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The monument to the dead of the “Guy Mannering” with the Abbey of Iona beyond

Writing a blog means that one’s attention is often grabbed by the subject in the strangest and most unusual of places.  I have slowly collected bits about American official statues and commemoration around the world, statues to Presidents or streets and squares named after them in out of the way parts of Europe, and this week, whilst on a short break, I found another.

The United States Government erected the above gravestone out of the national pocket, to a number of it’s citizens drowned in a wreck in the middle of the nineteenth century.  What I found most interesting is the fact that the local population chose to bury the dead in the same graveyard as the Kings of ScotlandIona, a small island off the coast of the Isle of Mull, is the holy island of the Scots.  Here I found a beautiful Abbey whose sense of spirituality pervaded the island.  There is a graveyard too, not much to look at perhaps, being to the casual eye just a lumpy field surrounded by a low stone wall.  However, it has long been the burial place of kings, with 48 Kings of Scotland, 8 Kings of Norway and 4 Irish Kings all stuffed down in a fairly confined area.  Modern politicians too, like John Smith, can be buried here, in this windswept, hillocked, blowy, national graveyard.

And it was in here that the monument was erected by the United States government after the wrecking of the “Guy Mannering” a ship carrying cotton sailing out of New York in December 1866 giving thanks to the islanders for saving so many, and in commemoration of their own countrymen.

Having left New York on 2nd December the first week had been uneventful but then she encountered hurricane winds which tore the sails to ribbons, the cargo shifted twice and the crew were so exhausted that the passengers had to join in the work of trying to save the vessel.  Finally a mere quarter of a mile from shore she broke up pitching passengers and crew into the stormy sea to struggle against the waves in the clutter of the debris and cargo.  Of the 36 passengers and crew 19 were saved but 17 died.

The dead were buried with the kings of Scotland, and the American Government paid for a suitable stone; a reminder of different times and of the bonds between the countries then.  Would we do the same today?

Copyright David Macadam 2012