The Black Hole of Calcutta

black hole


June 19th, 1756 – A British garrison was building onto their fort to better protect themselves from the French when they were captured instead by the local army of the Newab of Bengal, Siraj ud-Daulah. Siraj had warned the British to stop their military enhancement but was ignored, so he took the fort. The leader of the garrison devised an escape that unfortunately left behind a number of soldiers to become Siraj’s prisoners. Among the 146 prisoners was military surgeon, John Holwell. The prisoners were jailed in a dungeon that was meant to detain up to four men, but all 146 prisoners were tightly squeezed into the cell, barely leaving room to close the cell door. The crowded prisoners were literally standing on one another and unable to move around.

Holwell would later write about the event, describing the night in great detail. After a few men had died from suffocation, the prisoners were getting desperate, and to no avail, they had tried to bribe the guard into letting them out. Men struggled and gasped for air in their tight conditions, dehydrating and becoming weakened. Holwell wrote, “They raved, fought, prayed, blasphemed, and many then fell exhausted on the floor, where suffocation put an end to their torments.”

On the morning of June 20th, 1756 the prison was opened, Holwell was among the mere 23 survivors that made it out alive; out of 146 inmates, 123 men passed away that night. The corpses were tossed into a ditch and the survivors were transferred to a new location. They would later gain their freedom during a relief expedition lead by Robert Olive. After obtaining information from Holwell, Olive raided and defeated Siraj and his army. The dungeon deemed The Black Hole of Calcutta, now has a monument in memory of the victims of that tragic night. Some say they have seen apparitions and have heard the sounds of men weeping or gasping for air near the monument.


~ William C. Raustler