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14 December 2014

Making Their Mark in Madras: Catholic Armenians, 1840.

Albert Arathoon, a young and promising 15 year old Catholic Armenian had a very strong family history. On his paternal side he was descended from Chorhatsgerentz Stepan Manuel (sometimes referred to Stephen Manuel of Persia). On his maternal side his mother Margarida Baboom was an Armenian born in Macao and whose own father, Gregory Baboom was a merchant trading between India, Hong Kong, Macao and Manila to name but a few. I will do a separate post on the Baboom family of Madras and China in due course.

Albert’s father John was a successful banker in Madras. The sons of the family were all sent to England for their Education and his family was so highly thought of among the Catholic community and by the religious heads of the Catholic church in Madras, that in December 1840 young Albert was selected, as a 15 year old boy, to lay the foundation stone of St. Patrick's Catholic Church at St. Thomas's Mount. It was reported as follows:

Ceremony of Laying the Foundation of a Roman Catholic Church at St. Thomas’s Mount. 

On Tuesday the 8th instant the First Stone of a new Roman Catholic Church was laid at St. Thomas’s Mount, by Albert, the eldest son of John Arathoon Esq. As usual, on such occasions, some pieces of the current coins of Great Britain and of India, together with a copy of a public Journal (The Examiner were chosen in the present instance) were placed beneath the Foundation of the intended edifice. We subjoin a copy of the Inscription which was deposited together with the preceding memorials. 

Quod Rei Religionis Et Reipubllicae

Felix Faustamque Sit.

Sexto Kalendarum Decembris


Post Christi Nativitatem


Ecclesiae Sti. Patricii

Apud Montem Majorem

Primum Lapidem Posuit

Optimoe Spei

Ingenuus Adolescens

Ex Majoribus

Fidei Catholicae Addictissimis


Albertus Arathoon

Translation of the Inscription

On the Eighth Day of December


Albert Arathoon

An Ingenuous Youth, of Great Promise

Descended from Ancestors

Who were most Devoted

To the Catholic Faith

Laid the first Stone

Of the Church of St. Patrick

At. St. Thomas’s Mount

May this Even Happily

And Auspiciously Conduce

To the Welfare of Religion


Of the Empire

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Bishop Carew addressed Mr. Arathoon to the following effect.

“My Dear Young Friend

I have been induced by several considerations to invite you to take a principal part in the ceremony, which has been now performed.  Were I to advert merely to the circumstance, that you are the representative of a respectable family, which for ages has been most devoted to the Catholic Faith and which by its benefactions to Religion is entitled to particular notice on an occasion like the present, this alone would justly have due weight with me.  But whilst I respect the claims derived from ancestors, I would remind you that they are as shadows, unless sustained by personal worth, and that the very records of the virtues of those ancestors, if destitute of such an accompaniment, only aggravate by contrast the faults of a degenerate descendant.  Happily, the claims, which you may put forward on this head have not been impaired by you – on the contrary, if the harvest of your mature age should, as I pray that it may, correspond with the promise of your opening manhood, you will enhance the inheritance of your ancestors and transmit it with increased lustre to your posterity.

You have been already informed of the motives which induced me, to solicit your co-operation on this occasion.  I remembered, that you were the senior pupil of the seminary of St. Mary, which was established on my arrival at Madras, that for the two years which since then have nearly elapsed, your uniform attention to your religious duties and studies afforded to your superiors sincere gratification, and supplied to your fellow pupils a strong incentive to literary industry and exemplary piety.  I also reflected, that in the ordinary course of events you were soon to enter on that course of life which is marked out for you, and I wished, before you would have retired from the seminary, to evince in the most public manner, my approbation of your conduct, and the strong hopes I entertain, that your career in society will be creditable to the place of your education, useful to society, honourable to yourself, to your family and to the religion of your ancestors.  In any country, a young gentleman, possessed of the advantages you enjoy, could confer great benefits, more especially on the humbler classes in his vicinity.  But in this country, the value even of one such member of society is inestimable.  For, were one young gentleman here to devote, from his entry into public life, with constancy and uniformity, even only a moderate portion of his time, his talents, his influence and his wealth to the moral and temporal improvement of the poor in his neighbourhood, can it be doubted, that the most important advantages would hence result.  In Europe, instances of this kind happily abound.  Here, alas! Almost a single such example in unknown.  It is not for me, at present, to point out the causes of this anomaly; you must be more familiar with them, than I am.  But, I trust, that better days, even for this country are nor far removed.  Days, when such examples, as I have alluded to, will not be extraordinary, days when those in power, will feel it to be alike their duty and their interest, to assist in providing for the education of the almost countless Catholic youth, for whose instruction not even the donation of a spelling book can now be obtained from government.  Days, when the asylum established by private benevolence to rescue the Catholic orphan from the danger of being perverted, will be visited by some other public functionary besides the tax gatherer, who is to be annually sent to collect from the refuge of the fatherless one hundred Rupees quit rent.  Days when the dying soldier will be cheered in his agony by the consoling assurance, that his little ones will grow up in their father’s faith and that their tender years will be watched over, not by heartless mercenaries, but by those who have bid adieu to the world and its rewards, and who, like her, whom the scriptures declare that all nations shall call blessed, while they remain virgins by purity, become by their tender charity the mothers of the destitute and of the orphan.  I cherish fondly the hope, that we shall yet witness these consoling scenes.  Even the ceremony of this day forbids me to abandon such happy anticipations, for it shows, how much the liberality of one governor can accomplish.

Assuredly such a precedent will have its due effect on those who may succeed Lord Elphinstone, and we may expect that thus, the hopes we cherish will be eventually accomplished.  There are moreover ten million of our fellow Catholics in the United Kingdom, many of them are possessed of wealth and influence; I know that they are not indifferent to your welfare and that they will not be ungrateful to your friends.  That they seek to be informed of your necessities, and that, as circumstances permit, they will cheerfully co-operate, both, to relieve your wants and to obtain, for you the full enjoyment of that civil and religious liberty and equality, which are, at once, the glory and the safeguard of the British Constitution.”

To the address of his Lordship, Mr. A. Arathoon returned the following very appropriate answer.

“My Lord,

I feel and will always feel proud of having been the first student who entered Saint Mary’s Seminary. It was the first establishment that has been opened for Catholic youth in this Presidency.  Without endangering the religion he inherits from his fathers, the Catholic youth may receive there that education which will make him an ornament to society.  There he has within his reach every thing in science and learning which adorns and enlightens the mind.  Remembering that I am, if I may say so, the foundation stone of Saint Mary’s Seminary, to know of its prosperity shall always be a subject of sincere joy to me.  When engaged in my worldly occupations, I shall always look back with fond recollection to the happy days I have sent in it, free from all solicitude, except that of the student who frequently thinks his own labours the most difficult, and I will rejoice when the salutary influence of St. Mary’s Seminary shall have reached through society.

My friends and those feel an interest in my welfare congratulate me on the improvement I have made during the two last years.  I have indeed laboured with assiduity too; but I ascribe my improvement to the system of education adopted in the seminary, and above all to the care and attention of the gifted and respected president who has given his invaluable services to the education of youth.

Your Lordship has made kind allusion to my family, I have only to observe on this point that I hope the Divine aid may enable me to preserve with credit the sacred deposit of faith which I have received from them.  That living in the true practice and observance of its laws, I may become a really useful member of society here and prepare myself for hereafter.  With the deepest sense of gratitude for the honor conferred on me.  I have to acknowledge my best thanks to your Lordship for your kindness I have always experienced in my intercourse with your Lordship.  I have only to add my best wishes and hopes for the success of your undertaking.”

When Mr. Arathoon finished his reply, the Bishop proceeded to perform that part of the religious service which had not as yet been completed.  At the conclusion of the ceremony, the numerous assemblage which attended, retired, evidently much pleased with all they had witnesses.  -  Madras Examiner, December 10”.

Albert Arathoon married in 1865 in London to Louisa Andoe, her family originally came from Ireland. Her grandfather Hilary Andoe was a distiller in Ireland before moving to France in 1760 setting up a wine exporting and brandy distilling business. He and his family returned to London and settled there in the early 1790’s, Hilary died there in 1797 where his wife Catherine died in 1821. Louisa’s father William was born in France but he was just an infant when Hilary settled in London amongst the French community. Louisa married on the 1st July at Our Lady’s Church, Grove Road, St. John’s Wood, it was a particularly joyous occasion because it was also a double wedding.  Lousia’s sister Mary was also married at the same time to her bridegroom Edward Rymer a leather merchant.

Immediately after Albert and Louisa’s wedding they set sail for Madras and their first of six children Mary, was born in June 1866 at Albert’s father’s home near Nungumbaukum. Five more children were born in Madras between 1867 and 1874.

Albert had a premature demise in 1877 aged just 53 years.  He was on the ill-fated Meikong vessel that hit rocks 3 miles south of Guardafui (off the coast of Somalia). Passengers were able to make their way from the ship to shore, although it was being thrown around by the surf the lifeboats were lowered and starting to take people cautiously to safety.  Albert was one of only two men who died during the process of helping others.  He was overcome with exhaustion and heat stroke assisting others as they walked in the desert trying to reach the Gulf of Aden where a rescue ship called Glenartney was waiting. A journey that was fool-hardy in the blistering heat with no water or sun protection but a necessary one to ensure the passengers and crew were saved.

After the tragic death of Albert, Louisa left India returning to England and by 1881 had placed herself at the Convent of our Lady of Sion in Kensington with her four daughters, Mary Louise, Catherine, Isabelle and Alice. Ten years later the 1891 census reveals that Louisa was living at Pembroke Gardens Kensington accompanied by her unmarried children Mary and son Albert who was a leather merchant. Louisa’s youngest son Hilary was a medical student.  Also at the same address at the time of the census were Louisa’s two sisters Catherine Gibb and Isabelle Andoe. All were looked after by two household staff a maid and a cook.

The Bath Chronicle and Herald 13 April 1929

Louisa died on the 7 April 1929 in Bath, England. However, after a small service in her local church of St. John’s on South Parade, Louisa was burial in Kensal Green cemetery, in the family grave.  Probate of her estate was given to her son Hilary who had clearly had a successful career as he was noted as being a Royal Navy Commander (retired).

I am certain that had Albert lived, he too would have made his mark in life and been successful just as his sons had been after his untimely death. It was quite out of the ordinary for a 15 year old boy to lay the foundation stone of a church, I do hope it is a story that continued down through the generations of the family.


02 December 2014

Debeneau of Meerut Should Be Dubignon

I was curious about the daughter of Major Owen (John) Jacob (he died 1857) whose daughter (according to Mesrovb Seth 'Armenians in India' Page 141) married a Frenchman called Debeneau, I thought I’d do a little research on her.

Seth says: “[Major John Jacob] had an only daughter who married a Frenchman Debeneau, who was distantly related to General Ventura of Ranjit Singh’s Sikh Army. Their son, James Denbeneau, with his wife and children lived at Sirdhana with their grandmother, Major John Jacob’s widow, in rather crippled circumstances.”

Having spent a few hours researching, it would appear that Seth doesn’t seem to have got it quite right.

The name is not Debeneau but Dubignon, James Dubignon was a son of Robert Walter Dubignon and an Armenian lady called Ellen nee Moses his wife. Ellen’s sister Ann married the well known Colonel Jean-Baptiste Ventura.

James Dubignon married Ellen (or Helen) Jacob Petrus daughter of Major Owen (John) Jacob. Ellen died after giving birth to her second child in 1861, the child also died and was buried with her in Meerut Cantonment. James and Ellen’s first child John Dubignon survived, married and went on to have issue with descendants living today.

This is something to be aware of. If you are using Seth's book as a reference for Armenian family history you should remember he does not source or cite references to his work, so it is imperative to independently verify anything that he quotes. The British Library is a good starting point for such verification and now that their birth, marriages and death records are online, it makes researching and double-checking a whole lot easier