Calcutta: Past and Present/Chapter 8
TOLD BY THE TOMBS
Burying Ground Road (Park Street)—The Cemeteries—Tomb of Sir W. Jones, with contemporary account of his death and funeral—Col. Kyd, his will, details of his funeral, and site of his —Tombs connected with English literature: Richmond Thackeray, Col. Kirkpatrick, Rose Aylmer—Chambers' child, with some account of the loss of the Grosvenor East Indiaman.
WHEN Begum Johnson was laid to her last rest in St, John's Churchyard in 1812, that old burying-ground had been closed for interments for half a century. One of the earliest of the changes which, after Plassey, marked the transition of Calcutta from a fortified settlement to a town, was the formation of a new burial-place for the dead, away from the dwellings of the living, since there was no longer the need to keep it sheltered under the guns of the Fort. The proceedings of the Board for September 29, 1766, record—
"The present burying-ground, situate in the middle of the town, is very detrimental to the health of the inhabitants, and too much confined: the Civil Architect is therefore directed to point out a more convenient situation for one to be made of proper dimensions."
A year later, in August, 1767, the president acquainted the Board that the new burying-ground was ready; and on the same day, the 25th of August, the first funeral took place there: it was that of Mr, Wood, a writer in the Council House, whose grave was obliterated later, when the cemetery was enlarged by the addition of a piece of ground to the south, Mr. Wood's grave did not remain solitary for long. The recorded burials of the period average two hundred a year, and soon the heavy monuments arose and multiplied on every side, as the City of the Dead gathered in its denizens. A description of the Park Street cemeteries, as they appeared in 1785, is to be found in the letters of Sophia Goldborne, in "Hartly House, Calcutta:"—
"Alas! Arabella," wrote the young lady in saddened strain, "the Bengal burying-grounds (for there are two of them) bear a melancholy testimony to the truth of my observations on the short date of existence in this climate. . . . Obelisks, pagodas, etc., are erected at great expense; and the whole spot is surrounded by as well-turned a walk as those you traverse in Kensington Gardens, ornamented with a double row of aromatic trees, which afford a solemn and beautiful shade: in a word, not old Windsor Churchyard, with all its cypress and yews, is in the smallest degree comparable to them; and I quitted them with unspeakable reluctance.
"There is no difference between these two grounds, but in the expense of the monuments which denote that persons of large fortune are there interred, and vice versâ: whence, in order to preserve this difference in the appearance, the first ranks pay five hundred rupees, the second three hundred, for opening the ground; and they are disjoined merely by a broad road."
It is not quite clear whether the two burying-grounds thus described are those now known as the North and South Park Street burying-grounds, which lie opposite to each other on either side of Park Street, or whether the description applied to the older, the South Ground only. The earliest epitaph in the North Ground, given in that quaint compilation, the "Bengal Obituary ," is dated 1791, some six or seven years later than the period of the letters.
When the South Park Street Burying Ground was opened it was surrounded by fields, and was far in the country, though it is many years now
SIR W. JONES'S MONUMENT.
ROSE AYLMER'S MONUMENT.
[Face p. 153.
"Funerals are indeed solemn and affecting things at Calcutta," she wrote, "no hearses being here introduced, or hired mourners employed; for as it often happens, in the gay circles, that a friend is dined with one day and the next is in eternity, the feelings are interested, the sensations awful, and the mental question, for the period of interment at least, which will be tomorrow's victim? The departed one, of whatever rank, is carried on men's shoulders (like your walking funerals in England), and a procession of gentlemen, equally numerous and respectable from the extent of genteel connections, following—the well-situated and the worthy being universally esteemed and caressed while living, and lamented when dead."
One of the most conspicuous monuments in the South Ground is that which marks the grave of Sir William Jones, and bears the following epitaph, remarkable no less for the noble sentiments expressed, than from the fact that it was written by himself:—
Here was deposited the mortal part of a man
Who feared God, but not death,
And maintained independence,
But sought not riches; who thought
None below him but the base and unjust,
None above him but the wise and virtuous;
His parents, kindred, friends, and country,
With an ardour
Which was the chief source of
All his pleasures and all his pains :
And who, having devoted
His life to their service, and to
The improvement of his mind, resigned it calmly,
Giving Glory to his Creator,
Wishing peace on earth
And with good will to all creatures.
On the twenty-seventh day of April,
In the year of our blessed Redeemer,
One thousand seven hundred and ninety-four.
The lofty obelisk, its clear-cut lines towering far above the surrounding structures, is typical of him who sleeps below, whose name similarly dominates all others in the history of the decade during which he laboured in Bengal.
Sir William Jones arrived at Calcutta in 1783, to take up the office of a puisne judge of the Supreme Court, and the account of his reception given by his biographer indicates the high place which he at once took in public estimation, a place which he held with increasing honour to the last.
"His reputation," says the record, "had preceded his arrival, which was anxiously expected, and he had the happiness to find that his appointment had diffused a general satisfaction, which his presence now rendered complete. The students of the Oriental languages were eager to welcome a scholar, whose erudition in that branch of literature was unrivalled, and whose labours and genius had assisted their progress; while the public rejoiced in the possession of a magistrate whose probity and independence were no less acknowledged than his abilities."
One of Sir William Jones's earliest acts in India was the founding of the Asiatic Society, and, for ten years, he laboured with indefatigable zeal and stupendous learning, carrying out his duties on the Bench with care and dignity, studying Sanskrit, writing voluminously, translating learnedly, and attending the weekly meetings of the Society he had founded, and to which he contributed many valuable papers, notably his discourses as president. In one of these, the seventh, it is curious to note that, according to a writer in the Calcutta Review for September, 1846, he, after discussing the Chinese and their origin, as a people who are mentioned in Manu as a race of outcast Hindus, "noticed Japan, the Britain of the East, colonized by Hindus 1300 B.C., where Hindu idolatry prevailed from the earliest ages."
In the midst of these manifold labours, and in the prime of life—he was just forty-seven,—Sir William Jones was, in 1794, stricken with a mortal malady. His wife, whom he had married on his obtaining the Indian appointment, had been in poor health, and he had sent her to England, intending to follow her in a year's time, on the completion of a work on Hindu law on which he was engaged, so that he was living alone in his house at Garden Reach. Although the particulars of his pathetic and lonely death are well known, the following extracts from the diary of one of his Calcutta contemporaries have a melancholy interest, and give a vivid sense of the strength of the feelings of attachment and regard which the great scholar and remarkable man inspired.
"April 27th, 1794. Received the information that Sir William Jones was no more! I confess it struck me severely, and, in the bitterness of my grief, I almost cursed my own existence to think that such really great and good men as he should be thus snatched away, whilst the wicked and ignorant are permitted not only to walk this planet, but to commit their depredations upon it! Whatever is, is right!
"April 28th. Arose at five. W. and I rode on horseback to the west of the Fort, round by the eastward to Chowringhee, where we waited upwards of an hour to see the funeral of Sir William Jones pass by. All the European troops in garrison were there, with clubbed arms.
"April 30th, In conversation this day with R. about Sir William Jones, whose lamented death lies uppermost in my mind. He told me he had been ill for about a week or ten days (or rather complained of being ill about that period) before his death. Doctor Hare attended him, . . . and found on the right side a tumour as big as his fist. Inquiring when this came, he said it appeared about four or five months ago, but that, as it came of itself, he imagined it would go away in the same manner, and had taken no notice of it, only by way of exercise had walked every day before his carriage to and from the Garden, upwards of four miles. On being asked if it had not been very painful, he replied that it had been so very severe that he would not go through such another period for all the riches and honours in the world. On hearing this, one is tempted to call out, 'Oh! the weakness of a strong mind!' He said he thought it beneath him to let the mind bend to the pains of the body. He must have been delirious much longer than they think, as he would not let any one approach him, not even his favourite slave-boy Otho. R. said Sir John Shore had even offered to sit up with him, but he answered he was better, and his mind quite easy.
"On Saturday night the doctors thought him better, and had recommended him to go home, either on the Boddington or Sugar Cane, Botany Bay ships, by which time they hoped to have him able to undertake the voyage, proposing first to salivate him. Early on Sunday morning the consomah ran over to Sir John Shore's, and said his master was mad, by which he understood he was delirious, and went there accompanied by Sir Robert Abercromby, the General. Just as they came to the premises another servant came out, and said that, since the consomah had left the house, Sir William had called for a dish of tea, drank it, and died! On their entrance they found him reclining on the couch, his head against his right hand, and the forefinger upwards towards the forehead, his usual attitude—his extremities were warm. Thus ended the mortal career of that truly great man Sir William Jones."
There is one sentence in the above extracts, penned as they were in a spirit of genuine admiration and manly grief, that strikes a jarring note to the modern ear. "His favourite slave-boy Otho," reads strangely, and it is hard to reconcile the master of the slave with the judge who, in one of his charges to the Calcutta Grand Jury,
SIR WILLIAM JONES.
LT.-COL. ROBERT KYD.
[Face p. 158.
"Hardly a man or woman exists in a corner of this populous town who hath not at least one slave-child, either purchased at a trifling price, or saved perhaps from a death, that might have been fortunate, for a life that seldom fails of being miserable. Many of you, I presume, have seen large boats filled with such children, coming down the river for open sale at Calcutta: nor can you be ignorant that most of them were stolen from their parents, bought, perhaps, for a measure of rice in a time of scarcity, and that the sale itself is a defiance of this Government by violating one of its positive orders, which was made some years ago, after a consultation of the most reputable Hindus in Calcutta, who condemned such a traffic, as repugnant to their Sástra. The number of small houses in which these victims are pent, make it indeed very difficult for the settlement at large to be apprised of their condition: and if the sufferers knew where or how to complain, their very complaints may expose them to still harsher treatment: to be tortured if remanded, or, if set at liberty, to starve."
This picture of slavery in Calcutta at the close of the eighteenth century, horrible as it is, was by no means overdrawn, and the hideous custom did not die out till nearly fifty years after that period. There are old people still living who can tell of the time when slave boys and girls were ordinary inmates of numbers of European households in Calcutta—children, the larger number of whom had been bought for three or four rupees, from dealers who in turn had purchased them for "a measure of rice" from their starving parents in a famine year, or rescued them from flooded homesteads when the country was swept by a storm-wave, or perhaps snatched them by stealth from the river's bank, where hapless babes were left to perish by the side of a dying or dead mother, the victim of a ghastly "ghat murder" perpetrated in the name of religion.
That the custom of keeping slaves was a recognized one in spite of its being against the order of the Government, we find, not only from the mention of Sir William Jones's boy Otho, but also from another document of the same period, the will of Lieut-Colonel Robert Kyd, who also lies in the South Park Street Burial Ground. By his will, dated 18th May, 1793, a week before his death, Colonel Kyd left legacies, of six rupees and eight rupees monthly respectively, to two boys, Missah and George, "as reparation for having been taken away from their home and friends, and the latter converted to Christianity by his former master, and taken from his own tribe, believed Rajpoots."
A very different type of man to Sir William Jones, Lieut-Colonel Kyd stands out an interesting figure among old Calcutta worthies, and his name should be held in grateful remembrance as the founder of the beautiful Botanic Gardens. When Colonel Kyd, in 1786, first made his proposal to the East India Company to establish a Botanic Garden, he was Military Secretary to Government. Ten years earlier he had visited the then "eastern frontier" the western borders of Assam, and had brought from there young plants of a species of cinnamon which he had found growing wild there. Within the next few years other specimens had been obtained from Bhutan, and still other plants of the true cinnamon from Ceylon. All these plants were "deposited in the Governor-General's garden," the "well-stocked garden " of Warren Hastings' "old house" in Alipore; and there they throve so well, that it was on their successful transplantation to Bengal that Colonel Kyd laid stress, as proving the usefulness and practicability of his scheme. As Ceylon and the profitable cinnamon trade was at that time in the hands of the Dutch, the Board of Directors readily agreed to a proposal which seemed to promise a prospect of successful competition, the proposed garden was sanctioned, and Colonel Kyd was appointed honorary superintendent, a post which he held till his death, seven years later, in 1793.
Colonel Kyd had a house at Shalimar, in the neighbourhood of Howrah, on the opposite bank of the river to Calcutta, and adjoining the grounds was a plot of land which was selected for the Botanical Garden. The eastern end of this strip of land, which lay along the river-bank, was separated from Colonel Kyd's own grounds of Shalimar only by a ditch, crossed by a masonry bridge. All this portion of the garden—which had been occupied by a few native huts, whose owners, having no other title than possession, were compensated and removed—was laid out as a teak plantation, with the idea of obtaining timber for the Company's navy. But the trees did not thrive, and thirty-four years later, the experiment having proved a failure, the land was made over by the Government to Bishop Middleton, as a site for Bishop's College, founded in 1820. At the same time, a portion of Colonel Kyd's old garden was presented to the College by Sir C. T. Metcalfe, who then owned the property. The whole site is now in the occupapation of the Engineering College, for which the Government purchased it from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, when Bishop's College was removed to Calcutta, in 1879,
The lower, or western, end of the Botanical Garden was the land which had been occupied by the old native fort of Tanna or Muckwah Thanna, which stood just about the position of the superintendent's house, and was a Mohammedan outpost built to protect the trade of the river. At the end of the seventeenth century, when the Hughly River was infested with Portuguese pirates, the Mohammedan Governor of Bengal had a chain kept at Tanna Fort, which used to be fastened across the river to bar the passage of the buccaneers should they be tempted to sail up stream, to loot the villages of the wealthy traders of the higher reaches.
After the establishment of the Botanical Gardens, Colonel Kyd continued to reside in his house at Shalimar, which he had built, and to which he was much attached. It is pathetic to read, in his will, the careful dying directions for the up-keep of his garden and the care of his household till the return to India of his relative and heir, Major, afterwards General, Alexander Kyd, and his instructions regarding the disposal of his unfinished collections of botanical drawings of the plants in the environs, of birds indigenous to this tract, also of the fish frequenting the Hughly. "These," he wrote, "having been collected at the Company's expense, are public property, and should be transmitted to the Court of Directors, although unarranged in botanical or artificial order, which I had reserved for a future day."
Saddest of all are the sentences in which he directs that his "last remains be committed to the ground, in my own garden, on the west side of the Pucka Walled Tank, near to where an Alligator tree now stands, and that my funeral expenses do not exceed rupees three hundred."
These last directions were disregarded: it was probably felt that it would be improper to give so honoured and distinguished a servant of the Company so obscure a burial, and Colonel Kyd was buried, by order of Sir John Shore, in the South Park Street Burying Ground, at a cost of over eight hundred rupees. Although the funeral was conducted with much pomp and ceremony, including "hearse with velvet and plumes and best pall" and "two men in black with dressed staffe, eta, to precede the corpse," and was followed by fifty-three mourners in "black silk scarfs and hatbands," the grave itself, which was made just within the gate of the burying-ground, immediately to the right on entering, remained unmarked by tablet or monument. An oblong platform of masonry, it was for years utilized as the foundation for a hut used by the native gardeners; then it fell into ruins, and, finally, a well was sunk on the very spot, and every trace of the grave obliterated, and so at last the wish of the quiet lover of nature was gratified.
There are three graves in the Park Street cemeteries which are closely associated with English literature: they are those of the Honourable Miss Aylmer, of Richmond Thackeray, and of Lieut-Colonel James Achilles Kirkpatrick. The two latter are in the North Burying Ground, but that of Miss Aylmer is in the South Ground, not far from that of Sir William Jones, and is marked by a graceful monument symbolical of the beautiful young life cut short—a fluted, tapering pillar, broken across, wreathed with drooping roses, joining inverted torches. It bears the following inscription:—
To the Memory of the Honourable
Rose Whitworth Aylmer
Who departed this life March 2nd, a.d. 1800,
Aged 20 years.
What was her fate? Long, long before her hour,
Death called her tender soul, by break of bliss.
From the first blossoms, to the buds of joy:
Those few our noxious fate unblasted leaves
In this inclement clime of human life.
Miss Aylmer went to Calcutta, to her aunt, Lady Russell, the wife of Sir Henry Russell, one of the judges of the Supreme Court; and it was in their house in Chowringhee, the house which gave its name to Russell Street, to which the grounds extended at the back, that she died. The event was announced in the Calcutta Gazette in the following terms:—
"On Sunday last, at the house of her uncle, Sir Henry Russell, in the bloom of youth, and possession of every accomplishment that could gladden and embellish life, deplored by her relatives and regretted by a society of which she was the brightest ornament, the Honourable Miss Aylmer"
Before Rose Aylmer left England for India, she had met Walter Savage Landor, and had inspired in him a romantic tenderness which breathes in the melodious lines he wrote on receiving the news of her death, and in which her name is enshrined in English poetry.
"Ah! what avails the sceptred race?
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."
Another love romance was closed for ever when James Kirkpatrick, the brilliant soldier-administrator of Hyderabad, was, in 1805, laid in his grave in the North Burying Ground, a grave which is lost among the crowding tombs, whose inscriptions 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, which reads as follows:—
To the memory of
LlEUT.-COLONEL JAMES ACHILLES KlRKPATRICK,
Of the Honourable East India Company's Military Establishment
of Fort St. George,
Who, after filling the distinguished station as Resident
at the Court of Hyderabad upwards of nine years,
And successfully conducting during that period various
Died at Calcutta, 15th October, 1805, aged 41 years,
This Monument is erected by his afflicted father and brothers.
Transcendent art! whose magic skill alone,
Can sofien rock, and animate a stone,
By symbol mark the heart, reflect the head,
And raise a living image from the dead!
Cease from these toils, and lend the chisel's grace
To filial virtues courting your embrace.
These relate his pride, his transport, and relief;
A father's tears commemorate with grief I
Still while their genial lustre cheers his breast
Emits a ray that points to blissful rest :
Hope built on Faith, affection's balm and cure,
Divinely whispers, "Their reward is sure." (J. K.)
As Resident at the court of the Nizam of Hyderabad, Lieut-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 were powerful rivals in Southern India; but it is his personal history that draws attention and arouses a lively interest even after the lapse of a hundred years.
In Hyderabad, Kirkpatrick was known by the Indian title Husheerat Jung, or " Glorious-in-battle." He was a great favourite with the nizam, who built 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 the refusal of her suit.
When the young girl herself, "in faint and broken accents" pleaded her love, and was supported by her mother and grandmother, Kirkpatrick, as he wrote his brother, " must have been something more or less than man to have held out any longer," and the pair were 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. By that time their two children, a boy and a girl, were three and five years old respectively; Kirkpatrick decided to send them to England to his father, and to proceed himself to Calcutta, to confer with Lord Cornwallis, who had taken over the Government, and also for the benefit of his health, which had broken down.
The children were embarked at Madras, where they parted from their parents, who were never to meet again. Kirkpatrick sailed for Calcutta, where he died soon after his arrival: the poor young begum returned alone to her splendid home, desolate at once of husband and children, and died a few years later, and so closed in sadness and loneliness the passionate romance.
The children grew up happily in their English home; the son died in early manhood, leaving a widow and three children; the daughter, who also married, lived to a great age. She was in her youth the beautiful Kitty Kirkpatrick who made so deep an impression on Carlyle, and was the original of his "Blumine" in "Sartor Resartus." In his "Reminiscences" Carlyle recalled his first sight of her, when he had just arrived on a visit to Edward Irving and his wife:—
"Dash of a brave carriage driving up, and entry of a strangely complexioned young lady, with soft brown eyes, and floods of bronze-red hair, rather a pretty-looking, smiling, and amiable, though most foreign bit of magnificence and kindly splendour, whom they welcomed by the name of 'dear Kitty.' Kitty Kirkpatrick, Charles Buller's cousin or half cousin, Mrs. Strachey's full cousin, with whom she lived: her birth, as I afterwards found, an Indian romance. Mother a sublime begum, father a ditto English official, mutually adoring, wedding, living withdrawn in their own private Paradise, romance famous in the East. A very singular 'dear Kitty' who seemed bashful withal, and soon went away, twitching off in the lobby, as I could notice, not without wonder, the loose label which was sticking to my trunk or bag, still there as she past, and carrying it off in her pretty hand."
Again Carlyle wrote:—
"Mrs. Strachey, Mrs. Buller's younger sister, took to me from the first nor ever swerved. It strikes me now more than it then did, she silently could have liked to see 'dear Kitty' and myself come together, and so continue near her, both of us, through life. The good, kind soul! And Kitty, too, was charming in her beautiful Begum sort, had wealth abundant, and might perhaps have been charmed, none knows. She had one of the prettiest smiles, a visible sense of humour, the slight merry curl of the upper lip (right side of it only), the carriage of her head and eyes on such occasions, the quaint little things she said in that kind, and her low-toned hearty laugh were noticeable. This was perhaps her most spiritual quality; of developed intellect she had not much, though not wanting in discernment: amiable, affectionate, graceful, might be called attractive, not slim enough for the title pretty, not tall enough for beautiful, had something low-voiced, languidly harmonious, loved perfumes, etc., a half-Begum in short, an interesting specimen of the semi-oriental English woman."
A subtle, fascinating picture this, which forms a delicate glittering link between the rugged figure of grim Thomas Carlyle, and the brilliant soldier who lorded it so proudly among the nobles of Hyderabad, and rests so quietly in his time-worn tomb, in the North Park Street Burying Ground.
Close to where Kirkpatrick lies in his soldier-grave, is the square brick-built monument which marks the grave of the civilian Richmond Thackeray, the father of William Makepeace Thackeray. Richmond was the son of an earlier William Makepeace Thackeray who, as Sir W. W. Hunter has told, made a very large fortune during his eleven years' service in Bengal as Resident at Sylhet, chiefly by the capture of wild elephants, which he sold to his honourable masters, at a handsome profit to himself. Sylhet Thackeray married, in Calcutta, in 1776, a daughter of Lieut-Colonel Richmond Webb, and retired from India the year after, at the age of twenty-eight, to live in comfort and style for thirty-five years in England, from where he sent out to India six sons and three daughters, out of his family of twelve children.
Of the sons, two spent some years in Calcutta, and died there: Richmond, the civilian, and Charles, a barrister. Clever, witty, an able writer, and a charming companion, Charles Thackeray fell a victim to his own convivial tastes. His practice at the Bar was of the slightest, but he was on the staff of the leading Calcutta newspaper, the then newly created Englishman, and might have prospered but for the vice which dragged him down. He lived for many years in Alipore, at No. 12, and died in the early forties of the last century, leaving none to mourn him, or to place a kindly record on his grave. His brother died some thirty years before him, in September, 1815. Richmond Thackeray arrived
RICHMOND THACKERAY'S TOMB.
KIERNANDER FAMILY VAULT.
[Face p. 173.
tradition be true, in the house which became later the Armenian convent. Before his little son was six months old, Richmond Thackeray became Collector of the Twenty-four Pergunnahs, and removed with his family to Alipore, where they lived in the house which had been "The Lodge" of Philip Francis. There he died, four years later, and from there the long procession of his funeral made its way down the oft-trodden road to the Park Street Burial Ground. His long and formal epitaph thus records his virtues, and the admiration of his friends:—
To the Memory of
Richmond Thackeray, Esqre.,
late on the Bengal Establishment of the
Honourable East India Company,
who expired on the 13th September, 181 5,
at the premature age of 32 years,
10 months, and 23 days.
To the best endowments of the understanding,
and to the purest principles in public life,
he united all the social and tender affections : under
the influence of these moral and intellectual
qualities he ever maintained the character of a
public officer with the highest degree of
credit to himself, and discharged in a manner
not less exemplary the duties which devolved upon
him in the several relations of private life.
To transmit to prosperity a memorial of
these virtues the present monument has been
erected by those who had the best means
of contemplating the habitual exercise of them
in the varied character of a son, a brother,
a husband, a father, and a friend.
Richmond Thackeray's tomb stands beside the western boundary wall of the cemetery; near it, crushed in by other dark and dismal monuments against the wall that separates the Mission Ground, is another tomb which deserves notice. It is that of William Jones, who in the early days of the nineteenth century was known in Calcutta as Guru Jones, the teacher, the master. As the discoverer of coal in India, Jones has a strong claim to be gratefully remembered. As an engineer and architect he did good service, and it was his professional skill, joined to his clear judgment and sterling worth, that won him the reverend title of Guru among his friends.
A shadowy mystery clings to the memory of Guru Jones, and suggests that he was the lost heir to an Irish dukedom. The story goes that, the youngest son of the late duke, he left his home through family quarrels, and sought his fortune in India, then the Land of Promise to every young adventurer. By the deaths of his father and brother the wanderer became the heir, but if he knew of the change in his fortunes he made no claim, and, failing his return, the title lapsed. Vague hints there are of letters that entreated the truant to return, of legal inquiries that strove to identify the lost heir, but whatever may have been the truth it lies buried under the grimy monument which records his widow's sense of his worth, and her regret, which no "pencil can describe, for the husband, the father, and the friend."
Jones was the architect of Bishop's College, Sibpur, and his death, which occurred on the 23rd of September, 1821, at the age of forty-four, was caused by a stroke of the sun while superintending the building. Bishop Middleton, the founder of the college, who himself died in the following year from the same cause, preached a funeral sermon on the death of William Jones, in which he spoke of the beautiful college as a noble monument to the memory of its architect.
Hard by the tomb of Guru Jones is a little wicket gate into the Mission Burial Ground, the plot of land which the Reverend J. Z. Kiernander bought in 1773, when he buried his wife there, and which later became the property of the trustees of the Mission Church. Here stands the heavy brick structure which Kiernander, as the inscription states, "caused to be erected as a testimony of sincere and affectionate regard" to the memory of his wife, and which marks the vault wherein he and many of his descendants are laid.
A short distance to the westward of the Mission Ground lies the fourth, and last, of the Park Street cemeteries, that known as the French or Tiretta's Burial Ground. This ground, like the Mission Ground, was purchased by a bereaved husband that he might there make a grave for his wife, and was subsequently presented by him to the members of his communion and their descendants. Edward Tiretta was an Italian of good family, who, having had to fly his own country for a political offence, drifted to Calcutta, where for many years he held the post of civil architect to Government, returning at last to his native land, where he died at an advanced age.
In 1796 Tiretta had the misfortune to lose his young wife, the orphan daughter of a French officer, the Count de Carrion, and he buried her in the Roman Catholic cemetery at Boitakhana, near Sealdah. Finding, however, that the graves in this cemetery were used repeatedly for fresh interments, he bought a plot of land near the other burial-grounds, and removed his wife's remains there, building over her grave a graceful monument with a Latin inscription. The new burial-ground thus established was presented by Tiretta to the Roman Catholic community, and the year after his wife's death a second grave was made there, that of his friend Mr. Mark Mutty, a Venetian, who, as the plain white marble slab which marks his grave records, died on the 2nd of August, 1797, aged thirty-seven years.
To chronicle all the tales of pathos and romance that whisper from the old tombs to the listening ear, would fill many volumes; but there is one sad story of the sea, that is connected with a grave in the South Ground, that should not be missed. Facing the heavy old gateway stands the "Family Tomb" of the Chambers, in which were laid, in February, 1782, the remains of Mrs. Anne Chambers, the mother of Sir Robert Chambers, afterwards Chief Justice of Bengal. The poor lady died of grief on parting with her grandchild, Sir Robert's eldest son. Mrs. Fay, who was at the time staying with Lady Chambers, recorded the sad event in her "Letters:"—
"Our friends left us on the 2nd instant," she wrote, "Sir R. and Lady C. felt severely the shock of their son's departure, but poor Mrs. C, whose very soul seemed treasured up, if I may so express myself, in her grandson, sank under the blow. On the 5th she was seized with a violent illness, of which, on the 7th, she expired. Sir R. is deeply affected, and I would be surprised if he were not, for to him she was ever an exemplary parent, and gave an irrefragable proof of strong maternal affection by accompanying him to this country at her advanced period of life. Her death is generally lamented as a most charitable, humane, good woman. 'Let her works praise her.' She was in her seventieth year. We came up here (Chinsurah) immediately after the funeral, which took place the next day, and was most numerously attended, I may say by almost the whole settlement, gentlemen as well as ladies. Her character demanded this testimony of respect, and that it was paid affords me pleasure."
Poor, tender soul! she was spared the bitter knowledge of the cruel fate which awaited the object of her affections. Within a year the bereaved parents placed upon her tomb a tablet which, fallen out now and cast away, bore this simple record of a great tragedy:—
To the Memory of
Thomas Fitzmaurice Chambers,
Son of Sir Robert and Lady Chambers,
Born on the 28th October, MDCCLXXVI.
Who was shipwrecked in the Grosvenor and
Perished on the Coast of Africa, in August, 1782.
The Grosvenor East Indiaman sailed from the Hughly on her last ill-fated voyage on the 13th of January, 1782, and proceeded to Madras, where she lay for some weeks, taking in cargo. Among her intending passengers were a Mr. and Mrs. Hosea, with their young daughter. They came to Calcutta with the intention of sailing in her from that port, but Mrs. Hosea's health obliged them to allow the ship to sail without them, and to arrange to join her at Madras by a native vessel leaving Calcutta three weeks later. Their passage-money amounted to no less a sum than twenty thousand rupees, half of which amount would have been forfeited had they failed to meet the Grosvenor in time.
The Hoseas left Calcutta, as Mrs. Fay recorded, on the 2nd of February, taking with them the Chambers' six-year-old boy, and leaving in Lady Chambers' care a little infant twenty-five days old. In due course the Grosvenor sailed from Madras; five months later she had arrived off the east coast of Africa, and there, on the 3rd of August, 1782, she was cast away, at a point near Durban, on the shore of what was then an unexplored country, inhabited by savages, and five hundred miles from the nearest civilized settlement, a town of the Dutch, who then held the Cape,
The survivors of the wreck numbered no fewer than one hundred and thirty-five persons, Europeans and natives. The officers and passengers mentioned in the accounts given in the papers of the time were the commander, Captain Coxon, and his three officers, Messrs. Logie, Shaw, and Beall; the purser, Mr. Hay; the chief mate's wife, Mrs. Logie; and passengers, Colonel and Mrs. James, Mr. and Mrs. Hosea with their daughter; two other girls, Miss Denis and Miss Wilmot; little Thomas Chambers, and another child, and Captain Adair, Mr. Nixon, and Mr. Newman, besides two native women, servants to Mrs. Hosea and Mrs. Logie.
Cast among savages who grew ever bolder and more threatening,—hampered by the sick, the injured, and the weakly,—cut off from every prospect of escape by sea, the unfortunate cast-aways essayed the impossible task of marching through an unknown and hostile country, in the hope of reaching the Dutch settlement five hundred miles away. Starting in a body, they soon broke up into parties, the strongest hurrying forward trusting to be able to reach their goal and bring back help to their weaker companions. Gradually the numbers dwindled, disease, privation, and exposure destroyed those who escaped the hands of the savages, and, in the end, of all that crowded ship's company eighteen alone survived to return to their friends. Of these, six men succeeded in reaching the Dutch settlement after a perilous journey of one hundred and seventeen days; and three sailors, seven lascars, and the two women servants were rescued, nearly two years later, by the first of several expeditions which were sent out at different times by the Dutch to search for any of the survivors.
With the rescue of these eighteen persons, the story of the wreck of the Grosvenor closed in contemporary records, but, as years passed on, again and yet again came strange rumours of English women being seen in Kaffir kraals, dressed in Kaffir fashion, and refusing to leave their savage surroundings, on the plea that they had become contented mothers of families, and were no longer willing or able to return to their old lives. During the Kaffir war of 1835, a curious incident partly raised the veil of doubt and mystery which enwrapped the fate of the lost lady-passengers. A tribe of native warriors offered their services as "brothers" to the English against their own countrymen, the Kaffirs, saying that their tribe, which numbered six hundred souls, were descendants of the English ladies who had been wrecked in the Grosvenor fifty-three years before, and now, at this day, that tribe stands out distinct from its fellows. And when men visit the rugged coast of Zululand, and, looking down through the clear waters, see the weed-grown guns and iron that mark the spot where lay the wreck, they tell again the story of the lost East Indiaman, and their thoughts rest in pity on the shadowy pathetic figures of those English women who, dead to their former world and all that they held most dear, lived out their lives as wives and mothers among an alien and savage race.