“Was Never Since Heard Of”: Remembering the Missing

David J. Stewart

in The Sea Their Graves

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780813037349
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780813041575 | DOI:
“Was Never Since Heard Of”: Remembering the Missing

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Over 40 percent of the monuments in this study are for sailors whose bodies are not present at the site of the memorial. The emphasis on the absent body highlights a problem that was endemic in maritime society: how to remember those who never returned. Memorials for the missing became popular in the late eighteenth century due to changing attitudes toward death at that time. By the end of the eighteenth century, prevailing sentiment regarded each person as worthy of remembrance and also held the view that each person's body deserved to be buried in a grave that would remain undisturbed until the Resurrection. Memorials to absent sailors represent an attempt to provide a proper burial place for those who were lost. However, memorials for the missing proved ultimately unsatisfying. While they provided a symbolic link to the missing and a focus for commemoration, empty graves could never take the place of physical remains. The ambiguous nature of being lost or buried far from home prevented maritime families from completely accepting the loss and moving on with their lives. Both the missing sailor and the family back home remained trapped in a liminal state.

Keywords: Cenotaph; grieving process; individualism; liminality; lost at sea; romantic movement

Chapter.  11589 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History and Theory of Archaeology

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