A letter that details the horrors of the ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’ – £2900 at Reeman Dansie.

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Offered at Reeman Dansie (20% buyer’s premium) of Colchester on November 29, it is addressed to a William Davis and dated 1757 by one of those who survived, John Zephaniah Holwell (1711-98), a surgeon and in later years Governor of Bengal.

He writes about the infamous incident in which 146 English citizens, including one woman, were said to have been held in an 18ft sq ft cell with just one small barred window.

Only 21 survived it was said, and Holwell’s letter vividly describes the horrors of that experience.

However, his statement, repeated in the Genuine Narrative… of events that he published in 1748, has been questioned by modern historians. Research now suggests that the numbers may be different – and that the total death toll was 64.

Holwell has become an important source for historians of medicine, as a result of his description of the practice of smallpox variolation in 18th-century Bengal. A man who made some of the earlier studies of Indian antiquities, he is also remembered as an advocate of animal rights and vegetarianism.