Just beside a kiosk for the guards on the southern front of the Writers’ Building, a simple obelisk painted in white will definitely attract a curious mind. With heads of lions adorning the either sides of the base, a plaque in the middle indicates that the little memorial was erected in the year 1881 and was dedicated to a man named Colesworthey Grant, the founder of the Calcutta Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (CSPCA). In fact, the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, founded by the Irish politician Colonel Richard Martin in 1824, made its way to India through the efforts of Colesworthy Grant. However, Grant’s contribution was not confined to being an animal rights activist only.
One of Grant’s colleagues at the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was Pyarichand Mitra, who wrote a brief biography of Grant after his death. This Pyarichand Mitra is supposed to be the person, who authored the first novel in Bengali language. According to his accounts, Grant, with his Scottish and Irish origin, came to Calcutta in 1832 at the age of nineteen. He joined his elder brother’s business of clock-making and designing mathematical instruments in the city. However, he had other things in his mind. He became proficient as an artist and draftsman. He made lithographic sketches of notable British personalities of the city during his time. They include, among others, Charles Metcalfe, Earl of Auckland, Bishop Wilson and James Prinsep, the man who rediscovered Emperor Ashok by deciphering his edicts. Grant’s sketches were published in a number of contemporary periodicals, including the ‘Indian Review, Calcutta Review’, ‘Calcutta Christian Observer’ and the ‘India Sporting Review’. A compilation of his letters to his sisters in England, published as ‘Rural Life in Bengal’ in 1860, is thoroughly illustrated by sketches depicting the Anglo-Indian Officialdom, its customs, archaic rural practices, social customs, manufacturing & trade, village life, indigo manufacture and so forth. Another compilation of his delightful letters written to his mother in England and published as ‘Anglo-Indian Domestic Life’ in 1862, is another interesting reading. Several pages of this book are devoted to the list of domestic servants in colonial home, a description of the then Burrabazar area, illustration on different communities of traders like Persians, Marwaris, Armenians, Chinese, Burmese and obviously the Bengalees trading in jewels of Golconda, Shawls of Kashmir, Silks of Benaras, Muslins of Dacca and many more.
As an established artist, Grant used to take drawing classes in the Calcutta Mechanics Institution, established in 1839. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Grant and his elder brother among others, the Institution did not survive for long. However, two future Calcutta institutions had their roots in it, namely the Bengal Engineering College (now the Indian Institute of Engineering, Science, and Technology, Shibpur) and the Government Art College. The Bengal Engineering, founded in 1857, initially operated from the premises of the Presidency College. Grant became the teacher of drawing at the Civil Engineering Department, a post that he held till his death in 1880. In recognition of his contribution as a teacher, a memorial plaque was installed by his students at the auditorium of the Bengal Engineering College.
Colesworthy Grant’s artistic talent was also recognized by the Calcutta Medical College. He was invited by Dr. F.J. Mouat, to be a part of his ambitious project of compiling the bilingual anatomical atlas in English and Hindi. The anatomical drawings included in the compilation of the project were sketched by Colesworthy Grant.
Apart from an artistic personality, Grant was an animal lover. He used to work in a building on the northeast corner of Dalhousie Square, where now stands Stephen House. He had set up a drinking fountain in the north-eastern corner of Laldighi for horses. Moved by the animal suffering, he established the Calcutta Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (CSPCA), on the 4th of October, 1861. It was the first such society in India or even in Asia. Lord Elgin was the first patron of the Society. Together with Baboo Pyarichand Mitra, a member of the Bengal Council, Grant enabled to get the first act in India for the prevention of cruelty to animals passed by the Bengal Council on October 28, 1869. CSPCA is still operating in Kolkata from its office at 276, B B Ganguly Street.
After his death in 1880, the memorial was built in front of the Writers’ Building as a tribute to the nobleman. Interested person may visit his Mausoleum at the South Park Street Cemetery.