In a post I wrote over a year ago, I introduced readers to many aspects of Victorian Calcutta, a major “character” in Gorosthaney Sabdhan! In the interim, Sandip Ray’s film based on the novella has been released. I thought it might be a good time to expand on the early history of the Calcutta with respect to Satyajit Ray’s original work.
There is a very wide body of work available for modern sleuths who wish to visit the Park Street Cemetery to see some of the old gravestones. Three books I recommend which are available online are Thacker’s Guide to Calcutta (published in 1906), The Thackerays in India and some Calcutta Graves (written by the historian Sir William Wilson Hunter in 1897), and perhaps the most definitive book on early Calcutta ever written, Calcutta: Old and New, a historical and descriptive history of the city, a 1100 page guide written by Sir Evan Cotton and published in 1906.
Sir Cotton’s book lists all the major roads of early Calcutta along with the names. I plan to cover them in a future article. He also mentions all the marble cenotaphs in St. John’s Cathedral on Park Street. Sir Cotton has provided as much biographical information on all of the listed dead in the North Park Street and South Park Street Graveyards. My goal in this post is not to go into too much detail into the graves of Calcutta, but to provide an introduction to a few tombstones, many of which are mentioned in Gorosthaney Sabdhan!
A few of the notable dead inhabitants of the South Park Street Cemetery are two Chief Justices of the Supreme Court—Sir Richard Henry Blosset (1823), and Sir Christopher Puller (1824) Bishop Truner (1831), the fourth Bishop of Calcutta; Charlotte Bercher (1759). Richard Thackeray, the father of the famous English novelist, William Makepeace Thackeray is also buried in the old graveyard; indeed the younger Thackeray was born in Calcutta. A very large number of the early inhabitants of Calcutta passed away and are interred in the graveyard. In fact, in of the early years after the founding of Calcutta, nearly one third of the population of English colonists passed away in the swampland.
Of course the most impressive structure is the mausoleum of Job Charnock, the founder of the city itself. The Charnock Mausoleum was erected in 1695 over the grave of the founder of Calcutta by his son-in-law Sir Charles Eyre. Of Charnock’s mausoleum, Sir Cotton writes:
There can be no doubt, that whoever else may afterwards have been interred within the great tomb, the body of Charnock must have occupied the central position and still rests there. Excavations made in 1892 as the result of the state of disrepair into which the Mausoleum had fallen, disclosed human remains in the centre of the floor, lying east by west: and had the work been persisted in, there is every likelihood the mortal part of the Father of Calcutta would have been discovered. There are four black stone slabs now within the tomb. The two in the centre commemorate Charnock and his daughters, Mary Eyre and Catherine White, whose husband Jonathan’s stone lies among those which encircle the base of the Mausoleum outside. Flanking them on the right is a slab in memory of Mrs. Maria Eyles, and on the left is the well-known tablet which recalls the name of Surgeon William Hamilton.
There is also a mention of theLatin inscription in Gorosthaney Sabdhan! of which Feluda explains the meaning to Lalmohan Ganguly (aka Jatayu) and Topshe:
D. O. M. Jobus Charnock Armigcr Anglus et nuper in hoc regno Bengalensi dignissimus, Anglorum Agens mortalitatis suae exuvias sub hoc marmore deposuit, ut in spe beatae resurrectionis ad Christi judicis adventum obdormirent.
If Job Charnock was the unhappy founder of Calcutta, then Surgeon William Hamilton, whose body was laid to rest next to him, was one of the early employees of the East India Company who cemented the rule of the British. As Sir Cotton notes:
[Surgeon Hamilton] was appointed to accompany Surman’s Embassy to Delhi in January, 1714: and it was during his stay in the capital that he cured the Emperor Ferokh Shah in November, 1715. In consequence, so runs the tradition, the prayers of the English were granted. The purchases of the three villages of Govindpore, Suttanuttee and Calcutta, was confirmed : permission was given to acquire Zemindari rights over the neighbouring villages: and the privileges of free trade and a free use of the Mini were accorded.
Had Hamilton failed to properly treat the Mughal emperor, the city of Calcutta might never have been founded and the history of the subcontinent would have been different.
The most striking monument might be what looks like a Hindu temple. It is erected over the remains of Major-General Charles Stuart, known as ” Hindu Stuart” for his acceptance of Hindu customs.Hindu Stuart built a temple at Sagar In 1828, he died at his home in Wood Street and was buried in the South Park Street Cemetery.
Finally, most readers will be familiar with the persona of Henry Louis Vivian Derozio who died in 1831 at the age of 22! His body is laid to rest in a quiet corner of the South Park Street Cemetery.
Two hundred years ago Park Street was the most sophisticated area of European Calcutta. Today it maintains some of the status and of the early history is buried in the plots adjacent the hustle and bustle of Kolkata.