Who's responsible for 19th-century naval graves

Discussion in 'History' started by Liam D'A-B, May 25, 2013.

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  1. Hello all. Somebody has recommended I post on Rum Ration to see if anyone has any knowledge of naval graves from the 19th century.

    I'm a historian of China who's recently published a book called "Chusan: The Opium Wars and the Forgotten Story of Britain's First Chinese Island" - it's reviewed in Rum Ration's book reviews section if anyone's interested in this period.

    To get to the point, during the 1840s the British occupied a Chinese island called Chusan (now Zhoushan) for a few years. Early on in the occupation there was a very high death rate amongst the British forces, and there are documentary accounts and watercolours of the Royal Navy burying its dead on a small island in Dinghai harbour, which the British called Grave Island (the pork chop shaped islet at 30deg 00' 08.46" N 122deg 06' 17.50" E). I've visited Dinghai and the island doesn't seem to have been much disturbed, and I'd be surprised if there weren't tangible remains to be excavated.

    If this were to involve a British team, it's the kind of thing that could only possibly be done with the high-level permission and involvement of the Chinese, possibly even the government in Beijing, and it'd need a well-connected organisation from the British side. I already have initial links to the local city government to help start this off.

    The Commonwealth War Graves Commission says that they don't deal with pre-WWI burials, but this extremely rare graveyard seems too important to British and RN history to just ignore as being too early.

    Anybody have any thoughts on any official organisation that might be willing and able to throw its weight in? Cheers!
  2. Thanks very much for that very useful bit of info - I'll look into who did what and see if I can't trace the movers and shakers in the excavation and reburials. Thanks again.
  3. tiddlyoggy

    tiddlyoggy War Hero Book Reviewer

    Liam, please let us know how you get on, there are a few members of this site who are interested in naval history. Good luck.
  4. Maybe the IWM would be worth contacting to see if they have knowledge in this area. Maybe even the Naval Museum in Pompey, they must have had some input when the Haslar dig went on. I think the Time Team did that so perhaps the BBC could be another avenue of enquiry?
  5. Time Team was Channel 4
  6. I stand corrected, maybe C4 can help.
  7. Yes it was C4 and a very interesting prog too.
  8. Liam, keep us interested in your findings.
    Myself, my relative on my fathers side was serving in the RMA back in 1856.
    He died sometime during the 2nd china war.
    Sgt William Ranner.
    Always interesting to read about the British exploits in China ect.
  9. Thanks for all the above suggestions with the IWM and naval museum - I'll try them both. I did try Time Team at C4, but it looks as though time's been called on the show, sadly. They'd have been perfect.

    RomanyRanner - 1856 is an interesting point for a relative to die out in China - I've been focussing on the first opium war in the 1840s, so I'm not clear on dates for the 2nd opium war, but my gut reaction is that there wasn't any fighting in which British forces died in any numbers until a couple of years after that, when the Chinese managed to defend the Taku forts against a naval attack - did Sgt Ranner die of disease out in somewhere like Hong Kong or Shanghai, or was he involved in operations against the Bogue forts off Canton? Or does history not record?
  10. I have his service records.
    Just states 'DD' Hongkong.
    He was serving aboard HMS Encounter at the time.
    I assume he died of disease or natural causes.
    He was not involved in the Taku forts event. ImageUploadedByTapatalk1369572035.771279.jpg

    My little family display. His ship, a crew phot and a 2nd China war medal.
  11. Liam

    I would make your first port of call the Naval Historical Branch; its building is on the base at Portsmouth.

    Give them a call next week on 02392 724327 or 725300.
    Last edited: May 26, 2013
  12. You may be able to obtain his Death Certificate, Romany; the GRO holds a file of maritime deaths.

    Looking for records of a birth, marriage or death at sea or abroad | The National Archives

    Some of them are listed on Find My Past:

    Search maritime  death records 1794-1964 | Fully indexed death records | Findmypast.co.uk
  13. tiddlyoggy

    tiddlyoggy War Hero Book Reviewer

    That's smart Steve. My brother (he inherited because he was the oldest) has something similar with my old fella's medals etc.
  14. HMS Encounter was involved in the attacks on the Bogue forts on the Pearl River from October 1856 - don't know if your relative was dead by then? One thing that stands out about early HK is the enormously high death rate - soldiers and sailors died like flies from malaria and waterborne disease. Fantastic that you've got such an early photo of the crew - I'd have loved to see photos of Chusan island in the 1840s, but it was just a smidge too early. Only survivals are from the 2nd china war around 1860.
  15. Cheers - I'll try them.

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