Dead Europeans tell tales

Perhaps not many are aware that there is a graveyard in the heart of the City with more than 70 tombs of Europeans, writes Ronald Anil Fernandes.
Last Updated : 10 June 2011, 15:25 IST

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Among them includes a graveyard with more than 70 tombs of British nationals. Each epitaph in the graveyard located on Telecom House (earlier known as Old Kent Road) in the heart of Mangalore City tell tales of the Europeans.

The 211-year-old cemetery was the exclusive resting place for the people of British origin who left their homeland never to return again.

Prominent among them is the 20-foot-tall obelisk in memory of Brigadier-General John Carnac. The epitaph on his grave reads: “He is distinguished himself by the important victory over the Shah Zaddah in the year 1761 and in both stations his zeal for the public service, integrity and disinterested conduct were equally conspicuous.”

He died in Mangalore on November 29, 1800. Interestingly, Brigadier-General John Carnac was second in command to Robert Clive at the Battle of Plassey, one of the highlights of Indian history that is known to even every school going child.

Michael Thomas Harris, the fifth Collector of the erstwhile Canara district, who passed away on May 17, 1824, was also laid to rest in this cemetery.

The contribution of Harris, a man of vision, to the district has been significant. In fact, according to ‘Officialising Clandestine Practices of Environmental Degradation in the Tropics’ for the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, New York, there is references of a plaque in the office of the Divisional Commissioner, Mangalore which notes that in 1823 the Collector Harris passed orders granting Kumki rights to cultivators in the Canara District, whereby waste lands adjacent to agricultural fields could be used by the cultivator to satisfy the cultivators biomass needs.”
Besides the above mentioned two personalities, there were many more prominent Europeans who held notable posts in the Canara district and those buried here include:

*   Capt Thomas Cosmo Gordon, died on October 9, 1809, at the age of 38 years.
*   Major General Charles William Taylor and his wife Sophia of Madras Regiment, 1885.
*   James Hungerford Morgan, an industrialist, died in 1885, at the age of 64 years.
*   Capt William Shotton, died in 1912, at the age of 36 years.
*   John Le Mesurior, a mining engineer, died on October 30, 1899.
*   James Per, the commander of the ship Bussor Merchant of London, died in 1811.
*   Lieutenant Charles Gowan, belonging to Company’s marine on the Bombay establishment, died due to fever on March 24, 1814, at the age of 33 years.
*   Captain Neil Mc Neil of the 50 regiment in Madras Infantry died in 1827.

In fact, the Karnataka Theological College Archives Assistant Benet Ammanna said that the KTC library has the birth and death register which gives a detailed account of Europeans, a wonderful source for historians to study the British legacy in Mangalore.
The beginning

It is interesting to note that St Paul’s church near Nehru Maidan in Mangalore, the only Anglican church in coastal districts was consecrated on January 5, 1843. But the first person was laid to rest in the cemetery on November 29, 1800 (Brigadier-General John Carnac), which means that the cemetery is much older than the oldest church in the erstwhile Canara district.

When contacted, 78-year-old Dr T A Koshy, one of the oldest members of St Paul’s church, going down the memory lane, said that one Mr Thomas, a Section Officer at PWD in Canannore, arrived at Mangalore soon after Indian independence in 1947 and handed over the records and keys of the cemetery to J N A Hobbs, the then secretary of pastorate committee (who was later knighted).

“Two persons – Titus Joseph and Prof C L Mathai, who were taking keen interest in church matters kept the St Paul’s church going,” he recalls and adds that the South India Cemetery Board under UK High Commission had classified the cemetery as ‘Closed but not abandoned’ (the other 2 categories were ‘Open’ (where burial can still take place) and ‘Closed and abandoned’).

However, Dr Koshy, the then honorary secretary, wrote to the UK High Commission through the then Bishop Rev T B Benjamin, to change the cemetery category to ‘open.’ As the High Commission gave its nod, the cemetery is being used for burial even to this day.  
Dr Koshy was the first batch student of KMC in 1953 and is leading a retired life at his home in Falnir after serving in KMC, Oman, Salala and Fr Mullers as a senior anaesthesiologist.


For many years, Edward Joseph (a former officer of the Karnataka Shipping Corporation, also known as Sunny Joseph, son of Titus Joseph) was maintaining the cemetery by spending from his pocket from his service at the Dr M V Shetty College in City. But for Joseph’s concern, this priceless treasure would have been perhaps reduced to rubbles, opines a member who does not want to be quoted. However, many members of the parish complain lack of funds to restore it to its original grandeur.

On the other hand, Frederick S A Pavamani, former director of Tata Consulting Engineers in Bombay, and also a member of St Paul’s church, said that the cemetery will be cleaned after monsoon.

Regretting that Indians don’t maintain heritage structures, he said: “We (Indians) only build, but don’t maintain.”

Showing photographs of the cemetery when it was cleaned in 2003, Pavamani said the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia had paid 1,500 Pounds in 2003 as they were very much impressed about the maintenance of the cemetery.

However, at present, the cemetery, a mute witness to the history, is again covered with shrubs and weeds.

It is a fact that not many are aware of the cemetery with historic monuments is located in the heart of the city. But on the other hand, it is up to the authorities concerned to convert it into a heritage spot, the possibilities of which seem remote. Of course, one has to work for it. But the question here is: Who should bell the cat?

Published 10 June 2011, 15:25 IST

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