The cosmopolitan Cossimbazar

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Before I go on to the discussion regarding the Dutch and English cemeteries of Cossimbazar I would like to start with an introduction of the place Cossimbazar itself. The best literature on this is in the book  ‘Murshidabad’ by L.S.S O’Malley of Indian Civil Service. I will not rephrase his account but simply put all that he had written of Cossimbazar. My opinions and comments will creep in, marked in red.

Even before the city had been given its name, Cossimbazar was a great emporium attracting the trade of lower Bengal, and the Europeans Nations who traded to India had established factories in it. It even gave its name to the surrounding country, for the triangular tract enclosed by the Padma, Bhagirathi and Jalangi was known as the Cossimbazar Island, while the common name for the Bhagirathi in its records, down to the nineteenth century, was the Cossimbazar River.

In or about 1658 the English established a factory there, John Ken being appointed Chief on 40 a year, while Job Charnock, the founder of Calcutta, was appointed fourth member of council on 20 a year. Before the end of the seventeenth century it had become the leading English commercial agency in Bengal, in 1681, when Charnock was chief, out of 2,30,000 sent out by the East India company as investment in Bengal, 140,000 were assigned to Cossimbazar. Five years later the English factory, in common with other factories in Bengal, was confiscated by the order of Saista Khan; and for the first half of the next century, it was exposed to occasional outburst of hostility or caprice on the Nawabs and their officers.

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Front view of Cossimbazar English Factory
(C) British Library Board
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Rear View of Cossimbazar English Factory, British Library
(C) British Library Board

Colonel Rennell wrote in 1759, “Cossimbazar is the general market of Bengal silk and a great quantity of silk and cotton stuffs are manufactured here, which are circulated throughout the great part of Asia; of the unwrought silk 300000 or 400000 pounds weight is consumed in the European manufactories.” The decay of Cossimbazar dates from the beginning of the nineteenth century, when its climate changed for the worse and fatal epidemics broke out.

At one time the climate of Cossimbazar was celebrated for sulbrity and Cossimbazar was regarded as a health resort. Captain Hamilton who visited Bengal at the beginning of eighteenth century mention is New account of the East Indies (vol-2 page 21) , that , “the country about Cossimbazar is very healthful and fruitful and produces industrious people who cultivate many valuable manufactures.”The Government records, edited by Mr Long, contain an application to the council from a writer at Calcutta, dated March 1763, “requesting permission to go to Cossimbazar for the recovery of his health.”

After the famine of 1770, the margin of cultivation receded in all the country ground, and wild beasts increased. In 1811, a traveller described Cossimbazar as “noted for its silk, ivory, hosiery, and inimitable ivory work”, but the greater part of the wilderness occupied by beats of prey. At eleven or twelve miles from Berhampore an almost impervious jungle extends for a considerable space, denying entrance to all troops.”

Two years later the ruin of Cossimbazar was brought about by a change in the course of the Bhagirathi, which took a sudden sweep three miles to the west of its old channel, which was left a desolate stretch of stagnant water. Epidemics of fever broke out, and the population was decimated; according to local tradition, it was entirely swept away in a twelvemonth, thus furnishing an exact parallel to the legendary destruction of Gaur. The ruin of the place is thus described by an Indian writer in an article on the Cossimbazar Raj published in the Calcutta Review of 1873.

” The length of the town was three miles, and its breadth was two miles. It was built of bricks, being so thickly studded with pucka (brick) houses that it was a common saying that one could make a circuit of it by jumping from one house-top to another.* The population, which consisted chiefly of Hindus, could be estimated at one hundred thousand souls. Contiguous to, or rather adjoining, Cossimbazar were Kalkapur (or Calcapur) and Farashdanga; the former was the headquarters of the factory of the Dutch, and the latter that of the French. Bhatpara, Bamangaohi, and Chunakhali constituted the suburbs. All these places were originally situated on a curve of the river Bbagirathi ; but, seventy years ago, a straight cut was made forming the chord of the curve, thus changing the course of the river and throwing the towns inland. This engineering operation was followed by the breaking out of an epidemic fever which, in virulence and mortality, is unparalleled by any pestilence save that which destroyed Gaur. In the course of a few years, three-fourths of the population died out; and Cossimbazar, from being at one time a most populous place, is now overgrown with jungle and the abode of wild beasts, During the continuance of the epidemic, the rites of cremation and funeral could not be per- formed, the dead being carried away in carts for disposal. Thus the great commercial mart of Cossimbazar was laid in ruins.

The decimation of the population was closely followed by the dilapidation of the buildings. Most of the houses are now in ruins, the bricks having been removed to supply the materials for buildings elsewhere.”

The former channel survives only as a khal, called the Kati- gang, which can be used by small boats in the rains. The main stream formerly flowed past the Residency which was protected from inundation by embankments. This appears from the follow- ing account of some floods given in the Calcutta Gazette of the 29th September 1785: “We are sorry to learn by letter from Murshidabad that, in consequence of the unusual height of the river.”

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Map of Muxadabad/ Murshidabad showing European settlements.
THREE FRENCHMEN IN BENGAL, S C Hill
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Map of Cossimbazar showing the European settlements.
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The previous course of Bhagirathi river, during Rennell’s time, that is late eighteenth century.

Shown above map is the previous course of Bhagirathi river,  in red line, most of the European quarters were in close proximity to the this turn of the river. Until the cut changed the course of the river.  Let’s get back to O’Malley again.

The site of the Residency is three miles north-east of Berhampore Residency and is known as the Residency Hata Bagan ; it is now, as eerie its name implies, an orchard. On the northern side are the remains of an earthen rampart, and close by is some elevated ground called Phansitala, the place of the gibbet or gallows. To the south, and separated from the Residency by a road, is the old Residency cemetery, which contains several interesting monuments.

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The Old English Residency Cemetery, Cossimbazar.
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Inscription on Warren Hastings wife and daughter’s grave

Mention may first be made of the monument erected by Warren Hastings to his first wife. According to Colonel Gastrell’s Report on Murshidabad (1857), the original inscription ran thus:

To the Memory of
MRS. WARREN HASTINGS
and her daughter ELIZABETH
She died the ll th July 1759
In the 2 * year of her age.
This monument was erected by her husband

WARREN HASTINGS, ESQ ,
In due regard to her memory.

* So in original; no second figure to mark the unit. Notely Colonel Qastrell.

The inscription appears to have become obliterated and now
reads as follows :

In Memory of

MRS. MARY HASTINGS and her daughter ELIZABETH

Who died llth July 1759 in the 2 year of her age,

This monument was erected by her husband

WARREN HASTINGS
In due regard to her memory.

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Grave of Warren Hastings wife and daughter

Subsequently restored by Government of Bengal, 1863.

The “who “in this inscription makes it doubtful whether the reference is to the mother or the daughter: the latter, as we learn from Grleif, survived her birth for only nineteen days. The second figure must have been left out because the exact age was unknown.

Mrs Hastings first husband was Captain John Buchanan, he died in the Black Hole Tragedy, making Mary a widow. She went on to become Hastings wife, making him her second husband, and had two children by him. One son George (born in 1758) and another Elizabeth who just survived 19 days. While Mary Hastings died in Cossimbazar.

In the same cemetery there is a monument to a Mr. Dugald Campbell, who died at Rangamati, 6th October, 1782, aged 32.

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Inscription on Captain Dugald Campbell’s grave.

Another curious inscription reads:

“Here lieth the body of Mrs. Sarah Mattocks, who departed this life the 4th October, 1788. Aged 27 years. Much lamented (sic) by her (sic) husband Lieutenant-Colonel Mattocks. Was the grand-daughter of the great John Hampden, Esquire, of St. James’, Westminster.’ ‘

” There must’ as Mr. Beveiidge points out, ” be some mistake here, for Hampden was killed at Chalgrove in 1643, and Mrs. Mattocks was not born till nearly 120 years afterwards. It does not appear either why Hampden should be described as of St. James’, Westminster.”

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Epitaph of Mr. Lyon Prager, please enlarge to see details.

Yet another interesting epitaph inscription (with inscriptions in Persian and Nagri below the English one) is on the monument of Mr. Lyon Prager, Diamond Merchant and Inspector of Indigo and Drugs the plurality of occupations is curious who died at the age of 47, on the 12th May, 1793, “having fallen a sacrifice to the severe heat of the climate from travelling in a palanquin from Calcutta.”

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Another view of the Old English Cemetery.

The majority of those who lie in the cemetery died in their youth or were cut off in the prime of life. One only attained a great age a Charles Cromelin, who died on 25th December 1788, aged 81. It has been suggested that this was Charles Crommelin, a member of a Huguenot family, who had a chequered career. He joined the Company’s service in Bombay in 1732 and rose to be Governor of Bombay, 1760-67. After retiring to England, he had great losses, returned to India in 1772 as a free-trader, and was made British Consul at Goa in 1784.

Colonel Gastrell states that some old memorial slabs were “dug out of the bank or mound, apparently part of an old fortification, to the north of the ruins of the Residency. One slab to the memory of Mrs. Charles Adams is inscribed with the date 29th May, 1741.” Mr. Beveridge says that this tombstone was removed to Mr. Lyall’s compound at Babulbuna (Babulbona) near Berhampore, with another bearing a Latin inscription to the memory of Isabella Gray, who died in 1737. George Gray, he says, was probably the Chief of Malda and afterwards Member of Council at Calcutta, who quarrelled with Clive and left the country in 1766.

Few others buried in this cemetery are A. Downie (1781), Captain Hartie (1782), Captain Clerk (1783), Campbell (1784), and  John Peach (1790).

Now the descriptions of some places inside Cossimbazar.

Kalkapur. A little to the west of the Residency cemetery is Kalkapur, where the Dutch factory stood. Bernier mentions it as in existence in 1666, and says that it employed as many as 700 or 800 men. Teiffenthaler also describes the Dutch buildings as being vast and magnificent. A French man, George Louis Yernet, who was a friend of Warren Hastings, was second in command here in 1756 and showed great kindness to the English after the capture of Cossimbazar and Calcutta by Siraj-ud-daula. Nothing is now left but the Ducth cemetery, which contains 47 monuments, the oldest being that of Daniel van der Miiyl, who died in 1721. The handsomest, which bears no inscription, is a tall structure with two piers of pillars supporting a cupola.

Although less graves have tombstone on them, few that are still intact are of Gregorius Herklots (died in 1739)  cousin of Gregory Herklots of Chinsurah,  Matthias Arnoldus Brahe, died in 20th August 1772,  and Johanna Petronela Van Sorgen.  Johan Gantvoort Van Asften died 20 October 1792.

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A Freemasonic Grave in Dutch Cemetery

This kind of pyramidal structue in grave, roughly suggest freemasonic link,  although there is no  freemasonic symbol. On one occasion  I did find a grave with clear freemason symbol, but that is not in this cemetery, and in due time I will write about it.

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Angular view of the Dutch Cemetery.
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Interesting gravestones of Dutch Cemetery
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The two most tall grave in the Dutch Cemetery

The white tomb with pillars, is often attributed to Joseph Bardieu, who died in 1790, and was the chief of the Cossimbazar factory. This grave with copula and pillars is mirror image to the grave of Sussana Anna Maria (died in 1809) in Chinsurah Dutch cemetery.

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A view of the Dutch Cemetery from railway side

Saidabad. Further to the west, and close to the present channel of the Bhagirathi, is Saidabad. Where there used to be a French factory and also an Armenian settlement. The French appear to have stayed here at least as late as 1781, for in the Nizamat records there is a letter of August 1781 from the Governor- General to Mr. Pott, the Resident at Murshidabad, directing, with reference to a letter from M, Dangereux to the Nawab, that the French at Saidabad be restored to all the rights and privileges which they enjoyed before the war. The great Dupleix is said to have been at one time Resident here. The site of the factory, which is still called Farasdanga, i.e., the French land, has been much cut away, and part of it is occupied by the pumping station of the Berhampore water-works.

Kunjaghata to the south-west contains the Rajbari of a descendant (Debendra Nath Rai) of Nuncomar (Nanda Kumar), a common-place building, now more or less dismantled, part of which is said to have been the residence of Nunooinar. He probably visited it occasionally or periodically, but cannot have lived there regularly, for his home was at Bhadrapur in Birbhum.

The Armenian settlement dates back to 1665, in which year they obtained a pharman from Aurangzeb authorizing them to form a settlement at Saidabad, which then formed a suburb of Cossimbazar. Their church, which is about a mile from Kalkapur, was erected in 1758, possibly under the strength of a charter granted by the East India Company, in which the Company undertook to give a site for a church in any of its settlements in which forty or more Armenians resided. The following account of it is taken from an article entitled Historical Bengal An Ancient Church, by ” Artemus,” which appeared in the Journal (of Calcutta) a few years ago. “Times have changed in Berhampore as well as everywhere else, and the Armenians have given place to others in the local commercial world. The places where they lived are levelled to the ground, and down in Saidabad, where their residences were, one only finds grass and moss-grown ruins. The very roads over which they walked have disappeared, and all that remains of thie ancient colony is an occasional walled-in plot of land.

But that was during O Malley’s time, now Armenian Church at Saidabad is a well restored place.

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Plaque describing the restoration of the Armenian Church.
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Richly ornamented tombstones inside the Armenian Church
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Another ornamented tombstone

An hour glass in a tombstone signifies the passage of time. In a way mortality. The Armenians used to have graves in the church yard and inside, perhaps they believed that stepping onto the graves is a sign of good luck.

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The Belltower of recently renovated Armenian Church
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The garden inside Armenian Church

Image Courtesy:

Paintings obtained from British Library Board, the links are embedded with the text.

Sumit Soren is the founder of Livelystories. Basically an Agricultural Engineer, Sumit has interest in varied topics. He regularly writes on tribal history, internet and science related topics.

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