With the advent of foreign merchants during 18th Century the exterior of Serampore underwent a change which made history eventful. On the occasion of construction of Ram-Sita Temple and installation of the idol of Ram, the Zamindar of Sheoraphuly offered a few villages viz. Sripur, Gopinathpur, Mohanpur etc. for the service of the deities and this area was renamed as Serampore.
The Danis East India Company asserted its right on the land with the hoisting of Danish Flag on the bank of the Ganga at Nishan Ghat of Serampore on the 8th October 1755. The danes displayed unique wisdom in selecting this place being in the immediate vicinity of two flourishing villages – Mahesh and Chatra and not very far from the hat of Baidyabati. They took initiative in furthering commerce by rapid construction of ware-house and obtaining settlement of a few more villages on permanent basis. This apart, the paving of the banks along the Ganga, construction of wide road and building of a harbour near Hatirkul at Konnagar for repair of Ships were done in succession. Besides native Dewans and Gowmasta were appointed by the Danish East-India Company and trading right was freely conferred upon both Indian and foreign merchants which served effective means to spread business on a wide scale. Further a package of measures adopted by them made their business much more profitable. Firstly, the English Civilians started remitting their accumulated wealth earned from their surreptitious and personal business to their homes through bills drawn on Danish Company. Secondly, many insolvents and money-lenders took shelter in Serampore under the Danes when British rulers promulgated stringent laws relating to bankruptcy and money-lending in their territories. Another reason that led to the circumstances of advancement of trade and commerce was never the less the impartial and non-aligned foreign policy adopted by Denmark when war broke out in Europe between England and other European Nations. During the war period the ships loaded with cargo under Danish flag were found safe on sea and most of the companies and merchants both native and foreign engaged Danish trading vessels for their export import business. This was the golden age of Danish East India Company when their trade and commerce reached its Zenith and Serampore became the busiest port in Eastern India. In appreciating the potentials of indigo plantation and its commercial prospects in this country the Danish merchants were the pioneers, but when other foreign traders were subsequently aware of it, indigo plantation under their management became potent apparatus of torture & exploitation unfortunately.
Meanwhile in 1778 Serampore came under direct administration of the King of Denmark and the name “Fredrick Nagar” came in official records after Fredrick VI, the King of Denmark. But Serampore was popular in its nickname to the common people. With the introduction of Danish rule, though Danish laws were promulgated yet in the Civil disputes native laws used to be enforced.
Colonel Ole Bie appointed as the first Crown-regent or Governor took charge of Judiciary as well. Fifty soldiers were engaged in protection of the town was comparatively safe due to adroit administration of Danish rulers.
In addition to Excise & Bazar duty, Land revenue, tax on trade or commerce even a fee on marriage were levied for resource mobilization. Stamp papers were first introduced in connection with law suits.
On either side of Serampore - the British settled at Calcutta and French at Chandennagar were two formidable rivals. The Danes in between were sandwitched being weak in financial and political power as well. Still with diplomatic sagacity and administrative acumen the Danish administrators could convert Serampore into a clean, elegant and protected town and an attractive tourist resort. With its magnificent palaces, cosy & comfortable tourist resorts, widely built roads to provide pleasant strolls along the bank of the Ganga – Serampore drew the attention of foreign trvellers who found it excelling in charm many of the beautiful European towns even.
Danes were enamoured of the French at Chandannagar deriving permission to trade with their assistance. Their friendly attitude towards the French made them suspicious to the British rulers who on several occasions marched towards Danish settlement at Serampore apparently on filmsy ground and captured it without blood-shed. Danish rulers surrended without any resistance and received back their tiny settlement when England and Denmark could sign an agreement. In course of time certain restrictions were imposed on the Danes by the powerful British jeoparadising Danish trade and commerce. Ultimately the business being unprofitable and administrative expenditure quite high the Danes were compelled to transfer their right over Serampore to the British rulers.
The close of the 18th century ushered in a memorable era with the arrival of the missionaries in Serampore. They settled here under the patronage of Danish rulers. The British Government banned the entry and activities of the missionaries in its territory, which prompted them to rush to Serampore for shelter. Thereafter an age of renaissance dawns. Though the missionaries came here with the chief object of spreading Christianity, they dedicated themselves for the cause of education, social reforms and all out awakening of the common people. The Contributions and perseverance of Dr. William Carey and his colleagues Dr. Ward and Dr. Marshman in the field of education and culture are considered to be epoch-making phenomenon in Bengal. Dr. Carey was the first to set up a Botanical Garden on the bank of the Ganga. About 3000 saplings of both indigenous and exotic variety were planted there. The wooden types of Bengali script (carpented by Panchanan Karmakar) and printing press were installed at Serampore MissionPress. Serampore Missionaries were pioneers in publication of books, periodicals and translated works as well. Their contribution towards enrichment of Bengali language, especially its prose style, enabled Serampore to achieve a glorious position in the sphere of education. They established many Schools for young boys and girls and also ensured their management by direct involvement. Mrs. Hanna Marshman was a torch-bearer in the field of female education. The native pundits and the common man also came forward and responded ardently. The diabolic customs like Charak Puja and Suttee were prohibited in the Danish regime. At the instance of the missionaries the Danish rulers interfered for abolition of those socio-religious customs, while such practices were still in vogue in the territories under British administration.
No doubt the greatest contribution of the Serampore missionaries was perhaps establishment of Serampore College. They spent the last farthing of their hard–earned money for construction of this marvelous and magnificent building modeled after the exqisite style of ionic architecture. The Royal House of Denmark and the Danish rulers of Serampore as well bestowed active support and encouragement. The Collage was set up in 1818 and by virtue of a Royal Charter it was authorized to confer degrees. Glorifield as the first degree Collage in Asia, the Serampore College has been universally accepted as the successful torch –bearer of age –old tradition and heritage.
Other public services that deserve special mention are Formation of Agriculture and Industrial Society, Relief operation for flood victims, Medical care during epidemic, installation of steam engine, positive steps towards abolition of slavery and the like. Though the missionaries attained a retarded pace in spreading Christianity and conversion, their contribution and sacrifice towards total upliftment of Society as a whole can not be lost in oblivion. The Danes provided shelter and support to the Serampore Missionaries against heavy odds, but this benevolent act has yielded result making their tenure memorable. Their monumental achievements are still being reverberated in the heart of the city in perfect consonance with history they made.