Sunday, February 17, 2013

European Christian Burials in Malabar, India

Earlier this month a new book on Christian burials and memorials in towns of the Malabar coast was published.  Malabar:  Christian Memorials 1737–1990 was written by Dr. John C. Roberts, a social anthropologist, and N. P. Chekkutty, a journalist in Calicut.  It details Portuguese, Dutch, French, and English gravestones in the region. The book includes a transcribed list of Europeans buried in several cemeteries in Kannur, Thalassery, and Mahe during the past two centuries, based on burial registers maintained in various churches.

The book lists burials at St. John's Anglican Church and Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Kannur, St. John’s Anglican Church and Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church at Thalassery, and St. Theresa’s Church and cemetery at Mahe.  Burials at the German Basel Mission cemeteries at Kannur and Thalassery are also included.

There is information about European regiments and native troops stationed at the Cannanore Cantonment and details on deaths in the armed forces.  Most entries have information on the cause of death.

The book was published by the South India Research Associates (SIRA), a network of researchers and scholars registered in New York.  It has two maps and many photographs.  The current publication is a limited deluxe edition with historic illustrations.  It can be ordered through; the order will be processed through Thejas Books in Calicut.  A less expensive second printing is scheduled to be available on Flipkart in India and Alibris internationally in the near future.

Dr. Roberts has finished a second book, this one on churches and planter burials in the Nilgiri Hills.  Plans are to release it in early 2014.  He is now working on other areas of Malabar, including Portuguese burials and the Dutch Cemetery at Kochin.

Some of Dr. Roberts' research led him to Thrissur, where the tombstone of a man with a family connection to Christopher Columbus is now located.  The article mentions that all this information being collected could be good for tourism, as people look for where their ancestors are buried.  Gee, you think?


  1. This is excellent news. Much praise to Dr. Roberts for his work!

    1. Indeed! And we can look forward to his future books, with more information from cemeteries in the region. I have been told that some of the research is even in Jewish cemeteries.

  2. I am a UK resident, please advice on procedure for obtaining a copy of the book.

    1. You should send a message to and ask about pricing and mailing options.

  3. I received my copy of the book some while back and what struck me was the sad stories behind the brief inscriptions on the tombstones. How sad for young couples who lost a child or a young husband who lost both wife and children.
    The inscriptions brought to life other accounts I'd read or heard from older family members who had connections with life in India during the British Raj.
    I was a child of around 6 or 7 when my grandfather (late of the BI Army and a leader of the viceroy's band at the turn of the century) came to live with us in Tasmania after his wife died in CHCH, NZ in the mid 1940s. He'd take me for long walks on the beach and tell me stories of his years in India - so obvious that he yearned to get back there but sadly he died in 1949. Cheers Ainslie (in Sth Australia)

    1. Ainslie,
      I am always struck when I find tombstones or other information about the loss of a child or a young spouse. It is one of the unfortunate aspects of this type of research. I find it heartening to keep in mind that we are remembering them, though.
      How lucky for you to have the opportunity to hear those stories from your grandfather! I hope you have written them down so that they are passed along with other family history information.


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