Saturday, 7 August 2010

Rest In Peace - or maybe not !!!

The Hong Kong Cemetery in Happy Valley has seen more than its fair share of exhumation projects over the years. Not only has space been at a premium but road widening schemes have also encroached on what should have been a peaceful haven. A few poor souls - having been buried - found that a some years later their remains were dug up and moved to another spot within the cemetery. Then, a few years on, yet another project threatened their resting place and they were dug up and moved for a second time. So much for that “Last Resting Place” !

Alfred Gordon Ursell was 49 years of age, married with two sons and the family lived at 19 Fung Fai Terrace in Village Road, Happy Valley. Alfred worked as a Chargeman in the Fitters Department at the Royal Naval Yard and his sons were apprentices in the Dockyard. Alfred had been in Hong Kong for ten years and was shortly due to transfer back to Portsmouth. On Friday 16th. March 1934 he was working at the west side of the dry dock when suddenly at 3.55pm he tripped. He fell 35ft into the dock before striking his head and then rolled the remaining 10ft. to the bottom dying instantly. His body was taken to the Royal Naval Hospital to await burial the following day.

Fung Fai Terrace was just a short walk from the Colonial Cemetery in Happy Valley where Alfred’s body was laid to rest on Saturday afternoon. His eldest son was the chief mourner but many friends and colleagues were present at the graveside. The Royal Navy Chaplain officiated. Alfred was buried in Grave No. 9426 in Section 7.

A few weeks later Alfred’s widow returned to England with her sons.

Normally this would be the end of the story but not in Alfred’s case. Thirty five years later HK Government Gazette GN 2524 dated 19th. December 1969 notified that 460 graves were to be exhumed from the Colonial Cemetery on 24th. June 1970. Any remains not claimed by relatives before that date would be moved to an Ossuary within the cemetery – “or will be otherwise disposed of as the Director may think fit”. Presumably Alfred’s body was not claimed for his remains were exhumed and placed in the Ossuary on 7th. June 1971.

Just over four years later in November 1975 Government Gazette No 48/1975 announced “Notice of intention to remove and dispose of human remains at the Colonial Cemetery”. Surely Alfred would be safe on this occasion. But no – the 1975 Gazette listed a staggering total of 3467 graves for removal - plus 187 sets of exhumed remains which were deposited in the existing Ossuary (Alfred was one of these). Work was to start within the month and the remains were to be temporarily deposited in a bone store until the new ossuary had been built. It was 1983 before Alfred’s remains came out of the “bone store” and were laid to rest in his niche.

His last resting place? One can only hope.

I use this story as an example to show that even if you know that one of your ancestors was buried in a certain grave in a certain section of the Hong Kong Cemetery in Happy Valley that there is no guarantee that he or she will still be in that location. As far as I am aware my Hong Kong Cemetery Burial Index is the only resource which actually tracks the movement of these graves. If you want to find a Hong Kong grave then please contact me – I may be able to assist.