‘Sambo’ (died c.1736):
Mouth of the Lune Estuary near Sunderland Point LA3 3JF
The identity of the young boy – ‘Sambo’ – will never be known, but his final resting place is a poignant testimony to both the horrors of slavery and the abolitionist’s struggle.
Local stories abound of how he came to be in this isolated place. He was probably a cabin boy from a vessel sailing from the West Indies that had put into port around 1736. An account from the Lonsdale Magazine of 1822 – more than eight decades later – offers this version:
“After she had discharged her cargo, he was placed at the inn … with the intention of remaining there on board wages till the vessel was ready to sail; but supposing himself to be deserted by the master, without being able, probably from his ignorance of the language, to ascertain the cause, he fell into a complete state of stupefaction, even to such a degree that he secreted himself in the loft on the brewhouses and stretching himself out at full length on the bare boards refused all sustenance. He continued in this state only a few days, when death terminated the sufferings of poor Samboo. As soon as Samboo’s exit was known to the sailors who happened to be there, they excavated him in a grave in a lonely dell in a rabbit warren behind the village, within twenty yards of the sea shore, whither they conveyed his remains without either coffin or bier, being covered only with the clothes in which he died.”
As neither his name nor religion were known, he was buried in unconsecrated ground beyond one of the public houses. With changes to both the shoreline and the village, this is now in complete isolation.
Some six decades later, a retired headmaster, the Rev James Watson, visited the area and, moved by the forlorn grave, began collecting donations for a permanent memorial. Despite his brother being a prominent slave-owner, James Watson was a fervent abolitionist. He commissioned a permanent headstone.
Sambo’s grave continues to be a point of pilgrimage for both the local community and for guests from further afield, with an ever-changing array of offerings.
A faithfull Negro
(Attending his Maſter from the Weſt Indies)
Died on his Arrival at Sunderland
Full sixty Years the angry Winter’s Wave
Has thundering daſhd this bleak & barren Shore
Since Sambo’s Head laid in this lonely Grave
Lies still & 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 Color but his_Worth of Heart
James Watſon Scr. H.Bell del. 1796