Macau's Protestant Cemeteries
It's hard to make a case for the joys of cemeteries without people looking at you a bit strange, and perhaps edging a bit further away. But let me try, with four reasons that cemeteries deserve your attention:
We'll use the Protestant Cemeteries in Macau as an example. I only heard about them recently, from Ms Shyama Peebles. Shyama has spent a lot of time and effort documenting the gravestones in each of the cemeteries, complete with photographs and typed copies of each stone's text. Click these links to download the results of her hard work:
- Graves in Macau's Old Protestant Cemetery (13Mb PDF file)
- Graves in Macau's New Protestant Cemetery (9Mb PDF file)
As you browse through them, consider ...
The story behind the cemetery
Macau was very definitely a Roman Catholic country. Which meant trouble if you were Protestant and had to deal with the death of a friend or family member. There was nowhere to bury them!
Macau was considered by the Portuguese to be sacred Roman Catholic ground and the authorities barred the burial of Protestants within its city walls, whilst on the other side of the barrier gate the Chinese were equally as intolerant of the burial of foreigners in its soil. This left the Protestant community of British, American and Northern European traders with the only option of a secret night-time burial in the land between the city walls and the barrier gate, and the risk of confrontation with Chinese should they be discovered, or worse, desecration of the grave once they had gone.
The matter was finally resolved in 1821 after the death of Robert Morrison's wife, Mary, when the local committee of the East India Company voted to purchase a plot of land and resolve its legal status with the Portuguese such that the burial of Protestants would be permitted there. Later, the East India Company allowed burial of all foreigners, and several graves were moved from other locations outside the city walls into the cemetery, explaining why some graves are dated before its founding in 1821. Nationals of Britain, the United States of America, Holland, Denmark, Sweden and Germany are buried there.
The cemetery was closed in 1858, after which the cemetery began to be referred to as the "Old" Protestant Cemetery.
The stories on the stones
Gravestones are the Twitter of the history world, with whole lifetimes compressed into just a few lines of text. But if you read them with a curious mind, I defy you to resist googling to find out more.
Cemeteries as a research tool
Those few lines of text can be a great help if you're trying to research your family history. They usually show dates of birth and death, and may also tell us where the person was born, who they married, what work they did, and how they died.
And for Hong Kong in particular, where so many of the oldest records have been lost, gravestones may be the only records we still have. That's especially true for Hong Kong's graveyards, but Macau's history was closely intertwined with Hong Kong's in those days. Though these stones are in Macau, they often have stories to tell about life in Hong Kong.
A quiet spot to visit
The photos show the cemteries as a quiet place to take a rest from the bustle of the city.
If you'd like to take a look next time you visit Macau, here are their locations. A is the old, and B is the new: