|Saturday, July 24, 2021
You are here: Home » Columnists » Alastair Robertson » MORE STONES THAT SPEAK
  • Follow Us!


This article follows on (after a fashion) from a previous article in the ‘Tenerife News’ entitled “If only those stones could speak.” There we read about two men who participated in the foundation of Spanish Tenerife.

This time the circumstances of the people concerned are more modest.

Cemeteries in England are green, tranquil places, miniature nature reserves, but in Tenerife they are very different, mainly scorched, desiccated places, or else warehouses, with concrete racks of concrete compartments for coffins arranged behind concrete or marble slabs, like cells in a honeycomb. I have to say I find them rather unsettling and if I popped my clogs or kicked the bucket in Tenerife I’d opt for cremation, with my ashes to be scattered in some quiet corner of the countryside.

Putting aside these morbid thoughts, to read the epitaphs on headstones is usually quite interesting and, believe it or not, a lot of people do this because, after all, nothing interests people more than other people. There are two cemeteries in the north that give a little cause for reflection.

In Santa Cruz there is the old city cemetery of San Rafael and San Roque, where the Protestant section contains eighty-four identifiable burials that include members of the well-known, entrepreneurial, Hamilton family. The graves have been thoroughly recorded by Daniel Garcia Pulido in his book, ‘San Rafael y San Roque – Un camposanto con historia [A cemetery with history] (1810-1916)’, publi-shed in 2000. From the inscriptions and supplemen-tary information the author gives we can extract small pictures of the lives of several people from days gone by.

There are businessmen and merchants, for example Joseph Baker, a London merchant who died in 1845 aged 44, and his partner Thomas Clarke, who died only a few years after him in 1848.

A company director with the wonderful name of Farrow Siddal Bellamy, of the Tenerife Coaling Company and Elder Dempster Com-pany, the biggest and most important business in Santa Cruz, lived to the age of 82 when he died in 1947. He promoted the construction of the lavish Elder Dempster building in the Calle Castillo and owned the first motor car on the island, a French Panhard, registered on 4th February 1902.

There are foreign consuls who sometimes mixed business with their bureau-cratic appointments. Joseph C. Hart was a U.S. consul as well as a lawyer and a writer, who died in 1855 aged 56. Another U.S. consul, William H. Dabney, sadly lost his wife Marianne in 1879 while they were in Tenerife. Yet another US consul, Harrison Briggs MacKay y Jennings, was an agent for the London shipping agents, Forwood Brothers & Company. He died at the age of 45 in 1889.

Carl Gottlob Adolf Buchle was a German consul and a merchant who died in 1915 aged 59. He was an associate of William Lemaitre and together they owned the Foronda building until the end of the 19th century. They donated a clock to the church of San Francisco in Santa Cruz.

The Danish consul in Tenerife was Hans Peter Olsen, who was actually Norwegian. He owned the ‘Hotel Olsen’, otherwise called the ‘Alexandra’, in Santa Cruz and was president of the Association of Hoteliers. He died in 1950 aged 83.

British consul Richard Bartlett (1785-1857) was awarded the medal of the Fleur de Lys by King Louis XVIII of France, an honour usually reserved for Fren-chmen, and he was British consul in A Coruna in Spain for several years before managing the consulate of the Canaries from 1841 to 1849. He married twice, first to Ann Kay and then to Josefa Tarrius.

A couple of the others to whom we can give persona-lities are James Le Brun (1823-1886), who was also known as ‘Diego’, whose family moved to Tenerife from Jersey in 1818. He was an importer and exporter who owned a large collection of historical and natural relics of the Canary Islands. (What happened to them, I wonder?) His daughter Frances Marian is also buried here. Mr. Le Brun was in partnership with members of the Davidson family, several of whom are buried here.

Occasionally, engineers of various nationalities died while on Tenerife, or even off Tenerife.

Oskar Hans Gotz was a German engineer who died here at the young age of 33 in 1909. Cornelius Thompson was a naval armourer for the ports of London and Aberdeen who died on the high seas around the island in 1894. William Henry Lewis was chief engineer on the ‘Suevic’, who died here in 1921 while the ‘Suevic’, a ship of the White Star line, was on its voyage between Liverpool and Australia. The ‘Suevic’ had been wrecked in 1907, when half of it had to be left on the rocks where it foundered, then following a drastic rebuild it was relaunched in 1908.

Three maritime-associa-ted deaths occurred here in 1898. Frederick Williams was chief engineer on board the ‘Trojan’, a ship of the Union Line that sailed between England and South Africa. He died aged 50 in October 1898 while the ship was docked in Santa Cruz. Arthur Henry Bechervaise Fulford came to the Canary Islands as chief superinten-dent of the ‘Spanish National Submarine Telegraph Com-pany’ that owned the telegraph connection bet-ween the Canarian archipelago, the Spanish mainland and Europe. The company was established in 1883 and the link by cable was made the same year.

Mr. Fulford also died in 1898, aged only 40. The third death in 1898 was Joseph H. Train Gray, who died on 9th April on board the steamship ‘South America,’ of the ‘Veloce Navigazionne Italiana’ line, which was sailing between South America and Italy when it called in to the port of Santa Cruz. He was 59.

All these notes give tantalising hints at the often romantic-sounding lives of these people, some of whom lived out a full life while others died tragically young.

As well as being informative, epitaphs are someti-mes unintentionally amusing, for example in the English cemetery in Puerto de la Cruz, where members of the Smith family, who owned the Sitio Litre with its beautiful garden that’s open to the public, are buried, as well as members of the Reid family, who provided vice-consuls for the island, and where there are as many Germans and Scandina-vians present as English, there are a few epitaphs that caught my eye:

To a gent, “So very quiet without you.” Was he a talkative chap? Another is to, “A man of many parts,” hopefully all in working order. Another man had three Christian names to choose from but he wanted none of them and preferred to be called Roger. Marriage to a certain lady was, “A life contract and beyond.” Let’s hope it was, and still is, full of romance. A departed lady was recorded as the wife of a man who gave his own first name, but not that of his dear wife! A chap I’ll call ‘X’ was born on (date) and he died on (date) followed by the words, “For Ever.” (!) He wasn’t expected to come back, then.

There’s a sweet thought for a very old lady, “We had you so long we will miss you all the more.” And one that I hope will be for me as well, reads, “He had a happy life and was a good man.” Other words from one departed give some sound advice – “Don’t worry, be happy.” But my favourite epitaph has to be to, “A great lady, horsewoman and mother,” in that order.