Memorial of Thomas Dean Pearse, St. Stephen’s School, Dum Dum, Kolkata
Memorial of Thomas Dean Pearse
St. Stephen’s School, Dum Dum, Kolkata
Date: 17 August 1880 Time: 5:30 am Location: Belvedere
Two shots broke the silence of the monsoon morning at Alipore, on the southern fringes of Calcutta (now Kolkata), but these were not ordinary gun shots but shots of a duel.
The shots were part of the infamous duel between Warren Hastings and Phillip Francis.
Hasting was appointed the Govern General by the directors of the East India Company. The directors also appointed a council of four members who enjoyed equal powers in the board as the governor general. Philip Francis was one of the four councils and always went against Hastings.
A conflict regarding the war with the Marathas lead to the duel between the two. Thursday, August 17 was the chosen date, and Belvedere was to be the venue; the time chosen for the encounter was half past five in the morning.
Both stood behind the mark and at the counting of one, two and three both fired. Francis fired first and missed his target while Hastings’ fire found its mark on his opponent’s right arm. Francis staggered and while attempting to sit, fell on the ground crying out he was a “dead man”. He recuperated within few days and attended the Council where both were civil in behaviour.
Apart from Hastings and Francis there are two other men who were the witness of the notorious duel. According to dueling customs of those days, each of the dueling men was accompanied by an assistant, known as Second. Colonel Pearse was the second of Hasting while Francis second was Colonel Watson.
Today the tree lined avenue in Alipore (Belvedere) is known as the Duel Avenue and it is hard to believe that the peaceful area of South Kolkata was once the venue for one of the most infamous duels of the city.
On the other hand at the other end of the city stands a memorial in memory of Hasting’s second Thomas Dean Pearce.
The Memorial of Thomas Dean Pearce stands at the compound of St. Stephen’s School, just stone throw away from the Dum Dum Ordnance Factory.
Incidentally the Dum Dum Ordnance Factory contains a similar memorial. The Afghan Memorial at the Dum Dum Ordnance ground has remarkable similarities with the memorial od Thomas Dean Pearce but is much taller and more ornate.
Incidentally Pearce Memorial was built half a century before the Afghan War Memorial and it is quiet likely the architect of the Afghan Memorial drew inspiration from the nearby Pearce Memorial.
Colonel Pearce was not just a able military man but also a man of extra ordinary talent with interest on a diverge range of topics. He contributed a paper on Two Hindu Festivals and the Indian Sphinx at the Asiatic Society of Kolkata. In 1770s he made significant contributions in finding out the latitude and longitude of the coastal area and also of many principle cities and towns.
He died on the Ganga on 15 June 1789 and the the memorial, built in 1780, is the only tribute to the extraordinary man, sadly the Pearce Memorial has almost been forgotten
A special thanks to my student Subham Pal, who was an ex student of St. Stephen’s School, Dum Dum. Subham was the first to inform me about the existence of the memorial.