The British Empire Library

Digging Up the Raj in Deansgrange Cemetery

by Shabnam Vasisht

Book Review by kind permission of Chowkidar, the journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia
Deansgate Cemetery, south east of Dublin in Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown administrative county was established in 1865 in response to overcrowding of older Dublin graveyards, in much the same way as Highgate, Kensal Green, Brompton, etc were founded in London a few years earlier. With admirable impartiality it has a Church of Ireland section to the South and a Catholic section to the North, each with its own burial chapel. The Indian - born author describes walking through the cemetery with her sister and their remarking on the large number of memorials to people connected with India. She followed this up with research into some 74 of these people and their families (both parentage and descendants), buried there between 1866 and 2000. Her pursuit of descendants sometimes takes her up to the present day and on occasions she is able to include portraits of long dead Victorians. The book is self-published, but unlike so many comb-bound acts of genealogical piety, beautifully presented with good-quality colour illustrations on every page - often taken from slightly whacky sources (eg modem Indian postage stamps showing uniforms of Indian Army, or even the label of a beer bottle), but generally relevant. The author’s style is light but with a penchant for facetiousness. The biography of Frederick Arthur Cavendish Wrench begins: ‘Researching this gentleman was not easy, given the abundance of wrenches that popped up on the internet - monkey wrenches, ratchet wrenches, square drive ratchet wrenches, open-end wrenches, torque wrenches etc. Having wrenched away from them ....’ This looks more like a chatty blog and less like a conventional non-fiction book. The author writes at one point that her aim is to ‘bring such people [the Irish with Indian connections] to the attention of their own countrymen’ but I suspect she intends the book to be used mainly by visitors to the cemetery while they wandered round. We do not know what other Indian graves were not included, and although we have a location in the cemetery of each grave, we have almost no photographs of graves or transcriptions of MIs. Readers may also wish to know that the Register of Interments at Deansgrange from 1865 to 1972 has been microfilmed and is normally available at Dublin City Library and Archive.

The author’s research seems to have had two main components - the internet (which I presume also includes the main genealogical players such as Ancestry, FindmyPast, etc) and talking/corresponding with descendants of the people buried and one or two others. The list of acknowledgements includes FIBIS, and Eileen Hewson, author and expert on all things to do with the Irish in India. I do not get the impression the author has used any other sources such as libraries, though I may be doing her an injustice. The book lacks an index. The individual subjects are arranged alphabetically, but of course that does not help one find places, regiments, or other families with which they intermarried. Occasionally one finds the word “re f’ followed by a cross reference to another biography in the book where the same place or matter may also be discussed. There is no attempt to draw any conclusions. For example almost all the biographical subjects are buried in the South or Church of Ireland part of the cemetery and so were members of the Protestant Ascendency. If we ignore the flippant style (which to be fair is often entertaining) there are actually some useful pieces of information here, some derived from the descendants and so not easily discoverable elsewhere. Or of course one would go to the cemetery and simply wander round looking at the graves and reading the biographies.

British Empire Book
Shabnam Vasisht
Review Originally Published
Autumn 2020 in Journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia


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