Thursday, 15 December 2016

Munjoul Indigo Concern: a piece of colonial and industrial revolution history in a Bihari village I

This post has been in the making for a long time.

There is one place is my village that has fascinated me for long time. You cross the river and within 5 min there are some old buildings on the left, right in front of the village college. Grayish orange walls, bricks falling off and weeds taking over. The buildings are spread across an area the size of 2-3 football fields. Sometimes you see cows grazing there and sometimes goats. 

I have been passing by this place since I was born, I think. First on public transport buses or on tractor trailer and later on my father's Rajdoot. Then it was the LML Vespa scooter. Now it's a car. Every year, initially 5-6 times, then 2-3 time and now, may be once in a few years. 

The place is still the same. No better, no worse. The bricks are in the same place as I saw them the first time. The same shades of orange and grey. No change in patterns. 

Its telling that I don't remember when but once our father told us that these old buildings used to be an Indigo factory. One of the many established in Bihar and Bengal by the British. Indigo factories were established and local farmers were contracted and often forced to grow indigo for the factories.

This was a piece of India's colonial history in my village. A piece of Britain's Industrial revolution.  Father told us that a local person owned the land and buildings. He didn't know much about its history though.

Out of curiosity for a piece of local history and India's colonial history I wanted to find out more about this place. So, in the last few years I scoured the internet to find whatever information I could get about the Indigo factory and its people. I do not have any cohesive information on the history of this factory, only some events that the factory passed through and some people that passed through the factory. So here it is, some events, people and connections from Manjhaul Indigo Concern (as it was known back then).


Manjhaul Indigo Concern

There is very little mention of this concern in documents before the 1900s. This makes it one of the newer Indigo concerns in Bihar and Bengal. The Statistical Account of Bengal, 1877 mentions some basic statistics of Manjhaul Indigo factory:
The Manjhaul concern cultivated 6000 bighas, produced 600 mans of indigo, employed from 1000 to 3000 hands, and annually expended £11,500; at £25 a man, the average price of Monghyr indigo in the Calcutta market, the value of the produce would be £15,000.

Indian Racing Reminiscences, a book from 1883 about polo players and horse riders among the indigo planters and History of Bihar Indigo Factories from 1908 add key information to these numbers. They infuse the 'social' in this very financial information. They humanise the place. 

The information about when the concern begun is slim. No accurate date is available. Apparently one Mr Moorhead built the Manjhaul concern and its bungalow. The first manager and owner that we know of is Mr Phil Crump in 1847. Mr Crump's son, also Mr P Crump was managing Sessowni. I am not spotted them at the factory ruins but History of Bihar Indigo Factories records that Munjoul (Manjhaul) has two graves related to the factory. One is of James Thomson, died on 27 September 1843 at 41 years (we don't know who he is). This second is of Mrs MJ (Mary Jessie) Smith who died on 6 August 1844. We don't know at what age. She was Mr P Crump senior's daughter and married to one Mr JS Smith (we don't know who he is). 

Apparently, old man Crump had his own peculiar style of indigo planting. He didn't like think crops and weeded some of it out once when he though it was too thick. I wouldn't know the difference of course. Here's a little character description:

He seemed to me to live in breeches, boots, a black velvet hunting cap and a dressing gown, for the two days I passed at Munjoul this was his style of dress, and yet I never saw him mount a horse or even one brought to the door to be mounted. He had a queer idea about indigo, that is, disapproved of a thick crop, and when he had one he weeded out a good part of it. No wonder the factory came to grief. 
After some search (ok ok, a lot of search) on genealogy websites, I found that Mr Crump senior died on 16 October 1855 at 55. His grave is at Lal Darwaza cemetery in Munger. I am not sure but probably he married Isabella Schorn in 1827.

After the Crumps, Messrs. Baddeley, Cox and others bought the place around 1862 and then sold it to FH Holloway. At this point the factory expanded. Holloway built several outworks of Munjoul concern - Bundwar (1866), Gumereah (1870), Sowri (1878), Bisunpore (1881-82) and Beerpore (date not clear). In Beerpore there is a grave for Mr Lindsay who died in 1883. This outwork must have been built before this.

I will stop here this time. There are several other people and stories to mention. So there will be at least another post and possibly two. And there will also be a surprise. Watch this space.


Manjhaul, also mentioned as Munjol or Munjoul in many colonial documents is a village in Begusarai District of Bihar. Bihar is a state in eastern part of India. Bihar and Bengal were two key states for Indigo production in British India. Gandhi begun his struggle for Indian independence with Indigo farmers and plantation workers in Bihar.

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