Monday, 29 July 2019

The tomb of Mrs. Frances Johnson, former wife of Watts who with Robert Clive laid the foundation for British Empire

Mrs. Frances Johnson.ciaofamiglia.com

Mrs Johnson (aka "Begum Johnson").''............ Her tomb with salient details chiseled in black marble is still in St Johns Churchyard, Calcutta (and on the web), but it's much more interesting to read this obituary from a contemporary book. She died on the 3rd of February 1812, aged 87, the oldest British resident in Bengal, "universally beloved, respected and revered".  She would have been around for James' wedding in 1807 (though it wasinMadras)''..http://ciaofamiglia.com/ehfburton/burtonlinks.html

Frances (Begum) Johnson's grave St. John's church, Kolkata en.wikepedia org.

St. John's Church, originally a cathedral, has the credit of being the  first English public buildings built by the East India Company. This happened soon  after Calcutta (Kolkata) had become the capital of  British India.  Close to Raj Bhavan,  it served as  the Anglican Cathedral of Calcutta  till 1847 when the see was transferred to St. Paul's Cathedral.  The new structure was  completed in 1787. Next to the Armenian and the Old Mission Church, it is  the third oldest church in Kolkata.  

St. John's Church, Kolkata en.wikipedia.org/
This church  built in  the Neoclassical architectural style with a 174 feet tall  stone spire has memorials for some of the well-known people of early colonial era. The walls of the church have memorial tablets, statues and plaques, mostly of British army officers and civil servants. It contains a mausoleum of Job Charnock,  Black Hole  monument, Rohilla  war memorial,  memorials of James Achilles Kirkpatrick, James Pattle, the great-great-grandfather of William Dalrymple and others.  Among them, there is a grave  of  Mrs. Francis Johnson (1725 -1812). Let's us find out who Mrs. Frances was  and why her tomb is in this church. 

 Her circular temple-like tomb is at the far end of the St. John’s Church complex and next to Job Chranok’s tomb. It is often said that  the grave stone inside the beautiful grave is no less interesting and appealing  than the grave itself. Who is this lady and why does her tomb lie  here along with some of the famous colonial people?

If you turn the dusty  faded pages of Indo-British history and read them you will know  how East India company, that  landed in Bengal in 1700s for trade purposes, ultimately became the master of vast Bengal land and adjacent regions.  They achieved this great feat not honestly and  not through fair means, but  through manipulation, scheming and double-crossing. Two men were primarily responsible for the change of political scenario in Bengal by means of elimination  of unfriendly Nawab Siraj-ud-daulah. The English company never paid the trade duty for years and their officials were engaged in illegal trade activities  without any consent from the Nawab. So, the ruler was at loggerheads with the wily English company.The two smart men were Robert Clive and William Watts.  These two people changed the political history of the world and put the poor British economy on the drastic growth path. It was the beginning of the British Empire. On the advice of Clive,  Watts  was instrumental in finding dissident Amirs who were against the Nawab and ready to finish him for good in return for rich rewards/ dividends. William Watts was the British Resident in the Nawab's court and secretly  found a traitor in Mir Jaffer who was willing to help the English company with his  associates. But for successful handling of so sensitive a diplomatic move that was wrought with dangers by Watts. Robert Clive would have laid the first  foundation stones for the British Empire.

Fransis Johnson (popularly known as Begum Johnson), was the wife of William Watts. She was popularly known as 'Begum' due to her close association with Amina Begum, the mother of Nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, Siraj-ud-Daulah.

At the age of 23/24 she married William Watts and had lived with him for a long time in India. Upon Watts' death in 1764, she came back to India to settle his estate. A wealthy lady at an young age. it was 10 years  later she married one William Johnson, Principal  chaplain of the Presidency of Ft. William, Kolkata and  she came to be called Begum Johnson. In 1787 the marriage ended  and the lady offered a settlement and an annuity.  Frances was 59 never married  again  and died in Calcutta on  3 Feb. 1812. She lived up to 89. Her memorial in Kolkata at St John's says, ''The oldest British resident in Calcutta, universally beloved, respected and revered''.