Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The McDonnell Drinking Fountain: A Forgotten Monument of Calcutta

On Esplanade Row West, opposite Calcutta’s historic Town Hall, and near the High Court, lies a forgotten monument of Calcutta. The Neo-Classical monument, located within the premises of the the West Bengal State Legislature, is a drinking fountain, with a lion’s head protruding from the front and a decorative urn on top. The marble plaque which identified the man the monument was dedicated to is long gone. This is the monument to William Fraser McDonnell.

The McDonnell Monument

McDonnell was born in 1829, and joined the Bengal Civil Service in 1850. On the two sides of the monument are the dates 1850 and 1886, which mark the 36 years that McDonnell spent with the service. Posted to Bhojpur (aka Shahbad), in Bihar, McDonnell was witness to the particularly savage fighting in the area on the outbreak of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. The fight in Arrah, where he was, was led by the formidable Babu Kunwar Singh. Outmanned and outgunned, the Company’s soldiers were forced to retreat, and it is during this retreat that McDonnell showed his bravery.

Dates on both sides marking McDonnell's career. In the centre is his signature.

On 30th July, 1857, 35 of the Company’s soldiers found themselves besieged in the boat, unable to make good their escape, as the boat’s rudder was secured to it’s side by lashings. Under heavy and constant enemy fire, McDonnell jumped out of the boat, and cut the lashings, freeing the rudder. His actions having saved 35 lives, McDonnell was awarded the Victoria Cross, becoming one of only 5 civilians to be so honored. His medal may be seen today in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery of London’s Imperial War Museum.

Wikipedia's picture of William Fraser McDonnell

The monument today is in a deplorable state. There are no markers identifying what it is. The brass troughs on both sides that once provided drinking water for horses are long gone. The Lion’s head shaped spout is broken, and the water that used to pour out of it has long since dried up. The ugly railing infront of it is used by locals to sun their laundry.

The Lion-Head spout

- by Deepanjan Ghosh

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