So where was Thomas Fanshawe Middleton the first Bishop of Calcutta buried? This question had always intrigued me for long, as there were no official document to backup. Many books, gazettes, and repots have mentioned him being buried at the altar of St. Jonh’s Church and the marble plaque at the altar of the church clearly mentions his name. Some reports state that he was buried on 11th of July whereas some put that date as 12th of July. Ultimately who know what lies beneath.
So was he buried at Fort William and not at St. John’s Church? The answer is “yes” and “no”. To understand lets go back in time and trip down history to get to know some fascinating story from a life of a person who forever changed the course of Christianity in India and beyond.
How Many Cemeteries Where There in Calcutta?
Let us list down the cemeteries that we know and the ones that do not exist anymore.
South Park Street Cemetery = Very much in existence and a tourist hot spot.
North Park Street Cemetery = AG School compound and most of the headstones and tablets transferred to South Park Street Cemetery.
French Cemetery = Not in existence any more.
Lower Circular Road Cemetery = Active and in use.
Scottish Cemetery = Restored and can be visited.
Greek Cemetery = Can be visited but no recent burials.
Bhowanipore Cemetery = More famous for its WWI & WWII graves and headstones.
Tollygunge Cemetery = Active and was famously referred as the pauper’s cemetery.
Maniktala Cemetery = Famous for being the last resting place of poet Toru Dutt.
St Stephens Cemetery = Knows as the sailors cemetery and located near Kidderpore.
Apart from these big cemeteries there were quite a few churches which had an attached burial ground with it like that of St. John’s Church (Sealdah) which was the site for the Portuguese Cemetery, St. Pauls Cathedral has some graves located on the eastern side hidden amongst the trees, Armenian Church also has very visible cemeteries which you have to cross if you want to enter the church itself.
If we go back in time St. Johns Church which was once a Cathedral of the city was also once a functioning burial ground. When the Old Fort William was in existence this site used to be behind the gun powder magazine. Right next to this burial ground was the hospital which justifies the location of the burial ground actually. Many Europeans were buried out here including the very famous Job Charnok.
Later when it was decided to build a cathedral out here, many of the graves were removed and only a selected few were kept which had some significance and were preserved to have some historical references.
What is a Burial Record?
When a person is buried in any cemetery, it is recorded in the logbook and a person is usually buried in a spot that is owned by the deceased or that of the family belonging to the deceased. This plot of land is known as the Putta and it is just like any other property, which can be inherited, bought or transferred. This is the reason a church or a burial board had introduced the system of recoding every burial to know who is buried in which section of the cemetery.
In addition, there is a minimum time limit within which an existing burial plot can be reused. Over an average, it is fixed around five to eight years. Thus, the burial record was very much essential in finding out this information.
Each cemetery has its own burial record thus it’s easy for tracking any information whenever there is a requirement of a burial.
Cemetery at Fort William?
As per the burial record of Bishop Middleton it is clearly stated that he was buried at Fort William Calcutta by his deputy Archdeacon Henry Lloyd Loring. However, here lies the twist there were two cemeteries where burials were taking place for the men and their family belonging to Fort William.
There was a Military Burial Ground right behind Military Hospital, the cemetery still exists today but we know that with a different name. It’s now what we know as the Bhowanipore Cemetery was once the Military Burial Ground and was used by the members of Fort William to burry there dead. Much later in 1907 was this cemetery opened up for civilian use also and thus at the entrance of the cemetery we find the date above the gate. Reference of this cemetery was very much present in older maps where it was referred to as the Military Burial Ground.
There was however, another small burial ground right inside Fort William which was mainly used during the initial construction of the For. This existing cemetery inside Fort William within its boundary walls knows as the Fort William Garrison Cemetery. This was mainly used by the members of Fort William. This cemetery however was stopped for active usage because of expansion of buildings within Fort William in the year 1880. Most of headstones of the graves were shifted to South Park Street cemetery as per official records.
One such prime example was the tomb of James Rattray who had died in 1818 and his tomb is very much present inside South Park Street Cemetery when it is a well known fact that at South Park Street Cemetery had only active burials between 1767 and 1790. As per records, James Rattray was buried at the Fort William Garrison Cemetery and during the expansion phase of Fort William the head stones and tombstones were shifted mainly to South Park Street Cemetery and some to Bhowanipore Cemetery.
To the Memory of
He was born
on the 5th May 1776
and closed an honourable
and useful life
as 2nd Judge
of the Provincial Court
on the 13th February
So where was Bishop Middleton Buried?
To come straight to the point he was and still is very much buried in front of the altar of St. Johns Church Kolkata. Then why was this place referred as the Fort William Calcutta you may ask. The logical answer to this is back in history. The ground on which St. Johns Church was built was once a burial ground and used by the members of Old Fort William thus this place of burial was still under their jurisdiction. If a burial was needed at this place then it had to have been signed under some burial record thus, it was Fort William Calcutta. Even when the new Fort William was built after the destruction of the old fort the burial board remained with the chaplain of the Fort William.
As written in the record:-
On the eleventh day of July in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and twenty-two, the Right Reverend Thomas Fanshawe Middleton D.D., Bishop of Calcutta aged 53 years and 6 months was buried at Calcutta Fort William by me.
Henry Lloyd Loring (Archdeacon of Calcutta)
If you compare the details of different burial records from the same log book only for Bishop Middleton it is signed as Fort William, Calcutta whereas the records before and after him have been signed as Daniel Corrie – Senior Chaplain –Presidency of Fort William. The reason it was Fort William Presidency was that it was within the jurisdiction of Fort William and technically St. Johns Church was not with the jurisdiction of the Presidency of Fort William.
If you visit the Town Hall in Kolkata then from the entrance just look at the opposite side of the road towards Bidhan Sabha Bhawan and you will be able to see pillars with the mark FWB which stands for Fort William Boundary. Thus the jurisdiction of Fort William do not cover St. Johns Church.
Will of Bishop Middleton
Somehow the Bishop knew that his life was soon to come to an end and he had written his will a year and a half before his death on 19th of January 1821 and in that will he had wished that he be interred under the vault of Bishop’s College Chapel. He had built this theological college from scratch with his own hand so as to establish a solid base for the propagation of Christianity in India. This college would have enabled new recruits in to the diocese.
He even wrote the inscription that he wanted to be present at the place where he would have been interred which read something like this:-
Nomen meum servandum, Volui
Thomas Fanshaw Meddleton. S.T.P.
Primus Dioceseos Calcuttensis Episcopus.
Huinsae Collegii Aedificandi suasor.
Et. pro. viribus asjutor.
Lux mundi peccatorum salus.
Proeconibus tuis hine exeuntibus.
Optima quaeque dona elaegiaris
Et miserescas annuae meae.
Obiit Anno Redemptoris MDCCCXXII. Aetaius LIV. Episcopatus IX.
voluit Elizabetha uxor conjinactissima. Eodem marmore insigniri.
(Inscription on the place of internment)
Mortales IX. uvias reponendas volui,
Unfortunately, this will could not be carried out since the Bishop’s College (old) was not yet concreated thus the burial could have been carried out. Consecration is the process in which a church or chapel is formally blessed by the Bishop or the highest religious authority. The building as a whole and all the objects like that of holy communion etc. are blessed for divine acceptance. After this ritual, a place of worship is considered as a blessed place and a house of god.
Death of Bishop Middleton
Bishop Middleton died most probably due to heat fever, due to his extensive travel schedule throughout the day he got sick. The next day the fever had increased and was taking a toll on his body. He had refused the service of a doctor and relied on home remedies only. It was only after a few days of being sick that he requested for a doctor but by then the damage had been done.
Bishop Middleton died on 8th of July 1822 at around 11 PM at his residence.
Funeral of Bishop Middleton
After three days of mourning the funeral, service of the late Bishop took place on 11th July 1822. There are no exact records as where was the residence of Bishop Middleton but from the details of this last journey it is clear that his official residence was somewhere near to Park Street.
The procession of his last journey started at around 7 PM in the evening something which is not common since usually funerals are held in the daylight. The funeral procession passed Park Street and then Chowringhee towards Government Place. It took around twenty minutes for the procession to reach St. John’s Church and on the way there were huge crowds consisting of both European Christians as well as from the local native population.
The procession consisted of the hearse (the vehicle in which the coffin is transported) followed by the personal carriage belonging to the Bishop and then five more carriages as a part of this funeral procession.
The funeral procession ended at the entrance (west portico of St. Johns Church) of the church and then the coffin was carried inside the church in a formal funeral procession.
The procession was arranged in the following order:-
Two Mutes on either side
Mutes are men wearing black dress and carrying a stick (wand) which is wrapped in black crepe. These were traditionally used in Europe to guard the coffin so the tradition follows. Also as per tradition, these two men had to put on a gloomy sad face and be silent symbolizing mourning for the dead.
Plumes of feathers
Traditionally black plumes were put up during funerals and it denoted wealth, the more the wealth the more the number of plumes. Plumes were also something, which later were replaced with flowers.
Two Mutes on either side
Church Ministers who will be part of the church service.
Church attendants with staff craped
Attendants with their church rod (staff) covered in cloth.
Presidency Chaplains in surplices
Members of a private chapel dressed in white tunic.
The procession was fronted by Rev. J. Parson and Red. Daniel Corrie. Followed by the personal attendant of the Bishop. The coffin was carried by (Pall Bearers) John Fendall, W. B. Bayley and Sir Francis Macnaghten to the left and John Adam, Major General Hardwicke. G. Udny and C. Lushington to the right.
Behind this was Rev. J. Hawtayne who was the chief mourner and with him were W. H. Abbott, Bishop’s secretary, J. Trotter and W. Cracroft. Following them were Dr. Nicholson who was his personal physician and was with him at his deathbed along with other mourners.
As per tradition with any funeral ceremony the church was draped in black cloth symbolizing mourning. The funeral service was officiated by Henry Lloyd Loring (Archdeacon of Calcutta). He read Psalms 39 & 40 and then was followed by Mr. Corrie who read from first Corinthians.
At the end of the service, the coffin was lowered into the vault created in the floor right in front of the altar. The very spot where the coffin was lowered can still be seen as it’s clearly marked
Ob. VIII Julii
Ironically nothing what he had written in his last will could be carried out and instead of being buried at his dream project (Bishops College) he was buried at the Cathedral (St. Johns Church). Further to this irony would be the fact be that Bishops College ultimately shifted out of their old place (Shibpur) and was sifted to Calcutta (Lower Circular Road) near La Martiniere for Girls school.
Why Was Bishop Middleton Important?
Even though Christianity had arrived in India much earlier, it was not organized and not directly under the company or the crown. Individual Churches had been established especially where there were foreign trade. Along with trade came Christianity.
However, with Thomas Fanshaw Middleton being appointed as the First Bishop of Calcutta it established an organizational like structure, which was supported by the company and later by the crown. Some of the most important educational institutions could be established in Calcutta all because there was a Diocese in the city which actively took to expanding in both religion and education especially that of the local population.
Even though the Bishops College was shifted out of Shibpur to Calcutta the foundation for a theological institution had been laid and till date Bishops College is considered as one of the top rated theological institute in India.
Timeline of Bishop Middleton
1769 – Thomas Fanshaw Middleton born on 26th of January at Derbyshire
1792 – Completed B.A. degree
1792 – Ordained as Deacon of the Parish of Gainsborough in Linconshire
1795 – Rectory of Tensor
1799 – Married Elizabeth Maddison
1802 – Rectory of Little Bytham
1808 – Completed Doctorate of Divinity at Cambridge
1810 – Became Magistrate of Northampton County
1812 – Became Archdeacon of Huntington
1814 – Consecrated as the Bishop of Calcutta in the Chapel of Lambeth Palace on 8th of May.
1814 –Elected Fellow of the Royal Society on 19th of May
1814 – Departs for Calcutta (India) on 8th of June along with his wife.
1814 – Arrived at Calcutta on 28th of November.
1814 – First sermon delivered at St. Johns Church (Cathedral) on 25th of December
1815 – Appoints registrars in three Arch deaconries in January
1815 – Meets ten clergies from around India in the month of December
1815 – Reaches Madras (Chennai) and preached at St. Georges Fort on 26th of December
1816 – Reached Bombay (Mumbai) 14th of May
1816 – Reached Colombo on 21st of October
1816 – Returns of Calcutta on 10th of December
1818 – Lays foundation stone of Dum Dum Church on 7th of August
1820 – Laid foundation stone of Bishops College (old) on 15th of January
1821 – Writes his last and final will on 19th of January
1822 – Death on 11th of July
On a closing line I would like to end with a trivia, St. Peters Church which is situated in Fort William is not anymore an active church but a library of the Fort William. Ironically, the administrative ownership of this church is still with St. Johns Church though it is not officially enforced. Thus there seems to be always some connect with Fort William and St. Johns Church.
Another interesting fact about this funeral was that the coffin was leaden one, which was mostly used to seal the body for longer preservation. If we dig right beyond the communion rail at St. Johns Church we might still find some remains of the coffin even till date.
A General Register of the Hon’ble East India Company’s Civil Servants By Ramachandra Das & Henry Thoby Prinsep
Letters of Henrietta Rattray to her sons in India by Henrietta Rattray
A Short Account Of The Lives Of The Bishops Of Calcutta by W. Crawford Bromehead
Selections From Calcutta Gazettes Vol.1 (1816-1823) by Hugh David Sandeman
The Calcutta High Court (Jurisdictional Limits) Act, 1919
West Bengal Public Library Network
The Bengal Obituary by Royal College of Physicians of London
The Bengal and Agra Annual Guide and Gazetteer, for 1841 (I, II)
The National Medical Journal of India