Islets on the island

MANY PEOPLE VISIT Madeira to improve their health or to retire. Some of these people die on the island and are buried there. Today (5th of May 2023), we took a look at the small English Cemetery in central Funchal. This well tended burial ground, founded in 1770, contains graves of British and some Portuguese people – Protestants mainly. In addition, there are graves of men and women born outside Portugal in places including Germany, Finland, Romania, USA, Holland, Sweden, and Poland.

One of the Americans buried in the cemetery is Harry C Stone “Late Captain Cavalry USA”. His simple yet moving gravestone bears the date 1972 and the words:
“He believed in God”

Three graves particularly intrigued me. One of them marks the burial place of Lady Sarah Bonetta Davies (née Forbes). She was born in Ogun State in 1843 and died in Funchal in 1880. The gravestone informs that she was: “Princess of the Egbada Omoba people, West Africa. God-daughter of HM Queen Victoria.”
She was born an aristocratic member of the Egbada clan of the Yoruba people and was enslaved by King Ghezo of Dahomey, who ‘gifted’ her to Captain Frederick Forbes of the British Royal Navy. She became a god-daughter of Queen Victoria, and later married the Nigerian businessman James Pinson Labulo Davies of Lagos in West Africa. She died of tuberculosis in Funchal.

Another black African, George Oruigbiji Pepple, also lies buried in the cemetery. Between 1866 and 1883, he was the King of Bonny which was a small state in the Niger River delta. He was deposed in 1883 and restored to the throne in 1887. Why he was buried in Funchal , I have not yet discovered.

The third grave that interested me greatly is that of Paul Langerhans (1847-1888). This German pathologist and physiologist is best known for his discovery of the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Although he was unaware of the function of these distinctive cells, they have been named in his honour as The Islets of Langerhans.

Langerhans came to Madeira in 1875, having contracted tuberculosis. He recovered a little, researched marine worms, and practised medicine. In 1885, he married the widow of one of his patients. They lived together until his death. According to his wishes, he was buried in the English Cemetery in Funchal.

The cemetery is a lovely place to visit. It has plenty of flowers and is peaceful. On a future visit to Madeira, I would like to spend more time investigating the biographies of those whose remains lie there.

One lady with four husbands

ALTHOUGH THERE WERE ALREADY villages on the banks of the River Hooghly where the city of Kolkata (Calcutta) now stands, the Britisher Job Charnock (1630-1693), a man of commerce, is often regarded as the founder of Calcutta. He died there and his remains are interred in a charming mausoleum (1695) of oriental design in the churchyard of Kolkata’s former cathedral, the church of St John.

Job Charnock’s mausoleum

Job does not rest alone in that structure. His companions include the surgeon William Hamilton, who died in 1717. He had cured Ferukseer, the “ King of Indostan”, and beneath his memorial, written in English, there is another written in Persian script. Job’s wife Mary lies next to him. She died in 1700. There is no mention of his other wife, an Indian named Maria. There is also a memorial to Martha Eyles, who died in 1748, having first been married to John Gumley (who died in Dhaka in what is now Bangladesh), and then married Edward Eyles, who was on the council of Calcutta’s Fort William.

Whereas Martha Eyles had had two husbands, Mrs Frances Johnson, whose remains lie in a mausoleum a few feet away from Charnock’s, had a more exciting marital record. Born in 1725, she died in 1812 at the age of 87. Frances had four husbands. First, she married Parry Purple Templer, then after his demise , James Altham. Mr Altham died of smallpox a few days after marrying Frances. Next, she married William Watts, and they produced 4 children. In 1774, after the death of Mr Watts, she married the Reverend William Johnson. He survived until Frances died.

Apart from the above-mentioned graves in the churchyard of St John’s, there are many others that commemorate the deaths of early European inhabitants of Charnock’s Calcutta, and there is also a memorial to those who died in the Black Hole of Calcutta, but more about this at a later date.

Cafés with coffins in Ahmedabad and London

IN CENTRAL AHMEDABAD, a large city in India’s state of Gujarat, there is a curious café called Lucky. This popular eatery is not unusual because it does not serve coffee but because its tables and chairs are placed between Moslem graves. Lucky’s is sited on an old Moslem graveyard, but this does not put off a steady flow of customers from enjoying a wide variety of vegetarian snacks in this eatery. Closer to home, near the south side of London’s Lambeth Bridge, there is another café sited on a former graveyard. Unlike Lucky in Ahmedabad, which is housed in an architecturally unremarkable building, the café in Lambeth, The Garden Museum Café, is a marvellous example of contemporary architecture.

Café at The Garden Museum in London

The café, completed in 2018, is at the east end of the Church of St Marys, Lambeth, which now serves as the home of The Garden Museum. The church stands next to the main Tudor entrance of Lambeth Palace. The tower was built in about 1378. The rest of the church contains structural elements that were built in later eras. Appropriately for a museum dedicated to gardening history, the repurposed Church of St Mary’s is the burial place of the famous gardener and plant collector, John Tradescant the Elder (c1570s-1638). It is also the final resting place of Captain William Bligh (1754-1817) of The Bounty Mutiny (1789) fame. This famous mariner owned a house in Lambeth. Customers of the café do not sit on the graves of these two well-known persons, but on gravestones that, unlike the graves at Lucky in Ahmedabad which are raised above the ground, are level with the rest of the café’s floor.

The graves at Lucky in Ahmedabad are coffin shaped and probably contain the remains of the deceased. I am not sure whether there are human remains beneath the grave slabs in the floor of the café in Lambeth. A young waiter, whom I asked, was concerned to reassure me that he believed that there are no skeletons beneath the gravestones upon which customers walk and sit. I wonder whether this is really the case.

The Garden Museum was founded in 1977 by Rosemary and John Nicholson in order to preserve the church, which was due for demolition ( In 2015, the museum was closed for a year and a half whilst it was being redeveloped. Part of the improvements made was the construction of an extension at the eastern end of the retired church. The new construction, designed by Christopher Bradley-Hole and Dan Pearson, includes the café and other structures that together surround a new courtyard that contains a lovely garden, The Sackler Garden designed by Dan Pearson. It contains several tombs including that of the Tradescant family and of Captain Bligh.

The café borders the western side of the courtyard. Its mainly glass walls provide good views of the garden, the buildings across the river and the leafy remains of the churchyard west of the café. Where there is no glass, the walls are covered with overlapping brown coloured metal panels. Serving great coffee and both snacks and meals, the legs of the chairs and tables rest on the gravestones that form part of the floor.

Compared with Lucky, which is in a very busy part of Ahmedabad, the Garden Museum café, although close to a busy main road, is far more peaceful. However, both are delightful places to enjoy refreshments.