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At first glance, a share certificate in the Great Eastern Hotel in Calcutta has little to do with tea. However, in the course of its eventful history, this hotel has hosted hundreds of tea planters and their assistants. The British garden managers usually stayed in the Great Eastern when they visited the head offices in Calcutta or went on home leave.

The British brought modern hotels to Calcutta. The oldest was the John Spence's Hotel, the first hotel in Asia, inaugurated in 1830. The Great Eastern Hotel was established as the Auckland Hotel by a certain David Wilson in 1840 or 1841. The hotel got its name from George Eden, 1st Earl of Auckland and at the time, the General Governor of India. David Wilson had previously operated a bakery in the same location.

The hotel opened with 100 rooms and a department store on the ground floor. The hotel was expanded and operated as Great Eastern Hotel Wine and General Purveying Company in 1860.
In 1883, it was the first hotel to be equipped with electricity in India. It was also one of the first hotels to have an Indian Director. In 1915, the hotel was finally renamed "The Great Eastern Hotel, „and the share certificate from my collection also dates from this year.



In its heyday, the hotel was referred to as either the "Jewel of the East" or the "Savoy of the East" and it was mentioned prosaically by Kipling in his short story "City of Dreadful Night". It was said that a man could enter the hotel on one side, get dressed in completely new attire, buy a wedding present or seeds for the garden, have an excellent meal and if the bartender agreed, then leave the hotel on the other side, engaged to be married! I was in the Great Eastern for seven weeks in 1969 and can confirm that there were no barmaids back then, but only male staff who always issued excessively high bills "accidentally". This was tolerable from time to time, considering the price of the room was only 20.00 German Marks per day.

The fact is that the hotel has hosted many celebrities. These included Nikita Khrushchev, Nikolai Bulganin, Elizabeth II, Mark Twain, Dave Brubeck and most likely Ho Chi Minh.


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A personal photo, taken from the hotel’s terrace in 1968.




At the time of the hotel's closure for renovation in 2005, the Great Eastern was the longest continuously running hotel in Asia. The hotel's downfall began during the Naxalite insurrection, a conflict that took place in the late 1960s between the Indian government and Maoist groups known as the Naxalites and their supporters. The hotel was ultimately taken over by the local government and sold to the Lalit hotel group in 2005. The Great Eastern was closed for many years, was completely renovated and partially reopened on the 19th November 2013.


During the renovation, care was taken to respect the historical structure. This was especially the case for the facade of the building and the grand entrance staircase. The Lalit Great Eastern Hotel in Calcutta will be completely finished by the end of this year (2015) and will offer its guests 194 luxury rooms.

Robert Hamilton came to Calcutta in 1808. He opened a jewellery and silversmith business licensed by the East Indian Company. His shop was on Court House Street, a few entrances away from the Great Eastern Hotel. In the years that followed, the company had various partners and opened branches in Bombay, Delhi and Shimla. The company Hamilton & Co. was purveyor to the court and produced, among other things, extremely stylish silver teapots and caddies. I very much regret the fact that, as a young man, I did not have a taste for this art, because nowadays objects from the House of Hamilton & Co. sell at auctions in the high four-figure sums. Nevertheless, I went to the shop in 1969 to buy my future wife Monika a silver brooch with the design "Two Leaves and a Bud".


This brooch was stolen from us along with other valuables during a break-in in the early 1970s. Due to our precise description and the rarity of the design, the criminal police were able to secure the brooch from a stolen goods dealer in Munich months later! The company Hamilton & Co. closed its business in 1973, also as a consequence of the Naxalite insurrections. The Jalan family took over the company in 1976 but was not able to continue to run it successfully. There has been a shop in Mumbai again since 1993.

May 2015

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