In December 2013 I traveled with my friend Chris from Tranquebar to Tuticorin, not that far away. We visited the former Dutch church there, now the Holy Trinity Church. It lies on the Beach Road near the harbour that can’t be seen from here. According to the black identification board that is readable from the road it is “Dutch Architecture, built by the Dutch in 1750”. Above the front door is the VOC monogram and the
year in Roman numbers.
Inside the church is the tombstone of Henricus Volraad Von Sohnsten, the last Dutch resident from German origin on this coast.
He was born in Ceylon in 1754. He passed away in Tuticorin in 1824, a few months before the transfer of Dutch possessions in India to the British.
On his tombstone is a poem in Dutch:
“Hoe zeer gij werd bemind, hoe diet geschat voorheen.
Hoe hoog was uw eer uit uwe deugd is opgerezen.
Niets blijft u ovrig dan een hoopje stofs alleen.
Dit is alles wat gij zijt! En allen zullen wezen’.
It boils down to how high and valued a person may have been everyone in the end will leave behind a little heap of dust only.
Von Sohnsten was apparently member of the Freemason Society as his tombstone carries freemason symbols.
The watchman of the church explains to our driver how to find the Ducth cemetery, not too far behind the old Dutch church. We find a large sort of inner court where young boys play cricket with a lot of yelling. The guy who is most drunk approached us and guides us to a dark corner. I see five old Dutch tombstones laying haphazardly. There is nothing on them anymore.
Bauke van der Pol has a British Library picture in his book of the Dutch cemetery at the the end of the 19th century, where the pyramid grave of Von Sohnsten rises high above other graves.
He also quotes Mr Barendsen, the former honorary consul of the Netherlands in Calcutta. In the 1960s he made a lot of work of documenting the Dutch heritage in India. It is good to see that here and there his work is paying off.