Statistical Account of Bengal a twenty-volume gazetteer compiled and edited by Sir
william wilson hunter. For imperial reasons and also for dissemination of knowledge about the localities of the British colonies parliament directed the colonial governments to prepare
Gazetteers of the units of administration detailing their geographic, topographic, ethnographic, statistical, administrative, economic and social traits. Being instructed by the Secretary of State (23 August 1867) via the Government of India, the Bengal government under Lieutenant-Governor Sir william grey (1867-1871) resolved to implement the parliamentary orders. Sir WW Hunter, a scholarly civilian (ICS officer) with many important publications to his credit, was appointed a special officer to lead the venture. For the implementation of the project, a requisite establishment was provided. In accordance with the project terms, Hunter with his support staff was required to commence the project in 1869 and complete it in 1875.
As the chief of the project, Hunter was required to direct the compilation process of the work, receive and pass the manuscript for publication, and remain responsible for its final form, literary execution, and all technical details connected with printing and publication. To assist him in compilation, five civil servants were deputed to the project. The respective district collectors and magistrates, judges and superintendents of police were instructed to co-operate with the project and respond to its requisitions and circulars highly expeditiously. The information collected from the district authorities was mostly of a statistical nature, and were mostly available in various record series of the district authorities.
Among the series of records which were made available to the project were the thakbast survey records (1842-1865), revenue survey records (1850-1870), zamindari papers, settlement records, government reports, old district records and the like. For the sake of making the report factually complete and authentic Hunter was allowed a year's home leave to enable him to dig into the central archives of the India Office and other archives and museums in the United Kingdom. Every major district was planned originally to have been dealt with in one exclusive volume. But subsequently the project plan was modified and it was resolved to keep the gazetteer limited to twenty volumes only. As Bihar, Orissa, Chhotanagpur and Assam were included in Bengal Presidency then, all the 47 districts had to be accommodated in nineteen volumes. The twentieth volume was reserved for fisheries and botanical accounts. It only meant that every single volume of the projected gazetteer must accommodate more than two districts. The east Bengal districts comprising more or less today's Bangladesh took seven volumes.
The compilation of the gazetteer was completed in due
time and published from London in 1876 under the title 'Statistical Account
of Bengal'. As the compiling editor and director of the project Hunter
received the warmest thanks and appreciation from the government. The
educated members of the public also appreciated him for the vigour and
energy with which he accomplished the collection of such diverse and varied
information, and for the ability and literary skill uniformly displayed
in dealing with the materials supplied to him from many quarters. The
Statistical Account of Bengal, a massive reference work on the 19th century
Bengal districts, is still regarded by scholars as standard. The great
usefulness of the gazetteer is attested to by the fact that since 1876,
it has seen many editions and reprints from London and India. Bengal districts
have other gazetteers compiled by various civilians on their own initiative.
The Statistical Account of Bengal, however, remains pre-eminent as a source
of authenticated statistical information on the respective districts.
The other gazetteers were oriented to local history and institutions rather
than to statistics.