A Trip to Sewri Cemetery

Interact with the Anglo-Indian Project

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As part of the trip to Bombay, high on the list of places to visit was Sewri Cemetery. Six relatives (as identified in previous records) were buried in Sewri Cemetery: Martha Hassett, David Vincent HasCsett, Sophia harlotte Wharton, William Bernard Wharton, Lilian Gertrude Wharton and Victoria Alice Pereira. The cemetery is close to The Church of St Mary the Virgin, Parel – about 1 mile between them – so we visited both in the same day (the church will be covered in a later post).

En route to the cemetery we (well, I – my fault) missed our cue to turn off Acharya Donde Marg (onto Tokershi Jivraj Rd), which led to a quick stop to check the map. This led to crossing a small patch of pavement with flowing (muddy, filthy) water (on Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Marg), which in turn led to me falling flat on my ass in the middle of the street. After a moment of panic from onlookers, I laughed which seemed to settle everyone and they went on with their journey. I was left covered in sludgey, filthy water. Not a great start to visiting Sewri Cemetery. After another wrong turn on the advice of a friendly local, who misinterpreted my question, we found ourselves at the Sewri TB Hospital. Quickly realising this wasn’t right, we retraced our steps and found the cemetery (if only I hadn’t missed the original turn!)

Being a hot, sunny day, my trousers dried out rapidly, leaving a faded black stain of filth – given the abundance of smells in Bombay, it’s hard to tell whether I was carrying the nasty smells of the sludge I landed in; presumably so, but it was disguised by the abundance of local smells.

Arriving at the cemetery and viewing the entrance gates was awe-inspiring. Strange, for a cemetery. But, having read so much about the place (mostly via Families in British India Society – membership required to access some of their blogs and documents, but well worth it – highly recommended) and located records of family burials, it was amazing to  – finally – see it in front of me.

As we entered, there was a burial scheduled to take place – lots of mourners and open coffin in front, we were under no illusions that this is still very much an active cemetery. The office is conveniently located to the left of the main entrance. We were greeted by an administration officer – a pleasant, short Indian man. He instantly welcomed us to the office and I explained the records I had located and shared the details. The cemetery is split into three different plot areas: RC (Roman Catholic), CNI (Church of North India) and CS (Church of Scotland). First task was to locate the correct area (which was CNI). The cemetery records are stored in a large filing cabinet and each plot area has its own set of registers and unique plot numbers. We began searching through to locate the records I had brought with me. 

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As we searched, another helpful worker from the cemetery assisted. This quickly became annoying, as he began grabbing my camera, tapping me on the shoulder numerous times and gently breathing his alcohol-soaked breath into the air.

We successfully located four of the six records (Martha Hassett, David Vincent Hassett, Sophia Charlotte Wharton, William Bernard Wharton). The admin officer explained the records in the registers (all written in English). Some plots were ‘purchased’, others not. Two of the four located were purchased. This meant there was likely to be a headstone / marking of some sort to identify those buried there. ‘Likely’, as some older graves have suffered from weathering over time and are all but gone in places. Fascinating to discover here was that Martha Hassett and David Vincent Hassett were buried in the same purchased plot.

We set out to find the purchased grave of Martha Hassett and David Vincent Hassett. The (not so) helpful, drunken worker followed and quickly took over the search (we were doing fine by ourselves). Thankfully, another member of the cemetery staff showed us to the grave location. At first, we were convinced that we were at the wrong grave as the memorial inscription was for ‘Frederick Augustus Murray’. After a trek back to the administration office – we set off again with the helpful and the drunken, unhelpful workers. This time, drunken worker was told to stay back – which he ignored.

We located the grave, which was again the grave of Frederick Augustus Murray. We inspected the marking closely and spotted ‘Hassett’ inscribed on one side of the headstone. Closer inspection revealed it said Martha Hassett, followed by David Vincent Hassett. There was also an inscription for Frederick Augustus Murray and Cecilia Veera Hassett Murray. At this point, drunken worker decided to start rubbing the headstone with a piece of rock – aiming, we think, to rub clay across the inscriptions to enhance them. No such luck, the stone he used began to scratch the surface of the headstone – I was speechless, we had travelled over 5,000 miles and the graves we had come to see were being destroyed in front of our eyes by a drunken grave digger – quickly snapping back into reality, I stopped him. Some of the very helpful cemetery staff were nearby and assisted instantly, cleaning down the grave with water and thankfully the damage was not too destructive (visible in the picture below – Martha Hassett’s inscription).

The headstone itself was impressive. One of the biggest – that we saw – in the cemetery. A sculpted angel stands tall over the four people laid to rest (see below). 

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The inscriptions read:

In ever loving memory of Martha. Beloved wife of James Hassett. Died 27 March 1932, Aged 67. ‘God’s Good Woman’

Also her son, David Vincent, Preventive Officer H.M.S. Customs, Bombay. Died 30 August 1941, aged 44 years, ‘and of the morn those angel faces smile which we have loved long & lost a while’.

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Martha Hassett and David Vincent Hassett

In ever loving memory of our darling Cecilia Veera Hassett Murray. Born 22nd November 1909, Died 28th August 1913. ‘A father’s pet, a mother’s dear, our little darling slumber’s here’.

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Cecilia Veera Hassett

In every loving memory of Frederick Augustus Murray, born 11th March 1875, died 21st November 1927. Aged 52 years & 8 months. ‘Farewell! ’tis time thy virtues to deplore. to linger here and feel they aid no more; oh! still rever’d this frail memorial take, ’tis all, alas! thy sorrowing wife can make, on this poor stone, to mark thy dearest worth, and claim the spot in all the world is mine, and soon my dust, sweet saint, shall mix with thine’.

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Frederick Augustus Murray

This grave was an unexpected find. Sitting in the British Library in London, back in early 2015, discovering records was a moving experience, but to now be standing next to the burial site of two of those ancestors, and now seemingly having discovered another two, was surreal. The questions running through my head were probably muddled at that point in time (partly due to the drunken worker lurking around us), but I suspected that Frederick Augustus Murray had married one of the Hassett daughters (probably of James and Martha Hassett) and that Cecilia was his daughter. There has also been a long-standing family belief that somewhere in the family there was financial wealth. This was the first evidence that maybe there was – a purchased grave and an impressive one at that. The admin officer suggested that it may have cost around 20,000 rupees in 1909 (approximately £200-250 GBP by today’s rates) – but this would not include the cost of the headstone. Unfortunately there was no purchase price listed in the register. To purchase a plot in 2016 would cost around 50,000 rupees (approximately £500-600 GBP).

Overall, the staff at Sewri Cemetery were very helpful (except the one drunken worker). It is a credit to them that the cemetery is (relatively) well-maintained along with the registers and records they keep. This was certainly one of the more satisfying family-related adventures of the India trip, and the records of Frederick Augustus Murray and Cecilia Veera Hassett Murray have provided lots more insight to the Hassett lineage.

More to follow.


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Interact with the Anglo-Indian Project

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13 thoughts on “A Trip to Sewri Cemetery

    1. Thanks Sunith. It was inspirational – fantastic to visit and see the site and locate a piece of my own history. There were plenty more inspirational moments which i’ll share in the near future. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Enjoy your day.

      Liked by 1 person

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