13 September 2012

Lady Johnson's Memorial, Calcutta


This post is part of series about St. John’s Church located in BBD Bagh area, Calcutta. The integrated post about the church and the structures within can be accessed from here – Pixelated Memories - St. John's Church.


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"Her (Lady Johnson's) manners were cheerful, polished and highly pleasing. She abounded in anecdote; and possessing ease and affability of communication, her conversation was always interesting, without any tendency to fatigue the hearer. She had a strong understanding, to which she superadded much and accurate observation. Her views of life were correct, and the benevolence of her heart and the warmth of her affections continued unimpaired to the latest period of her life. Though prone to reflect and to discriminate, yet her judgement did not abridge, but served to guide and exalt her benevolence. As a Christian, she was sound in her principles, and exemplified in her practice; – in fine, her conduct in all the relations of life was such as to gain the universal respect and esteem of the society."
– The Bengal Obituary Booklet

In a desolate corner of the famous St. John’s Church of Calcutta exists a small walled garden within whose periphery have been built several mausoleum-memorials and laid numerous graves. The one in the center belongs to Job Charnock, considered by many to be the founder of the city of Calcutta (refer Pixelated Memories - Charnock's Tomb for further details of Charnock's life, adventures and burial), and near him rests Admiral Watson of His Majesty's Navy who, along with Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Clive, ceased control of the territories of Bengal and Bihar from then Nawab (Provincial Governor) Mirza Siraj-ud-Daulah (ruled AD 1756-57). Charnock’s mausoleum and the memorials built in close vicinity to it overshadow all other features of this secluded portion of the church complex and very few people, if any, venture beyond to see another pale cream-yellowish memorial, overshadowed by the lush, extensive branches of the surrounding trees, that stands alone, as if weeping to itself over its present condition, close to the complex's boundary wall. That such a fate should befall the edifice commemorating Lady Frances Johnson (lived 1725-1812) seems unkind to her life and memory. She was a famous and wealthy socialite who lived to the ripe age of 87 to become the oldest English resident of Calcutta and in all that while had four husbands and several children.


Exotic! - Lady Johnson's memorial


She was referred to as “Begum” (“beloved”) by Calcutta’s elite because of her association with the Nawab's mother, Amina Begum. During her third marriage, by employing the kindhearted and tender hospitality of the Nawab's mother, she rose to the occasion and saved herself and her husband William Watts, then the chief of the province of Murshidabad (Bengal), from the Nawab's wrath after he had pledged to obliterate all signs of British trade and existence from his domains, besieged the fortress at Calcutta and subjected its inhabitants to what has been since contemporary times referred to as "Black Hole tragedy of Calcutta" (read more about it here – Pixelated Memories - Black Hole Memorial).

Upon her demise, the British government of Bengal sanctioned land within St. John's Church complex for constructing her mausoleum – it is a circular edifice, raised upon pillars and surmounted by a semicircular dome that itself supports a saucer-like appendage on its top. On the roof level, the dome is surrounded by what can only be construed as four small urns, and as if this odd design wasn’t enough, the eaves overshadow a wide line of pattern work, marking the circumference of the memorial immediately beneath the roof, that consists of repeated motifs of embossed bull heads and crossed guns! The epitaph inside is also unique in that it describes Lady Johnson's entire life and even summarizes her marriages and family life!

"Beneath
are deposited the remains of
Mrs Frances Johnson;
she was the second daughter of Edward Crook, Esq.
Governor of Fort St. David, on the coast of Coromandel,
and was born on 10th of April, 1725.
In 1738 she intermarried with Parry Purple Templer, Esq.,
Nephew of Mr. Braddyll, then Governor of Calcutta,
by whom she had two children, who died Infants.
Her second husband was James Altham of Calcutta, Esq.
who died of the small-pox a few days after the marriage.
She next intermarried with William Watts, Esq.
then Senior Member of the Supreme Council of Bengal,
by whom she had issue four children,
Amelia, who married The Right Honorable
Charles Jenkinson afterwards Earl of Liverpool,
by whom she had issue one child, Robert Banks, now
Earl of Liverpool, &c. &c.
Edward, now of Hanslope Park, in the county of Bucks, Esq.
Sophia, late the wife, and now the Widow of
George Poyntz Ricketts, Esq. late Governor of Barbados,
and William, who died an Infant.
After the death of Mr. Watts, she in 1744, intermarried with the
Reverend William Johnson, then principal chaplain of the Presidency of Fort William,
by whom she had no issue.
She died on 3rd of February 1812. Aged 87,
The oldest British resident in Bengal, universally beloved, respected and revered."

Location: Inside St. John's Church complex, BBD Bagh area (refer Pixelated Memories - St. John's Church), approximately a kilometer from Esplanade square.
Nearest Metro station/bus stop: Esplanade
How to reach: Walk/take a taxi from Esplanade.
Open: All days, 10 am – 5 pm
Entrance Fees: Rs 10 for visitors on foot; parking charges applicable.
Photography/Video Charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 10 min
Other monuments within the church complex -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Black Hole Memorial 
  2. Pixelated Memories - Charnock's Tomb 
  3. Pixelated Memories - Lady Canning Memorial 
  4. Pixelated Memories - Rohilla War Memorial
Suggested reading - 
  1. Books.google.co.in - The Bengal Obituary Booklet 
  2. Muddyloafers.blogspot.com - Begum Frances Johnson - Grand Dame of Calcutta

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