ASI breathes life into 17th century Dutch cemetery at Chinsurah

Among the oldest colonial cemeteries in the country, it holds over 200 graves dating back to 1656.

Updated - July 31, 2021 08:11 pm IST

Published - July 31, 2021 08:09 pm IST - Chinsurah

Entrance to the Dutch Cemetery at Chinsurah.

Entrance to the Dutch Cemetery at Chinsurah.

As early as 1656 after the decline of the Portugese, the western bank of the river Hooghly was occupied by the Dutch. For nearly two centuries, a Dutch settlement flourished at Chinsurah and started intra-Asian trade in spices, cotton and indigo. However, in 1825 when Dutch Commissioner B.C.D. Bouman surrendered Chinsurah to the British government, most of the monumental architecture of the Dutch was destroyed.

Of the few remnants of the Dutch architecture, the cemetery, a protected monument remains as the most important proof of strong Dutch presence in the town more than 40 km upstream from Kolkata on the river Hooghly.

The Archeological Survey of India, Kolkata Circle had started the restoration of the Dutch cemetery soon after completing the restoration of Danish cemetery at Serampore. But unlike the Danish cemetery which had not more than 50 graves, the Dutch cemetery has around 250 graves that need attention.

“The Dutch Cemetery still stands and is a reminder of the golden days of Dutch legacy in Chinsurah. The cemetery contains an assortment of graves scattered under the shade of old trees and surrounded by a high wall. The cemetery has two segments, the older one having graves of Dutch nationals and the other, still in use by the British and native Christians,” Subha Majumder, Superintending Archeologist, ASI Kolkata Circle said. Dr Majumder said the restoration process might take a few months and is likely to completed by the end of this year.

Restoration work at Dutch Cemetery

Restoration work at the Dutch Cemetery.

The oldest tomb that could have been identified at the cemetery belongs to Sir Cornelius Jonge who died in Chinsurah in 1743. The other important graves at the cemetery includes that of Daniel Anthony Overbeck, Dutch Governor of Chinsurah, who stayed at the town even after the British took over the town in 1825. He died in 1840 and was interned in a sarcophygus tomb.

Enclosed by a high brick wall, the cemetery has mausoleums which are typical to architectural style of the period and are similar to those found in south India. The southern part of the cemetery compound is home to 24 extant Dutch tombs, which are of three types — pyramids, tomb boxes and plain grave stones.

“The Chinsurah Dutch cemetery is probably the biggest non-British European cemetery in West Bengal. The challenge is to restore these structures in their original form. There are many structures inside the 4,000 sq m plot which are ornate and have distinct architectural design which illustrates the uniqueness of Dutch architecture in this part of country,” Dr. Majumder said.

In 1993 a devastating tornado damaged some of the brick structures in the cemetery which were subsequently repaired by the ASI. Experts also pointed out that the restoration of the structure is necessary because of the frequent tropical cyclones like Amphan (May 2020) and Yaas ( May 2021)over the past few years having an impact and weakening these the centuries old structures.

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