Painting of Justice John Hyde by Robert Home

Justice John Hyde

Little is known about John Hyde. Born in 1738, he was a junior Judge on the Supreme Court at Fort William. Hyde was married to Mary Seymour, daughter of Lord Francis Seymour, in 1773. Hyde's youngest daughter, Caroline Frances, married Robert Walpole in 1811. He worked steadily on the Supreme Court from 1774 until his death from colon cancer in 1796.

The Supreme Court traveled from London to India in response to the Regulating Act of 1773, intending to counteract some of the abuses of the East India Company in Bengal. A fundamentally social and kind person, Hyde was also stubborn and brought enemity upon himself by protesting corruption. Overall, however, his good nature ensured the continued operation of the court. During the court's early tumultuous years, when infighting and corruption were rife, he was often the only judge present, recording the events as they happened.

The court's early years were so full of controversy that Hyde's records were endangered. In several periods only partial, damaged notebooks exist. In several periods no notebooks exist at all. Thus Hyde learned to keep notes secret in shorthand. These are deciphered here in the transcriptions.

Andrew Otis wrote, on Wikipedia, that "Hyde gained a reputation as a morally upright judge in a time of general corruption in the British East India Company. While Chief Justice Elijah Impey and puisne judge Sir Robert Chambers both accepted bribes from Governor-General of Bengal Warren Hastings in return for compromising their judicial positions, Hyde refused offers." Hyde was also "unique among the judges in thinking that all individuals in Bengal, Indians and British alike, deserved the same rights, noting that the Supreme Court's charter called everyone residing in Bengal British subjects."

Hyde began keeping records with the intention of eventual publication. Although they were never published, they were used for subsequent compilations of case law and court procedure. They have been read, off and on, throughout the years, but access is difficult and even the available microfilm is gradually deteriorating.

In liu of biographical information, an excerpt from Walter Firminger's “Selections from the Note Books of Justice John Hyde,” appearing in Bengal: Past & Present (Vol. III, 1909, pp. 27 to 64) is quoted below.

Selections from the Note Books of Justice John Hyde

By Walter K. Firminger, 1909


In the Bar Library of Calcutta there are preserved, as we all know, the note books kept by Justice Hyde during his long term of office (1774-1796), as Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court. There are no less than seventy-three volumes; fourteen of rough notes dating from 1780 to 1794, and fifty-nine in fair copy dating from 1775 to 1796. It may, perhaps, have been the case that Hyde was at times an exceedingly misguided and obdurate person — his Chief made not a few complaints as to his conduct on the Bench— but no one can study these notes without forming the highest opinion as to the writer’s personal integrity, and, above all, his extraordinary diligence as a public servant. Sir Elijah Impey was often away, and occupied at another post of great importance. Chambers was invariably late in his attendance at Court, often sick, and often absent Sir William Jones, strenuous worker that he was, had predilections for Chittagong, Krishnagar and Chinsurah: but Hyde is almost always on the spot and there the first of all. His note books are, therefore, a mine of historical and legal information. Morton, in his Decisions of the Supreme Court of Judicature (Preface to the First Edition), writes: “ Had the more important of the cases scattered through the note books of Sir Robert Chambers and Mr. Justice Hyde been published fifty years ago, much contrarity of judgment would probably have been avoided.” Very much the same thing may be said as to the importance of Hyde’s note books to the historians — if the contents of the note books had been better known, the historians as well as the lawyers, might have been spared " much contrarity of judgment.”

To attempt to estimate the importance of Hyde’s note books to the student of history would necessitate in the first place a review of the constitutional position of the Honorable East India Company in the earliest years following the establishment of the Supreme Court — and for such a task, had the present writer the ability, he has not, in this year of grace, the requisite leisure. It may, perhaps, be the case that we shall be best prepared to estimate the value of Hyde’s notes if we adopt the Solvitur ambulando principle, avoid prolegomena, and make up our minds " as we toddle along." The selections I give in the present issue of Bengal: Past\and Present are, perhaps, of antiquarian and local rather than of historical and imperial interest. In future selections this order will be reversed, and I shall deal with those cases, commented on or reported by Hyde, which are all important as illustrations of the very divergent opinions entertained by the men who, in despite of themselves, erected a British Sovereign power in India. For the present, the extracts I shall serve up in this present number will be more of an antiquarian than of historical interest.


It was in search of light on (1) the Nunda Kumar forgery case, and ( 2 ) the Kasijora case, I originally sought permission to consult these volumes. In each of these instances I met with disappointment. The Fowke—Nunda Kumar conspiracy trials are recorded in a volume, which, I am afraid I must say, has been ruined by indiscreet attempts — not by the Bar Library — to restore it. There is now nothing in the Hyde MSS. as preserved at the Bar Library which throws any light whatsoever on the famous issue of the so-called “Judicial murder/’ I cannot doubt that there was a volume in which the proceedings in regard to the famous commitment of North Naylor were set out at large and commented on by Hyde, but the volume for the First Term of 1780 is not to be found at the Bar Library.

Then, also, Hyde is always referring to loose sheets, to “a small volume with a brass clasp,” etc., etc., and these have disappeared. In the famous case of Grand vs. Francis Dr. Busteed in his Echoes from Old Calcutta gives us most of what is to be found in the existing note books of Justice Hyde, but Hyde refers to a small note book, in which, he says, all the evidence is given. Alas this small note book is not to be found.

A further difficulty arises from the introduction into the notes of an antiquated system of shorthand. How exasperating this difficulty has proved can best be illustrated by the following example: — A note written this 21st December 1780, concerning the foregoing trial of Joseph Fowke, Maharaja Nundocomar and Roy Radha Churn for a conspiracy against Richard Barwell, Esq., my note of which trial begins in this volume at page 258 and ends at page 282.

A further difficulty arises from the introduction into the notes of an antiquated system of shorthand. How exasperating this difficulty has proved can best be illustrated by the following example: — A note written 21st December 1780, concerning the foregoing trial of Joseph Fowke, Maharaja Nundocomar and Roy Radha Churn for a conspiracy against Richard Barwell, Esq.

Sir Robert Chambers told me yesterday what I had never known before that the reason the punishment on Mr. Fowke for the crime of which he was convicted on this indictment was so small, was that the Court were informed that Mr. Barwell, the prosecutor, desired the Court would only pronounce a judgment for some very small punishment, and that the reason why Mr. Barwell desired the punishment might be so mild

Here, just where the interest begins, Hyde breaks off into shorthand but this particular passage in shorthand has been deciphered by Mr. Nichol of the British Museum, and reads: —

“That Mr. H-ll-nd, who was Fowke’s nephew, wrote to Mr. Barwell that he did not like the character of an informer, but that if any severe or infamous punishment was inflicted on Mr. Fowke he would come to Calcutta and inform against Mr. Barwell for his practice in taking money at Dacca and would carry it to the utmost by carrying to the Government at— ; that Mr. Holland would go to England to prosecute the same charge.” (from Sir J. F. Stephen Nuncomar and Impey Vol, I, p. 203.)

A passage of Hyde’s shorthand having been deciphered, it will probably be possible to decipher the remainder without having recourse to expert assistance: the task will however call for much diligence and patience.


“It was the intention of Mr. Justice Hyde to have printed his notes had he survived to reach England, but on his death in India they were taken charge of by Sir Robert Chambers (Puisne Judge from 1774-1791 and Chief Justice from September 1791 to 8th August 1798 when he resigned) who, had his health permitted, would have arranged and published the whole. When Sir Charles Harcourt Chambers, the nephew of Sir Robert, was appointed a Puisne Judge at Bombay, these books were given tp him by Lady Chambers, and on his death they came again into her hands, and she delivered them to the late Sir Wm. Russell (Chief Justice, Calcutta Supreme Court, July 1832 — ^January 1833). She presented these notes to the Supreme Court and after the death of Sir Wm. Russell they came into the custody of Sir Edward Ryan, the then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court at Calcutta.” (Smoult and Ryan's Rules and Orderings (1839 ed.). Preface xxvii.)


In a note entered on 12th December 1777, Hyde gives expression to his own wishes in respect to his note books. He writes: —

Note.— I should die out of England, which most probably will be my fate, though I am now thank God in very good health, I desire these my reports or note books, may be sent to England and correctly and handsomely printed, though I do not suppose that they would be books that many persons would read, but conceive it may be of some public utility, and therefore I desire those interested in my fortune will pay that charge out of it, and will give, as a legacy from me, three copies to whoever shall be appointed one of the Judges in Bengal on the vacancy made by my death and three copies to Sir Eijiah Impey or to whosoever else will be Chief Justice of this Court at the time the books are printed, and three copies to each of the other Judges of that Court, and two copies to the Governor-General of Fort William in Bengal, and one to each of the Council General, if at that time they do not exceed seven in number, and two for the use of the Supreme Court of Judicature in General, one of them to be kept by the Keeper of the Records, the other by the Prothonotary, and one copy to each advocate not exceeding ten in number. And I desire other copies may be sent for sale to Bengal at least twenty in number. And that one copy may be given to the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain for the time being. One to each of the twelve Judges of England, one to the Master of the Rolls, one to the Attorney, and one to the Solicitor- General. One to the Recorder of London, and one to the Deputy Recorder, if there is one at that time; one to the Common Sergeant of London, one to each of the Judges of the Sheriffs’ Court of London, and one to each of the four City Council.

John Hyde
12th December 1777


This subject has been dealt with by Sir James Fitzjames Stephen in his Nuncomar and Impey and by Dr. Busteed in his Echoes from Old Calcutta. I shall not in this place attempt to go further into the subject, but will at once give three illustrations.


1776. Sitting after the fourth term. Friday 22.

Odoram Mulick vs. Joseph Hickey.

Chief Justice (addressing himself to Chamber, I having been just then looking over two petitions prisoners written within his sight and having spoken to Yandle, the Gaoler about them) “I (the Chief Justice) must speak to Yandle to prevent the prisoners writing to me, as they do every day. If they will write, it should be to Mr. Prichard my clerk.”

The first was meant to reflect on my conduct. The second alluded to a .scheme mentioned lately of a jobb {sic) contrived to put a good salary into the pocket of Mr. William Chambers for an office to be receiver of petitions, which is to be, I suppose, the reward for Robert Chambers being of the same opinion as the Chief Justice, as my brother, R. Chambers has since about the first of April last, become a great favour with Impey.


Monday 15th April, 1776.

Monsr. Sanson's Case on a writ of Habeas Corpus.

Ld. Ch. J.: I shall acknowledge Mobarick-ul-dowlah as nominal Nabob.
I think, if it is not now formal, the Hon. Governor and Council should have time to amend it if they think fit.
I understand the Nabob Subah and all officers under him are subject to the jurisdiction of this Court. Therefore, I think the writ rightly directed as the jurisdiction does not extend—

I do not determine whether the writ is rightly directed. I think he should not be discharged.

I cannot shut my eyes. I apprehend the English, French and Dutch had exceptions! He considers this as a Court of Justice.

[It was on this case of Sanson that Impey and I first disagreed. He appeared to have altered his principles, and at this time to begin to be desirous to support the Governor-General and Council in the exercise of tyranny in the name of the Country Government.]

17th December, 1770

Mr. Lawrence: It seems to be designed to intrap the Court into a declaration which they would abhor; that Mobarick-ul-dowlah has real authority and may direct the Courts of Justice. The Court in the case of Radha Churn declared Mobarick-ul-dowlah not a real Sovereign.

[L. Ch. J.: This order must be reviewed by the Privy Council.]

L. Ch. We would not let a criminal, subject to the jurisdiction of this Court, be protected by the shadow of a Prince Mobarick-ul-dowlah. This man is amenable to the Black Courts we are now applied to protect him against justice.


The third illustration is taken from the notes on the case of Commaul-ul-Din Alli Khan vs. Charles Goring, John Shore and Peter Moon, which case I hope to give in its entirety in a future instalment of these Selections.

Tuesday, 1st April.

The appeal in this cause having been in last term, allowed, and the Proceedings in the cause being now ready were this day certified to His Majesty, as the Charter by which this Court is established, in the r4th year of His Reign requires.

There were 264 small folio sheets of paper, but they were not ill filled with writing. There would have been much more if the two writs of habeas corpus which had been issued for Commaul, and the two returns had been entered among the evidence as they ought to have been, those returns having been . . . and produced as evidence for the Defendant, and having been admitted but, (those) returns were omitted to be entered as evidence, either by contrivance on purpose to prejudice the case of the Plaintiff, or to conceal what Impey did not choose should appear, the whole of his conduct on those two occasions so entirely inconsistent with his conduct at the trial of this cause and at the time of his pronouncing Judgment (as 1 think) ; his conduct at the time of issuing and deciding on those writs being to do justice against an act of power in the Company’s servants, and his conduct during the trial, and his doctrine in delivering his opinion on it tending to support the power of the Company against justice, by which 1 do not mean only against justice in this cause, but to establish as a right their power to do injustice whenever they chose so to do on the pretence of revenue.

It is remarkable that now his doctrine (since 22nd January when he delivered his opinion Commaul vs. Goring and others) seems to be altered and to return again to what it appeared to me to be before Commaul’s cause began, that is, to control and overturn acts done under the Company’s authority, when they appear unjust. This may be seen by the several causes against Coja Gavorke Simon which were tried last term, and by what he said in several causes in last term and during the present sittings. About the time of Commaul’s cause, Impey was very fond of the word Government applied to the Company’s power; now if there is any mention of the Provincial Chiefs and Councils, or of the Dewanny Adauluts held by them he says: What are the Provincial Councils? Prove by what authority they act. What is the Dewanny Adaulut? 1 do not know; if they have any Judicial authority prove from whom it is derived.”

These dicta of Impey’s were not indeed indirectly Revenue Causes, but they were in cases where the power of the Provincial Councils came in question, or the power of persons acting under the authority of the Provincial Councils in making their collections. It is said that the Provincial Council of Dacca have written to the Governor-General and Council, that all the cruelties and oppressions practised by Coja Gavorke Simon were justified by being done by the authority of “Government.”

I have no doubt but the case of extorting twenty-five thousand rupees from a woman by means of a false charge of having murdered her own bastard child, or of being with child of a bastard, and intending to murder it (see the case at page 280 Biby Sookun vs. Anderam Mullick) would be supposed as a just and right act, consonant to the usual practice of the Provincial Councils and Dewany employed by them.

Independent of the question in Commaul' s Cause whether he could as an inhabitant of Calcutta be subject to the jurisdiction of any other authority than this Court, I charge the substantial injustice of the demand against him to have been the compelling him (or attempting by imprisonment to compell him) to pay sixty rupees per hundred maunds for salt short of the quantity he was by his pottah to deliver, when they only allowed him to take fourteen rupees per hundred maunds with interest, from the molungee salt-workers, fourteen rupees being the price paid to them in advance before the making the salt. 1 charge the Defendants, in my own opinion, with a designed injustice and oppression in thus overcharging Commaul, thereby to gratify Clavering, Monson and Francis who were enemies to Commaul, because they believed him to be a friend to Hastings, .and especially for giving evidence against Nundcumar, who by them was supposed to have been prosecuted because he gave them information against Hastings, and for giving evidence against Nundcumar and Mr. Fowke, who was a favourite of Clavering’s, for extorting by threats from Commaul-ul-din a false accusation of bribes given by him to Hastings, Barwell and Vansittart, and I think it a very strong proof that they did thus designedly act unjustly, because they would confine Commaul and would not confine Bussint Roy, who was a rich man and would have paid rather than have endured confinement, and if Commaul owed the money, Bussint Roy owed it either to the Company or to Commaul.

I know that Clavering and Francis (Monson has been dead some months) say that the deficiency of salt delivered by Commaul was not occasioned by its being melted by the rain, as Commaul alledged, as to part, or by its not being possible to make it because the molungees had deserted, which Commaul alledged as to the rest of the deficiency, but that in truth all the salt was made and was sold by Commaul to Mr. Barwell.

Everybody here now knows who I mean by Hastings, Clavering, Monson, Barwell and Francis, but as this book of my Reports may possibly last long after I and they are forgotten, I will here explain who they are.

They are the Governor-General and Council of this Presidency of Fort William in Bengal. By the Act of Parliament in consequence of which this Court was established, the 13th of George the Third, Chapter 63, Warren Hastings, Esq., is appointed Governor-General. Lieutenant General John Clavering, the Hon. George Monson, Richard Barwell Esq., and Philip Francis, Esq., were appointed Council. Hastings was before this Act, President and Governor and Barwell was one of the Council, the other three were new.

Whether the story be true that Barwell had the salt or not, I do not know, but I think It is not improbable.

The true reason as it appears to me, of the several changes of Impey’s doctrine is this: Hastings was a school fellow of Impey’s at Westminster School, and as soon as Impey came here there was an immediate close union and friendship between them, in consequence of which Impey openly and strongly joined with Hastings and gave him all the assistance he could against Clavering, Monson and Francis, who immediately on their coming entered into a very violent opposition to Hastings and Barwell, and Commaul was supposed to be a victim to his being supposed to side with Hastings against Clavering and his party, and therefore Hastings and consequently Impey wished to protect him from the oppression of Clavering and his party and this will account for his conduct and doctrine on the two writs of Habeas Corpus. When the cause came on, the very different conduct may be traced to the same source of adhering to the wishes of Hastings, for though Hastings wished to support Commaul against Clavering, yet he wished yet more to support the authority of the Revenue Committee, which was of his own establishment, and was in effect supporting his own power, and therefore Impey asserted in effect the right of the Governor-General and Council to exercise despotic power under the name of Revenue Cases.

Now again, Impey having been, since that cause was tried, at variance with the Governor-General, takes all opportunities of making declarations against the authority of the Provincial Council in their judicial capacities, which are in effect so many declarations against the Company's power.

When Impey and Hastings are again reconciled, it is not improbable Impey will again change his conduct and again give all the support he can to the tyranny of the Company’s servants.


Chittagong, or Islamabad as the place was frequently called, seems to have been regarded with much favour as a health resort, We know that it was a place for which Sir William Jones had much affection, and that the ruins of his bungalow arc still pointed out in the neighbourhood. Writes Mr. W. S. Burke in his useful {Bicycling in Bengal): “The intermediate villages are Phoria and Merpur, after leaving which behind, we discover a remarkable ruin on our left. This is what remains of the bungalow of Sir William Jones’ ‘Belvedere’ or ‘ Bellevue’ as it was called. The place built on one of the highest of the neighbouring hills, is now a complete and picturesque ruin, the walls inside and out are so overgrown with creepers, moss, and peepul trees, that the whole pile might easily be mistaken from the road side for a clump of trees. Here Sir William Jones lived for many years, and here he wrote most of his more important works. The original road over half a mile long, leading from the bungalow to the main road, is still in existence, and the spot is occasionally resorted to by picnic parties.”

On the 1 8th, January we read of Chambers being taken ill in Court. We note the following entries: —

1777, March, Mr. Justice Chambers was absent to-day and is likely to be so for all this term and sittings, having sate out last Thursday for go to Chittagong for his health and amusement, and not intending to return until near the loth of June, which is the first of the Session of Oyer and Terminer.

1777, 28th March. Chambers having been absent the whole of the term on a voyage up the river and down again for his own and his wife’s health and amusement.

On October 22nd we find Chambers back again at Calcutta.

In 1779 occurred the famous cause of Grand vs. Francis. The reader will remember that Sir Robert dissented, and so far as Mrs. Grand was concerned, one would venture to say very rightly, from the conclusions of his colleagues on the bench. Against Philip Francis a charge of trespass with intention to seduce might very justly have been brought in, but nothing more. Dr. Busteed has given us, from Hicky’s Gazette “Sir Roberts’ opinion or protest in the cause of Grand vs. Francis” which, as it tends to clear the memory of one who was then but a mere girl, it is but chivalry to reproduce in this place. (Busteed : Echoes from Old Calcutta (4th edition). P. 269.)

I am fully of opinion that the charge in the plaint is not proved –

1st. — Because it appears to me that there is no proof, either positive or circumstantial that Mrs. Grand knew of, or previously consented to his (Mr. Francis’) coming for any purpose, much less for the purpose of adultery.

2nd. — Because there is no proof, either direct or founded on violent presumption, that they were actually together, much less was there any proof that they committed any crime together.

3rd. — Because the evidence appears to me to fall short of what is ordinarily considered as proof of any fact, and especially of any crime.

4th. — Because it falls exceedingly short of what our Common Law considers as proof of adultery.

And lastly, because I never read or heard of any action for crim. con. in which a verdict had been given for the plaintiff on such presumptions of guilt.

It is noteworthy that Sir J. Fitzjames Stephen agrees with Chambers “I think Impey wrong. The evidence fell far short of adultery, although after the action Mrs. Grand was unquestionably Francis’ mistress.” Sir James’ opinion is all the more important because he was clearly unaware how feeble the evidence against Mrs. Grand was. He writes: “It was proved that he got into her bedroom by a ladder in her husband’s absence.” (Sir J. F. Stephen Nuncomar and Impey. Vol. II, p. 112.) Nothing of the kind was proved. The ladder, a small one, was found by Grand’s servants inside the compound but resting against the compound wall: it was obviously used by Francis in order to enter the compound but not the house. That he got inside the house is unquestionable: that he got access to Mrs. Grand’s room is not proved. The only thing is that Grand’s servants swore to Francis having come down the stairs; but according, to their admissions, these witnesses were outside the house at the time!

On 19th January 1779, Hyde records: “Chambers came into Court yesterday because the cause of Grand vs. Francis was appointed for that day; he now intends staying at home to go on reading the papers in Nanderah Begum's Case.” This last case is the famous “Patna Case,” to which attention will be directed in a future selection of these papers.

1779, 2nd December, Thursday. Sir Robert Chambers wrote me a note that he was not quite well, and, therefore, staid away to-day, and might, perhaps, stay away to-morrow, but he came on Friday.

On the 10th June 1780, Hyde records Chambers’ carriage accident. (See Mrs. Fay’s Original Letters, p. 142.) On 20th November 1780, a tragedy occurred at Chambers’ house: “This is the first day of the sittings. Sir Robert Chambers was absent, by reason of illness, occasioned by his servant Philip …….., an Italian by birth, having killed himself in a fit of madness, by cutting his throat, yesterday, the shock of which has affected Sir Robert Chambers very much.”

1781, 22nd October. Sir E. Impey was on his way between Boglepore and Banares to sec Mr. Hastings. Sir Robert Chambers was at Chinsurah on the business of his new office as Judge there.

1781, 9th November. Sir Robert Chambers’ youngest child, named Edward is dead, and therefore Sir Robert does not come into Court to-day.

1783, 1 3th July. Sir Robert Chambers has been very ill, and has not been in Court since the 18th of June. He has been very ill of that kind of fever called the jungle fever.

The Chambers evidently believed in Birkul as a health resort. Mrs. Fay, on her homeward journey from Calcutta in April 1782, went as far as Ingili with the Chambers, who were on their way to Birkul. “I left Calcutta,” she writes, “on Tuesday, the 9th instant, with Sir Robert and Lady Chambers, but trust sea-bathing will be beneficial. We had a boisterous trip of it down to Ingili, and everyone but myself was dreadfully sea-sick. My kind friends quitted me on Saturday evening. I felt quite forlorn at our separation.” Warren Hastings also was fond of Birkul, (on the sea-coast about ten miles below Contai), but on 19th October 1780, he wrote : “ My Marian, I saw an alligator yesterday with a mouth as large as a budgerow, and was told it was of a sort which is very common about Balasore, but this is not so large. I shall never consent to your going again to Beercool.” Another visit of the Chambers is recorded.

1783, 10th June. Sir Robert Chambers absent on the way from Beercool, to which place he had been for his health. He was expected to have arrived in town yesterday, but is not yet come. It was the turn of Sir Robert Chambers to give the charge to the Grand Jury, but he being absent Sir E. Impey gave the charge. He told the Grand Jury he was sorry that by the absence of Sir Robert Chambers they would lose the opportunity of hearing a charge which if it did not instruct them, because they were already perfectly acquainted with their duty, would certainly entertain them.

Here, for the present, we must quit Sir Robert.


On p. 101 of (the new edition) his Echoes from Old Calcutta, Dr. Busteed writes; — “Mrs. Fay, writing from Calcutta in 1780, says that ‘on the first day of every term the professional gentlemen all met at a public breakfast at Mr. Justice Hyde*s house, and went thence in procession to the Court House.” Fortunately the procession had not far to go, as Hyde lived next to the Supreme Court, in a house the site of the present Town Hall, for which he is said to have paid twelve hundred rupees a month.” This is an anachronism. In 1780 the Supreme Court usually met in a room, previously used by the Mayor’s Court, in the Court House — the parish school of Old St. Anne’s — on the site of the present Andrew’s Kirk; it also on occasions met at the Judges’ houses. On January 2nd 1782, Hyde records: —

We sat this day for the first time at the New Court House, which has been taken by the Company for the use of the Court at the monthly rent of two thousand five hundred rupees. This New Court House is near Chand Paul Gaul, and is near the road which bounds the Esplanade on the one side. The House is the property of Archibald Keir, Esq., and is let by him to the Company for five years.

The procession, therefore, had to go all the way from the site of the Town Hall to the present site ot St. Andrew’s Kirk.

Sir Elijah Impey’s house, as we all know, is now the Loreto Convent in Middleton Row, and it had formerly been the official residence of Vansittart when Governor- General. In 1783 Impey seems to have transferred his residence to the New Court House.

1783, Monday, July 15. Sir E. Impey being going (sic) out from this House (the Court House) where he now lives and has lived ever since Wednesday last, to talk with the Governor-General, desired me to go into the Court that the cause might go on, and said he should return from the Governor- General before Sir Robert Chambers would be in Court, because although he lives in the house next to the north part of this house and comes through the garden to it, so little distance as does not require so much as half a minute to come in his palankin, yet he rarely gets into Court before eleven o’clock.

This passage shows us the whereabouts of Chambers’ town house. The records at St. John’s show that the long row of godowns, which have been turned into shops, were part of Chambers’ estate. Apparently Chambers took possession of this town house in November 1780, for Mrs. Fay writes in that month, “My first patroness, Lady Chambers, has returned from her tour, but Sir Robert, having purchased an elegant mansion in Calcutta (for which he is to pay £ 6,000 in England), her Ladyship has employment in arranging and fitting up her new abode,” On May 9th, 1777, Hyde wrote that his house was “ the only one of the Judges’ which was in the common acceptation of the term within the town, although all our houses are within the Marrattah Ditch which we esteem the limits of the town.” The following extract will indicate Hyde’s conception of the limits of the town.

1779. February 6. Kissen Chunder Gosaul and Gosul Chander Gosaul v. Henry Watson.

Kidderpore is a village, about two miles from the Court House, lying close to a small river, commonly called by the English Kidderpore Nullah. This river is the boundary southward of the town of Calcutta, of which the River commonly called the Houghly River is the boundary north-westward, and the Marrattah Ditch, which exists in many parts, and the line where it once was, in other places, are the boundaries, north eastward, eastward, and south-eastward, to the place where that ditch or line where it once existed meets the Kidderpore Nullah, and from that place that rivulet is the boundary. This rivulet was a little to the southward of the new Fort, which is considered as within the town of Calcutta, and I consider Fort William to be the English name of the town. Calcutta is the Bengally name of one of many villages of which the town of Calcutta consists.

Bishop Heber, who on the whole seems to have been an easily contented person, proved restless in the matter of house accommodation. Chambers, we may suppose, suffered from a similar infirmity. He undoubtedly had a house at Chitpore, and another at Bhowanipore and in the Calcutta Gazette of September 8th, 1785, we find the following advertisement.

To be Let from October 1st
That large and convenient Garden House to the southward of Chirengee, for several years occupied by Sir Robert Chambers. The monthly rent is 400 sicca rupees.


1777. October 27th. Mr. Justice Lemaistre was absent this day and every day this term (except the first day), he being now very ill, and having been ill here and at Garrelty above a month past.

November 6th. At half an hour after five in the afternoon he died, at his own house called the Wilderness, otherwise May’s Gardens, within the limits of Calcutta, which is the Marratha Ditch. He was buried the same day at midnight. By order of the Honorable Warren Hastings, Governor-General, minute guns were fired the time of the funeral; thirty-nine guns, as I told Captain Palmer, who was sent to me by Mr. Hastings to say that he would show all possible respect, that thirty-nine was my brother Lemaistre's age.


“From the 6th of July, 1778, to the 15th of March, in the following year my father was with his family at Chittagong, above 316 miles north-west from Calcutta. He was in ill-health, and my mother was brought to bed at that place, which will account for so long an absence.” So writes Elijah Barwell Impey in his Memorials of Sir Elijah Impey. The purpose of the passage is to prove an alibi on behalf of the Chief Justice in the matter of the commitment of North Naylor, “It was Hyde therefore who committed Naylor to prison.”

The apologist thus takes his father away from Calcutta from July 6th, 1778 to March 15th, 1779. If this alibi could be established, we might still well ask what purpose can it serve? According to the apologist Naylor was committed on the March 1st, 1780! But what are the facts? On Tuesday, March 17th, 1778, Hyde notes: —

Sir Elijah Impey was absent from court to-day, because he is preparing to set out tomorrow to Ballengaut (?) only about two miles from Calcutta on the Salt Water Lake where his budgro now is, with the intention to proceed on the Salt Water Lake into the river, and so on to Luckipoor by water in his budgro, and thence to finish his journey to Chittagong by land. He goes to Chittagong for his health, though he thinks he is somewhat better of the disorder which first occasioned him to go thither, and I think so too.

The chief symptom of his disorder was a numbness or slight pain in his right hand, wrist, and arm, and some degree of difficulty in moving it. This had lasted from the beginning of October last or thereabout, without being considerably better or worse, to the present time. He hopes it is only a rheumatic pain, and possibly it is so, but other people are apt to think It a paralytic disorder.

To-morrow morning Impey sits (sic) out on his journey and voyage to Chittagong, and he does not propose returning sooner than October next.

On April 6th, 1778. Sir E. Impey left Calcutta, Wednesday, March 18th, to go to Chittagong, and he arrived at Luchypore on his way to Chittagong on Monday, March 30th, at three in the afternoon, as appear’d by his letter to Sir Robert Chambers dated April 6th, 1778.

It is significant to find that Impey was not inactive while at Chittagong. The incident of Lucknow affidavits will come to the reader’s mind, and he will be interested to know that, while at Chittagong, Impey took affidavits in June 1778. In December 1778, Impey was again sitting in the Calcutta Court.

On Monday, the 18th, 1779, Grand vs. case came up for trial, Impey, Chambers and Hyde all sitting. The cause was resumed on 8th February and on 6th March judgment was given. On the 22nd October Hyde notes; —

Mem. Sir E. Impey, Chief Justice, was absent by reason of illness. He has a swelling of the double chin. It came after he had the epidemic fever which prevailed here in September and this month and still does prevail here, but Dr. Campbell told me he did not think the swelling any part of the disorder usually following that fever, but a nervous disorder of the nature of that Sir E. Impey had before he went to Chittagong which then affected his arm and head.

Sir Robert Chambers was also absent by reason of his illness; yesterday the fever began with him.

I (John Hyde) have had the fever and am not yet perfectly free from the consequences, for I have a slight degree of pain and weakness in my left foot and a slight degree of dizziness still affects my head.

Most people say this fever was brought by infection from Bombay hither, and it is said to have been brought from Surat to Bombay and to have spread all along the Coast of Malabar. It is said to have spread from this Town of Fort William to Moorshedabad and Patna, and from thence to Cawnpore about nine hundred miles distant from hence, in the district of Agrah, where there is a camp and cantonments of the Company's forces. Futtiagur is also in the Province of Agrah, and is, according to Major Rennell’s map (printed in London 1777), about three miles from Furruckabad, and about sixty-six miles from Cawnpore, on the banks of the same branch of the Ganges, in a line from Cawnpore some degrees to the west of the direct north.

Impey, however, was in Court again in December, 1779.

Link to entire article, Selections from the Note Books of Justice John Hyde, by Walter K. Firminger (screenshots in Word document).