The Dead Letter Office – Dalhousie Square’s CTO Complex

There are only three buildings on Dalhousie Square South. All of them are heritage buildings, and magnificent examples of colonial architecture in Calcutta. There is the Standard Building, once home to The Standard Life Assurance Company, and now a government youth hostel, there is Hongkong House, now home to the HSBC Bank, and there are the two magnificent buildings of The Central Telegraph Office, one older, and one considerably newer.


The Central Telegraph Office is one of the few Government offices that provides 365 days of service a year, without any breaks, even on public holidays. The site where the present CTO is located was occupied by a tank, or pond in 1757. It was filled up and the plot was occupied the auction firm of Tulloh & Co, who auctioned everything from Indigo factories, to entire libraries, to ale and even horses, and their advertisements may be found in publications such as the Calcutta Literary Gazette. The owner, Mr. Tulloh has been immortalized as Judas in Johann Zoffany’s painting of The Last Supper, which may be seen on the walls of St. John’s Church. In 1770, the first European style bank in India, Hindusthan Bank, started operating from the premises. When the Government purchased the property now occupied by the Central Telegraph Office, Messrs. Burkinyoung, a music shop, selling pianos and the like, F.& C. Osler, makers of fine glass Chandeliers, candelabras etc., and Mackillop, Stewart & Co., a mercantile house, were in possession respectively of the properties once held by Tulloh, the Hindusthan Bank and John Prinsep.

CTO South

Thanks to it’s latest coat of paint, the Old Telegraph Office, also known as the Dead Letter Office, is now virtually impossible to miss.  Located at the corner of Dalhousie Square East and Dalhousie Square South, with a 120 feet tall bell tower, the remarkably beautiful and ornate building was designed in 1868, and completed in 1876. It served as a sort of sorting office for all international mail coming in to Bengal, and when letters could not be sent to someone because of errors in the address, and couldn’t be returned to the sender, they ended up here. The new wing of the CTO, which is entered from Wellesley Place (now Red Cross Place), was built in 1914. DBHKer’s notes point to an architecturally similar building in Rangoon, which was built a few years earlier and Melbourne’s Mail Exchange, built a few years later.

CTO North

The lower floors of the new wing of the CTO continue to be used for sorting and storing mail, while the upper floors have been converted into a sort of a guest house for postal employees, complete with kitchen, servants and enormous four poster beds. We met a postal employee from Ambala who was being transferred to Port Blair (!!!) and had stopped over in Calcutta for a bit of rest. He greeted us with a very warm “Good Maaaaarning”!

For more such stories, check my blog

– by Deepanjan Ghosh

2 Comments Add yours

  1. shiv chandra says:

    I used to be a Calcuttan 4 yrs ago.When you think of Kolkata, you surely think of “Roshogollas”. What i miss now is my para’ ka ‘adda’ . lolz 😛
    It was fantastic living there.
    For everyone who have not yet visited, read this and you will surely change your holiday plans by Keith Humphrey. Lovely!

  2. Arundhaty Ghosh says:

    Dear Sir ,
    Your post is factually incorrect. Erstwhile Dead letter office and now Returned letter office is an independent office under Dept of posts. It is not part of the adjacent CTO office. CTO office would perform telegraph related work whereas RLO performs a very specialized function of returning incomplete addressed mail to addressee. Pl correct your blog

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