With reference to Diane Brown’s letter (‘A Serious Undertaking’ – December 2015) and your request for details of cremations prior to 1753, I have found some.
I had read that Mrs Honoretta/ Henrietta Brooks Pratt (16761769) was believed to be the first recorded (illegal) British cremation (25 September 1769) in St George’s Churchyard, Hanover Square, London – however, it appears now that Mr Richard Cooke, Surgeon, was cremated before Mrs Pratt (Arnold, Catherine, Necropolis, Pocket Books, 2007, page 227).
I found a few earlier cremations also: cremation existed in Moscow, Russia. In May 1606, Vasily Shuisky and the boyars deposed and killed the ‘False Dmitry’, then displayed his body in Red Square prior to cremation and the firing of his ashes from a canon towards Poland ( Warnes, David, Chronicle of the Russian Tsars, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, 1999, page 53).
In 1428 the ashes of John Wycliffe (1331-1384), English Bible translator, were thrown into the River Swift near Lutterworth (after he was condemned as a heretic by the Church of Rome in 1415). Dictator/Consul Julius Caesar (100- 44 BC) was also cremated in the Forum, Rome, after his assassination (Ides of March 44 BC).
The first Biblical reference describes my grandfather’s home as being “very dirty, children also dirty and nothing in the house”. Other ancestors were also recorded as “heavy drinkers, workshy and wasters”. These records make distressing reading and reflect the Glasgow of the times, as well as other big cities when there was no NHS or welfare benefits. to cremation is when Abraham (tested by God) prepared a funeral pyre for the sacrifice of his son Isaac – Genesis 22 (v 1-14). Sue Burrell, by email Editor replies: Many thanks for those examples of early cremations Sue. It seems that there are plenty that predate – some by hundreds of years – Richard Cooke’s 1753 cremation that Diane wrote into us about!
While there are lots of guides etc about how to research your family tree, I am left wondering whether enough attention is given to the emotional aspects of what you find and that feeling “if only I was there then I could have saved them”.
Lastly, my thanks go to the caring staff at The Mitchell Library who were very supportive and provided me with much-needed tissues. Patricia Curran, by email Editor replies: I know what you mean, Patricia, it can be distressing – even at a couple of centuries removed – to read about our ancestors suffering. Glad to hear that the staff at the Mitchell Library were supportive. For more reasons to visit your archives turn to page 18.
A depiction from 1557 of Isaac being saved from his father, Abraham