Peeling the past for city fathers

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  • Published 20.11.04

While anybody interested in the history of Calcutta can easily Google and discover that one of the statues of eminent Victorians relegated to Latbagan, in Barrackpore, when the Left Front took over in 1977, is that of William Peel, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), not known for its reverence of the past, is all confused over its identity.

Without bothering to check documents, the city fathers have jumped to the conclusion that it is that of Sir Robert Peel, at a time when it is one of the five statues chosen by mayor Subrata Mukherjee to be relocated in the park that is coming up opposite Rabindra Sadan, around the perimeter of the Victoria Memorial Hall, at an investment of several crores.

Since the plaque of the statue reads ?Peel?, without any explanation of whether it is father or son, Mala Roy, mayoral council member, looking after the statues, says: ?Since the statue bore the name Peel, we collected information on Sir Robert Peel, who was a former British Prime Minister. We do not know of any Sir William Peel.?

The CMC has already requested the secretary to the governor to hand over the Barrackpore statues, to be relocated in Calcutta. In the short history sheets on the personalities, sent along with the letter, ?Peel? has been described as Sir Robert Peel, who became Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1838. A picture of Sir Robert Peel accompanies the history sheet.

On Friday, mayor Subrata Mukherjee said: ?We will consult the British High Commission in Calcutta to sort out this dilemma. It will be embarrassing for us if any mistake is made regarding the identity of the statues being re-installed.?

Interestingly, Sir Robert Peel never visited India. And if we peel his son?s past, we find that Sir William Peel (1824-1858), third son of Sir Robert, was a naval captain who died of small pox at age 33 in Kanpur on April 27, 1858.

When he had set out for China with his fleet in 1858, he received order en route to return to India to help curb the uprising. Later, he would play a significant role in the siege of Lucknow in 1858, when he was hit by a musket ball. The British erected his statue in Eden Gardens. Samuel Bourne?s photograph of it exists in his album, Views of Calcutta and Barrackpore, of 1860.

After inspecting about two dozen statues of British big wigs at Latbagan in Barrackpore, the mayor chose five. The four others are those of King George V, Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal Sir John Woodburn, Viceroy George Nathaniel Curzon and Viceroy Marquis Lansdowne.