In Serampore, there are a few remnants of a Danish settlement, a tavern, a church and a little-known cemetery dating to as early as 1770.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has stumbled upon some interesting bits of history. It has found more graves during a recent restoration of the Danish cemetery in West Bengal’s Serampore town, about 30 km upstream from Kolkata.
Along the bend of the river Hooghly in Serampore, there are a few remnants of a Danish settlement, a tavern, a church and a little-known cemetery dating to as early as 1770.
“A total of 52 burial places or cemeteries were known before we took up the restoration. But after a year-long work, carefully working for conservation of the cemetery, there are 61 graves now,” Shubha Majumder, Superintending Archaeologist of ASI’s Kolkata Circle, said. Experts point out that the centrally protected monument is the only Danish cemetery in West Bengal and perhaps even across the country.
The archaeologists said that the cemetery was a potential treasure trove of information about the Danish settlement in Serampore which is more than 200 years old. The earliest of these graves date back to 1787 CE. The tomb of Colonel Krefting, the Danish Chief and Director, who died in 1828 CE, is here.
“The Danish Governor, Hohlenburg, after his death in c.1833, was interred in this cemetery. The famous author of the Lepcha language dictionary, General Mainswaring, was also buried here. At least five graves have a tomb stones with epitaph, four in English and one in Danish,” Mr. Majumder said.
Out of these 61 graves, epitaph of only four (Cemetery of Jacob Krefting, Cemetery of Mrs. Emily Christadoss, Cemetery of Lt. Colonel Ole (Olave) Bie, Cemetery of Casper Top (in Danish) remain legible after almost 200 years.
The restoration of the centrally protected monument started in 2020 after some parts of the cemetery suffered damage due to falling trees during cyclone Amphan. Dr. Majumder said that unlike the Dutch and French cemeteries, the Danish cemetery is less ornate, and the height of the tombs is less compared to other European cemeteries in and around Kolkata
Danes acquired land in Serampore from the Nawab of Bengal in the mid-18th century. Among the Danish structures like St. Olav’s Church, locally known as the Danish Church, was built between 1800 and 1826. Serampore on the banks of Hooghly served as a colony of Denmark from 1750 to 1845. Another prominent Danish structure, Danish Tavern, located on the riverfront, has been recently restored.
In the cemetery, one can find the tomb of LT. Colonel Ole (Olve) Bie, Governor of Fredereicknagore , who according to some experts built the St. Olav’s Church.
“Born at Trondhjem Norway in February 1733. Died at Serampur 18th May 1805. Colonel Bie was a disciple of Swartz of Tranquebar. He received and sheltered the Baptist Missionaries in 1799 and built the church here,” the epitaph on one of the tombs reads.
The cemetery is located only a few hundred metres from the Danish Tavern that has recently become an important tourist destination.
“The reason we took to renovate the cemetery is that it is probably the most important symbol of the Danish settlement in Serampore. It can not only serve as an important tourist destination but also calls for more studies and research on the structural aspects and the cultural connections,” Mr. Majumder said.
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