Colonial-Era Weapons — Violent History Of European Pirates In India

Judge Biplab Roy's collection of colonial-era weapons and other priceless relics in his Kolkata office gives us a look into European misrule in India. Here's an Empire Diaries photo feature.

Ratna and Nadim Siraj

March 22, 2024: Seventeenth-century shotguns used by Portuguese invaders. Eighteenth-century Webley revolvers used by illegal British occupiers. Cannons used by various French, Dutch, and other European colonialists. Bullets left behind by English invaders. Swords used by both camps of the epic Battle of Palashi in 1757.

No, we are not talking about some grand museum. These artefacts are only a few drops in a gigantic ocean of evocative colonial-era relics lying around in a quiet, little corner office on the 10th floor of the New Secretariat building in Kolkata.

It’s the office of Kolkata-based Judge Biplab Roy, the Administrator General and Official Trustee of West Bengal (AGOT). Ever since taking charge as AGOT in 2019, Roy – a voracious collector of antiquities and a history buff – has brought together literally a truckload of artefacts. His unique collection gives us a necessary glimpse into the dark days of European invasions of India.

Today, a large section of modern-day Indians prefer to consign European colonialism to the past and forgive the invaders. Colonial hangover is so deep-rooted that Indian families jostle to send their children to the West for a better living. It is in these times of misplaced fanaticism for everything Western that Roy’s spectacular collection is so relevant today.

Empire Diaries recently visited the AGOT’s office and gives you a close look at some of Roy’s mindboggling collections, which are estimated to be worth more than Rs 1,000 crore. European colonial-era artefacts apart, his vast collection also includes antiquities dating further back, to about 2,000 years ago.

In more recent times, Roy has been appealing to get a transfer order stayed so that he can pursue his dream of getting all the artefacts housed and displayed in a proposed one-of-its-kind state judicial museum.

Here’s a look at some of his collections.

Old Guns, Dark History

Judge Biplab Roy, the Administrator General and Official Trustee of West Bengal (AGOT), with colonial-era weapons in his office at New Secretariat in Kolkata, India (Photo: Empire Diaries).
Weapons used on the Indian subcontinent by Portuguese, French, and British invaders during European colonial misrule.
This flint-lock shotgun, in vogue in the 1640s, was likely to have been used by Portuguese colonisers. It is made from wood and iron, and was used for short-distance firing in India.
A 17th-century flint-lock shotgun, used possibly by Portuguese colonisers. It is has a distinctly wide muzzle.
The muzzle of a 1640s flint-lock gun stands out. It was likely to have been used by Portuguese colonialists.
The model number on a wood-and-iron gun, used likely by Portuguese invaders in India.
Another weapon used by European invaders in colonial-era India.
The distinct wood-and-iron finishing on a gun used by Western colonisers in India.
This 5-cartridge Webley revolver, which entered the market in 1790, is a British-origin weapon. It was used by English invaders in India.
Another look at the UK-origin Webley revolver. British pirates used such weapons during their illegal occupation of India.
A close look at a caplock gun used by Western invaders in India.
Biplab Roy collected 25 colonial-era caplock guns for a proposed judicial museum. No museum in India has so many colonial-period caplock weapons on display.
The 25 caplock guns at the AGOT premises in Kolkata’s New Secretariat spans a time period from 1810-1832. They were used by Portuguese and British invaders. More recently, they were donated to Biplab Roy’s collection by artefact collector, Mafat Faisal.
Some colonial-era caplock guns and other weapons.
Biplab Roy takes a close look at a Webley revolver used by British colonisers in India.
Colonial-era caplock guns and other weapons.
Bullets once used by European pirates during their misrule on the Indian subcontinent.

Roaring Cannons

Biplab Roy shows a cannon displayed right outside his office at New Secretariat in Kolkata. Made from iron and steel, the colonial-era cannon’s precise background details are yet to be known.
The cannon, which was recovered from a location on Camac Street in Kolkata in February 2024, is five feet, six inches long.
As of now, it is speculated that the cannon was either fitted onto a Portuguese invaders’ ship, or it could have been used by a compromised Indian princely kingdom, which may have used it for self-defence against Portuguese forces following permission from India’s illegal British occupiers.
This cannon was used by Sher Shah Suri’s empire. It was scientifically made, with a copper coating outside and an unverified material inside. The unverified material used underneath the copper coating ensured the copper didn’t heat up excessively and melt down upon firing.
This cannon, used by British invaders, was found lying inside a police station in Bengal’s Howrah district.
Biplab Roy’s team recovered the cannon from Howrah district with permission from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Cannon balls that were used with the above weapon. Used from 1770-1775, the cannon balls were highly penetrative. They were designed to destroy battleships with heavy exterior. The British navy used this weapon during the first artificial famine of Bengal.

Swords That Still Sparkle

A remarkable collection of swords from colonial times.
A sword used by a soldier of the British colonialists, as evident from the British crown logo on the cover of the grip.
A sword used by an Indian soldier, as evident from the logo on the cover of the handle.
This sword was used in June 1757 during the Battle of Palashi (called Plassey by Western invaders), on the banks of Hooghly river in Bengal.
A close look at the handle baseplate of a sword used in the 1757 Battle of Palashi in Bengal.
Another colonial-era sword.

1971: Enemy At The Gates

A rocket launcher that was used by Pakistan’s military during the 1971 war with India. After India won the war, the Indian military recovered this weapon from the retreating Pakistani forces.
This gun was used by Pakistan during the 1971 war with India. India captured the weapon after Pakistan surrendered following defeat.
Various types of guns that were used by Pakistan during the 1971 war and were eventually surrendered to the Indian military following the latter’s victory.

Slices Of History

Biplab Roy, the Administrator General and Official Trustee of West Bengal (AGOT), is engrossed in work at his office desk at New Secretariat, where a pair of arm guards used by Mughal troops stand displayed.
Arm guards and chest-and-back protectors are displayed on Biplab Roy’s desk alongside modern-day stationery and office-use papers, at New Secretariat in Kolkata.
A pair of boots that were used by a soldier with the Mughal Empire.
An inscribed battle shield once used by Mughal troops.
A trooper’s kit used by soldiers of the Mughal Empire’s army. It includes a shield, arm guards, headgear, and chest-and-back protectors.
A Mughal-era military helmet on display on Biplab Roy’s desk at his New Secretariat office in Kolkata.
An ancient statue of Tara Devi, revered by Buddhist believers. Its precise details are not yet known.
A 19th-century Saraswati idol, made from sandstone. It was donated to the AGOT’s collection by Inspector Pinaki Ranjan Das in Kolkata.
This Vishnu idol was recovered from Bagnan in Howrah district, Bengal. It dates back to the time of the 10th to 12th-century Pala dynasty.
Sacrificial weapons and tribal gear, possibly used for ritualistic purposes. Some of them date back to the time of Mughal colonialism in India.
Another artefact from ancient times whose details are yet to be verified.
Relics from ancient India, like this unverified one, can be seen lying around enchantingly inside Biplab Roy’s office at New Secretariat in Kolkata.
This ancient artefact was recovered from Khejurdihi village in Katwa, East Bardhaman district, Bengal. It was discovered by a man who was digging at a construction site.

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