The Cemetery in Sanjauli in Shimla has several Brits resting in its lap. When I started working in Shimla as a Tour Guide, I had no idea that I would have someone coming from England who has such a deep association with India. One day the idea of Family research tours just popped into my mind and I thought that the descendants of those who built Shimla and those who brought such a development in India must be there somewhere in this world. And here I am helping lots of British who are looking for their ancestors.

Looking at a grave in a cemetery in Shimla

A group from the UK to visit the Cemetery.

In 2016, Nigel Penny was a member of a group of sixteen people who visited India on a Family History Tour. They visited a Cemetery in Shimla with me. The group hired me as their  Guide in Dharamsala and Shimla. I was surprised to know about their deep ancestral roots in India. Nigel’s ancestors came to India in 1786 AD and were here for a long period. One of them was his great aunt – Margaret Flashman Gahan. This is the story of Margaret and her association with Shimla. She is one of those who, when died, found a place in the Cemetery in Shimla

The Story of Margaret

Nigel’s grandmother had a cousin called Henry James Gahan. He was born in Burma and worked there as a ferry Engineer with the company called Irrawaddy Flotilla Company. That was a Scottish-owned company and was managed by ‘P Anderson & Company’ from Glasgow. It still exists and can be visited here. In 1894 Henry married a girl called Marie Flashman in Rangoon who was the daughter of Thomas Flashman. He worked for the “preventive service” in Calcutta and elsewhere. Henry and Marie had 3 daughters, but in 1910 Marie died at the age of 35, probably of a fever. Meanwhile, Marie’s older half-sister Margaret who was nineteen, had married a schoolmaster in his thirties. Of course, the age gap was unusual in those times but they were from some of the trendsetters. From Calcutta, they moved to Burma. There in 1901, Andrew died of cystitis.

Coming to Shimla and the Cemetery in Sanjauli

At some stage widow and widower got together and Henry married Margaret in, Burma in 1913. In due course, Henry retired from the ferry service and they moved to Maymyo, a hill station. After nearly 30 years when they had reached the ripe age of their lives, the Japanese invasions shattered their peaceful retirement, in 1942. At that time Henry was 75 and Margaret 83. Rangoon fell to the Japanese early in March 1942 and Mandalay at the end of April. Now they had to leave their lovely country and with other Burmese, they rushed to India. Here they found refuge in Shimla, in Elfin Lodge. Later they were lucky enough to get a seat on a plane, but more likely it was a trek over the mountains to Manipur or Nagaland.

Staying in Elfin Lodge in Shimla

During the war, many refugees from Burma found refuge in Elfin Lodge in Shimla. Margaret and Henry too were some of them. On 20th May 2942, out of ‘general debility and shock’, not long after reaching the safety of Simla, Margaret died. Two of Henry’s daughters made it out of Burma in March and May 1942. One went to Calcutta and the other to Bangalore. After the war, Henry and his daughters went back to Burma to see what they could save. In 1948 they had to leave Rangoon on a ship going to Bournemouth in England. Henry died there in 1954 aged 87.

Grave of Mary Margarate Gahan in a cemetery in Shimla.

Found her Grave in the Cemetery in Shimla

With Nigel, I went to Sanjauli Cemetery to look for the grave of Margaret. Although the cemetery is not in very good condition after some effort, we could find her grave. Perhaps after Margaret’s death in 1942, Nigel is the first one to visit her. The slab stone of the grave was covered with moss but the inscriptions came up when the moss was removed. A photo of the grave is shown here on this page of the article.


By  . . . . . . . . . . . .  Sumit Raj

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