Thursday, July 9, 2009

History calling

I came across this article in The Hindu dated July 8th, 2009. I am reproducing it in toto.

CHENNAI: The grave of Robert Bruce Foote, an influential figure in the history of Indian archaeology and geology, has been discovered at Yercaud. Foote (1834-1912) was a man of varied interests — he was a geologist, archaeologist, ethnographer, palaeontologist, museologist and landscape painter. His discovery of a stone-tool on May 30, 1863 at Pallavaram, near Chennai, pushed back the antiquity of humankind in the Indian subcontinent and placed India in the world map of pre-history. It was a remarkable find because the stone tool, used by hunter-gatherers, was more than 500,000 years old.

Archaeolgists Shanti Pappu and Kumar Akhilesh, and Dr. Shanti’s father, V.R. Pappu, discovered it in the graveyard of the Holy Trinity church at Yercaud, the hill station in Tamil Nadu, in June.

The team also discovered the grave of Foote’s father-in-law Reverend Peter Percival there. Percival (1803-1882) too was multi-faceted. He was a scholar in Tamil and Telugu. He published the first Tamil translation of the Bible. He authored Land of the Veda: India Briefly Described in some of its Aspects, Physical, Social, Intellectual and Moral. Percival translated hundreds of Tamil proverbs into English and wrote a book on Tamil proverbs. He translated into English the aphorisms of Tamil poetess Avvaiyar. He authored Anglo-Tamil and Anglo-Telugu dictionaries, and published the journal Dinavartamani in Telugu and Tamil. He was a Registrar of Madras University and Professor of Vernacular Literature in Presidency College, Chennai. Percival and Foote were friends. Both were from Britain.
For Dr. Pappu, the discovery was the culmination of years of work to locate them. The founder of Sharma Centre for Heritage Education, Chennai and Pune, she said she developed an interest in the life and work of Foote after she began investigating the pre-historic archaeology of Tamil Nadu at Attirampakkam, 60 km from Chennai, in 1991.

She, Dr. Akhilesh and other scientists chose the particular site because Foote, besides discovering the stone-tool at Pallavaram in 1863, found stone-tools several lakh years old at Attirampakkam the same year. Later he proceeded to discover, document, interpret and write about more than 400 prehistoric sites in southern and western India.

Dr. Pappu, who is writing a book on him, said: “One of my major efforts in this study was to locate Foote’s grave and pay tribute to his remarkable personality.” She added: “His prolific publications comprising reports, memoirs, short notes and catalogues of antiquities, his lectures and dialogues with interested individuals, geologists and other scholars place him amongst the foremost intellectuals of the late-19th century.”

Both Foote and Percival (who was the father of Foote’s first wife, who had passed away early) settled in Yercaud. Documents on Foote’s life indicated that he died at the Presidency Hospital, Calcutta on December 29, 1912 and that he was cremated there on January 3, 1913. So attempts to locate his grave were abandoned. In June 2009, a search-team decided to follow the leads on Foote’s retired life in Yercaud.

“To our joy and surprise, we located the grave of not only Foote but Percival in the well-kept graveyard” with the help of local citizens and the parish priest, said Dr. Pappu.

Church records said Foote worked for the Geological Survey of India. More significantly, they said that although his body was cremated in Calcutta, his ashes were buried in the Trinity Church cemetery. Possibly, in those days it was difficult to transport a body over a great distance.

Foote’s gravestone reads: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”

Nearby is the grave of Percival, who was also an architect, championed girls’ education in Jaffna and later lived at Little Bourne at Luz in Mylapore, Chennai.

© Copyright 2000 - 2009 The Hindu

1 comment:

Mavin said...

That is an interesting piece of history there.

This supports the view that Tamil history is ancient and Tamil as a language is one of the oldest on this planet.