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


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