Monday, 26 August 2013

THE LAST SUPPER FROM MILAN TO KOLKATA.

The Last Supper from Milan to Calcutta:

The most famous and ferociously talented artist Leonardo Da Vinci painted “The Last Supper” on the refectory of Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie, Milan around 1495 based on the Gospel of John 13.21, which depicted the consternation that occurred among the twelve disciples when Jesus announced that one of them would betray him. The painting remains as a treasure of Christianity and a mystique question to the observers till date.


Some have identified the person to Jesus' right (left of Jesus from the viewer's perspective), not as John the Apostle, but as a woman, often purported to be Mary Magdalene. This speculation was the topic of the book The Templar Revelation (1997) by Lynn Pickett and Clive Prince, and played a central role in Dan Brown's fiction novel The Da Vinci Code (2003). The Dan Brown blockbuster novel turns into a much hyped and controversial super-hit Hollywood crime thriller in 2006.


“The Last Supper” became the inspiration for many artists of different era and Christian artists, as per their thought-line, had produced the same across the globe. Another similar masterpiece was also produced in Calcutta and preserved till date as an altar-piece to St. John’s Church, Kolkata. 

From the written document of past we came to know, “Royal Academician Zoffany painted a picture in Calcutta,  “The Last Supper," which he, in 1787, presented for an altar-piece to St. John's Church, then approaching completion”.

The Last Supper in St. John’s Church, Kolkata by John Zoffany

(Courtesy: Lense Work by Sudip Ghosh)

“The Last Supper” became the inspiration for many artists of different era and Christian artists, as per their thought-line, had produced the same across the globe. Another similar masterpiece was also produced in Calcutta and preserved till date as an altar-piece to St. John’s Church, Kolkata. 

From the written document of past we came to know, “Royal Academician Zoffany painted a picture in Calcutta,  “The Last Supper," which he, in 1787, presented for an altar-piece to St. John's Church, then approaching completion”.


David Garrick as Abel Drugger in Jonson's The Alchemist

Zoffany’s talent soon established him as one of the most sought after portrait painters of the then elite British society. But his liberal habits of living exceeded his income, and though never he had shortage of clientele, his finances became seriously strained. He obtained the patronage of the reigning majesties, and some of his best pictures were those of portraits and conversation pieces of the royal family.

It was also the formative years of European institutes. When the Royal Academy of Arts, London was formed in 1768, Zoffany was nominated a member. In 1772 he painted "The Life School of the Royal Academy" which contained portraits of the thirty-six foundation members. The thirty-four male academicians were represented in various attitudes, and on the walls of the room were portraits in frames of the two female members, Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser. Zoffany  represented himself with a palette in his hand, and we observe that it was apparently his practice to introduce a portrait of himself, either with a pencil or a palette in his hand, into all his pictures containing a large number of figures. Till date it is under Royal Collection, Windsor Castle.

The Portraits of the Academicians of the Royal Academy (1771–72)

Zoffany could very well choose the lucrative life of London but he was always a bit uncertain about his plan. He surprised and disappointed all his friends by determining to accompany Sir Joseph Banks in the voyage with Cook round the world. But when he came to see his cabin he did not like it,  did not think it suitable for painting purposes and threw up his voyage. Abandoning the world voyage, he decided to go to Italy. During this period he had received the Royal patronage and a commission to paint his famous work of “The Florence Gallery” from Queen Charlotte. Till date it is under possession of Royal Collection, Windsor Castle.




The Tribuna of the Uffizi,by Johan Zoffany, 1772-8, Royal Collection, Windsor

After acquiring great distinction in England, Zoffany travelled on the continent for a few years, adding considerably to his reputation by his "Interior of the Florentine Picture Gallery," and other works. Returning to England he remained there for a short time and then sailed for India, arriving in Calcutta in 1783.We have to speculate what made Joffany to embark on the bank of Ganges? On the bank of Thames, he had already established his portrait producing skill as a phenomenon. Was this voyage eyed to accumulating wealth from the Indian Kings and Anglo Indian notables by selling his uncanny skill or was it to balance his unfulfilled adventurist instinct? May there be something beneath the carpet?

Probably his skill was the root of this voyage from Thames to Ganges. It is said, he was obliged to leave England, owing to the ill feeling he had roused against himself through his injudicious indulgence in the habit of introducing the portraits of his friends and acquaintances into his pictures without the permission of the original, and often in unflattering guise.  He used to defame the living person by putting him in his group picture as a caricature character provided he had some bitter feeling towards that person. This practical joke of the artist even had scandalized English Court, when in one of his paintings he had hinted the intimacy of Queen Charlotte, in her maiden stage to certain German admirer.

Here it will not be very out of place to mention that some of the immensely talented people, whose ability in their respective fields was phenomenal but not up to the liking of the British Authority or elite London society, had their solace to the greatest British settlement, India, with a myth that Indian dust is even gold. Such an example is Sir Philip Francis (1740-1818), who had been detected by modern computer aided analysis as the creator of notorious “Letters of Junious”.

However, Joffany after arriving in Calcutta settlement went to the province of Lucknow, remained there for several years, continued his portrait producing skill for Indian rulers, politicians, East India Company’s high officials, native notables and amassed a considerable fortune. His professional charge became one thousand rupees per day against his skill.

Colonel Mordaunt's Cock Fight (Lucknow, 1785)

In 1787, Zoffany was residing in Calcutta ; his name is given in the list of professions in an almanac for that year, under the heading "Artist and portrait painter." The Calcutta Gazette for April 12, 1787, announced — " We hear Mr. Zoffany is employed in painting a large historical picture, ‘The Last Supper”, he has already made considerable progress in the work, which promises to equal any production which has yet appeared from the pencil of this able artist, and, with that spirit of liberality for which he has ever been distinguished, we understand he means to present it to the public as an altar-piece for the New Church.”

When St. John’s Church, Calcutta was consecrated the painting had been finished and hung in its place, and must have caused no small sensation in Calcutta society when it was found that the figures in the picture were more or less faithful likenesses of members of the community. The three principal figures in the picture, the Savior, St. John, and Judas Iscariot, were portraits. The original of the first is said to have been a Greek priest, Father Parthenio, who was well known in Calcutta for his piety and good works. St. John was represented by Mr. Blaquiere, who was for years a magistrate of Calcutta, famous to make some of his cleverest catch in female disguise and rather infamous as a "Brahmanised European, notorious for his hostility to Christianity and his indifferent character" as chronicled by one of the famous clergymen of the-then period; and in Judas Iscariot was pilloried an old resident of the town, Tulloh, the auctioneer. The remaining figures appeared to have been less exact portraits, and the names of others who appeared in the canvas had faded away with time.




The Last Supper in St. John’s Church, Kolkata by John Zoffany

There was a speculation whether Judas Iscariot was John Paul, East India Company’s servant and businessman at Lucknow residency, who, afterwards in England became a fiery White Mogul, antagonist to Wellesley’s political treatment to the Nabob of Lucknow, with whom Joffany wanted to settle his personal score. As per our thought, chronological evidence of Paul’s presence in Lucknow prior to 1787 is against this speculation.


Whatever ripples it caused in the-then Anglo-Saxon community of Calcutta, St. John’s Church had accepted this Altar –piece as their prized possession. They had written a profuse thanksgiving letter to the artist for this kind act of his benevolence- "We should do a violence to your delicacy were we to express, or endeavor to express, in such terms as the occasion calls for, our sense of the favour you have conferred on the Settlement by presenting to their place of worship, so capital a painting, that it would adorn the first Church of Europe, and should excite in the breasts of its spectators, those sentiments of virtue and piety so happily portrayed in the figures." 

Afterwards, Calcutta St. John’s Church was very alert for the preservation of this remarkable piece of art with utmost care. Calcutta society wanted this painting outside the Church premises for better viewership. The appeal of Dalhousie Institute in 1865 in this regard was turned down by Church Authority. In 1888, the decadent condition of this art piece was reported through a letter published in The Statesman; immediate attention for its preservation brought the piece almost to its original state where it remains till date as an Altar-piece.

John Zoffany went back to England in 1790. The tropical heat of Asia provided him enough fortune but certainly had a toll on his remarkable talent. His uncanny skill was missing for last twenty years of his carrier. His last exhibition in Royal Academy had taken place in 1800. Around this time the artist made another of his notorious black humor, by the way of “The Last Supper” which is till date preserved in St. George's Church, Brentford, England. This time, Zoffany himself figures as St Peter, a strong full face with small grey beard; and the face of St. John is a portrait of the painter's young wife; whom he married on his return from abroad. The Apostles were painted as local fishermen. John Zoffany died in Kew, England in 1810.


The Last Supper as painted by John Zoffany and presented to St. George Church, Brentford, England (Courtesy: John Zoffany R A His Life And Works, 1735-1810 by Lady Victoria Manners and DR. G. G. Williamson)

Today’s busy Kolkata office-goers park their vehicles in the courtyard of St. John’s Church; but  seldom any of them pays a visit to the inside of the Church.

Time has changed, British had left, the most discussed characters of yesteryears have gone to oblivion, the politics of Warren Hastings or Lord Wellesley has become a part of history book, anything you want to know nowadays is at the click of mouse, a picture you want to see is now on your screen of computer within a second through internet. But, the Master piece of John Zoffany presented to Calcutta Christian society remains as it is inside the church, in front of which viewers till have an uncanny awe mixed surprise. Is it a waste of time to pay a visit to Calcutta St. John’s Church to watch Zoffany’s “The Last Supper”? Our feeling, it is worth.

Think of an era, when there was no camera, showbiz people still wanted to have a picture of their famous stage show as an advertisement. You had many remarkable moments with your friends and relatives, people of old time also wanted it like today’s man to frame that particular moment. You cannot visit the Art Gallery of distant country but like to have a feel for the same; you are setting up an institution, like to preserve the identity of its founding members. To answer to all these wishes of the-then London society the key was John Zoffany, whose artistic foil resembles the light and shade of a photographic vividness with an element of European melodrama which was persistent at his time. Such a Master’s work in your own city certainly deserves a visit, if you accept him as a personality of first international repute who had been in Calcutta and left an worthy art work  much before Rabindranath Tagore and Satyajit Ray were born. If you think it is just an awe of colonial subjection, at least have a glimpse of this portrait at St. John’s and think on the way back: was that a lady? If you are not at all willing to be in St. John’s Church for any reason spend five minutes of your valuable time in front of the Masterpiece and think over this pictorial representation of Biblical Gospel which has excited so many painters from the date eternal till today coming up with new analysis all over the world; but the basic story of love, betrayal, forgiveness and submission still remain as elements of everybody’s life.


We are indebted to the works of Old Good Days of John Company by W H Carey (Published-1882), Calcutta Past and Present by Kathleen Blechynden (Published-1905), John Zoffany R A- His Life and Works 1735-1810 by Lady Victoria Manners and Dr. G. G. Williamson (Published-1920) and Wikipedia. All these works are approachable through internet. If anybody reads these books we will feel the justice is not only done to John Zoffany but also to those passionate writers of past who did not have the privilege of internet at their disposal, like the way we have today.







Research - Abhijnan Basu. 
       





Saturday, 10 August 2013

SOUTH PARK STREET CEMETERY

SIR WILLIAM JONES.

One of the most conspicuous monuments in the South Park Street Cemetery is that which marks the grave of Sir William Jones. The lofty obelisk, its clear-cut lines towering far above the surrounding structures, is typical of the person who sleeps below, whose name similarly dominates all others in the history of the decade during which he labored in Bengal.  Sir Jones arrived at Calcutta in 1783. He came to India as a judge of the Supreme Court in succession to La Maistre (1783). His reputation had indeed traveled before him as is evident from the fact that while a scholar at University college, Oxford (1764) he began his studies in oriental and other languages, translated a life of Nadir Shah from Persian into French (1770) , wrote a Persian grammar (1771), translation of poems and six books of commentaries on Asiatic poetry and  published a translation of the Arabic Mollakat.


One of Sir William Jones’ earliest acts in India was the founding of the Asiatic Society, and for ten years he labored with unrelenting zeal and astonishing learning, carrying out his duties on the bench with care and dignity, studying Sanskrit, writing voluminously, translating learnedly, attending the weekly meetings of the society he had founded, and to which he contributed many valuable papers, notably his disclosers as president. It is curious to note that according to writers in CALCTTA REVIEW for September 1846: “He discussed the Chinese and their origin, as a people who are mentioned in Manu. As race of outcast Hindus noticed Japan, The Britain of the East, colonized by Hindus in1300 BC where Hindu idolatry prevailed from the earliest ages”. (Source: C. L. Buckland "Dictionary of Indian Biography”H.E.A. Cotton “Calcutta past and present”)


MISS ROSE AYLMER

It may not be superfluous to recall for some in the present generation, the circumstances which associate this old Calcutta tomb with the name of a man who is among the most striking alike by his character and his powers as a great master in verse, a prose writer of a highest rank- Walter Savage Landor. Not long after leaving Oxford in 1797, when about 21 years of age Landor was staying at Walsh Cost, where he met, and was on friendly terms with Lord Aylmer’s family. One of the young ladies of the family becomes his especial favorite. Miss Aylmer was at that time four years younger than Landor, and they seem to have been thrown much together. The tender and lasting impression which his young friend made on Landor, is seen in the sad and gentle allusions to her in some of his poetry written many years after the time to which it refers. It is curious to note that Landor’s introduction to fame was indirectly or accidentally associated wth Miss Aylmer. Landor’s first miraculous beauties named “GABIR”.

Lady Aylmer, the widow of Henry, the fourth baron, married secondly Mr. Howell Price. Possibly it was in consequence of this re-marriage that her daughter Rose went to Calcutta to her aunt Lady Russel, wife of Sir Henry Russel, who became a reputed judge, and was afterwards made Chief Justice, and eventually a baronet.

The Calcutta Gazette in the first week of March 1800 records the sad event, “On Sunday last at the house of her uncle Sir Henry Russel in the bloom of youth and possession of every accomplishment that could gladden or embellish life, deplored by her relatives and regretted by a society of which she was the brightest ornament, the humble Miss Aylmer.”

When the news of her death reached Landor, he wrote first draft of the little elegy carved as it were in Ivory or Gems.

                     Ah, what avails the sceptred face ?
                     Ah, what the form divine
                     What every virtue, every grace
                     Rose Aylmer, all were thine
                     Rose Aylmer, whom these wakeful eyes
                     May weep, but never see
                     A night of memories and of sighs

                     I consecrate to thee.


CAPTAIN WILLIAM MACKAY

Strange to say, this grave also like that of Rose Aylmer next has claim on the interest as that of one associated with a name illustrious in English literature, a poet greater than Landor- “Lord Byron”. The tomb is that of a young sailor, Captain William Mackay who died in 1804, and the inscription over it recalls his “manly fortitude” which “his interesting narrative of the ship of the JUNO will testify to future times”. Such indulgent forecasts of sorrowing friends are not often realized, but this one comes nearer to being so than most, owing to the little narrative having fallen into the hands of Byron, with whom as a schoolboy, it was favorite reading, and the deep impression which it made on him was shown when he came to write the shipwreck in DON JUAN.

The first account of this wreck was sent to India by the magistrate of Chittagong and appeared in the Calcutta Newspapers. Two years afterwards William Mackay wrote the little narrative of it in the form of a letter to his father, which was published. It was this publication which Byron read when he was at Dr. Glennie’s school at Dulwich.

[Sources: a) " Calcutta Past & Present" by Kathleen Blechynden, edited by Nisith Ranjan Roy.  b) " Echoes of Old Calcutta " by  H. E. Busteed. (Rupa &Co.)].


Henry Louis Vivian Derozio  

Henry Louis Vivian Derozio was a fiery Indian teacher and poet. As a lecturer at the Hindu College of Kolkata, he had invigorated a large group of students to think independently. This Young Bengal group played a key role in the Bengal renaissance. Derozio was generally considered an Anglo-Indian, being of mixed Portuguese descent, but he was fired by a patriotic spirit for his native Bengal, and considered himself Indian.

“My Country ! In the days of Glory Past
A beauteous halo circled round thy brow
And worshiped as deity thou wast,
Where is that Glory, where is that reverence now ?”

The son of Francis Derozio, he was born at Entally-Padmapukur at Kolkata on 10th April 1809. He attended David Drummond’s Dhurramtalla Academy school, where he was a star pupil, evading widely on topics like the French revolution. 


He quit school at the age of 14 and initially joined his father’s concern at Kolkata and later shifted to Bhagalpur. Inspired by the scenic beauty of the banks of the river Ganges, he started writing poetry. Some of these were published in Dr. Grant’s “India Gazette”. His critical review of a book by Emmanuel Kant attracted the attention of the intelligentsia. In 1828, he went to Kolkata with the objective of publishing his own poem. On learning that a faculty position was vacant at the newly established Hindu College, he applied for it and was selected. This was the time when Hindu society in Bengal was undergoing considerable turmoil. In 1828, Raja Ram Mohan Roy established the Brahmo Samaj, which kept Hindu ideals but denied idolatry. These resulted in a backlash within orthodox Hindu society. It is in the perspective of these changes that Derozio was appointed at Hindu college, where he helped release the ideas for social change already in the air.

In May 1826, at the age of 17, he was appointed teacher in English literature and history at the new Hindu College, which had been set up to meet the interest in English education among Indians. He was initially a teacher in the second and third classes, later also for the fourth, but he attracted students from all classes. He interacted freely with students, well beyond the class hours. His zeal for interacting with students was legendary.

His brilliant lectures presented closely reasoned arguments based on his wide reading. He encouraged students to read Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man and other free-thinking texts. Although Derozio himself was an atheist and had renounced Christianity, he encouraged questioning the orthodox Hindu customs and conventions on the basis of Italian renaissance and its offshoot rationalism. He infused in his students the spirit of free expression, the yearning for knowledge and a passion to live up to their identity, while questioning irrational religious and cultural practices. Derozio’s zeal for teaching and his interaction with students created a sensation in Hindu college. His students come to be known as “Derozians”. He organized debates where ideas and social norms were freely debated. In 1828, he motivated them to form a literary and debating club called the Academic Association. In 1830 this club brought out a magazine “Parthenon”(only one issue came out).

Apart from articles criticizing Hindu practices, the students wrote on women emancipation and criticized many aspects of British rule. He also encouraged students into journalism, to spread these ideas into a society eager for change. In mid 1831 he helped Krishna Mohan Banerjee start an English weekly, “ The Enquirer”, while Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee and Rasik Krishna Mallick began publishing a Bengali paper, “The Jnanvesan” . He took great pleasure in his interaction with students, writing about them:

“Expanding like the petals of young flowers
I watch the gentle opening of your minds..”


He was close in age of most of his students (some were older than he was). The motto of Derozians was “He who will not reason is a bigot, he who cannot is a fool, and he who does not reason is a slave.” So, all ideas were open to challenge. Many of his inner circle of students eventually rebelled against Hindu orthodoxy, and joined the Brahmo Samaj, while some like Krishna Mohan Banerjee converted to Christianity, and others like Ramtanu Lahiri gave up their scared thread. Others went on to write in Bengali, including Peary Chand Mitra, who authored the first novel in Bengali (Alaler Gharer Dulal). The radicalism of his teaching and his student group caused an intense backlash against him.


Due to his unorthodox (legendarily free) views on society, culture and religion, the Hindu-dominated management committee of the college, under the chairmanship of Radhakanta Deb, expelled him as a faculty member by a  6:1 vote, for having materially injured (the student’s) morals and introduced some strange system the tendency of which is destruction to their moral character and peace in society. In consequence of his misunderstanding no less than 25 pupils of respectable families have been withdrawn from the college.

Though facing penury, he continued his interaction with his students, indeed  he was able to do more, helping them bring out several newspapers etc. However, at the end of the year, he contracted cholera, which was fatal at that time, and died on 26th December 1831 at the age of 22. Being a Christian apostate, he was denied burial inside south Park Street Cemetery; instead he was buried just outside it on the road.


This anti-imperialist fervor also separated him from the Anglo-Indian (The Eurasian) community, who were overwhelmingly pro-British. At one point he urged his fellow Anglo-Indians that it would be in their interest to unite and be cooperative with the other native inhabitants of India. Any other course will subject them to greater opposition than they have at present. His ideas had a profound influence on the social movement that came to be known as the Bengal Renaissance in early 19th century Bengal. And despite being viewed as something of an iconoclast by others like Alexander Duff and other (largely evangelical) Christian Missionaries, later in Duff’s Assembly’s Institution, Derozio’s ideas on the acceptance of the rational spirit were accepted partly as long as they were not in conflict with basic tenets of Christianity, as long as they critiqued orthodox Hinduism.

Derozio was an atheist but his ideas are generally believed to be partly responsible for the conversion of upper class Hindues like Krishna Mohan Banerjee and Lal Behari Dey to Christianity. Samaren Roy, however, states that only three Hindu pupils among his first group of students became Christians, and asserts that Derozio had no role to play in their change of faith. He points out that dismissal of Derozio was sought by both Hindus such as Ramkamal Sen, as well as Christians such as H. H. Wilson. Many other students like Tarachand Chakraborty became leaders in the Brahmo Samaj.

Sources :

The Fakeer of Jungheera (1828)—Poems. London: Oxford University Press 1923.
Poems . Edited by P. Lal. Susobhan Sarkar. Calcutta : Writers Workshop. 1972.

Henry Louis Vivian: Derozio (1808-1831), Anglo-Indian Patriot And Poet ; A Memorial Volume. Edited by Mary Ann Dasgupta. Calcutta: Derozio Commemorative Committee, 1973. 

CHARLES  STUART

For centuries the British have been fascinated by the cultures of India, and they have struggled with greater or lesser success to understand them. For the eighteenth-century European, the most intriguing mystery of India was Hinduism, a faith that confusingly seemed to advocate both world-denying asceticism and riotous physical pleasure. Why were some Hindu temples, unlike English cathedrals, richly decorated with erotic sculptures? Where Christian god endured unbearable suffering, Hindu gods seem to rejoice in sex. But around 1800, one man, Charles Stuart, decided to explain to the British that Hinduism should be seriously studied and greatly admired. Stuart started off as a cadet in the Bengal Army in 1777 and rose through to become a general by 1814 without any battle experience, but at the same time without any “connections”. He was certainly considered an eccentric, constructing a temple in Sagar Island , acquiring an India Bibi and being formally certified as ‘gone native’. In 1778 he wrote his first article about military clothing and professed the use of Indian clothing and articles in India, as they are convenient and appropriate and states by attacking European prejudices. He also writes extensively about the treatment of an Indian soldier and the aspect of discipline, and here is where it becomes amply clear that this man had studied the Indian psyche in great detail, on matters of pride, position, custom and tradition.

But though he admitted to be anti-Christian, he stated that he had not converted to Hinduism, for he would have had to leave the army as well. As part of his study of Indian cultures, Stuart put together a huge collection of sculpture- designed to include “examples of each deity as a kind of visual encyclopedia of religions and customs.” some rare and old, and of high artistic merit. His method of collection was not altogether honourable,  for some rumors of taking them away at night by force have been mentioned. His collection was displayed to the public at his home in Calcutta, converted into a museum.


It was one of the first serious attempts to present Indian culture in a systematic way to an European audience. (Upon his death, several of these were interred into the tomb. Most of his collection went to England after his death and were eventually auctioned off by Christies. Some went to British museum and some to private hands for pittance). Far from finding Hinduism disconcerting, Stuart saw in it an admirable framework for living, that was at least the moral equal to Christianity, and in 1808 he published his views in a pamphlet, “ Vindication of the Hindoos”: “Wherever I look around me, in the vast ocean of Hindu mythology, I discover Piety….Morality….and as far as I can rely on my judgment, it appears the most complete and ample system of Moral Allegory the world has ever produced.”

Stuart spoke out strongly against missionary attempts to convert Hindus to Christianity. He thought it simply impertinent, and his intention always was that his collection should be seen in England to persuade the British to honor this great world religion.


Sources
             a) " A Solitary vindicator of Hindoos" - by Jorg Fisch.
             b) " Lives of Indian Images " by Richard H.Davis.
             c) " The British Missionary Enterprise since 1700" - by Jeffery Cox
             d) " White Mughals" - by William Dalrymple.
             e) " The History of medieval Vaishnavism in Orissa" -by Prabhat Mukherjee.

             f)  wiki (net)

             Research  -Santanu Roy.


             Picture Courtesy - Sudip Ghosh.        



Saturday, 3 August 2013

ST. JOHN'S CHURCH & THE CHURCH YARD

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 ACHILLES KIRKPATRICK

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.




WILLIAM  HAMILTON

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.


BEGUM  JOHNSON

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.