Once upon a time there was a French Cemetery in Calcutta, known as Tiretta’s Cemetery. It was located diagonally opposite to the South Park Street Cemetery. As the name suggests, the Cemetery was once owned by one Edward Tiretta, a political refugee from Italy, who eventually ended up in Calcutta to work for the East India Company. It is interesting to note that, in his past, he was an assistant to the legendary Giacomo Girolamo Casanova of Venice, the same Giacomo Casanova, who was once considered as an epitome of womanizing and the term “Casanova” got coined after his name.
In Calcutta, Tiretta was appointed as the first registrar of memorials of deed affecting landed property in Bengal on 1st February 1781, for a salary of one thousand Sicca per month. He held the post for many years. Tiretta was not at all proficient in English language. By birth, he was an Italian, but spent a considerable part of his life in France and Germany. In India he used to talk in a ridiculously blended language of English, French, Portuguese and Hindustani, interlaced with most offensive words and swears in each language. In spite of that, he continued to rise professionally. There is a document of 1794 mandating Tiretta to make temporary landmarks designating the outer limits of the city of Calcutta.
Ultimately, Tiretta became a property speculator and lottery promoter. All the prizes of Tiretta lottery consisted of parcels of land. He also built a bazar (market place) in the Lalbazar area, and hence along with the bazaar, the entire locality came to be known as Tiretta Bazar. Today, even on holidays, some enthusiastic people like to visit the area for delicious Chinese breakfast at a cheaper rate.
It is not very clear as to how an Italian exile succeeded in attaining a high office under the East India Company. However, his name appeared in the ‘Calcutta Gazette’ in 1788, where he was mentioned as a wealthy person with a market named after him. During those days, the market, as described in the Gazette, occupied nine bighas and eight cottahs of land, and was valued at nearly Rs 200.000. It also yielded a monthly rent of Rs 3,600. In 1791, the market was raffled off as a prize in a lottery and one C Weston became its new owner. However, till today the market as well as the locality retains the old name and are known as Tiretta Bazar.
The only known existing visual portrayal of Tiretta is available in James Gillray's 1792 painting, ‘The Bengal Levee’. In the painting, the person with crooked nose is supposed to be Eduardo Tiretta, greeting Father Parthanio, a Greek priest. 1792 was also the year, when he was introduced to a beautiful fourteen year old French girl, Angelique de Carrion of Serampore, his future wife.
In Calcutta, Tiretta was happily married to that French girl, an orphan of a French officer, the Count de Carrion. Unfortunately, she died at a very young age and was buried in Baithakkhana area, near Sealdah. But Tiretta had other ideas in his mind. He wanted his wife’s last resting place to be his own. In 1786 he purchased a huge landed property beyond the Mahratta Ditch, which later became a major thoroughfare, Lower Circular Road. His intention was fulfilled in 1797, when he established a new cemetery there and had successfully shifted the remains of his beloved wife to the new plot.
Initially the cemetery, named after Tiretta, was strictly meant for the Catholics, though later burial of non-Catholics was also permitted. With time it became the last resting place for many French nationals who had come to work for the East India Company. Many Jesuits priests were also buried here later.
Tiretta died in 1797 and had the distinctive honour of being the only person buried in a cemetery named after him. Unfortunately, today there is no trace of the Tiretta Cemetery in Calcutta. It is completely obliterated and except a few documents, not even a single copy of old file pictures of the cemetery is available, which can be produced as an evidence of its existence. It was leased way back in the 1973 and now houses high rise modern buildings.
However, there is a confusion regarding the official name of the cemetery. While it was described as Tiretta's Burial Ground in the map attached to the Monumental Register of Graves, it was mentioned as the French Burial Ground, in the 1854 Plan of Calcutta.