A Poisonous Inheritance? Early Years of Forensic Chemistry in Colonial Bengal, C.1830-1880

in Published Volumes


Sayanta Chatterjee
Independent Research Scholar
Department of History
Rabindra Bharati University
Kolkata,West Bengal,India

Email: sayantachatterjee39594@gmail.com

Abstract::The onset of colonial rule in India changed the basic pattern of the socio-economic and
political system to a great extent. As a result, chaos was born in the Indian social system, and new crimes and criminals were created, which were not seen much in the Indian social system before. Crime control was needed by the colonial rulers to curb this disorder and to establish an ideal state system shaped on British ideals. For this purpose, the police system was established under Lord Cornwallis, and the Indian Penal Code was introduced a few decades later. At this time, some of the most readily available poisons were sold in the Indian market, and the crimes committed by those poisons became a headache for the colonial authorities. From the 1830s onwards, the colonial authorities took notice of the subject and started some early research, and the early chapter of ‘Forensic Chemistry’ began in India. The man whose name was most important in this episode was William Brooke O’Shaughnessy. In this article, the research of William Brooke O’Shaughnessy, the father of forensic chemistry in India, on a well-known flower called Datura and its toxic properties will be briefly described

Key Words:Crime, Dhatura,Forensic chemistry, Poison, William Brooke O’Shaughnessy etc