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St. John’s Church, Calcutta (Kolkata)

St. John’s Church, Calcutta (Kolkata)

First Anglican Church of Calcutta (Kolkata)

Also see my compilation of Calcutta (Kolkata) Churches

Located at the North – Western corner of the Governor House (Raj Bhavan) lies the St. John’s Church. Built in 1787 St. John’s Church is the third oldest church in Calcutta (Kolkata) only next to the Armenian and the Old Mission Church. St. John’s Church served as the Anglican Cathedral of Calcutta (Kolkata) till 1847 when it was transferred to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

St. John's Church, Calcutta (Kolkata)

Built by architect James Agg the St. John’s Church is built with a combination of brick and stone and was commonly known as the “Pathure Girja” (Stone Church). It was built in the lines of St.Martin’s in the fields, London.

The St. John’s Church contains beautiful marble bass relief work. wood curving, stain glass and paintings including Zoffani’s famous Last Supper.

Foundation Stone of St. John’s Church

The land for the St. John’s Church was donated by the Maharaja Nabo Kishen Bahadur the founder of the Shovabazar Raj Family.

The foundation stone was laid by the laid by Warren Hastings, the Governor General of India on 6 April 1784.

Inside the St. John’s Church:

  • Memorial to James Achilles Kirkpatrick, The White Mughal
  • Memorial to James Pattle and his wife
  • Zoffany’s last Supper
Memorial to James Achilles Kirkpatrick, The White Mughal:
Memorial to James Achilles Kirkpatrick, The White Mughal

Memorial to James Achilles Kirkpatrick, The White Mughal

James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the central character of William Dalrymple best selling work of history White Mughals died in Calcutta on 15 October 1805 at the age of 41. He was buried at the North Park Street Cemetery. Sadly the neither his grave nor the cemetery exists to this day.

But James’ father, popularly known as the Handsome Colonel, along with his brothers erected a memorial in memory of James Achilles Kirkpatrick on the southern wall of the St. John’s Church, where it stands to this day.

 Memorial of James Pattle and his wife:

Memorial to James Pattle and his wife

It is not only William Dalrample’s characters of history who have nade it to the walls of St. John’s Church in Calcutta (Kolkata), but the memorial of Dalrample’s great great grandfather also finds its place in the walls of the church.

According to Dalrample “Seven generations of my family were born in Calcutta, there are three Dalrymples sitting inside St John’s graveyard. And a great-great-grandfather’s plaque is on the St John’s Church wall, James Pattle.”

“James Pattle was known as the greatest liar in India. A man supposed to be so wicked that the Devil wouldn’t let him leave India after he died. Pattle left instructions that when he died, his body should be shipped back to Britain. So, after his demise (in 1845) they pickled the body in rum, as was the way of transporting bodies back then. The coffin was placed in the cabin of Pattle’s wife and the ship set sail from Garden Reach. In the middle of the night, the corpse broke through the coffin and sat up. The wife had a heart attack and died.”

“Now both bodies had to be preserved in rum. But the casks reeked of alcohol and the sailors bored holes through the sides of the coffins and drank the rum… and, of course, got drunk and the ship hit a sandbank and the whole thing exploded, cremating Pattle and his wife in the middle of the Hooghly! That’s why you see a plaque on the wall and not a grave in the graveyard of my great-great-grandfather.”

Zoffany’s Last Supper:

Zoffany’s Last Supper

On the walls of the St. John’s Church hung a Leonardo style Last Supper. Painted by Johan Zoffany (1734 – 1810) the painting is not a exact replica of Leonardo’s master piece. Zoffanay rather gave an Indian touch to the historic Biblical event.

The top left hand corner of the painting shows a sword, which represents a common peon’s tulwar. Water ewer standing near the table is a copy of Hidustani spittoon and next to it lies a water filled beesty bag (a goat skin bag used for storing water).

But the greatest feature of Zoffany’s Last Supper lies in the selection of model used by Zoffany to represent Jeasus and his twelve disciples.

  • Jesus: Greak priest Father Parthenio
  • John: W.C.Blacquiere the police magistrate of Calcutta during 1780s. The effeminate police officer was a master in adopting female disguises.
  • Judas: William Tulloh, an auctioneer.

Incidentally John of Joffany’s Last Supper also look feminine enough to produce another Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.

Zoffany’s Last Supper has recently been restored by Renate Kant, a german painting conservator based in Singapore.

This photo shows the conserved photo after it was put on display on 3 July 2010.

The St. John’s Church compound also contains several other monuments including:

  • Job Charnock’s Tomb
  • Black Hole Monument
  • Rohila War Memorial
  • Lady Canning Memorial
  • Francis (Begum) Johnson’s grave
Job Charnock’s Tomb

Job Charnock’s tomb & his Epitaph

On August 24, 1690 an ambitious trader, Job Charnok, of the British East India Company landed in the village of Sutanuti (present day North Calcutta) never to return. Although Charnock died two years later, but he combined the three villages of Sutanuti, Govindopur & Kolikata to form the city of Calcutta.

The octagonal Moorish style tomb was erected by Charnock’s son in law Charles Ayer. Built of stones brought all the way from South India, which later came out to be known as Chranockite.

The grave also contains the body of Charnock’s wife and several other people.

The Epitaph of Charnok’s grave is in latin. The English translation is given below.

In the hands of God Almighty, Job Charnock, English knight and recently the most worthy agent of the English in this Kingdom of Bengal, left his mortal remains under this marble so that he might sleep in the hope of a blessed resurrection at the coming of Christ the Judge. After he had journeyed onto foreign soil he returned after a little while to his eternal home on the 10th day of January 1692. By his side lies Mary, first-born daughter of Job, and dearest wife of Charles Eyre, the English prefect in these parts. She died on 19 February AD 1696–7.

Black Hole Memorial:

Black Hole Memorial

The Calcutta Black Hole is one of the most controversial events of India history. According to the British account, during the seize of Calcutta Siraj ud – Daulah took 146 prisoner and confined them in a room measuring 14 feet by 8 feet and locked them up overnight. Only 23 survived, the rest 123 perished of suffocation and heat stroke.

John Holwell a survivor, who later became the Governor of Bengal, left this account. John Holwell even went on to build a memorial at the site of the Black Hole (present day GPO).But the Indian historians have objected to Holwel’s theory of Black Hole. It is believed that the the British resident escaped through a secret tunnel to the banks of the Hogghly. from where they were carried off to Madras by an awaiting ship. According to R C Majumdar ‘Holwell story is completely baseless and can not be considered reliable historical information.’

The story of the Black Hole Monument is no less interesting. Holwell is said to have erected a monument at the site of the Black Hole tragedy. But somewhere in 1822 the monument disappeared only to be rebuild by Curzon in 1901 at the South – West corner of Writers Building. During the height of independence movement in 1940 the British were forced to remove the Black Hole Monument to the compound of St. John’s Church, where it stands to this day.

The octagonal obelisk styled memorial contains the names of 123 people who are said to be “killed” in the Calcutta Black Hole.

Rohilla War Memorial:

Rohilla War Memorial

Rohilla War (1772 – 74) was fought between the Rohillas and the Nawab of Oudh, with the British backing the later. Rohillas are a branch of the Pashtun tribe of the Pakistan and Afghanistan border. Some of the Rohillas settled in the Oudah region and soon a conflict began between the Rohillas and the Nawab of Oudh, Shuja – ud – Daula. This resulted in Rohilla War.

The British backed the Nawab of Oudh and finally on January 1774 the Rohilla chief Hafez Ruhmet was killed resulting in the defeat of the the Rohillas. A treaty in October 1774 brought the dispute to a close. With their power somewhat restricted the Rohillas continued to live in their territory of Rohilkhand, which still exists in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

The Rohilla Memorial at the St. John’s Church compound consists of a circular dome supported by 12 pillars. The memorial contains a plaque with the names of several British Military Officers, killed in the Rohilla War.

Lady Canning Memorial:

Lady Canning’s memorial

Charlotte Canning (1817 – 1861) was the wife of Charles Canning the Governor General and Viceroy of India. She died of malaria and was burried in Barrackpore (Barrackpurthe)a memorial was also constructed in the St. John’s Church graveyard.

Lady Canning name have been made immortal by the famous sweet maker Bhim Nag, who specially designed the sweet Pantua in her honor and named it Ladykeni.

Lady Canning’s elaborately decorated memorial lies on the Northern corridor of the St. John’s Church.

Francis (Begum) Johnson’s grave:

Francis (Begum) Johnson’s Grave

Located at the far end of the St. John’s Church complex and next to Job Chranok’s tomb lies the beautiful circular temple like tomb of Francis Johnson (1725 – 1812). The grave stone inside the beautiful grave is no less interesting than the grave itself.

Fransis Johnson (popularly known as Begum Johnson), the grand old lady of Calcutta, lived up to a age of 89 and married four times. The epitaph makes an interesting reading, as its describes the entire life of Fransis Johnson, with details of his four husband and their respective children.

References:

  • An Artist’s Impression by Desmond Doig
  • Swasat Kolkata by Nishitranjan Roy
  • 10 Walks in Calcutta by Prosenjit Dasgupta
  • Jaywalkers Guide Calcutta by Soumitra Das
  • “Wicked man on the Wall” by Samhita Chakraborty Lahiri, The Telegraph
  • White Mughal by William Dalrymple
  • My Personal Website

List of my Blog entries on Calcutta (Kolkata)

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  1. April 12, 2012 at 2:13 PM | #1

    There is quite a nice writeup on Zoffany in Ruskin Bond’s “STRANGE MEN STRANGE PLACES”. One interesting fact I first came to know from that book is that Zoffany is alleged to have resorted to cannibalism when he was shipwrecked off the Anadaman Islands :)

    From Wikipedia about this incident:
    “The Frankfurt-born Zoffany (1734-1810) lived in Lucknow for two and a half years, staying much of the time with Claude Martin. One of the paintings was Colonel Mordant’s Cock Fight which included, Martin, Ozias Humphrey and Zoffany himself. On his way back to England (where he had settled in the 1750s) he was shipwrecked off the Andaman Islands. Lots having been drawn among the starving survivors, a young sailor was duly eaten. Zoffany may thus be said with some confidence to have been the first and last Royal Academician to have become a cannibal.”

    • April 14, 2012 at 10:26 PM | #2

      Dear Surja thanks for your long and informative comment.

      Although I am a fan of Ruskin Bond and read many of his stories I have missed out on “STRANGE MEN STRANGE PLACES” I will definitely try to read it.

      Thanks for the wikipedia reference. I didn’t get it in the Johann Zoffany entry. Can you mention from which entry you have taken it.. Incidentally I am a wiki contributor and wrote the article on St. John’s Church, Kolkata.

      I have read about the Zoffany canibal incident in Last Mughal by William Dalrample.

      Thanks once more.

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