Hunting in Nagapattinam

Trip Start Nov 29, 2013
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Trip End Jan 09, 2014


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Flag of India  , Tamil Nadu,
Tuesday, December 24, 2013

We drive some 65 kilometres from Tranquebar to Nagapattinam for our exploration there. In Nagapattinam we first ask Baidu, our driver, to go to the beach and harbour area where the Dutch heritage must be located.  Bauke van der Pols's chapter and pictures on Nagapattinam are a great help to us. We show people we ask for help in Nagapattinam his pictures of the St. Peters Church.

We drive slowly and look around. Suddenly Chris stops the car when he sees some ship repair going on behind huts in a side lane.  We start walking. And while I take my pictures of these very scenic local boats being built and under repair we find what is left of the high wall of the fort on the riverside in Nagapattinam. It is from the Amsterdam Bastion, part of the VOC fort that was demolished by the British, and that is now part of the harbour and boat repair yard.  My pictures are nearly from the same spot asVan der Pol’s, only the harbour activity changed slightly.

Purely Dutch in design
 
Next we search for the St. Peters Church. We see at least six other churches before we reach the right one.  It is purely Dutch in design and arrangements, as local sources say. It was open, but a watchman there tells us that the father has gone away for a meeting. So there was nobody around who could help us. We cannot find the three mourning boards of three wives of Dutch governors who died in labour. Van der Pol found them in the church in 2010. And we cannot ask if these boards are now behind lock and key somewhere, or that they have simply disappeared.

On one corner of the St. Peters Church is a red-painted stone in memory of the first stone laying of the church by Wilhelmina Elisabeth Schreuder on 13 June 1774. She was one of the governors’ wives who died in labour.

From there we are guided to what according to Van der Pol is the new Dutch cemetery. The gate was open, but we did only see bushes and rubble initially. To the right we see a dome that turns out to be the tombstone with a dome of Antonia Nilo-Van Steelant. It is gradually falling apart. Plants and roots are damaging the dome of the wife of the VOC commander Joannes van Steelant at the Coromandel coast. On her tombstone in the dome she is mentioned with four of her young children. Four other tombstones further down are very
difficult to reach because of the thorny bushes growing next to and over them.
The lettering is also very difficult to decipher, or has disappeared.

Danish heritage

 On our last day in Tranquebar we relax. With Kevyan, the German PHD student, I try to find the key at the CSI church from the Danish cemetery. This Nygade Church Yard seems to be in a better shape than the Dutch one in Nagapattinam. But whatever key the church watchman tries, nothing works.
So I cannot take a picture of the tombstone of Gijsbertus Zegelaar. Kevyan promises that he’ll do it for me.

Chris and I visit the private Maritime Museum in Tranquebar that is supported by the Danish Tranquebar Association.  This one man’s operation has a better display and story than the museum in the Danish fort. I also buy the interesting book there about the Danish Tranquebar
cemeteries and grave-monuments
that Kevyan also had. It was published in 2003 and authored by Karin Kryger and Lisbeth Gasparski.

In their State of preservation of these monuments they observe: " …If one invests money in monuments, one has to presuppose that the churchyards will be maintained. This requires regular supervision and inspections on the spot. Optimism in this regard can hardly be abundant when one sees that Danish initiatives have not resulted in it being possible to maintain the British buildings in Tranquebar"…. If we cannot manage to protect the Danish cultural heritage in the form of Danish buildings, how could it be thought possible to preserve the Danish grave-monuments?” They suggest one option might be to select a limited number of monuments and restore them, in the hope that some form of maintenance of these selected monuments could be organised.
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