St George’s churchyard at Portland. Murder in 1803

Now I.m not one of these people who normally likes to wander from church to church, but was stopped in my tracks (well, the car was stopped in it’s tracks really)  when we parked opposite St George’s church on the top of Portland.

The sun was just beginning to set in the sky, going down behind these incredibly ornate grave stones, talk about looking like something from a Bhram Stoker horror movie…I was mesmerised.

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Wandering into the graveyard which was starting to merge into the dusk I took out my camera and started snapping away.

I must have passed this place hundreds of times and not really noticed it before, had it not been for the fact that the sun was dipping at the precise time we were parking I probably wouldn’t have looked twice.Image

Once I had my shots, and downloaded them on my computer, I decided to do a bit of digging into the history of the church, and it was fascinating.

http://www.visitchurches.org.uk/Ourchurches/Completelistofchurches/St-Georges-Church-Portland-Dorset/

The church itself is beautiful, it was built mid 18th c to replace the old St Andrews that was above Church Ope Cove,(presumably that’s why the word ‘church’ appears in the name of the cove?) and was in poor state due to the unstable land it was built on.

One of the reasons it was placed where it was because of the depth of soil…the necessary 6ft!

Even then they had problems…the grave yard was almost permanently waterlogged, as fast as the grave diggers dug the burial holes so they filled with water.

The solution was easy, just order every man and boy on the island to dig a large drainage ditch around the graveyard, those who didn’t obey the order were fined!

Nearby a dwelling was erected for the use of the parish clerk, this is still there, but may be better known as The George Inn, a building with a lot of history.

You might even notice a striking resemblance to Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s cathedral, some claim it is one of the ‘most impressive 18th c churches in Dorset.’

The graveyard is the holy grail of burial grounds.

Take the time to go and have a wander around if you’re in the area, it’s fascinating and so too are some of the stories of those laid to rest there.

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Buried there  are  a group of native Portlanders  who were shot when press gangs  invaded the island at the start of the 19th c, they were looking for men to drag onto the ships to work their passage.

It became infamously known as the Easton Massacre.

In the April of 1803 a British naval frigate moored in Portland Roads, here were men on a mission, to find willing, (or unwilling,) crew for their vessels.

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Having no luck on their first trip ashore they tried again next day, but the wily Portlanders were waiting for them this time.

The two fractions met head on in Easton Square.

Portlander Robert Bennet was grabbed by the press gang but the Portland folk, both men and women, fought back, and in the melee shots were fired by a group of marines who were under Captain Wolfe’s command.

Three men died that day, Alexander Andrews, Richard Flann and William Lano.

A couple more received serious injuries from the days scuffle, one being Mary Way, who lingered a while longer on this earth, but the cold soil called her.

According the newspaper report three men were tried at the Dorchester assizes in 1803 for the wilful murder of William Lano (oddly, no mention of the murder of Mary Way or the other two men!)

Captain Wolfe and Lieutenant Hastings of his Majesty’s ship the  L’Aigle, and Lieutenant Jefferies of the marines were charged at Dorchester assizes with “while trying to impress men” they caused their deaths.

It seems that the judge and jury beleived the innocence of the press gang members who were in the dock, helped by the statements of the prisoners witnesses.

All three men were released and honourably acquitted.

The bodies of those ‘murdered’ were carried to their last resting place in the churchyard of St George’s where their bones rest to this very day.

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