It is not until his fourth adventure – The Cigars of the Pharaoh – that Tintin visits India. Chased by the police on suspicion of being a spy, Tintin pretends to be hit in aerial combat and crashes into a generic Indian forest. He soon discovers the symbol of the Kih-Oskh and has a thrilling run-in with the Indian segment of the drug cartel he had encountered in Cairo.

Captain Haddock’s visit to India comes much later, around 1958-60, when he grudgingly accompanies Tintin to Tibet. They spend a few hectic hours in New Delhi on the way to Kathmandu. Tintin and Haddock never went to Calcutta, although Tintin’s friend Chang passes through the city before going to Nepal to meet the honourable cousin of his venerable father.

The adventures of Tintin has been staple for several generations of Calcutta’s young readers. Satyajit Ray makes significant visual and verbal references to Tintin, particularly in the Feluda stories, and in the film version of Jai Baba Felunath, the final piece of the puzzle is suggested by the cover of The Broken Ear. Vikram Seth paid a heartwarming tribute to the series in Golden Gate, and the translator of the adventure series into Bengali was none other than the poet Nirendranath Chakravarty.

Apart from cultural references, the protagonist offers stiff competition to the eminence of Gogol and Tito when it comes to naming children. Snowy – or his Bangla counterpart Kuttush – is equally popular for pets. But how far back does the city’s connection with the beloved journalist and his friends go? Incredibly, it may go a little farther back than the time of the historically dubious myth of Calcutta’s foundation – provided we mix imagination with history.

Let us go back to 1688.

After a series of seemingly insignificant battles along the river Hugli, Job Charnock gained some stability around Sutanuti, one of the three villages that would come to constitute the city of Calcutta. His previous stint had not ended happily. Charged with waylaying money at the Kasimbazar factory to the tune of Rs 43,000, he was summoned by the Nawab at Dhaka. Managing to escape through means now lost to history, he resurfaced in 1686 at Hugli when Agent Beard, who was in charge of the factory there, died.

The Company showed great faith in his “fidelity and long experience in the language and Customes of that country”. Charnock tried to secure the Company’s advantage and asked for land to build a fort and a mint, among other things. Skirmishes ensued and a force led by Abdul Summud, equipped with 2000 horses, stormed the fort at Tanna, removed the English from Sutanuti and went all the way up to Hijli. After the dust settled Nawab Shaista Khan wrote to Charnock, granting him permission to secure themselves at Uluberia, some 50 km south of Calcutta.

Charnock was supposed to have stayed there for three months, but he found the place inadequate. He was given permission by the Company to set up shop either at Uluberia or at Sutanuti, “provided they were allowed to fortify themselves there, and to hold the place with the same privileges as were enjoyed at Fort St George”. Charnock preferred Sutanuti and he seemed to have achieved relative stability around 1687. Soon after, the Council at Fort St George (Madras) decided that they needed to send reinforcement to ensure the English stronghold. If Sutanuti was secure – they were hazy on the details – well and good. The forces could then be employed to capture Chittagong or Chattagram, which was a Portuguese settlement, known as the Porto Grande de Bengala.

The Commission came from another well-recognised figure, Elihu Yale, who was at the time President of the English East India Company’s settlement at Fort St George. William Heath, the man they sent to ensure the Company’s stability in Bengal, has been described as “the hot-headed, wrong-headed, capricious, and futile, feather-brained skipper”. However, Heath was not alone in his enterprise. He had by his side the Commander of the factory at Balasore, which had been one of the first entry points into Bengal for the English around the early 1640s, following negotiations with Emperor Shah Jahan. The Commander wrote to his brother from “abord the Ship Princess of Denmark”:

“My ever honoured Brother,

My last, of the 7th August from Visagapatam, gave your Honour account of our arrivall [in] Madras and of our affaires to that tyme…

The 15th September Capt. Heath arriv’d this place, who, by virtue of the President and Counsell of Madras order requir’d my goeinge up with hime to Chuttynutte in the river of Hugly (the place where our Agent and factorie resided), myself with the rest of the commanders of the Europe Shipps then in the river to assist hime in the Right Honourable Company affairs.”

The author of the letter was a man called Joseph Haddock. He appears to be an important figure in William Heath’s account as well, as he recalls:

“Soe myselfe accompanyed with Capt. Haddock and the 120 Soldiers we carryed from hence embarked, and about the 20th September arrived at Calcutta, where found Agent Charnock with the rest of the Hon’ble Company’s servants, only two that were some months...”

Henry Yule, the editor of the diaries of William Hedges, notes that in British colonial records he finds no previous mention of the name “Calcutta” to refer to the geographic location, other than this account by William Heath. The first mentions in colonial records in Hobson Jobson (co-authored by Yule) are from a decade later, although both site Ain-i-Akbari as the first recorded use of the name.

But what of Haddock?

Joseph Haddock (1631-1696) was one of the many children of William Haddock and Mary Goodland. The Haddocks hailed from the town of Leigh in Essex and, according to the editor of the family letters Edward M Thompson (the Tintin connections are everywhere!), they had been seafarers since the time of Edward III in the fourteenth century. The editor also notes the alarming frequency with which the family christened the male children “Richard” – one of whom provides the crucial link in our story.

The brother to whom Joseph Haddock addressed the 1688 letter was Sir Richard Haddock (1629-1715), an English naval hero from the Anglo-Dutch wars, and one of the inspirations for Archibald Haddock’s ancestor, Sir Francis. In all probability Hergé had not considered these historical sources when he looked for a name for the big-hearted drunken sailor, who appears first in The Crab with the Golden Claws (1941), a couple of years pre-dating the Unicorn adventures. Michael Farr writes that it must have struck Hergé as a “remarkable coincidence” that there was such a name in naval history.

While in the original French, Sir Francis captains the Licorne (Unicorn) as part of King Louis XIV’s fleet, the English version places him under the Union Jack, during the reign of Charles II. Sir Richard also served under Charles II, and it is said that in 1672 he was rewarded by the monarch with a satin cap, “which he took from his own head, and put on that of the knight with his own hand”. And to top it all, we learn from the records that among the ships that had been captained by Sir Richard and Joseph’s grandfather, yet another Richard Haddock, was HMS Unicorn, a second-rank ship from the reign of Charles I!

Even though Captain Haddock’s name (back to Tintin) was decided earlier, his first name, Archibald, is not revealed until the final published adventure. The name could signify its etymological meaning: a compound of precious and bold. Or could it have been suggested by John Charnock’s Biographia Navalis, the biographical dictionary of sailors, where the name of Archibald Hamilton comes almost immediately after the entry on Nicholas Haddock, son of Sir Richard? No. That might be stretching it.