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The tombstones of the English East India Company cemetery in Macao: a linguistic analysis

O'Regan, JP; (2009) The tombstones of the English East India Company cemetery in Macao: a linguistic analysis. Markers: Annual Journal of the Association of Gravestone Studies , 26 pp. 88-119. Green open access

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In a quiet corner of the former Catholic Portuguese colony of Macao, China, away from the bustle and hum of the surrounding streets, there is to be found a small nineteenth century burial ground for Protestants – British and American in the main, but also including French, German, Danish, Dutch, Swedish and Armenian graves. The ground is entered via a narrow gate off the Praça Luis de Camões (Camoens Square), above which is a white tablet bearing the legend: ‘Protestant Church and Old Cemetery [East India Company 1814]’. The date is in fact erroneous, as the burial ground did not open until 1821, and the land was only purchased in the same year. Here beneath shaded canopies of bauhinia and frangipani lie 164 men, women and children each of whom died in the service of their nation in a foreign land, either as soldiers, merchants, sailors, medics, diplomats, civil servants, entrepreneurs, missionaries, wives, mothers or innocents. The maladies of which the cemetery’s residents died were numerous, and all too typical of life in the tropics. Their death certificates, and in some cases their gravestones, indicate malaria, cholera, typhus, dysentery, falls from aloft, drowning, death in battle, suicide and murder. Only a few would be able to claim to have died of old age. The ‘Old Cemetery’, although originally intended to serve the needs of East India Company employees and their dependents only, was soon open to Protestants of all persuasions, and the interred include Baptists, Methodists, Quakers and Presbyterians. Amongst those buried here are the Reverend Dr Robert Morrison (1782-1834), the first Protestant missionary in China and translator of the Bible into Chinese; Thomas W. Waldron (1792-1844), American Consul for Hong Kong and Naval Storekeeper for the US East India Squadron; Lord Henry John Spencer Churchill (1797-1840), British naval commander (and ancestor of Winston Churchill and Diana Spencer); and George Chinnery (1774-1852), the China Trade artist, whose famous Macao portrait of Miss Harriet Low hangs in the Peabody Museum in Massachusetts. The Old Cemetery formally ceased its function at the end of 1857 with the inauguration of a ‘New Protestant Cemetery’ a mile distant to the north. Despite its closure, the occasional burial still took place here, with three in 1858 and one in 1859. There are 164 graves relating to this period on this site, and 161 are marked by a gravestone of some kind, usually in the form of a headstone, a slab, a box tomb, or a column set upon a plinth. A number of the box tombs and the columns are surmounted by an urn. On most of these structures, and often on more than one side, loved ones, friends or colleagues have arranged for words to be inscribed which, in addition to recording the names and dates of the dead, have also placed ‘on record’ their attitudes towards concepts such as faith, love, marriage and death, and the fundaments of a Western way of life. This has been done by means of formulaic encomiums of loss, in verse and in scripture, and through biographical accounts of the life of the deceased. Apropos the reader, these verses and accounts have a didactic intent. In this paper, the language in which this intent is framed, and specifically the lexical and grammatical modalities by which it is cued and conveyed, are the principal objects of study, and this is what distinguishes this investigation from other types of gravestone research where the emphasis has tended to be on the inscription as an object of design, literary curiosity or wit. In this paper the aesthetic worth or curiosity of the inscription itself has been put to one side in favour of an analysis of the linguistic functions through which inscriptional language positions readers within shared systems of assumption and belief. It is through such positioning, particularly in contexts of deep cultural salience (such as cemeteries), that processes of human identity formation or enculturation may be said to occur. This paper is therefore also about such processes as they impacted upon perceptions of Western identity amongst the foreigners of early nineteenth century South China. The linguistic analysis of sepulchral inscriptions and their role in the construction of the identity of the living is an area which has received little attention to date and this is what recommends the subject to this journal. But before moving to the analysis which this observation suggests, I would like to elaborate briefly on the history of the foreign settlements in China as this forms an important backdrop against which the existence of this cemetery and the memorials of its residents may be brought into greater relief and discussed.

Type: Article
Title: The tombstones of the English East India Company cemetery in Macao: a linguistic analysis
Location: US
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: https://www.gravestonestudies.org/
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Cemeteries, Discourse analysis, Linguistics, Identity, Intercultural communication, China, Macao, Macau, Hong Kong
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education > IOE - Culture, Communication and Media
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1474359
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