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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