Thursday, July 4, 2013

For Whom the Bell Tolls...



It has been wonderful to have our expert cemetery tour guide Mary Cooper back with us, if even for a short time. Mary developed our “For Whom the Bell Tolls…” cemetery tour and over the past few years has continued her research into the stories behind the graves in our amazing Norfolk Island cemetery. Over an hour and a half, the stories of each person build to provide a vivid overall picture of the islands settlements. We receive a lot of feedback about this tour that tells us it really ‘works’ – in content and delivery thanks to Mary’s passion, enthusiasm and hard work. It is easy to wander through the cemetery and ‘get a feel’ for it yourself, however a whole new appreciation can be gained with knowledge learnt about the graves through the tour. Two of the graves that we often visit are for men who died in the same accident.

Right down behind the back fence to the beach there are two large tombstones lying side by side. One is for Captain John Best and the other for John McLean who both perished along with a young soldier, when their boat was upturned while returning from a day of hunting rabbits at Phillip Island. However a letter to the “Australasian Chronicle” of Tuesday 17 March 1840 tells us that their drowning deaths were not the only ones that occurred that week and that an unusual rising of the sea was to blame:


To the Editor of the Australasian Chronicle
Sir – The Angel of Death has swept off four victims in an instant during this week. A prisoner, by name Atkinson, formerly clerk to Rev. Mr. Sharpe, and lately a constable at Government House, was drowned while fishing, - some men who saw him sink swam immediately to his relief, but in vain. His remains were found the next day, a mere skeleton – two arms and a leg gone, the bowels and flesh eaten away by sharks. This day, a boat returning from Phillip Island was upset and literally dashed to atoms, by a succession of tremendous rowlers, that came on suddenly and rather unexpected. The Hon. Captain Best, though a good swimmer and not four minutes in the water, was taken out lifeless. Surgeon Gaurie, 80th Regiment, instantly applied every measure to resuscitate animation; but the Captain must have been suffocated by a frock buttoned round his neck, which enveloped his head when upset by an awful wave. There was no water in his chest or lungs. Mr McLean clung to an oar, and was carried towards the blow hole, where no human being could get to his assistance. He remained on the oar at least half an hour before he sunk to rise no more. His body was found uninjured on Tuesday morning. Corporal McLoughlin, a worthy young soldier of the 50th, was lost on the upsetting of the boat; he was washed ashore the next morning. All were interred with due and melancholy honours.

At the same time our respected Commandant was ill of a bad fever, and not in a fit state to have this sad news communicated to him for more than a fortnight. Captain Few fulfilled the duties of Commandant during this time, and gave full satisfaction, till the arrival of Captain Maconochie.

The sea rose and subsided in about half an hour, when the destroying angel came on the wings of the wind on his errand of death. This sad an awful catastrophe has made a deep and I trust salutary impression on the minds of all, both free and bond. You may hear many exclaim, “May the Almighty prepare us for death – may he never cut us off unprepared, by such a sudden death”
An Eye-Witness
Norfolk Island, Feb 15, 1840.

The Cemetery Tour runs every Tuesday and Friday 11.30am to 1.00pm. Cost is $20 or, if you have a Museum Pass $15.00. It is not to be missed and booking can be made at any of the museum venues, the Tourist Bureau or Baunti Escapes.

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