May 27, 2018

St. Mary's Cemetery of Madras

Calm be her sleep! may the tall grass wave lightly
Above the meek bosom that bless'd us of yore;
Like a bird; it has found out a region more brightly
To nestle its pinion, - but glad us no more!

The above lines from William Jones are engraved on the tomb of Acnes Eliza, daughter of Robert James Thomson. The inscription says that she died on 12th February 1866 CE at the age of 21 years. It also reads that "She was too like a dream of heaven for earthly love to merit her".

This is one of the tombs which is easily accessible and also readable among hundreds of tombstones scattered across in St. Mary's Cemetery. This is perhaps the biggest graveyard in Chennai city.

The cemetery, which was formerly called as "The English Burial Ground" has a lot of dilapidate but interesting tombstones, in various shapes, size and styles. Most of them belong to 1800s and early 1900s. Unfortunately, this vast area is poorly maintained. Trespassing by illegal elements, presence of stray dogs, snakes and scorpions, overgrowth of trees and shrubs, vandalism and broken liquor bottles scattered over make it less accessible. I personally wanted to record each and every tomb in this cemetery, but I could not go near many of them. Towards the end of the article, you could find the details of tombs whichever I could recognize.

Located hardly at one km from Central Railway Station and the next door to the famous Body Guard Muneeswaran Temple, this site should ideally attract a lot of visitors. The Gothic style three arches, the middle one being the bigger, flanked by two smaller ones, is the entrance. Even now, the entrance looks very attractive. The entire area would have been a picturesque site once. But, thanks to the poor maintenance and mere neglect, hardly anyone knows about this place with rich heritage value.

The Historian Mr. Sriram V states that this cemetery was located on the Guava Garden originally and then it was shifted in the current location. It was shifted after the siege of Madras by the French in 1758 CE. He further adds that this new burial ground came up in the early 1760s. In 1880s, it was officially closed.

This cemetery, which is one of the oldest English cemeteries of South India, has the remains of many Britishers and other Europeans. Many of the tombs of those who lost their lives during the First World War and the Second World War are scattered throughout the cemetery. The botanist Dr. James Anderson's tomb can be easily recognized. This is a huge structure made of brick.

I understand from V. Sriram's article that the earliest tomb was of William Rogers dated 1763. He also talks about the tombs of Governor Nicholas Morse, the famous lawyer Stephen Popham and James May, the first Superintendent of the Madras Harbour Works. Unfortunately, I could not find any of these tombs in the cemetery now.

The list of few tombs which I could read and recognize. Please note that few information might be missing in few tombs as they are not completely readable.

1)  George Russell - Died in 1851
2) James Taylor, the English Master in College of St. George Fort - Died in 1831
3) John Reily - Died in 1810
4) John Taylor, Manager of Mysore Commission - Died at the age of 53 years on 14th July 1860
5) Alexander Morrison, Surgeon - Died at the age of 33 years on 17th July 1805
6) Thomas Charle - One year old infant
7) Peter Donald Calcroft - Died at the age of 65 years on 3rd February 1886
8) Helena Aucusta - Died on 11th January 1925
9) Ellen Veda and George Gilbert - Infants
10) Captain William Chapman, European Veteran Battalion - Died at the age of 66 years on 16th October 1861
11) Mary Anne Atkinson
12) James Fraser
13) Stephens - Died at the age of 65 years in June 1889
14) Bridget Theresa - Died at the age of 76 years on 16th November 1871

Happy travelling.

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