Tales from the Burial Grounds of Royal Haslar
During the18th Century, the whole area of land to the Southwest of the hospital, including the grounds known as the Paddock, were used as burial grounds covering a defined 9 acres and within a walled area. This included the ground on which the Terrace now stands, as skeletons were uncovered during the course of building the Terrace in 1798. Further remains were found in 1910 during building work on the Surgeon Rear Admiral’s residence as part of the Terrace and also during excavations in 2009.
Records of the burials at Haslar during 1755-63 held at the Public Records Office Kew indicate in excess of 2,500 burials during this time. Dr James Lind, Physician to the Hospital, reported that in the year’s 1779/80 some 1,716 deaths occurred at Haslar. In addition to this it is also known that bodies of sailors decimated by injury, disease and execution onboard ships at Spithead and Portsmouth harbour were also landed at Haslar jetty for burial. This includes 80 members of the Russian Fleet who in 1770 were landed to Haslar suffering from typhus.
By the end of the 18th Century, it is estimated that in three years alone that some 3,600 bodies were interred in the burial grounds. It is believed that the remains of sailors who perished in the wreck of the ‘Royal George’ that sank in 1782 (within sight of Haslar) are also interred and it is also possible that the remains of Rear Admiral Richard Kempenfelt who was onboard at the time are believed to lie here as well.
On 29th October 1792 having been executed on-board the Brunswick at Portsmouth for their part in the ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ the bodies of John Millward, Thomas Burkett and Thomas Ellison were interred in the Paddock.
On the 1st and 4th December 1805 ships returning from Trafalgar discharged their sick and wounded to Haslar and having succumbed to their wounds are buried here, including crew of the Victory. Jonathan Baptista a Landsman of the ‘Achilles’ who fought at Trafalgar whilst suffering from TB died onboard at Spithead February 1806 and is buried here.
The sick and wounded of Sir John Moore’s Army 1808-14, who having fought in the Peninsular war and retreated from Corunna, returned to Haslar in great numbers by troop ships suffering from wounds and Typhus and 528 were buried between October 1808 and December 1809, with 552 Naval burials in the Paddock in the same period.126 Russian sailors and cavalrymen were also buried having been admitted to Haslar from the Russian Fleet impounded in Portsmouth harbour from ships commanded by Captain Alexi Grieg, Captain – Commodore Ignatyev and Vice Admiral Seniavin.
Troops who retreated from Walcheran in1809 and following the Battle of Waterloo in1815 also lie here. Many of the Haslar staff (including washerwomen) who succumbed during 1808-9 to infections whilst caring for patients and washing infected linen also lie within the grounds.
In November 1818 Susan Bloxam 16 years old died at Haslar visiting her uncle who was the curate of St Luke’s she was also buried in the Paddock along with her mother.
In 1826 the North corner of the paddock was enclosed by a wall, the ground was consecrated and then further used as the Haslar cemetery closing in 1859. It is recorded that 1359 burials took place during this time and on top of previous burials in this area. The headstones scattered across the Paddock were carried inside the cemetery and placed against the cemetery wall. Amongst those recorded was the first Governor of Haslar Captain William Yeo.
In April 1859 the Naval Cemetery was opened at Clayhall and the Haslar cemetery (now the Memorial Gardens) ceased to be used.
45 skeletons exhumed by licence were excavated by the Centre for Archaeological and Forensic Analysis (CAFA) led by Professor Andrew Shortland during research stemming from a land quality assessment in partnership with Defence Estates prior to the disposal of Haslar. The remains were laid to rest (re-buried April 2011) in the Paddock. Much has been learnt through the analysis of the remains regarding lifestyle, disease and death of those examined. This included one skeleton that was buried with copper coins over the eyes, one coin was a Drapers promissory coin from Gosport dated 1794, the other a Slavery Abolitionist coin depicting a slave in chains and stating ‘Am I not a man and a brother’. It is believed that this is one of only three such skeletons found in the UK.
‘Am I not a Man and a Brother’
Notes Appertaining to the Memorial Gardens
Sadly a greater number of headstones from the garden have be destroyed and broken up. Many of the headstones moved from the Paddock in 1826 are now (sadly) illegible. It is also known that there are some mass burials and also family vaults within the grounds, but now unmarked.
The spread sheet of burials in the Memorial Gardens recently supplied covers the 1,359 burials during the 1826-59 period. On the closure of St Luke’s in 2007 there were a number of cremation caskets in the casket room of St Luke’s. The caskets having not been claimed were interred in a prepared ‘Ossuary’ within the gardens. A full list of those interred is held.
Out of a total of 1,359 buried from 1826-1859 some 388 Royal Marines were buried in the gardens between 1826-59 of which there are 341 Marines (officers, senior ranks and marines) plus 47 Members of the Royal Marine Artillery who in the early 19th cent were stationed at Fort Monkton.
Lt Alexander Forsyth Parr is buried here and he was a Lt of Haslar and keeper of the hospital main gate. He had previously served with Admiral Nelson on the Agamemnon at the Battle of the Nile. Sir John Richardson’s wife Mary and son Kendal were also buried in the gardens. We know that Sir John spent time planting the grave with summer flowers.
Many buried in the garden served at Haslar and include nursing staff from the 19th Cent and Surgeons, Hospital Matrons, also keepers of the Haslar Asylum. Many foreign nationals are also buried, American, Dutch, Spanish and two from Oman, but thought to be Englishmen who served the Sultan’s Navy.
The crew of HMS Pincher that capsized off the Welsh coast (1837) are also buried here in two mass graves.
The last body to be buried in the Gardens in 1859 was of a 16year old found floating in the channel by the crew of HMS Doris.
The Memorial Gardens are cared for by ‘Shore Leave at Haslar’.
Eric C Birbeck MVO
Haslar Heritage Group