Mutty Lall Seal

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Mutty Lall Seal
Mutty Lal Seal.jpg
Mutty Lall Seal
Born 1792
Died 20 May 1854
Nationality Indian
Occupation Businessman

Mutty Lall Seal (also spelt Mutty Loll Seal or Mati Lall Seal or Motilal Seal) (1792 – 20 May 1854) was an Indian businessman and philanthropist. Beginning life as a bottle and cork dealer, he closed his run of luck with a colossal fortune out-topping that of all his contemporaries. Mutty Lall Seal and Ramdulal Sarkar, another renowned shipping magnate, have become part of Bengali folklore as great merchant princes.[1]

Early life[edit]

Mutty Lall Seal was born in a Bengali Hindu family in Kolkata around 1792. His father, Chaitanya Charan Seal, a cloth merchant, died when Mutty Lall was around five years old. His early education started at the 'pathshala', thereafter he went to Martin Bowl's English School and finally passed out from Baboo Nityananda Sen's High School. However his life took a turn, when in 1809, at the age of seventeen he was married to Nagri Dassee, the daughter of Mohan Chand Dey of Surtir Bagan neighbourhood in Kolkata. Mutty Lall Seal accompanied his father-in-law on a pilgrimage tour to northern and western parts of India, and the experience greatly enlightened him. Around 1815 he started working in Fort William, then the bastion of British power. It is said that while working at Fort William he was involved in supply of essential commodities for the British army. Later he also worked as an inspector of Indian Customs at Balikhal.


Business activities[edit]

Sketch of Mutty Lall Seal's residential house at Colootola

He started his business career humbly by selling bottles and corks to one Mr. Hudson who was one of the most extensive importers of beer in those days.[2] He traded in cowhides, was the founder and promoter of the first indigo mart which was established under the name of M/s. Moore, Hickey & Co. The English merchants used to hire him for his sound judgements on indigo, silk, sugar, rice, saltpetre etc. He got appointed as "Banian" to around twenty first class agency houses out of around fifty or sixty such houses in Calcutta. Later he also became a landed property speculator as well as merchant successively in partnership with Fergusson Brothers & Co., Oswald Seal & Co. and Tulloh & Co. and in these three firms he was said to have lost some thirty lacs of rupees. He got into exporting of indigo, silk, sugar, rice, saltpetre to Europe and importing of iron and cotton-piece goods from England.[3] He got up a number of cargo boats which were then a new speculation in the market. He worked the old Flour Mills, and shipped whole cargoes of biscuits to Australia for the first emigrants to its newly discovered gold fields. Later he put up a mill to refine sugar on the centrifugal principle. He was the first to use steamships for internal trade in Calcutta, and he prospered in competition with Europeans. In due course he amassed around thirteen trade ships including a steam tug named 'Banian'. He made a vast fortune in a single generation through money-dealing, a phrase which does not merely refer to money-lending, bill discounting and other banking business. There was scarcely a speculation into which he did not enter, and for which he did not supply a portion of funds. From dealings in internal exchanges to contracts for station-building, for the erection of new bazaars to revival of transit companies, there was scarcely an undertaking in which he was not an important, though a quiet shareholder. He funded every promising enterprise he found and made profits in the shape of interest.[4] At one point of time he was in complete control over the market dealing in company's papers.[5] Mutty Lall Seal was one of the founders of Assam Company Ltd.. Under his influence, the then Oriental Life Insurance Company (later reconstructed as New Oriental Insurance Company in 1834) founded by the Europeans, being the first life insurance company on Indian soil, accepted to underwrite Indian lives.[6] He was among the founders of Bank of India.[7] He was on the board of Agricultural And Horticultural Society of India.[8] In the course of time he amassed as much wealth as Dwarkanath Tagore and Rustomjee Cowasjee. In 1878 Kissori Chand Mitra delivered a lecture on the life of Mutty Lall Seal calling him the "Rothschild of Calcutta".[9] About him, Sivanath Sastri writes – "He never adopted unfair means for earning money. He was well-behaved, polite and helpful to others."


As a philanthropist, Mutty Lall Seal founded an alms house at Belgharia (in the suburbs of Calcutta) in 1841 where on an average five hundred people were fed daily[10] and which is even now open to the poor and a bathing ghat on the bank of the Hooghly River known as Motilal Ghat which still exists.

Perhaps he is best remembered as the donor of an extensive tract of land, then valued at Rs. 12,000/-[11] to the then British Government on which the Calcutta Medical College was built. The then Government of Bengal recognised his liberality by naming a ward in his honour, The Mutty Lall Seal Ward, for native male patients. Mutty Lall Seal subsequently supplemented this gift by a donation of a lac of rupees for the establishment of a female (lying in) hospital which started functioning in 1838 under his benevolence.[12]

Mutty Lall Seal's shrine and almshouse on B T road.

In those days the Hindu community had got alarmed owing to several conversions to Christianity which were taking place among the boys at missionary schools offering free education. To counter this, there was an anti-missionary movement led by the rich and influential baboos of Calcutta to have a free national school of their own. One afternoon they all assembled in a meeting presided over by Raja Radha Kanta Deb at the premises of the Oriental Seminary. Many were the speeches made and resolutions adopted. But when it was time for making subscriptions, down came the spirit of the baboos from boiling point to near freezing mark. The subscription book passed from one hand to another, all being indecisive so as to putting down the amount suiting their respective purses, prestige and object. When the book passed to the hand of Mutty Lall Seal, he immediately put down his name for a lac of rupees. Astounded and dumb founded by his munificence, all others who had estimated contributing a few hundred or a few thousand rupees panicked to close the proceedings and the meeting broke up in a fiasco. However pledged to his subscription Mutty Lall Seal carried out the promise of a national institution with his own independent efforts. On Wednesday, 1 March 1842, a gathering of respectable people took place at his house for the formal opening of the Mutty Lall Seal's Free College. Among those present were Sir Lawrence Peel, the Chief Justice; Sir John Peter Grant; Mr. Lyall, the Advocate-General; Mr. Leith and the other principal members of the Calcutta Bar; Captain Birch, Superintendent of the Police; Mr. George Thompson, Right Reverend Dr. Carew; Baboo Dwarkanath Tagore; Baboo Ramcomul Sen; Baboo Russomoy Dutt and Revd. Krishna Mohan Banerjee. The Catholic Bishop and all the clergy of the Catholic Cathedral, as well as all the Professors of St. Xavier's College, were likewise present. Nearly the whole of the dissenting ministers and missionaries of Calcutta and its neighbourhood also attended.[13] There were eloquent speeches in testimony to his noble generosity and liberal mindset with Mr. George Thompson complimenting him as "a Hindu gentleman, who had nobly resolved to consecrate a large portion of the substances he had acquired by honourable exertion, to the intellectual improvement of the youth of his own nation to transmute his money into mind".[14] Mutty Lall Seal's Free College (later renamed as Mutty Lall Seal's Free School and College) was to provide for the education of the Hindus to enable them to occupy posts of trust and emolument in their own country. The course of education included English Literature, History, Geography, Elocution, Writing, Arithmetic, Algebra, Philosophical Sciences, Higher Mathematics & practical application of Mathematics. The institution was opened free of cost, only one rupee was charged per month to cover the expenses of books, stationery etc. and the surplus being expended towards furnishing the school with mathematical instruments. The number of students receiving education at one time, to be limited to five hundred. The institute was initially under the management of the Directors of the parent college of St. F. Xavier, Chowringhee, Calcutta who undertook to furnish teachers to further the cause of secular education.[15] Although Jesuits were entrusted with the responsibility of imparting education, the conductors had pledged themselves to withhold all Christian instruction from the pupils.[16] However, later Mutty Lall Seal dissolved the connection between his college and the Jesuits over a dispute that in violation of their pledge, viands were distributed among the Hindu boys contrary to their religious sentiments. The institute was then placed under Revd. Krishna Mohan Banerjee.[17] A sum of Rs. 12,000 was spent yearly for the upkeep of the college from his trust. The college stood in high estimation of the public and competed successfully with the Government and Missionary Colleges in the University examinations (Suniti Kumar Chatterji and Swami Prabhupada were some illustrious students of this college). The college initially started functioning at Mutty Lall Seal's house and was later shifted to the present building on Chittaranjan Avenue where it still exists.

The other charities which have endeared his name to the public at large and made him illustrious are contained in a deed of trust by which he made over a considerable portion of his property amounting to several lacs of rupees for the good of the public. A net yearly income of Rs. 36,000 derived from those properties were spent for various charitable purposes. Apart from running and maintaining the college, about Rs. 4,000 was spent on poor widows and orphans every year and rest on running and maintaining two alms houses for the poor and underprivileged.[18] He extended financial support and co-operation for the establishment of Hindu Charitable Institution and Hindu Metropolitan College. Seal's Free School, Hindu Metropolitan College and some of the other institutions of the time were calculated to offset the 'ill effects' of the liberal education offered at the Hindu College.[19]

Later life[edit]

In that age, the native society of Kolkata was divided into two parts. One was the reformist section led by Raja Rammohun Roy and the other was the conservative section led by Radha Kanta Deb. Most of the rich people of Kolkata were in the latter group. Radha Kanta Deb strongly opposed both the move to ban sati and efforts for remarriage of widows, many of whom were child-widows. Although Mutty Lall Seal was a conservative, he was in favour of Raja Rammohun Roy's efforts of banning sati, supported the cause of women's education as well as remarriage of widows. He made a public offer for a dowry of 1000 rupees to the person who should have the courage to break through the ancient prejudices of caste, and marry a widow.[20] When Mutty Lal Seal died on 20 May 1854 his obituary in the Hindu Intelligence described him as the "richest and most virtuous Baboo of Calcutta".[21] One of the busy streets in Kolkata's business district is named after him as Moti Sil Street.


  1. ^ Bhattacharya, Sabyasachi, Traders and Trades in Old Calcutta, in Calcutta, the Living City, Vol I, p 209.
  2. ^ Mitra, Kissory Chand, Mutty Lall Seal, Calcutta, 1869, p 5-6
  3. ^ Chakrabarty, Dipesh, The Colonial context of the Bengal Renaissance: A Note On Early Railway Thinking In Bengal, in Indian Economic and Social History Review, Vol. XI, No. 1, March 1974
  4. ^ Allen's Indian Mail, And Register Of Intelligence For British And Foreign India, China, And All Parts Of The East, Vol XII, January–December 1854, p 382
  5. ^ Sastri, Sivanath, Ramtanu Lahiri O Tatkalin Bangasamaj, p 71
  6. ^ Rungta, Radhe Shyam Rise of Business Corporations in India 1851–1900, p 12-13
  7. ^ Parbury's Oriental Herald And Colonial Intelligencer, Vol II, July–December 1838, p 28
  8. ^ The Calcutta Monthly Journal And General Register of Occurrences Throughout The British Dominions in the East Forming An Epitome of the Indian Press, For The Year 1836, Calcutta, p 204
  9. ^ Sarkar, Tanika, Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation, p 34
  10. ^ Banerjee, Prajnananda, Calcutta and Its Hinterland: A Study in Economic History of India, 1833–1900, p 144
  11. ^ Third Report of the Committee Appointed by the Right Honourable The Governour of Bengal for the Establishment of a Fever Hospital And For Inquiring into Local Management And Taxation in Calcutta, Calcutta: Bishop's College Press, 1847, p 35
  12. ^ Missionary And Religious Intelligence, in The Calcutta Christian Observer, Vol. I, New Series, January–December 1840, p 171
  13. ^ The Catholic Cabinet, And Chronicle of Religious Intelligence, Containing Original And Selected Articles, A Monthly Periodical, Volume I, 1843, p 187
  14. ^ Mullick, Promatha Nath, History of Vaisyas of Bengal, p 136-139
  15. ^ Goethals News, Vol. IV, No. 3 Bulletin, July – September 2001
  16. ^ The Calcutta Review, Vol. II, October–December 1844, p 73
  17. ^ The Indian Mail, A Monthly Register For British & Foreign India, China, & Australasia, Vol. I, May–December 1843, p 614-615
  18. ^ The Calcutta Review, Vol. CXI, Calcutta, 1900, p 86-88
  19. ^ Majumdar, Swapan, Literature and Literary Life in Old Calcutta, in Calcutta, the Living City, Vol I, p 110.
  20. ^ Ripley, George, Dana, Charles A.,The New American Cyclopaedia: A Popular Dictionary Of General Knowledge, Vol. II, 1859, p 443
  21. ^ Sengupta, Nitish, History Of The Bengali Speaking People, p 259-260


  • Chaudhuri, Sukanta (Ed) (1995), Calcutta: The Living City, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-563698-8 
  • Sastri, Sivanath, Ramtanu Lahiri O Tatkalin Banga Samaj in Bengali (1903/2001), p 48, New Age Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
  • Sengupta, Subodh Chandra and Bose, Anjali (Ed), Sansad Bangali Charitabhidhan (Biographical dictionary) in Bengali (1976/1998), p 391, Sahitya Sansad. ISBN 81-85626-65-0

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