St. Stephen’s, Ooty

Nan and I had the opportunity to attend another church service – Matins, in English and led by a very good lay preacher of the Church of South India – this time in historic St. Stephen’s Church, in Ooty.

Here is is the backstory about St. Stephen’s as written and compiled by Nan where she quotes almost entirely from what she found on the internet titled “A Journal Entry by Tristan Hunt, 2003.”

What follows is lifted word for word…  photos are mine – taken on Sunday.

“… to enter the porch of St. Stephen’s is to re-enter a lost universe of Anglo-India: of duty, militarism, and racial solidarity. Here, the administrators of the Indian civil service, the soldiers of the Bengal Artillery and Light Dragoon’s, and the missionaries of Anglicanism celebrated their civilization amid the encircling jungle of the western Ghats.

“And here lie their monuments to the fallen — those who gave their lives for a vision of India.  The Rev. William Sawyer ‘who having labored with a diligence and zeal for six years as a missionary to the heathen at Madras died in the faithful discharge of his duties as chaplain of this station.’ Poor Georgiana Grace, ‘the beloved wife of JC Wroughton, Esq, Principal Collector of this Province’ who died at the age of 30 ‘leaving her husband and seven children to deplore their irreparable loss’.  The unfortunate Richard William Preston, a captain in the 1st Bombay Grenadiers, who ‘drowned in the Kromund River while out hunting with the Ootacamund Hounds. Thy Will Be Done.’

“The very fabric of St. Stephen’s was a statement to English imperial hegemony. It’s architect, John James Underwood, a captain in the Madras Engineers, extracted its wooden beams from the remains of Tipu Sultan’s palace in Seringapatam, some 100 miles -east of Ooty.  Tipu Sultan Fath Ali Khan, the Tiger Prince of Mysore, was one of the most persistent obstacles to the expansionist ambitions of the East Indian Company. Time and again during the late 18th century, he powered through Britain’s ‘thin red line’, capturing thousands of soldiers in the process.

“Most would succumb to infection in his disease-ridden dungeons. But Sultan’s palace was also a place of more intimate fears as captive British soldiers were pressured into joining the Mysore army. As part of their induction, the hapless warriors of empire were, according to an account unearthed by historian Linda Colley, body-shaved, stretched naked over a large bowl and ‘circumcised by force’. The British army was systematically unmanned. Seringapatam constituted a site of deep horrors, both physical and psychological, for the British colonial imagination.

“It took a Wellesley — Richard Wellesley, Governor General of Bengal and brother of the future Duke of Wellington — to crush the Tiger Prince in 1799 and open up Southern India for British rule. Pictures of the killing of a tiger, complete with leather boot atop the skinned Nimal’s head, would become a favorite leitmotif for Victorian Rule in and over India.”

“Underwood’s decision to strip Seringapatam for the roof of St. Stephen’s was the ecclesiastical equivalent of shooting the tiger. The thick beams which had provided the foundations for the Tiger of Mysore would support the Anglican soul of Ooty. Here the soldiers, tax-collectors and British colonial elite gathered to reaffirm their victory over Tipu Sultan’s India.”

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