Monday, 28 May 2012

Sharland grave, Bonchurch Old Church

We visited Bonchurch Old Church (aka St Boniface) in October 2010 - see Isle of Wight flying visit (3) - but it's such a charming location (and I missed quite a few details the first time round) that we had another look on Friday (May 25th). This rather odd mountain-shaped gravestone near the entrance gate caught my attention, and as far as I know, no-one has offered any analysis of the story behind it. The inscription reads:

JANUARY 20th 1871, AGED 60.
APRIL 19th 1895, AGED 69.

A quick sum with the dates shows that Richard Sharland was 25 years older than his wife, and as tends to be predictable with such arrangements, he predeceased her and left her with 24 years of widowhood. That she died in Japan - Chōfu is a centrally-located city on Honshu, now part of Tokyo Metropolis - strongly suggested that she didn't spend those years idly. The short answer is that she became a self-funded missionary. A number of missionary magazines contain obituaries, particularly relating to her time at Chōfu in the last f'ive years of her life.
Our Japan Mission is again bereaved, in the death of Mrs. Ellen Sharland of Shimonoseki, Japan, who passed away on April 19, in the seventieth year of her age. Mrs. Sharland, having some fortune of her own, has for many years devoted herself to labors for the salvation of the destitute in various parts of the world. Dec. 9, 1890, she was appointed a missionary of the Union, in special relation to the Woman's Society of the West, and has since that time labored in connection with the Baptist mission at Chofu, a suburb of Shimonoseki, Japan. She not only supported herself but contributed largely to the missionary work, of her own means. Mrs. Sharland was of a sweet and deeply pious character, greatly beloved by those who were associated with her in missionary work. For some time she has been laid aside from active labors, but has been of continual assistance to the mission school and work by her counsels. Her example is one which ought to be largely followed. There are a multitude of the followers of Christ who have means sufficient for self-support, and who, if they would, might give themselves without expense to missionary societies or to the church at large, to useful labors among the heathen. Having means for self-maintenance their time is a talent which the Lord has committed to them. How shall they account for the use of this talent on the great day if they have spent their time in idleness simply because labor was not necessary for personal support.
- Baptist Missionary Magazine: Volume 75, 1895

Mrs Ellen Sharland came under the auspices of this Society as a self-supporting missionary in 1890, and was assigned to the newly opened station of Shimonoseki as an associate in the work of Miss Browne. Possessed of wide experience gained on missionary fields in India, China and Japan, together with a consecrated and self-denying spirit, she at once won the love and esteem of her co-workers. Her usefulness greatly increased from year to year until Miss Browne wrote of her: "Mrs. Sharland is an indispensable member of the Mission, being helpful to all. She supports one Bible woman, keeps up one of the eleven Sunday-schools, maintains a young man in school who is preparing for the ministry, and shares equally with me the burden of the "Orphanage." "An indispensable member of the Mission!" And yet a few months later, April 19, 1895, the Lord of the harvest called His busy worker out of the field into the rest that remaineth for the people of God. "Auntie" Sharland, as she was called with a tender familiarity of love, will long be remembered as a faithful follower of Him who said "By their works ye shall know them." She had, in an unusual degree, the true missionary instinct, laboring continually for the conversion not of the heathen only, but the Romanist and the Jew. She was faithful in the discharge of her daily duties, even when weakened by pain and disease. Taigo Fuslaida, her son in the Gospel, deeply realized that she had no other purpose in leaving her home and coming to a foreign country except the burning desire to give the knowledge of salvation to sinful man. This, indeed, was the key-note of a life ever loyal to Christ and consecrated to His service.
- Women's Society of the West, 25th Annual Report, 1895
Much else remains unknown, including her pre-1890 missionary work; everything concerning her husband; how a Bideford banker ended up in a grave in an Isle of Wight churchyard; and the reason for the mountain-shaped gravestone.

Addendum: Jane Clark kindly e-mailed me with some further background on the Sharlands.
I was fascinated by your piece on Richard Sharland's grave at Bonchurch Old Church, I.O.W. I believe Richard Sharland to be the son of my 3xgreat Grandfather, also a Richard. Richard married 'Nellie' Bartlett in 1866 at Croydon. Her real name was Ellen S.Bartlett, daughter of a Captain Bartlett of Bideford, there was no issue. Ellen's travel may have been inspired by her father being a mariner. The gravestone was certainly unusual. 
If you know any more pieces that fill in the picture, let me know, and I'll forward it to Jane.

- Ray

Above are some of my October 2010 photos of Bonchurch Old Church. Its churchyard is widely documented for the handful of historically interesting people buried there, including ones with literary connections. One, as I mentioned, is Charles Hassard Wilcox, cousin and godson of Lewis Carroll, who died of tuberculosis after a stay in Ventnor - then a health resort for chest diseases - failed to cure him. Others include the authors John Sterling and William Adams (I mentioned this author of Christian allegories recently - see William Adams: The Old Man's Home). These two also died of TB; perhaps this explains the presence of Richard Sharland too? More about the hospital in the next post.

Addendum 2: I just ran into Philip Bourke Marston's The Old Churchyard of Bonchurch, a rather depressing poem which refers both to the chruchyard and the instability of the landscape here.

The churchyard leans to the sea with its dead,—
It leans to the sea with its dead so long.
Do they hear, I wonder, the first bird’s song,
When the winter’s anger is all but fled;
The high, sweet voice of the west wind,
The fall of the warm, soft rain,
When the second month of the year
Puts heart in the earth again?

Do they hear, through the glad April weather,
The green grasses waving above them?
Do they think there are none left to love them,
They have lain for so long there together?
Do they hear the note of the cuckoo,
The cry of gulls on the wing,
The laughter of winds and waters,
The feet of the dancing Spring?

Do they feel the old land slipping seaward,—
The old land, with its hills and its graves,—
As they gradually slide to the waves,
With the wind blowing on them from leaward?
Do they know of the change that awaits them,—
The sepulchre vast and strange?
Do they long for the days to go over,
And bring that miraculous change?

Or love they their night with no moonlight,
With no starlight, no dawn to its gloom?
Do they sigh: “’Neath the snow, or the bloom
Of the wild things that wave from our night,
We are warm, through winter and summer;
We hear the winds rave, and we say:
‘The storm-wind blows over our heads,
But we here are out of its way’”?

Do they mumble low, one to another,
With a sense that the waters that thunder
Shall ingather them all, draw them under:
“Ah, how long to our moving, my brother?
How long shall we quietly rest here,
In graves of darkness and ease?
The waves, even now, may be on us,
To draw us down under the seas!”

Do they think ’t will be cold when the waters
That they love not, that neither can love them,
Shall eternally thunder above them?
Have they dread of the sea’s shining daughters,
That people the bright sea-regions
And play with the young sea-kings?
Have they dread of their cold embraces,
And dread of all strange sea-things?

But their dread or their joy,—it is bootless:
They shall pass from the breast of their mother;
They shall lie low, dead brother by brother,
In a place that is radiant and fruitless;
And the folk that sail over their heads
In violent weather
Shall come down to them, haply, and all
They shall lie there together.

- Ray

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