A peculiar site reveals itself near Raj Bhavan (Governor’s official residence) in Dona Paula. A cemetery located right next to it, which looks like any other cemetery found across Goa. Strange aspect about the cemetery is that, graves in it aren’t the graves of Portuguese or the Local Goans. They belong to the British soldiers garrisoned here from 1799 to 1813. Strange indeed! But, many in the state do not realize the role cemetery played in giving tourism in the state a boost.
Not many in Goa itself are aware about its existence. Usual questions do arise as to why were British soldiers buried there? Well, during the Napoleonic wars France under Napoléon Bonaparte was pitted against a coalition of European powers lead by United Kingdom. Portuguese being an ally to UK, requested help in defending Goa from Dutch or French attack.
The British responded by sending an army of 10,000, posted at strategic locations like Aguada fort, Dona Paula and Mormugao. The soldiers who passed away in the state were buried here. The first burial is in 1808 and the last burial took place in 1912 almost a century after the British soldiers left. After the soldiers left, British collector of Belgaum provided assistance to the Portuguese government in Goa towards the maintenance of the cemetery annually. Beyond that the cemetery was as good as forgotten.
It was only in the year 1983; the cemetery was brought back into focus. Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) retreat was held here. One of the visiting leaders to the state was the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. She wanted to visit the cemetery to pay her tributes. The British PM’s visit to the cemetery turned out to be a boon to the state as it was put on the world tourism map. This exposure introduced the British audience to Goan shores.
Immediate effect was soon noticed as flights to Goa filled with British tourists started to land at Dabolim airport. This was a positive change towards the tourist’s profile from the ‘hippies’ who had visited the state from the mid-sixties.
The new chartered tourists brought in monetary gains that helped develop state’s economy. It was these tourists that were very beneficial for Goa as no other tourist group visiting Goa has ever provided so many benefits as the Brits. So, Goans in a way have the cemetery to thank for the developed tourism industry it has today.
Written by Shailesh Shriram Tanpure