Category Archives: Graves

The Sunderland Disaster

In the 19th century the Victoria Hall facing Mowbray Park in Sunderland was a popular venue for public meetings and entertainment. The large hall offered seating on the ground floor, the first floor, the dress circle and the gallery.


On 16 June 1883 at 3p.m. approximately 2000 children between the ages of 4 and 13 years gathered to see a show by travelling entertainers from Tynemouth Aquarium. It had been advertised as the Greatest Treat for Children Ever Given and offered free presents to ticket holders with the winning lottery numbers.


These gifts were being handed out on the ground floor and eager not to miss out a mass of children began to stream down a narrow winding stairway 6 feet wide which descended from the gallery to an exit door that had been wedged open and bolted into the floor to facilitate ticket redemption and restrict passage of children one at a time. However, the surge of children knocked over those in front while the ones behind continued to push forward. The children at the bottom of the stairs were crushed and trampled. Records show a total of 202 children were asphyxiated in the tragedy. A hundred more were injured.

sunderland_journal illustre

A few of those who were lost included an entire Bible class of 30 children from a local Sunday school, and the Vills family who lost four children. Catherine Richmond, aged 7 years, survived the disaster but died from fright immediately following.

Ann Milner Pringle was 9 years old and her sister Margaret Pringle aged 7 years old.
In affectionate remembrance of Ann Milner Pringle aged 9 years and Margaret Milner Pringle aged 7 years, who lost their lives in the Victoria Hall catastrophe June 16th 1883. Symbolism of the fern on the gravestone represents new life.

William Johnson aged 10 years.
Sunderland-FLICKR- dave webster
Not my will Lord but thine be done. In remembrance of William, the beloved son of William & Elizabeth Johnson, who met with his death at the Victoria Hall, June 16th 1883, aged 10 years & 9 months. Symbolism of two birds is eternal life, and the lily represents innocence and purity.

Charles Foster aged 8 years.
In loving memory of Charles Foster beloved son of Robert T. Hannah Dodds who lost his life in the Victoria Hall catastrophe, June 6th 1883 aged 8 years.

John Howard aged 11 years.
In loving memory of John, son of William & Henrietta Howard who was killed in the Victoria Hall disaster, June 16th, 1883 aged 6 years 11? months.

Eliza Halliman aged 9 years.
Beloved daughter of John and Mary Ann Halliman who departed this life through the fatal Disaster at the Victoria Hall, June 16th, 1883, aged 9 years. In the midst of life we are in death.

The janitor and several adults made an attempt to rescue the crushed children and redirect others to another exit. The bodies were laid in the ground floor of the hall where doctors tried to resuscitate. The streets filled with families and onlookers. The screams of terrified parents were silenced an hour later when a procession of cabs transported families with their dead children back to their homes.

Those who were lucky to survive include Maggie Gills who clung to a handrail which saved her from certain death. Inez Coe who was handicapped managed to wedge her crutch across the angle of the wall thus preventing her from being crushed. Eleven year old George Graham was the first boy to run down the stairs before the crush. He told the Echo: “When I got to the door, I found it was fast. I took my little brother in my arms and went upstairs again as fast as I could. I set my brother on a windowsill and so saved our lives. I stopped there a long time.”

“In one case, a little girl was stopped as she walked along Tatham Street, carrying her dead sister home. A passer-by called for a cab and paid for it.”

National and international newspapers ran the story. Queen Victoria sent a message of condolence sating that ‘her heart bleeds for the sufferings of the many bereaved parents, and she prays God to support them in their terrible distress.’

All homes closed their drapes and local businesses closed as a mark of respect as the children were buried over the following four days. A memorial fund, a donation by Queen Victoria and public donations from all over the country paid for the funerals, and the remaining balance was to be used to purchase a memorial. The dead were buried in Bishopwearmouth Cemetery, Mere Knolls Cemetery, Holy Trinity Churchyard, and Sunderland Cemetery where the graves were dug in three rows the centre of which was reserved for placement of a memorial.

A memorial of a life size white marble statue depicting a grieving mother holding her dead child was erected in Mowbray Park. It was later moved to Bishopwearmouth Cemetery where it gradually fell into disrepair, and was vandalised. In 2002 the marble statue was restored and returned to Mowbray Park with a protective canopy.

Two inquiries were held but no one was held accountable. As a result of the disaster Parliament passed a law that required all entertainment venues to have bar-operated exit doors that open outwards. This law is still in effect today. The hall remained open for decades after but was destroyed by a German bomb in 1941.

The following links give detailed reports of the accident from newspapers in London, England; New York Times, USA; and Lauceston, Tasmania.

London Times newspaper reports of the inquiry results:

A poem written by William McGonagall:
The Sunderland Calamity
’Twas in the town of Sunderland, and in the year of 1883,
That about 200 children were launch’d into eternity
While witnessing an entertainment in Victoria Hall,
While they, poor little innocents, to God for help did call.

The entertainment consisted of conjuring, and the ghost illusion play,
Also talking waxworks, and living marionettes, and given by Mr. Fay;
And on this occasion, presents were to be given away,
But in their anxiety of getting presents they wouldn’t brook delay,
And that is the reason why so many lives have been taken away;
But I hope their precious souls are in heaven to-day.

As soon as the children began to suspect
That they would lose their presents by neglect,
They rush’d from the gallery, and ran down the stairs pell-mell,
And trampled one another to death, according as they fell.

As soon as the catastrophe became known throughout the boro’
The people’s hearts were brim-full of sorrow,
And parents rush’d to the Hall terror-stricken and wild,
And each one was anxious to find their own child.

Oh! it must have been a most horrible sight
To see the dear little children struggling with all their might
To get out at the door at the foot of the stair,
While one brave little boy did repeat the Lord’s Prayer.

The innocent children were buried seven or eight layers deep,
The sight was heart-rending and enough to make one weep;
It was a most affecting spectacle and frightful to behold
The corpse of a little boy not above four years old,

Who had on a top-coat much too big for him,
And his little innocent face was white and grim,
And appearing to be simply in a calm sleep-
The sight was enough to make one’s flesh to creep.

The scene in the Hall was heart-sickening to behold,
And enough to make one’s blood run cold.
To see the children’s faces, blackened, that were trampled to death,
And their parents lamenting o’er them with bated breath.

Oh! it was most lamentable for to hear
The cries of the mothers for their children dear;
And many mothers swooned in grief away
At the sight of their dead children in grim array.

There was a parent took home a boy by mistake,
And after arriving there his heart was like to break
When it was found to be the body of a neighbour’s child;
The parent stood aghast and was like to go wild.

A man and his wife rush’d madly in the Hall,
And loudly in grief on their children they did call,
And the man searched for his children among the dead
Seemingly without the least fear or dread.

And with his finger pointing he cried. “That’s one! two!
Oh! heaven above, what shall I do;”
And still he kept walking on and murmuring very low.
Until he came to the last child in the row;

Then he cried, “Good God! all my family gone
And now I am left to mourn alone;”
And staggering back he cried, “Give me water, give me water!”
While his heart was like to break and his teeth seem’d to chatter.

Oh, heaven! it must have been most pitiful to see
Fathers with their dead children upon their knee
While the blood ran copiously from their mouths and ears
And their parents shedding o’er them hot burning tears.

I hope the Lord will comfort their parents by night and by day,
For He gives us life and He takes it away,
Therefore I hope their parents will put their trust in Him,
Because to weep for the dead it is a sin.

Her Majesty’s grief for the bereaved parents has been profound,
And I’m glad to see that she has sent them £50;
And I hope from all parts of the world will flow relief
To aid and comfort the bereaved parents in their grief.

Images Used

Missionary Rev. John Ross

This gravestone is located in the Newington Cemetery, Edinburgh, Scotland.

John Ross belonged to the United Presbyterian Church which was famous for its missions. As soon as he was ordained as a minister in 1872 he married M. A. Stewart and they departed for China. His wife died the following year giving birth to their first child, a son named Drummond. In 1876, he married Catherine, a sister of one of his fellow missionaries. He lived in China for 40 years as a missionary in Manchuria and Korea. His study of linguistics gave him an understanding of 11 languages. He began translating the New Testament into Korean, a project that took 10 years to complete, and which led to the spread of Christianity in Korea. Throughout his lifetime he wrote several books on the subject of missionary work in Manchuria. He returned to Edinburgh, Scotland in 1910 due to ill health.

Edinburgh_Cameron Toll_Ross

The Scottish Bible Society designed this gravestone and arranged for it to be made in Korea then shipped to Scotland. It is engraved in both English and Korean.


Loving Memory
Rev. John Ross D. D.
For over forty years missionary
Of the U. F. Church in Manchuria,
Died in Edinburgh 7th August 1915,
Aged 74 years.
Also his children
Hugh, Findlay, Jackie,
And Cathie Jane,
Who died in infancy,
Buried in Newchwang, N. China.
Findlay M. Ross M. C.
His youngest son,
Lieut. 9th Batt. The Royal Scots,
Killed in action in France 1st. Aug 1918,
Aged 25 years, and buried at
British Cemetery, Raperie, Nr. Soissons.
Also his wife
Isabella Strapp McFadyen
Who died in Glasgow
19th December 1930

A dedication stone beneath the gravestone

The Korean Church
Thank God for
John Ross
Who Translated The New Testament Into Korean
Between 1877 -1887
And Gave Them The Word Of Life


Newington Cemetery

Dalkeith Road, Edinburgh, Scotland

In 1846 this site was known as Echo Bank Cemetery, and later became known as the Newington Necropolis. The original Gothic lodge is still in evidence and is used as a gatekeeper’s cottage.

This cemetery is neglected and vandalized.  Tombstones are toppled over and broken.  It is overrun with ivy, and in some instances it is impossible to see the headstones.  The gravestones located at the perimeter wall are impossible to reach because the ground is covered in vegetation.  It is objectionable that this hallowed ground has been neglected and allowed to deteriorate, and yet it is a very peaceful island in the midst of the city where the sun shines through the foliage of the ancient trees and lends a sadness and eeriness to the scene.

It is one of the most haunting sites I’ve visited. Large and spacious it covers a large area in the city. It is both open and wooded. The overgrown foliage entangles the tombstones, obliterates the names whilst the shade from the trees plunges the area into gloom. At every turn the rustling leaves seem ominous, and I checked over my shoulder more than once. I was transported to a book I once read “A Fine and Lonely Place,” which told the story of an old man who frequented a cemetery. Perhaps that is what triggered my fascination with cemeteries and gravestone and the history of inscriptions.

There is a wrought iron fenced area against the front wall containing gravestones with images of the Star of David and Hebrew writing. The Jewish section was created in 1945, and it seems to me vindictive and intolerant that even in death the Jews are segregated from the others.


If there is another world he lived in bliss
If there be none he made the most of this. 1938

In mansions of glory and endless delight
I’ll ever adore thee in heaven so bright
And sing with a glittering crown on my brow
If ever I love thee my Jesus ‘tis now.

This stone recalls sad thoughts of one who in the summer’s shady bloom straight from the arms of love went down to the gloomy portals of the tomb. 1869

A Report Filed for Edinburgh Evening News, 06 February 1991:
On Monday I went for a walk in a graveyard. Preoccupied with sombre thoughts in these sombre times, I stood before a huge memorial stone “to the honoured memory of one hundred and thirty nine British sailors and soldiers who gave their lives for their country during the Great War 1914-1918”.

In large letters across the top of the memorial was written: “Their name liveth for evermore”. Behind it was a large ragged heap of stones and an unkempt tangle of undergrowth. The place was dirty, depressing and very cold.

These days, there should be no need to remind ourselves of the need to respect the dead. It behoves us all to honour those who have passed away, whether they died by accident, of old age, in the First World War, or in a futile fight for oil.

It follows that any civilised society should take great care of its graves. In Newington cemetery near Cameron Toll, where I was, the graves have been allowed to go to rack and ruin.

Headstones had collapsed, crosses were broken and graffiti disfigured tombs. Broken glass, rusty tin cans and plastic bags were littered all over the place. In some places the undergrowth was so thick that it was difficult to see or get to the burial grounds.

In the summer the graveyard is swamped with weeds and bushes. It is infested with hundreds of giant hogweeds which in sunlight cause serious burns to the skin. It is, as the Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for Edinburgh South, Struan Stevenson, told me, “an utter disgrace”.

He said he had received complaints from local people that “they need a machete to hack their way to their loved ones’ graves”. He thought it was outrageous that a cemetery regularly visited by hundreds of people should have been allowed to deteriorate from a place of rest into a jungle.

A few years ago, a teenage boy was killed by a falling tombstone. Perhaps that is why at the entrance to Newington cemetery there is an ugly sign. “Warning”, it says. “This cemetery is private property. The owners cannot accept responsibility for accidents to unauthorised persons.”

*UPDATE* September 2015

After two years of hard work by volunteers the cemetery has been restored to its former glory. Dozens of volunteers met each month armed with secateurs, sheers and rakes to tame the undergrowth and uncover concealed graves. During the process an empty catacomb in the centre of the graveyard was discovered.

The Friends of Newington Cemetery have produced a map of the 14-acre graveyard identifying the graves of famous people and a Commonwealth War Graves memorial.

International Order of Odd Fellows

Fraternal and social organizations were very popular and evidence of this popularity can be seen in the number of grave memorials with fraternal symbols. Many of these once popular societies are now almost non-existent.

The all-seeing eye symbol is associated with Freemasonry or the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Also called the Eye of Providence or Eye of God, its origins date back to the Eye of Horus in Egyptian mythology and symbolizes the all-knowing and ever-present God.

Evergreen Cemetery, Milton, ON, Canada
Evergreen Cemetery, Milton, ON, Canada

Clasped hands are symbolic of a welcome into the heavenly world from the deceased’s maker.



Evergreen Cemetery, Milton, ON, Canada
Evergreen Cemetery, Milton, ON, Canada

The three linked rings (the chains that bind the Fraternity) are synonymous with the Odd Fellows and the letters FLT stand for Friendship, Love and Truth.

Spencer Gorge, Dundas, ON, Canada
Spencer Gorge, Dundas, ON, Canada

The image on this stone shows clasped hands. However, the forefinger of the right hand is pointing, and is most likely a secret handshake as identified in the Album of Unwritten Work, a volume owned by each Grand Lodge which explained the principles and rituals of the I.O.O.F.

Come near my friends and cast and eye
Then go your way, prepare to die,
Learn your doom, and know you must
One day like me be turned to dust. 1876

A loving husband, a dutiful son, an affectionate brother

Family Plots

One of the most painful losses we endure is the loss of a parent. It brings our own mortality to light.

A wife most true, a mother kind
A friend of sympathizing heart
Forgiving spirit, trusting mind
Who wisely chose the better part.

Mother thou art gone to rest
We will not weep for thee
For thou art now where oft on earth
Thy spirit longed to be.

Evergreen Cemetery, Milton, ON, Canada
Evergreen Cemetery, Milton, ON, Canada

Her children rise up and call her blessed.

In death’s cold arms lies sleeping
A tender parent, a companion dear
In love she lived, in peace she died,
Her life was asked but was denied. 1878

Our mother has gone from us forever
There is none on earth to us so dear
May it show to us, dear Redeemer
That our home is not down here.

Tis nature’s part, a mother to deplore
Whose early care, demands that just return
Religion only, can our peace restore
And bring relief to those who cause to mourn.

Farewell dear father, sweet thy rest
Weary with years and worn with pain
Farewell till in some happy place
We shall behold thy face again.

Evergreen Cemetery, Milton, ON, Canada
Evergreen Cemetery, Milton, ON, Canada

Hark the sad sound that spirit bright has fled
That once loved form lies numbered with the dead
He was a tender husband, father dear
Come all who knew him drop a social tear. – 1841

The call has come to young and old
To part with friends below
They now our fathers face behold
Nor suffer pain nor woe. – 1918

Husband thou art gone to rest
Thou has found thine earthly tomb
For God has summoned thee away
Thy Father called thee home.

A faithful friend, a husband dear
A kinder parent lieth here
Great is the loss we will sustain
But hope in Heaven to meet again.

Weep not for me my children dear
I am not dead but sleeping here
And when my grave you come to see
Prepare the way to follow me.

And parted thus they rest that played against the same green tree
Whose voices mingled as they prayed around one parent knee. 1883

Holy Cross Cemetery, Colma, CA, USA
Holy Cross Cemetery, Colma, CA, USA

One less at home.
The charmed circle broken.
A dear face missed day by day from its usual place.
But cleansed, saved, perfected by Grace.
One more in Heaven.

A place is vacant in our home that can never be filled.

Martyr’s Stone

This monument known as the Martyr’s Stone is set into the north east corner wall of Greyfriar’s Cemetery in Edinburgh.

The tomb was erected in 1706. The original structure contained a triangular pediment and two columns with scroll capitals with a large slab of white marble containing text (documented below), and beneath a carving of an open bible containing text from the book of Revelation ending with these words, ‘This tomb was first erected by James Curie, Merchant in Pentland, and others, 1706, renewed 1771.

As can be seen in the photograph hundreds of years of neglect and fierce weather has damaged the monument.

Martyr's Stone
Martyr’s Stone

Halt Passenger, take heed, what you do see,
This tomb doth shew, for what some men did die,
Here lies interred the dust of those who stood
Against perjury, resisting unto blood
Adhering to the Covenants, and laws
Establishing the same, which was the cause
Then lives were sacrificed unto the lust
Of Prelatists abjured. Though here their dust
Lies mixed with murderers, and other crew
Whom justice justly did to death pursue
But as for them, no cause was to be found
Worthy of death, but only they were found.
Constant and steadfast, zealous witnessing
For the Prerogatives of CHRIST their KING.
Which truths were sealed by famous Guthrie’s head
And all along to Mr. Renwick’s blood.
They did endure the wrath of enemies
Reproaches, torments, deaths and injuries
But yet they’re those who from such trouble came
And now triumph in glory with the LAMB.
From May 27th, 1661 that the most noble Marquis
Of Argyle was beheaded to the 17th of February 1688
That Mr. James Renwick suffered, were one way
Or other Murdered and Destroyed for the same cause, about
Eighteen thousand of whom were executed at Edinburgh, about an
Hundred of Noblemen, Gentlemen, Ministers and Others, noble
Martyrs for Jesus Christ. The most of them lie here.
For a particular account of the cause and manner of their Sufferings, see
The Cloud of Witnesses, Crookshanks, and Defoe’s histories.

Note: The National Covenant was a protest by Scottish Presbyterians against Charles I’s preference for a High Anglican form of worship which was considered too Catholic. The most fervent and well known protestors being:
Archibald, Marquis of Argyle
James Renwick, a Presbyterian Minister
James Guthrie, a minister at Stirling.


These gravestones have been wiped clean due to weather erosion, or from damage. A life once lived, now even the words of memorium are erased from the stone…

St. Nicholas Church, Dalkeith,  Midlothian, Scotland
St. Nicholas Church, Dalkeith, Midlothian, Scotland

Meek and gentle was her spirit
Prudence did her life adorn
Modest she disclaimed all merit
Tell me am not I forlorn
Yet I must and will resign her
She’s in better hands than mine
But I hope again to join her
In the realms of love divine.

St. Nicholas Church, Dalkeith,  Midlothian, Scotland
St. Nicholas Church, Dalkeith, Midlothian, Scotland

Of such is the kingdom of Heaven
Often I stood as you stand now
To view the dead as you do me
Ere long, and you shall lie as low
And others stand and look on thee.

St. Nicholas Church, Dalkeith,  Midlothian, Scotland
St. Nicholas Church, Dalkeith, Midlothian, Scotland

Tho’ lost to sight
To memory clear.

St. Nicholas Church, Dalkeith,  Midlothian, Scotland
St. Nicholas Church, Dalkeith, Midlothian, Scotland

Tis but a little tear is shed
For one to mem’ry dear
The tribute of my childhood days
Is but a little tear.

Lasswade Cemetery, Lasswade, Midlothian, Scotland
Lasswade Cemetery, Lasswade, Midlothian, Scotland

As you were, you will always be
Treasured forever in our memory.

Copps Hill,  Boston, MA, USA
Copps Hill, Boston, MA, USA

Come near my friends and cast and eye
Then go your way, prepare to die,
Learn your doom, and know you must
One day like me be turned to dust. 1876

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