The Scottish Deathscape in South Asia: Madras and Ceylon

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John M. MacKenzie


Imperial deaths were given the status of martyrdoms in the cause of what European contemporaries considered the advance of civilisation. In many cases burials stimulated the overblown architecture of commemoration discovered in many places in the Indian Ocean world. There could well have been at least 1,000 cemeteries and church graveyards in South Asia, as well as grandiloquent memorials in cathedrals and churches throughout the region. While there are many examples from the eighteenth century, these practices became particularly striking in the nineteenth, which was an era in which the obsession with data produced a plethora of directories of memorial inscriptions and related lives. Some of these were officially inspired while others were produced by undertakers and those fascinated by documentation. From these we learn about imperial lives, careers, localised origins, and social and familial contexts. However, both these directories and the memorials which they documented were much more than the sentimental appropriation of colonial space. They also reflected ethnic and religious diversity, becoming indicators of the ‘four nations’ as well as of the contrasting Christian denominations of the United Kingdom. This was perhaps particularly true of Scots, whose geographical, social and religious affiliations can be charted through many examples in the Madras Presidency of South India and of the colony of Ceylon. They help to demonstrate that a full understanding of ethnic diversities can be derived from the study of the ‘deathscape’ of the imperial world.

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Special Feature: Scotland, Scots, and the Indian Ocean World (Articles)