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Gone, But Not (Quite) Forgotten

Recording the remains of the St. Thomas’s church graveyard in Grand Turk.
Story & Photos By Duncan and Sally Hutt

He changed from the sick and sad of earth.
To a land that knows not care:
But his heart still clings to his native hearth
And the friends he loved while here
Epitaph of John Samuel Lightbourn (died 1851)

St. Thomas's church and graveyard in Grand Turk

St. Thomas's church and graveyard in Grand Turk

Surveying a graveyard might not be everyone’s idea of a holiday, but to us it was a break from a three month volunteering placement in Middle Caicos with the National Trust. One of the oldest structures on Grand Turk, St. Thomas’s Anglican Church (thought to have been built in 1823) stands strong, though its thick, native stone walls are battered and its cedar-shingled roof in tatters after Hurricane Ike. Even with all the damage and ragged tarpaulins trying in vain to keep the rain out it remains an impressive, if somewhat forlorn, building. Internally, the structure has suffered from the weather but there seems to be hope that the roof can be repaired and the building can, once again, become a proud part of the Island’s history.
But the subject of our attentions was outside in the churchyard where the passage of time has begun to take its toll on the older graves that huddle close around the church. Rain and wind erosion have dimmed the inscriptions on a few of the gravestones, but it is the lush vegetation and the practice in the past of letting livestock graze in the churchyard that has done the most harm. Trees have begun to grow in and around the graves, breaking some of the stones. Others are inexplicably damaged, cracked in half and separated from their other section or from the grave to which they belong.
TCI Museum volunteers Duncan and Sally Hutt

TCI Museum volunteers Duncan and Sally Hutt

The realisation that the historical, genealogical and cultural information preserved on the gravestones is going to continue to decay and eventually be lost forever prompted the National Museum to invite us to survey the graveyard and record all inscriptions and their locations. The timing of our arrival was perfect. The three of us (Duncan, Sally and Fraser Hutt) were available for an intensive period of about 10 days around Christmas 2010.
Surveying a graveyard was hardly our area of expertise; we were on Middle Caicos for our wildlife and countryside management skills. However mapping skills and an understanding for detail were what was really needed. In simple terms we mapped (on a sketch plan rather than a detailed measured survey) the location of the graves, gave them a unique number, carefully transcribed the inscriptions and photographed each one.
On the face of it this sounds easy but there were one or two things that made life a little harder. Firstly there was little in the way of planned order for the graves. Close and lined up graves were easy to categorise and position, outliers and scattered ones were somewhat more difficult. Secondly many of the stones were worn and it was hard to be sure of some crucial data: illegible dates, in particular, caused problems. Thirdly, the graveyard was full of spiky grass seeds that stuck to shoes, socks, laces and pretty much everything else. Fortunately only one grave inscription was in Latin as this was a particular challenge in transcription.
St. Thomas’s Church graveyard provides a fascinating, abridged and somewhat skewed “Who’s Who” view of the relatively affluent classes that held many of the high positions in the 19th and early 20th centuries. While we did not survey the newer section of the graveyard, the graves took us on a journey from 1770 to 1997. There were graves with long and complex descriptions, graves which held a poignancy that might normally be reserved for one’s own family and there were graves that revealed the merest hint of a different life.
Coverley marker

Coverley marker

Our database contains 138 inscriptions from the churchyard and 6 from plaques on the walls of the church’s interior (some were covered over to protect them). It would be easy to pick out the best known graves for special mention but there are many others that demanded a second look. Take, for example, Gustavus and Augusta Lightbourn with the graves of five infant children named and other small unmarked graves nearby. The family was clearly relatively wealthy, able to afford inscribed gravestones for their children but money did not prevent tragedy from striking time and again.
In another corner is the grave of Captain Harald Matthiessen from Bergen in Norway who died in 1943 and not far away Motormannen Hans Andersson from Sweden who died in March 1963: intriguing snapshots of unknown lives. A little older is the grave of Lucius Munson from New Haven, Connecticut, born 1796, who arrived from Bermuda on 4 July 1821 and died, presumably a stranger on the Islands, just 17 days later.
Few graves give details of the lives they represent, though jobs and positions are given including those of President of the Turks Islands (F H A North, whose son George Arthur is buried near the church) and Supreme Court Judge Edwin Henry Johnson, buried nearby. Reverend Joseph Maxwell, rector at St Thomas’s was presiding at funerals of others up to a few days before his death in 1864 and is buried in a grave near the front wall.
One grave that does consider the life of the deceased is the first we looked at, that of Miss Eliza Boothby, who died, aged 48, in 1849. The inscribed elegy leaves one wondering what to think: “She was a native of England but for several years resident of this island. Her intellectual superiority, varied accomplishments, bland and amiable disposition, devotion to the interests of the young, and her practical piety; will long be embalmed in the memory of all who knew her.”
Of course the famous are what many are interested in and the graveyard contains two well-known adopted sons of the Islands. First is Wade Stubbs who died in 1822. At one time his land holdings in the Caicos Islands included the famous Wade’s Green plantation on North Caicos, among others. The large marble plaque that covers his tomb is now so completely overgrown it is difficult to uncover. Its inscription is the only one to be written entirely in Latin—a final affectation by a powerful man who may himself have been illiterate? The second is Jeremiah Denis Murphy, died 1895, a larger-than-life Irish pioneer of deep sea diving who arrived in 1856 and made Grand Turk his home. The grave of his brother Andrew in an adjacent plot has collapsed inward and its marble marker is no longer readable.
The graveyard survey was not without its dangers. Many graves have collapsed and others will soon follow. The time was definitely right to make sure that the graves are properly recorded and the data kept safe in the National Museum. Hopefully our Christmas break has helped in some way to preserve a little of the Islands’ heritage and enable those researching their family to locate graves more easily in the future.



13 Comments

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Helen J. Gerodimos
Jul 2, 2011 17:10

I read your article on mapping the grave sites at St. Thomas on Turks Island. My great grand mother Katherine or Catherine Baker I believe has a memorial plaque inside the church, as she was very much loved on the island and also my great grand father held a commissioned office there John Willis Baker I believe is also buried there . Did you happen to have their names on your grave site list? Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated, as it is very hard to get info from the island.

Sincerely
Helen J. Gerodimos

Duncan Hutt
Jul 6, 2011 14:29

Some of the inscriptions inside the church were covered over to protect them from the weather and it seems that this must have been the case with any Baker plaque. The name does not appear on any of the gravestones that we surveyed either. I am sorry not to have more useful information for you. However we have already been contacted about Catherine Baker so you may wish to see the exchange on this on: http://huttsatwork.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/in-the-graveyard/
I hope you are able to find out more.
Duncan & Sally Hutt

Helen J. Gerodimos
Jul 6, 2011 18:58

Thank you for your rapid reply. I had to laugh when I saw who you wanted to pass my info to. You see, Julius Baker and I are cousins. Our great grandfathers were brothers. He is a very nice person, who has worked many long hours and years to gather info on our family history. We believe that what is written on the wall of the church for Catherine Baker, holds the key to unlock many unanswered questions on the head of the Baker family.

Sincerely yours,
Helen J. Gerodimos (Baker)

Edward Grice
Aug 14, 2011 18:54

My grandfather , Arthur Frith moved away from Grand Turk in 1905. His father was Benjamin Charles Frith, salt merchant. I have seen a few grave stones while on a short visit to Grand Turk. Are you surveying one graveyard or others as well? I’m not sure which church I visited, but there were a number of Frith makers there. Any info or help you can be to finding anything of the Friths would be most helpful.
You mentioned a “Murphy”. I understand there was a partnership business called “Frith and Murphy” at one time on the island.
What you are doing is most valuable and will preserve many valuable memories for years to come.
I thank you for your efforts.
Sincerely,
Ed Grice

Ralph E. Stubbs
Oct 18, 2011 15:00

My grandfather, Ralph, went to that church and I wondering if ther are any other Stubbses buried in the graveyard besides Wade. Specifically, any one named Horatio Stubbs?

Judy Lawrie
Oct 31, 2011 9:52

To Edward Grice. My mom is a Darrell who is related to the Friths. Mom said that the graves are in the Methodist church yard.

Lorraine Phillips-Moss
Feb 11, 2012 1:11

Hello Duncan and Sally,

I enjoyed reading the information you wrote about St. Thomas Church grave yard, in the Times of the Island. I am curious to know if you discovered the surname “Phillips” or “Hamilton” on any of the tombstone. My father was a ‘Phillips’ and my mother was a ‘Hamilton’, although they both were from North Caicos.

I am reading and researching any information I can locate, hopping to learn more about my great grand parents on both sides of the family.

Thank you and your party for the great work you performed in 2011- preserving our tombstones. Tombstones are such a valuable part of any people’s history.

Liz Buniski
Sep 12, 2013 16:32

Enjoyed reading about St. Thomas. My family was also involved in the salt trade. Eve family – John, David, Benjamin, Francis Augustus. Have a long way to go in connecting the family. Believe that John Eve married Susanna Tatem, daughter of Captain Nathaniel Tatem. Great to get some information on the church and hear what other descendants have to say.

Margaret Tatem-GIlbert
Feb 21, 2014 18:07

Where is this database housed. I’d like to review the names to make connections as my family the Tatems and the Woods are buried there.

Wilfred Dennis
Jul 5, 2014 14:53

I am the son of Claudia Beatrice Tatem and the Grandson of the late Jack Tatem who was born in the Turks and Caicos Islands. My Great Grandmother Beatrice Tatem had died in the late 90’s I believe and later on my Uncle Oliver Tatem had died.

Margaret Tatem-Gilbert
Jun 9, 2017 22:07

Jack Tatem was my father’s brother. My father was Alfred Arthur Morgan Tatem

Peter Marshall
Aug 20, 2018 10:24

I am researching Augusta Lightbourn who lived in Toronto, Canada in the late 20th century until her death on February 22, 1907. Her obituary indicates that she was the widow of Gustavus Lightbourn of Turks Islands. I’d like to confirm that this is the same Augusta and Gustavus who are buried at St. Thomas’s. Can you confirm the date of Augusta’s death on their tombstone matches the date in the obituary? Could you also confirm that Gustavus’ death date was January 18, 1881 per an obituary I found in a Bermuda newspaper? Any help you could provide would be much appreciated!

Oliver Thomas
Mar 8, 2019 0:27

Hi Peter,

Did your family history on Turks Island include a Jane Lightbourn and/or Sarah Lightbourne and/or James Lightbourn and/or Josiah Lightbourn and/or Berkley Lightbourn who may have lived on the island at points between the late 1800s into early 1900s?

Also, have you come across any Mallory’s in your family history search?

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