After the Treaty of Yandaboo in 1826, Assam began to be annexed in phases by the British East India Company. The new rulers realized soon that Guwahati would one day be an important center for trade and navigation, and therefore decided to establish a collector’s office in the town. In the year 1834, the office was set up and Captain Catchart appointed the first Collector of Revenue.
After the establishment of the office, a suitable accommodation for the Deputy Commissioner had to be arranged. This became a problem since the town then, by all accounts, did not have any pucca house. There are known instances of British government officials staying in the cabins of steamers stationed in the Brahmaputra for lack of proper accommodation. With the passage of time, however, a proper and secure house for the highest British dignitary in town became an absolute necessity. Sites were surveyed, and ultimately the famous Barphukanar tilla (Barphukan’s hillock) on the banks of the Brahmaputra, where the cannons of the battle of the Saraighat still lay scattered, was selected. The hillock had direct access to the river through a gradient, where a few boats were also found hidden. The locals believe that the boats were those used in the Saraighat battle and thus kept hidden from public view.
The Deputy Commissioner’s bungalow now came up atop the hillock. It was a Scottish-type bungalow built entirely of wood and had three spacious bedrooms, a dinning hall, a small library and a large living room that provided sufficient space for throwing a dance party. It also had four huge toilets with provision for heating water. Besides, there were two storerooms and separate dressing rooms for the saheb and memsaheb. In the living and the main bedrooms there were fireplaces to keep the residents warm, and true to the spirit of the British Raj, the house also had a bawarchikhana (kitchen). Since there no electricity, huge candlelit chandeliers adorned the rooms.
The interior of the bungalow was furnished with exclusive wooden furniture and Belgian glass. For ventilation of the house, the rooms had huge chimney-shaped outlets. The DC’s servants’ quarters and the stable were constructed on the same hillock but separated from the main bungalow by a long corridor. In the front there was a portico fro the DC’s phaeton. The bungalow popularly known as burra sahibar bangla, was also surrounded by a sprawling garden.
In the intervening decades the bungalow has been witness to many ups and downs. It has seen the Brahmaputra silently but slowly changing its course. It has grieved at the sight of a ravaged town during the earthquake of 1897. It has heard Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Netaji Subhas Bose address the public in the Panbazar Jubilee Garden just across the road, and also remained a mute spectator while the historic garden was converted into an ugly-looking water supply workshop. Its living room that once resounded with the chatter and laughter of young and old European couples dancing to music in the candle-lit ballroom today resonates with the music of Indian classical and folk maestros.