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Baba and Mai Memorial College Street Coffee House
McDonnell Memorial Fountain - Captivating Calcutta
2107    Dibyendu Banerjee    11/12/2018

There is a neglected and obscured Neo-Gothic memorial monument located opposite to the Town Hall, near the Calcutta High Court and inside the complex of the West Bengal State Legislature (Bidhan Sabha Bhawan), which was once a spectacular drinking fountain.

The small but elegant structure was decorated with a lion’s head protruding from the front and was crowned with an urn on top. The lion’s mouth shaped water spout has long dried up and the metal trough that collected water for horses, have long vanished. But the beautiful structure has a marble plaque still today, indicating that it was dedicated to the memory of William Fraser McDonnell. Two sides of the memorial are inscribed with the numbers 1850 and 1886, the two years, which marked the beginning and the end of McDonnell’s service as a Bengal Civil Servant.

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Born on 17 December 1829, William Fraser McDonnell was Educated at Cheltenham College and East India Company College (later succeeded by the Haileybury and Imperial Service College). While he was posted in Bhojpur in Bihar, he witnessed the savage fighting in the area on the outbreak of the so called Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. In Arrah, the band of Sepoy led by the awesome Babu Kunwar Singh, completely defeated and outclassed the Company’s soldiers, who were forced to retreat. However, the courage and gallantry of McDonnell was proved during the time of this retreat.

William Fraser McDonel
William Fraser McDonel

On 30th July, 1857, 35 of the Company’s soldiers found themselves in a tight corner, as they could not find a possible way to escape. They were stuck, as they were besieged in their boat, whose rudder was secured to its side by lashings. Under the perilous and precarious condition, McDonnell did not think twice to take the risk of his life. Despite continuous enemy fire, he jumped out of the boat and cut the lashing to make the rudder free. Thus he saved the lives of his 35 comrades.

McDonnell was awarded the Victoria Cross for this act of courage and comradeship, and thus becoming one of the only 5 civilians to be so honored. His medal is housed in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery in London’s Imperial War Museum.

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Later in his life, McDonnell became a Judge of the High Court of Judicature in Calcutta and served from 1874 to 1876. After his death in England in 1894, his friends took the initiative to erect the beautiful fountain in his memory. Originally, it contained two brass troughs on both sides, which provided drinking water for horses. The Lion’s head shaped spout is broken, the water that used to pour out of it has long been dried up and tiny plants have grown in the bowl. Moreover, today it is almost hidden by the senseless iron and concrete fencing erected within inches of the memorial.

William Fraser McDonel
Baba and Mai Memorial College Street Coffee House
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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