21 Sep St James Church
Buried Here Are the Extraordinary Leading Lights of Their Time
(East India Company Army Officer. Born in Calcutta in 1778. Died in Hansi in 1841)
(British Resident at the Mughal court, entrepreneur and Delhi’s top party animal. Born in Scotland in 1784. Murdered in Delhi in 1835)
Metcalfe’s Matka Kothi
Thomas Metcalfe spent his entire life in Delhi, living here for forty years. During this time, he built himself a palatial, colonial-style house close to the Yamuna, which he constructed with a mindset of rivaling the Mughal’s Red Fort for pomp and power. He called it Metcalfe House, or Matka Kothi to locals, which still stands proudly in Delhi, near ISBT.
Matka Kothi was a double-storied mansion with a wide veranda circling the house on all sides. It had extensive lawns, secret underground passageways, a huge library and a swimming pool. In its day, it was the place for high society gatherings and lavish Christmas and New Year parties. During one such Christmas eve party in 1895, a mysterious Englishman was murdered in one of the chambers while simultaneously, a fire broke out in another part of the house. This was scandalous for the time, and the mystery remains unresolved.
Metcalfe lived many happy years in Matka Kothi and bought up his young family here, including Emily who later wrote a book about her years in Delhi including vivid descriptions of life in Metcalfe House. To his children, Thomas Metcalfe writes, ” in this once happy home you all past your earliest infancy….all were born here and all but Charley have received the initiatory right of baptism….to your father it has been endeared by many years…”
Matka Kothi was attacked and ransacked during the Uprising of 1857. Thomas Metcalfe had bought this land from the local Gujjars in order to construct his mansion. It was the same Gujjars who ransacked it in 1857.
Today, Matka Kothi is unfortunately out of bounds to most of us. Its handsome façade is now owned by the government and houses the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organization), thus being off-limits to the public.
Stories Told by the Plaques
The walls inside St. James Church are embedded with plaques commemorating past worshippers that provide a unique glimpse into Delhi’s past. Several panels are in remembrance for families that died on May 11, 1857, when the sepoy revolt arrived in Delhi, and many British residents were massacred.
There is a plaque for the Beresford family, all of whom were killed on May 11, 1857. Beresford was a well-respected city citizen and the manager of Delhi Bank, a thriving business entity at the time. His bank’s top depositors were the rich Jain & Marwari money lenders of Delhi, including Lala Chuna Mal, the richest and largest single investor in Delhi Bank.
There is a tablet inscribed “…to the memory of Dr. Chimun Lal, sub assistant surgeon of Delhi, a native Christian and worshipper in this church…fell a martyr to his faith on the day of the massacre…11th May 1857”.
Dr. Chimun Lal was another prominent Delhi resident. He was personal physician to the Mughal Emperor and owned a clinic in Daryaganj. Chimun Lal converted to Christianity in this very church in 1852, along with another prominent Delhi citizen Master Ramachandra, who was a math lecturer at Delhi College. Unfortunately, for both, it proved their undoing. Chimun Lal was singled out by the rebels and killed. Master Ramachandra managed to escape Delhi on May 11 and returned to the city after the British retook it in September. But, instead of being welcomed, he found himself living in fear, targeted either for his faith or his skin color. Ramachandra wrote despairing letters to the authorities, with complaints of being threatened by British soldiers and being made to salaam them to know his place. The letters did not really seem to help. Ramachandra is buried in Nicholson’s cemetery, walking distance from St. James Church.
There is also a commemoration to Padre Jennings, Delhi Chaplain during this time. It was Padre Jennings who had converted the two prominent local Hindus Dr. Chaman Lal and Professor Ramachandra to Christianity, baptizing them in a very public ceremony here in the church. According to some historians, it was this mounting influence of the “padre sahibs”, which contributed to a growing sense of unease among the population and culminated in the bloody events of the 1857 uprising.
How to get here:
- Sunday Services : 8.30am (April-Sept), 9am (Oct-March)
- Closed for lunch between 1 and 2.30pm.
- Bayley, Emily and Kaye MM. “The Golden Calm, an English Lady’s Life in Moghul Delhi” (Exeter, England : Webb & Bower,)
- Fraser, Baille J. “Military Memoir of Lieut. Col James Skinner C.B, Vol.1 & Vol.2” (published by Smith, Elder & Co, London, 1851)
- Archer, Mildred and Falk, Toby. “India Revealed, The Art And Of James And William Fraser 1801-35” (published by Cassell, London, 1989)
- Prior, Katherine. “Oxford Dictionary of National Bibliography : Fraser, William (1784-1835), administrator of India”. (published by Oxford University Press)
- The Guardian, UK, June 10 2016
- www.intachdelhichapter.org (accessed Nov 2014)
- www.skinnershorse.co.uk (accessed in Nov 2014)