Coffin theft shrouded in mystery

Published Sep 21, 2006 12:00am

DERA GHAZI KHAN, Sept 20: The unlawful stay of eight foreigners in the district and their brazen-faced act of escaping with a century-old coffin of a young wife of an Indian Army Punjab Commission’s captain has become a vexed question for the local administration and the people.

The coffin of Maud Evelyn, wife of Captain M.L. Ferrar, has been found missing from the cemetery in the hill resort of Fort Munro, about 80 kilometres from here. The cracks visible on the marble grave lends credibility to the suspicion of the coffin’s theft and official neglect.

Information gleaned by Dawn reveals that the foreigners stayed for three days at the Fort Munro cemetery in violation of the ban on stay of any foreigner in the district. On Sept 15, eight foreigners, including three women, came to Fort Munro by two jeeps and a motorbike.

Sources said the Punjab police escorted them at the tribal area border but their information was not signalled to the Border Military Police as it is done during the routine movement of foreigners crossing the area for Balochistan. Ironically, neither the BMP nor the provincial law enforcers keep record of these ‘suspicious’ foreigners.

Sources alleged that on their return on the evening of Sept 17, the eight foreigners were again escorted by the Punjab police as they set foot on the settled area land. They stayed for thee days in the cemetery having five graves — two of infants Walter, son of Mr & Mrs W.C. Oram (born Aug 12, 1910 and died Aug 17 the same year), and James Fedreick, son of Captain and Mrs J.W.C Hutchinson. The child was born on Sept 23, 1897 and died on April 26, 1898. It was the first gave at the cemetery.

Also lay buried were Horace Alleby Smith, a medical officer, and N.H. Smith, who drowned in the Dames lake at Fort Munro on Aug 2, 1900 at the age of 30. The last grave was of Maud Evelyn, the wife of Captain Ferrar. She died on Oct 13, 1906 (inadvertently published as 1886 in the preceding story on Aug 20) at the age of 26 while giving birth to a baby boy at Khar.

That child went on to become a member of the House of Commons of Britain as sources told Dawn that at least 20 years ago, a letter was received by the tribal area political administration from the official who claimed that her mother had died during his birth at Khar. He had requested the administration to take special care of the grave of her mother Maud Evelyn.

The foreigners, sources said, broke the marble slabs of the grave of the young lady with the connivance of the employees of civil works who had been deployed there by the DCO and the PA house.

“Now there are no remains of the coffin,” a BMP official told Dawn on the request of anonymity.

It is pertinent to mention that there are three cemeteries in Dera Ghazi Khan — one at Fort Munro tribal area and the other two in the settled area.

The district police officer denied the report of arrival and stay of any foreigner in the area during the aforementioned days. Meanwhile, the BMP commandant has suspended from service the whole staff of the Fort Munro police station of BMP.

The DCO told newsmen that the administration had no record of their identity.

He claimed that the staff of all check posts (BMP, Rangers, Punjab police and Punjab highway police) which works from Fort Munro to Dera Ghazi Khan has been suspended.

He confirmed that there had been a ban on stay of any foreigner in the district since 2001.

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