A life full of tragedy. Money so huge involved. Hundreds of acres of land in the heart of the city all willed to a church. Spooky roads. Welcome to the life and times of John De Monte. The biggest benefactor of the Mylapore Archdiocese. The man rumoured to still haunt the De Monte Colony.
He smiles in the picture hanging at the church museum in Santhome. A sad smile not quite reaching his eyes. He was a celebrated Portuguese merchant when he entered Madras after his successful stint at Pondicherry. Married into the rich German Bilderbeck family. The Bilderbecks were pearl merchants in Madras who even had an indigo factory at Colachel, Travancore. Mary Bilderbeck De Monte gave birth to Christopher De Monte, the son who was to have carried forward the De Monte clan.
In 1810, at the age of 16, Christopher was sent to England for further studies where he was struck with intermittent malaria. Still, the French Revolution intrigued him and he set out a travel around the continent in 1815. He attended the Ball that Lady Richmond gave in Brussels for the Duke of Wellington on the eve of Battle of Waterloo. He was an amateur guitarist who struck an unusual friendship with Mauro Giuliani, the famed musician and composer who gifted him the guitar handed over to him by Empress Marie-Louise. The guitar and his handwritten letter to Christopher have been discovered recently.
In 1816, Christopher had an untimely death- probably in a duel just when he was about to leave for Madras. It was his bones that reached the grieving John De Monte. Mary De Monte went mentally deranged after the incident, roamed the streets of Madras, while John owned 500 acres of prime land and posh garden houses, including the Mowbray's Cupola that now houses the Madras Club.
Mary had wandered off to Covelong and John is supposed to have tracked her down and built her a house there to pacify the poor woman. He also built the Our Lady of Mount Carmel church in the same place, hoping it would cure his wife. Conflicting theories emerge if Mary was cured, but finally, John bequeathed all his property to the Archdiocese of Mylapore- Santhome to care for them and use the lease/rental proceeds for charities.
The current De Monte Colony, Benz Gardens, Madras Club and its adjoining 105 acres, all belong to the De Monte Trust. The spooky stories around the De Monte colony started when the Trust tried to lease out afresh the colony. The rumours have failed to die down. Pet dogs and watchmen keep dying. People have vacated the colony in droves and its bare walls and houses with overgrown weeds now stand desolate testimony of a wretched life. John died in 1821 and his body remains buried in the Mount Carmel Chapel, Covelong, along with his son's bones. No one knows what happened to the poor Mary De Monte.
John De Monte's life just goes on to prove that money can't buy everything. History has taught us today that.Pictures:
1. John De Monte's picture in Santhome Church
2. Bilderbeck family archives containing picture of De Monte
3. English translation of Giuliani's letter to Christopher De Monte
4&5. Original handwritten letter of Giuliani to Christopher
6. The guitar from Marie-Louise gifted by Guiliani to Christopher
7. Content of epitaph in the tomb of John De Monte
8. Tomb of De Monte in Mount Carmel Chapel, Covelong
9. Song written in praise of De Monte sung in the Mt Carmel church.