Thursday 24 December 2020

A Journal of the Plague Year; Cemitério da Ajuda, Lisbon

I took these photographs just over a year ago, on Friday the 13th December 2019, on a grey, overcast and drizzly day in Lisbon. Like most Lisbon cemeteries Ajuda occupies high ground in a very hilly city, with spectacular views down to the river Tejo but it can be horribly windswept and bleak in winter. I was in Lisbon dealing with some bureaucratic chores related to our forthcoming exit from the EU. It the week of the general election in England and the Portuguese were nearly as interested in the outcome as the British. Everywhere I went I was asked incredulously “Boris vai ganhar?” It was rather embarrassing to have to admit that “acho que sim,” yes Boris was likely to win. The election was on Thursday the twelfth so by the time I visited Ajuda I was already aware that it had been a complete rout for Labour and that my fellow countrymen had made it crystal clear that there were no second thoughts, the only thing that mattered to them was getting out of Europe. That day the question I was being asked was; “E agora?” What now? I didn’t know; Boris was already full of his bullshit about oven ready deals but it was hard not to believe that the only ones who were going to get stuffed was us. Brexit seemed like the biggest disaster that had befallen the country for decades. Little did we know that across the world in far flung Cathay some unfortunate citizens of the People’s Republic, in a then little-known city of 11 million people called Wuhan, were developing a high temperature and experiencing respiratory difficulties after being infected with a bat virus. It wasn’t until 3 January that the BBC first reported that the “Chinese authorities have launched an investigation into a mysterious viral pneumonia which has infected dozens of people in the central city of Wuhan…”          

It is at times like this that any notions of being in control of our own destinies are shown up for the delusions that they are. Our minor local difficulties with exiting the EU have faded into insignificance with our species inability to control an organism so simple in construction that it barely counts as being alive. Luckily it isn’t as virulent or as lethal as organisms responsible for previous pandemics have been but it is still a reminder that the black death may have happened several centuries ago but we are just as vulnerable as we ever were to death and disease and life is only marginally less precarious than it was back in the 1340’s. Official estimates say that 1.7 million have died so far of the disease that none of us even knew about a year ago. Many people think that Boris Johnson’s government has proved to be singularly inept in handling the crisis. We would all like to think that it could have been handled better but the reaction across the world has been pretty much identical – trying to enforce social distancing, closing down places where humans congregate, wear face coverings, wash your hands, cross your heart and hope you don’t die. The only way to control the disease is to stay away from each other and as a social species that is very, very difficult.

All our plans are in disarray; I would normally visit Portugal at least twice, often three times, a year. A trip planned for April had to be called off as did a family wedding scheduled to take place in July and then a final attempt to visit in October fell victim to the second national lockdown. I’ll try again next year. 

Ajuda cemetery is one of Lisbon’s oldest burial grounds, founded initially in 1766 by Queen Maria II for the poor of the parishes of Ajuda and Belem on the western outskirts of Lisbon. What had been an area of small holdings, manor houses, quarries and windmills acquired status after the earthquake destroyed the Royal Palace, the Paço da Ribeira in central Lisbon. The Royal family moved to a country house, the Real Barracca, high on the hillside of Ajuda which served as the primary royal residence until it was destroyed in a fire in 1794. The current Palace of Ajuda was later built on the same site. The cemetery was built by a royal official, Diogo Inácio de Pina Manique, between 1766 and 1787 and it became the final resting place of many royal servants. 

The entrance gate to the cemetery sports a pair of imposing finials with a sailing ship under full canvas and topped by a pyramid bearing a jawless skull above a swag of funeral drapery. Inside the entrance are four sculptures arranged in niches representing Truth and Strength flanking the gate on the right and Justice and Hope on the left. The cemetery chapels stands opposite the entrance and has four further niches with statues representing Prayer and Faith, Humility and Charity. The architect of the imposing entrance portico of Cemiterio de Prazeres, Domingos Parente, is buried at Ajuda along with Admiral Gago Coutinho, who made the first aerial crossing of the South Atlantic from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro with co-pilot Sacadura Cabral in 1922. 

A common Portuguese tombstone motif is the putto with skull, hourglass and extinguished torch. 

The sun did come out briefly whilst I was visiting Ajuda, hence the blue sky on this picture of the mausoleum of João Lourenço and family, hunter to Dom Luís I, King of Portugal from 1861 to 1889.

Friday 4 December 2020

Pre-Raphaelite muses and premature death; the family life of George Waugh (1801-1873), Kensal Green Cemetery


GEORGE and MARY WAUGH d.1873 and 1886

Sq. 16. Statuary marble figure of a seated woman mourning over an urn and holding a bowl, over the inscription 'I am the Resurrection and the Life'. Tall rectangular plinth with inscription in lead letters. Epitaph on south side commemorates Fanny Waugh, first wife of the Pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt, who died in Florence in 1866. Condition: poor, marble beginning to sugar, some lead letters missing.

Roger Bowdler “Kensal Green Cemetery; A Gazetteer of the Monuments.” (1998)

The baptism entry for George Waugh in the Scotch Church register 

A late photograph of George 

George Waugh was from a pious Scottish presbyterian background. He was one of the 10 children of Alexander Waugh the minister of the Scotch church in Wells Street (just off Oxford Street) and his wife Mary. He was baptised by his father at the church on 15 March 1801. Four of Alexander’s sons became ministers but George, after an education at Mill Hill school, started to train as a doctor at St Bartholomew’s hospital. He failed to complete his medical studies having fallen in love with his eldest brother’s sister-in-law, Mary Walker, and marrying her on 06 May 1829. Instead he became a very successful pharmacist with premises at 177 Regent Street where he became druggist to Queen Victoria. Mary had 11 children the first was born in July 1830 and barely survived a month dying on 07 August.  The unnamed son is commemorated as their ‘first born’ on their memorial in Kensal Green which says that his remains ‘here rest’ but if that is true he must have been buried elsewhere initially as the cemetery didn’t open until 1832. There are 3 more of the Waugh’s children buried in the family grave and recorded on the memorial, two girls who died in childhood, “Mary Walker their daughter who died 11 May 1839 aged 7 years and Isabella Foster their daughter who died 18 Feb 1853 aged 10 years,” and their son George “who was drowned while bathing in the sea at Slapton Devon on 24 Aug 1869 aged 34.” The details of George’s untimely demise are given in the Dublin Evening Mail of Friday 27 August 1869;

Drowning of a Barrister. A melancholy case of drowning occurred in the south of Devon on Tuesday evening. Mr. G. Waugh, a barrister, of London, was bathing in the sea at a spot between Dartmouth and Kingsbridge, in company with Messrs. Reynolds and Lucas, also barristers, when suddenly he exclaimed, "I'm drowning!" and he disappeared instantly. His companions, knowing was an excellent swimmer, thought he was joking when he uttered the exclamation. His body was picked up yesterday off the Start.

Mrs Mary Waugh nee Walker

At the rear of the memorial is an inscription commemorating another of their daughters, Fanny, who predeceased them, dying two months after the birth of her first child in Florence in 1866 at the age of 33 and buried there in the Cimitero Degli Inglesi.  Fanny was the first wife of the pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt who married her following a failed engagement to his model Annie Miller. Holman Hunt started to paint Fanny’s portrait just before the birth of their son in October 1866 but the picture remained unfished at her death in December. He sculpted her tomb himself and had her buried beside Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It is said that Mary Walker blamed Holman Hunt for her daughter’s death but when he returned to England with his infant son he moved into his father-in-law’s house at 15 Queensborough Terrace, Bayswater. There he completed the portrait of his wife with the aid of his memory and a photograph and Fanny’s paisley shawl, purple dress, and cameo brooch brought back with him from Florence.  He also painted a portrait of his mother-in-law and rather stern and forbidding she looks. One imagines the family were not pleased to see the increasingly intimate relationship that developed between their grieving son-in-law and their youngest daughter Marian Edith. George Waugh was dead before Holman Hunt dared to take Marian and his son back to the continent with him and marry her at Neuchatel in Switzerland in 1875. British law defined marrying the sister of one’s deceased wife as incest and the marriage caused a serious rift in the family. Holman Hunt’s pre-Raphaelite colleague, the sculptor Thomas Woolner, had once also been in love with Fanny Waugh. His feelings were, however, not reciprocated and when he proposed to Fanny she declined, marrying Holman Hunt the following year.  Woolner wooed another of George Waugh’s daughters, Alice Gertrude, and married her instead in 1864. When Holman Hunt married Marian, Woolner was one of his most vocal critics and never spoke to his brother-in-law again. Woolner and Alice had six children, four daughters (the eldest later wrote a biography of her father) and two sons.

Fanny Holman Hunt

As the for the rest of George’s children, the ones that weren’t dying prematurely or marrying pre-Raphaelites (or both in Fanny’s case), Margaret married a doctor and moved to Australia where she died in 1910, Emily married Thomas Key a solicitor and moved to Leatherhead where she died in 1911 and Alexander became a country doctor who bullied his wife and children and became known in the family as "the Brute". His eldest son Arthur was the father of Evelyn Waugh the novelist.   

Marian Edith Waugh before she married Holman Hunt