The moment I saw yonder signboard, I was quite sure that some literal translator had been at work. Birds Road my sense of history told me, could not be commemorating a winged creation of God, much though the Tamil translation would have me believe it. For those who are not familiar with the place, this road is in the Cantonment area of Trichy.

Some searching revealed the truth and sure enough, I was correct. It commemorates John Bird (blast these English names – Greenway, Pugh pronounced Pew and not Pug as written in Tamil which eventually became Bug in English, and now this Bird), who was Criminal Sessions Judge in Trichinopoly. The earliest I can trace of him is his appointment in 1801 as Judge of the Zillah Court in Salem. He came three years later to take up the job and appears to have had a long tenure in the service of the East India Company.

In 1824 he was Magistrate and Collector at Bellary and in 1826 was District Judge, Trichinopoly. On 3rd April 1826, he had a distinguished visitor as his guest. This was Reginald Heber, Lord Bishop of India. His Lordship was on a long tour of the South and had previously been at Tanjore, arriving in Trichy on 1st April. On 2nd April he delivered his sermon at St Johns and was informed that 11 Tamils wished to convert. He agreed to perform the necessary ceremony the next day early in the morning at the Mission Church in the Rock Fort (was this Christ Church?).

The conversion went through as planned and Heber returned to Bird’s house. Having chatted with his host he proceeded to a swimming bath in the compound. Nobody knows what happened next but Heber died on coming into contact with the water. It is generally accepted that the heat of Trichy (and it is bad enough now in February), combined with the coldness of the water had brought on an apoplectic fit that killed him instantaneously. The body was brought out the bath and all the then advisable techniques of revival, including bleeding were tried but to no avail. Heber is buried in St John’s Trichy. He has a memorial for him at St Mary’s in the Fort, Madras and a statue (done by Sir Francis Chantrey) at St Paul’s Calcutta.

Bird presumably recovered from the shock. (The rule books of the Raj told you everything about what to do with a live Bishop but not a dead one). As Criminal Judge, did he sue, try and exonerate himself for what was quite a strange death in his premises? We next see him in Madras in 1838, as first Puisne Judge of the Sudder Foujdari Adalat, which was located at Sadr Gardens, Alwarpet. He had at least two daughters, both of whom married army officers. There appears to also been a second John Bird, also of the Madras Civil Services. Whether he is any relative of the first I have no clue, as yet.