Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Scottish Cemetery at Kolkata, India

Known as Calcutta until 2001, the West Bengal city of Kolkata was founded on the banks of the River Hooghly in 1690 as a trading post for the English East India Company. Soon after its foundation, and the union in 1707 between Scotland and England, thousands of British migrants were making there way to the settlement to partake of the economic opportunities that soon followed - particularly during the 18th and 19th centuries, when the city was the centre of the Company’s opium trade, with the locally grown opium crop shipped to China after auction. Kolkata remained the capital of the British Raj until 1911.

The Scottish Cemetery was established in Kolkata about a mile and half from the original British cemetery site at North Park Street, and was opened shortly after the construction of St. Andrew’s Church at Dalhousie Square in 1818. The kirk, now part of the Church of India, was the first adhering to the Church of Scotland to be built in India, and was raised to cater for an ever growing Scottish contingent within the Kolkata population. Amongst its worshippers were migrants from Dundee who came to develop and work within the city’s fledgling jute industry, building new jute mills and facilitating the export of raw materials from India back to the Highland city for processing. Other settlers from Scotland included industrialists, soldiers, and missionaries. Between eighty and ninety per cent of the burials are believed to be of Scots, with the remainder comprising of Christian Bengalis, and adherents to non-Anglican faiths, such as members of the English and Welsh dissenting churches.

Many of the monuments in the cemetery were constructed from Aberdeen granite, with others from brick and lime mortar, and remain in good condition, despite the deterioration of the site. The monuments were extensively photographed in November 2008 by the RCAHMS, with most of the images recorded now available to view on its Canmore database at From a genealogical point of view, the images provide a great deal of information for those who may have ancestors buried there. A good example is that of James Miller, who died in Calcutta on November 2nd 1918, with his stone recording that he was ‘aged 27 years, dearly loved and only son of Alexander & Jeanne Miller, Inverkeithing, Scotland’.

Whilst the cemetery was believed to have commenced its burials in the early 1820s, it is thought that the last bodies to be interred there were done so during the 1960s. The monumental styles discovered by the survey team ranged from very ornate classical monuments and urns to the most simplistic inscribed headstones. Amongst some of the more interesting discoveries on the site were the graves of a Glasgow iron master named Boyle, a director of Calcutta’s zoological gardens, and the Reverend John Adam, noted as a ‘late Missionary to the heathen…’. Within the site, James Wilson of Hawick is also believed to lie, who in addition to introducing a paper currency and income tax into India was also the founder of the Economist magazine in Britain.

For more on the RCAHMS visit in 2008, see its dedicated blog at


Monday, 3 September 2012

Convict blood - thanks to a horsewhipping

I've just been playing with the online offerings of FindmyPast Australasia ( as part of my world subscription on, and was surprised to make an unusual discovery about the husband of one of my family members. David Bell was the husband of Helen Paton, the sister of my three times great grandfather William Paton, the couple having married in the Scottish city of Perth in 1836. In 1849 both David and Helen emigrated to Queensland on board the Chaseley with their family, and to this day at the city's Kangaroo Point there exists two streets named after them, Paton Street and Bell Street. Two years ago I actually managed to walk down both streets, as I recalled some time ago on this blog at

David Bell initially worked for a Captain Robert Towns for several years after his arrival, his obituary many years later stating that he did this in the 'early fifties', where he managed punts between Brisbane and Ipswich, before building his own hardware store in Stanley Street in 1863. In 1868, when the Duke of Edinburgh visited Brisbane, David was one of the fully costumed Brisbane Highlanders to personally greet him at Queen’s Park. A newspaper article from May 1871 showed that as part of his Highland outfit, David had commissioned a local Brisbane craftsman to make him an expensive ornamented dirk, to promote the talents of the settlement’s skilled silversmiths. David clearly had some standing in the community - which makes the following story all the more remarkable!

The site has surprisingly revealed that David was briefly imprisoned on December 5th 1856, the entry confirming that it was the correct person by noting his arrival on the Chaseley in 1849 (Brisbane Gaol. Register of prisoners admitted & discharged 1856 -1859, PRI 1/25, Column Or Folio:267). The record notes him to have been a storekeeper at this point also, though he was clearly still working for someone else, as identified from the following newspaper article from the Moreton Bay Courier of Saturday December 6th 1856, which explained what happened:

POLICE COURT: Yesterday, David Bell and James Bryon were charged by Mr. Souter, of South Brisbane, with assaulting him on the 28th of last month. It appears, though the facts did not come out at the Police Court, that Mr. Souter had had some differences with a gentleman, also resident in South Brisbane, and had taken the liberty of chastising him with a horsewhip, which he borrowed for the purpose from one of the defendants, but without informing him as to the use to which it was to be applied. Both defendants are in the employment of the party alluded to; and the one who lent the whip to Mr. Souter, feeling exasperated at being made the innocent instrument in the chastisement of his employer, took the first opportunity of making an attack on Mr. Souter, in which he was assisted by his fellow employee. Mr. Little appeared for the plaintiff, and Mr Ocock for the defendants. The assault being proved, both defendants were sentenced to two months' imprisonment.

Either David or James had lent a horsewhip to Souter, who immediately began to assault their employer with it! In retaliation they struck Souter - and they were the pair convicted of assault! There's justice for you...

It's not many who can claim a badge of honour by stating that they have family that gained convict blood after it reached Oz. But all credit to David and James - I think I would probably have done the same!

NB: for newspaper coverage in Australia, visit the excellent Trove website at