This is pretty much the epitome of a cemetery guidebook. It opens with a history of Hong Kong and the area where the cemetery stands, moves into the cemetery’s inspirations (including the Glasgow Necropolis, which I personally did not know enough about), and then goes into the rise and fall of the graveyard at hand. The next section offers a series of guided tours, pointing out monuments of note as well as heritage trees, wildlife to look for, and monuments in need of conservation. Finally, the book concludes with a glossary of cemetery iconography.
The only thing preventing me from giving it 5 stars is the photographs of the cemetery. They’re purely utilitarian snapshots, without any artistry at all. They serve the book’s purpose, but every other part of the book is such high quality, I wish the photos were, too.
This is a fascinating book, whether you’ve ever been to Hong Kong or not. In fact, it’s made me more determined to go at see the cemetery for myself.
Old Christian Cemetery
Fort Canning Park
Singapore Founded: 1822 Closed: 1865 Number of interments: more than 600 Open: Daylight hours
In the heart of Singapore City stands Fort Canning Park, a 100-acre oasis full of trees, museums, a botanical garden, and a concert venue. Stamford Raffles built his home on the top of the hill, after he negotiated the colonization of Singapore for the British Empire. It’s now the Government House. In the 19th century, the British Army built a hospital, barracks, and an arms depot nearby, and called it Fort Canning. Part of the British army fortifications have been preserved as the Battle Box, a historical monument commemorating the British surrender of Singapore to the Japanese in World War II.
Early in the 19th century, Singapore became a major port of call for trade ships from around the world. To serve them, the Old Christian Cemetery opened in 1822. The southern half was used by the Anglican community, while the northern half served all other Christian denominations who washed up on its shores.
A high white-washed gate marked with IHS — the earliest example of Gothic Revival style in Singapore — leads into the former cemetery. These ornate gateways were designed by Captain Charles Edward Faber, superintending engineer in the Straits in the 19th century.
The cemetery filled and was closed by 1865. A century later, the graveyard had become so dilapidated and dangerous that its monuments were removed and many of them destroyed. Apparently, the bodies were left in place. More than 600 people had been buried in the old cemetery, a third of them Chinese Christians. Others came from around the world, as evidenced by surviving tombstones in German, Dutch, Thai, and other languages.
All of the legible tombstones were incorporated into a brick wall that now encircles the lawn where the cemetery used to stand. Many of their inscriptions have been painted white to make them easier to read. Others have weathered to little more than the word Memory and the hint of a Masonic emblem.
Many of the dead remembered here were sailors. Mr. John Hide, a gunner, had his stone paid for by the officers and ship’s company of the HMS Renard in 1860. Twenty-year-old Peter Parks was an able seaman who “fell from the fore topsail yard.” His stone was “erected to his memory and as a tribute to his worth by his shipmates.”
Others recorded here were spouses. One stone read, “Sacred to the Memory of Elizabeth, the affectionate wife of Geo. Gray, M.M. who departed this life on board the Allendale in Singapore Harbor.” Another remembered 22-year old Lucy, “wife of Charles Hogg of Calcutta Esquire,” and their daughter Mary Ann, “her infant child, who died on the evening of the same day.” A good number of the stones remember children.
Sometimes the longest epitaphs hint at the most interesting stories: “William Scott Esquire of Singapore, eldest son of the late James Scott Esq. of Penang, one of the first settlers of that island: born the 3rd day of May 1780 and died at Singapore, respected and beloved by all, the 18th day of December 1861.” Penang, a state in Malaysia, was settled by Westerners prior to Singapore. With so much evidence of early death in the stones around him, it’s remarkable that Scott survived for 81 years. Did he remain in the tropics his entire life? Was he sent to boarding school in England before returning to the warmer climes of his youth?
One of the stones that captured my imagination was sacred to the memory of Samuel May, “chronometer maker, who lived respected and died lamented.” Another belonged to J. Young, MM, “Wide Awake,” whose stone is graced with a Star of David and the words Requiescat in Pace. Was he Jewish or Catholic?
There’s a little information about the graveyard on the site and not much more online. However, it is a beautiful green oasis in the midst of Singapore’s skyscrapers.
Central Burying Ground
On Boston Common at Boylston Street between Tremont Street and Charles Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116
Telephone: 617-635-4505 Established: 1754 In Use: 1756 – 1856, although tomb burials continued into the 1950s and cremated remains were buried there in the 1960s. Size: 1.4 acres Number of interments: 5,000 originally? Number of monuments: fewer than 500 remain Open: The listing on Waymarking.com said they found the gate closed when they visited, but I haven’t been able to find any information about opening or closing times. I walked right in when I was there.
Boston’s Central Burying Ground is the least visited of the three downtown graveyards. (The other two are King’s Chapel Burying Ground and the Granary Burying Ground. Add links) The graveyard lies alongside Boylston Street at the edge of Boston Common. The 44-acre Common is American’s oldest public park, but before that, it was owned by William Blackstone, the first white settler in the area. He – and subsequent Bostonians – used the land to pasture their cattle in the 1600s. During the 1700s, it was used as a training field for the militia.
In the middle of the 18th century, city fathers set aside a portion of the Common as a burial ground for paupers. Lonely Planet quotes one account as saying the Central Burying Ground became the final home for “Roman Catholics and strangers dying in the town.” Many of its earliest graves went unmarked.
During the occupation of Boston in the American Revolution, the British army camped on the Common. British soldiers who died if disease during the siege or during the Battle of Bunker Hill were buried in trenches at the edge of the burying ground.
The monument to those reburied after the subway displaced them from their graves.
At one point, the Central Burying Ground connected with the Granary Burying Ground, but hundreds of graves were removed when the city cut Boylston Street through. The excavation of the original subway line in the 1890s displaced more graves. Some families moved the remains of their ancestors to Mount Auburn Cemetery, but others were re-interred in a mass grave marked by a large slate slab. Estimates range between 1,100 and 2,000 bodies of the 5,000 original burials were exhumed.
One of the notable features of this burying ground is that its old vault tombs are still in place. They stand inside a raised tumulus surrounded by a deep ditch. Rusted iron doors punctuate the grass-topped mound. Some of the family tombs still have marble nameplates.
The old tombs in the middle of the Central Burying Ground
The most “famous” person buried in one of the tombs of the Central Burying Ground is the bipolar artist Gilbert Stuart, whose painting of George Washington in his black judicial robes hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. Stuart also painted the unfinished “Athenaeum Head”—Martha Washington’s favorite portrait of her husband—which appears on our one dollar bill. Due to his mental illness and his sharp tongue, Stuart died a pauper, replaced by painters with better social skills. He had no marker until 1897, when the Boston Paint and Clay Club erected a cenotaph adorned with a palm frond threaded through the thumbhole of a painter’s palette.
Willow weeping over a pair of urns
This graveyard has more recent monuments than in the other colonial-era burying grounds. In place of death’s-heads or soul effigies, these stones bear urns and willows. They also have specific epitaphs that address the visitor. Near the gate stands the stone of
Mrs. Susanna Brown, who passed in 1797, which says,
“Go home my frinds dry up your tea
rs For I shall rest till Christ apea
Both “tears” and “appears” wrapped to the lines below, because the stonecutter hadn’t left enough room.
The sentiment in this epitaph illustrates a new stage in the development of Christian philosophy. Rather than rotting in the ground with the Puritans or her soul winging away with the Anglicans buried under their soul effigies, Mrs. Brown was content to “rest” in her grave until Christ’s resurrection summoned the dead to be judged and sent to their final rewards. This, of course, was eventually replaced by the Victorian belief that all our loved ones would be awaiting us in Heaven.
The top of Frederick Gilbert’s gravestone
In the Central Burying Ground lay a number of Masons. The most ornate Masonic gravestone of all remembers Mr. Frederick Gilbert, who died “Octr 2d 1802.” His monument is adorned with a compass and the phrase “He liv’d within compass,” seven stars, a moon and a sun, a shovel and a pick, and a skeleton lying in a toe-pincher coffin. His epitaph reads:
“Sure as yon Sun shall leave old Ocean’s bed,
And o’er the Earth its genial influence shed;
Sure as chaste Cynthia wanders through the skie,
Or stars with bright effulgences shine on high;
So sure had Gilbert’s spirit soar’d above,
To the celestial Lodge in realms of love.”
Gilbert doesn’t seem to have left much mark on history beyond his gravestone, but perhaps that’s enough.
Rubbing isn’t allowed on these old stones, since they are not engraved very deeply and are old and fragile. Preachers, Patriots, and Plain Folks suggests you visit in late afternoon to catch the stones in their best light.
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