Saturday, 19 September 2009

Sambo's Grave, Sunderland Point

Sambo's grave sign, originally uploaded by Lancaster Today.

Note: This is the first of three posts in which I'll discuss things I enjoy doing in England. The first is exploring places of historical and political interest close to home. For more ideas on the theme of 'Exploring England', see the Guardian's Enjoy England pages.

For Sambo, originally uploaded by Lancaster Today.

There are often fascinating places on our doorstep which we don't take the time to explore. Perhaps it's because they are so close that we don't make the effort? They are not 'exotic' enough - something like that?

Anyway, I set out to Sunderland Point yesterday to see what it was all about, and, particularly, to visit Sambo's grave. Sambo? Who is Sambo? Surely you've heard of him, educated reader? But just in case you haven't, let me show off my newly-acquired knowledge to save you from your ignorance.

Sambo's grave is a memorial to a young, black slave who is believed to have arrived at the port in Sunderland Point by ship in 1736. He was an African stolen into slavery and first brought to the West Indies before beginning the long journey to Lancaster with his master. Unfortunately for Sambo (as if his life was not tragic enough), shortly after arrival he was taken ill and died near a local inn. Perhaps his immune system was not prepared for the infections carried by the North West Englanders?

Sambo was buried in an unmarked grave, until, in 1795, a certain Rev Watson led an effort to have a memorial erected. It is believed that this teacher penned the following elegy found on the grave:

Full sixty years the angry winter's wave
Has thundering dashed this bleak and barren shore
Since Sambo's head laid in this lonely grave
Lies still and ne'er will hear their turmoil more.
Full many a sandbird chirps upon the sod,
And many a moonlight elfin round him trips
Full many a summer's sunbeam warms the clod
And many a teeming cloud upon him drips.
But still he sleeps - till the awakening sounds,
Of the Archangel's trump new life impart,
Then the Great Judge his approbation founds,
Not on man's colour but his worth of heart.

In the picture below, you'll see that people lay little gifts and stones with messages on them beside the grave. Perhaps it's the overwhelming sense of guilt we should rightly feel that prompts people to pay homage to this single African slave? Or perhaps it's just the love of a sentimental story that pushes these little showings of affection and compassion for a boy who died so long ago. Whatever individual reasons people have for visiting and caring for Sambo's grave, they've prompted my own small scream of indignation into the wind at Sunderland Point.

More tomorrow about the wondrous place that is Sunderland Point. I have much to share about it, but refuse to spoil Sambo's post with such mundaneness tonight. But if you have any interest in reading more about Lancaster's links with the Slave trade, see my previous post on William Lindow.

p.s. Yesterday's post (what are they?) contained a picture of stones on sticks, onto which people have written little messages to Sambo and placed near his memorial. An example I saw there was: You left no footprints but we found you in our hearts. Diane.


  1. This is excellent local reportage, Eamon. This is the sort of story that I love tracking down and telling. This is what I think CDPB is all about. Telling the story of our city in a unique way. Your series on the narrow boats fitted into this genre, too.

    Just the name, "Sambo" is enough to make one cringe. Not that I think it should be changed in the least. I take it as a memorial to another age that should be remembered so we do not go down that path again.

    The people who are adopting children from Africa or Cambodia (or Lithuania!!) should reflect upon Sambo's grave.

  2. Thanks Julie. If only I had the time to do more posts like this. They take a little more effort, but I'll try to make sure I get at least one in a week.

    Yes, it's definitely a memorial to that time, but sometimes I wonder how deep the changes have been. There is a thick vein of racism and brutality alive and well in England today, and as you are no doubt aware, its champions even managed to grab a little slice of political power recently. My scream into the wind will also be one of rage against them...

  3. What a beautiful post Eamon and such a tragic story! Like Julie, the name Sambo bothers me a little, but I agree it should not be changed. I too wonder how much has changed in my own country, when I hear people making racist comments about our wonderful President. I am looking forward to seeing your tribute!

  4. Hi Eamon thank you for sharing this post with us. I am so saddened at times when I see the obvious racism and cruelty that still abounds in this world we live in. I live in Southeast Georgia and the racism is still so evident in the South. I see it in the faces of people and in their words towards others. I work in customer service and meet with this kind of behavior on a daily basis. I pray someday things will change. But I stand by my personal blog's title: "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." For those of you who don't know it, that was written Mahatma Gandhi. I truly believe just one person can make a difference. Just your post alone can be viewed by anyone in the world today and can be shared with so many others. Your tribute can make a difference even more than we could possibly realize! GBU my friend and thank you again for this wonderful post!

  5. Great post for getting your readers to think. Most Canadians like to imagine they are NOT racist...but actually we still have a long, long way to go before we can make that claim.

  6. The name, Sambo, does have racist connotations but it was the name given to him at the time...and slavery was certainly racist!

    Moving story and tribute, Eamon. And I agree with Lois, racism is alive and well in the U.S. - way too alive and well.

  7. Well done on this post. I suggest guilt... and so "we" make a nice memorial, create a legacy, and pretend like we have done enough to free us... problem is that this is easy to do... bark and bite issue...

  8. A moving story it is Eamon, thanks for sharing this.

  9. Lovely piece of work Eamon. Great research and writing, and a very interesting story.

  10. What a beautiful post Eamon and such a tragic story! Like Julie, the name Sambo bothers me a little, but I agree it should not be changed.
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  11. Every time I read about slavery my mind goes crazy thinking in those poor black fellas, and the stupid white dudes who believed that they had the right of selling people like they were tomatoes or beans.

  12. Just one of many unfortunates. R.I.P

  13. after being lost to myself for so long , with illness and a bad relationship i went through a journey of tears and reflection so in this i re-discovered myself and after reading about " sambo " his story enlightened me and the quote of " not judging someone by his colour but by his worth of heart " has been my start for every day , he is an inspiration !

  14. Amazing places, i have never been in england but the climatic and vegetation in the countries around is very similar, thanks

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Thanks for the comment in advance. All thoughts are appreciated ~ Eamon.