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Burials At Sea

Photo: Wikipedia

The process of committing a body to the ocean, not the sprinkling of someone's ashes, is a morbid subject I know, but a fact of life. Burials at sea are still performed by the navy. The customs and ceremonies of old included both burials in a casket, or in an old sailcloth.  There just wasn't enough room on some vessels for the number of caskets needed during those early voyages.  

Death at sea was a common occurrence, especially aboard immigrant ships. The outbreaks of disease were usually tuberculosis, typhoid, measles, scarlet fever, smallpox or diphtheria. Poor hygiene and barely basic facilities played a huge roll in creating gastrointestinal illnesses.

In steerage, vermin of various varieties crawled under, over and into beds while the passengers slept. It was damp, dark and there was very little fresh air. In the early 1870's, the infant mortality rate was alarming:

19% Babies under 12 months. 7.5% Children 1 - 12 years. 0.35% Adults.

Morale plummeted when children perished for obvious reasons. But aboard the Ashmore, death was minimal in comparison. Ship surgeons were infamously lacking in ability and supplies. You will see as you read further on in the Ashmore's adventure, just how much these doctors could get away with. Victorians were notorious for describing the workings of their bowels in their diaries. Doctor Knight was no exception, especially when it came to his patients.

Ceremonies performed on board ships varied depending on numerous religious beliefs. If a priest wasn't available, the Captain often performed the ceremony. There were many different prayers used.


"Unto Almighty God, we commend the soul of our brother departed,

and we commit his body to the deep; in sure and certain hope of

the Resurrection unto eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ;

at whose coming in glorious majesty to judge the world,

the sea shall give up her dead; and the corruptible bodies of those

who sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto His glorious

body; according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue

all things unto Himself.


Private civilians today have to abide by rules and regulations of their countries if they wish to be buried at sea. There are five authorised locations in New Zealand where you can commit the body of your loved one to the deep. One such area is 70 km northeast of Cape Brett.

Cape Brett

Photo: NZ Herald.

Here is the most depressing list I have ever written. . .

These are some of the famous and infamous people who now rest in peace in the big blue:

  • Sir Alfred Hitchcock had his ashes scattered into the Pacific Ocean in 1980.

  • John F. Kennedy, Jr was scattered into the Atlantic Ocean by the U.S. Navy off Martha's Vineyard in 1999.

  • Robin Williams was cremated the day after his death and his ashes were scattered in San Francisco Bay in 2014.

  • Osama bin Laden, the world's most wanted terrorist, had his remains scattered at sea in 2011. I'm not sure where. I did learn that it was hard to find a country that would accept his body. Also, that the location was kept a secret so no one could make a terrorist shrine out of his burial place.

  • Neil Armstrong was cremated in 2012 and his ashes were scattered into the Atlantic Ocean from the U.S. Navy cruiser Philippine Sea.

  • Titanic victims who were picked up by the rescue ships, were buried at sea. Especially if the rescuers lacked adequate embalming materials, or if the remains were too damaged to preserve.

Enough morbidity.

Here is the video of the most cheerful sad-sea-shanty-song I could find.

I must say, I quite enjoyed the tune.

Brillig's clip for their sea shanty drinking song "The Old Captain" is a lament for the loss of a beloved.   

Thanks for reading and watching my BLINK.

Please feel free to leave a comment.

I love hearing from you.

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