The three storey red-brick building of Calcutta Collectorate, located on NS Road and sandwiched between GPO and the Reserve Bank of India, is a graceful and well-maintained heritage building of Colonial Calcutta. The building, constructed in1892 occupies the site of the old Customs Building, situated in the furthest corner of the old Fort William, which was razed by Siraj-ud-Daula in 1756.
At the beginning, the British East India Company used to engage one of its European employees as the collector or Zamindar, who in his turn used to appoint a native as his deputy, called Black Zamindar. John Zephaniah Holwell, who later became infamous for the so called ‘Black Hole Tragedy’, was a Zamindar and his native deputy, the Black Zaminder, was notorious Gobindram Mitter. Gobindram or Gobindaram, known to the British as the first Black Zamindar, was a famously rich Hindu landlord and said to be the first native of the town to have a horse drawn carriage. He constructed the nine turreted Navaratna Mandir, with its 165 feet tall spire, in Chitpur area, which was known to the Europeans as the Black Pagoda, as the temple was built by a Black Zamindar. The grand temple, completed during 1730-1731, was unfortunately knocked down by a disastrous cyclone in 1820.
Before the construction of the present building, the office of the collector had to be shifted several times. In 1783, the office was situated on the southern side of Lalbazar, with the old jail (Harinbari) to its east and in 1820 it shifted at the crossing of Chowringhee Road and Park Street. From Church Lane the Collector moved to the three-storey building of the Bankshall Court, which was formerly the office of the Revenue Board.
The present building of Calcutta Collectorate, facing the rising sun in the east, was constructed in 1892, during the tenure of Sir Charles Elliot, as the Lt Governor of Bengal. The architectural style of the dignified building mixes the French Renaissance mansard roof with what would later be called the Edwardian style. Unlike other colonial buildings located in the area, the graceful building with its mansard roof is devoid of any tall romantic column or decorated divine pediment. However, it has a grand arched entranceway, two beautiful corner towers and a vast central courtyard. The rooms on the first and the second floors are recessed and are attached to the broad balcony facing the inner courtyard, which acts as a protective shield against the scorching heat during the hot summer months. Though the building does not have the grandeur of the Writers’ Building or the General Post Office, it has a dignified grace of its own.
The building of Calcutta Collectorate housed a number of different departments including the Collectorate, which was responsible for the collection of tax revenue. Today, this is the office of the Commissioner Presidency Division.
As it had happened to the fate of many old buildings in Calcutta, a proposal to demolish the century old heritage building of Calcutta Collectorate and construct a modern 18 storey skyscraper on the plot surfaced in 1973. However, the local Government was compelled to shelve the project, due to extreme public protest.