How The Kolkata City Sessions Court Is Linked To A Chilling 19th-Century Murder

Tathagata Neogi
Tathagata NeogiTathagata Neogi

Are you someone who feels a rush of adrenaline while flipping through the pages of an excellent murder-mystery novel? Or someone who binge-watches true crime documentaries on the weekends? Then you are in for a treat! We have an intriguing true crime story for you, unearthed from the streets of 19th-century Calcutta.

The year was 1850. There was a lot of hullabaloo and public fascination surrounding a gigantic American steamer that had arrived in the city to transport a number of tigers to the Rio de Janeiro zoo in Brazil. The vessel had docked in modern-day Prinsep Ghat. A large number of people from the city assembled to behold and marvel at the caged tigers. The ringmaster of the ship was a brawny southerner from Mississippi popularly known as Tiger Ned. He had earned this nickname because of the nature of his job and also his tiger-like strength.

Tiger Ned and his fellow shipmates made housing arrangements at a tavern on Flag Street, near Lal Bazar. It was a popular accommodation for sailors during that time It was there that they came across an 18-year-old American boy from New York named Very. He had recently joined the employment of the most successful US business in Calcutta at that time — the Boston-based, Tudor Ice Company. An inebriated Very revealed to Ned and his companions that the Ice House was an extremely lucrative business and that its treasury office and employee accommodations on Hare Street were always stacked with cash.

Tiger Ned's greedy eyes sparkled upon getting this information. He was resolved to steal the US$20,000 from the Ice House treasury. He coerced Very to agree to leave the back door open the night before Ned's ship was supposed to leave Calcutta. In exchange for his stealthy services, he promised Very a safe passage on his ship. On the night of New Year's Day in 1851, Very, Ned, and a few of his shipmates snaked into the Ice House offices through the back door. Quietly and craftily, they opened the safe, which was unbolted, only to find it empty. An infuriated Ned shook the guard Knox violently, to wake him up and find out about the money. Knox refused to give in to Ned’s intimidating demands. What followed were brutal kicks and punches but Knox was resilient and fought back. Finally, frustrated and enraged, Ned took out his knife and slit Knox’s throat. Very stabbed him 32 times in his chest and left Knox bleeding to death.

Knox's bloody corpse was discovered the following morning. Mr. Very's capture followed soon afterwards. Ned and his shipmates were rounded up as the ship was about to leave the Gunpowder Magazines of Moyapur near Budge Budge. What followed was a highly controversial murder trial where Very, for reasons unknown, took the entire blame upon himself. The US Ambassador to India made proper legal arrangements to defend Ned and the others in court. Very's refusal to shed light on the truth and incriminate anyone else meant that others were acquitted while Very was sentenced to death. He was hung from a tree in modern day Fancy Lane. Ned would later go on to commit suicide during one of his voyages. In a somewhat ironic twist the present-day Kolkata City Sessions Court stands at this very same location — the same place this gruesome murder took place.

This story has been brought to light by Tathagata Neogi, a PHD scholar from Kolkata, and founder of @immersivetrails.

Related Stories

No stories found.