By Devonna Edwards, Columnist
The Royal Naval Burying Ground (The Naval Cemetery) is a small military cemetery located in C.F.B. Stadacona on Gottingen Street in Halifax. The cemetery is situated behind Admiralty House (Maritime Command Museum) on a hill that slopes down to Barrington Street and is enclosed by fencing with a locked gate.
In 1894 the cemetery occupied over four acres and many Royal Naval Seamen, Royal Marines, Dockyard workers and their families are buried there. Before 1860 there was no record kept of the interments in the burial ground, until Sir Alexander Milne established a register of death and divided the cemetery into thirty sections.
In the 1870s, the Canadian Navy undertook the upkeep of the cemetery. During the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s some of the wooden markers were removed and only eighty-nine markers remained, but by 2001, a group of men from the Canadian Forces Naval Engineering School began to restore and maintain the cemeteries history.
William Frank Pye who was 93 years old in 1972 said he grew up in the north end of H.M. Dockyard, known as the Victualling Yard, where his father was a warder (a Dockyard Policeman) and oversaw the gates there. William’s mother was buried in the Naval Cemetery on May 23, 1886, and he remembered across a little path, near her grave, four small children were buried, almost the entire family of the Admiral’s head gardener, they all died from Diphtheria.
The little-known burial ground contains the heroes of many battles, and the oldest tombstone was dated 1808, and was that of Frederick Scales, a seaman aboard the ship HMS Vernon. Due to no regular records being documented, the actual amount of history there is not known. Most of the headstones were destroyed by the Halifax Explosion of December 6, 1917.
It is the last resting place of many young men who were killed after falling from the top mast of many ships. Also located in the cemetery is an interesting monument to the memory of seamen who were killed during the famous battle of the HMS Shannon against the USS Chesapeake during the War of 1812. A Naval Hospital was situated close to the cemetery and that is where the injured crew members from both the Shannon and the Chesapeake were taken and where many died from their wounds. Anyone that wants to visit the Naval Burying Ground can do so by calling Maritime Command Museum at (902) 721-8250 and the staff will arrange a time for your visit so they can open the locked gate to the cemetery.
The Mighty Sea Battle of the HMS Shannon and the USS Chesapeake. This naval battle took place on June 1, 1813, just off the coast of Boston Harbour and it was one of the bloodiest and shortest battles on record, it lasted only 15 minutes. Captain James Lawrence was in command of the American frigate, the Chesapeake with a crew of 440 men and Captain Philip Broke was in command of the British frigate, the Shannon with a crew of 330 men. The British Captain sent a challenge to Captain Lawrence of the Chesapeake to come out and fight, ship to ship and that invitation was accepted. After the exchange of a few broadsides, by which the Chesapeake suffered, her tiller ropes being shot away and her wheel broken, she struck the Shannon with her starboard quarter.
The ships were side by side when the Shannon’s Boatswain, William Stevens, tied the ships together.
Musketry fire followed and Captain Broke, jumped aboard the quarterdeck of the Chesapeake, sword in hand, shouting, “Follow Me Who Can!” and with slight resistance drove most of the crew below. The Americans kept up a heavy fire from their tops, until the men stationed in them were killed or driven on deck. In toll it took only 15 minutes from the beginning of the confrontation until the Chesapeake was captured and in that brief time there were seventy sailors killed and one hundred wounded on the Chesapeake and their captain, James Lawrence was severely wounded and died shortly after shouting these famous words,” Don’t Give Up the Ship!” The Shannon had twentythree crew members killed and fifty-six wounded, and their captain, Philip Broke was seriously wounded with a head wound of which he survived.
On Sunday morning June 6, 1813, the two ships paraded into Halifax Harbour with the HMS Shannon, now captained by Lieutenant Provo Wallis, dragging the USS Chesapeake who was flying the British ensign over its American flag as a sign of surrender.
The Chesapeake crew were taken to Melville Prison (which is now part of the Armdale Yacht Club) for the duration of the War of 1812 (1812-1815) and the crew members that died there were buried on Deadman’s Island right next door. Lieutenant Augustise Ludow and Captain Lawrence of the Chesapeake were buried at the Old Burying Ground (St. Paul’s Cemetery) on Barrington Street. Soon afterwards his body and that of Lt. Augustise Ludow were exhumed and taken to the United States for burial there.
The HMS Shannon was renamed the HMS St. Lawrence in 1844 and in 1859 the ship was completely dismantled. The HMS Chesapeake was repaired and taken into service by the Royal Navy but in 1819 the frigate was put up for sale at Plymouth and sold to Joshua Holmes, who dismantled the ship.
For further information on this article, please visit the Fairview Historical Society website.
By Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg – Own work Villy Fink Isaksen photo 2012-05-22 and https://www.kulturarv.dk/kid/VisVaerk.do?vaerkId=107498, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19545908