common well and drowned themselves. Now a terrible sad cry of poor in the Bazzar.
[Also on 7 Aug, it didn't rain ...] The Raines continued from 6th June and not one fare day till August (except 11th and 30th July).
18 Aug At night the River Gunduck began to overflow the banks neare the Factory, which puts us in feare of having the water come within. This continued overflowing and the water in the River riseing and at a stand untill 25th ditto night, when about 2 houres before day there happened a violent storme of raine and filled the Garden and Factory with water, that it was to calfe of the legg deep in most places.
8 Aug 1671. In Pattana ... Now dy dayly here of Famine 2 or 300 persons in City and Suburbs. Rice now 7 seer per Rupee or 5r. 11an. per Md., of best sort, and sometimes none to be bought, nor bread in the Bazar. In the Gaut by our Factory, which was not 4 yards round about (as I conceive) lay 50 dead corps which I could tell, which were driven thether in about 2 dayes time, and Mr. Nurse [another of the Company traders] saith that the day after hee counted 122 dead corps in ditto place. Aboundance are every day drove to the side of the River, though the most persons of quallity hire Hollolcores to carry them into the middle of the river with a string, and carries them in to the middle of the river, and then cuts the string and so lets them drive down with the streame. Notwithstanding there were 50 dead corps in the Gaut by our Factory, yet the Gaut was seldome without a great many women who take up water by the dead corps and drink it, and dress their victualls with it.
12 Aug 1671. Rice fine, 6 seer per rupee or 6r. 10 2/3an. per Md. No course rice to be bought; wheat now 20 seer per Rupee or 4r. per Md. Some dayes neither rice nor bread to be bought in the Bazar.
20 Aug 1671. Now Rice in Pattana 5 seer per Rupee or 8 Rupees per Md. and very scarce to be bought for that price.
23 Aug 1671. A woman carrying dirt (to preserve our walls) till 12 clock noon, when shee laid downe, and in about one houre dyed of hunger, and in the evening her father came and threw her in to the river.
Late Aug 1671. At Ellabasse [=Allahabad], which is from Bonorras towards Agra 4 dayes jorney, towards the latter end of August 1671, there happened a very great flood, by reason of the overflowing of Ganges and Gemini, which meet there. They overflowed in the night so much and encompassed the towne, so that few could escape. Many went to the Castle to preserve themselves, but the Nabob in it would not suffer any to enter, except those that would give him 5 rupees per peece, which few of them had by them, being so surprised. They were forced thence and driven away with the Streames. Many got upon trees where lived 4 or 5 dayes, whilst [gap in text] perished for want of food, and there lay dead in the boughs thereof, some upon the tops of their houses, there being but few that could escape by boats, and the Nabob having shut up the Fort or Castle, except as above. There were missed in the towne 17 thousand persons which perished in this Flood, besides poor people &ca., of which no notice was taken, which amounted to a very great number. For this action of the Nabobs the King turned him out of his place. [Footnote: "No confirmation of this incident has been found ..." (see also 19 Jun above, and Thomas Bowrey's tale of aristocratic corruption from 1670)]
15 Sep 1671. In Pattana Rice was 8 seer per Rupee, but Course; 12 seer Goats flesh and 24 of Beefe per Rupee.
6 Nov 1671. In Pattana and the Suburbs died in 14 months last past ... of the Famine, 135,400 persons, an Account hereof being taken out of the Coatwalls Chabootry.
11 Dec 1671. I received (upon 11th December 1671) an Account in writeing out of the Coatwalls Chabootree, wherein was writ, that in the 12 months last past there had died in Pattana and the Suburbs of the Famine 103,000 persons (vizt.), 50,000 Mussulmen and 53,000 Hindoos, which were taken notice of in their books of Records.
26 Dec 1671. I received an exact account from the Coatwall Chabootry, to which give credit, that in 12 months ending 22th November last, being 354 dayes there dyed in Pattana and the Suburbs of the Famine, 15,644 Mussulmen, to whome the Nabob gave cloth to cover them when was buried, having no friends to bury them, dying in the Streets, and tis thought 2,500 dyed in the skirts of the towne, in their houses, or where might be buried by some of their relations, which were not reckoned — in all, 18,144. And tis supposed 4 times as many Hindoos died as Mussulmen, which were 72,576, which, with the 18,144, make in all 90,720 [Given that the "Hindoo" figure is a guesstimate, these figures can be reconciled with those from 11 Dec by assuming that the city's Muslims made special efforts to follow proper custom in burying their dead, so "having no friends to bury them" applied only to a minority]. And the townes near Pattana, some are quite depopulated, having not any persons in them. In one towne about 3 Course west from Pattana, where were 1,000 houses inhabited, are now but 300, and in them not above 4 or 500 persons, the rest being dead. This account I received from Mamood-herreef.
c1672. Such was the laziness [meaning "lack of vitality"] of workmen in the time of Famine, That in the time of making one Casmeer boat for the Company, Six of the Carpenters died of Famine.
|pp154-5 (quotations from unpublished letters in East India Company Factory Records: Hugli, vol. 7, from the Company's agents in Singhya, Bihar, to their chief at Hugli, about the saltpetre trade [figures in thousands indicate maunds of saltpetre]):|
31 Mar 1672. "We understand many of the weavers are dead of the Famine. . . . We have already given out money for about 16000 petre. These 4 months of February, March, Aprill and May being the only time of the yeare for the makeing and getting in this Comodity, and as yet we have gotten but 7000 mds. Such great raines fell last yeare that it was late ere any could be made, and the greatest part of the Petre Men as made Petre for us, and the Dutch Petremen are dead in the last famine, which is another reason it is both scarce and deare. . . . Now Pattana is so miserably decayd we cannot get what we please att Intrest as wee could formerly."
25 Apr 1672. "We advised you in our last that we thought we could not be able to get 17 or 18000 this yeare, which we now again confirm, and we feare not so much, it being so scarce and deare by reason of the great raines and the famine the last yeare."
14 Jun 1672. "There is no reason to fear but our success may be equivalent with the Dutch as to our Petre Investment. But they, as well as wee, shall come short of their intended quantities this year. The last yeares famine and great raines do sufficiently manifest it."
|Nicolaus de Graaff, "Reisen van Nicolaus de Graaff, na de vier gedeeltens des Werelds …" (1701)|
|pp110-11: [Doctor de Graaff reports from Chassambasar (=Cossimbazar) in Bengal, 1771] "Wy hadden op den 7, 8 en 9 September een grote water-vloed, door de grote af watering en over vloejinge van de Rivier de Ganges, verbrekende veel Dyken en Dammen, en is 't meest lage Land onder gelopen, so dat men met Vaartuigen byna over al konde varen. Veel menschen en beesten vlugten na de Bergen en hoge Landen, dog zijn egter veel menschen en beesten verdronken die geen tijd hadden haar op de hoogten te verbergen, veel Toorns, Pagoden, huisen en hovens, nevens sware muuren, insonderheid die wat digt aan de Ganges stonden, stroomden weg en vielen neder. Verwekkende weder een grote elende en hongers-nood in 't gantse Land hier ontrent."|
|1670: rich and poor throughout Hindustan|
|Documented causes: greedy government|
|Documented effects: peasant migration|
|"Evenemens Particuliers, Ou ce qui s'est passé de plus considerable aprés la guerre pendant cinq ans, ou environ, dans les Etats du grand Mogol" (vol. 2, 1671)|
|p139: ...dans l'Hindoustan ... le grand Mogol qui en est le Souverain, du moins de la meilleure partie, ayt des Revenus & richesses immenses.|
Mais d'un autre costé il y a aussi plusieurs choses à remarquer, qui balançent ces richesses: La premiere qu'entre ces grandes étenduës de terres il y en a beaucoup qui ne sont que sablons ou montagnes steriles peu cultivées & peu peuplées. Que de celles mesme qui seroient fertiles, il y en a encore beaucoup qui ne sont point cultivées faute de Laboureurs dont quelque-uns ont pery pour estre trop mal traitez des Gouverneurs qui leur ostent souvent le necessaire à la vie, & quelques fois mesme leurs enfans qu'ils sont esclaves quand ils n'ont pas moyen de payer, ou qu'ils en font difficulté; d'autres ont abandonné la campagne pour la mesme raison, & desesperez qu'ils sont de ne travailler que pour autruy, se sont jettés dans les Villes ou dans les armées pour servir de porte faix, de porteurs d'eau, ou se faire valets des Cavaliers, & plusieurs ont fuy sur les terres des Rajas parce qu'ils y trouvent moins de tyrannie & plus de douceur.
La seconde, que dans cette mesme étenduë de pays il y a quantité de Nations dont le Mogol n'est pas trop le maistre, ayant encor la pluspart leurs Chefs & Souverains particuliers qui ne luy obeïsent, & ne luy payent Tribut que par contrainte, plusieurs que fort peu de chose, quelques uns rien du tout, & quelques-uns mesme qui en reçoivent de luy ...