Motilal Seal, also spelt as Mutty Lall Seal in his days, was a self-made business magnet and a generous philanthropist. Born in Calcutta in a Bengali family around 1792, he lost his father at a very early age of five. He started his business career by supplying bottles and corks to one of the most massive importers of beer in those days. He also worked as a clerk in different offices. For some days he was a custom inspector of Balikhal. From time to time he was hired by different European commercial establishments for his sound efficiency to judge the standard of exportable items. He supplied essential elements to Fort William.
With time, he started to export indigo, silk, sugar, rice and saltpeter (Potassium nitrate, used to preserve meat, and in producing explosives) to Europe and import iron and textiles from England. He was the first Indian entrepreneur to use steamships for internal trade and in due course acquired around thirteen trade ships including a steam tug called ‘Banian’. He was one of the founders of Bank of India and a member of the board of Agricultural & Horticultural Society of India. It is said that, he earned a fortune in his diversified business career and accumulated as much wealth as Prince Dwarkanath Tagore.
Motilal Seal donated an extensive tract of land to the then British Government for the construction of the Calcutta Medical College. The Government, in their turn, recognised his generosity by naming a medical ward in his honour, The Mutty Lall Seal Ward. He founded the Mutty Lall Seal’s Free College in March 1842, at his house. He was a conservative, yet he supported Raja Rammohan Roy’s fight for women’s education, remarriage of widows and banning the ‘sati’ system. Motilal founded a home for the homeless at Belgharia in 1841. Along with other generous activities for the benefit of the commoners, he also constructed an imposing bathing ghat on the bank of the Hooghly River in the mid-nineteenth century.
The Ghat, called Motilal Seal Ghat, was constructed in Classical style with four tall Corinthian columns to support the parapet. Unfortunately, we are not very much conscious about our heritage buildings. Today it is difficult to find a direct approach to the magnificent edifice, as it is surrounded by, mostly makeshift and illegal, warehouses. The pavilion of the Ghat has now become a den of the beggars, drug addicts and the anti socials.