Sunderbans’ Enigmatic Resident: Rediscovering Sir Daniel Hamilton’s Legacy and Contradictions

Rediscovering Sir Daniel Hamilton: The Scotsman Who Called Sunderbans Home

In the heart of Sunderbans, Sir Daniel Hamilton, a Scotsman, left an indelible mark by making it his second home. Securing a zamindari in Gosaba, his bungalow, now part of package tours, stands as a testament to his legacy. Despite being a vague legend, two former administrators, Alapan Bandyopadhyay and Anup Matilal, shed light on Hamilton’s life in a session at the Birla Academy of Art and Culture.

Unveiling “The Philosopher’s Stone”

Bandyopadhyay and Matilal, former administrators with a detailed study of Hamilton, have co-edited “The Philosopher’s Stone, Speeches and Writings of Sir Daniel Hamilton.” This book delves into Hamilton’s perspectives, featuring an article titled “The Philosopher’s Stone” by the man himself.

Hamilton’s Benevolence and Colonial Legacy

Hamilton, a benevolent zamindar, aimed to reform the rural economy, but his role as a representative of the British Raj is undeniable. The book highlights his obsession with the British idiom of improvement, a common thread in colonial rulers’ efforts to relate to the ruled. His vision and impact are explored in depth, revealing complexities beyond a simple narrative.

A Personal Connection: Amitav Ghosh’s Reflections

Author Amitav Ghosh, connecting personally with Hamilton’s legacy, shares memories of his uncle’s association with Gosaba and the Hamilton Estate. Despite idealistic intentions, Ghosh unveils a contradiction in Hamilton’s project, where large-scale settlements contributed to Gosaba becoming a center of the Tebhaga movement.

The Complex Tapestry of Hamilton’s Ideals

Bandyopadhyay and Matilal present Hamilton not as a purveyor of pure White idealism but as a figure with a unique blend of Christian piety, orientalism, and a dislike for popular enfranchisement. Hamilton championed a non-English Scottish model of paternal governance, making him a multifaceted character in the historical narrative.

Pioneer of Cooperative Movement in India

Matilal emphasizes Hamilton’s early dream of ameliorating the sufferings of poverty-stricken people in the colony. Establishing settlements in Gosaba, Hamilton not only claimed land but also initiated a cooperative movement, earning him the title of a pioneer in India’s cooperative landscape.

Reflections on Legacy and Contradictions

Ghosh reflects on Hamilton’s later years, revealing that he was institutionalized, and questions the defensibility of Hamilton’s project. Despite good intentions, the large-scale settlements now face the brunt of climate change, impacting the lives of those who once inhabited them.

In unraveling the enigmatic Sir Daniel Hamilton, this exploration delves into the complexities of his ideals, actions, and the lasting legacy he left in the tranquil landscapes of Sunderbans.


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