Come with me into the graveyard, all human life is here

Category: Buried in Foreign Fields

A Corner of Some Foreign Field (3 and 4): Prince Lee Boo and Thomas Caulker

Unlike Scipio Africanus and the Beautiful Spotted Boy not every incumbent of England’s Foreign Fields arrived here  under coercion. Prince Lee Boo and Thomas Caulker were both encouraged by their families to pursue schooling in England; sadly, both died young.

Prince Lee Boo

Prince Lee Boo was the second son of a former Ibedul or high chief of Koror Island  in the Palau Island group in the western part of the Pacific Ocean. In 1783 Captain Henry Wilson, a trader for the East India Company, and his crew were shipwrecked on the rocks off Ulong Island . They were rescued and given hospitality by islanders from nearby Koror who spent three months helping them to rebuild their ship. The Ibedul, whose title they misinterpreted as Abba Thule, thinking this was his name, asked them to take Lee Boo back to England with them to further his education. Lee Boo lived with Wilson’s family in Rotherhithe and attended school there but tragically contracted smallpox and died at the age of twenty.

Wilson held Lee Boo in high esteem and during his brief time in England the young man captured the public imagination. He was feted, books and  poems were written about him, and illustrations produced. Many of these productions however were patronising. Lee Boo was portrayed as a noble savage, an exotic curiosity, and his reactions to things which he had not seem before – mirrors, horses, oranges – were a subject of condescending amusement.

The Prince was buried in the Wilson family grave in the churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin Rotherhithe, SE London. The East India Company paid for his tomb and the inscription on the top. The very worn script reads:

To the memory of

Prince Lee Boo

A native of the

Pelew or Palos islands

and son of the Abbe Thulle,

Rurack or king of the

Island Coorooraa

Who departed this life

on 27 December1784

Aged 20 years.

This stone is inscribed by

The Honourable United

East India Company

As a testimony of esteem

For the humane and kind

Treatment afforded

By his father

To the crew of their ship,

The Antelope,

Captain Wilson,

Which was wrecked

Off that island on the night

Of 9th August 1783.

Stop reader. Stop. Let nature claim a tear,

A prince of mine, Lee Boo, lies buried here.

Wilson family grave and tomb of Prince Lee Boo in St. Mary the Virgin, Rotherhithe, SE London
A weathered inscription commemorates Prince Lee Boo

In 1984 a service was held on the two hundredth anniversary of his death and visitors from the Pacific Islands planted a gingko tree.

Thomas Caulker

Thomas Canray Caulker (1846-59) was descended from a wealthy, mixed race family: on the one side his namesake Thomas Caulker, an Anglo-Irish trader and colonial official with the Royal Africa Company, and on the other a Sherbro princess, Seniora Doll. Through this marriage in the seventeenth century the Caulkers had become hereditary chiefs of Bompey in what is now Sierra Leone. By the eighteenth century they had also  become major slave traders.

In the nineteenth century however Thomas’ father Richard Caulker, also known as Canrah Bah Caulker, had aligned with the abolition movement to suppress the slave trade in the Sherbro country.

In line with other affluent African-European families Richard Caulker sent his son to London  to acquire a Christian education. Thomas lived with the reverend JK Foster and his wife in Islington and because he suffered with severe eye weaknesses was sent to a school for the blind. Other medical problems however led to his death at the age of thirteen  and he  was buried in Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington. His original stone is weathered almost beyond reading and is fast being consumed by ivy, but a new marker placed by the Abney Park Trust bears the bold legend:







Caulker’s original stone,
the inscription barely legible
The new marker, placed by the Abney Park Trust

Far from home, Lee Boo and Caulker lie, the one in a  London churchyard beside the Thames at Rotherhithe, the other amongst the tranquil woodlands of a nineteenth century garden cemetery in Stoke Newington, their small plots now and forever a part of their tropical homelands.

A Corner of Some Foreign Field (2): George Alexander Gratton

George Alexander Gratton (1808-1813) was born the son of slaves on a sugar cane plantation on the island of St. Vincent in the Caribbean, the name Gratton probably that of the plantation owner. He arrived in England via the port of Bristol when he was only fifteen months old. His skin was covered  in permanent white patches due to a loss of pigmentation caused by Vitiligo.

The showman John Richardson bought the child for 1,000 guineas at Bartholomew’s Fair in Smithfield Market. Richardson owned a traveling theatre which toured the fairs of England  with enormous success in the nineteenth century. Charles Dickens  described the performances  in Sketches by Boz:

This immense booth, with the large stage in front, so brightly illuminated with variegated lamps, and pots of burning fat is “ Richardson’s,”  where you can have a melodrama (with three murders and a ghost), a pantomime, a comic song, an overture, and some incidental music, all done in five-and-twenty minutes.

The young Edward Kean was one of Richardson’s actors.

Richardson interspersed the main performances with “freak shows”,  displaying dwarfs, albinos, giants, bearded ladies, Josephine Ghirardelli the Fireproof Female, conjoined twins, tattooed men, and people displaying all manner of diseases, deformities, and disabilities. Some of these “novelties” were hoaxes but other unfortunate individuals had little choice but to earn their living as part of this shameful spectacle.

Alert to the commercial possibilities of George’s appearance, which must have been considerable given the price he paid for the child, Richardson paraded him as “The Beautiful Spotted Boy” alongside his other exhibits.

Despite this callous exploitation Richardson was fond of the boy, adopting him, having him baptised in Newington church, and educating him.

But within a few years George died, sometimes described as a victim of the cold climate but more likely suffering from a tumour or infection. The distraught Richardson commissioned a brick vault in the churchyard of All Saints, Marlow, Buckinghamshire and had an oil painting of the boy placed in the church. He requested that on his death he should be buried in the same vault and the two headstones bolted together. His wishes were carried out  in 1837.

Part of the original inscription on George’s gravestone read with a strange mixture of love and inured, casual racism:

Should this plain simple tomb attract thine eyes,

Stranger, as thoughtfully thou passest by,

Know that there lies beneath this humble stone,

A child of colour, haply not thine own.

His parents born of Afric’s sun-burnt race,

Tho’ black and white were blended in his face,

T0 Britain brought, which made his parents free,

And shew’d the world great Natur’s prodigy.

Depriv’d of kindred that to him were dear,

He found a friendly Guardian’s fost’ring care,

But, scarce had bloom’d, the fragrant flower fades,

And the lov’d infant finds an early grave.

When I visited the grave both markers were heavily  weathered and the child’s stone broken, but they remained bolted together. The Beautiful Boy lies close to the river in the churchyard at Marlow, an idyllic spot which will be forever St. Vincent.

Gravestone of The Spotted Boy, a bolt visible near the top attaches it to that of John Richardson
Gravestone of John Richardson, the bolt again visible
The two stones bolted together

Recently a community of St. Vincentians living in High Wycombe who style themselvesSV2G (St. Vincent and the Grenadines 2nd Generation) have raised awareness and funds to preserve the stones. Research by the community has also resulted in the production of an independently published paperback  written by Jacqueline Roberts: The Beautiful Spotted Boy, February 2022, ISBN no. 9798415998579.

A Corner of Some Foreign Field: (1) Scipio Africanus

If I should die, think only this of me:

That there’s a corner of some foreign field

That is for ever England.

Rupert Brooke’s sonnet, written just as the First World War was about to begin, is as much a love poem to England as a war poem: “her flowers to love, her ways to roam…washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home.” It is a romanticised, idyllic England, and its allure is so strong that the foreign land in which the protagonist is buried will become England. 

A few months after writing the poem, on a troopship bound for Gallipoli, Rupert Brooke died of blood poisoning from an infected mosquito bite. He was buried on the Greek island of Skyros.

I have not visited his grave (yet) but I know many graves which form small enclaves in England’s foreign fields.

Scipio Africanus (1702-1720) was an enslaved boy from West Africa named by his “owner”, the Seventh Earl of Suffolk, after the Roman General who conquered Carthage in the Second Punic War. Suffolk  lived at the Great House at Blaise in Bristol and the boy, who died at the age of eighteen, is buried in St. Mary’s churchyard in the suburb of Henbury.

The two stones which mark his grave stand out from their subdued grey neighbours having first been painted in the twentieth century. The brighter colours to which they were later treated in 2006 proved controversial,  but I am captivated by the  black cherubs, startlingly pink and blue flowers, white skulls, and gold lettering.

The Grave of Scipio Africanus, St. Mary’s, Henbury, Bristol

I am more disturbed by the description of the young man as a “negro” on the headstone,

The Headstone

and the patronising wording on the footstone  referring to his birth as “a Pagan and a Slave.”  I choke on the condescension and bigotry encapsulated in the lines:

What tho’ my hue was dark my Saviors sight

Shall change this darkness into radiant light

and  fulminate against the arrogance and conceit inherent in the suggestion that it is by the Duke’s good recommendation that the former slave will enter heaven:

Such grace to me my Lord on earth has given

To recommend me to my Lord in heaven.

The Footstone

Despite the distasteful inscription however I am not alone in being charmed by this burst of colour in the churchyard, for the grave is popular receiving many visitors  who frequently leave flowers. The headstone was vandalised  in June 2020 apparently in retaliation for the damage caused to the statue of Edward Colston in central Bristol. During a Black Lives Matter protest the statue of Colston, merchant, slave trader, and philanthropist, had been toppled, defaced, and thrown into Bristol harbour. Following a public survey, the graffitied Colston statue is now on display in the M Shed museum in Bristol, meanwhile a funding campaign raised over £6,000 for the repair and restoration  of the gravestone.

Scipio Africanus rests again in his foreign field, an exuberant little plot that is forever Africa.

An exuberant little plot that is forever Africa

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén