Nearly 200-year-old Christian Cemetery dates back to Siege of Multan

Nearly 200-year-old Christian Cemetery dates back to Siege of Multan

By Jehangir Khan Tareen

MULTAN, Mar 29 (APP):Located in Jamilabad area of the city on Multan International Airport Road, around 200-year-old Christian Cemetery, popularly known as “Gora Qabristan” reminds us about the British soldiers who laid down their lives during the Siege of Multan — a prolonged contest between city and state of Multan and the British East India Company.

Spanned over 57 kanals (an area of 310400 square feet), the cemetery has graves and unparalleled monuments, exclusive and distinctive pieces of tombstones with some of tablets missing while others are illegible. Multan being one of the oldest living cities of the world, has several ancient graveyards which includes Hassan Parwana, Jalal Baqari, Pak Mai etc.

Nearly 200-year-old Christian Cemetery dates back to Siege of Multan

To live in the hearts of others is never to die in those who live behind, but it is an undeniable fact that death is as natural as birth and no one can escape it.  In “Gora Qabristan” on grave of Caroline Charlotte who was born on March 1862 and fell asleep on May 1869 following lines are inscribed: “Here we suffer grief and pain; Here we meet to part gain; In heaven, we part no more.”

Another noticeable grave in this cemetery is of Jean who was the wife of Major F W Birch and departed in 1852. It is a beautifully constructed box shaped grave. Some locals believed that the body of Jean was laid in the box but others say that they had heard from their forefathers that she was buried beneath the box and it was built in her memory. 

The cemetery has some monuments in it and one of these is 168 years old. It was built in memory of Mary Elizabeth, spouse of G. Trefusis Holt. Near it, lies Sarah who was wife of John Lynch, Barrack Master of Multan. Its tablet is now deteriorating.

In the last part of the cemetery, the English had got a Monument erected as a token of winning the war.  Besides it, the grave of Brigadier General AC McMaster Madras Army carries a unique stone. “He died when in command of the Madras Brigade at Mooltan on June 22, 1879. The stone was erected by his friends and brother officers as a token of their esteem and regard,” reads the stone.   

In addition to the British soldiers, graves of their near and dear ones and family including kids are also in shabby condition which needs proper maintenance to avoid further decay. Yaqoob Masih, a watchman of Gora Qabristan, lives in it with his family.

He said that it has a tube well and two hand pumps which have been non-functional since long. “The graveyard is full of thorns now.

We want to take good care of it because it is very historic, but unfortunately, we have no resources. I request the government to make the tube well and pumps functional for watering and maintenance of it.” he explained.  He informed that his community paid him Rs 100 monthly for taking care of one grave, adding that the heirs of the Britishers buried l here live in England and they don’t pay anything in this regard. How can I maintain it?” he regretted.       

The tube well was installed through MPA funds by late Major Victor Samuel in 1987 and it went out -of-order in 1994. The watchman hut was also made in it.  The boundary wall was built by then MPA Naveed Aamir Jeeva who is a PPP Member National Assembly on a minority seat these days. The cemetery may be preserved as a heritage site and turn out to be a good source of religious tourism for foreigners if it is repaired regularly.

Bishop of Multan, Leo Roderick Paul  who is serving in St Mary Cathedral, built in 1848, said  “Minorities are Pakistanis and they played their role for it before it came into being. They are custodians of historical places belonging to them”, he maintained. He termed it an ancient and historic cemetery saying that it contains many graves of the British Christians.  

Many of them were celebrated officers, scholars including Laucy Maria Sherwi, Capt Robert, John Lucy, Brig McMaster and others. There is one very beautiful monument erected by the officers and men of V battery, Royal Artillery as a mark of esteem in memory of those who died in war against Sikhs and other freedom fighters of the Indian subcontinent, he recalled. Mr Paul noted  Multan was the centre of trade for a wide region, and was renowned for its wealth adding that there were large stores of spices, silks and valuables.

Early in 1848, the newly appointed Commissioner in the Punjab, Sir Federick Currie, demanded that Hindu vassal Dewan Mulraj pay duties and taxes previously paid to the central durbar of the Sikh Empire and now in arrears.

 Mulraj attempted to forestall a complete annexation of Multan by abdicating in favour of his son,but Currie nevertheless decided to impose a compliant Sikh ruler, Sardar Khan Singh, who was to be accompanied by a British Political Agent, Patrick Vans Agnew, he said and added that Anas and another East India Company Officer, Anderson reached here and a mob killed them.

Resultantly, The British Army arrived at Multan for burial of the two officers and an interfaith prayer was held at the place where the Cathedral is based now, the Bishop said adding that one of the officers was buried in this cemetery and other was at Qasim Fort.

“Final abode of the son of Queen Elizabeth-I is also in Gora Qabristan,” he disclosed. Mr Paul informed that he had talked to former DCO, Naseem Sadiq, about maintenance of the cemetery but to no avail.

Denyel, who served the cemetery for 24 years as watchman from Cantonment Board, said that he took special interest in cleanliness and repair of the old graveyard and did whatever he could. He stated that it was, indeed, a momentous cemetery where numerous Pakistani Christians are entombed now.