Friday, 16 July 2010

The unfortunate unknown sailor of Thursley

I am normally not too keen on Baroque cherubs and fluffy clouds but there is something attractive about some tombs and headstones from the second half of the eighteenth century. Many of them are rich in allegorical representations, with skulls and skeletons plus the aforementioned cherubs and clouds. Some include objects, tools or even animal the deceased would have been familiar with. Finally a few depict the circumstances of one's death.

The headstone in Thursley churchyard may not show the same degree of craftsmanship as some funerary monuments from that period but the graphic representation of a murder and the dramatic story narrated below make it captivating:
In Memory of
A generous but unfortunate Sailor
Who was barbarously murdered on Hindhead
On Sept. 24th 1786
By three Villains
After he had liberally treated them
And promised his further assistance
On the Road to Portsmouth

The crime caught the attention of the public at the time and it appeared all the more horrendous because the sailor was never identified. He was last seen at the Red Lion Inn in Thursley drinking with three men he met there. Then they headed together towards Portsmouth but upon reaching Hindhead, they robbed and nearly decapitated him, dumping his body in the Devil's Punch Bowl. Were the murderers seen in the act or were they spotted later with his belongings? In an case they were arrested, confessed to their crime, and sentenced to death at the Kingston Lent Assizes. Their bodies were covered in tar and hung in chains on a gibbet by the side of the road near the highest point at Hindhead.
The headstone commemorating this unfortunate unknown sailor was paid for by public subscription.

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