Ever wondered precisely why and how were the seven islands of Bombay woven into one landmass that we tread on today? if yes read on

This is the Mumbai series in which we are learning about the evolution process of the city. Now that you know about the Portuguese and British influence on Mumbai on how they build forts to mark their territory. We have a detailed blog in which we discuss 5 major “FORTS IN MUMBAI“. Moving ahead today we are going to learn how the Portuguese and the British ruled Mumbai and what are the key events in these periods of time.

During the Portuguese era, there were several leaders who took care and shaped Bombay. They were actively involved in the foundation and growth of their religious orders in Bombay. One of the oldest church San Miguel (St. Michael Church) was built by the Portuguese in 1540. They also encouraged intermarriage with the local population and strongly supported the Roman Catholic church. These Christians were referred to by the British as Portuguese Christians. During this time, Bombay’s main trade was coconuts and coir.

The annexation of Portugal by Spain in 1580 opened the way for other European powers to follow the spice routes to India. The Dutch arrived first, closely followed by the British. The Battle of Swally was fought between the British and the Portuguese at Surat in 1612 for the possession of Bombay. The growing power of the Dutch by the middle of the 17th Century forced the Surat council of the British Empire to acquire Bombay from King John IV of Portugal in 1659. The marriage treaty of Charles II of England and Catherine of Portugal on May 8, 1661, placed Bombay in British possession as a part of Catherine’s dowry to Charles.

Davies' sketch of Bombay harbor 1626

Davies’ sketch of Bombay harbor 1626

On 21st September 1668, The Royal Charter of 27Th March 1668, led to the transfer of Bombay from Charles II to the East India Company for an annual rent £10 / year. The company immediately set about the task of opening up the islands by constructing a quay and warehouses. A customs house was also built. Fortifications were built around Bombay Castle. Gerald Aungier, who was appointed Governor of Bombay in July in 1669 established the first mint in Bombay in 1670. He offered various business incentives that attracted Parsis, Goans, Jews, Dawoodi Bohra, Gujarati Banias from Surat and Diu and Brahmins from Salsette.

Between 1661 and 1675 there was a six-fold increase in population from 10,000 to 60,000. The Treaty of Westminster concluded between England and the Netherlands in 1674, relieved the British settlements in Bombay of further apprehension from the Dutch. In 1686, the company shifted its main holdings from Surat to Bombay which had become the administrative center of all the west coast settlements then. The arrival of many Indian and British merchants let to the development of Bombay’s trade by the end of the 17th century. Soon it was trading in salt, rice, ivory, cloth, lead, and sword blades with many Indian ports as well as with the Arabian cities of Mecca and Basra.

Map of Port and Island of Bombay with the adjacent islands 1724

Map of Port and Island of Bombay with the adjacent islands 1724

In 1737, Salsette was captured from the Portuguese by Maratha BajiRao I and the province of Bassein were ceded in 1739. The Maratha victory forced the British to push settlements within the fort walls of the city. By the middle of the 18th century, Bombay began to grow into a major trading town and soon Bhandari’s from Chaul in Maharashtra, Vanjari’s from the Western Ghats mountain range of Maharashtra, Africans from Madagascar, Bhatia’s from Rajasthan, Vaishya Vanis, Goud Saraswat Brahmins, Daivajans from Konkan, ironsmiths, and weavers from Gujarat migrated to the islands.

In 1782, William Hornby assumed the office of Governor of Bombay and initiated the Hornby Vellard engineering project of uniting the seven islands into a single landmass. The purpose of the project was to block the Worli creek and prevent the low-lying areas of Bombay from being flooded at high tide. However, the project was rejected by the East India company in 1783. In 1784, the Hornby Vellard project was completed and soon reclamation at Worli and Mahalaxmi followed. The construction of the Sion Causeway (Duncan Causeway) commenced in 1798 and it ended in 1802 by Governor Jonathan Duncan.

Plan of Bombay 1760

Plan of Bombay 1760

By 1845, the seven islands of Bombay had been joined into one large island. It was around this time, in 1869, that the Suez Canal opened, and this changed Bombay’s marine trade forever. It reduced the travel time between London and Bombay by three-quarters. This marked a major event in the history of capitalism in India, as Bombay became a central point for India’s exports to Europe and the USA.

In 1854, the first cotton mill was founded in Bombay. With the cotton-mills came large scale migrations of Marathi workers and the chawls which accommodated them. The city had found its shape.

The American Civil War (1861 – 1865) began and resulted in the closure of ports in the southern United States; From that country, it was impossible for the Lancashire mill in England to obtain the raw material of cotton. The mill was forced to buy cotton from Mumbai markets in the western and central parts of India.

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