Time and History 6:15 A.M. Prisoners in Calcutta Released

About major and minor historical events around the clock such as the prisoners being relased from the Black Hole prison of Calcutta at 6:15 in the morning.


6:15 in the Morning

June 21, 1756. The prisoners in the Black Hole of Calcutta were released.

The previous evening Siraj-ud-daula, a young British-hating nabob of Bengal whose childhood hobby was torturing animals, captured the British Fort William at Calcutta where the East India Company based its powerful export empire. He believed a secret treasure was being held. After the fort surrendered, he demanded to know the hiding place. The temporary British commander, John Holwell, a business executive with the East India Company and not really a soldier, informed Siraj-ud-daula that no such fortune existed. The furious nabob ordered that the British be confined in the Black Hole.

This infamous prison cell in Calcutta was 18 ft. by 14 ft. 10 in., with only two small barred windows. Like sardines, 145 men and a girl were packed into the sweltering cell. The girl, Mary Carey, was the 15-year-old Indian wife of Englishman Peter Carey. Two days before Fort William fell, a ship had taken all the European women and children away to safety, but Mary Carey, who had devotedly nursed the wounded, was not allowed on board because she was not white. All through that dreadful night the men, crushed against each other, slowly died of thirst and suffocation. At one point a sympathetic guard offered water through the cell window, but many men died in the ensuing struggle, and Commander Holwell said, "These supplies are like sprinkling water on fire, only served to feed and raise the flames."

The door was unlocked at 5:55, but because it opened inward, it took a full 20 minutes to release the survivors because corpses were packed so tightly against it. Of the 146 prisoners only 23 survived; Holwell and Mary Carey were among the living. They had been in the Black Hole for 10 hours. Holwell was again taken before the nabob, but even under the threat of being shot from the mouth of a cannon he still denied the existence of any treasure. This time the nabob believed him. Holwell remained a prisoner, and Mary Carey became part of the prince's harem.

British revenge was swift and certain. A year later Siraj-ud-daula's remains were placed on an elephant and exposed to the people. The widowed Mary Carey was released and later married another English officer, by whom she had three children.

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