“The tombstone of Edward Bulkley, a physician in the service of the British East India Company, is situated opposite to the Madras Medical College, near the Fort Railway Station, Chennai. The inscription engraved on the tombstone is in Latin, and belongs to the year 1714 CE.”

That is what the Tamil Nadu Archaeology web site has to say at http://www.tnarch.gov.in/epi/ins8.htm.

Inspired by this, Karthik Bhatt and I decided to visit the tomb. After all, if Henry Davison Love was to be believed, it was “a substantial monument of gneiss, approached by steps and surrounded by an iron railing, the edge of the present western esplanade of Fort St George, opposite to the entrance of the Medical College Grounds.” That was written in 1912/13.

Bulkeley’s tomb?

There being nothing immediately opposite the medical college, we went down the old Fort Glacis, behind the Fort Railway Station. There again we drew a blank, until after a sharp bend, we came upon a splendidly-maintained park with a blue board stating that it was a protected monument. But of the massive monument, that Love describes and the Latin inscription on it that the TN Archaeology site describes, there was not a trace. The park has three raised mounds in the grass. Were these the points on which the Bulkley tomb once rested? Perhaps we were at the wrong place and maybe the tomb still stands elsewhere. Who knows? Should the website now refer to the tomb more appropriately in the past tense? The internet does not reveal any photographs either. This is definitely a well and truly hidden piece of history.

For the record, Dr. Edward Bulkley was sent out by the East India Company in 1692, though it would appear that he already had prior experience in India. He was thought to be “as fit for prescribing Phisick as manuall Operation.” On arrival, He took charge of the hospital in the Fort, the forerunner of our GH. Within a year, he was to perform the first recorded autopsy in Madras. James Wheeler, a member-in-council, and being treated by Dr Browne, was found dead shortly after taking a dose of “Dr Browne’s physic.” The good doctor recollected to his horror that his servant had prepared the medicine in a vessel that had previously been used for arsenic. “I have Murthered Mr Wheeler…please to execute Justice on me the Malifactor as I deserve,” wrote Dr Browne. It was left to Bulkley to conduct the post-mortem. Dr. Browne and servant were tried but committed to custody and tried. They were acquitted, the jury bringing in “the bill Ignoramus.” Did that also mean professional incompetence? Not so, for Browne remained in Company service till 1697.

Bulkley was evidently careful in treating those who had friends in high places. John Nicks, whose wife Catherine was a companion to Governor Yale, was arrested for appropriating Company funds. Bulkley’s medical certificate ensured he was kept in confinement in the comfort of his own home! Another Madras first?

This article appeared in The Hindu dated 25th September 2012 –http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/the-mystery-of-a-missing-tombstone/article3932842.ece