A MOVING INSCRIPTION
In January this year Mr Anirban Bhadra, of Calcutta decided to photograph every tomb in the South Park Street cemetery there and record the inscriptions. ‘I would spend all day in the cemetery’ he tells us ‘and would clear the stones with a small painter’s brush to clean the face so that the writing would become visible. I would get into any tricky place covered with vegetation, much to the displeasure of the mali. When summer came I stopped because of the heat but will soon resume this winter. Near the entrance I found a huge dark marble slab lying on a bed of grass. It was clean, although broken in two. Fussy as I was, I didn’t spare even this crude-looking slab and took a photo to transcribe later. I found that it was an all-Latin inscription which commemorates an Angelica de Carrion followed by the phrase Edwardii Tiretta Tarvisini and a date of 15 June 1796 but didn’t translate the text. I almost forgot about it until recently when going through my notes and only then found that Angelica was actually the wife of Edward Tiretta. I checked the Bengal Obituary and found that this inscription is the first in the section on Tiretta’s Burial Ground. I knew about Tiretta and his burial ground but didn’t know the whereabouts of his wife. I eagerly would like to know if this is recorded in BACSA records. Or is it my discovery? The verdict is very much anticipated.’
This was indeed an exciting find, especially as the tomb is not recorded in BACSA’S definitive guide South Park Street Cemetery, Calcutta: Register of Graves and Standing tombs from 1767. The first thing to do was to get an accurate translation of the Latin inscription, which Mr Bhadra had gallantly tried to do through google. BACSA member Richard Morgan provided his own version:
‘Here lies Angelica de Carrion, the very dear wife of Edward Tiretta of Treviso, whom on the third day after a pledge of love had been given, Death snatched away on the 15 June 1796 in her 18th year. Her grieving husband set up this marble sacred to her memory.’
(For members who would like to try their hand, the Latin inscription is reproduced on the back cover.) The next thing was to learn more of Edward Tiretta and his Burial Ground. Treviso is near enough to Venice for Tiretta to be called a Venetian and as a youth he had worked for Casanova, the great lover, before arriving in India about 1781. He was quickly appointed Superintendent of Roads in Calcutta as well as the Land Registrar, recording ownership deeds and marking the limits of the town. He was also a civil architect, though it would be more accurate to describe him as a property developer.
He established Tiretta’s Bazaar in north Calcutta which became a centre for Chinese immigrants and still offers Chinese food today. Angelica, his child bride, whom he had married when she was only fifteen, was the orphan daughter of a French officer, the Comte de Carrion who had settled in Calcutta and may also have had Venetian links. Three years after the marriage, Angelica died in childbirth, leaving ‘a little babe as a pledge of her friendship’ as Tiretta wrote to Warren Hastings.
Angelica was interred in the Portuguese burial ground at Boytaconnah near the Circular Road, but for reasons ‘too painful to relate’ her widowed husband was forced to have her body distinterred shortly afterwards. This was apparently because such was the demand for burial spaces for Catholics, that even recent graves were being used for new interments. Tiretta therefore bought a plot of land in Park Street which became known as the French Cemetery or Tiretta’s Burial Ground and here Angelica was laid to rest for a second time. A large obelisk was erected over her grave in the centre of the new site. (see back cover) The inscription was inserted at the base, facing the entrance. Nothing is known of her infant, nor indeed of Tiretta’s own burial place.
In 1977 the French Cemetery was cleared for redevelopment. The last photographs were taken by BACSA member Mrs Elizabeth McKay and the surviving inscriptions were recorded before the tombs were demolished. A handful of gravestones which could be moved were brought to South Park Street through the generosity of the Compagnie Française des Petroles (Total), but the majority were lost. BACSA was then in its infancy and unable to do anything. The information was collated and published in 1983 as a BACSA booklet edited mainly by the late Basil LaBourchardière, himself of French descent. Writing about the Tiretta tomb he noted that the inscription was ‘alas now no more’ which makes Mr Bhadra’s discovery all the more exciting. It appears that Angelica’s inscription, removed from its monument, was simply left, face down, in South Park Street. It is such an important memorial that it should be carefully restored with a plaque detailing the history of this much travelled inscription. Anirban Bhadra is to be congratulated on his find.
And another sharp-eyed visitor to the same cemetery, Mr Sovan Dutta, found something that puzzled him – two stone plaques lying side by side on the ground. One was inscribed with foreign place names: Toulouse, Salamanca, S. Africa 1846-47, Central India and Alma. The second adjacent plaque had a regimental crest and the words ‘Derbyshire Regt.’ and ‘Sherwood Foresters’ could be made out. This placed the plaques later than 1881 when the two regiments, from Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire were amalgamated. Apart from a mention of ‘Central India’ the Regiment does not seem to have spent long in India, but played an important part in the American war of Independence, in the Napoleonic wars, and in the Crimean war. Mr Dutta asked the pertinent question ‘Why is Alma mentioned first?’ because it appears separately above a list of other battle names. Perhaps a military historian could explain the ranking order of names? Mr Dutta’s query was passed to Dr Sudip Bhattacharya, who believes the plaques may be from a memorial originally at Dum Dum, now part of the Kolkata Municipal area. Possibly there was a military cemetery here which no longer exists, suggests Dr Battacharya and the two plaques, like the Tiretta inscription may simply have been dumped here. Who knows what will turn up next, we wonder.
Dr Rosie Llewellyn-Jones MBE
Editor of ‘Chowkidar’