Nineteenth century Mumbai saw the restructuring of the city with public buildings and infrastructure projects receiving prominence and the making of an organic city as one of the finest cities East of Suez known for its Gothic Revival ensemble.
Fountains became popular in the West for providing clean hygienic drinking water to the citizens so as to fight against the earlier water borne epidemics. As Bombay (then) was greatly influenced by the principles adopted in Europe, it saw several drinking water fountains being set up in the core area and as a part of philanthropic gestures too. There were around 60 fountains located in the island city Mumbai. Some water fountains served water to passers-by, some were purely ornamental in nature and some were both decorative and catered to animals.
The fountains of Bombay were popular till the end of the 19th century after which piped tap water connections reached all homes and these decorated architectural marvels became redundant. Lack of maintenance and ill-informed repairs started dominating the scenario. The exposed stone works of practically all important fountains were painted upon as this was considered to be the best maintenance process.
Here’s a brief history of three of Bombay’s fountains, which throws light on the vision for city improvement both functionally and aesthetically…
The Wellington Fountain (C 1865) happens to be the earliest fountain to be erected in Bombay. Built in the Neo-Classical style, it is located at the junction of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaja Marg, Shahid Bhagat Singh Marg and MG Road. The 1860s saw the removal of the Fort of the East India Company, and the fountain is to be seen in that context. It is the first attempt at Urban Design improvement to the roads after the demolition of the rampart walls by installing fountains. The proposal was originally intended to be an obelisk, as suggested at a meeting with Lord Falkland, presiding in 1853.
However, as the commission progressed the obelisk was altered to a design of a fountain with eight decorative plaques. This was designed by Lt. Col. J.J. Scott (Civil Architect), and was to cost Rs.12,500. Henry Conybeare chose the site for the fountain in 1855, and General John Augustus Fuller R.E. (1828-1902) oversaw its construction and made last minute alterations. When finished the work cost Rs.17,274 and the fountain still exists today, in the circle in front of the Prince of Wales Museum now Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangralaya (CSMVS) Museum.
The Flora Fountain (C 1869) is the icon of the city. It is a three tier and four tray ornamental fountain in Portland stone which was used to express the city’s restructuring as a modern or progressive move under the able directions of the then Governor Bartle Frere and executed by the Esplanade Fee Fund Committee at a cost of Rs.47,000. It was commissioned for the Agro Horticultural Society of Western India and was meant to be located at Byculla in then laid Botanical gardens. However, it was decided to be placed here in an axis to highlight the restructuring attempts of the city wherein new public architecture replaced the city walls (1720-1860).
Called the Frere Fountain for a while, it became popular as Flora Fountain. The statue flanking the top of the fountain is of Flora, the Roman Goddess of abundance, from where it derives its name. The fountain also has at its first level a square base with projecting semi-circular apses at the four corners that house the statues of four women, in different attires. These allegorical figures represent the industrial, cereal, plant and edible fruit products of India.
Designed by Norman Shaw and sculpted by James Forsyth, both from London, the fountain was shipped and assembled here and dedicated to the city on November 18, 1869. A major donation was from a Parsee gentleman Cursetjee Parekh, who donated Rs.20,500 out of the Rs.47000 then.
The Ruttonsee Muljee Jetha Fountain (C 1894) was built in the late 19th century as a memorial by Jetha for his son Dharamsee who passed away at the age of 14. The fountain, standing at an important node connecting four major areas, was commissioned between architect F W Stevens, who was also the architect of the majestic Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (the then Victoria Terminus) and sculptor John Griffith, who was the Principal of the J J School of Art during that time.
As a result of this collaboration, the fountain displayed a high degree of architectural and sculptural craftsmanship and was one of the firsts in the line of Indo-Saracenic architecture in the city. The fountain then served as both an ornamental and functional fountain serving water to the inhabitants of the immediate surroundings and to the passers-by. The etching by architect Stevens also shows the fountain being utilised to its fullest by animals, as the transport, to some extent, was still animal driven.