Sunday 10 March 2013

The tomb of a trader

He was generally regarded as the founder of the modern city of Calcutta. (However, the Calcutta High Court has thrown this aside and said he was not the founder of Calcutta. This will be written about in the next post). He came to Sutanuti, in present day north Kolkata, on August 24, 1690 and by the time he died two years later, he had formed Calcutta as an entity comprising the three villages of Sutanuti, Govindopur and Kolikata.
Though he died in Calcutta and he was buried there, not many know about it. His tomb was built by his son-in-law and it was built from a particular style of  stone widely available in south India. The stone was named after him and it is still today known as Charnockite.
Next to his tomb are the graves of his wife and several other people, all erstwhile officials of the east India Company. Another important monument nearby is a memorial built by the British to the victims of the Blackhole massacre in which several British were supposedly suffocated to death when they were confined in a small room in Fort William in Calcutta by Siraj-ud-Daula.
The tombs, the Blackhole memorial and several other monuments of the East India Company are located in a church where Warren Hastings, the Governor-General of India and the man who defeated Tipu Sultan of Mysore and several other Governors-General attended mass and Sunday church.   
The tomb is that of Jobe Charnock and he was a trader who landed in Calcutta in 1690. By the time he died in 1692, he had done enough to attain immortality and he had also laid the foundation for making the new city of Calcutta a power centre of the East India Company.
The tomb over the site of his burial was constructed by his son-in-law Charles Ayer. The tomb is octagonal in design and it is in Moorish style. The stones for the grave was brought all the way from South India and it came to be known after him as Charcockite.
The grave side also contains the tomb of Charnock’s wife and several other British residents of the period. There is also a memorial called Holwell Memorial which is in remembrance of the British citizens who died in the Blackhole tragedy.
The memorial was shifted here from near the General Post Office building in Calcutta during the freedom movement. The British felt that the Indians could damage the monument and they shifted it to the present site. All these monuments are in the St. John’s Church of Calcutta and this is one of the oldest British buildings not only in Calcutta but in India.
The Holwell monument is not original. It is a replica and it was commissioned by Lord Curzon when he was the Viceroy of India. t there is a replica of Holwell Monument which was commissioned by Curzon.
The St. John’s Church itself is a monument of importance. It is located almost opposite the Raj Bhavan. Several centuries ago, the Raj Bhavan housed the Governors-General of India and they found the Church just across their residence. It was convenient for them to come to the church.
The Church has in its possession the painting of The Last Supper by the German artist,  John Zoffany. This church, which was built in 1787, is believed to be the original parish church of Bengal.
Warren Hastings and Reverend William Johnson were the main persons behind the construction of the church. The land on which the church stands today belonged to a zamindar called Raja Nabo Kishen Bahadur ( Shovabazar royal family). He donated the land to Warren Hastings in 1783. Work on construction of the church commenced on April 6, 1784 and it was completed in three years.
The cemetery behind the church is the final resting place of Charnock, his wife and several others.
Charnock’s  two daughters are also buried here. Charnock’s  sculpture in the memorial dedicated to him was made by his son-in-law in 1695. The sculpture is a unique specimen of art and there is a dome with a pitcher appended to it.
There graveyard has tombs of  British Admiral Watson who with Clive liberated  Calcutta in 1757. Other graves are that of  Lord Brabourne and Lady Canning, wife of Lord Canning.
An obelisk commemorating the Blackhole incident is also seen here.
The church also contains the original furniture used for council meetings by Warren Hastings and other Governors-General. It was brought from the Governor General’s house and it is kept in the study of Warren Hastings the first Governor-general of India. The study is decorated with old oil paintings of people who graced the study room three centuries ago. Some old sketches of the church also kept here.
Not many know that in 1663, Charnock took a Hindu widow as his common-law wife. A Company servant, Alexander Hamilton, wrote that the widow was about to commit Sati and that she was rescued by Charnock.
Smitten by her beauty, he married the fifteen-year-old Rajput Princess. Charnock renamed her Maria, and soon after he reportedly converted to Hinduism. Though he remained a devout Christian, the story of his conversion and moral laxity was  widely believed.
Charnock and Maria were together for 25 years. They had one son (who would predecease his father), and three surviving daughters who were later baptized in Madras. Although Maria was buried like a Christian, and not cremated as a Hindu, Charnock sacrificed a cock over her grave each year on her death  anniversary

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