James Prinsep, the Anglo-Indian scholar, was born on the 20th of August, 1799. He arrived at Calcutta on 15th September, 1819, and joined the service of the East India Company as Assay Master, at the Government mint in Banares under Dr. Horace Hayman Wilson, the eminent Sanscrit Scholar. His responsibility was to determine the genuineness of precious metals, like gold and silver. During his tenure in the mint he reformed weights and measures, introduced a uniform coinage and devised a delicate balance so as to indicate the three-thousandth part of a grain.
He was an excellent architect too. While at Benares, he designed and constructed a new mint building, and also built a church. While in Calcutta, he was a member of the municipal committee for improvements and improved the city drainage system by constructing a tunnel connecting the Hooghly River with the Sunderban Mangrove forest. He was the founding editor of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and is best remembered for deciphering the Brahmi Script from the inscriptions of Emperor Ashoka in his Edicts. A talented artist and draftsman, Prinsep made accurate and precise sketches of ancient monuments, astronomy, instruments, fossils and other subjects. He was the architect of the opera house, Empire, and also appeared as an amateur player on its stage. A friend of Prince Dwarkanath Tagore, Prinsep was and well regarded in Calcutta society for his scholarship and artistic acumen. Due to his deteriorating health condition, he was forced to return to England, where he died on the 22nd of April, 1840.
Prinsep Ghat on Strand Road, located between the Water Gate and the St George’s Gate of the Fort William, was built in 1843 and dedicated to the memory of James Prinsep. The architect of the structure was Captain W. Fitzgerald and the money required for the construction of the monument was collected through public subscription, as usual in those days. Prinsep Ghat was built to replace Chandpal Ghat as the point of embarkation or disembarkation for the royal British personnels and his associates. In fact, it has witnessed the Royal visits of 1875, 1905 and 1911. However, over the years, the River Hoogly has retreated towards Howrah. As a result, the steps of the Ghat were buried under the earth and Prinsep Ghat now stands some distance away from the river.
Prinsep Ghat of Calcutta is rich in Greek and Gothic inlays. With its 6 sets of tall Ionic columns, it bears some resemblance to the Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. Due to years of negligence, lack of maintenance and vandalism by a class of people, this Palladian porch was in real distress. However, it was timely restored by the state’s public works department in November 2001 and has since been well-maintained. As a part of renovation completed in 2012, a two kilometer stretch of the riverfront from Prinsep Memorial to Baje Kadamtala Ghat (Babu Ghat) has been beautified. There are illuminated landscaped gardens, fountains and pathways dotted with benches, where all age groups can spend evenings. The park is equally preferred by the joggers and the walkers, by the couples and the other youngsters, who consider this park as a meeting point to spend some memorable moments together. There are a number of food stalls in the area, from where one can get light snacks. Facilities for romantic boat-riding along the river are also available.Prinsep Ghat also has a railway station named after it. The station is part of the Kolkata Circular Railway.
Today, the Prinsep Ghat is considered by many, as one of Calcutta’s best known colonial monuments.