Being stories that I may stumble across during my perambulations around cemeteries near and far

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Military Cemetery, Morne Fortune, St. Lucia

Whilst on a cruise to the Caribbean last year I took the opportunity of visiting as many old British cemeteries as possible. There was no way I was going to spend time on the beach or in the clear turquoise waters when there were souls waiting to be found !

In St. Lucia it was the Old Military Cemetery on Morne Fortune that I headed for. A 1925 guidebook described the journey up the hill as follows:

A winding road ascends from Castries to the summit of Morne Fortune. It is a road made gracious by many trees, by coconut palms, by a dell or a thicket here and there, and by glimpses of the sea. All who mount this steep way will find that step by step they are carried back into the past.

This ever silent gathering place of the British is the most beautiful spot on the side of the hill. A number of graves are blackened with age. Some are of stone, others of weather-worn brick. Most of them tell the same story - the roll-call of the Yellow Death, the major of this regiment or the lieutenant of that, and so many of them mere lads.

It was in 1794 that the mortality was the highest. Of General Grey's original force of 7000 men at least 5000 perished in the course of that one year. The soldiers were badly housed and badly fed. Many were in rags. Grey wrote letter after letter to the Secretary of State but nothing was done. In the end he sent the message - "You seem to have forgotten us".

The wonderful old guidebook goes on:

“It is, and always will be, a gruesome and discreditable story. If ever, on some silent tropical night, there should be heard again on the Morne Fortune the tramp of the sentry by the barrack wall and the challenge of the guard at the outpost, and if ever the stir of human life should waken among these blackened graves, the voice that would call from the summit of the hill would utter those reproachful words, "You seem to have forgotten us".”

As I stepped into the cemetery I had no idea of what I might find. If the graves were blackened with age 85 years ago would anything remain now? I need not have feared. There were the graves standing proudly on their hillside. Some were huge edifaces surrounded with metal railings whilst others were simple slabs of granite. Many were in a very sad and sorry condition but I could see that it would be possible to obtain an inscription from perhaps a handful. I took many photographs and managed to transcribe a few actual inscriptions - the six year old son of a Sergeant, the nine year old daughter of a Sergeant, a 22 years old Ensign, the wife of a Government Administrator. Whether I could transcribe the inscription or not I was careful to place my hand on as many graves as possible - at least I had not forgotten these souls who had helped to forge the British Empire.

In the blogs below I bring you some of the individual inscriptions.

Tumbled down monuments

This little group of monuments had seen better days. 

The monument to the left which has tumbled off its base is to the memory of Gun. H. WALKLEY.

The monument to the right is to an Ensign but unfortunately it was not possible to decipher his name.

John Caldwell, Hospital Sergeant

This tomb has a nice clear inscription:

John Caldwell
Hospital Serjeant 1st. Battalion
The Royal Regiment
who departed this life on
the 20th. June 1832
aged 38 years

He has left a wife and daughter
to lament the loss of an affectionate
husband and tender parent

The summer of 1832 appears to have been particularly unhealthy for the Royal Regiment.

Children of Sergeants Corsbie & Brenan

One of the few tombs to still have a legible inscription was for two children from the Royal Regiment which was stationed in the West Indies in the 1820s & 1830s.

      To the memory of                                                       To the memory of
    Henry R. CORSBIE                                                              Alicia
  Son of Serjt Henry and                                                 the beloved daughter
Margaret CORSBIE of the                                          of Serjt Hugh BRENAN
Royal Regt.  Born 9 May                                                and Celia his wife of
1826 died 10 May 1832                                                  the Royal Regiment
   aged 6 years & 1 day                                                   who departed this life            
                                                                                        27th October 1832                                                                                                                           aged 9 years

Hast thou ere seen a Mother                                                    Job 121
                           weep                                                  The Lord gave and the
While bending oer her                                                    Lord hath taken away
                           infants tomb                                      Blessed be the Name of
she mourns the everlasting                                                       the Lord
Which calls her ofspring
                          to its home

Henry Corsbie had been born in Edinburgh in 1793 and had enlisted with the 1st. Regiment of Foot at Kensington at the tender age of 14.  He was promoted to Corporal when he was 33 and Sergeant at the age of 37.  Corsbie finally left the military in January 1836 in Dublin at which time he was suffering from catarrh and biliary attacks.  He had seen service in Holland, America, France and finally served for ten years in the West Indies.  Corsbie was described as being 5ft. 6 ¼ ins tall with fair hair, brown eyes and a pale complexion. 

There is little information available for Hugh Brenan but the Military Chaplain’s returns of births does record the birth of an Elizabeth Brenan in Tobago in 1831 and this could well have been another of Hugh and Celia’s children.

The Sergeants and their wives would be proud to know that the inscription to their children can still be read some 180 years later.  Unfortunately the only way to have been able to take a good photo would have been to clamber up on top of the tomb and I was reluctant to do that – so a sideways shot will have to suffice.