Tuesday, 30 November 2021

The Mysterious Amos Grave; City of London Cemetery


This unusual grave is a complete mystery; I can find out nothing about it. It contains no names other than Amos which I presume is the occupant’s surname but could equally be a first name. There are no dates but the memorial is very recent I think, probably no more than five years old. I first saw it three years ago and the few photos of it on the web are all from the last couple of years. It is on a side path in a section of burials that have taken place since 2000, all of them with large memorials. The others however, expensive as they no doubt were, all look like Chinese headstones, grey granite jobs ordered from a catalogue. The Amos grave is a rare bespoke memorial clearly designed to reflect the tastes and interests of the deceased and produced by a local firm of monumental masons. A lurcher rests at the front of the grave, side panels feature a hare and a jaunting car and the large headstone a cockerel. On the reverse of the headstone are three poems (or excerpts from poems); the middle section is a quotation from ‘Hamlet’ but the other two (‘Lurchers and longdogs were my delight…’ and ‘In the quiet of the night he sits, to all intents asleep’ (about a hare)) seem to be unpublished. The deceased is likely to have lived locally, somewhere in East London or the Essex borders and died recently but even with just a surname to go on it is impossible to say who exactly they were.

I worked in the Royal Docks between 2009 and 2011 and I recall seeing a jaunting car being driven around the streets of Beckton. I wonder….   






Friday, 12 November 2021

Mama, Grandmoo, Visabuela; Dar Durnford Slater (1897-1982) Kensal Green Cemetery

 

The memorial of Dar Durnford Slater, who was born in 1897 and died in 1982 is rather plain, tastefully lettered to be sure but very unshowy. It is a solidly middle-class tombstone and on it Dar is described as mama, grandmoo and visabuela.  It was a mixture of the unusual first name and the Spanish word for grandmother that attracted my attention and made me wonder if I could find out a little more about who was buried here and whether there was an Iberian or South American connection.  

Dar Durnford Slater was born in Bayswater in July 1897 to George Samuel Ferdinando and his wife Lilian Mabel (nee Duke). She was baptised with the doubly unglamourous forenames Gladys Ethel on 18 July 1898 when the family were living at 29 Grove End Road in St. John’s Wood in what would probably have been a substantial family house (since demolished). Her father’s occupation is variously listed as surveyor and estate agent but whatever he did, he was evidently very successful at it as by 1911 the family were living at Shiprods Manor in the village of Slinfold near Horsham in Sussex. George and Mabel had 5 children living with them in the manor and 6 servants including a cook, a parlourmaid, two housemaids, an under housemaid, a kitchen maid and a 19-year-old chauffeur.  The family name is unusual being a corruption of Ferdinand or possibly Fernandes. Her father appeared as a witness in a libel case in January 1917 brought by a German national, a Mr Maximilian Lindlar, who took the editor and publishers of the journal ‘The Pianomaker’ to court for accusing him of using expressions unfriendly to England and of taking steps, after the Services club had entered into possession of the German Athenaeum club, to oust British officers from the premises. George Ferdinando appeared as a witness to the defence and proudly told the judge that his family settled in England between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The earliest Ferdinando ancestors seem to have been Portuguese Marranos who settled in England in the mid-17th century. This distant relationship seems to have been Dar’s closest connection to Iberia.


After the end of the first world war Gladys Ethel married Alan Farquharson, a man 22 years her senior, probably in Jamaica. The marriage lasted only a short time as Farquharson died in 1922 leaving her a widow at just 25. She married again in 1935, once again in the colonies but this time in India, in Bombay. This time her husband John Durnford Slater, a British army officer, was 12 years younger than her, a callow 26 to her 38.  Her husband became something of a celebrity in World War II when he became the first British commando, appointed as the Lieutenant Colonel of No 3 Commando.  Officering commando units was a more hands-on role than senior army positions usually are and Durnford Slater took part in several raids and did his fair share of strangling German guards with piano wire on moonless nights in Norway. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his part in Operation Archery, a raid on the Lofoten Islands and the port of Vaagso where the attack "lost five out of six officers, & nearly 40% of their effective [strength]" and was in danger of collapsing until he personally stepped into the breach under heavy fire and took control. A photograph of Durnford Slater collecting his DSO from Buckingham Palace appeared in The Tatler in July 1942 and shows him with Dar and his daughter Jennifer. He received a bar to his DSO (effectively meaning he was awarded two DSO’s) for Operation Husky in Italy where he and his men held a bridge against the Germans despite being outgunned and outnumbered. His citation said that he showed a ‘complete disregard for [his own] personal safety’ during the operation, something his men apparently found inspirational. There is a further photograph of him collecting this award in 1944, again with Dar and a slightly older Jennifer.  

After the war Durnford Slater went into the reserves and became a bursar at Bedford School. He died in 1972 in mysterious circumstances at Haywards Heath station according to The People of Sunday 06 February;

Brigadier John Durnford Slater, Britain's first Commando in World War I, was killed yesterday when he fell under the Brighton Belle train at Haywards Heath station, Sussex. Brigadier Slater, 63, who lived in Brighton. was waiting on the platform when the train went through at 60 m.p.h. Awarded the D.S.O. in 1942 for bravery in Norway. He wrote a book, "Commando" about his war exploits.

If there was an inquest (and there surely was) it seems not to have been reported in the papers. If this had been a tragic accident then again you would expect this to have been mentioned in the reports. It is very difficult not to conclude that the war hero committed suicide. Probate records show that he left a very small estate of just £1504. Dar would have been 75 at the time of her husband’s death. If she was living in Brighton with him she must have moved back to London otherwise, why would she be buried in Kensal Green?

The headstone also memorialises Dar’s daughter Jennyfer, a biologist, whose ashes are buried at Old Furzefield Wood (Potters Bar?).


Tuesday, 2 November 2021

"I have no bone to pick with graveyards..."; Kensal Green Cemetery, 02.11.2020

 

“Personally I have no bone to pick with graveyards, I take the air there willingly, perhaps more willingly than elsewhere, when take the air I must.  The smell of corpses, distinctly perceptible under those of grass and humus mingled, I do not find unpleasant, a trifle on the sweet side perhaps, a trifle heady, but how in­finitely preferable to what the living emit, their feet, teeth, armpits, arses, sticky foreskins and frustrated ovules. And when my father’s remains join in, however modestly, I can almost shed a tear. The living wash in vain, in vain perfume themselves, they stink. Yes, as a place for an outing, when out I must, leave me my graveyards and keep—you—to your public parks and beauty-spots. My sandwich, my banana, taste sweeter when I’m sitting on a tomb, and when the time comes to piss again, as it so often does, I have my pick. Or I wander, hands clasped behind my back, among the slabs, the flat, the leaning and the upright, culling the inscriptions. Of these I never weary, there are always three or four of such drollery that I have to hold on to the cross, or the stele, or the angel, so as not to fall.”

Samuel Beckett ‘First Love’ (1946)

He had a vivid way with words, dearly departed Samuel Beckett, doyen of the shabby, the slovenly and the threadbare; a frowsy tang wafts from the page as you leaf through one of his books. By modern standards I imagine the general population in 1946 did not smell particularly fresh. But however stale and sweaty they were they surely smelled better than the dead? Hot running water, showers, toothpaste, dentistry, deodorant and changing underwear have all become much more common than they were 75 years ago and most of us now are relatively inoffensive, olfactorily speaking. I do think I know what he means about the slightly sweet smell of a corpse though; occasionally I do get a waft of it in cemeteries but having said that I’ve never been sure that I am not imagining it.   


Monument of HRH Princes Sophia, daughter of George III

First thing this morning my phone flashed up a One Drive notification, ‘On this day…’, reminding me that last year, on this day, the second of November, I had been taking photographs in Kensal Green Cemetery. I had spent the weekend in Norwich, a last fling before yet another lockdown which had been announced by Boris Johnson on the Saturday just as we were getting ready to leave our hotel on Tombland (surely the best street name in England?) and go out to find something to eat. Despite the brand new lockdown I had a legitimate, work related, reason to be out and about on Monday. I had to visit a property in North Wembley but once I’d finished Kensal Green was only a minor detour on the way home. It was beautiful, crisp, sunny autumn day and I had the cemetery to myself.  I took my first photo of the day, at the cemetery gate on Harrow Road at 13:19 and my last at 14:37, so I was there for just over an hour.  I took nearly seventy pictures so one a minute almost. These were the best shots on what was a flying visit.   





Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Buried with her baby in her arms and her coffin draped with the Spanish Republican flag: Conchita Supervia (1895-1936) Liberal Jewish Cemetery, Willesden


I first visited the Liberal Jewish Cemetery in Pound Lane in Willesden in the pre-pandemic summer of 2019. I was intrigued by an unusual grave in which a large circular altar-like stone block is supported on the back of four tortoises. Despite a plaque saying the grace had been ‘restored by her admirers in 2006’ I couldn’t read the name and had no idea who was buried here. Meller and Parson’s ‘London Cemeteries’ gave me a bit more detail; in the cemetery “the most unusual memorial dated 1936, comprises four stone tortoises which support a curved sided pedestal confined between two discs, the upper inscribed with the name Conchita Rubenstein who ‘Died with her daughter’.” This was as far as I got with my research; I parked Mrs Rubenstein intending to come back to her when I had more time only to find Sheldon from the Cemetery Club getting in there before me. In his blog post just a few weeks after I visited the cemetery Sheldon revealed that Mrs Rubenstein was in fact Conchita Supervía, a Spanish opera singer born in Barcelona in 1895. Some sources say she made her stage debut at the age of 15 at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires and others say that she was only fourteen when Richard Strauss himself chose her to play in Rosenkavalier at the Royal Opera in Rome. She sung all over Europe as well in South America and the United States. She made over 200 recordings and even had a film part as singer Baba L'Etoile in a 1934 British production called Evensong based on the life of Dame Nellie Melba. Some accounts of her life politely say she married twice but none of them mention the name of her first husband by whom she had a son, Jorge.  In 1930 she converted to Judaism, married a Mr Benzion Rubenstein and came to live in London. She died in childbirth at the age of 40.  



The Aberdeen Press and Journal of Tuesday 31 March 1936 gives an account of the distressing circumstances of her death under the headline ‘Famous Prima Donna's Sudden Death’;

Madame Conchita Supervia, the famous Spanish prima donna, died in a London nursing home yesterday. She was the wife of Mr Ben Rubinstein, an English timber broker and fruit farmer. Madame Supervia was expecting a baby, and only on Sunday went into the nursing home "very happy and very well." At 11 a.m. yesterday the baby was still-born. A clot of blood developed, and. despite the efforts of the doctors, Madame Supervia died.



A few days later the Dundee Evening Telegraph gave an account of her funeral:

With the body of her child in her arms, Conchita Supervia, the coloratura contralto, was buried at the Liberal Jewish Cemetery, Willesden, to-day. Her coffin was draped with the new Republican flag of Spain red, purple, and yellow, and rested upon arum lilies sent by her husband and her son from the garden which was such a source of pleasure to her at her home at Rustington, Sussex. The ceremony was according to the Jewish rites, with its centuries' old traditional prayers, but there was no singing. Many of the wreaths on the wet grass by the graveside were without names, and were from admirers who had heard but never forgotten her voice. One of these: typical of others, bore the inscription—"That I may sometimes hear the echo of her voice in the moonbeams." About 200 people were present at the ceremony, and they included Senor Dr Perez D'Ayala. the Spanish Ambassador, and his wife. The mourners included Mr Ben Rubenstein, her husband, and George, her 17- year-old son, together with numerous other relatives and friends. Rev. M Perizweg recited the committal words, first in Hebrew and then in English. As his voice pronounced the words—"May she come to her rest in peace," Mr Rubenstein dropped earth into the grave and the son performed the same symbolic action with the recitation of the prayer of resignation to the will of God. Among the masses of spring flowers was a wreath of tulips, lilies and daffodils from the Spanish Ambassador and his wife. Others who sent flowers included the directors of the Royal Opera House and Violet Lady Melchett, whose wreath bore the inscription— "In loving remembrance of darling Conchita."

Her memorial is designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens who was also responsible for the Phillipson mausoleum in Golders Green.




Monday, 4 October 2021

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman; Hester Hammerton (1711-1746) All Saints, Kingston-Upon-Thames

 

I came upon an account of the life of Hester Hammerton, the once celebrated female sexton of Kingston-upon-Thames in Kirkby’s Wonderful and Eccentric Museum. For those unfamiliar with this publication it is an early 19th century compendium of the marvellous and the bizarre; it contains biographies of the singular characters of the age (the Chevalier D’Eon and Joseph Merlin for example), accounts of calamities, (shipwrecks, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes etc), details of monstrous births, (four legged cockerals, two headed calves and numerous conjoined twins), prodigious eaters (a polish man who regularly ate 5 pounds of raw beef and 10 tallow candles at one sitting) and stories of miraculous escapes from death (Elizabeth Woodcock of Impington who survived 8 days buried alive in snow). Whilst written to appeal to the sensation seeker it has to be conceded that its articles are generally well informed and that its contributors often took pains to establish their facts.

Kirkby’s tells us that Hester Hammerton was baptised on March 16 1711. Her father Abraham performed the office of sexton of All Saints Church “in which his daughter was accustomed to assist him.” Hester and her brother-in-law Thomas German were both with their father on the 2nd of March 1730, digging a grave for a Mr George Hammond of London. Also present were Richard Milles and Sarah Smith. They were digging too close to one of the main pillars of the Chapel of St Mary; the vicar Dr Rawlinson, explained in a letter to a friend exactly what happened next:

On Monday last, our sexton, with his son and daughter, being employed in digging a grave, part of the ancient chapel of St Mary’s fell in upon them, killed the sexton and one other man, Richard Mills, on the spot, bruised and wounded several others and buried in the grave both the son and daughter for above three hours, during which time many were employed in digging out the rubbish, in order to get at the bodies that were buried. After the removal of the timbers, and several loads of rubbish, they heard very plainly some loud groans and cries in the grave. Soon after, they came to the heads of two persons: the man was speechless and almost dead, having his head closely confined between two stones; the woman was not so much pressed; but being immediately taken care of by Dr. Cranmer, they are both in a fair way of recovery. The Bailiffs and Churchwardens by their great humanity and diligence on this occasion had a great share in preserving the lives of the two persons abovementioned, by the speedy removal of the rubbish and by keeping off the crowd who pressed in upon the labourers in great numbers. The damage besides the lives already lost is computed to amount to above £1000.

The entry from the parish register at All Saints showing the burial of Abraham Hammerton and Richard Milles on the 5th March -'killed by the fall of the church' and Sarah Smith on the 15th.  

Abraham Hammerton and Richard Milles were both killed on the spot but the vicar was writing too soon to know that Sarah Smith would also eventually die of her injuries. Abraham and Richard were both buried on the 5th March, Sarah was not buried until the 15th. Hester and her brother-in-law Thomas both survived and Hester inherited her father’s position as sexton to the parish though luckily her injuries prevented her first job being the melancholy one of digging her own father’s grave. Kirkby’s describes Hester as a ‘strong, lusty woman of a comely countenance.’ It claimed that injuries received in the accident prevented her from ever wearing stays again and says that ‘her usual dress therefore was a man's waistcoat and hat, a long loose gown and a silk handkerchief tied round her neck.’ On Sundays she would bow to convention and ‘dress extremely clean and neat, in a gown of the then fashion, a mob cap with frilled border and ribbon, and a nosegay in her bosom.’  The writer says that Hester ‘was very fond of all kinds of manly diversions, such as cricket, football, bull baiting, also of smoaking and associating with men but nevertheless, she preserved her moral character unimpeached. If any person offered to take liberties with her, she never failed to resent the affront and her fist inflicted merited chastisement on the offender. She possessed great bodily strength and would dig all the graves and ring the great bell herself. She died at Kingston and was buried February 28 1746 in the 35th year of her age.’

Hester's burial recorded in the parish register for 28 February 1746

Hester was instrumental in apprehending Philip Wilkinson and William Sweet, two Londoners who came down to Kingston with the intentions of robbing the communion plate from the church. Hester wandered into church to ring the two o’clock bell and found the two men ripping off the gold lace and fringe of the pulpit hangings. Incensed the doughty Hester grabbed one of the men by the collar and threw him over the reading desk and into the pew below. Whilst she was occupied the other thief crept up on her from behind and hit her over the head with a blunt instrument, stunning her and allowing both robbers to flee the scene. A few days later a boy was caught lurking around the church and suspected of being somehow being involved in the robbery. He denied this but said that if he was released, he would tell the authorities who had robbed the church. His information led to the capture and arrest of Wilkinson and Sweet. The pair were tried at Kingston Assizes on 10th April 1735 and being found guilty of sacrilege, sentenced to death.  The Derby Mercury of 17th April gives this account of their execution;

On Thursday, soon after One o'Clock, Philip Wilkinson and William Sweet, were executed in the Market-Place at Kingston. They said they forgave the Boy and the Woman who were instrumental in their Death; desired the Prayers of the Spectators; and just before they were turn'd off, declar'd, as they were dying Men, that they were innocent of the Fact for which they suffer'd, nor had they been guilty of any Robbery whatsoever; and that they never saw the Boy or Woman before they came to appear against them.

Kirkby’s gives the following postscript to the story;

The bodies of the above two men, after execution, were carried into the Castle Inn yard, and no particular account was given of them afterwards. As christian burial was refused them, on account of the crime of sacrilege, of which they had been convicted it was not till above seventy years afterwards that a discovery was made, which seems to clear up this matter. August 25 1807 - As some workmen were digging a hole in the garden of Mr. John Smallpiece the butcher, near Clattern-bridge (late Mr. Laming's garden) the skeletons of two men lying together were discovered. These were conjectured to be the remains of Wilkinson and Sweet. The garden in which they were found was a bowling green, and belonged to the Castle Inn, at the time when the bodies of those two men were left in the yard, and there is no reason to doubt that, as it was generally supposed, they were buried in that bowling green.


Friday, 24 September 2021

A hidden gem; the headstone of Godfrey Mercer (1696-1730), St. Mary's & All Saints, Chesterfield, Derbyshire

I was in Chesterfield earlier this week for a funeral. Despite being in exactly the right location funerals are, frustratingly, not occasions that usually present the opportunity to do any cemetery exploring. I would have quite liked to have a look around Brimington Cemetery (which apparently dates from the 1870’s), but I was otherwise occupied at the crematorium and it is bad form to slip off after the service to roam aimlessly around the headstones as though you don’t give a fig for the deceased. I arrived at Chesterfield 15 minutes before my lift to the funeral which did give me the opportunity to walk the two hundred yards from the station to St Mary’s and All Saints church with its famous crooked spire. My photograph is taken from the wrong angle and doesn’t do it justice. Dating from 1362 local legends generally attribute the twist in the spire to the Devil; a blacksmith drove a nail into his satanic majesty’s foot causing him to hop with pain across the town and kick out at the spire in anger as he passed. Or alternatively, when the devil roosted on the spire one night and wrapped his tail around the spire to anchor him to his perch the parishioners rang the bells to scare him off. The startled devil flew up without bothering to unwind his tail and the spire twisted as a result.  If the Devil didn’t twist the spire folk lore says it was a local virgin who got married in the church. The church was so surprised to see a virgin bride in Chesterfield that it twisted itself around to have a good luck. It is also said that it will untwist itself when another virgin gets married in the town. Sensible people attribute the twisting of the spire to the warping of the unseasoned wood used in its construction and other building defects such as the lack of internal cross bracing and the heavy used of lead tiles on the south side of the roof. 

I had time to have a quick look around the church yard to see if there were any interesting memorials. There are still headstones standing on the north side of the church, all of them dating from the 19th century as far as I could see. There was nothing particularly eye catching though apparently there is a French officer, a P.O.W. from the Napoleonic Wars, buried there with a headstone in French and English. On the south side of the church yard the headstones have all been cleared and some of them stacked against the boundary walls. The south wall is taken up with a hundred or so large ledger stones; whether they came from the church yard or from inside the church itself I don’t know. They are stacked four or five deep and it is impossible to see any of them clearly except the smallest at the front. Along the western wall is a mixture of ledger and head stones. Hidden behind a larger headstone is a beautiful stylised memento mori dating from the 1730’s; its concealed position makes it very easy to miss and very difficult to photograph. 

Godfrey's burial is recorded in the parish register as taking place on 7 December 1730

Beneath the excellently preserved headstone, until it was relocated against the wall, once ‘lyeth the body’ of Mr Godfrey Mercer ‘who dyed Dec ye 4th 1730’. The parish register records that he was buried on 7th December, the only interment that took place that day.  St Mary’s burial register graphically demonstrates the prevalence of child mortality in the early 18th century – there were seven burials between the 5th and 11th of December and 5 of them were children. Details of Godfrey’s life are spare – he was baptised at Chesterfield in 1696, the son of John Mercer. We don’t know his occupation or where he lived in the town but we do know that he married when he was 26, on 23rd June 1723 to Mary Shentall aged 22. Bride and groom were both from Chesterfield but the marriage took place at St Giles in Matlock.  The couple had no children before Godfrey died aged just 34 in 1730. Mary lived until she was 70 but never remarried; the parish register records her as Mary Widow Mercer when she was buried on 1st April 1771.  

A record of happier days; Godfrey's marriage to Mary took place in June 1723 at St Giles in Matlock


Tuesday, 14 September 2021

"A first class eccentric"; William Vincent Wallace (1812-1865) Kensal Green Cemetery

“He is a first-class eccentric,” said Hector Berlioz, the great French composer and conductor, in Les Soirées de l'orchestre (1852) of his friend, the Irish composer, William Vincent Wallace. “We have spent together, in London, many half-nights over a bowl of punch, he narrating his strange adventures, I listening eagerly to them. He has carried off women, he has fought several duels that turned out badly for his adversaries, and he was a savage yes, a savage, or pretty nearly one, for six months.” Berlioz then spends the rest of his feuilleton recalling how Wallace, with his “his customary phlegm” narrated his half year amongst the natives of New Zealand. Wallace was in Sydney and fell into conversation with the captain of a frigate. As they contentedly puffed on a couple of cheroots the captain invited Wallace to join him on a voyage to New Zealand. Wallace inquired about the purpose of the trip and was told that it was “to chastise the inhabitants of Tcwaewa-Punamu Bay, the most ferocious of New Zealanders, who took into their heads, last year, to loot one of our whaling-ships and eat its crew. Come along with me, the crossing is not a long one, and the expedition will be amusing.” Wallace accepted with alacrity and a few days later was under full sail to South Island with the English Frigate.  The amusement started almost as soon as the frigate was at anchor in Tcwaewa-Punamu Bay. The captain had given orders to tear a few sails, break a couple of yard arms, hide the guns and the company of marines on board and for just ten men to stay on deck and do their best to look lost and aimless. This gave “our frigate the appearance of a poor devil of a ship half disabled by a gale and no longer answering its helm,” Wallace told Berlioz “as soon us the New Zealanders caught sight of us, their customary caution made them remain quiet. But after counting only ten men on the frigate, and believing from our wretched appearance and the uncertainty of our movements that we were shipwrecked mariners asking for help rather than an attacking party, they laid hold of their weapons and made their way towards us from every corner of the shore. Never in my life have I seen so many canoes. They came from land, sea, bushes, rocks, everywhere. And remember that several of these boats contained as many as fifty warriors.” Once they were thoroughly surrounded the captain gave the order to throw open the ports and let the Maori warriors have a few broadsides from the ship’s guns.

Wallace enthusiastically joined in the ensuing slaughter “with my double-barrelled gun, and a dozen grenades handed me by the master-gunner, I, for my part, destroyed the appetite of many New Zealanders, who had perhaps already dug the oven in which they had counted on baking me.” He says that he could not count the number of men that he had killed and enthuses “you cannot conceive the effect of my grenades in particular. They burst between their legs and sent them flying sky high!” Meanwhile “our commander stamped about, shouting through his speaking-trumpet: One more broadside! Give them bar-shot! Shoot that chief with red feathers! Out launch, out cutter, out yawl! Finish the swimmers off with the handspike! Knock them on the head, my lads I God save the Queen!” When the fighting finished “the sea was strewn with corpses, limbs, tomahawks, paddles, and wreckage from the canoes, while here and there the green waters were flecked with big crimson puddles.” Two chiefs are taken prisoner during the battle and an interpreter called to explain to them why they were attacked. “'Oh,' exclaimed the big chief, stamping violently on the deck, and gazing at his companion with savage enthusiasm, ‘Very well, then. The whites are great warriors!' Our procedure evidently filled them with admiration. They judged us from the standpoint of art, like connoisseurs, noble rivals, great artists.” Having taken the days extraordinary events in his stride Wallace is rather put out to discover that the captain plans to sail directly to Tasmania, a journey that will take rather longer than Wallace had reckoned on spending away from Sydney. When the ships surgeon asks to be left in New Zealand Wallace begs leave to join him living with the “cannibal chiefs”. He loses no time in going native and adopting the life style of the people he has just taken so much pleasure in slaughtering and by dint of prowess at the hunt is able to “captivate two charming little native girls, as lively and coquettish as Parisian work-girls, with large, sparkling black eyes, and eyelashes the length of my finger. Their shyness once conquered, they followed me like a couple of llamas, Mere carrying my gunpowder and bag of bullets, MoTanga the game I brought down during our excursions; at night each of them in turn served me as a pillow, when we slept in the open. Such nights, such stars, such a sky! That country is paradise on earth.” Not content with two acquiescent hand maidens to cater to his every whim Wallace fell in love with the chiefs sixteen-year-old daughter. His initial advances are rebuffed but our intrepid traveller soon discovers that the way to a princess’ heart is through a keg of tobacco. The princess, “delighted at possessing the precious keg, which she had persisted in not asking for from pure coquettishness, loosened her hair at last and dragged me palpitating towards the field of phormium” (the New Zealand flax plant). Wallace and his princess soon celebrate their marriage with a wedding feast at which a young female slave is roasted for the main course (Wallace, of course, refuses to partake though the ships surgeon helps himself to a slice of shoulder which makes him violently ill). He then lives in connubial bliss until it is time to return home; “when I announced my departure to her, what tears, what despair, what convulsions of the heart!” (From his bride of course, not from Wallace). On the day he leaves the distraught princess produces a knife and demands a token of her husband’s undying love. Instead of castrating the renegade she bares his chest and then “slashed me twice, making a cross-shaped incision, whence the blood spurted forth in jets. Immediately the poor child flung herself on my chest, which was streaming with blood, laid against it her lips, cheeks, neck, bosom, and hair, and drank my blood, which mingled with her tears; she screamed, she sobbed.” And if that wasn’t enough his “two charming little native girls” are also inconsolable; “Mere and Moi'anga had sprung into the water before the cutter's departure; I found them at the frigate's companion. There was another scene, amid heart-rending shrieks. In vain did I keep my eyes fixed on the Britannic flag; my strength failed me for a moment. I had left Tatea fainting on the beach; at my feet the two other dear creatures, swimming with one hand and waving farewell signs to me with the other, repeated in their wailing voices: 'O Walla, Walla!' (their way of pronouncing my name). What efforts it cost me to climb the ship's ladder! As I mounted each step, it seemed to me that I was fracturing a limb.”


William Vincent Wallace, composer, virtuoso on the piano and violin, and, judging by his stories to Berlioz, incorrigible fantasist, was born in Waterford in 1812. His father was regimental bandmaster with the North Mayo Militia and Wallace was taught to play several instruments growing up including the clarinet, organ, violin and piano. He became the cathedral organist at Thurles in County Tipperary when he was 18. He also taught music at the local Ursuline convent where he fell in love with, and married, one of his pupils. He did travel, emigrating to Australia in 1835 where he separated from his wife in 1838,  just before travelling to New Zealand and engaging in his Ménage à quatre with his three island girls. From New Zealand he sailed across the Pacific and visited South America and the Caribbean before moving onto the United States and then returning to England. He stayed in London for a while (where he met Berlioz) before touring the continent and then moving to New York where he became an American citizen. Seemingly unable to settle anywhere he returned to Europe and died in France in 1865. His operas Maritana (1845) and Lurline (1847) were huge popular and critical successes.  

The Dublin Evening Mail of 25 October 1865 gives an account of his funeral in Kensal Green Cemetery reprinted from The Star.

FUNERAL OF VINCENT WALLACE. The mortal remains of Vincent Wallace, who breathed his last ten days ago at the Chateau de Bagen, in the Pyrenees, were brought to England last week, and were Monday morning laid in the cemetery at Kensal Green. The chief mourners consisted of his three sons (two being by the lady whom he has now left a widow, and one by former wife) and his nephew. The body of the lamented composer was followed on its last journey, from the chapel where part of the burial service was read, to the grave which had been prepared for its reception, by some thirty or forty personal friends of the deceased, all of whom are well known to the general public. The ready, active sympathy with the misfortunes of others which the musical profession invariably evinces prompts them not merely to assist their brethren while living, but to pay them due respect when dead. So around the last resting place of Vincent Wallace were assembled composers who had been his rivals as well as his friends, singers who had interpreted his works, and journalists who had spread abroad their fame. Among those present were Professor Sterndale Bennett, Benedict, Mr Macfarren, Mr Arthur Sullivan, Mr Brinley Richards, Mr Henry Smart, Mr Osborne, Signor Ferrari, Signor Lablache, Mr Henry Leslie, M Lemmens, Mr Wood, Mr Weiss, Mr Hogarth, Mr Campbell Clarke, and many others for whose names we can find no space. Thus surrounded, within view of the giant city whose autumnal dreariness his graceful genius had so often lightened, Vincent Wallace was laid down in the narrow bed in the like of which all must sooner or later rest. When the solemn words, “Earth to earth," had been said to their accustomed ghastly accompaniment, many pressed forward to take their last look at the coffin, the simple inscription on which ran thus: “Vincent Wallace, died October, 1865, in his fiftieth year." The grave is exactly opposite that of Tom Hood, conspicuous by reason of the graceful memorial which, thanks to the enthusiasm of some young admirers of his genius, was raised just thirteen years ago. So after all his troubled, eventful, adventurous life—after travelling on every continent and sailing across every sea—Vincent Wallace comes home at last to rest, mid worthy companionship, in the cemetery that is honoured by so many illustrious names.


Sunday, 12 September 2021

Remembering 9 11

 

There are some events so momentous that most of us remember where we were and what we were doing when we first heard about them. In the early afternoon of 11th September 2001, I was sitting at my desk on the top floor of Bridge House in Stratford, then the location of the London Borough of Newham’s Housing Department. I recall it being a sunny day but this could be a false memory, a translation of that day’s blue skies in New York, seen countless times since in video reruns of the day’s events.  Twenty years ago I didn’t own a mobile phone (though almost everyone else over the age of 12 and under 60 did) and Google was in its infancy – there was no continuous stream of data delivered to work desk tops, no instantaneous news up dates via the internet. Instead, I received a phone call from my wife, on my direct work landline number, shortly after lunchtime. She was at home looking after our two young daughters, one of them was just a month old and from her slightly hysterical tone I was worried something was wrong with the baby. She isn’t a native English speaker and 20 years ago she struggled sometimes to understand the language used on TV news programmes. “I think the third world war has broken out,” she told me, “Someone is blowing up the skyscrapers in New York, there are bombs going off everywhere. Is it the Russians?” I looked around the office, most of my colleagues were in somnolent early afternoon mode, slouching in their chairs and tapping languidly at their keyboards or conducting hushed conversations over the phone, apparently without a care in the world. It seemed unlikely that a world war could have broken out without anyone knowing about it. I told my wife to slow down and tell me exactly what was happening on the TV screen. She started to describe planes flying into the sides of high-rise buildings, the shots were different angles and she couldn’t tell how many buildings were involved. “I think they are saying it is terrorists,” she eventually said.  


The twentieth anniversary has brought a lot of TV coverage looking back at the appalling events of that day. On Tuesday I watched a harrowing documentary called ‘9/11: Life Under Attack’. Manhattan in 2001 was a city bristling with amateur and professional film makers and the attacks on the Twin Towers had half the city reaching for their camcorders. The documentary features footage filmed from people’s apartment windows, their balconies, the roof of their buildings and from the streets. Sadly, bomb attacks on the citizenry of large cities are a staple of modern warfare; Guernica, the blitz in London, the carpet bombing of Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Aleppo, Raqqa. But the attack on the Twin Towers was the best documented, the most filmed. Slaughtering the innocent inhabitants of a city from the air is an appalling act of barbarity and stupidity whichever country, regime or organisation carries it out and no matter what reason they find to justify it.  

Simon's family with a portrait of their lost relative. 

I visited New York in February 2020, just before the pandemic closed down inessential foreign travel and went to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum on the 17th. There were white roses on the names of some of the victims on the memorial. I wasn’t sure why when I took a photograph but have since discovered that the staff at the memorial place a white rose against the name of each victim on their birthday. If he had lived Simon Marash Dedvukaj would have been 45 on the 17th February 2020, but he died aged 26 on 11th September. He was born in Brooklyn in 1975 to Albanian parents. He was a janitorial foreman for ABM Industries based on the 95th floor of the North Tower. His parents had spotted a potential bride for their son at a wedding in Albania and they persuaded their son to go there to see the girl. He had been married to Elizabeth for just ten months when he died. He was buried, twice, in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Westchester County. His first funeral took place in 2002 but in 2005 his family received a call to say that further remains had been identified by DNA as belonging to Simon and a second funeral was held with 150 people attending.

Monday, 2 August 2021

A family fortune: Thomas Goss Shore (1795-1868), Abney Park Cemetery


If only by sheer bulk the memorial in Abney Park Cemetery for Thomas Goss Shore is imposing. It is a solid 8-foot square of dressed stone topped with an urn which must weigh at least a couple of tons. The inscription is unilluminating, merely telling us that he died on 28 May 1868 at the age of 73 and that ‘his end was peace’. Also commemorated are an Ann Shore wife of Thomas Shore of Ayr Cottage in Edmonton, who died in 1860, ‘the above mentioned Thomas Shore’ (i.e. husband of Ann) who died in 1889, their daughter Sarah Ann and their son Daniel. It is Daniel that has always intrigued me; he was “reported drowned in China Seas by foundering of SS Ferntower August 29th 1886 in his 26th year”.

Thomas Goss Shore died a wealthy man. According to probate records he was worth almost £12,000 when he died a bachelor at Devonshire Place in Stoke Newington, leaving his fortune to his nephew and only relative Thomas who is reported as being a plumber living at the same address. An advert in the Melbourne Age of 31 August 1868 suggests Thomas may have had a long-lost brother who disappeared in the gold fields of Bendigo in the early 1860’s:

SHORE, JOHN, formerly of the City of Norwich, in England, Journeyman Baker, who was the son of JOHN and SARAH SHORE, and who emigrated to Melbourne, Victoria, in October, 1854, In ship Misaporo(?), who was last heard of at Bendigo Gold Holds, about seven years ago, if living, or If dead, his friends or representatives, If any, are requested to communicate with the undersigned, with proper evidence of his or their identity, to entitle him or them to a share of the personal estate of his uncle, Mr THOMAS GOSS SHORE, who died in London, on Saturday the 28th  May last. Dated this 19th day of June, 1868. Messrs GRAY, JOHNSTON & MOUNSEY. of No 5 Raymond Buildings, Grays Inn, London, England, Solicitors for the administrators of the said Thomas Goss Shore.



I am unable to discover how Thomas Goss Shore made his money or anything else about him other that he was born in Norfolk in 1795 to Brightman and Mary Shore, was baptised at St Peter Mancroft and had a brother called John.  Thomas’ nephew, John’s son Thomas, left Norfolk and married a woman from Stoke Newington. At the time of the 1851 and 1861 census Thomas and Ann were living at 39 Tottenham Road in Islington, just off the Balls Pond Road. By 1871 they had moved to a larger house at 29 Beresford Road, next to Newington Green. Thomas was no longer a humble plumber; he gave his occupation as ‘owner of houses and properties’ and the family had at least one live-in servant. Two of his children, 16-year-old Brightmore (almost named after his grandfather?) and 10-year-old Daniel were not listed on the census return as they were boarding with schoolmaster George Higgins at 42 Clifden Road, Homerton. Brightmore later became a land surveyor and Daniel became a merchant seaman; he was awarded his second mate certificate on 28 June 1882. I presume he was second mate aboard the SS Ferntower of Liverpool (formerly the SS Bosphorus) when foundered during a typhoon off the mouth of the Saigon River, in the East China Sea in 1886. 50 crew and passengers were drowned as explained by the Morning Post on 21 October 1886:

SHIPPING CASUALTIES.  The China mail received at Plymouth yesterday bring the details of the loss of the British steamer Ferntower, with 50 lives, during a typhoon, off the mouth of the Saigon river. In the course of the gale one man after another was washed overboard. The vessel was thrown on her beam ends and sprung a leak, while volumes of water poured through the smashed skylights. By constant pumping the vessel was kept afloat for some hours, but eventually she gave a violent plunge and went down head foremost. There was no time to launch the only undamaged boat, and the majority of the passengers and the seamen on deck were thrown into the water, others being carried down with the vessel. The deck-house became separated from the wreckage, and on this some of the officers and sailors clambered. For three days and nights they floated about on this raft. They were without food, and had almost abandoned hope when the British steamer Vindobola hove in sight and rescued them. The survivors were so overjoyed that their rescuers thought them mad, but they soon recovered and told the story of their privations. The drowned, including the captain, were over 50 in number.

Daniel Shore's Second Mate Certificate


Monday, 26 July 2021

The gate at number 6 Rua de São Jorge; Cemitério dos Ingleses, Lisbon

 

The Portuguese version of Time Out says that a trip to the English cemetery in Lisbon is “uma oportunidade de ir a Inglaterra sem apanhar chuva”, a chance to go to England without catching the rain. It also says that the “gate at number 6 Rua de São Jorge is a kind of shortcut to a very small, and very specific, portion of England.” In contrast English visitors have always focused on the cemetery’s exoticism, picking out every detail that makes it un-English. A correspondent from the Westminster Gazette went there in 1901 looking for the grace of the cemetery’s most famous inhabitant, Henry Fielding;

The English Cemetery at Lisbon, which is, I believe, the first Protestant burial-ground that was tolerated in the Peninsula, lies on a height at the back of the town. A succession of steep streets lead from the Tagus up to the Estrella Church, whose dome and towers are a landmark for seamen. In front of the church there is an open space, from one corner of which a narrowish street leads yet higher, almost into the outskirts of the town. On the left as you go up are shuttered houses; on the right a rough, white, plastered wall, over the coping of which the curling tops of the cypresses appear. We call it the English Cemetery; but to the natives it is known as Os Cyprestes — The Cypresses. Half-way up the street there is a green door in the wall, surmounted by the arms of England, with a bell-handle and wire by the side. You pull the handle and a feeble tinkling responds from the other side. A woman opens the door, and you pass through unquestioned, and are left to wander down the avenue of aged cypresses in front of you unmolested. Few travellers visit Lisbon, and far fewer visit Fielding's grave. The graveyard is some acres in extent, surrounded by high walls, intersected by pathways and thickly planted with venerable cypresses, straggling mimosas, and woody bay trees. On either side of the gravel paths, the tombs and gravestones rise among a tangled profusion of southern weeds. Tall scarlet geraniums and blue periwinkles are mingled with the grasses and the undergrowth. There is a group of aloes in an arid corner, and prickly cactuses grow against the sunny walls. The avenues of cypresses cast a grateful shade; the evening air is beginning to become cool; but the hum of insects and the warbling of innumerable birds give one a feeling of the South—the scent of box-hedges in the sun is mingled with the evening perfumes of the flowers. The scene is enchanting to one who arrives from a country where he has left winter weather and east winds.

Westminster Gazette - Tuesday 30 April 1901



The English cemetery is Lisbon’s oldest; the rights of British subjects to engage in Protestant worship and the need for a site “fit for the burial of their dead” was Article 14 of the 1654 Anglo-Portuguese treaty negotiated by Cromwell’s Protectorate and the Portuguese government. Opposition from the Catholic clergy stopped the accord being put into practice for over 60 years. English consul Poyntz was only able to confirm that space for a protestant burial ground had been secured in 1717 and the new cemetery opened in 1721. Even then the Tribunal da Inquisição ordered that a perimeter of cypresses be planted along the perimeter to hide the chão dos hereges, the heretics burial ground from the eyes of passing Catholics. In 1804 a corner of the cemetery was partitioned off for a Jewish burial ground, the first in Portugal since King Manoel the First had ordered the expulsion of the Jews from his Kingdom in 1497. The church of St George was built inside the grounds of the cemetery in 1822. The first church burnt down in 1886 and the current church built on the old site.  

Henry Fielding is by far the most famous person buried in the cemetery but there are some other interesting memorials. A simple wall plaque commemorates Thomas Barclay who died in Lisbon in 1793. Barclay was born in Strabane in Ireland in 1728 and emigrated to Philadelphia in his mid-thirties where he became a prosperous merchant and ship owner. He sided with the rebels during the war of independence and was made the new republics Consul in Paris in 1781 and sent to Morocco to negotiate a treaty with Sultan Sidi Muhammad ibn Abdullah in 1786. Barclay’s wall plaque contains several inaccuracies according to the official version of his life. He was not the first consul of the United States to Portugal as it claims; Barclay was in Lisbon to collect funds for a mission to Algiers where several Americans were being held hostage. He became ill in Lisbon and died on January 19, 1793, of inflammation of the lungs. The plaque says that he died in a duel! Evelyn Edson in an article for the Scottsville Museum in Virginia adds that the duel was “with a Spanish nobleman, who had cast aspersions on the character of American women.” I could not trace any newspaper accounts of his death which might shed light on the discrepancy. 



Not everyone buried in the cemetery is English. Arguably the most impressive tomb belongs not to Fielding but to Christian August, Prince of Waldeck and Pyrmont who died in Portugal in 1798. The prince was born in 1744 and accompanied Goethe for part of the writers Italian Journey in 1786-88. Goethe called him “a perfect and well educated prince”. He became a general in the Austrian Army and served in several campaigns. He came to Portugal in 1797 to take over command of the Portuguese land army at the request of Queen Maria I but succumbded to illness almost as soon as he was in the country, dying shortly afterwards in the Royal Palace in Sintra. His impressive pyramidal memorial was donated by the Prince-regent, the future King João VI.

Many of the cemetery’s permanent inhabitants seem to have arrived here by accident.  Lieutenant B. Wallace of HMS Minotaur was “while on duty on the 1st of January (1877), was killed by a yard falling on his head” and was buried next day in the cemetery. Clement Colvin formerly of the India Office and lately director the Eastern Telegraph and Eastern Telegraph Extension Company (Limited), Winchester was visiting the Marquis of Montserrat at Sintra when he unexpectedly dropped dead of apoplexy. He was buried in the cemetery on 28 of August 1901. Also dying at Sintra in 1944 where 3 Canadian airmen who flew their plane into a hillside by accident. 



Then there is this from the Herts Guardian, Agricultural Journal, and General Advertiser of  Saturday 20 June 1863:

The Journal de Commercio records a melancholy accident which occurred on the 2b'th ult. at the patent slip Porto Brandao, on the south side of the Tagus. Mr. Thomas White, of Portsmouth, the chief engineer of the works, was giving some order, when a stone from one of the cliffs commenced rolling, and would have fallen'. on him. A workman seeing his danger, called out to him and pushed him to remove him out of the way. The push was so violent that Mr. White fell heavily, and his head came in contact with the stones, causing congestion of the brain, which proved fatal on the 2Sth. The man who thus endeavoured to save Mr. White was struck by the stone, and so seriously injured that he was removed to the hospital, where lies in a precarious state. The funeral took place on the 30th at the English Cemetery, Lisbon, with every demonstration of respect from the Government authorities, and universal regret was expressed that the deceased had not lived to see the completion of the important works which he had so ably and successfully superintended.



And more accidental deaths in the military in 1950 when 6 British naval officers, one of them the grandson of the novelist H. Rider Haggard, managed to kill themselves by driving a car off the end of a quay in Setubal and into the River Sado whilst on their way to a party;

CAR FALLS IN RIVER Commander Archibald Rider Cheyne. Naval Attache at the British Embassy in Lisbon. and five officers from a British destroyer flotilla (two lieut.-commanders and three lieutenants) were drowned last night when a motor-car in which they were travelling took a wrong turning in the narrow quayside streets at Setubal and fell 25 feet into the River Sado. They were on their way to a party given by an ex-naval officer, Captain Benson, at his country home, "Quinta Venezelos." Commander Cheyne, who was driving the car, had returned from Captain Benson's home to change from his uniform into civilian clothes and to nick up a further batch of officers to attend the party.

THE DRIVER'S HANDICAP The drowned officers were from British naval units which arrived at Setubal to-day for a five-day courtesy visit. Antonio Pereira. the British Naval Attaché’s chauffeur, who was not in the car, told Reuter that with the headlamps on and the quay wet, as it was, it was almost impossible to see where the quay ended. Commander Cheyne, a grandson of the novelist Rider Haggard. leaves a widow and a young son and daughter. His wife, whom he married in 1938. was Miss Marie Louise Brett. daughter of Mrs. Maurice Brett (the actress Zena Dare). The bodies were recovered from the car after four hours' rescue work in which Setubal dock workers co-operated with divers from the British warships.

DANGER SPOT Antonio Pereira, the British Naval Attaches chauffeur, who was not the car. told Reuter that, with headlamps on. and when the quay was wet. it was almost impossible to see where the quay ended The funeral is on Monday at the British Cemetery in Lisbon

Belfast Telegraph - Saturday 21 October 1950



On Saturday 28 October 1893 The Era reported the sad death of a pantomimist:

Death of a Pantomimist. Mr Arthur Williams, the well-known pantomimist, died on the 13th inst. at Lisbon. The deceased was fulfilling an engagement with the Renad Brothers in the Portuguese capital. On the 11th he was with the company as usual, and retired to rest apparently in his usual condition. On the 12th he did not appear at breakfast, and shortly afterwards some of his friends called to see him. They knocked at his bedroom door and as they received no answer the door was forced open, and they found him dead in his bed, the cause of death having been cerebral apoplexy. Mr Williams was buried on the 14th inst. in the English Protestant Cemetery, Lisbon. The funeral was attended by most of the members of the company to which he belonged. He was only forty-one years of age, and has left a widow and two children totally unprovided for.