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HERITAGE BUILDINGS OF COLONIAL CALCUTTA – Central Telegraph Office

Central Telegraph Office Kolkata

The telegraph and the telephone services were introduced in India in 1882, and today, the Central Telegraph Office in Calcutta occupies two magnificent heritage buildings in the southern side of Dalhousie Square. One of the buildings is older and the other is considerably new. Before 1757, the site of the CTO was occupied by a big tank. It was filled up by the owner, Mr. Tulloh, who started his auction mart, Tulloh & Co, from the place. They auctioned everything under the sky – from Indigo factories, to entire libraries, and even horses. Their advertisements may be found in publications, like the Calcutta Literary Gazette. The owner of the auction mart, Mr.Tulloh, has been immortalized as Judas in Johann Zoffany’s painting of The Last Supper, which still hangs on the walls of St. John’s Church. It is said that Tulloh took objection to it and went to the court of law against the painter. However, no documentary evidence was found to prove the claim of the alleged legal action.

Johann Zoffany’s painting of The Last Supper
Johann Zoffany’s painting of The Last Supper

In 1770, the first European style bank in India, Hindustan Bank, started operating from the premises. When the Government purchased the property, the Hindustan Bank and John Prinsep, Messrs. Burkinyoung, a music shop, selling pianos and the like, F. & C. Osler, makers of fine glass Chandeliers, candelabras etc., and Mackillop, Stewart & Co., a mercantile house, were in possession of the properties, which was once held by Tulloh.

Designed in 1868 by Executive Engineer Barnfather with the assistance of Mr. Clark, the ground was cleared in 1870, but the construction of the building of the CTO was delayed till 1873. After the plans and designs were revised by Mr. Vivian, the construction of the red brick building started. The construction was carried out by F. Sills, Executive Engineer. The famine of 1874 held up the construction for a short while and finally it was completed in 1876. This eastern wing of the CTO, with a 120 feet tall tower, is popularly known as the Dead Letter Office.

Central Telegraph Office - Services available board
Central Telegraph Office – Services available board

The new wing of the CTO was built in 1914. Situated at the corner of Dalhousie Square & Wellesley Place, this is the modern wing of the adjacent older Telegraph Office, popularly known as the Dead Letter House. Properly equipped with the technology of the time, telegrams, telephones & facsimile linked Calcutta with the rest of the world. The lower floors of the new wing of the CTO are used for sorting and storing mail, while the upper floors have been converted into a sort of a guest house for the postal employees, complete with kitchen, servants and enormous four poster beds.

Central Telegraph Office Building Pillars and Verandas
Central Telegraph Office Building Pillars and Verandas
Central Telegraph Office Brass Plaque covered by Trees
Central Telegraph Office Brass Plaque covered by Trees
Central Telegraph Office - Signage on the Building Wall
Central Telegraph Office – Signage on the Building Wall
Central Telegraph Office Signage by KMC
Central Telegraph Office Signage by KMC

Location of Central Telegraph Office

Location of Central Telegraph Office

Dibyendu Banerjee
Dibyendu Banerjee

Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.

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