Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Agaram Colonial cemetery, Bangalore - the oldest Protestant burial place - needs to be restored

Agaram Protestent cemetery, 1834, BangaloreWikipedia

Brainy Quote
The Agaram Cemetery, 213 year  old Protestant cemetery in Bangalore was one of the earliest Christian cemeteries here  and was active from 1808 till 1870. Located inside the land of the Army Service Corps and behind the Karnataka State Reserve Police (KSRP) parade grounds, the area covers 4.8 acres and is  in the triangle created by Richmond Road, Trinity Road and Lower Agaram Road.  Unfortunately this  burial place is not open to public for security reasons.  It is considerably a large cemetery, considering its past connection with colonial period and there are over 840 graves of British soldiers and civilians here, some dating back to 1808. Out of the total graves, only 380 can be identified. As expected, most of the names are Anglican – British Military and their families. The oldest - 1808 grave is that of Sgt. Major Kelly, HM 59th Regiment of Foot. Two 40 foot ionic columns commemorate officers of his Majesty's 13th Light Dragoons. The  over-grown cemetery saw partial restoration due to  serious efforts put in by  Admiral Oscar Stanley Dawson, former Chief of Indian Naval Staff.  O.S. Dawson, for a pretty long time,  had spent much of his time (after retirement)  to  get this colonial cemetery  nourished back to old glory - a sort of tribute to the departed souls  lying under the dilapidated graves.  His  dedicated efforts  were backed by Ronald Johnson who created an awareness about the poor conditions of the burial place by posting pictures on his web-site. According to Ron Johnson, the cemetery was not used after 1870 and later almost abandoned in the 1920s.

Oscar Dawson 4-star retd Indian Admiral /en.wikipedia.org
Above image:  Oscar Stanley Dawson (13 November 1923 – 23 October 2011) was a four-star admiral in the Indian Navy; the 12th Chief of the Naval Staff from 1 March 1982 to 30 November 1984. From 1983 until his retirement, he also served as the chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee of the Indian Armed Forces. He took so much pain to restore the Agaram Colonial cemetery in Bangalore before his demise. .....................

Like the South Park Street cemetery, Kolkata this colonial one has a variety of tombs and gravestone of different designs. Yet another fact is they were built by the undertakers  S. Mullenex and Nelson and Black as per the wish of the departed souls and dear loved ones.  Large size granite slabs and blocks were used in the graves. Ever since the wall was raised between the graveyard and the KSRP, the former had become a neglected place leading to the overgrowth of vegetation. 

Another interesting feature is each tombstone has a story behind it, reflecting on the personality of the persons. Some may be hilarious, some may carry a streak of melancholy about them.  Johnson who gave a  detailed information about the graves pointed out that the oldest grave dated 1808  is that  of Sgt. Major Kelly, HM 59th Regiment of Foot. "It is said one of the soldiers buried there was executed because he refused to drink his pint of rum!" (mind you, in those days it was believed that Rum had medicinal values to cure  infection from plague or cholera epidemics and by refusing to drink it, the soldier paid a heavy price - sent to the gallows!!). A grave near the entrance is that of Uriel Truelove who died on January 5, 1855;  the cause of death: cholera. Similarly there is  another  headstone, that lies over the remains of Lt. Col. Peter Latouche Chambers, HM (Her Majesty's) 41st Regiment, and his wife Emily Ann ( August 29, 1827). The cause of death: Cholera. Apparently the Cholera Epidemic that had swept across a part of this place during that period took a heavy toll.

An unfortunate fact that emerges from the various colonial cemeteries across India is invariably countless Europeans in the early colonial period were unable to cope with the harsh, dry and hot Indian summer and fell prey to dreaded tropical diseases like Smallpox, Cholera, Typhoid, etc, besides bites by poisonous reptiles at a pretty young age. So were the Memsahibs. Despite these lurching dangers, these Europeans pioneers  never lost their curiosity and spirit of adventure and  discovered many hill stations across the Indian subcontinent  and built dams and waterways in the midst of thick jungles. For example mention  may be made of the efforts made my John Sullivan, the then Collector of Coimbatore District,TN  to discover Nilgiris and Ooty hill station (1819 expedition to the hills) and Col. John Pennycuick, Army engineer  who built the Mullai Periyar Dam (1895) across the Periyar river and diverted the course of the river toward east, thus benefiting the rain shadow areas of South Tamil Nadu.

As for the Agaram cemetery restoration work, it was just a beginning in the right direction amply supported by Ronald Johnson. The Central  the Defense Minister, George Fernandes, who hailed from Karnataka took keen interest to repair and restore this cemetery. It meant a large sum, time and proper  execution of the project.  The pathetic story is, the old burial ground still remains uncared  for.

The problem with Agaram cemetery is no body, not even the state government official knew about the existence of this time-honored colonial grave. Further, it is in the land owned by the Indian Army and access to the grave is difficult. However,  Admiral Dawson and Johnson were waging a war to give respect to this resting place. Their efforts should not go waste and it is not too late. 

 “Every soldier fights for the country, for you; he saves your life by giving his and the least we can do is to remember him for his deeds” Oscar Dawson (four-star Navy  Admiral (13 November 1923 – 23 October 2011) ’s patriotic and inspiring words must echo the corridors of the power so that steps will be taken  to restore this oldest Protestant cemetery in Bangalore. The descendants of the people who eternally rest here in peace will be very happy and grateful to the state government.

http://www.thehindu.com/2003/11/30/stories/2003113003420300.html
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 http://bengaluru.citizenmatters.in/757-agram-cemetry-bangalore-757