The West turns East
In 1508, the Portuguese arrived. Francisco de Almeida, a nobleman and explorer, sailed into a natural deep harbour and immediately recognised its potential. The
current ruler of the islands – the Shah of Gujarat – was forced to hand power to the Portuguese in 1534. He was later murdered by the new settlers.
built many important landmarks, such as St Andrew’s church in Bandra, and brought with them Catholicism. They named the islands Bom Bahia (good bay).
The physical growth of any town must begin at some specific location. Incredible as it may seem, the contemporary burgeoning city of Bombay can trace its
development to a modest Manor House and surrounding thatched huts built by Garcia da Orta, a physician and botanist. The sheer existence of these structures
possibly made them the starting point of the settlement that was to be Bombay.
1661 would prove to be a crucial date in the history of Mumbai.
'Bombay' island - a gift
The King of Portugal gifted the islands to King Charles II of England when he married the Portuguese
princess, Catherine of Braganza. In 1668, Charles II handed over the islands to the British East India Company “at a farm-rent of ten pounds payable on September 30
in each year,” thus assuring Mumbai’s future as a trading centre. Perhaps as an incentive to future settlers, a clause in the Royal Charter stated that “all persons born
in Bombay were to be accounted natural subjects of England”.
Sir George Oxenden took charge as the first Governor of Bombay and, according to the historian, SM
Edwardes, he “aimed at encouraging trade in all possible directions, encouraging people of all classes to settle on the island and rendering Bombay proof against all
The Company built a customhouse and several fortifications at Mazagaon, Mahim, Sion and Varli equipped with cannons. The main consideration was not conquest
but the promotion of trade and the British considered themselves traders, not rulers, at this stage.
The British realised they needed to create a connection with the
hinterland and that this could only be achieved via the local Indian merchants. Therefore, incentives to settle in Bombay were not restricted to Europeans; clearly both
the Company and the Indian merchants were to have a stake in the future of the town. This situation of two cultures working together to settle a town was unique and
had tangible effects on the way Bombay was eventually organised and segregated.
In 1672, Bombay Castle (the original Portuguese Manor House) was fortified and a town was planned in the vicinity, with a small hospital, court and printing press.
Asia's busiest seaport
Mumbai’s transformation into one of the busiest seaports in Asia began in 1735. Lowjee Nusserwanji, a Parsi foreman from the Company’s shipyard at Surat was
invited to build ships and modernise the shipyard. Trade of cotton, pepper and other goods was extended to the Persian and Arabian Gulfs, Africa, Malaysia and
By the end of the 18th century, the Company altered its policy from trade and administration to conquest and imperialism. Boards were established in the 1780s for
administering marine, military, civic, revenue and trade affairs. A remarkable feature inherent in the growth of the settlement was the residential segregation that took
place on the basis of race, community and caste, with many communities that settled in Bombay establishing their own enclaves.
The most obvious divide was apparent within the boundaries of the walled town, with the east-west line of Churchgate Street conveniently functioning as an intangible
demarcation between the homes of the ‘whites’ and the ‘blacks’. This was not only due to cultural skepticism and racial prejudice on the part of the English, but also
the rigid religious restrictions imposed by the Hindus, who would be considered polluted by social contact with non-Hindus. Both groups, although segregated, were
encompassed by the fortifications that were built and reinforced in the coming years, thus creating a fraternity that co-existed in that state in the founding years of the
By the early 19th century, a new Town Hall was built on Bombay Green, close to the castle. It became a focal point for the city’s commercial and social life. The
Town Hall became the centre of civic debate with public meetings. A dynamic urban identity began to emerge. The creation of the Literary Society of Bombay (later
renamed the Asiatic Society) in 1804 was another example of an enlightened period and the arts flourished in Bombay.
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