Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Henry Martyn's Pagoda, Serampore

“Buildings have many lives”, Belgian photographer Luc Peters had once told me. For no building is this more true than for Henry Martyn’s Pagoda in Serampore.


Henry Martyn's Pagoda

Located in the Hoogly district of West Bengal, about 25 km away from the state capital of Calcutta, Serampore was once part of Danish India, under the name Frederiksnagore. But unlike Calcutta, which came into existence thanks to the British, Serampore may be said to be a pre-colonial town, having existed as a settlement before the arrival of the Danes. Of the several ancient Hindu temples that are found in the town today, one of the most important is the temple of Radha Ballabh.

The present Radha Ballabh temple
The story begins in the 16th century, with a man called Rudraram. Rudraram, who was living with his maternal uncle in the Chatra area of Serampore, came to Ballabhpore, and began meditating. The deity Radha Ballabh appeared to him in his dreams and instructed him to go to Gaur, the then capital of Bengal, secure a black stone, to be found atop the gate of the Viceroy’s private residence, and carve an image of Radha Ballabh out of it. Upon arrival in Gaur, Rudraram found the Viceroy’s Prime Minister to be a devoted Hindu, and was able to secure the stone. Transporting a stone which weighed several tonnes should have been a challenge but the legend says this was accomplished by supernatural means. The river apparently carried it straight to the Ballabhpore ghat! The idol, celebrated for its beauty, was carved, and set up within a temple in Ballabhpore. However, when the river Bhagirathi began changing its course, and came to within 300 feet of the temple, it was thought prudent to evacuate the idol, and thus, the present Radha Ballabh temple, about a quarter of a mile inland, came into being. The construction of this new temple is said to have been sponsored by the Mallik family of Calcutta, and it still contains Rudraram’s original idol. The old temple was abandoned, and left to be reclaimed by nature.


The Danes arrived in Serampore in 1755, with a royal firman from Ali Vardi Khan, Nawaab of Bengal. Along with the Danish East India Company, began the influx of missionaries, among them, the well-known Serampore trio of Joshua Marshman, William Carey, and William Wade. By the time the Provost of Fort William College in Calcutta, Rev. David Brown, had moved to Serampore, the abandoned temple had become part and parcel of the grounds of a squat little bungalow called Aldeen House. This was purchased by Brown in 1803, and three years later, there arrived in Serampore, from Cornwall, England, Henry Martyn, who had come to India to “burn out for God”. Martyn had asked Brown for a secluded place in which to live and pray, and Brown had pointed out the abandoned temple to him, which they referred to as a Pagoda. “My habitation assigned to me by Mr. B.”, Martyn writes, “is a Pagoda in his grounds, on the edge of the river. Thither I retired at night and really felt something like superstitious dread, at being in a place once inhabited as it were by devils”. Referring to Hindu Gods and devils, and Hindu ceremonies as devil worship was a common practice among Europeans of the time. Martyn, it seems, managed to make the Pagoda quite habitable, moved an organ into it, and it became the favourite meeting ground for the missionaries of the area. “I prayed out aloud to God and echoes returned from the vaulted roof” Martyn writes, and he was satisfied that he had managed to convert a place of “devil worship” into “Christ’s oratory”. Apart from prayer and discussions, a marriage was conducted here as well. Surprisingly, there seems to have been no protest from the local Hindu community about this.


Aldeen House today
But Martyn eventually set out for the cantonment town of Cawnpore, and when Rev. Brown died in 1812, Aldeen House found no takers. What was now Henry Martyn’s Pagoda, was abandoned once again. In 1845, the Pagoda underwent yet another and a rather startling change. It was turned into the “Pagoda Rum Distillery”. Finally, in 1893, the entire area was taken over by the Howrah Waterworks, which allowed both Aldeen House and Henry Martyn’s Pagoda to remain standing, while digging up the grounds to create ponds.


Any visitor to Henry Martyn’s Pagoda today, needs to enter the premises of the Howrah Waterworks, and approach the Pagoda via a narrow and treacherous path between two ponds. The Pagoda is in an absolutely derelict state, a Peepul tree has completely covered it’s roof, and the entire structure is tilting towards the river. Old lithographs of the Pagoda however, do show it in a broken down state, and with the present tilt, although during Henry Martyn’s time, it must have been different, since he says there were so many rooms and enclosures, that he often got confused. Old lithographs also show terracotta ornamentation which has been destroyed. Aldeen House is also visible a short distance away, also derelict, and overgrown with vegetation. The good thing is that there were no officials to restrict entry or photography of the structures, and unless there is a flood or some major natural calamity, they will probably remain standing for the next few decades. However, I do wish the A.S.I. and the Serampore Municipality would take steps to renovate the structures, and increase awareness about them.

"Yon dome, ‘neath which in former days,
Grim idols marked the pagan shrine,
Has swelled the notes of pious praise,
Attuned to themes of love divine".

 - by Deepanjan Ghosh


SOURCES

Thacker’s Guide to Calcutta - Rev. W. K. Firminger
Journal and letters of the Rev. Henry Martyn, Volume 1 – Samuel Wilberforce (Ed)
A History of the Church of England in India - Eyre Chatterton
Life of William Carey – George Smith
The Liberal and the New Dispensation, Volume 12
Henry Martyn: Saint and Scholar – George Smith
Temples and Legends of Bengal – P.C. Roy Chowdhury

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS


I am grateful to Supratim Chowdhury for his assistance in locating Henry Martyn’s Pagoda


Sunday, 3 August 2014

Town Hall, Esplanade Row West

As Calcutta grew from Charnock’s small outpost of mud huts into a major city with a substantial European presence, the need for a proper Town Hall for social gatherings was felt. Up until that time, major gatherings would happen at the Old Court House, which stood where the St. Andrews Church stands today, or at the Harmonic Tavern (presently the grounds of Laalbazaar Police Headquarters), which was frequented by Warren Hastings’ friend, Richard Barwell. On 31st May, 1792, at Monsieur La Gallais’ Tavern the decision was taken to raise funds for a Town Hall, through public lottery. The building was to contain a spacious ballroom, a concert room, dining room, card rooms, dressing rooms, suitable offices and separate entrances for palanquins and carriages, with detached sheds for vehicles and their horses. Through successive annual lotteries, adequate funds were arranged by 1806, and the task of construction was entrusted to Colonel John Garstin, the Chief Engineer.

Garstin’s design was French Palladian, with magnificent Doric columns, and construction began on 1st December, 1807 and was completed and opened to the public on 22nd March, 1814, but problems plagued the Town Hall right from the start. Contemporaries of Garstin, including prolific diarist Richard Blechynden viewed Garstin as a bit of an upstart, and did not approve of his design, or the fact that the building cost a monumental Rs. 700,000 to build. Soon after opening, a portion of the front portico collapsed. Sometime later, the floor of the ballroom began to spring, and the whole structure had to overhauled in 1818-19. As per the terms of his contract, the expenses of the overhaul had to be borne by Garstin, which must have left his critics overjoyed.


Montague Massey writes in his “Recollections of Calcutta”, that in the era before Saturday Club, fortnightly assembly balls were held at the Town Hall, which were attended by all people of any respectability. Unlike other clubs in the city, the Town Hall had no colour bar, and notable Indians such as Dwarkanath Tagore and Surendra Nath Banerjee rubbed shoulders with Europeans. It was in the Town Hall, that in 1895, Jagadish Chandra Bose ( after whom A.J.C. Bose Road is named) demonstrated radio waves, and their ability to go through solid walls, by detonating a mine inside a closed room. This was a full year before Marconi announced his invention to the world. It was in Town Hall that on 27th August, 1891, the Sherriff of Calcutta, Md. Farooq Shah called a meeting to condole the death of Pundit Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar. A meeting to protest the partition of Bengal was held here as well, in 1905.

Under the custody of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation since 1867, the Town Hall fell into disuse after Independence. With the British, the festive balls and other social gatherings were all gone, and among India’s new leaders, it was no longer fashionable to address people from within the confines of a colonial structure. Various municipal offices took over the heritage structure, some even started living within it’s premises. In 1980, the Corporation made plans to demolish the historic Town Hall and erect in it’s place a modern office block. The citizens of Calcutta however, would have none of it. They formed a “Save Town Hall Committee” and their vociferous protests forced the Corporation to back out. Again, in 1987, information leaked out that the Corporation planned a commercial complex on the lawns of the Town Hall. Once again protests erupted. It was at this point that the decision to preserve it, and use it as a case study for future restorations of Calcutta’s many heritage buildings was made.

But what was to be done with the Town Hall, and where would the funds for it’s restoration be secured from? A lottery was no longer possible. Hence, in an extraordinary step, 24 remarkable oil paintings by Bengali artist Bikash Bhattacharya were auctioned at the Victoria Memorial, and more than a crore of rupees were raised. Corporates stepped in with further funds, and work began in earnest in 1996 for restoration and adaptive re-use of the heritage structure. A curious discovery that was made during the restoration was of the Town Hall’s tunnel-like exposed brick basement. The Corporation’s Director General of Town Planning, Dipankar Sinha says, “back then, there was little by way of water proofing. The bricks in the tunnels are exposed to let the walls breathe. The moisture that rises from the ground evaporates through the walls, thus the upper structure is spared the damp. This delays the decay of a building”. On April 14, 1998, the restored Town Hall was handed over to the Calcutta Corporation. On August 15, 1998, the Town Hall was opened to public with an exhibition of paintings.

Located at 4, Esplanade Row West, the ground floor of the Town Hall today houses the Kolkata Panorama, India’s first hi-tech storytelling museum. The first floor is reserved for cultural functions, seminars and the like. The basement is used for art exhibitions, in particular, sculptures, because paintings would not survive the humidity. The ground floor also houses the Town Hall library, started with the books donated by Calcutta’s barefoot historian, P. Thankappan Nair. The Town Hall is open from Monday to Saturday, from 11am to 5pm, and is closed on Sundays and public holidays.

THE KRUPP GUN


Seen on the steps of the Town Hall is the historic Boer War cannon that was gifted to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation by the British crown in 1905. A 75 mm cannon, manufactured by German armaments company, Krupp, the gun was originally in the entrance of the grand staircase of the civic headquarters until the 1940’s, when it was moved to New Market. Within New Market, the gun was for many years a navigation aid to those who got lost in its maze-like interiors. Restored by the Calcutta Museum Society, the gun was moved to the steps of the Town Hall. Manufactured in 1897, it is one of only 4 Krupp guns from the 19th Century still in existence. 

 - by Deepanjan Ghosh

SOURCES

Calcutta - Geoffrey Moorhouse
The Social Condition of the British Community in Bengal: 1757-1800 – Suresh Chandra Ghosh
The Calcutta Cookbook – M. Dasgupta, B. Gupta, Jaya Chaliha
Montague Massey – Recollections of Calcutta for Over Half a Century
European Calcutta – Dhrubajyoti Banerjea
Sentiment and Self: Richard Blechynden’s Calcutta Diaries – 1791-1822 – Peter Robb

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Lascar War Memorial, Napier Road

Had it not been for the winter cold of Calcutta’s January, the Lascar War Memorial would probably have collapsed by now. On that fateful morning, in January 1994, some poor soul had lit a fire near the monument, to keep himself warm. As luck would have it, the billowing smoke was noticed by Commodore Bibhu K. Mohanti. Out on his morning walk, Commodore Mohanti rushed in, to investigate and was struck by both the beauty and significance, and sad neglect of the monument.

Who were the Lascars? The question is beautifully answered by Amitav Ghosh in his “Sea of Poppies”…

…He had thought that the Lascars were a tribe or nation, like the Cherokee or Sioux: he discovered now that they came from places that were far apart, and had nothing in common, except the Indian Ocean; among them were Chinese and East Africans, Arabs and Malays, Bengalis and Goans, Tamils and Arakanese…


With its roots in the Persian word “lashkar” meaning soldier, or army, or military camp, Lascar is a word used to refer to sailors from the Indian Subcontinent or other nations of the East, employed on European ships, from the 16th century, to the beginning of the 20th. This particular monument was erected by British shipping and mercantile companies to honour 896 Lascars from erstwhile undivided Bengal and Assam, who fought and died in World War I. The 100 foot tall monument, located on Napier Road in Calcutta’s Hastings area, was designed by William Ingram Kier, who was the architect behind the Bengal Engineering and Science University, Shibpur, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur and the Kidderpore Bridge. He was also the man who replaced the spire of Calcutta’s St. Paul’s Cathedral after it was damaged in an earthquake in 1934. His design of the monument won him a prize of Rs. 500 in an international competition. The four sided tower has prows of galleys projecting from it’s four sides near the bottom, while it is capped by four small minarets and a large gilt dome. With it’s distinctly Indian look, I wonder if it would be fair to call this a specimen of the Indo-Saracenic school of architecture? The monument was unveiled on the 6th of February, 1924, by the then Governor of Bengal, Lord Lytton.


Under the aegis of Commodore Mohanti, the memorial was painstakingly restored over a period of nearly a year. Philips India was approached to provide lighting, various combinations of which were tested before the present setup was adopted. The monument was finally re-inaugurated in December 1994, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of naval base INS Netaji Subhash. Kier’s son James and Commodore Mohanti had an emotional first meeting under the monument in 2012. The monument is visible from the Vidyasagar Setu, and looks beautiful in the evenings with the lights on. If you’re going for a drive, keep a lookout to the left as you climb the bridge from the Calcutta side.


As for visiting or photographing the monument, as the Bengali proverb says, “that jaggery has sand in it”. It seems, after a brief period of allowing people to visit the monument, and holding events like book readings there, the Navy has clamped down. We found the park locked, and the guards at INS Netaji Subhash informed us that to enter the park, we needed approval from an officer, who would only be available on weekdays, and even if we did get permission, entering the monument would not be possible, and photographing it, absolutely out of the question, since this was high security navy territory. My policy on this is very simple. I will not photograph key security installations, but if it is a memorial that I believe people ought to see, and there is no conceivable security risk other than red tape, then I will defy the rules. So while I stood guard, my friend Amartya crouched in the bushes and managed to take the photographs that you see accompanying this article.

Preventing people from taking photographs of monuments or iconic structures such as the Howrah Bridge citing security concerns is monumentally stupid, and is holding back the development of tourism in this part of the world. It is high time the government changed its archaic policies and let people become more aware of the beautiful country they live in.

- by Deepanjan Ghosh

SOURCES

Calcutta: Built Heritage Today - INTACH


PHOTOGRAPHS OF LASCAR MEMORIAL TAKEN BY AMARTYA SAHA

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China, Clive Street

Of all the heritage buildings in Calcutta’s Dalhousie Square area, three are banks. There is the old Alliance Bank of Simla, which failed and got taken over by the Imperial Bank, which later became The Reserve Bank of India. There is Hong Kong House, headquarters of The Hong Kong Shanghai Bank, and there is the magnificent building of The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China. I refuse to consider the Reserve Bank of India’s depressingly Stalinist looking headquarters a heritage building. The Chartered Bank Building is located at the corner of Clive Street (now N.S. Road) and Royal Exchange Place (now India Exchange Place). With its byzantine theme, and distinctive red and white stripes, it is one of the more easily spotted buildings in the area.


The Chartered Bank was founded by James Wilson in 1853, after he was granted a royal charter. The earliest branches were in Bombay, Calcutta and Shanghai in 1858, followed by Hong Kong and Singapore a year later. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, the bank played a major role in developing trade in the East. Today’s Standard Chartered Bank was formed in 1969 when Standard Bank of British South Africa merged with The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China.


The building was designed by Calcutta based architect Edward Thornton who was working for Sir Rajen Mookerjee’s firm, Martin & Co. Edward Thornton, if you recall, also played a part in designing the flamboyant Royal Insurance Building. The distinctive red and white colour combination is created by the use of exposed brick and Porbunder stone from Bombay. Thornton’s theme seems to be arches, crowned by octagonal towers. A 110 foot tall clock tower may be seen on the Royal Exchange Place side of the building, while another 135 foot tower faces Clive Street. The building was constructed in 1908, and the cost of construction was Rs. 9,62,000. As was the norm at the time, a large number of firms had offices in the building, apart from the bank, including the rival firms of Bird & Co., and F. W. Hielgers & Co.


Although Standard Chartered Bank has offices right across the street, and is doing well, I fail to understand why this heritage building has such a forlorn look today. Plants have taken root in the cracks on the upper floors, dust covered interiors may be seen through cracked window panes on the ground floor. I can only hope that some sort of restoration is carried out soon, and the building is put to good use.

- by Deepanjan Ghosh


SOURCES

Calcutta 1940 – John Barry

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Finlay Muir & Co., Royal Exchange Place

Although some of the heritage buildings of Calcutta’s Dalhousie Square area are government buildings, the majority of them are, or were, offices of mercantile houses of the colonial era. The vast majority of these mercantile houses were Scottish, and among them was the headquarters of Finlay Muir & Co..

Finlay Muir building today
The company began with the Finlay family of Glasgow, who were in the cotton trade. James Finlay had, by the time of his death in 1790, established the firm in his name, as a manufacturer and merchant, trading in cotton, muslin, and other textiles. James’ second son, Kirkman Finlay, expanded the business further. He used his influence as MP for Glasgow, to break the East India Company’s monopoly in trade in Asia, and the first Finlay ship arrived in India in 1813. Demand for Finlay’s cotton fabric was so astronomically high in India that the company found this one market to be getting them more profits than all their other outlets in Europe and America. The first Finlay agency to be set up in India was in Bombay, in 1816.

7 years after Kirkman Finlay’s death, in 1842, John Muir joined the firm, and by 1861 became a junior partner. He gradually bought out all the other partners, leaving him sole proprietor by 1883. In the meantime, he and his cousin, Hugh Brown Muir, were forced to India as a source of cotton, since the American civil war put an end to supply from that part of the world. The Calcutta office of the now Finlay Muir & Co. was established in 1870. John Muir himself arrived in India in 1871, and began diversifying into jute and tea. It was this tea, that the company would be most identified with, their involvement in Indian tea estates continuing well after Indian independence, until 1983, when they were bought out by the Tatas. Finlay Muir & Co., known today simply as Finlay’s, continues to exist, with interests in tea, rubber, flowers and fresh produce.

The Calcutta office was originally at 15, Clive Row (now Dr. Rajendra Prasad Sarani), from where they moved to 21, Canning Street (now Biplabi Rashbehari Basu Road), and from there, ultimately to the present building, on Royal Exchange Place (now India Exchange Place) in 1912. Where the building stands today, there once existed the old “Thieves’ Bazaar”. The building currently serves as the offices of Allahabad Bank, and is well maintained.

- by Deepanjan Ghosh

SOURCES


  • Recollections of Calcutta for over half a century - Montague Massey
  • http://www.finlays.net/
  • DBHKer's notes - https://www.flickr.com/photos/23268776@N03/6959052305/
  • A History of Calcutta's Streets - P. Thankappan Nair

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Wallace House, 4 Bankshall Street

Although it is the English that most Indians think of when they think of the British Raj, there was a very large Scottish presence in Calcutta, and it was the Scots who ran the majority of businesses in Calcutta, and most of India. One such firm was Shaw Wallace, a name that most Indians are familiar with even today. Their building, called Wallace House, on 4 Bankshall Street, remains in good condition today.

The company was established in 1886 in Calcutta by Robert Gordon Shaw and Charles William Wallace. While not much information is available about Shaw, Wallace, it is known, was born in Calcutta in 1855, and was the brother of Major General Sir Alexander Wallace. Returning to India after completing his education, in 1875, he was invited by Shaw to join him as a consultant. The company at that point, managed tea estates in India and among them The Budla Beta Tea Company Limited. Under Wallace, they diversified into timber and textiles. Offices were established in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, in 1909, in the name of R. G. Shaw & Company, with Rufus Wilson in charge. On 1st January 1912, it became a branch of Shaw Wallace & Company (India). The address was No. 28, Chatham Street in the Fort. Wallace eventually became the Vice Chairman of the Anglo Persian Oil Company, which later became British Petroleum.

When he died, in London in 1916, Wallace was a rich man, but chose to donate large amounts of his amassed wealth. He was an alumnus of Framlingham College, and established there a scholarship. Once his immediate successors had all died, his residuary estate was used to set up a number of trusts, the largest among them being The Charles Wallace India Trust which supports Indians studying arts, humanities and heritage conservation, enabling them to travel to and study in the UK.

Shaw Wallace in India continued to operate under Indian management, shedding its diversified businesses after 1999, and continuing as a liquor manufacturer. It became the centre of one of India’s most famous corporate rivalries; that between Manohar Rajaram ‘Manu’ Chhabria and Vijay Mallya. After Chhabria’s death, it was finally bought by Mallya’s United Breweries Group, and merged with the company. The building on 4, Bankshall Street, still houses the company’s offices. Shaw Wallace Sri Lanka continues to exist, with interests in automotive products, packaged food, industrial solutions and manufacturing.

- by Deepanjan Ghosh


SOURCES

TEA PRODUCING COMPANIES OF INDIA AND CEYLON SHOWING THE HISTORY AND RESULTS OF THOSE CAPITALISED IN STERLING - GOW, WILSON & STANTON

Monday, 7 July 2014

North Park Street Cemetery and The Robertson Monument

Although the Government has renamed Park Street to Mother Teresa Sarani, the people of Calcutta are not too keen to use this name. Somehow, “having a drink on Mother Teresa Sarani” just does not seem to have the same ring to it. Park Street of course was not the original name of the stretch of road that connects Lower Circular Road (now AJC Bose Road) with Chowringhee (now Jawaharlal Nehru Road). The original name, writes P. Thankappan Nair, was Badamtalla, from the large number of Almond trees growing in the area. Upjohn’s Map of Calcutta, from 1792, identifies it however, as Burial Ground Road. This name comes from not one, but four cemeteries located near the Lower Circular Road end of the causeway. The decision to locate cemeteries so far away from the centre of the city, indeed, right on it’s edge, was a deliberate one. Mortality rates among the Europeans in Calcutta in the early days were stupendously high, and the sight of a new funeral parade every few hours simply would not do. Of the four, the one that survives is the historic South Park Street Cemetery. But if there is a South Park Street Cemetery, was there ever a North Park Street Cemetery? As it turns out, there was.

Old photograph of North Park Street Cemetery. Robertson Monument visible bottom right

Once known as “The Great Cemetery”, the South Park Street Cemetery is a vast necropolis, housing the mortal remains of some 1600 inhabitants of the city, from the bureaucratic elite to men from the armed service, the so-called boxwallahs, to the wives and, regrettably, many many children of the rulers of British India. The marble plaque on it’s gates say it was closed in 1790. It’s younger brother, the North Park Street Cemetery sprung up on the opposite side of the street around 1785. But like many relics of the British Raj, Indian Independence sealed it’s fate.

Soon after Independence, the British Government withdrew all funding for the maintenance of civilian cemeteries outside Britain. Military cemeteries, such as the one in Bhowanipore, remained under the aegis of the War Graves Commission. The costs of maintaining vast cemeteries in the heart of the city being impractically high, the initial plan was to level both North and South Park Street Cemeteries and have in their place a “Garden of Remembrance”. Surprisingly, this disastrous proposal was wholeheartedly endorsed by the Bishop of Calcutta himself. Stiff resistance was posed however, by the citizens of Calcutta, and questions were raised in England. But how was the funding for maintaining the cemeteries to be secured? Collections were begun, but these were rudimentary in nature, and the sums gathered, paltry. Pressure was now mounting from the Chief Minister, Bidhan Chandra Ray, who was concerned that the cemeteries were being used as public latrines, and had become the favourite haunt of ruffians. Finally the decision was taken in 1953 to raze the North Park Street Cemetery, housing 450 tombs, and use the money from leasing out the land, to preserve the much more historic, South Park Street Cemetery. The younger brother would have to be sacrificed to save the elder brother.

North Park Street tombstones on South Park Street Cemetery walls
Among the tombs lost, were those of Richmond Thackeray, father of novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, and James Achilles Kirkpatrick, Resident to the Nizam of Hyderabad, and the principal subject of William Dalrymple’s brilliant book, White Mughals. Many of the plaques and tombstones from the North Park Street Cemetery may today be found on the walls of the South Park Street Cemetery. A large and exquisitely carved marble memorial toJames Achilles Kirkpatrick may today be seen on the Southern wall of St. John’sChurch in the Dalhousie area. The land where the North Park Street Cemetery once stood, is today occupied by the Assembly of God Church and the Mercy Hospital, founded by the tenacious Mark Buntain. But one solitary vestige of the past still lingers.

THE ROBERTSON MONUMENT

Robertson Monument, from Park Street
Tucked away in the Southeastern corner of the compound that houses Assembly of God Church and the Mercy Hospital is a curious structure. With a dome supported by Ionic columns, the structure is used as a storage space and even for drying clothes. This is infact, the last surviving tomb from the North Park Street Cemetery, as is known, by the few who know of it, as The Robertson Monument. Under this monument lie to mortal remains of eight members of the Robertson family: Francis Edmund Robertson, his wife Eleanora Katherine Robertson (11 Aug 1813 - 31 Aug 1834), Edmund Robertson (26 Jun 1850 - 29 Jul 1905), Nathaniel and Helen Robertson, their second son, Edwin Robertson, his son, Bertram Gerald Robertson (10 Jan 1884 - 25 Feb 1935), and baby Mary Ellen Robertson, who lived only for a day, 13th January, 1890. Edwin Robertson was a Senior Superintendent in the Calcutta Police. In the Lower Circular Road Cemetery there lies a William Cecil Robertson (9th Mar, 1855 – 22nd Nov, 1895), Inspector, Calcutta Police, who may be connected to this family.

Robertson family tombstones

Robertson Monument from within the compound
It is said that it was the police connection which saved this grave from being leveled, but it’s location must also have had some part to play. Positioned as it is, in one convenient corner, there would have been no need to demolish it for construction to proceed smoothly on the rest of the plot. The monument today is in fairly decent shape, though the writing on the tombstones have become obscured. Millions pass by it every day without realizing what it is, or was. Perhaps some day, the Assembly of God Church can do something to make the people of Calcutta a little more aware about this curious relic from their colonial past.



- by Deepanjan Ghosh





SOURCES

AMBIVALENT HERITAGE: Between Affect and Ideology in a Colonial Cemetery - Ashish Chadha
European Calcutta – Dhrubajyoti Banerjea
Calcutta: The Living City. Vol 1 – The Past – Sukanta Chaudhuri (Editor)

ROBERTSON MONUMENT PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY AMARTYA SAHA