Kanpur, (formerly known as Cawnpore), is famous for its own historical, religious and commercial importance. Also known as the “Leather City of the World” and the “Manchester of North India”, the city of Kanpur is an important tourist destination and houses varied old monuments, parks, gardens, water bodies which reflect the history of the place.
The early history of Kanpur can be traced only from happenings and incidents occurred during that era. However, the history of modern Kanpur began in the eighteenth century. Kanpur was a part of the Oudh Kingdom from 1773 to 1801 and was officially transferred to the British under a treaty of 1801 with the ruling Nawab of Oudh (Awadh). It was declared a district in 1803. Kanpur emerged on the map as the largest British military camp in northern India. East India Company became thoughtful of the strategic importance of Kanpur.
Prior to the Revolt of 1857, the industrial and commercial progress of the city flourished. Kanpur was well connected to Sindh (Sind), Punjab and Awadh (Oudh) through Grand Trunk Road built by Sher Shah Suri. In 1833, the British further improved the construction of the Grand Trunk Road from Allahabad to Delhi via Kanpur and the city became the chief trading centre of north India. Until this point of time the rule of the East India Company dominated over north India and a visible depression and extreme dislike for it among people had started.
Lord Dalhousie’s much hated ‘Doctrine of Lapse’ deprived many princes of their right to succession and in Kanpur it became the reason of resentment for Dhondu Pant also known as ‘Nana Saheb’, the adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao II. Nana Saheb appealed to the Court of Directors and even sent his chief advisor Azeemullah, to London to plead his case. However, this effort didn’t bear the desired result.
The events of the revolt of 1857 were significant. The first signs of outbreak appeared at Barrackpore and Berhampore in Bengal; they were however, quickly suppressed and the culprits were punished. But the sepoys broke out into open revolt at Meerut in May, 1857 which soon progressed to Delhi. By June 1857, the Indian mutiny had spread to several areas near Kanpur, namely Agra, Mathura, and Lucknow. However, the British General at Kanpur, Hugh Wheeler, was confident that the sepoys at Kanpur would remain loyal to him, yet he decided to take precautions.
On the other hand, Nana Saheb of Bithoor, who had been denied succession to his father’s property and title, proclaimed himself as Peshwa. The mutineers at Kanpur, led by Nana Saheb, empowered the British entrenchments, which had hurriedly been constructed by Sir Hugh Wheeler in view of the possible rebellion.
From the 8th till the 26th of June, the empowered garrison, consisting of about four hundred men capable of bearing arms and a number of women and children, defended themselves bravely in the midst of frightful suffering and hardship. They surrendered on the 27th and the English men, women and children who fell into the hands of Nana Sahib were assured of safe passage to Allahabad.
But as the mislead British were leaving the place in boats, a homicidal fire was opened on them at the Sati Chaura Ghat with the result that most of the men were massacred at the river side, only four being able to escape. A large number of women and children were confined in a building, known as the Bibighar, the ‘House of Ladies’, where they were mercilessly put to death on the 15th July by Nana’s troops and their bodies were flung into a well.
The results of the Kanpur massacre were very regrettable. It provoked a burning desire for revenge in the minds of British, both in India and England, and led the company’s troops to perform acts that have left very unpleasant memories. One day after the tragic incident, the British force under Havelock reached Kanpur and the city was recovered by Sir Colin Campbell on the December 6th.
A memorial with a cross was raised at the site of the horrific massacre after the British re-took possession of Kanpur and around 40 acres of land around Bibighar was confiscated to ensure the safety of the memorial. This memorial was not opened for the Indians until the country got independence on the midnight of 14 August 1947. Later Kanpur Memorial Church (now All Souls’ Church) was built in 1875 in honour of the British who lost their lives in the war of 1857.
Towards the end of 19th century, establishment of group of companies such as Kanpur Textiles, Cawnpore Woollen Mills (Lal-imli), Flex Shoes Company, Elgin Mills and North Tannery under the banner of British India Corporation brought a remarkable change. The British Government also established a number of factories like; Aircraft Manufacturing Depot, Kanpur (Now HAL), Ordnance Factory, Kanpur (Manufactured the Nirbheek Revolver) and Parachute Factory in 1886 to supplement their defence requirements which paved way to beginning of a new era.
Good educational and research institutes such as Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), the Green Park Stadium, which has hosted many international cricket matches and Indian Ordinance Factories, which manufacture products of the Indian Armed Forces are also the highlight of the present day Kanpur. Some of the other prominent tourist destinations of Kanpur include: the Kanpur Memorial Church (All Soul’s Cathedral), Allen Forest Zoo, Moti Jheel Park, Jajmau, Shri Radhakrishna Temple (J.K. Temple), Jain Glass Temple, Kamla Retreat, Phool Bagh, Nana Rao Park, Dwarka Dhish Temple, Phool Bagh, Brijendra Swaroop Park, Agricultural Gardens etc.