Hard Driving in Calcutta

From the old Dundee Year Books of the 19th Century


Calcutta, June.

The jute passes from the hands of the ryots into those of the native merchants, who have godowns (warehouses) at all the various hauts (markets) up country. New local markets are coming into existence every season. The transactions up country are all settled for in hard cash. The ryot does not understand any other kind of money than the silver rupee. He will not even take Government notes. The rupees are sent from Calcutta in boxes by rail under charge of trusty servants. A large portion of the crop still conies to Calcutta in country boats, although the railway and the large river flats do a considerable share of the traffic.

Yearly more and more of the jute is sent down in "cutcha" bales of about 3 maunds each, instead of being in loose drums. This saves freight, and the bales are more con­venient for stowing. The bales also are assorted into hessian, sacking, warp, and weft qualities. The jute intended for export is sent to the pressing houses. There the public balers have godowns set apart for the selecting and assorting of the various qualities. Assorting, pressing, and exporting costs about Rs. 3 per bale of 400 lbs,, or 18s 3d per ton. The most of this charge, which is a 'profit in itself, is saved by the local mills.

A jute press will turn out 300 of these "pucca" 400-lb. bales per day. A cyclone press, with revolving boxes, has lately been introduced which is credited with an outturn of 600 to 700 per day. "Gutcha" and "pucca" are fine expressive native words which will undoubt­edly be added to the English dictionary. A "pucca" man is a genuine, first-rate char­acter; "pucca" news is information which is absolutely reliable; a "pucca" house is a well-built, permanent structure; "pucca" bales are the hydraulic, hard-pressed bales for export, and so on. "Cutcha," on the other hand, means exactly the opposite. A bamboo hut is a "cutcha" building; imita­tion jewellery would be "cutcha” stuff. There was at one time & merchant in Cal­cutta who went by the name of "Cutcha-Pucca," because he was neither one thing nor another.

The mills here undoubtedly score in getting delivery of the jute in its natural state, instead of getting it, as the Dundee mills do, in bales like solid blocks of wood. But they score in every way. A ton of jute cannot be made into hessians in Dundee under an average cost of £11 10s. Here the cost, is Ms. 110, or £5 19s 2d. The wages alone per ton in Dundee, including managers and clerks; salaries, are £6 5s. In Calcutta they are £2 19s 7d. It would be well for Dundee, which is simply a big hessian factory, to consider these figures, for they are facts, and ought to be looked squarely in the face. Sacking costs Rs. 65 per ton to manufacture, or £3 10s 5d, which figure puts the sacks, packed, f.o.b. the export vessel. Dundee requires almost double that sum for the same purpose. I got a sight of the wages book the other day at a mill, which was half on hessians and half on heavy goods, and the result showed an average per ton of Rs, 36, or £1 19s. This was during the long days, however, and a large proportion of the heavy goods were woolpack cloth, which brought down the average rate considerably.

I have calculated these sterling values at the thirteen pence rupee, and I am afraid the hope is vain that looks for any relief to Dundee in the nostrums of the currency doctors. The rupee must be based on the market price of silver. Silver is now about 29d per oz., which makes the rupee intrinsi­cally worth almost a shilling. Is there any hope of it rising to such a degree as will put Dundee nearly on a level with its com­petitor as regards cost of production?

In the Calcutta mills everything is hard driven. The spindles revolve as fast as they do at home, and the looms pick much faster, and more cloth is taken out of the loom per hour than in Dundee. And as regards fabric, there is nothing which is done at home that Calcutta cannot do when she puts her mind to it. In the construction of a mill the rupee pur­chases the same amount of brickwork that it did 10 years ago. Concrete costs Rs. 20, or 21s 8d, per 100 cubic feet, and first-class brick superstructure Rs. 26, or 28s 2d, per 100 cubic feet. Ten years ago, when ex­change was about 1s 8d, mill building cost­ing Rs. 120,000 would require a sterling re­mittance of £10,000 to pay for it. To-day the same building would require only £6500 to meet the cost. This more than compen­sates for any rise in the price of machinery during that interval, and outward freights are cheaper now than then. Upon the whole, a mill built with sterling money costs less to-day to erect and start than it did 10 years ago.

The Calcutta mills have an ample supply of country coal brought from the Raneegunge district, about three hours by rail distant. It costs about 4½ annas per maund laid down at the furnaces, or equal to 8s 4d per ton. The coal contractor is bound to keep a good supply on the compound, and day by day his men weigh over the consumpt required by the mill. At. more than one mill the contractor is content to make up his monthly coal bill based upon the total output of bags, He charged in the instances referred to at the rate of 12½ cwts of coal for every ton of bags produced. This basis was, of course, arrived at by actual experiment, and it saved the man all the trouble of weighing, and of keeping up a staff for that purpose. The export of coal from Calcutta will soon form a consider­able item in her trade. The steamers all take in their supply of country coals, and I am told that the P. and O. Company are supplying all their stations from Aden east­wards with fuel from Calcutta.

With coal and iron in abundance, the time cannot be far distant when the people here will cease to send to Leeds and Dundee and Monifieth for their machinery, and will make it on the spot. It is a marvel that some of the enterpris­ing firms at home do not have branch establishments out here already. The native mechanics are expert workmen. A turner gets about 8s for a 72 hours week, and can attend to his machine and turn out as good work as his white brother at home, who gets 30s for 54 hours.

I must confess that my visit to Calcutta has been an eye-opener, and no one who knows anything about the jute industry can visit the mills here without coming to the conclusion that as regards the common run of hessians and sackings Dundee's position is seriously threatened. I have no doubt, however, that the ability and enterprise of her capitalists will rise to the occasion, and that new industries will take root and pros­per as the common ten-a-half begins to take its departure.

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