Sunday, 22 February 2009

Tellicherry Church Restored

Fig. 1. Thalassery Protestant Church under restoration, January 2009. Photo Jissu Jacob.

Like most of the descendants of English families who formerly lived in India, and who have recently made the long journey out to India to visit the places where our ancestors lived and died; I too have explored overgrown, mouldering churchyards, and collapsing churches.

Fig. 2. The decaying Protestant Church at Tellicherry, in 2006. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gething.

My trip to Tellicherry was no different. I had arrived at the church yard at dusk, in December 2006 to find the churchyard so overgrown and difficult to access, that I had decided that I wouldn't risk entering it.[1]

Lindsay Gething who also visited the church in 2006, was however made of sterner stuff, as can be seen in the two photos that she took during her visit to Thalaserry.

Fig. 3. Tellicherry church, 2006. Lindsay Gething.

It is easy to understand that these churches are largely irrelevant to the vast majority of Indians and that they have far more pressing tasks in their lives than the restoration of some long over grown and redundant church. Indeed, one only has to see the state of many churches here in Britain to encounter similar neglect and decay, so it is hardly surprising that these churches are fast disappearing.

So it is with the greatest of surprise, pleasure and appreciation that I have discovered through the work of Jissu Jacob that this particular church is being restored by the local authorities. Jissu Jacob is a local tourist guide based near Thalaserry, with keen interest in local history. [2] We have been working on several research projects in the Thalaserry area over the past year. Jissu took the following photos that portray the excellent work being undertaken in January 2009.

I have not been able to find out who is responsible for this very thorough work. I would very much like to be able to find out in order to thank them formally. If you are able to tell who has undertaken this work, I would love to hear from you.[3]

Fig. 4. Tellicherry Church under restoration in January 2009. Photo by Jissu Jacob.

As can be seen from the photo above, this fine little church in the Gothic Revival style is coming back to life. Local tradition says that this church was built by Edward Brennan. Edward Brennan was appointed Master Attendant at Tellicherry responsible for the port, in September 1828. [4]

Brennan emulated his predecessor Mr. Oakes,in the post of Master Attendant, by becoming an important philanthropist in the town.[5] Both Oakes and Brennan must have become deeply involved and committed to the welfare of the many poor Indians in and around the town. They both devoted much of their free time and personal money towards improving conditions for these local people.

In 1862, Brennan founded a college, which he endowed with Rs.8900. "to give the boys of all castes, creeds, and colour a sound English education”.[6]

This college went on to become a very important college for the development of Indians who then went on to play a highly important role in developing Indian capability to rule effectively after independence. It survives to this day as a highly respected teacher training establishment.

Fig. 5. Tablet inside church recording Edward Brennan. Photo Jissu Jacob.

Edward Brennan's grave is believed to be located in this churchyard.

Fig. 6. The newly restored boundary wall between the fort and the church. Jissu Jacob.

It is clear that a graveyard existed on this site for a considerable period before the current church was built, because the earliest gravestone found to date comes from 1768.

The exact date of the churches construction is unknown to me at present.

However, it was probably built in about 1840, or shortly thereafter, judging by the style, which is based on that used in English Medieval churches built in the Perpendicular style between 1300 and 1550, and which had come back into fashion, following its rediscovery by architects like Pugin, in the 1830's.

There was a move away from the Classical styles used by an earlier generation, on the church like St. John's Church at Cannanore [7] and at other places in India like Skinners Church in Delhi.

During the 1830's and 1840's the Gothic Revival style was being used by emerging architects to construct many of new churches that were being built in the rapidly growing suburbs of the industrial cities in England, where a religious revival was underway during this period.[8]

The church had certainly been built by 1854, as is demonstrated by the passage below that was published in that year.

An anonymous writer who had travelled to Tellicherry, wrote an article that appeared in 1854 in the "Home friend, a weekly miscellany of amusement and instruction; By Society for promoting Christian knowledge", described a journey to Tellicherry. This trip appears to have taken place some years before the article was written, so it is possible that the church was built some ten to fifteen years before the account was published.

"Tellicherry Proper, or the town of Tellicherry, is built on a low ground, almost on a level with the sea. The town consists of some two hundred-irregularly built European houses; the bazaars; the market-place; a few so-called shops; an immense prison built on a lofty bastion facing the sea, which prison includes the dens for criminals and the debtor’s gaol comprising also a lunatic asylum; the Zillah Court, and a species of chapel. Besides these, there is a Catholic chapel and a Protestant church, and the burial-grounds of both creeds, situated on a high mound nearly overhanging the sea."[9]

Before the church was built it is probable that any religious services at Tellicherry will have been held inside the fort. It is very likely that the court building had served this purpose for the garrison.

Fig. 7. An aerial photo of the Tellicherry Church and Churchyard prior to restoration commencing. Courtesy of Google Earth.[10]

The earliest grave in the churchyard to survive is that of a Captain of Infantry, Gaspar Moritz Gleetz (1730 - 1768) from Quedlinburg. Quedlinburg is a city located in Anhalt-Saxony, in central Germany north of the Hartz Mountains, midway between Hannover and Leipzig.[11]

Germany was a fragmented region in those days consisting of many independent or semi independent states and principalities, each of which had its own army. These were frequently hired out to other rulers, including the English ones. Many of the minor aristocracy in these states entered into service with armies of neighbouring states.

Gleetz may have been a officer in either the English or Dutch East India Company. In the 18th Century many men recruited for the Dutch East India Company came from Germany, and many subsequently transferred or deserted over to the English East India Company, as the Dutch slowly withdrew their trading efforts from India to concentrate in the Dutch East Indies.

Tellicherry is close to Cannanore which had belonged to the Dutch at this period. The Dutch settlement was becoming less and less economically viable at this time and was sold off in 1772 to the Arrakal family. The Dutch at Calicut and Cochin were being pressured by Hyder Ali as well.

Others may have joined up directly into the EIC Army having previously served in the Hanoverian army, which was closely connected to the English one at this period. If you are able to provide any information about this gentleman, I would be fascinated to learn more about him.

Fig. 8. The earliest surviving gravestone in Tellicherry Churchyard. Capt. Gaspar Moritz Gleetz. 1730-1768. Photo Jissu Jacob.

Gaspar Gleetz must have been familiar with the view out to sea from the fort as he paced the ramparts of the fort. In those days, the area controlled by the East India Company was strictly limited to a couple of miles of shoreline along the coast, and to a hinterland extending at most three miles inland. It must have seemed a very long way from Saxony.

The following drawing taken from a series of coastal views published by Alexander Dalrymple in 1780, shows a drawing done aboard the ship America on the 17th of March 1761 at 9 a.m. in the morning. [12]

Fig. 9. Tellicherry Fort viewed from the sea in 1761. Click on drawing for larger version.

This drawing shows the fort with a mast and flag pole mounted over the North West bastion, close to where the lighthouse now stands. (See Fig. 6.) The fort is shown surrounded by a low crenallated wall, and the area between the walls is filled with smaller buildings built on the glacis of the main fort.

The following drawing is marked to show the outer wall to the fortified area that has subsequently disappeared. It is possible that the grave of Gaspar Gleetz was placed inside this outer wall, where it would have been protected.

By the 1820's this outer wall had been removed and the grave yard was extended down towards the end of the promentary. With the East India Company in firm control of the area, the needs for defence were becoming less pressing than before.

Fig. 10. Drawing of the fort and location of the graveyard marked up. Click on drawing for larger version.

It is quite possible that the line of this outer wall could still be discovered by a careful excavation to find its foundations. The following photo Fig. 11. may show the site of this wall, where the break of slope occurs running across the photo, in line with the tree to the left of the photo.

Fig. 11. View from the church back towards the fort walls. Photo Jissu Jacob.

The following photo from Google Earth is marked in red with my suggested line of the outer wall shown in the 1761 drawing made by members of the crew of the America.

Fig. 12. Possible line of the outer fort wall.

The grave yard contains many stone and brick monuments. The area is being resoiled, and it is hoped that any fragments of gravestones will be preserved and recorded, and not just tidied away.

Fig. 13. The churchyard showing the recently cleared graveyard. As can be seen many grave head stones and monuments survive. Photo Jissu Jacob.

For me personally the discovery that my great great great great aunt's grave remains undisturbed, as been a really welcome development. It is one of nearly fifty grave stones recorded. In the next few weeks I will tell the story of Helen Baber, and post pictures of as many of the stones as I have pictures.

In many cases the individuals named on these stones are easily identified, and I will attempt to explain who they were.

Fig. 13. The table tomb marking the grave of Helen Somerville Baber.

[2]See Jissu Jacobs blog at
[3]You can contact me on
[4]Page 407. The Oriental Herald, and Journal of General Literature. Vol. XIII. April to June 1827.
[6] See
[7] See
[8] For Wikipedia article on Gothic Revival architecture see
[9] Home friend, a weekly miscellany of amusement and instruction; By Society for promoting Christian knowledge. Published in 1854. Pages 193 onwards. Although this article was only published in 1854, it appears to have been written by someone who was in Tellicherry during the 1830’s. It has proved possible to identify some of the people mentioned in the book.
[10] The church is located at 11 Degrees 44’ 51.78” N 75 Degress 29’ 09.34” E
[11] Quedlinburg. 51 Degs, 47' 30"N 11 degs, 8' 50" E. See
[12] Courtesy of British Library Collection.


Maddy said...

Admirable work of course and great purpose - but somehow i feel the aesthetics and character of the building is lost when you have this kind of bright white paint and the paved ground. But well, after a monsoon it will look natural I guess..

ഹേമാംബിക | Hemambika said...

These are rally great piece of informations. I just had a visit there in Tellichery fort and the church. It was a great experience although I belongs to Kannur district. The reconstruction work is under final stage and they have fixed a date for opening ceremony (I forget this..). thanks a lot for these vluable informations.

Jas said...

I've been following along the Malabar Days blog for quite some time now. I had been to the Protestant Church in Tellicherry on the 18th of December. The church is now once again open to the public and I took a few photographs of the church and surrounding area. Thomas Baber's tomb lies next to his wife's but is missing the tablet with inscriptions. I would be happy to send you the pictures if you so desire.

Anonymous said...


Raj said...

It is nice to see a jewel is being restored. I have seen the church, its garden and lawns and the well maintained roads and pathways surrounding the church in excellent condition. In the early fifties I was a student at the St. Josephs High School, which is located next door to the Protestant church. After fifty years I visited the church in 2002. I was shocked and disappointed at the condition of the Church. Negligence on the part of the people and the rains of the tropical monsoon had brought in devastation to the church and its surrounding beyond words can describe. Thanks to the buttresses the walls of the church were still standing. I have taken few photos of its pathetic condition and also of few graves; one of them happens to be that of Mr. Brennen.
Any one who is interested in having free digital copies of these images kindly contact me.

renith said...

Bumped into your post while writing my blog about Tellicherry. Have linked your blog in my post.

Good day!

purchase viagra said...

That was an interesting piece of information on handwriting analysis. Please post more about graphology. Thank you!

Viagra said...

This church is beautiful!

Anonymous said...

Hello Nick Balmer!

Delighted to find Malabar Days and the information about the Tellicherry Church! Thank you!

Does anyone have a photo of the gravestone of a Mary Disney who died in 1800, believed to be buried there? She was the wife of Arthur Disney and left two small children when she died.

Unknown said...

honora constance nee montaut married marcelo pascal dsouza in 1931 in tellicherry kerala india

Unknown said...

Where was Honora nee Constance born, please kindly let me know

Unknown said...

Please reply to my email address
Honora nee Constance born in which year, and date.Married in which year, date and Church. Honora is my late Mother in law. Thank you, kind people

Unknown said...

Please reply to my email address
Honora nee Constance born in which year, and date.Married in which year, date and Church. Honora is my late Mother in law. Thank you, kind people

Vidya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zolpidem rezeptfrei online bestellen said...

Oh, so little lovely church. I really appreciate the work you do.

Adil Hisham said...

I will try to find that, if it is there... I will do it when I am back in my town Tellicherry, right now I am in Dubai.