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Monday, 27 June 2016

The Oldest Christian Grave in Chennai is Armenian



                                                                                                     
This story is brought to you with the support of the
AGBU UK Trust.
                                                                                                    

Some of the oldest Christian graves and tombstones in India and Bangladesh are Armenian.


*NOTE: The hyperlinks in square brackets [ ] do not work in this blog, please scroll to the bottom to read the links.*

Madras


For many a tourist, the start of an afternoon’s visit to a small church in Chennai begins at the foot of a large flight of stone steps, leading on to the Little Mount Catholic Church of ‘Our Lady of Good Health’. Already they have missed a significant monument of historical importance, one that has been written about many times, but for some reason not popular enough to photograph and record as they eagerly climb up to visit the wonders of the church and its caves. The language is unfamiliar to many, the script tricky for locals to read; Armenian history is at their feet as the daily routines of people pass by.  It is the oldest Christian grave in Madras, and it is Armenian.

Forgotten.
But not any longer.

Images courtesy of Very Rev. Fr. Oshagan Gulgulian


A record of the inscription can be found in at least two books, Mesrovb Seth’s ‘Armenians in India’ as well as a ‘List of Inscriptions on Tombs or Monuments in Madras’ by Julian James Cotton, but no images have so far made it in to the public domain.

Described as a milestone in shape, and perhaps maybe even mistaken as such in this busy city, the tombstone, dated 1663 of Khojah Margar, is one of a handful of the oldest Christian graves in India that happens to be Armenian. The others can be found in Surat, Agra, Calcutta, Chinsurah and Dacca respectively.



For those interested in knowing about the other centuries old Christian graves and monuments in India that are Armenian, here is a brief summary.

Agra


The Martyrose Chapel



Images from the private archive of Liz Chater

I expected the Armenian cemetery at Agra to be a little worse for wear and care, but I couldn’t have been more mistaken.  It is incredibly well preserved and conserved by the local Agra authorities, the grounds and shrubbery are well kempt and some of the stones and their inscriptions look as fresh and clear as the day they were carved.

Mesrovb Seth writing of the Martyrose Chapel said: “This Mausoleum which is not built of marble, like the world-famed Taj, is nevertheless the oldest Christian structure in Northern India. It was erected in 1611 at the old Armenian Cemetery”.

Agra Municipality are clearly showing their sympathies towards these beautiful historic stones and structure, making wonderful efforts in creating an attractive location for tourists to visit.


Image courtesy of Liz Chater’s private archive


Although not the original stone, there is a marker inside the chapel remembering the earliest Armenian burial in Agra, Khwaja Mortenepus, 1611.


Calcutta


Probably the most well known in the group of oldest Christian tombstones, is situated at the Armenian Church in Calcutta. A modern day plaque in English placed there in 1971 rests upon an 18th century intricately carved stone, bearing an inscription and date of 1630.  “This is the tomb of Rezabeebeh, the wife of the late charitable Sookias, who departed from this world to life eternal on the 21st day of Nakha in the year 15 i.e., on the 21st July, 1630.”

It is in the compound of the churchyard where other interesting tombstones and inscriptions can be found.

Image courtesy of the private archive of Liz Chater


Chinsurah


The Armenian Church in Chinsurah is the second oldest church in Bengal. It was erected by the Marcar family. Johannes Marcar laid the foundation for the church in 1695. He died just two years later and was buried inside the church. Protected from sun, wind and rain, it is in wonderfully good condition.

Image courtesy of the private archive of Liz Chater

The transcription is a combination of Mesrovb Seth’s work and present day scholar and historian Sebouh Aslanian to whom I am most grateful for his up-to-date translation: THIS IS THE TOMB WHEREIN LIES INTERRED THE FAMOUS QARIB [GHARIB OR STRANGER/WANDERER] CALLED KHWAJA JOHANNESS, THE SON OF MARCAR OF JULFA, FROM THE CITY OF SHOSH. HE WAS AN EMINENT MERCHANT, HONORED BY KINGS AND RESPECTED BY PRINCES. HE WAS HANDSOME AND AMIABLE AND HAD TRAVELED SOUTH, NORTH, WEST AND ALL THE FOUR CORNERS OF THE WORLD. HE DIED SUDDENLY, ON 27TH DAY OF NOVEMBER, 1697 IN THE EASTERN PART OF THE COUNTRY, AT THE CITY OF HUGLI, AND DELIVERED HIS SOUL INTO THE HANDS OF THE ANGEL AND RESTED HERE WITH NOSTALGIA FOR A HOME.

THE END OF THE WORLD SHALL COME, THE CROSS OF THE EAST WILL DAWN, THE TRUMPETS OF GABRIEL WILL BE BLOWN SUDDENLY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, THE SEAT OF JUDGMENT WILL BE SET UP THAT THE BRIDEGROOM SHALL COME AND SIT THEREON AND SAY "COME YE THE BLESSED OF THE HEAVENLY FATHER." AND MAY HE DEEM HIM [KHWAJAH JOHANNESS MARCAR] EQUALLY WORTHY LIKE THE FIVE WISE VIRGINS, TO BE IN READINESS TO ENTER THE SACRED PAVILION WHICH ONLY THE RIGHTEOUS THAT ARE ON THE RIGHT, CAN INHERIT.

OH YE WHO MAY COME ACROSS THIS TOMB PRAY FOR HIM EARNESTLY AND MAY GOD HAVE MERCI ON YOUR PARENTS AND ON ME, REVEREND GREGORY WHO AM A NATIVE OF ERIVAN. HERE ENDETH THE TRANSCRIPTION."

Surat

 
In January 1907 when Mesrovb Seth was travelling around India recording Armenian tombstones and gathering research material for his book, he visited the Armenian cemetery in Surat.  There he came across a tombstone of an Armenian lady who died in Surat in 1579 A.D.

Having seen the stone, Mesrovb Seth gave the following inscription, translated from ancient Armenian verse,

"In this tomb lies buried the body of the noble
lady, who was named Marinas, the wife of the priest
Woskan. She was a crown to her husband, according
to the proverbs of Solomon. She was taken to the Lord
of Life, a soul-afflicting cause of sorrow to her faithful
husband, in the year one thousand and twenty eight of
our Armenian era, on the fifteenth day of November at
the first hour of Friday, at the age of 53.
Ye who see this tomb, pray to the Lord to grant mercy.”

The year 1028 of the Armenian era is equivalent to the
year 1579 A.D.

Sadly, it would seem that this particular stone is no longer visible, or perhaps has simply been overlooked. The cemetery is being well cared for by the Surat Municipality and monitored by the Science Museum and I know the museum regularly check the condition of the stones. The staff are very proud and tremendously passionate about the treasures in their care. However this particular grave does not appear to be in their inventory.

The oldest surviving marker stone is in the Mortuary Chapel at Surat belongs to the late Kalendar Kalendar, carved on what looks like a piece of ancient wood, and, according to Seth says:


This is the tomb of Kalandar, the son of Phanoos Kalandar of Julfa, who departed this life on Saturday, the 6th day of March 1695.

Image courtesy of Sanjay Choksi Surat Science Museum


Thank you Surat for the care and preservation you do for the remaining Armenian tombstones.


Dacca


Inside the Roman Catholic church (Note: Not the Armenian church) of "Our Lady of Rosary," at Tejgaon, two and half miles from Dacca, on the Dacca-Mymensingh Road, built in 1677, there are some old graves of Armenians who died at Dacca between the years 1714 and 1795.

Image courtesy of The Daily Star, Bangladesh from a series of articles on the Armenians in Dhaka, June 2013

The oldest Armenian marker in the cemetery is this one: “This is the tomb and resting place of Avietis the merchant, who was the son of Lazar of Erivan, whom may Christ and His Second Advent find worthy of His presence. In the year 1714 August 15[1].”

Referring once again to Mesrovb Seth’s ‘Armenians In India[2]’, he notes that,  “there is also an inscription in Portuguese, in which the date of his death is given “7 de Junho” (7th June). We cannot account for this discrepancy, but we are inclined to think that the date given in the Armenian inscription is the correct one, as the old Armenians were very particular about dates.”

It is sad that more of the very old Armenian stones and markers in India, Bangladesh and SE Asia have not survived the years, but at the same time we are very lucky that many still do survive and are falling under the protection of relevant bodies that recognise their significance in the combined history of India and Armenia.

Important historical graves exist today in the Armenian Church at Dhaka. My book, “Armenian Graves Inscriptions and Memorials in India: DACCA” is the first publication to catalogue in full the remaining tombstones in the Armenian language with English translations. For many years they were locked in the beautiful ancient Armenian language but accessible only to a limited audience. This book releases these astonishing inscriptions to the world-wide family history researcher and for the first time, allows them to trace their Armenian ancestry in Bangladesh.

To preview a selection of pages or purchase the book, please use the link.



If you ever find yourself in Chennai, take a visit to The Little Mount but look for Khojah Margar before you climb the steps to the caves.


[1] Full transcription extracted from Bengal Past and Present short article on the Armenian Church of Dacca, 1916.
[2] Armenians In India P.571. For a free download of this out of copyright publication https://archive.org/details/ArmeniansInIndia_201402

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Follow Up Blog On the 2014 Story "A Misleading Apcar Line"


                                                                                                     
This story is brought to you with the support of the
AGBU UK Trust.
                                                                                                    

A recent comment by a reader of a blog piece I did back in 2014 on “A Misleading Apcar Line -Charles Apcar Was Not Armenian” made me go back and revisit it.  

*NOTE: The hyperlinks in square brackets [ ] do not work in this blog, please scroll to the bottom to read the links.*

The comment was made by Clare at Arrunga Design who said: 

“This is facinating and thank you for your efforts in chasing the paper trail. A word of caution though. Ida starts her divorce application in 1888 after a year of marriage with non consumation. She does have a son in 1894 but maybe by John Apcar. She gives birth in France away from London Society and scandalous wispers. By putting her soon to be divorced husband on the birth record as the father she protects her son from illegitimacy and ensures his legal rights to his faux fathers title and wealth .

John Apcar was a barrister and this would have been the way to handle this delicate situation.

I am inclinded to think Charles was an Apcar and wished to acknowledge his true heritage through Naturalization.
Best wishes Clare”

It has taken me a while to further investigate any potential possibility to this angle of the original story but I am now able to reply to Clare as follows:

Looking again at my research a little wider has given a much better view of this family story. I am still of the opinion that Charles was born of de Soveral genes as per the evidence in two important documents (1) the baptism register and, in particular (2) the highlights from the naturalisation application.

Your speculative theory is interesting, and I’ve taken some time to expand my research on this story with further documentary evidence of various events within the family. A rather time consuming and costly exercise but fascinating nonetheless.

As has already been highlighted Charles was born and baptised with the surname [de] Soveral, (see original blog article for a copy of the baptism record), coupled with the naturalisation documentation, stating he was ‘Soveral but known as Apcar’ (his desire was to be naturalised as a British subject rather than stay a French citizen), the latter document being the key to his exact identity. IF he had “wished to acknowledge his true heritage” as you put it, I believe he would not have put “Portuguese” as his nationality in the first place. IF John Apcar had been his natural father, it would be mentioned somewhere on the naturalisation application as important supporting information. 

Snapshot of the naturalisation application of Charles Soveral



I also note Charles is listed as “Soveral” on the census return for 1901.  However, speculating myself now, I would suggest the following scenario.  That having married Ida Kreeft in 1899, 

Marriage of John A. Apcar and Ida Vicomtesse de Soveral



John Alexander Apcar was clearly an influential father figure in Charles’s life from an early age. I argue that upon marriage to Ida John decided to adopt five year old Charles to make the family complete.  The natural father of Charles as stated on the baptism record being Edward de Soveral who was deceased at the time of Ida’s 2nd marriage to John. Worthy of note here is that Ida had also been adopted as a child herself by Siegerich Kreeft and his second wife Anne[1], Siegerich having lost his only natural daughter aged seven in 1865 a year after her own mother Emma (Siegerich’s first wife) had died.

Charles’s entitlement to any Apcar inheritance would have been secure anyway because he was adopted, it would not have relied on naturalisation to inherit. Ida had previously sued her estranged husband Edward de Soveral in 1892 for a sum in excess of £9,000 (a purchasing power value today at over £800,000) to the extent that he was publicly humiliated and declared bankrupt a year later. In one newspaper report Edward is noted as absconding from a hotel in London without paying his £100 bill, something he was pretty adept at doing. After their wedding, Edward and Ida honeymooned in various locations in France visiting family and friends. Edward encouraged her to spend a great deal of money on extravagant and luxury items in exclusive stores and boutiques, and on more than one occasion he was unable to settle their hotel accounts. Ida’s mother Anne was summoned to France to bail the couple out. Edward professing a financial hiccup declared he would go Paris to obtain money to repay Anne but the money didn’t materialise. Ida had no option but to sue him for her losses resulting in shame and embarrassment for both him and his aristocratic family, as well as bankruptcy.


I would further suggest a couple of possibilities. That there may have been some sort of temporary (but probably strained) brief reconciliation between Ida and Edward that resulted in Charles being born in France. I also think that Edward’s son (from his first marriage, spouse deceased), the Marquis de Soveral pulled a few strings and minimised the amount of newspaper coverage his father would have otherwise taken up had the Marquis not been part of His Majesty the King’s inner circle of friends. I am convinced the Marquis spoke quietly to newspaper editors to minimise the coverage of Ida and Edward’s troubles. 

Courtesy of The Royal Archives:
Marquis de Soveral with King Edward VII

I say this because although the situation where the Vicomte Edward de Soveral’s apparent desertion of Ida was reported in the English newspapers, those articles were greatly muted, and actually barely given space, compared to the reports of the same scandal in the European papers[2], whose columns swam with metaphorical titters. Effectively they said a foolish old man fell for a beautiful blonde. Whilst wooing her, he alluded to having great wealth which he didn’t.  Her canny mother didn’t do anything to discourage the burgeoning fast-moving relationship, and after a whirlwind romance they all fell into the local registry office in Surrey and later a Roman Catholic church to formalise the union. He was around 65 years of age she was 26, although as can be seen from the marriage certificate he started married life with a lie, stating he was 56 years of age. (During the Court hearing in London into his bankruptcy in 1892 he confirmed his age at 70, thus his year of birth was circ 1822. There is a  Portuguese reference to a date of birth  of 21 May 1822[3] in São João da Pesqueira Municipality, Viseu District, Portugal). 

Marriage of Ida Kreeft and Edward Vicomte de Soveral



Prior to the marriage, Ida’s mother Anne was keenly aware of this well known Portuguese royal related surname of de Soveral and in particular Edward’s son the Marquis.  Having tasted society’s highest echelons herself, Anne was no stranger to the world of Foreign Consuls. As already mentioned she had been married to Siegerich Kreeft who was the Consul for Mecklenburg-Schwerin in London. She became widowed in 1885 leaving her with the urgent matter of finding a suitable husband for Ida.  Siegerich had been an engineer working on the railway development in Italy and, search as I might, I could not find a marriage in the UK of Siegerich and Anne. Searching European records I found Siegerich Kreeft had married Anne Kuzel in France in September 1866. It would seem that Ida was Anne’s daughter whom Siegerich adopted after marriage. 

Ida saw the circles the de Soveral’s moved in. You can’t get any higher than royalty, and as I have already stated, the Marquis was a very close friend of King Edward VII, and Anne did everything to encourage romance.   However, when the Marquis met Ida who was now his new step mother, he was less than impressed and thought her a gold digger. What Ida didn’t know was that Edward de Soveral was not wealthy and relied upon his son the Marquis for an allowance.  Edward promised her a settlement for life but could not fulfil it because his son would not put up the full amount.  At first glance, what is odd is that the divorce document of Edward and Ida does not indicate it went to Nisi or Absolute and I believe this is because the Marquis probably paid Ida off to go quietly.  And this is where I speculate that perhaps the 69 year old Edward may not be the father of Charles, but rather his promiscuous and rampant son the Marquis de Soveral. He was well known in society to engage in close relationships with ladies and was by all accounts suave, popular and charming with females.  Perhaps whilst negotiating with Ida the best way for her to desist from dragging his father Edward through the Courts any further, he got just a little too close, and Charles was the result.  The Marquis’s life knew no bounds and he was a rascal socially (although very reverent in the King’s presence and incredibly discrete), being part of the hedonistic set that included Alice Keppel. Baptising Charles with Edward’s name was the best way to save the Marquis and therefore also saving his friend the King from potential salacious newspaper headlines and embarrassment.  



To give you an idea of how the Marquis was an integral part of London life and how he could certainly hold the attention of a gathered audience. Quoting from the book “Edward VII: The Last Victorian King” Christopher Hibbert wrote:  

“…….finding Cassel on occasions a trifle dispiriting, the Prince [of Wales, later King Edward VII] never tired of the Marquis de Soveral, the lively, stimulating Portuguese Minister in London whose charming presence was welcome at every party. Known as the ‘Blue Monkey’ because of his animated manner, blue-black hair and dark complexion, Luis de Soveral was recognised, indeed, as being ‘the most popular man in London’, except at the German Embassy, where he was known as ‘Soveral-Überall’ and strongly disliked for his known anti-German sentiments.  The Princess of Pless, the former Daisy Cornwallis-West, treated him as a rather distasteful joke. 

“He imagines himself to be a great intellectual and political force and the wise adviser of all the heads of the government, and of course, the greatest danger to women!...[but surely] even those stupid people who believe that every man who talks to a woman must be her lover, could not take his Don juan-esque pretensions seriously. Yet I am told that all women do not judge him so severely and some even find him très séduisant. How disgusting!”

The Princess of Pless apart, virtually everyone in London, even the husbands of his mistresses, and both the Prince of Wales and Alice Keppel, delighted in the sight of his tall figure approaching, a white flower in his buttonhole, a monocle firmly fixed in one glittering eye, his large moustache neatly brushed, his regular teeth revealed in a warm and happy smile, ready to greet an old friend with enthusiasm or to charm a new acquaintance. ‘As a talker he was quite wonderful in keeping the ball rolling’, Henry Ponsonby’s son, Frederick thought. ‘And without being exactly witty his conversation was always sparkling and amusing.  It was only when he had to talk seriously that one realised how clever he was.’ Yet he did all he could to disguise his cleverness, having found by experience that ‘both men and women fight shy of a clever man.’…….”



It would be interesting to get the Will of Edward de Soveral to see if Charles was mentioned, assuming Edward died before Charles.

Clare, turning now to John Apcar and your thought that he might have fathered Charles. From the moment he passed the Bar exam in 1871 up to the 1890s  John Apcar was a High Court barrister in Calcutta. Although not impossible for John to have fathered a child, it is highly unlikely given that he spent most of his career in India. 

Having had Charles in May 1894, Ida returned to England from France within a month of giving birth[4]. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest Charles was the natural son of John Apcar.  If your theory Clare were correct and John Alexander Apcar had been the father, I simply don’t see why Ida would go to the trouble of naming her son after her down-beat, bankrupt estranged husband de Soveral.  The Apcars were a large family with a great many things going on, an illegitimate child would not send them cowering into a corner. (see De Vine Intent, Sarah Apcar was a cousin of John living in London and she and her family took scandal and illegitimacy on the chin), and IF Charles had been the illegitimate son of J.A. Apcar he would have been baptised with the Apcar name and openly acknowledged as an Apcar. They were no shrinking violets.

The naturalisation document of Charles de Soveral states his father was Edward de Soveral and that he was of “Portuguese descent”. The de Soveral family were most definitely Portuguese and I am utterly convinced this application was completed truthfully.

Meanwhile Chevalier Siegerich Kreeft had died in Surrey in November 1885 having made his will in Turin, Italy in February 1884 in favour of his wife Anne.

Snapshot of the Will of Siegerich Kreeft



Anne Kreeft died in Surrey in 1889 having made her will in December 1885 in favour of her adopted daughter Ida de Soveral.

Snapshot of the Will of Anne Kreeft



If you have any documentation or further evidence to support your suggestion I’d be most interested to see it, but I think the main thread of my original blog story stands firm and Charles was not a natural born Apcar but the offspring of a de Soveral.



[1] The Will of Anne Kreeft 2 December 1885, see image above.
[2] The scandal was covered in a number of papers, including La Matin, 16 Avril 1892 “Un Scandale a Londres. Les dangers de la vie d’hotel – Le père d’un minister – La carte à payer" 
[3] Resenha Las Familias Titulares, Grandes de Portugal – Albano da Silveira Pinto + Visconde de Sanches de Baèna
[4] The naturalisation application of Charles de Soveral, National Archives, Kew.