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Terry Smith
7th May 2011, 11:54 AM
I am trying to write a sea story and require the following information. Can anyone please tell me the procedure in the British Merchant Navy following the death of a crew memberat sea in say the 1950s, either through accident or natural causes?
I seem to recall reading that in sailing ship days the body would be sewn into a canvas shroud by either the sailmaker or perhaps the carpenter, with the final stitch being passed through the deceased's nose, although for what reason I'm not certain. The body was then weighted and laid on a plank and after a few words and a prayer by the ship's Master it was slid into the sea.
Never having sailed on a vessel when a death occurred I'd be interested to learn if a similar procedure prevailed in the 1950's, or if the body was somehow preserved on board until the next port of call when it could be buried ashore. It seems that during WWII the body would indeed be buried at sea after being sewn into a shroud that was weighted with fire bars, the Red Ensign adorning the shroud while the master or a senior officer pronounced the appropriate address; although I don't know if the stitch through the nose was still practised. I'd be extremely grateful for any information. Many thanks in advance.

Terry Smith

j.sabourn
7th May 2011, 01:15 PM
In 1953 on my first trip to sea, we had a Greaser died on passage from Avonmouth to Cuba. The man had been an epileptic and had fits at different times, so he lay in a corner of the messroom for an unknown period before it was realized he was dead. He was laid out on a wooden hatchboard and placed in the steering flat. We had the old steam steering quadrant so was at the best of times full of steam and quite hot in the tropics. The 4 apprentices had to take shifts sitting with the body we were told to assure everyone that the person was dead. This continued for 3 days. It was always considered the 2nd. Mates job to sew the body up. The last stich was always put through the nose to make sure he was indeed dead and also to stop the body sliding down the canvas.The vessel was stopped and the Master asked everyone if they were happy that the person was dead. Body covered with the Red Ensign and body slipped overside. The Ensign being retained of course. Appropiate Bible readings, and entry made in OLB. In later years I dont think you would get away with it as body would have to be retained until reaching port. However it was standard unofficial orders then not to go into port with a dead body, this would cause loss of time etc. re quarantine. The 2nd. Mate always got a bottle of rum for the stitching job. J.sabourn

Gulliver
7th May 2011, 02:03 PM
And this is what The Ship Captain's Medical Guide says about it today:
(itís a PDF document so give it time to download).-attached below.


And on a lighter note!


To quote John:


"The vessel was stopped and the Master asked everyone if they were happy that the person was dead."


An unfortunate choice of words,John, any responses being no doubt dependant upon the deceased's relationship with his colleagues ! :eek:


Gulliver

j.sabourn
7th May 2011, 02:07 PM
sorry about wording should have said SURE. Cheers J.Sabourn

Captain Kong
7th May 2011, 02:43 PM
I have done a few Burials at sea. Mostly passengers on Cunard or Canadian Pacific.
On those ships the passenger`s family had a choice, take them home or bury them at sea. There was a charge for the Burial, for Canvas, mens bonus and the rum. We got £1 and a bottle of rum between four of us.
If they wanted to take them home then they were put on ice, not all the passenger ships had fridges, such as the old Franconia, just a cool room with huge blocks of ice, the body was then placed on the ice which also contained sides of beef, pork and lamb. Sometimes the ships Surgeon did a post mortem to determin the cause of death.
The family were then charged freight rates for the body., even tho` the fare had been paid all the way, the contract had been broken so the body then became cargo. That was in the old days I dont know if they charge today.
If it was a burial the watch on deck usually did the sewing up in canvas with old shackles and any other bits of iron at the feet., We had a board with six inch angled sides on and two handles at each end, it was painted white gloss. We placed the body on the board covered it with a Red Ensign made fast at the corners so it would not flap about in the wind.and then took it aft to the mooring deck, placing two of the handles at the feet onto the bulwark and at six in the morning the ships engine was stopped, If any relatives were on board they would asemble on the deck, the Staff Captain or if a Minister was on board of the same persuation, then they would read the Burial at Sea Service, at the part of the Service where it says we commit his body to the Deep and at a signal we tipped up the board and the body would slide out and into the ocean.
The death of a shipmate was different to the death of a passenger. On a tanker or cargo ship where everyone knew each other it always left a gloom over the ship for a while. An empty bunk, an empty chair in the messroom, were always reminders of a shipmate who is no more.
In todays modern Cruise ships they have a mortuary built in with the correct refridgerators at the ccorrect temperature for presevation.. If the relatives want a sea burial the ships Doctor usually does a Post Mortem and everything is logged, body samples may be taken and preserved as evidence.
An Engineer was torn to pieces in the engine room on the Empress of France, we had to go and collect the pieces and placed them in a sack, it was extremely gruesome and blood everywhere all had to be washed down after. After that the Bosun and Chippy did the sewing up with the dimembered bits.We were given time off because of the horrific scene .He was then buried at sea.

Stuart Henderson
7th May 2011, 05:06 PM
I was on Llangibby Castle in the fifties and a passenger from S.Africa en route London for his honeymoon I heard died at sea after Gibralter and obviously with his wifes agreement was buried at sea. I was in saloon and saw the canvas covered body slip overboard pass the portholes. Next death at sea in the sixties I was more personally involved as it was a Cunard cargo ship. as I was P/CS and did the medical side as well. A greaser didnt turn to for 12 to 4 watch. He had suffered a heart attack and died as I reached him. We were about four days from New York and Cunard contacted his next of Kin his mother who lived in S>Wales I recall and must have been 80 as the crew member was sixty odd. We made space in meat freezer to which there were a few crew objections. Our first port was Newark NJ and I recall there were many problems unloading the dead crewman in NJ as he was being carried home on the old Queen Mary from NY . I accompanied the body in a hearse across the state line and problems continued but he finally went back to UK in style. Stuart H

Gulliver
7th May 2011, 06:48 PM
"I accompanied the body in a hearse across the state line and problems continued but he finally went back to UK in style. Stuart H "



What a Spellchecker we have on this site!!
Now it won’t let us write any words with the sequential letter combination “A R S and E in !!


I've noticed this before ,when mentioning that port on the Mediterranean coast of France -- Marseilles.

Captain Kong
7th May 2011, 08:58 PM
I wionder what would happen if I type in Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire.

Nothing, that is amazing.

I have typed Marseilles a couple of times and that was censored.

robpage
7th May 2011, 09:48 PM
On one occasion on a UC ship a baby was born early and survived only the day . the burial was from a gunport door , the skipper did not stop engines , we were on a cape mail run he hada schedule to maintain . The chippies took a couple of scrap steel valve chests as weights , baby's body sewn into canvas , prop wash caused it to skip and it lifted back at the stern and re-entered the sea , The parents were overwrought . In this day and age I expect they would sue .

Clan line we took a seaman into the meat freezer as we were only a day out of cape town , and landed the body as there was no obvious causer of death , turned ourt to be a heart attac

robpage
7th May 2011, 09:55 PM
Reading the pdf of how to tell the signs of death which is very interesting , if the body originated from Liverpool a sure sign is they stop moaning about the conservative governments of the last forty years

Gulliver
8th May 2011, 05:51 AM
I wionder what would happen if I type in Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire.


Nothing, that is amazing.

I have typed M****illes a couple of times and that was censored.



Spellchecker/Censor says there’s only one **** in S****horpe…but I’ve sailed with at least two from there…..
No offence meant to anybody from that town.
 
It’s quite near to Grimsby,which I believe is twin-towned with The Moon (no atmosphere !).
My home town of Bewdley has so much interbreeding going on that it’s twinned with……itself!

j.sabourn
8th May 2011, 08:08 AM
Rob reading your account of the babys death, brings to mind a course I did in Liverpool in the 60"s. Ship Captains Medical 3 day course. Was on Drugs, Venereal disease, and childbirth, and was run by 3 sister tutors. On the childbirth, the tutor went through the whole sequence of events on film and describing, about 3 of the class made excuses to leave the room. Apparently there was a certain drug carried on ships then used to delay the birth, I cant remember the name however. Anyhow this sister was a bit of a comedian, as she said, off the record if you find yourself in this situation my advice would be to tie the patients legs together and make for the nearest port. Her father was a seaman also, so she must have known we were not budding medical practitioners. Cheers J Sabourn.

Captain Kong
8th May 2011, 08:18 AM
Rob reading your account of the babys death, brings to mind a course I did in Liverpool in the 60"s. Ship Captains Medical 3 day course. Was on Drugs, Venereal disease, and childbirth, and was run by 3 sister tutors. On the childbirth, the tutor went through the whole sequence of events on film and describing, about 3 of the class made excuses to leave the room. Apparently there was a certain drug carried on ships then used to delay the birth, I cant remember the name however. Anyhow this sister was a bit of a comedian, as she said, off the record if you find yourself in this situation my advice would be to tie the patients legs together and make for the nearest port. Her father was a seaman also, so she must have known we were not budding medical practitioners. Cheers J Sabourn.


If the pregnant lady had tied her legs together a little earlier, she would not have got pregnant.

Cheers
Brian

Roger Dyer
8th May 2011, 10:43 AM
Hello Gulliver.....Re your #11.

Cruel, vaguely self-effacing, but brilliant as always. In 1998, I travelled on the Severn Valley Railway, and whilst passing through Bewdley did notice that the porter had seven fingers on his left hand, so can vouch for the veracity of your statement:D................cheers, Roger.

Gulliver
8th May 2011, 11:10 AM
"In 1998, I travelled on the Severn Valley Railway, and whilst passing through Bewdley did notice that the porter had seven fingers on his left hand, so can vouch for the veracity of your statement :D................cheers, Roger. "



Roger,I know the very chap you mean,although (to those of us 'in the know')he's more commonly known as Donald Two Dongs........

Captain Kong
8th May 2011, 03:59 PM
I joined the Georgic in August 1955 with a couple of thousand £10 Poms for a trip to OZ , We sailed via Cape Town to keep the ship cooler.
The previous voyage, I think sailed to OZ in May 1955, with £10 Poms, went via the Red Sea and five young children died from the heat in the Red Sea and were buried at sea.
She was built for the Western Ocean run, then rebuilt as a troopship, and not designed for the tropics. A very hot ship. the passengers had ten to a cabin.No A/C, So these poor children who were being taken to OZ for a better life never got there.. There were no fridges to preserve them, so they went over the wall.
I believe the rest of the children were kept in the cool rooms for the Veg etc. during the day. with a few activities to keep them entertained.

I have been on a few ships where we have scattered the Ashes of dead and cremated Chief Engineers, some with disasterous results. One was scattered and the ashes went up in the air and around the ship. meanwhile the cook had a large kit of soup on his stove under the galley skylight. Some of the sailors thought the soup was a lttle crunchy, The Cook admited that there was some ash on top, he thought the engineers had blown tubes so he just stirred it up hoping no one would notice.

Another one was at Fawley. An old Chief had died and his wife came to the ship with a vicar and we made arrngments to sail to the Needles, scatter the ashes, and then bring them back.
I was Mate and told the Captain about the soup. I suggested that we keep him in the box with weights and then drop him in the oggin. Good idea said the Master.
Give the box to the engineers and get tham to fit enough bolts to sink him.
I got a phone call on the bridge, it was the second eng.The cardboard box had been placed in the Dhobi sink while they tried to fit come bolts to it, the bottom of the box fell out and the ashes were now on the bottom of the Dhobi sink. The 2nd thought if he pulled out the plug he could scrape up the ashes and fix it up with another box. He pulled out the plug and all the ashes went down the plug hole and the old Chief ended up under the jetty.
I whispered all this to the Captain, the widow and Vicar sat there waiting for us to sail.
We had to make another cardboard box of a similar size with bolts in and filled it with saw dust.
We wrapped it in a small Red Ensign and took it to the bridge.
We then sailed to the Needles got clear and slowly made a turn, and then stopped engines, we all assembled on the poop,. the Vicar said his words, and the weighted box was then dropped over the side. Problem solved.
The widow was very happy the old Chief had got what he wished for. We sailed back tto the Fawley jetty and landed them.

John Downs
8th May 2011, 04:07 PM
In early December 1951,I was an Apprentice on MV British Baron when a Chief Steward who had joined us at Ellesmere Port, died on board just before we reached Gib. We received instructions form Head Office that we were to do a burial at sea, presumably this was with agreement from his near family. The Bosun was given the task of sewing the body up in canvas and given a bottle of rum to help him! I reminded the Bosun of the old Naval tradition of putting the last stitch through the nose. He also sewed some heavy metal in the canvas as well to make the corpse sink. The stitch through the nose was a custom on the old ships of Nelsons Navy to make sure that the corpse was in fact dead. After we had passed through the Gib Straights, we held a formal burial service after stopping the ship. The ships crew assembled on the maind deck and the body was placed on a wooden shute lashed to the deck railings. The other Apprentice and I were the ones elected to lift up the inboard end of the shute at the appropriate time in the Service being read out by the Ship's Master. When it was time for the actual committal, the other Apprentice and I raided our arms up as far as we could go, but nothing happened! The Master then read out the Commital again and we both raised our arms as high as we could however the corpse in its canvas shroud under the red ensign failed to move, until the Bosun, standing near by came over and gave it a shove. We then sounded 6 blasts on the siren and went on our way. Obvioulsy the event was entered into the ships log but the death was not witnessed by any Official body!
John Downs

Jim Brady
8th May 2011, 06:16 PM
A bit strange but maybe a bit informative.I know a Chippie and a Bosun,they were in Lamport & Holt when a crew member died who happened tobe Chinese.I dont know if the Company had been in touch with his family but he was tobe buried at sea.Instructions were given that all apertures in the body had to be sealed,these two guys washed the body down(they were in the hostpital with a bottle of rum)stuffed cotton wool in his ears nose mouth,and yes you know where.He was wrapped in a sheet,canvass bag and committed to the sea.I believe this is to stop the soul leaving the body or somrthing of that nature.
Regards.
Jim.B.

Captain Kong
8th May 2011, 06:49 PM
Hi Jim,
This is normal proceedure for any one who dies.
The body is inspected for any type of injury or bruising and also any scars , tattoos, etc and noted, then the body is washed. [ in most cases I have seen, the body usually has a small crap oozing out of the rectum, and also it starts to urinate and all the muscles that hold it in when alive relax and it comes out.] Wipe away the crap away, and give it a good wash.
The rectum is then stuffed with a good plug of cotton wool well up into the rectum with forceps .
Then pass a catheter tube into the bladder and empty it completely, if this is not possible then a tight knot of ribbon or rope yarn around the root of the penis.
A plug of cotton wool is pushed right up each nostril and down into the throat to seal it.
[ When I helped out in the Undertakers next door to our flower shop, the lips were sewn on the inside or super glued together, stops the mouth from falling open.A touch of that on each eye lid to stop the eyes from opening. ]
Once each orrifice is sealed then the body can be placed either in the fridge if going ashore or then be sewn up in canvas if being buried at sea. It is supposed to be standard proceedure, but not always carried out if it is going into the sea depending who is doing it, some short cuts have been known to happen. Not a pleasant job, especialy if it is a close friend.
That is when a litre bottle of Four Bells Rum comes in handy. Difficult to do the job without it.

happy daze john in oz
9th May 2011, 06:44 AM
Saw five funerals at sea while with UCL. Four passengers and one crew member. There was no where for bodies to be stowed so a burial at sea was in order. I am speaking of the perion 1961/4.
The normal procedure was for the bosun to enshroud the body, the galley gash shutes had to be locked and the burial took place about 1700 hours from the gun port door just outside the second stewards office. On most voyages there would be some one from the cloth, Catholic, Angliacn, Jewish it did not matter any one of them could be called to conduct a short service. Family members if on board would attend along with the chief officer bosun and two AB. The ship would slow to about five knots while the service was conducted then the two AB would lift the wooden plank and the body slide into the ocean.

Terry Smith
9th May 2011, 07:52 PM
Many thanks to all those who answered my request for information regarding burials at sea; and also many thanks for any information that is still forthcoming. The various comments have been very usefull.
Best regards to all.

Terry Smith

Gulliver
28th May 2011, 08:11 PM
Tony,how terribly tragic and sad for all concerned,and especially for a first trip Cadet.
How awful for their seven year old son to see his mother die and be committed to the deep...


It's disturbing to know that even with a Doctor and trained First Aiders aboard ,that nothing could be done. Life can be so random.

I'm also disturbed by the burial at sea.I would have thought that that her body would have been kept refrigerated until Santos for burial/cremation,or repatriated home to her relatives in U.K. with her husband and young son accompanying her....

Very Sad.


Gulliver

Jack Connor
24th June 2011, 03:23 PM
Your witty observation reminds me of reading once in the paper that an Member of Parliament once called a colleague a liar. He was asked by the speaker to apologise and he is supposed to have said; "I called the Honourable Member a liar. That is true and I am sorry for it. The Honourable gentleman can punctuate that as he sees fit"

Captain Kong
24th June 2011, 04:15 PM
On an Esso VLCC , I wasnt there on that trip, but knew him, The Second Mate was sat on the bulwark on the wing of the bridge, The AB had gone to make coffee at 2am and when he returned the 2nd Mate had vanished. He was found on the boat deck 40 feet below and was definately dead.
His wife was contacted and she wanted him home to be buried there.
The ship had just left the Gulf bound for Singapore, It was also very hot.
He was left in his cabin on the bunk and wrapped up in several sheets, He swelled up like a balloon and the stench was spread throughout the accommodation. A friend told me that you could stick your finger into his flesh and it would leave a hole. He was landed at Columbo and then flown home.
I was told all about when I joined just after to replace him. I moved into a spare cabin.

Captain Kong
24th June 2011, 06:00 PM
Quote from above.......................
On an Esso VLCC , I wasnt there on that trip,I was told all about when I joined just after to replace him. I moved into a spare cabin.

I did say..........
because I wasnt there until after he had gone.

Ivan Cloherty
24th June 2011, 06:32 PM
Natural causes or suicide?

happy daze john in oz
25th June 2011, 05:47 AM
Know of a number of funerals at sea during my time with UCL, both bloods and crew members. In those days there was no provision on board to store a body, so sadly over the side they went(Sea Burial). Now on modern cruise ships they have a morgue capable of holding four bodies.

alf corbyn
26th June 2011, 02:00 PM
its a pity that heinrich?. wasn't the doctor at that time. alf

Captain Kong
26th June 2011, 03:16 PM
I had joined the ESSO DALRIADA in the Gulf, On her way from the Gulf of Mexico the Bosun had fallen through a lightening hole in No 1 tank and had fallen about 85 feet to the bottom and was killed.
They were a couple of days from the island of St Helena bound round the Cape to the Gulf, so the family was contacted and he was taken ashore there and was buried on that beautiful island.

Lou Barron
29th June 2011, 01:42 AM
it was not uncommon for deaths at sea on a troopship during the war i done a few trips in a troopship and i witness a few of them it was mostly the bosun and a ab who sewed the body up thar was after the ships doctor examined the body they would then but the body on the hatch board and being in convoy the commadore would be informed by the signal man with a aldis lamp then we would drop out to the rear of the convoy the body would be covered with the flag and after a short ceremony the body was slipped into the sea we would then rejoin the convoy in our original station the bosun and the ab would be given a good big tot of rum

Arthur John Harvey
5th July 2011, 01:31 PM
R235941 in 1942 I was serving as a JOS (Junior ordinary seaman) age just sixteen years having put my age on by one year, the ship was a troopship (Highland Princess) with three thousand troops aboard bound for Durban. One day the bosun called me and said it was about time to learn my trade, hence, I assisted him to prepared a RAF officer for sea burial including the final stitch through the nose; we used a Red Ensign for covering as a RAF ensign was not readily available. At my age I did not have any rum after the burial and amazingly over sixty years later his daughter contacted me through emails and I was able to assure her that her father had a proper burial.
Mentioning Durban I had the pleasure of hearing the Lady in White singing the convoys in and out.

Peter Harrison
5th July 2011, 08:25 PM
In my 20 years I never witnessed a burial at sea.However in 1951 us abs were painting the hospital on the Highland Brigade. in the mortuary of the hospital was a lead lined coffin so I would guess the family of any deceased passenger would expect their relative returned home.And maybe Royal Mail would just dump the crew overboard.

Nigel Smith
18th July 2011, 09:19 AM
The last burial at sea I witnessed was in 1971 on the Southern Cross. The ship slowed at 0600 and the body was commited to the deep. Very few people were aware that a burial had taken place, hence the early morning despatch. The Master was Captain Wheatley.

Captain Kong
18th July 2011, 09:49 AM
I have poured my Mothers ashes into the sea off Walney Island where she was born, and said the appropriate words .
Also I poured the ashes of two brothers, Guy and Alan, friends of mine, both seafaring men, into the sea off the Mull of Galloway again with the appropriate words.
At one of them, Guy, the sea was like a sheet of blue glass, not a ripple. beautiful sunny day. As I started the service, the head of a Seal slowly rose above the water and stayed motionless watching throughout, I said the words, and poured the ashes into sea and then scattered some roses from the family. The Seal, motionless throughout, then slowly sank beneath the water not even making a ripple. It was as if he was waiting to welcome Guy to the deep. A very moving moment.

Keith Moody
18th July 2011, 10:04 PM
during the late 1950`s we were coming home on the P & O R.M.S. Arcadiafrom Australia, on board were a Fijian Prince and his 3 wives, he was coming to England to meet up with the Queen, he got on in Sydney but between Fremantel and Bombay he became very ill and was put into the ships hospital where myself and another steward took 4 hour watch`s looking after him, wiping his body down with cool clothes, and feeding him through a pipe in his nose to his stomach, this carried on for a few days then one day i came off watch and within a few minute the other steward followed me down and said the old prince had died.
He was put in the cold rooms in the storage areas of the ship and off-loaded in Bombay and flown back to Fiji for a proper ceromony and burial. we were thanked by the wives and if ever in Fiji we should visit the palce, i believe that the whole story was in "The Illustrated London News." I didn`t go back to Fiji until 2000 and then only stayed for an hour whilst the aircraft was re-fueled
keith moody.
NZ Ruahine 1955-6
P&O Arcadia 1956-9
BTC Canterbury
BTC Maid of Orleans
BTC Hampton Ferry
Currie. MV England
Clyde ship. MV Goodwin
P&O Canberra 1961 maiden voyage