The artist’s son in her Majesty’s Indian Navy

ENCLOSED BY IRON railings, the grave of the artist John Constable (1776-1837) stands at the southern edge of the old part of the churchyard of St John’s Church in Hampstead. The famous painter does not lie alone. He is buried with some other members of his family. One of these people is his second son Charles Golding Constable (1821-1879). I became interested in him when I noticed the words “Captain in her Majesty’s (late) Indian Navy”. The inclusion of the word ‘late’ and its position in the inscription puzzles me.

Charles went to sea as a midshipman in the British East India Company’s navy when he was about 14 years old. According to a genealogical website (www.bomford.net/IrishBomfords/Chapters/Chapter33/chapter33.htm/), he:
“…took to the sea, joined the Indian Marine and eventually became a Captain. Around 1836 he left on his first voyage to China and did not return until after his father’s death so missed his large funeral in London. During the 1850s he gained a place in the reference books for having conducted the first survey of the Persian Gulf. He had to struggle with navigation as a youth so he must have shown considerable determination to be entrusted with this survey. Shortly before his survey the Arab sheikhs bordering the southern end of the Gulf gained their income largely by piracy; this was ended by a treaty or truce arranged by the British, and the Sheikhdoms that signed the truce have been called ever since the Trucial States.” A paragraph in the book “Journey to the East” (published by Daniel Crouch Rare Books Ltd.) related this in some detail:
“Commander Charles Constable, son of the painter John Constable, was attached to the Persian Expeditionary Force, as a surveyor aboard the ship Euphrates. On the conclusion of the war [the First Anglo-Persian War: 1856/57], Constable was ordered to survey the Arabian Gulf, which occupied him from April 1857 to March 1860, with Lieutenant Stiffe as assistant surveyor. The survey (Nos. 2837a and 2837b) which contains the first detailed survey of Abu Dhabi, would become the standard work well into the twentieth century. During the time that Constable was surveying the Gulf, the Suez Canal, one of the greatest civil engineering feats of the nineteenth century was under construction.”
Charles was made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

While ‘surfing the net’, I found out that sketches made by Charles during his travels have been on sale from time to time in auction houses. His drawings were competent but no match for those executed elsewhere by his famous father.

When John Constable died, his eldest son John Charles Constable became responsible for dealing with his father’s estate. He was then a medical student as well as having studied under the scientist Michael Faraday. According to a website concerning his college in Cambridge (Jesus), John Charles, died suddenly in 1839 after contracting scarlet fever at a lecture in Cambridge’s Addenbrooke’s Hospital, at which a patient suffering this disease was being examined. After his father died, he was left “… numerous paintings and works of art, some of which were known to have adorned his rooms in College.” (www.jesus.cam.ac.uk/articles/archive-month-constable-chapel).
In his will, John Charles left his collection of drawings, paintings, and prints to his younger brother Charles Golding Constable. In 1847/48, Charles was responsible for supervising the dispersal of his father’s studio collection of artworks.

Like the rest of his family, parents and siblings, Charles had lived at several different addresses in Hampstead. Although he was buried with other members of the family in Hampstead, I have not yet found out where he resided at the end of his life.

A poet in Highgate and Cornwall

IN 1916, A FAMOUS poet, TS Eliot (1888-1965) taught at Highgate School in north London. I was a pupil at this establishment much later, between the year when Eliot died and 1970. One of Eliot’s pupils during his short spell at Highgate was to become one of Britain’s Poet Laureates: John Betjeman (1906-1984). Betjeman wrote (quoted in https://bradbirzer.com/2015/07/06/john-betjeman-remembers-t-s-eliot-as-teacher/):

“In 1914-15 I spent two unsuccessful terms at Highgate Junior School. Mr Eliot was a tall, quiet usher there whom we called ‘The American Master.’ Some of the cleverer boys from Muswell Hill (I was from Highgate) knew he was a poet. How? I have often wondered, for I cannot imagine him telling them or anyone that he was a poet, and I did not know that he had published any poems in England as early as that.”

Betjeman’s association with Highgate where he lived as a child briefly and was educated for less than one year was much shorter than his association with the county of Cornwall.

Betjeman’s family had a house in Trebetherick, near Polzeath in Cornwall, where many holidays were spent. In later life, the poet resided there. The small church of St Enodoc is about 930 yards south of Trebetherick. In the middle of a golf course overlooking the sea, the church dates from the 13th century. Much of it was built by the 16th century. Over the centuries, St Enodoc has often been submerged by drifting sands from the nearby beaches. Between the 16th century and the mid-19th century, the church was completely submerged. In 1863-64, the church was freed from the sand and restored under the supervision of James Piers St Aubyn (1815-1895).

When staying or living at Trebetherick, Betjeman visited St Enodoc regularly. In 1945, he published a poem “Sunday Afternoon Service in St Enodoc Court, Cornwall”, in which he describes his impressions of the church affectionately. Author of much poetry and several books about Cornwall, Betjeman died in his home at Trebetherick. He was buried in the small graveyard that surrounds St Enodoc, a building that still appears to be partially buried in the hillside. His grave is marked by simple stone with a beautifully carved inscription. Born in Lissenden Gardens, now in the Borough of Camden, Betjeman lived briefly in Highgate’s North Road in a house opposite Highgate School. However, it is with Cornwall rather than Highgate that most people connect with the former Poet Laureate. As a former pupil at Highgate School, I was pleased to pay my respects at Betjeman’s grave in Cornwall.

From his garden to his grave

IT IS PLEASANT to stroll beside the Thames along Chiswick Mall. Occasionally, we take a look at the graveyard of Chiswick’s St Nicholas Church. On a recent visit to this place, we walked deeper into it than usual and spotted a grave marked by a remarkable sculpture.

The idyllic, romantic, leafy churchyard by the river is chock full of graves. Several of them caught my attention. One is that for the artist William Hogarth, who lived close-by. His monument is protected by a cast-iron fence. An urn on a plinth decorated with an artist’s palette and brushes. It was erected after the death of his sister in 1781 (who is also commemorated on this monument) and was restored by a William Hogarth of Aberdeen in 1856. Another painter, Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg (1740-1812), who was born in Strasbourg, is buried with his wife Lucy de Loutherborg (née Paget). Like Hogarth’s, their decaying monument on the north side of the cemetery is surrounded by cast iron railings. In 1789, Philippe gave up painting temporarily to develop his interest in alchemy and the supernatural. Later, he and his wife took up faith-healing. The remains of yet another painter, James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), lie in the cemetery.

Private Frederick Hitch (1856-1913) is less famous than these artists. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his brave actions during the Battle of Rorke’s Drift (January 1879) in the Anglo-Zulu War fought in South Africa. He is also buried in this large cemetery.

Amongst the more recent graves is the one with the unusual sculpture. It is that of Baronet Percy Harris (1876-1952), who was a Liberal politician. Son of a Polish immigrant, he was born in Kensington, and died there after a long career in parliamentary politics. According to a website listing British Jews in WW1, Percy was Jewish, yet his grave is distinctly Christian in sentiment. Aesthetically, his grave is the most remarkable one in the cemetery next to St Nicholas. It includes a semi-abstract, vorticist carving of The Resurrection of the Dead, created by the sculptor Edward Bainbridge Copnall (1903-1973) in the 1920s. Harris had acquired it for display in his garden long before it was moved to adorn his grave.

Although Percy Harris was born Jewish, he is buried in the graveyard of a Church of England parish church. Despite searching the Internet, including reading his extensive entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, I cannot determine whether or not he converted to Christianity sometime during his life.

A slave trade abolitionist in Fulham

LESS FAMOUS THAN William Wilberforce (1759-1833), but equally important in helping to end Britain’s involvement in the slave trade, was Granville Sharp (1735-1813). Born in Durham, Sharp was apprenticed to a linen draper in London at the age of 15. A scholar at heart, he left his apprenticeship to become Clerk in the Ordnance Office at the Tower of London, a job that gave him more time to pursue his scholarly studies and music. One of his brothers, William Sharp (1729-1810), was a physician, who is believed to have treated King George III.

All Saints church in Fulham

One of William’s patients was Jonathon Strong (c1747-1773), a black slave from the West Indies, who had been badly beaten-up by his master, a lawyer called David Lisle. William and Granville helped tend to Strong’s injuries and paid for him to spend four months in St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Lisle instigated a number of court cases to protect his ‘possession’ of Strong. Granville was deeply involved with making sure he lost them and that Strong became a freed man. The Strong case was the beginning of his keen and active involvement in the movement to abolish slavery. His involvement with this and subsequent legal cases connected with the unjustness of the slave trade gave him the reputation of being a “protector of the Negro”.  

In 1787, Granville became one of the founder members of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Though sometimes overshadowed today by other abolitionists such as Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846) played a major role in hastening the end of the slave trade and slavery in places ruled by the British.

By the 1780s, there were approximately 15,000 ‘black’ people in Britain, many of them without employment. Ideas began to circulate that it would be a good idea to form a settlement in Africa to which the Africans could ‘return home’ and live as free individuals. One place that was suggested was Sierra Leone. Granville Sharp was consulted on this and felt that it would be an ideal location to set up a model community for the ‘blacks’. He suggested calling it ‘The Province of Freedom’. Sadly, the well-intentioned province that included a settlement called Granville Town was a failure.

Granville lived long enough to learn that the Act of Abolition received Royal Assent in 1807, but not long enough to know about the final abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire (in 1833). Granville’s brother William had a country dwelling, Fulham House, in Fulham. It was here that the ageing Granville moved after William died. He lived there with William’s widow, Catherine, and her family. It was in this house that Granville breathed his last.

Probably Fulham’s greatest resident, Granville Sharp was buried in the cemetery of Fulham’s parish church (All Saints). His funerary monument, which stands close to the boundary fence of Fulham Palace commemorates him, his brother William, and his sister Elizabeth Prowse. William’s wife Catharine (née Barwick) is also buried beneath this stone, which was restored in 2007.

Hampstead lies slightly west of the Greenwich Meridian

ST JOHNS CHURCH in Hampstead’s Church Row lies 0.1811 degrees west of the Greenwich Meridian. Its longitude is 0.1811 W. This fact is unimportant to most people living in the area because Hampstead is high above sea level. However, an accurate measurement of longitude (and latitude) is extremely important to seafarers.

Tomb of the Harrison family in Hampstead

I am no expert in navigation, so please excuse me if the following explanation seems oversimplified. Latitude can be assessed measuring the positions of fixed astronomical objects such as the sun and the North Star and relating them to the horizon. Longitude proved far harder to measure because it involves relating the local time to the time at a reference position, now at the commonly accepted Greenwich Meridian.  The difference in the time at a position in the sea and that at Greenwich is the way that the calculation of longitude is made. Local time can be measured by means such as observing where the sun appears in the sky. Until the 18th century, no clocks existed that could reliably record the time at the reference position whilst at sea. The uncertainty involved in assessing longitude resulted in many unfortunate disasters at sea. In 1714, the British Parliament passed the Longitude Act of 1714, which offered prizes for a simple and practical method of assessing longitude out at sea.

To solve the problem, a clock that accurately recorded the time at Greenwich was required. This clock had to remain accurate despite the many changes that it would encounter as it moved across the seas. It had to record Greenwich Mean Time accurately and reliably despite changes in temperature, humidity, air pressure, motion of the vessel, and so on. Major advances in the solution of this demanding technical problem were made by a carpenter and clockmaker John Harrison (1693-1776), who was born near Wakefield in Yorkshire. For over 40 years, he worked on the problem, producing ever more reliable chronometers, which were tested at sea. Eventually, his H4 design became the prototype for what was best suited to the job. With the help of his son William Harrison (1728-1815), Harrison was rewarded with much of the financial reward offered in the wording of the Act passed in 1714.

When he died, John Harrison was living at his home in Red Lion Square in Holborn, whose longitude is 0.1186 W. He is buried in the same churchyard as the great artist John Constable: in the cemetery next to St Johns Church in Church Row, Hampstead. His tomb, which close to the south wall of the church, is of Portland stone and decorated with pilasters in the style of the architect Robert Adam. The north side of this shoebox shaped monument has an inscription that gives a brief biography of John Harrison. His wife, Elizabeth, who died in 1777, aged 72, is also commemorated on this tomb. The south side gives a short biography of his son William, who is also buried here. In addition to helping his father test his chronometer, he was also a Governor of the Foundling Hospital in London and High Sheriff of Monmouthshire (in 1791).

According to Christopher Wade in his “Buried in Hampstead”, several persons, who were not resident in Hampstead were interred in the churchyard of St John. The Harrisons figure amongst these. Wade states that there is no evidence that John Harrison and his family had any connection with Hampstead. He speculates that they obtained a burial plot there because they were “… affected by the charm of this particular graveyard.”  

The graveyard still retains its charm. It contains the resting places of many people, who have achieved fame in diverse fields of activity. Some of them are mentioned in my new book about Hampstead, which is available as a paperback from Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92) and as a Kindle e-book.

Buried no longer

THE ITALIAN WRITER and patriot, Ugo Foscolo (1778-1827) was born on Zakynthos when it was part of the Venetian Republic. He became a political activist in what is now Italy and came to London in 1816. In London, he was regarded as a literary celebrity, but this did not always keep him out of trouble. For example, in about 1813 he faced Mr Graham, the editor of the “Literary Museum” in a duel at Primrose Hill. The dispute that led to this was about his ‘Three Graces’.  These three ladies were sisters working in Foscolo’s home near Regents Park. Two of them turned out to be prostitutes, and one of them ran off with his former translator. This led to a duel, whether in Regent’s Park or Primrose Hill is not clear; fortunately, no blood was shed.

Foscolo’s monument in Chiswick

Foscolo lived another few years until 1817, when he died in Turnham Green in west London. He was buried in the lovely churchyard next to the Chiswick church of St Nicholas, where the artist William Hogarth was also interred. The cemetery contains Foscolo’s elegant, well-maintained grave, which is surrounded by a cast-iron railing.

However, Foscolo’s remains are no longer in the old cemetery at Chiswick.

In June 1871, ten years after the Unification of Italy, Foscolo’s remains were dug up and transported to Florence (Firenze). There, they were reburied but within the church of Santa Croce. This is all recorded by words carved on the monument in the Old Chiswick Cemetery.

An empty grave

On one of my frequent visits to Bangalore in India, I was idly flicking through a street atlas of the city when I noticed a small green patch near to the Mysore Road. It was marked ‘Jewish Grave Yard’.

CEMY 1

I knew that there have been large Jewish communities in cities such as Bombay, Calcutta, Cochin, and Poona, but I had never associated Bangalore with a Jewish presence of any size. I visited the cemetery the next day. Surrounded by a huge Moslem cemetery on two sides and two roads, the well-maintained burial ground contains just over fifty graves, and the foundations of the hut which was used to prepare bodies for burial.

The land on which the cemetery is located was donated on the 9th September 1904 by Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the Maharaja of Mysore. On that day, Subedar Samuel Nagavkar died, and his is the earliest death recorded on the stones in the cemetery. A notice at the entrance informs us that the land was donated due to the “efforts of the late Mr Rubin Moses”. This might have been the case, but I have reason to believe that this man did not reach India until later.

CEMY 3

Rubin Moses Nahoum (‘Nahoum’ has been dropped by his descendants) left his birthplace, Iraq, to join the California Gold Rush. After the city of San Francisco was struck by an earthquake in April 1906, Rubin left for India in order to become involved in the Kolar goldfields near Bangalore. By 1910, he had opened a shoe store in Bangalore’s Commercial Street. It was to become the largest in southern Asia. The large premises still exist but in another reincarnation: it is now the home of ‘Woodies’ a vegetarian café popular with the numerous shoppers in what is Bangalore’s equivalent of London’s Oxford Street.  The Moses family, who still finance the maintenance of the cemetery, had a prayer hall in the now demolished Rubin House, a building which housed a shoe factory. Any Jew living in, or visiting, Bangalore was welcome to worship there. The most notable of these visitors was a future president of Israel, Ezer Weizman, who was stationed at an RAF base in Bangalore in 1946.

The majority of those buried in the cemetery were born in India and represent the various different types of Jews who lived there. Six of the graves commemorate Jews not born in India, five of them European. When Saida Abrovna Isako, a Russian Jewess, the wife of the proprietor of the Russian Circus, died in 1932, her coffin was brought to the cemetery on a bier drawn by white circus horses. Not far from her grave are those of a number of refugees from Nazi Europe. Siegfried Appel came from Bonn in Germany. His compatriots the dentist from Gleiwitz, Gunther Moritz Rahmer, and his mother Margarethe (née Schuller: the widow of Alfred Rahmer, a soap maker in Gleiwitz) lie close by, as does another German dentist, Carl Weinzweig, who had a practice in Bangalore’s MG Road.

Bangalore has been an important military base for several centuries. So, it was not surprising to discover some graves related to warfare. Yusuf Guetta died age 22 years in 1943. His grave records that he was an “evacuee” from Benghazi, the Libyan town evacuated by the British in April 1941. Yusuf lies next to the grave of Private Morris Minster of the South Wales Borderers Regiment. Morris passed away on the 4th of April 1942, aged 24. I looked up Private Minster on the Commonwealth Graves website and was surprised to find that he was recorded as being buried in the Madras War Cemetery, Chennai. Yet, I had seen and taken pictures of his grave in Bangalore.

CEMY 2

I wrote to the Royal Welch Regimental Museum.  Martin Everett replied, informing me that Morris, son of Solomon and Annie Minster of Salford, joined up maybe as early as 1931, and died in 1942, but not in action. He told me that at the time of his death there were no Welsh Borderers in India. They had all left for Iraq by November 1941. Morris was probably too ill to travel and remained in India. Mr Everett wrote that he believed that his remains had been moved to Chennai. He wrote also that:

“The Madras War Cemetery was created to receive Second World War graves from many civil and cantonment cemeteries in the south and east of India where their permanent maintenance could not be assured.”

Well, I can report that Morris Minster’s grave in Bangalore is certainly being well-maintained. When I enquired about the whereabouts of his body, a member of the Moses family, the last Bangalore born Jew still residing in the city, told me that a few years ago it had been disinterred and transferred to Chennai, as suggested by Martin Everett. My mind was set at rest.

I have published a photographic album showing all the graves in the cemetery, “Buried in Bangalore”.

It is available for purchase from:

http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/1126091