Saturday, 3 August 2013


Kolkata:  the great storehouse of history.

It is often forgotten that the Britishers in Kolkata are a part of our history and that no account of Kolkata can leave them out, especially in constructing the dramatic story of the city in which they played the pioneer’s role. St. John’s Churchyard was the first plot of land owned by the English in Kolkata, having been used by them as burial ground for those of their members who die while journeying up or down the river between Hooghly and Balasore from 1640 onwards. It has been estimated that during the seventy odd years the first Kolkata burial ground, St. John’s Churchyard was in use, that is from 1692 to 1766, no less than twelve thousand bodies must have been buried in that small plot of land. Most of the earlier monuments fell into such a ruinous condition that in 1802 they were taken down, and such of these memorial slabs were arranged in a pavement near the Charnock  Mousoleum.

St. John’s Church : The land was donated by Maharaja Nabokissan Dev Bahadur. The funds came from donations, lotteries, and  3% share from the Company’s revenue. The Church was erected from the design of Lieutenant James Agg. Under his superintendence, the chunar stones were largely used in its construction, as well as stones from the ruins of Gour.  It was also proposed at first, but not carried out, to bring colored marbles from the tombs of the Kings of Bengal in Gour. The minute’s book in the church office tells in detail the story of how the ruins of Gour were robbed to build St. John’s Church. The foundation stone was ready to be laid on April 8, 1784. The building was nearly complete by May 8, 1787. The consecration took place on June 24, 1787.

Job Charnock’s Mausoleum

Job Charnock  was born around 1630-31. He came to India during 1655-56. Charnock’s name was first found in the East India Company’s records in 1658 as a junior member of the council of Kashimbazar with salary of 20 dollars. From there he was sent to Patna and stayed there till 1680. Charnock adopted many local manners and customs, even superstitions and beliefs, including worship of “PANCHA PEER” in the manner poor Muslims practised, especially in the state of Bihar. Patna is also the place where Charnock is reported to have won a Hindu wife whom he snatched from the sati’s pyre. In 1680 Charnock took charge of the Kashimbazar factory. In 1686 he became the Company’s Agent in Bengal. “and was plunged into the turmoil that led up to the founding of CALCUTTA.”

Over the next few years Charnock was driven from place to place; finally in 1690 Madras (H.Q of East India Company) allowed him to sail once more for CHUTTANUTTEE. The exact place of Charnock’s landing is not known, it may have been near today’s Mohantuni’s Ghat, between Beniatolla and Shobhabazar Ghats. The date was Sunday 24th August 1690. Charnock died on 10th January 1693 (His Tombstone reads 1692, according to the old practice of ending the year in March). His Mausoleum in St.John’s Churchyard was erected by his eldest son-in-law Charles Eyer (himself a Company’s agent in Calcutta) in 1697. Eyre’s wife Mary (died:1797) is commemorated on the same gravestone, and her youngest sister Catherine (died :1701) on another stone in the mausoleum. The middle daughter Elizabeth Bowridge survived in Kolkata till 1753.


James Kirkpatrick, the brilliant soldier-administrator of Hyderabad was, in 1805, laid in his grave in North Park Street burying ground, a grave which is lost among the crowding tombs, the inscriptions of which have in many cases been rendered illegible by weather stains and the wear of time. According to the “Bengal Obituary”, Kirkpatrick’s tomb bore an inscription similar to that on a monument which was placed in St. John’s Church. (He was buried at the North Park Street Cemetery. Sadly neither his grave nor the cemetery exists to this day).

As Resident at the Court of the Nizam of Hydrabad, Leiut. Colonel Kirkpatrick rendered valuable services to the Government under the Marquis of Wellesley, and firmly established  British authority in that state, at a time when the French was powerful rivals in Southern India. But it is his personal history that draws attention and arouses a lively interest even after a lapse of two hundred years. In Hyderabad, Kirkpatrick was known by the Indian title “ Husheerat Jung”  or “ Glorious-in-battle”. He was a great favourite of the Nizam, who build a splendid palace for him as Residency, and there he lived in all the magnificence and style of an Indian noble with a beautiful young begum who had lost her heart to the handsome soldier, and threatened to take her own life if he persisted in refusal of her suit. Afterwards the pair was married by civil contract according to the Mohammedan law. The alliance caused no little stir and scandal, and Lord Wellesley contemplated superseding the Resident. But Kirkpatrick’s great public services, and the importance of his personal influence at a critical period condoned his fault, and he and his princess remained undisturbed in their happiness till 1805. (Note: James Achilles Kirkpatrick was the CENTRAL  character of William Dalrymple’s best work of history “White Mughal” ).

St. John’s Churchyard cemetery offers several claimants, so many testimonies to the price that England has always paid for her footing in India. For instance, the tomb of Admiral Watson, whose services and achievements were gratefully recognized by the monument to him in “Westminister Abbey”. He along with Clive was the re-founder of the city of which Job Charnock, who lies near him, was the founder. When the ground was being prepared for the building of St. John’s Church Cathedral, among the very few old graves that were spared, but which now receive no due conserving care, were those of the admiral and of the little shipmate for whom he sorrowed, Billy Speke, the midshipman of the KENT (ship), who got his death wound at  capture in Chandannagar in the struggle for re-establishing British power in Bengal.

The vestry contains several relics of great historical value, excellent glass painting, including a Silver Communion plate of nine pieces presented by East India Company in 1787 and a pair of Churchwardens' saves engraved with the Company's arms and motto. A more recent reminder is a fragment of one of the two bombs which fell in the Churchyard on the evening of 24th December, 1942.

The records of Baptisms and Marriages dating back to the 18th century reveal many celebrities, among them the marriage solemnised on 8th August 1777 of Warren Hastings to Miss "Anna Maria Appolonia Chappusettin," the divorced wife of Mr. Imhoff (A German portrait painter came to India with his beautiful wife, some of his paintings are with Victoria Memorial). The marriages of the father and grandfather of the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray are also recorded.


Within the Charnock Mausoleum is a stone slab which commemorates surgeon William Hamilton who, in those far-off days, perhaps ranked second only to Charnock. It was in 1715 the East India Company decided to petition the emperor (Farrukhsiyar) at Delhi for the additional grant of thirty eight villages. Surgeon Hamilton was one of the four envoys chosen to call on the emperor. Their arrival coincided with the wedding arrangements of the emperor Farrukhsiyar to a Hindu Princes (daughter of Raja Ajit Singh, King of Jodhpur). The marriage, however, had to be postponed because of a malignant distemper (FISTULA) from which the emperor suffered. A later report narrated that surgeon Hamilton had cured the emperor by a successful operation. 

A few days later the surgeon was reward with gifts that were tokens not merely for gratitude but the emperor held Hamilton in very high esteem and tried for two years to retain him to his court at Delhi. When all persuasions failed he gave the envoys what they wanted crowning their visit to success. Hamilton, however, did not live to see the result for on 4th December 1717 he was buried in St. John’s Churchyard.


In the north-west corner of the churchyard beside that of Admiral Watson is the tomb of a remarkable lady known as “Begum Johnson”. Born in 1725, she was the daughter of  Edward Crook, Governor of Fort St. David, in the south of Pondicherry. On 4th November 1743 she married Parry Purpler Templer but soon after became a widow. Later she married James Altham, a Bengal Civil Servant who, two weeks later died of small pox. The good lady waited till the next November when she married Mr. William Watts, Chief at Kasimbazar, near Murshidabad. From this marriage she had one son and two daughters. When Nawab Siraj-id-Dowla seized the English Factory (Kuthi) before marching towards Calcutta, Mr. and Mrs. Watts were taken to Murshidabad as his prisoners. Mrs. Watts was, however, befriend by the old begum (wife of Alibardi Khan), grandmother of   young   Nawab, who helped her by sending  her to the French settlement at Chandanagar. In later years this episode was the main topic of her conversation. 

Her fourth marriage, in her fiftieth year, to the Rev. William Johnson made no difference. Her constant references to the old begum earned for her the nickname “Begum Johnson”. Her elder daughter Amelia Watts married Charles Jenkinson, second Earl of Liverpool, who became Prime Minister of England early in 1812, a position he held for nearly 15 years. On the retirement of Rev. Johnson  in 1788, the old lady refused to accompany him to England and remained in Calcutta till her death at 87 years of age in 1812. Her remarkable act on the invitation of Lord Wellesley : to choose her final resting place. The north-west corner, where her remains repose, was her choice.

Sources : a) " Calcutta in the olden times" by Rev. Jemes Long (Sanskrit Pustak Bhander)
               b) "Calcutta Past & Present" by H.E.A Cotton (Net)
               c) " Calcutta Past & Present" by Kathleen Blechynden (Net)

   Research  -Santanu Roy.
   Picture Courtesy - Sudip Ghosh.        

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