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European Cemeteries in South India (Seventeenth to Nineteenth Centuries)

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Item Code: NAM190
Publisher: Manohar Publishers And Distributors
Author: Martin Krieger
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 978817304981
Pages: 187
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 440 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

According to Rudyard Kipling, death was always a 'near companion' in colonial India. Thousands of European sepulchral monuments survive till today and these constitute an eminent cultural asset. However, most of them are in precarious condition: The tropical climate with its abundant rainfall, lush vegetation, people's need for land, neglect and vandalism regularly take their toll on these. This book investigates death and colonial cemeteries in south India between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries. It studies demographical issues such as mortality rates among the Europeans, the causes of death as well as infant- and child mortality. Furthermore, the shape and structure of the cemeteries is investigated, next to the architecture of individual monuments and their inscriptions. Such material evidence is perceived as an expression for private and public memory in colonial south India.


About the Author

Martin Krieger is Professor of North European History at the University of Kiel, Germany. He has published on the history of the former Danish trading- settlements in India, on the history of the Baltic Sea region as well as on tea and coffee. Between 2006 and 2007 he and his family lived in the Nilgirisf/Tamil Nadu.



This volume is the outcome of a research project I conducted between 2003 and 2005 at the University of Greifswald, Germany. It is with great pleasure that I recollect the countless days I spent on the subcontinent roaming across forgotten cemeteries between Masulipatnam and Kotagiri or visiting the beautiful churches between Madras, Tranquebar and Cochin. Several of my colleagues, friends and my family have supported this study-mentioning all of them would cover too much space. However, I am especially indebted to Prof Dr Michael North of Greifswald University, who has always supported my work with material funds as well as his vast experience. Dr Alexander Drost joined the research project and helped to collect a bulk of relevant material, which has been invaluable for completing this book. Prof. Dr Jeyaseela S. Stephen (Shantiniketan), Dr Jean Deloche (Pondicherry), Prof Dr Thomas da Costa Kaufmann (Princeton) and Prof. Dr Marten Jan Bok (Amsterdam) supported my project by sharing their broad know- ledge with me. I would also like to extend my thanks to the staff of the British Library and India Office Records collections at London and to the Danish National Archives at Copenhagen, especially to Dr Erik Gebel, whose kind assistance has always been of tremendous help. For about a year, the Nilgiri Library at Ootacamund was a kind of second home for me, where I enjoyed a lot of help, notably from Ms Daphne Sampson and her colleagues. Maria Moynihan (Greifswald) and Peter Bailey (Coventry) put in great efforts to correct my English and Saskia Helgenberger (Kiel) created the index. My publisher Ramesh Jain always encouraged me to complete this book and offered his generous assistance in helping to copyedit this volume. I am extremely indebted to the German Research Council (Deutsche Forschungs-gemeinschaft) for providing financial support to this project. The greatest thanks, however, go to Nimmy, Benny and Paul, who were forced to share my passion for old, crumbling tombstones through many years and always yielded a perfect environment to carry out my research. Without them, this book would not have seen the light of day.



'Death was always our near companion’.-These simple words from Rudyard Kipling's autobiography contain a universal truth experienced by countless Europeans who lived and served in the Indian subcontinent prior to India's Independence. A verse from Kipling's 'The Naulakha' provides an insight into the colonial perception of death in India as well:

And, the end of the fight

Is a tombstone white

With the name of the late deceased

And the epitaph drear:

A fool lies here

Who tried to hustle the East.

Even if we do not share Kipling's views concerning the supposed foolishness of the Europeans east of Suez, his words are nevertheless apposite to our study. Death was indeed a 'near companion' in colonial India. Aspirations to make a fortune or to convert the ‘heathen' were very often thwarted by deadly tropical diseases, accidents or melancholy, which in many cases inevitably lead to death or suicide. Most European men died while still in their twenties or thirties, while only a few one lucky survived to reach fifty. For women, the figures were even more dismal. Their children who were born here had a meagre chance of surviving their first year. While life expectancy rose steadily in Europe during the Early Modern period, it remained dismally low in colonial India. The numerous European cemeteries that survive in India and an even larger number of tomb monuments bear witness to this dark side of a supposedly glamorous life on the subcontinent.

People usually commemorated the deceased in private memory. Moreover, the creation of a suitably grand monument with an appropriate inscription was also an expression of European colonial and imperial power. As long as a memorial existed, the memory of the deceased prevailed. However, not everyone could afford to erect a monument in memory of the deceased. Commemoration thus depended solely on the social status and income. This kind of visual memory was not confined to cemeteries alone. In areas where there were no Christian burial grounds, monuments can be found along the roads ides throughout India. Where neither a burial ground nor enduring material for a monument was available, a simple tree sufficed. In 1755, for instance, whilst roaming on Nancowry Island, which is part of the Nicobar Islands chain, a group of Danish sailors came upon a weather-beaten inscription on a palm tree which bare the words 'Johan Willers 1725'.3 Could this be the burial place of a sailor who had died exactly three decades earlier?

The palm tree on Nancowry Island has probably vanished now, but even so, thousands of sepulchral monuments in India survive till today and these still constitute an eminent element of the material culture of colonial South Asia. An investigation of these artefacts is not only rewarding for the historian of the colonial era, but it is a matter of urgency as well: The life span of the supposedly eternal inscriptions on granite slabs and even more so of brick edifices is limited. The tropical climate with its abundant rainfall, lush vegetation, peoples' need for land, neglect and vandalism regularly takes its toll on them.

The destruction of European burial grounds predates Independence. Records regularly contain reports on the neglect and decay from the beginning of eighteenth century-be it through complaints about noise and filth caused by grazing horses and alcohol vendors on St. Mary's Cemetery in Madras or about the deliberate neglect of an old Dutch cemetery belonging to the seventeenth century in Pulicat by the British authorities. After Independence, lack of funds meant that the fate of a large number of smaller burial grounds was legally sealed by an agreement between the Indian government and the British High Commission to let them 'revert to nature'. Today, the condition of the remaining cemeteries varies. Some are well-maintained thanks to the efforts of pastors and church authorities or the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Others are not cared for at all or have been deliberately destroyed, like the eighteenth-century Christ Church Cemetery in Cuddalore, whose monuments were removed during the 1990s-doubtlessly a severe loss to the town's heritage.

A historian writing a book on cemeteries in India must thus pursue three goals: In addition to making use of the surviving cemeteries, monuments and related archival sources for historical research, he or she has to record the present condition of the monuments for comparison at a later time. Finally, there is the hope that such a book would attract the attention of the public, doubtlessly, which are the best means of preserving the surviving cemeteries.

Against this backdrop, the present study investigates death and colonial cemeteries in south India between the seventeenth and the nineteenth century. The border drawn between the north and the south of colonial India for the purposes of this book may be arbitrary, but the enormous amount of material prevents a holistic perspective. Broadly speaking, the geographical focus will be on the current states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Goa. This largely resembles the area covered by the nineteenth- century Madras Presidency, Travancore, Mysore as well as the ad- joining Portuguese, French and Danish possessions. Even for this more restricted focus, an encyclopaedic survey is by no means possible. On the contrary, representative examples will be chosen to illustrate major trends in burial culture and perceptions of death. The same applies to the temporal frame from the rise of the north-west European trading companies to the end of the Victorian era.

A European presence was established in India as early as the sixteenth century, and it lasted well into the middle of the last century. However, there is insufficient historical material relating to death in the first phase of Portuguese enterprise in the Indian Ocean, while sources on the twentieth century, especially the census and civil registration, by contrast, suggest an additional independent study with an entirely different, demography-based approach. The three centuries under scrutiny here nevertheless offer a broad enough spectrum of different nations, languages, religions and social classes to make them suitable for a comparative investigation. Chapter 1 will utilize the material gained from the inscriptions as well as from archival sources to ponder demographical issues. To what degree do the extant sources render evidence on mortality- rate, age of death, infant-mortality and causes of death? These questions gain even more importance in view of the fact that almost no other sources besides sepulchral monuments and burial registers exist for the so-called 'parish register period' before the onset of civil registration. However, we have to consider that even this material has its limitations, for only very little information exists on migration within the colonial society, which might distort our figures.

Furthermore, the setting and structure of the European cemeteries in south India will also be examined (Chapter The author of the present study hopes to have gathered a representative sample of European burial grounds. Many have been visited in person, others have been studied with the aid of archival and printed sources. Nationality and geographic location were the major criteria when choosing the cemeteries to be investigated. The sample includes burial grounds in former English/British, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish and French settlements, whereby a certain nation often represents a distinct religious denomination. At the s.ame time, cemeteries from large towns (Madras) as well as from minor trading settlements, garrisons and hill stations were also chosen. To gain an insight into the significance and expressiveness of the material collected, the state of decay or conservation has to be scrutinized: How much is left of the original monuments? When did an obvious period of decay commence? This chapter will also endeavour to develop a typology of different cemeteries and reconstruct their chronological development. Several sample cemeteries will be studied with regard to their temporal development, and a horizontal stratification elaborated. This procedure will facilitate the reconstruction of the temporal development of the cemeteries and at the same time of the social distinctions made when interring people in different parts of a burial ground.




  List of Tables 6
  List of Illustrations 7
  Preface 11
  Introduction 13
1 Death in Coloial South India 23
  Mortality 23
  Causes of Death 30
  Infant and Child Mortality 41
  Preparing for Death and Funeral 49
2 The Cemeteries 63
  Preservation and Decay 63
  Typology and Spatial Developments 77
3 The Monuments 118
  Commisioning and Erection of Monuments 118
  Architecture and Decoration 128
  Inscriptions 157
4 Conclusion 171
  Bibliography 175
  Index 183


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