The Mystery of the Meteorite in Bihar’s Opium Fields

April 15, 2012 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

 

 

This correspondence alerted me to a subject that I had no inkling of: the role of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in collecting and studying meteorites. My correspondent, Kevin Kichinka, has published a well known book on meteorite collection. He is currently interested in a meteorite that landed in Bihar on Aug 25, 1865 – the Shergotty meteorite. In his second letter he writes: ‘If your readers might be in a position to help in this search for data, I’ll mention other background items that would add to this fantastic story, a story that has never been told before.’

 

From: Kevin Kichinka <marsrox@gmail.com>
To: chrestomather@yahoo.in
Sent: Tuesday, 3 April 2012 4:59 PM
Subject: Location of 19th Century Opium Crops in India

 

Mr. Ghosh:

Namaste.

I am presently writing a feature on the Shergotty meteorite which fell
in Bihar on August 25, 1865. This meteorite is now of the class that
is most common to meteorites from Mars, ‘shergottites’. The feature
will appear as two parts in ‘Meteorite’ in May and August. This
quarterly is published by the Univ. of Arkansas and NASA.

No one has been able to describe the circumstances of the fall but
with help I was able to obtain a doc “Proceedings of the Asiatic
Society of Bengal” from Dec, 1865 that contained this information.
Since then, I have been treasure hunting for biographies of the
British Raj magistrates involved with the meteorite.

To my utter and great surprise, I discovered the meteorite was about
to be discarded as a ‘meteor-wrong’ until a ‘sub-opium agent Mr.
Peppe” mentioned that he had seen other meteorites with common
characteristics to Shergotty.

My story now takes a detour to the opium trade, something of which,
like myself, 99.999999% of the world’s past and present population had
no idea of. Fascinating!

Today, I came upon your book, “Sea of Poppies” and was further amazed
to learn that my inkling that neither the British nor the Indians
realized the impact of the opium trade was correct.

Do you know the duties of a ‘sub opium agent’ in the 1860’s?

Can you write me whether crops were grown near Shergotty, Bihar, which
is south of Gaya, a place my research indicates poppies were grown and
the product stored?

I will be purchasing your book asap I return to Florida next month (I
live in Costa Rica).

Please, consider this a ‘serious’ scientific inquiry. See my best
selling book here: www.theartofcollectingmeteorites.com

A hopeful ‘thank you’ in advance that you can help me.

Kevin Kichinka
Santa Ana, Costa Rica

 

____________________________

 

Dear Kevin

Thanks very much for this fascinating letter. The duties of a sub-opium agent would have involved traveling through the countryside for the purposes of procurement and assessment, so they would certainly hear of something like this.

Would you mind if I posted your letter on my blog? It’s possible that some of my readers might know something about this.

best wishes

Amitav

 

_________________

 

Amitav:

Please use our correspondence as you see fit.

If your readers might be in a position to help in this search for
data, I’ll mention other background items that would add to this
fantastic story, a story that has never been told before. We are all
forensic history detectives :>) Your readers/sources will be duly
credited for their help.

The 1865 paper found in the minutes of the Asiatic Society of Bengal
says the meteorite fell “in some upland appertaining to Mouzah
Umjhiawar, in the sub-division of Sherghotty.”

1. Where did Mouzah Umjhiawar live?

The meteorite’s fall was “witnessed by Hanooman Singh, a resident of
Mouzah Ahiherrah, in Pergunnah Bilounjah, Thannah Nubbeenuggar.”

Indian postal records from 1854 list Nubbeenuggar as a sub post office
of “Sherghauti’. I suppose Singh lived near where he recovered the
meteorite. I don’t know if he was a ‘peon’ working that day in the
fields or what crops, possibly poppies, might be cultivated there.

2. Where is Nubbeenuggar?

The paper, written by magistrate W.C. Costley, also says, “The
latitude and longitude of the spot where the aerolite fell, can, I
fancy, be approximately obtained from the knowledge of its position
with reference to known localities. But this information, which I do
not at present possess, together with the replies to the queries put
to me and noted above, will have to be furnished hereafter, as they
appear necessary to make the report more ample, and can conveniently
form an addendum to it.”

The coordinates of the fall, as per multiple, probably copied sources,
are 24* 34’N, 84* 47’E., at an altitude of 121m/397′.

But the GSI Registration document S-179 for the Shergotty meteorite
says it fell near 24* 33’N, 84* 50’E.

There is now no way to know how these coordinates were derived.

I have sent you a Google Earth map with these locations marked.
Neither has an altitude of 121m/397′ or appears to be an ‘upland’.

All of this opens the door to another location for the fall.

At the time of the fall in August, 1865, Cecil Beadon was the
Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal. S.C. Bayley was the Officiating
Secretary to the Government of Bengal, A.Hope was the Magistrate of
Behar, W.C. Costley was the Deputy Magistrate of Shergotty.

A piece of the meteorite ended in the hands of a Mr. O’Connor,
assistant Superintendent of Police. If we knew where Mr. O’Connor was
assigned, this may help in locating where the meteorite fell. I can
find no record of his service. That fragment of the meteorite
apparently was never returned to the GSI or the museum in Calcutta,
and may be still with his family.

3. If we knew where Mr. O’Connor was assigned, this may help in
locating where the meteorite fell

Mr. Peppe was the sub-opium agent that recognized the meteorite as a
meteorite. I can find no record of his service.

4. If we knew Peppe’s assigned area, this may shed light on where the
meteorite fell.

Lastly, The Commissioner of Patna wrote communication No. 329, “dated
the 5th instant, and enclosures” that contains more information
regarding the circumstances of the fall of this meteorite.

5. If some government file cabinet still holds this document, it may
prove crucial, especially in locating where it fell.

It’s only a mathematical possibility, but knowing where the meteorite
fell would open the door to locating other possible fragments.

Please keep me apprised of any information your readers can ‘dig up’.

That was a pun :>)

In the seventies, I twice passed near Bihar on bus trips I took as a tourist.

Namaste.

Kevin

Please find attached for your enjoyment (and since it won’t be
published for another month, please embargo “for your eyes only”),
part one of my feature for Meteorite magazine on Shergotty.


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