A US-based historian has salvaged from obscurity two wills through which the American philanthropist Sara Chapman Bull had donated nearly $40,000 to Jagadis Chandra Bose more than 114 years ago to establish an interdisciplinary science research centre that went on to become the Bose Institute.
Probir Kumar Bondyopadhyay, forensic historian of science and technology in Houston, had spent years researching and scouring court records to find the legal documents.
Bondyopadhyay is visiting Calcutta and will hand over the two wills to the trust that looks after Bose's home, Acharya Bhavan on APC Road in north Calcutta, on Friday.
Chapman Bull, a disciple of Swami Vivekananda, had made the wills between 1902 and 1906 to establish the Basu Vigyan Mandir. The money was transferred in tranches through banks, but nobody knew about the whereabouts of the wills until recently. They are to be now preserved and displayed at the Acharya Bhavan museum.
One of Chapman Bull's wills reads: "That I, Sara C. Bull, widow, now of Cambridge in the County of Middlesex and Commonwealth of Massachusetts, being of full age and of sound mind, do make this my last will and Testament, hereby revoking all wills heretofore made.... I have promised my friend, Dr. Jagadis Chunder Bose of the University of Calcutta, India, to furnish him for his scientific work the sum of Five Thousand dollars in each of the years 1906, 1907 and 1908."
Chapman Bull had first met Bose in 1898 at the erstwhile Presidency College. Bose, his wife Abala and Sister Nivedita later visited the US as personal guests of the philanthropist. It was during this visit that Bose described his plan to set up an institute for inter-disciplinary research.
Bondyopadhyay called Basu Vigyan Mandir the world's first institute dedicated to interdisciplinary science research. Bose is, of course, considered one of the founding fathers of radio transmission. His iron-mercury-iron coherer was the only receiving device that detected Guglielmo Marconi's first trans-Atlantic wireless signal on December 12, 1901.
On October 31, 1997, The Telegraph had reported about the US-based Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers validating Bose as the brain behind the iron-mercury-iron coherer used by Marconi in his experiment. Bondyopadhyay was among those who had played a role in it.
"The recovery of the wills is significant as they suggest the highest standard of research in India during Bose's time and the kind of respect and recognition shown to Indian scientific pursuit by foreign philanthropists in those days," Bondyopadhyay said.
Chapman Bull had decided to specifically donate $20,000 to Bose in 1902 because the Nobel Prize carried the same cash reward that year. "It was in recognition of Indian and European scientists being of the same calibre," Bondyopadhyay said.
According to Bondyopadhyay, the first instalment of $20,000 mentioned in Chapman Bull's first will of 1902 was paid in full by 1909. Had the money been invested then at an annual rate of interest of 6 per cent and converted to Indian rupees, the corpus would have grown to more than Rs 62 crore by now.
Parul Chakrabarti, a member of the trustee board of Acharya Bhavan, said the trust was delighted to know that Chapman Bull's wills would now be in its museum. "The documents are of great historical importance. Until now, there was an air of mystery about the contributions made for the creation of Basu Vigyan Mandir."