Kolkata Soundscapes

South Park Street Cemetery

The South Park street cemetery, located as the name suggests in Park Street, has been listed in the top ten haunted places of the city. It has been a place of interest historically as well as of sheer curiosity. Built as a non-Church cemetery, it was just a marshy piece of land when it was opened up as a burial ground in 1767. It emerged into one of the largest burial grounds outside Europe and America by the time the century turned. Earlier known as the Burial Ground Road, Park Street was later named so after a Park around the famous Vansittart Garden House.  However, the burial ground, though later extended was disowned in 1790, as a marble plaque reads outside the Cemetery that it Opened in 1767 and “closed” in 1790. It has around 1600 graves which might be a clear marker of the high death rates of those decades.  The death rate among Europeans was so high that survivors would hold Thanksgiving banquets in October every year, during those decades.  The Cemetery was officially closed in 1840 when a new cemetery was built called the Lower Circular Road Cemetery.

The tombs found here are a unique blend of two architectural styles: Gothic and Indo-Saracenic. It’s a splendid example of eclectic tastes of the Christians, mostly British and Eurasians at the helm of affairs then.  The grounds measuring to eight acres are enclosed by a high brick wall (to prevent the spreading of contagious diseases from dead bodies) and within this are the array of roughly 1600 tombs that have cenotaphs, tablets, and epitaphs. The tombs, raised on brick plinths are mostly square or rectangular or sometimes circular capped by roofs and usually with columns in front that support the entablature. Besides these regular ones, there are obelisks, stone urns, cairns with beautiful carvings. Almost all memorials are architecturally amazing and structurally classical. One interesting thing in the cemetery is the mention of the many professions of the various people buried here, differing in both social position as well as financial. There are many inscribed including jail-keeper, silversmith, schoolteacher, cooper, translator, postmaster, head tide-waiter, breeder of cattle, and even a grave of a person which reads “a virtuous mother” possibly due to her wishes of being buried anonymous.

There are many notable graves such as the graves of Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, Sir William Jones, Charles (Hindoo) Stuart, Colonel Robert Kyd, The Lady Anne Monson (a great granddaughter of King Charles II). Another very often visited grave is that of Mrs. Elizabeth Barwell or “the celebrated Miss Sanderson” as her epitaph reads. She was considered to be the most beautiful British woman to have arrived in Calcutta, as a part of a group of British young women sent to the capital to be wives to the soldiers and army men here. She eventually married Richard Barwell (as clearly stated in her epitaph) in 1776, but died in 1778, at the age of 23. Such historical trivia about this cemetery make it a popular tourist spot as well as a place of discovery and adventure for the city youth.  The pavilions inside the cemetery are visually stunning because of the numerous trees that shadow the paths, making it a popular destination for photo walks. The cemetery has been going through restoration procedure since 2000, a process that started out with only 15 graves and the surroundings have been maintained in an epoch style but combined with modern solar lighting. The cemetery is open for a visit from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.