Saturday, June 28, 2008


Tombstone Richard Atwell 1828 - 1873
copyright Jeanette Jobson

Last week I took a brief look in the General Protestant Cemetery in St. John's, which is one of the original cemeteries for this city, dating back to the early 1800s. There are a number of relatives buried there from my mother's paternal side of the family and I did a quick search to see if I could find any headstones. I did locate one, of a great, great uncle, (I think) who was master mason, involved in building the Gower Street Wesleyan Church. He unfortunately died from a fall while building the church shortly before it was complete in 1873. His tombstone is a testament to the art of stone masonry, being tall, columnar with ornate carving and precise deep lettering that has survived more than 130 years.

In the late 1800s hospitals tended to be for infectious diseases and doctors instead made house calls, so most individuals were confined to their own homes when ill. However, the thought of broken bones, possible head or internal injuries, being moved from the church to his house and the pain involved for this man leading up to his death, just makes me shudder.

Whether I have connections to family members or not, I have always found cemeteries very interesting places, especially the older ones that are full of history and much potential for sketching. Some people think this is a bit odd, but I like to explore and enjoy the amazing sculptural shapes of monuments, reading the headstones and imagining life in the mid 1800s in St. John's.

I hope to go to this cemetery again tomorrow if the weather holds and do a more thorough search for more headstones. I have great, great, great, great grandparents that I would like to have more permanent records of. Many headstones have been ravaged by time and weather and I intend to take some newsprint and charcoal with me to do some rubbings. Once a weak point has been found in a carving or headstone and it topples, the information on it is gone forever.

There are more tips on headstone rubbings and other methods of capturing headstone carvings here.


"JeanneG" said...

Here the cemeteries don't allow above ground markers. Only a plaque that is embedded in the ground. I believe it is so that they can mow with a riding mower. They also just plow thru any flowers etc when they do. It's so sad as I see on tv when people leave things on headstones.

There is one old cemetery that was the county one. It may have some raised ones, but is in a very bad part of town. So I have never been to it.

Jeanette said...

Headstones in newer graves are similar here - just flat stones. A lot also depends on costs too. Elaborate tombstones cost a lot of money. However in Victorian cemeteries, such as this one, carved headstones were more the norm.

Personally I like the carved headstones. There isn't a lot of grass in this cemetery and its left to relatives to tend graves or the cemetery committee to clean up now and then.

Jennifer Rose said...

I love old cemeteries :D So much history in one place. I enjoy spending an afternoon walking around taking pictures and sometimes I come across a tombstone with my last name on it (but no relation).

I have noticed tombstones here are not the flat ones, there are a few but they are usually the upright ones. Pretty plain carvings on them unless you have the money to splurge or you go and look at the ones older than 100 years. A lot of them have flowers and skulls carved into them with very nice poems done in cursive writing. (there has been a lot of gravestone tipping and people have been taking the little tokens left at the gravesite here. Pretty sad that people would do that :( )

Laurel Neustadter said...

I love old cemeteries also. Last summer on vacation we were in farm country near Syracuse, New York looking at giant windmills. We parked so my husband and father could walk around the windmills. I found an old family cemetery across the street. There were tombstones from the 1700's ... one man had been a private in the Revolutionary War. Finding that cemetary was the highlight of my trip.