Friday, 16 May 2014

Floating to Jamaica: Matthew "Monk" Lewis is (Not Quite) Buried at Sea

Matthew Gregory Lewis (London, England, 9th July 1775 – Died at sea, 16th May 1818)

Matthew "Monk" Gregory Lewis by Henry William Pickersgill, 1809
Matthew "Monk" Gregory Lewis by Henry William Pickersgill, 1809

Back in the early days of the salon I told the tale of Matthew "Monk" Lewis, celebrated purveyor of literary gothic and erstwhile Member of Parliament. Today marks a somewhat sadder anniversary as we mark the passing of Lewis, though in suitably gothic style, he would not go quietly to his grave.

Lewis was the owner of a large and profitable sugar plantation in Jamaica and these experiences would posthumously be immortalised in Journal of a West India Proprietor, published in 1833. The author visited his plantation now and again to observe the workings and oversee the business and it was on one of these trips that fate dealt him a most displeasing hand.

Not long before he was due to leave Jamaica and return to England in 1818, the author contracted yellow fever. Dangerously ill, he sailed for home and as the ship left Jamaica in the distance, Lewis began to deteriorate. He died during that final voyage and it was decided that a burial at sea would be the most appropriate method of disposal so Matthew Lewis was prepared for his final journey.

As the coffin sank beneath the waves the weights that had been fastened to it slipped loose and fell clean off. The unweighted coffin bobbed merrily back to the surface and as the ship sailed on for England, the mortal remains of Matthew "Monk" Lewis were last seen floating off in the direction of Jamaica.

16 comments:

  1. I'm surprised they put him in an actual coffin and didn't just sew him into a weighted shroud and drop him overboard.

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    1. I wonder if he ever made landfall...

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  2. Stephen Barker10 June 2014 at 19:56

    Given the nature of literary efforts, entirely appropriate I would say.

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  3. You do find the strangest tales to tell!

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  4. He was obviously making for his spiritual home!

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  5. I agree with Joanna W-- it as rare for people buried at sea to have coffins-- weighted or not. Sail cloth was available and so much easier for all. I have had a copy of his The Monk for years but have never been really driven to read it.

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    1. If you ever do, let me know what you think...

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  6. Buried at sea in a coffin rather than a shroud...I wonder if that was a class thing?

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    1. I'm going to a bit more digging into this (no pun intended!)...

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