Cold Mine

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“It was an hour after dawn one morning in spring,” one of them recalled, “—a time of the year when the cool air and fogs of February are suddenly exchanged for the hot winds—that a ‘faithful’ domestic came to my bedside with the strange intimation that a ship was off the town laden with burruf (snow). … What could he mean? Ice from America! An entire cargo! So I at once jumped up, bathed, while my horse was being saddled, and then rode down to the ghaut. Engaging a paunchway, a small native wherry, I pulled on board the Yankee clipper. … I was allowed to peep into the abyss which contained the treasure. There it lay! in square masses of the purest crystal packed carefully and scientifically. … I hurried off giving my khansamah a wicker basket and a piece of green baize and sent him off with a rupee for a pound of ice. He soon returned with half the quantity. ‘How is this?’ ‘Master, all make melt.’ ‘Did you wrap it well up in the cloth?’ ‘No Sahib, that make ice too muchee warm.’ ‘Did you close the basket?’ ‘No, Master, because that make ice more warm.’ How many Calcutta tables glittered that morning with lumps of ice! The butter dishes were filled; the goblets of water were converted into miniature Arctic seas with icebergs floating on the surface. All business was suspended until noon, that people might rush about to pay each other congratulatory visits, and devise means for perpetuating the ice-supply. Everybody invited everybody to dinner, to taste of claret and beer cooled by the American importation. …”

William C. Rogers remained in Calcutta to supervise storage and sales. On November 22 the governor-general, William Bentinck, the highest-ranking government officer in India, published a letter in the India Gazette under the headline THE IMPORTATION OF AMERICAN ICE: “To W. C. Rogers, Esq. of Boston. Sir, The importation of American ice into Calcutta is an enterprise so novel and beneficial that I cannot resist the desire of expressing to you my sense of the spirit and skill by which it has been planned and executed. I beg that you, under whose superintendence it has been conducted, will do me the favor to accept the accompanying small token of the gratification which I have derived from the success of this extraordinary undertaking. A few months ago such a project as that which you have realized would have been regarded as visionary and I have no hesitation in declaring to you my opinion that its accomplishment must be attended with great public benefit. I sincerely hope that you may find ample encouragement to persevere in your speculation, bringing comfort to the inhabitants of this great and populous City. I am, Sir, your most obedient and humble servant, Calcutta 22nd November, 1833. (sd.) W. C. Bentinck.”

The cup that accompanied this accolade stands nearly a foot high and is elaborately decorated in the style of William IV. Marks at the base identify its makers as Hamilton and Company, the largest and most important firm of Indian colonial silversmiths. The subsequent histories of the cup and its recipient are somewhat mysterious. One of the sources supplied to me from India indicates that Rogers sold his trophy and set up in Calcutta as a boardinghouse keeper and dentist. No one seems to know where the cup spent the century between its presentation to Rogers in Calcutta and its purchase by Anne Halliday’s father on Cape Cod.

So eager were the British to maintain a supply of American ice that within three days they raised money to commission an icehouse to preserve the commodity. “The idea of having the purest ice at three half-pence a pound during the whole year,” wrote one British resident in Calcutta, “instead of having the Hooghly slush for six weeks at four-pence the pound was irresistable.”

The availability of ice soon affected the daily menus of the well-to-do British residents. Colesworthy Grant, a chronicler of Anglo-Indian domestic life in the middle of the nineteenth century, wrote that “it was not long ere the ‘Ice-Chest’ formed an additional and handsome item of domestic furniture, which custom has now rendered almost as common and indispensable as the sofa or the side-board. The Ice-Chest is a square box, made either of mahogany or teak wood, or japanned tin, fitted with zinc reservoirs for water, and receptacles for bottles, decanters, butter-pot, meat, jellies, and what not, closely surrounding and in contact with a chamber in the centre for the ice. The whole, lined throughout with zinc, and padded with flannel and green baize, unite neatness with utility and are sold, ready made, at prices varying from thirty to about sixty roopees.”

 

The medical benefits of a dependable supply of ice were recognized at once, and by 1842 a leading Calcutta newspaper, The Statesman , reported that the abundant supply had enabled “our hospitals [to] extend its useful application to the poorest patients.”

That year Tudor lowered the price of ice, and The Statesman urged citizens to increase consumption in order to keep it down so that “the second and third grades of the community may now be tempted to a greater indulgence in the most valuable luxury we have ever been blessed with. …”