The site on which these premises stand, as well as those to the east as far as Vansittart Row and the new block at the corner now in course of building, was for very many years in the occupation of Mackenzie Lyall & Co. as an auction mart. It was an old-fashioned place of two storeys having rather a dilapidated appearance, and the top floor consisted of a series of rambling, ramshackle rooms, one leading into the other, extending away back to the old office of the Alliance Bank of Simla in Council House Street. These were at one time the residential quarters of one of the partners of the firm, and adjoining on the north stood the Exchange Gazette Printing Press. That portion on the western side was once, I believe, the assembly rooms of Calcutta, where dances and other social functions used to take place.
[Illustration: Photo by J. & H. 12, Dalhousie Square, East, showing West End Watch Co.’s premises]
[Illustration: Photo by Johnston & Hoffmann. Smith, Stanistreet & Co’s premises, Dalhousie Square, East.]
Later in the sixties, I recollect, it was for a time utlised amongst other things as investment rooms where some of the ladies of Calcutta congregated about noon and met their gentlemen friends engaged in business in the city. It was also the room in which the Government held the public sales of opium of which Mackenzie Lyall & Co. had at one time the sole monopoly. There is a story told, and a perfectly true one, to the effect that one chest of opium was once bid up to the enormous sum of Rs. 1,30,955. The circumstances that brought this about originated in the China steamer being overdue and hourly expected; consequently the buyers were in total ignorance of the state of the market on the other side, so in order to prolong the sale as far as possible they went on bidding against each other until they ran the price up to the figure above mentioned, which, however, never materialized. Mackenzie Lyall & Co. continued to occupy the place until the year 1888 when they removed to their present building in Lyons Range, from which they contemplate a further change in the early part of next year to premises now in course of erection at Mission Row.