Fàilte! (Welcome!)

Fàilte! (Welcome!)
This blog is the result of my ongoing research into the people, places and events that have shaped the Western Isles of Scotland and, in particular, the 'Siamese-twins' of Harris and Lewis.
My interest stems from the fact that my Grandfather was a Stornowegian and, until about four years ago, that was the sum total of my knowledge, both of him and of the land of his birth.
I cannot guarantee the accuracy of everything that I have written (not least because parts are, perhaps, pioneering) but I have done my best to check for any errors.
My family mainly lived along the shore of the Sound of Harris, from An-t-Ob and Srannda to Roghadal, but one family 'moved' to Direcleit in the Baighs...

©Copyright 2011 Peter Kerr All rights reserved

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Burial at Sea in the 19thC

In connection with my quest to discover where my ancestor Malcolm Kerr (1822-1898) might have been laid to rest I contacted the  National Maritime Museum in Greenwich to see what is known regarding the rules & regulations for burials at sea pertaining at the time.

The Births and Deaths Act, 1836 (which set up the system of civil registration in England and Wales), the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1874 and the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894 gave instructions to Captains on how to register the actual death, but contained absolutely nothing dealing with the circumstances, such as the minimum depth of water or distance from the shore, under which such a burial could be undertaken.

My initial astonishment at the lack of any such legislation existing at that time has been tempered somewhat by the reflection that many souls were lost overboard (or in wrecks) close to land and yet their bodies were never given-up by the sea.
With that knowledge and experience perhaps it was felt unnecessary to specify a depth of water or a distance from the shore? It would appear to have been a matter of discretion as to whether to perform a burial at sea or to take the body ashore for burial, just so long as the actual death aboard the vessel was correctly recorded.

It also means that, whilst not proven, Malcolm could indeed have been buried at the spot where he died in the Horseshoe Bay of the Sound of Kerrera...

Note: I am extremely grateful to the Information Assistant at the Museum's Library for his diligent research into this topic.


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