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Calcutta Club was formed by Indians to challenge the ‘European’ Bengal Club

15 November, 2022 17:24:28
Calcutta Club was formed by Indians to challenge the ‘European’ Bengal Club

The formation of the Calcutta Club was due to an incident that took place at the Bengal Club when well-known Bengali entrepreneur Rajendranath Mookherjee was the guest of the then Governor of Bengal, Sir John Woodburn. Sir John was asked to take his Indian guest to the ante-room as the European members of the Bengal Club could not then think of having an Indian at the main dining hall. There was immediate consultation among the Indian guests, who came up with a new club where respectable citizens, both the Indians and the Europeans would have equal status and facilities and decided to make it one of the top clubs of Calcutta.

In 1905 a group of Indians and Europeans formed a society called the Union Club that met monthly at Bishop’s College to discuss papers and journals of common interest. This society had Bengali members like R.N. Mookherjee, P.L. Roy, and others, along with their British counterparts like Noel Paton. Noel brought up the idea of forming a new club along the lines of the Orient Club of Bombay. 


A provision committee was formed to look into this and other legal issues and funds. Finally, the new club was opened on 15th April 1907 with an inaugural dinner where 45 members were present. A plot of land around 9 bighas known as Pora Bazar at the junction of Chowringhee Road and Lower Circular Road was selected. The lease was taken from the Government of India for a term of 90 years at a rent of Rs 650 per month. Martin & Co constructed an imposing two-storey clubhouse designed by Mr. Thornton. The club building was formally opened by the Governor of Bengal, Sir Thomas David Carmichael on 3rd February 1915. Many additions to this original building came up over the years. The Maharaja of Coochbehar gave the Lawn House for ladies’ use. Till then, ladies were not allowed in the main building of the club. They were compelled to wait in the carriages till their husbands came down. The ladies’ annex was formally opened on 3rd January 1920. In 1918 Prafulla Nath Tagore funded the tennis court. 

In the beginning, there was a custom that an Indian and a European would be the President of the club alternately. However, today things are different and undoubtedly Calcutta Club stands as a slap on the face of certain Britishers who had treated their Indian counterparts as ‘dogs.’

The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, was the first royal guest at the club when he was invited to a lunch on 28 December 1921. The club always had distinguished members from every community - from Maharaja of Coochbehar to Maharaja of Burdwan, Maharaja of Darbhanga to Bhupendranath Basu, Hon’ble Justice Mitter, Manmatha Nath Mitter to Nawab Sir KGM Faroqui of Ratanpur, the first Muslim President in 1953. Even Gaganendranath and Abanindranath Tagore were regular visitors to the club, as was Satyajit Ray. Even today the club stands as an iconic landmark in Calcutta catering to elite Bengal.

(Data source: European Calcutta by Dr. Dhrubajyoti Banerjea)

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