Honestly, I never knew there were so many museums in Kolkata. I wanted to do a consolidated blog with all the museums of the city and while researching I realized that there are far too many to fit them into a single blog. So the next best option would be to cover some of the unusual and lesser-known museums.
I am sure you have traveled multiple times through Strand Road while going to Howrah Station and you surely must have noticed several old buildings and dilapidated structures on your left after crossing Millennium Park. While some of these old building still functions as a warehouse some are clearly beyond any use. While almost reach the Howrah Bridge (Rabindra Setu) you will come across a very interesting museum on your left which also happens to act as an archive section.
This museum belongs to the Kolkata Port Trust (Syma Prasad Mookerjee Port) and apart from housing several exhibits they also have their central archive here. This is what they call their Maritime Archives and Heritage Centre. Basically what they have done is to create neat displays or various documents and objects related to the maritime history of Calcutta. Keep in mind that Kolkata Port Trust is also responsible for the maintenance of Howrah Bridge and other significant structures along the Hooghly River apart from marinating the three ports.
Calcutta has a long river trade history which started much before the arrival of the British in India. What happened after the establishment of the British Empire in India was to formalize the organization and transforming it into a regular authority managing the river transportation system.
Once you enter the gate you will see a three-storied building to your right. The ground floor has a vigilance office of the Kolkata Port Trust while the first floor houses the museum and the archive. The old British-built building has a beautiful two stairs approach with which you can reach the first floor by availing any one of the stairs on each side from the ground floor.
The first room houses the office section while the museum and display rooms are in two separate rooms after that. The archive is at the last in another separate room.
The museum or the heritage carefully takes one from the start of the maritime trade of India with the outside world. Long before the ports were established in Calcutta their pre-existed trade with Europe and Africa. How this part of India was referred to as “Gangaridae” also the significance of Tamralipta which was once the main port of entry to the eastern part of India especially Bengal. Further taking the user through the river system of Bengal and how it helped trade deep down Bengal following the river path. You get to know about Khejuri Lighthouse which started operating in 1810, the foundation of Port of Calcutta.
The rooms have different sections which have been carefully separated subject-wise. You will get to see some old paintings of the city, the history of the establishment of Calcutta port, foundation laying of Haldia Port, and other important information which directly or indirectly connects the river to the history of the city.
One of the most interesting instrument that is on display is the original 100-foot steel measuring tape that was used by the Chief Engineering Drawing Office in charge of building the iconic Howrah Bridge. The steel tape had to be special since heat and cold can alter the length of the tape thus this tape was made from special steel that did not change in length due to temperature change and remained constant.
Last but not least is the connection between the iconic Bengali movie star Uttam Kumar and Calcutta Port Trust. Before joining the movie industry when Uttam Kumar was known by his original name Arun Kumar Chatterjee and apart from doing theatre he used to work here in Calcutta Port trust as a cashier at the Port Commissioners office at Kidderpore in the year 1944.
The archive has a special file bearing the name of Uttam Kumar which has an original Deposit Slip of Rs. 1000 deposited by Uttam Kumar on 19th August 1947. This money was returned to him on the 7th of February 1951 when he had already shifted his focus to the cinema.
One of the most interesting original materials on display is the original Inspection Book of Saugor Light House. This book has record logs by the light house master from the year 1878 to 1982. Apart from the information that has been logged here the book itself is special as it’s manufactured by Waterlow & Sons Limited who were the official accounts book manufacturer for Her Majesty’s Government.
Location of Maritime Heritage Centre Kolkata Port Trust
Before visiting the museum please call them once to enquire if they have opened after COVID outbreak.