Written by Duncan Marks, Conservation Studies alumni (2015-17)
Following recent restoration work by YCAA alumnus Ravindra Gundu Rao at two cemeteries in South India that hold close-association with the British Empire, and the wider work of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia (BACSA), this article uses such conservation work to reflect upon the overlap between memory, place and commemoration.
As similar built heritage with imperial connotations has recently been seen by some as ‘contested heritage’, the parameters of such conservation are explored here in relation to time and space. Parallels are drawn with other cemetery conservation and community initiatives, such as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the British Government’s First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme, and Israel’s Youth Delegations to Poland programme. Ultimately, we need to ask for whom should this built heritage be conserved, what purpose might it serve, and how might knowledge of it be better promoted?
British Cemetery, Lovedale, Ootacamund, Tamil Nadu
The British Cemetery at Lovedale, Ootacamund, in the Tamil Nadu state of South India, was opened in 1832. The site of the cemetery is in the high hills of an extensive 750-acre campus of The Lawrence School.
The School was founded in 1858 in memory of Major General Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence, KCB, who died in the First War of Indian Independence against British Rule in 1857 (more commonly known in Britain as the ‘Indian Mutiny’). It was created to provide vocational education to the orphans and the other children of European soldiers in India, and operated on a strictly Protestant Christian basis. Despite the end of British rule in India in 1947, the connection of the school, and hence the cemetery, with the military continues today as a public school with a 40% pupil allocation reserved, and a 20% fee subsidy, for children of Indian Defence Personnel.
The cemetery has 124 tombs of which approximately 110 are of the British Christians who lived and passed away in India in the C19. The work is currently in progress and soon to be complete.
The cemetery has suffered from exposure to monsoons, foliage growth on the stones, and other encroachments by nature; a common problem for cemeteries in India. The scope of this project is to conserve the graves, statues and landscaping through repairs using traditional stone restoration works, structural repairs, restoration using traditional brick lime mortar, paving, stucco and lime plaster works. As in many urban areas of India, a shortage of available local stone meant the British designed structures that were made of brick covered by plaster. This only makes them more prone to deterioration from the effects of water ingress during monsoons.
The conservation project is being done in conjunction with the BACSA and funded by the school’s alumni Old Lawrence Association. Indeed, the alumni association petitioned the school in 2016 for the restoration and maintenance of the school cemetery. A sense of continued connection between alumni and the cemetery is evident in their petition comments, with ‘integral to the school’s heritage’ being a frequent remark made. The comments made are on a personal and emotive level, with fond memories of the cemetery on the campus from their school days and a reverence to honour former pupils buried there. There is little, however, offered to suggest the cemetery holds value in a wider national or political narrative. Continue reading