Subscribe to our weekly newsletter


Priyonath Mukhopadhyay, the sub-inspector who refused to give up

29 March, 2023 09:55:27
Priyonath Mukhopadhyay, the sub-inspector who refused to give up

Parts I & II of this saga were all about the rise of the White criminal or ‘saheb chor’ in 18th and 19th-century Calcutta, and the escapades of Warner and Healey, a duo who met for the first time in Presidency Jail, struck up a close friendship, and led Calcutta Police on a chase that was to span hundreds of miles.

Their adventures also brought to the limelight a young sub-inspector who was ultimately instrumental in their capture. This young man was Priyonath Mukhopadhyay (1855-1947), who rose as far through the ranks as the colour of his skin would allow, and became the legendary author of ‘Darogar Daptar’ (first published 1892), possibly the first serialised account in Bengali of crime stories told by a policeman.

Priyonath was to serve with distinction in the force from 1878-1911, and was rewarded with a ‘Rai Bahadur’ title at the end of his career. Particularly known for his crime solving abilities, he is also still known as a pioneer in the field of mystery and detective fiction in Bengali.

How did he get entangled with Warner and Healey? Well, the former was already in prison when the latter arrived in August 1888. By then, Warner had completed a year of his four-year term, which he had received for stealing items from a Singer outlet in Calcutta of which he had been the manager. 

Just about seven months later, in March 1889, the two escaped prison together, having picked the locks of their chains with an old pickaxe, and used furniture from their cells to scale the walls. One of the first things they did after this was to leave the city, headed for Bardhaman, with the police hot on the wheels. Part of the police party was Priyonath, and he later wrote all about in the story titled ‘Ingrej Dakat’ in Darogar Daptar.

The collaboration of Warner’s sophisticated charm and Healey’s immense physical strength made a perfect combination as they moved from one village to another, posing as government officials. The police followed through the same villages, but missed them by a whisker on several occasions. 

In the end, the heat and humidity forced the English superior officers out of the hunt. However, accompanied only by two constables, with not a single firearm between the three of them, Priyonath continued relentlessly in pursuit, going without food and sleep for hours on end. His back-breaking efforts paid off when the fugitives were cornered near Susunia Hills, in what is Bankura district today.

Knowing he had no way of carrying out his threat, Priyonath still yelled to the convicts that he would blow their heads off if they tried to escape. Believing him, Warner surrendered without a struggle, and though Healey put up a fight, he was overpowered in the end. Mukhopadhyay had his nose shattered in the process by the much larger and stronger Healey, but still would not give up, and eventually managed to engineer the situation so that his boot was literally on the Englishman’s neck. 

Ironically, it was Healey who later lavished praise on Priyonath, according to a contemporary newspaper report, commending him both for his courage and his kindness to the captured duo, calling him the “pluckiest native” he had ever seen.

When Priyonath finally arrived in Bardhaman station with his captives, the Superintendent of Police was incredulous at the fact that an unarmed, diminutive Bengali had defeated a former soldier, and such a giant of a man, in hand-to-hand combat. As a mark of respect and admiration, the SP sent an armed escort of seven policemen to accompany Priyonath, Healey and Warner back to Calcutta, where it was later calculated that he had walked nearly 300 km in pursuit of the fugitives!

For all those interested in Priyonath’s subsequent exploits, Darogar Daptar would be a welcome read. 

Leave a Comments

Related Post