The Sheriff of Calcutta

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Role of Sheriff in the Administration of Criminal justice & Jail administration

The office of the Sheriff was a very important one in the administration of Criminal justice & in the Jail Administartion in the Presidency of Fort William at Calcutta. The Sheriff’s full designation was “The Sheriff of the Town of Calcutta, and factory at Fort William in Bengal, and the Keeper of Her Majesty’s Prison at Calcultta” (see photocopy of the old documents …….). But for sometime between 1848 to 1862 Sheriff was “The Governor of the Great Jail of Calcutta”. (Photocopy of the documents dated 28th Jult, 1855).


(Criminal Justice)

Calcutta had only one Head-constable in 1785", with a force of only three constables under his control. It seemed that punishments inflicted on offenders in those days were diverse and severe. These policemen, apart from their other routine duties were required to attend the Criminal Sessions of the Supreme Court and attend at all functions of official importance, as also attend with the Sheriff at the execution of condemned criminals in the jail or elsewhere. ,;,

Punishing the offender at the place of occurrence of the crime, whipping on successive days, putting up convicted persons on a pillory placed at a prominent site, burning the hands, penal ‘Servitude transportation for life and death, sentences were some of the severe types of sentence which the Supreme Court at Calcutta passed. After, execution the dead body in some cases was, hung from a Gibbet. English Law was in such cases the .guiding factor in such matters. In the past Sheriff had to attend at the execution of prisoners. The most historic attendance at such an execution happened when Maharaja Nuncoomar was hanged in 1775.

Hard labour in the -’House xof, Correction ‘situated in the common Jail was considered to be the most mild form of sentence.;

The following instances will show what sort of severe punishments were inflicted :


No.       — No. 2 

Names     —   Sheik Mahomed

Crimes   — Manslaughter

Verdict —   Guilty

Sentence — 30th July 1795, let him be burnt in thfcihand and let him be imprisoned in the common Gaol of Calcutta for one year from this day, and let him then be discharged.

No.             —   No. 4

Names       —     Francisco Rosso

Antonio Buafas

Francisco Blanc

Joze Queil Mathews Cazanavic otherwise called Mathias 


Ram Mohun Lall otherwise called Mohun Lall. 

Crimes       —   Burglary 

Sentence     —     Let them and each and every of them be taken from hence to the Common Gaol of Calcutta and there imprisoned  until Monday the tenth day of August next, and on that day let them and each and every of them be taken from the said Gaol to the place of Execution (which place of Execution the Sheriff is hereby directed to prepare as near the house of Choitan Seal in Calcutta as conveniently may be) and there let them the said Francisco Rosso, Antonio Buafas, Francisco Blanc, Joze Queil Mathews Gazanavic otherwise called Mathias and Ram Mohun Lall otherwise called MohunJLall and each and every of them be hanged by the neck until they and each and every of them are dead.



Names         —     Rada Munnee 

Crime         —     Perjury

Sentence — Let her be imprisoned in the common Gaol of Calcutta until Friday next the fourteenth of December instant, and on that day let her be taken to the Lail Bazar in Calcutta where the four Roads meet, and there placed in and upon the Pillory for the space of one hour (and let the Sheriff at the same time affix on the Pillory a paper writing in the country languages expressing the name of the said Rada Munnee and the offence for which she is plinished). Let her then be again imprisoned in the said Gaol until Mdnday the seventeenth day of December instant, arid orit’that’day5flet her be taken to the Barrah Bazar in Calcutta and’’there’whipt^frofn7 the south end to the north end of the said Barrah Bazar and back again from the north end to the south end of the said Bazar, -let her then be again imprisoned  in  the said Gaol until the seventeenth day of January next and on that day let her be again taken to the said Barrah Bazar and there whipt from the south end to the north end of the said Barrah Bazar and back again from the north end to the south end thereof, let her then be further imprisoned ;in the said Gaol until the eighteenth day of-February next and on the said last mentioned day let her be again taken to the said Barrah Bazar and again there whipt from the south end to the north end of the said Barrah Bazar and back again from the north end to the south end thereof. Let her then be carried to the House of Correction in Calcutta and there imprisoned without Bail or Mainprize and kept to hard labour; for the space of two years to be-accounted from the said 18th,.day of February next.


(Administration of Jail)

The administration of the Jail in the Presidency town was to a great extent under the control of the Sheriff. This was so up to 1862. By Act IV of 1862 (Bengal Act) the Sheriff was relieved of the task of remaining in-charge of| Jails for criminal — prisoners. Assent of the Governor-General to the Act was accorded xm the 1st May, 1862.

The relevant provisions bf the said Act IV of 1862 are given below :— 


Whereas it is expedient to provide for the better enforcement of discipline and order amongst the criminal prisoners confined in the Great Jail of Calcutta as well as for the more effectual Superintendence over and control of such prisoners; It is enacted as follows :—

Authority over House of correction vested in commissioner of Police, or such other officer as Government may appoint.

I The authority hitherto exercised by the Sheriff of Calcutta oycr that part of the Great Jail -which is termed the House of Correction, shall henceforth cease and determine; and the whole authority over the House of Correction and the prisoners confined therein,-: is hereby vested in the Commissioner of Police for Calcutta, br, in such other Officer as the Government may from time to time appoint.

Saving of power of Sheriff to remove prisoners sentenced to death to the Great Jail.

VII Should any person under sentence of death be at any time .confinedv,m»the house of correction, the power of the Sheriff to remove the prisoner to that par, t of the Great Jail, which will remain under the cu’kody of the Sheriff or to such other place as may from time to time be fixed on as the place of execution and .to execute that sentence of death, shall not in .airy wise be affected by this Act.

It was very difficult to maintain .discipline-in Jail. There were provisions for corporal punishments of offenders in jails. This Svas,-however, abolished in 1834, under Regulation II of that year. But by Act III of 1844, corporal punishment was re-introduced.

By Section II of the said Act IV of. 1862, the omcer-in-charge of the House of Correction was empowered to take cognizance of breaches of discipline and punish prisoners for certain offences. In spite oTthe above, for,the time being some powers of control over the House of Correction as delineatedun Section II was extended to the Sheriff under Section III of the Act. By Sectipn-X, Visiting Magistrate was empowered to punish offenders for repeated offences. By’the said Act punishments by solitary confinement were provided for.

Section XI of the said Act IV of 1862, makes provision for punishment of persons taking or attempting to take prohibited articles into the Great Jail.

Incidentally it may be noted that The Great Jail vyas also.known as The Common Jail and sometimes called ‘Hurrin Baree’ Jail.

Apart from the power that: the Sheriff had, regardhlg -the administration and control of the; Great Jail in Calcutta, the (Sheriff had in due execution of processes, authority to use other Jails beyond the limits of the Supreme Court. Section 8 of Act No., XXlIl of 1840 (central Aci) provided as follows :-

“All Civil and Criminal Gaols and Houses of corrections within the Jurisdiction of any of Her Majesty’s Courts may be used by the Sheriff for the purposes of this Act”.. :

Sentences of Supreme Court used to be passed/directing the Sheriff’ to keep the prisoner in custody in the House of Correction. From the calendar of persons tried at the Sessions of Oyer and Terminer and Gaol delivery holden by the Supreme Court, Calcutta in 1856 and 1857 many such instances may be had. Two entries are quoted below:—

Number of Indictment  —   9

When Bills found — 4th Sessions 1856

Names — Nusseeruddy Mullick

Crimes — Embezzlement

Verdicts — Guilty of the felonies on the second count, not Guilty of the felonies on the first third fourth.seventh and eighth count.

Sentences       — Let him be imprisoned without Bail or Mainprize in the Custody of the Sherirt-of Calcutta land kept to hard labour in the Common Gaol in that part of it commonly dalled the House of Correction for and during the term of Twelve Calendar months to be accounted from the Sixteenth day of June One thousand eight hundred and fifty six.

Number of

Indictment — 16

When Bills found — 1st. Sessions 1857                                    

Names — Sheik Busseertiddy

Crimes — Misderneanor

Verdicts — Not Guilty of .the Misdemeanor on the first and fourth counts but Guilty of the Misdemeanors on the second, third, fifth and sixth counts.

Sentences — This verdict not finding facts sufficient to. convict Sheik Busseeruddy of Misdemeanors. Let the verdict and all proceedings had there-under be set aside and let the said Sheik Busseerddy be discharged out of the Custody of the:Sheriff of Calcutta as to this Prosecution.

Writs of Justices of the Peace sentencing offenders to imprisonment etc. were also directed to the Sheriff.

The Sheriff being in charge of the jail, was responsible for the pitiable conditions in the ‘House of Correction’. But so far as records show, the Sheriff had responsibility but no authority. He had always to approach the authorities for guidance .and financial sanctions.