Anthony Henriques is determined to preserve his father’s memory. At his home in Bandra, a suburb of Mumbai, he has a slender archive of newspaper clippings about his father that he generously shares with reporters. Even at the age of 95, he writes letters to newspapers, reminding them of his father’s contributions – from Brighton to Bandra.
His father, Elias Cosmas Henriques, was an architect. In colonial India, against sizable odds, he crafted several successes through sheer hard work, but his biggest legacies were two: the St Peter’s Church in Bandra, and a memorial in Brighton and Hove that immortalised the Indian soldiers who lost their lives in World War I.
EC Henriques died in 1940 at the age of 51. Details of his life are sparse – as his oldest son says, his father was never a fan of the limelight. However, there are enough surviving fragments to recreate a potted history of his career and get a glimpse into his era.
Born on August 18, 1889, in Culvem village near Gorai, Elias Comas Henriques lost his father to a fire when he was just one. Raised by his mother, he was brought to Mumbai by a relative at the age of seven for schooling. It was in the big city that he discovered his artistic talent. “He was attached to a church in Bombay, where he studied under the streetlights,” said Anthony Henriques. “There he found that he was good in art. He started teaching art to students at St Xavier’s School, where he also studied.”
EC Henriques joined the JJ School of Art, and according to details pieced together by his family from documents, including his curriculum vitae, he was an excellent student who won prizes and scholarships. After graduation, he became attached to the Consulting Architect of the Government of Bombay, George Wittet, for three years. During this period, EC Henriques was deputed across India to study architectural styles – a knowledge that would prepare him for his life’s most prestigious works.
Journey to England
EC Henriques was sent in 1915 to Europe to study architecture on a three-year State Technical Scholarship, according to the archives of The Bombay Chronicle. He passed his final exam at the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1916 – he later went on to become a Fellow of the institute – and worked with James Ransome, the consulting architect to the Government of India from 1902 to 1908.
Among the illustrious architects he met in Europe was Sir Swinton Jacob, who had served in India for years and is credited as a pioneer of the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture. It was Jacob who enlisted EC Henriques to the task of designing the Brighton monument, commonly known as the Chattri memorial.
According to historical accounts, the monument was conceptualised by Lieutenant Das Gupta, a military doctor, who approached Brighton Mayor Sir John Otter with a proposal in 1915. A project was commissioned to build a memorial in the Patcham suburb, at the spot where 53 Hindu and Sikh soldiers, who had succumbed to war wounds at nearby hospitals, were cremated (the Muslim soldiers were buried at a mosque in Surrey). Jacob was designated as the project architect, but he recommended EC Henriques in his place.
“At 75, Jacob had only two years to live, and rather than take on [the] commission, recommended a young Indian architect undertaking architectural study in England,” wrote Tim Barringer in an essay on the Chattri memorial in The Great War and the British Empire. “The design was completed by 1917. Henriques created a monument in a powerful and austere style far less ornate than that of Swinton Jacob.”
The Chattri memorial was named after its dome-shaped pavilion, a feature of Indo-Saracenic architecture that is common to many Mughal-era monuments in India. The structure, made of Sicilian marble, is supported by eight pillars and has a concrete base. Its inscription says: “To the memory of all Indian soldiers who gave their lives for the King-Emperor in the Great War, this monument, erected on the site of the funeral pyre where Hindus and Sikhs who died in hospital at Brighton passed through the fire, is in grateful admiration and brotherly love dedicated.”
Construction was completed in December 1920, and the memorial was inaugurated by the Prince of Wales two months later. By this time, EC Henriques had already returned to India. He was awarded a special plaque by the royal family to mark his contribution. Decades later, the memorial was listed as a Grade II structure by English Heritage, which manages the country’s buildings of historical significance.
On returning to India, EC Henriques eschewed a private practice for government service, a more stable and prestigious option at the time. He rose through the ranks, becoming an assistant architect to the Government of Bombay and later in 1933-’34, architectural advisor to the Government of India. In these roles, his work involved inspecting projects of the Public Works Department – it was a job that put his architectural expertise to use but gave him little creative outlet. Aside from working for the government, EC Henriques served as the architectural advisor to St Anne’s Church at Pali Hill, and designed the East Indian Hall at the Bandra Gymkhana. But that structure has since been renovated, his family said.
Many other honours came his way. In 1928, he was appointed the external examiner of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Six years later, he became the honorary joint secretary of the Indian Institute of Architecture, and went on to assume the post of president in 1939-’40. He also received a second fellowship from them. In 1938, he was made Justice of the Peace, a local magistrate empowered with discharging minor civil or criminal cases.
Around this time, after taking permission from the government, EC Henriques began work on his second big project – the St Peter’s Church in Bandra. The structure was built in 1852, but by the 1930s, had fallen into disrepair. EC Henriques was roped in to rebuild the church. Under him, the staid original gave way to an elegant façade built in the Romanesque style.
The simple exterior belies its remarkably ornate interior. The narrow doorway opens up into an expansive hall with a high ceiling crowned with a dome. The ceiling features elegant stucco work, which Anthony Henriques said was designed by his sister Ivy, then in her teens. She also styled the grapevine on the archways. The church’s most remarkable design elements are the 12 stained glass windows on the domed ceiling, depicting scenes from the life of St Peter. The stained glass was shipped all the way from China, where it was designed by a Spanish Jesuit. At the base of the altar is a relief of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, carved in Carrera marble and gifted by General Franco, the Spanish dictator. These disparate influences from across the world came together in this little structure in a corner of Mumbai, where they remain till today.
The main altar of the church was later renovated, so that the priest could face the congregation during mass (versus populum) instead of having his back to them. It was architect David Cardoz who took charge of the redesign to ensure that the Sicilian marble in the altar was preserved. “It was quite a humbling experience,” Cardoz said. “Doing that little thing in the altar took me quite a bit of time. And I was wondering how those guys managed to build that whole structure [all those years back] with that stained glass coming from so far…It’s beautiful, really magnificent work…They could get those beautiful colours you wouldn’t otherwise get.”
In 1995, the Indian Heritage Society recognised the structure as the best-maintained heritage church. It was awarded a plaque, carved with EC Henriques’s name, immortalising his contribution. Anthony Henriques and his siblings were present at the felicitation event to witness a part of their father’s history being cemented.
There is another nugget of EC Henriques’ contribution that lives on in Mumbai. As a chartered architect for the government, he was tasked with clearing the designs for the Art Deco buildings on the stretch of land reclaimed from the sea starting in 1917 – the Backbay Reclamation area – a part of which today is the iconic Marine Drive. Many of those buildings still stand, a burst of Bombay’s heritage lining the Queen’s Necklace.