Under Indian skies, it is a corner of Kolkata that remains forever Scotland: a sprawling Victorian monument to those who sought a new life under the British Raj.

Within the grounds of the Scottish Cemetery in the heart of the West Bengal city lie the remains of young Scots men who escaped the hardships of factory life at home only to succumb to tropical illnesses, officers and gentlemen of the East India Company, teachers, church missionaries and medics.

And alongside, courageous women who put their own safety aside to nurse children in the grip of malaria and dysentery, offer help and education to the city’s poor and sick.

Having rested in peace for generations beneath grand Scottish sandstone or granite headstones - many chiselled in a similar style to monuments found in graveyards at home – time took its toll.

The cemetery fell into decay and, clogged with overgrown foliage, became a derelict spot that attracted unsavoury characters.

The Herald: The cemetery had suffered years of neglectThe cemetery had suffered years of neglect (Image: Kolkata Scottish Heritage Trust)

The cemetery declined, threatening the loss of unique built heritage and the connection with the Scots who played important roles in the city’s history.

But having been left to the weeds and undesirables for years, the cemetery has now been gently teased back to life, transformed to become a peaceful haven for nature and people. 

The three acres cemetery, opened in 1820 for the city’s large Scottish population to lay their departed to rest, has been rescued and revived under an initiative led by a descendant of Robert the Bruce, Lord Charles Bruce, chairman of the Kolkata Scottish Heritage Trust.


The Herald: Work has been carried out to repair damaged tombsWork has been carried out to repair damaged tombs (Image: Kolkata Scottish Heritage Trust)

Earlier this month, the first phase of a major project which has seen around 300 graves restored and most identified and graded, was marked as complete.

Alongside the work to carefully uncover long hidden and damaged gravestones, a mammoth effort has cleared tonnes of rubbish and weeds from the graveyard grounds to open them up as welcoming parkland.

With large areas of the sprawling cemetery cleared just as the pandemic struck, the open space was left to regenerate naturally, evolving into haven for more than 100 species of flora and fauna.

Much of the effort to clear the site has been carried out with the local community, bringing them into a calming space which had previously been a ‘no-go’ zone clogged with trash, and giving them new insight into the deep Scottish connection with the city’s past.

Among the graves, tidied up and uncovered from beneath decades of litter and overgrown weeds, are names that are clearly those of Scots: there Camerons, Fultons Frasers, and Campbells alongside stones engraved with the names Grant, Liddell, Ewart, MacAskill and McDonald.

The Herald: Gravestones are being restored as part of the projectGravestones are being restored as part of the project (Image: Kolkata Scottish Heritage Trust)

Although mainly Scots, there are also other nationalities and locals buried within the cemetery's walls.

They include Reverend Lal Behari Dey, the first Indian priest of the city’s Scotland (Duff) Church, and Aberdeen-born Major Samuel MacPherson of the 8th Regiment, Madras Native Infantry, who was instrumental in inducing many of the Khond tribes living in jungles and hillsides across India’s state of Orissa, to halt the rite of human sacrifice. His tomb, fashioned as a Roman sarcophagus, was broken and stained.

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There is also the grave of Welsh Christian missionary Rev Thomas Jones, who introduced the Roman alphabet into the Khasi language: the inscription on his gravestone calls him "The founding father of the Khasi alphabet and literature".

Among the women is Anne Baynes Evans who worked with the poor through the Baptist Missionary Society and was committed to educating young Indian women.

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Kolkata, the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal, grew rapidly as the hub of the British East India Company and became the capital of the British Indian Empire until 1911.

According to conservation architect Neeta Das, who has been working on the project since the Kolkata Scottish Heritage Trust took it on, the cemetery, established in 1820 with 1809 graves and 4,000 burials, had deteriorated over many decades.

“After India got its independence in 1947, most Brits left by 1952, and soon after the cemetery fell into disuse,” she said.

“It became a dumping ground for the city’s trash, became overgrown, and soon became a centre of illegal activities like theft, prostitution, drugs, and vandalism.

“Soon the area around it degenerated and along with the cemetery, we had to regenerate the neighbourhood.”

The condition of the cemetery raised concern among a group of Scots, including Lord Charles Bruce, descendant of Robert the Bruce and of James Bruce, who served as Viceroy of India (1862-63) and his son Victor Bruce, who also served as Viceroy of India (1894-99).

It led to the formation of the Kolkata Scottish Heritage Trust, which launched the cemetery project and has funded the work.

Among the early challenges was tackling persistent overgrowth that kept shooting up during the monsoon season and mountains of litter: 350 truckloads of waste was carried away before restoration work began.

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She added: “There are four strains of the project: urban conservation and grave restoration; development of the cemetery as a biodiversity urban park; community led urban regeneration program; and genealogy and historical research.

“Other than the urban regeneration that has taken place in terms of renewal of dilapidated buildings and improvements in infrastructure, the community has vastly benefitted from the clean, green, urban, space that now forms their convenient backyard which they can access when they want.”

Lord Bruce, who recently visited the cemetery, said: “The abject dereliction of the Scottish Cemetery in Kolkata was highlighted by the Governor of West Bengal Gopalkrishna Gandhi (a grandson of the Mahatma Gandhi) in 2008.

“The Kolkata Scottish Heritage Trust was formed in response with the objective of restoring the site and thereby creating a “green lung” for a densely populated urban environment.
“Over 15 years the Trust has cleared the cemetery site of 3,500 tonnes of rubbish and detritus and recovered the original layout plan, surveying and recording all the surviving tombs.”

The Herald: The Scottish Cemetery, Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), where many tea planters and their families are buried.

The Trust had adopted the methodology of the Scottish urban planner and polymath, Sir Patrick Geddes to devise a programme of urban regeneration centred on the conservation of the cemetery, he added.

“Geddes was active in India in the 1920s where he introduced the survey and planning techniques he had pioneered in Dublin and Edinburgh.
“Over several years the Trust carried out detailed surveys of the surrounding neighbourhood - a densely packed quarter of slums and houses in multiple occupancy  - and devised a programme to improve the lives of local people, providing a Saturday school for children in the 5-13 age group; training for women to establish their own businesses; and a community action group to press the city council for practical improvements.”


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The impact of the pandemic meant gardeners were unable to access the site to tackle woodland, but had the benefit of bringing new species to the area. The cemetery is now a candidate site for accreditation by the Green India Building Council.

He added: “The Trust believes that the cemetery is the primary receptacle of the human story of Scotland’s engagement with India in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is registered as a Grade One Heritage Site. Over 4,000 people are buried here. Around 1,800 graves are recorded.

“Around 300 have been restored, in particular some very striking monuments and memorials of Scots serving in India in a wide range of occupations, and also prominent Bengalis.

“Having restored the landscape, and principal monuments, the Trust intends that the Cemetery will remain as an important heritage site while continuing to provide significant environmental and social benefits for the neighbourhood and the wider urban environment.”