One of the many aspects of gravehunting is the finding of children’s graves. It is is inevitable that children are often the most vulnerable when they are still very young, and, the earlier one goes back in our history, the more precarious that young life could be. Often you encounter the graves of children that die shortly after being born, and often enough their mothers would die with them, or shortly afterwards.
Occasionally their lives would be cut short by disease or illness; childhood diseases like measles or diphtheria were often fatal to a young child, and while their gravestones very rarely mention their causes of death, you can only imagine the heartbreak that must have existed in the household when a baby or toddler was taken from them. In some cases more than one child is remembered on a headstone, and often a parent may be remembered on the child’s headstone.
Equally poignant are the small statues that often decorate the half sized graves, statues that usually are the first to be vandalised, and in some cases there are rows of beheaded statues in children’s plots, or small porcelain feet are all that is left of the cherub or angel that once adorned the child’s grave. The much used “never forgotten” phrase is also common, but in many of the cases not only are the parents of those children long departed themselves, but, even the next generation are well into their middle ages and the existence of these children is now in the realm of the genealogist or, a curious gravehunter like myself.
I have two children’s graves in my family, the one closest to me is of a 1st cousin called Rita, who drowned at the age of 4 and who is buried in Sterkfontein Cemetery in Krugersdorp, I do remember her as a naughty, curly haired moppet, 6 years younger than myself, who doted on her grandfather, but alas there was not a lot of love from her mother. I found her grave awhile ago, and there is no headstone, and even the exact position is difficult to ascertain due to the layout of the plot. But in my family tree I have her marked down and I know that she existed.
I also have graves that I visit when I am at certain cemeteries which have a special place in my heart, one being that of a child who is buried with her soldier father in Brixton Cemetery, and the other is that of Claire Wallace, daughter of the writer Edgar Wallace in Braamfontein.
My latest find is a simple grave that says “Pookety” engraved on it; in Burgershoop Cemetery in Krugersdorp. I have no idea of the gender or age, but with a bit of investigation I may be able to find out more, assuming that the graves around it are numbered consecutively.
Another of my heartbreak graves is probably one of the older graves in the Johannesburg area. Two sisters: Anna Maria, and Cecilia Maria Smit, aged 13 and 10 respectively, were struck by lightning on 01 Dec 1876. They were buried in the farm cemetery very close to where I worked and they were possibly killed on the very farm where our office was. Today we are so divorced from these two girls who died 136 years ago that it is very unlikely that any of their family even know that they existed.
Of course childhood deaths can be seen in any cemetery, there is a large plot in Braamfontein Jewish Cemetery where many stillborns or babies are buried in unmarked graves. And while their burial is recorded in the register, there is no real way to know the grave numbers as these have been lost/stolen over the years. By the same token, a large section in Brixton Cemetery is given over to children’s graves, and many of those are marked in the register as “unknown”. Lives that came about and never saw fruition.
I have always considered that children’s graves are very special and they often reflect the love of a parent for a child. In some cemeteries toys and mementos abound on those small graves, in others simple words of affection are engraved on simple headstones, but often there is just an empty space where a headstone should have been, the name known only to those who laid it to rest, or who wrote it in the register. And just maybe in some faded family album somewhere there is a photograph but nobody knows who the photograph is of.
My final thought goes to the many thousands of children who were lost in the concentration camps during the Boer War, or in any conflict for that matter. Their lives should not have been about struggling or pain, but about experiencing the joy of childhood and the smiles and love of parents.
I am not finished with “Pookety” yet, I hope to identify the grave one day, and I hope to stop by at Baby Sol’s grave, and visit Claire again, and I will pass the memorial to the children that died in the Westdene bus disaster, and pause to photograph an angel, and read a faded inscription, and get all soppy and sentimental because often those silent memorials speak more to me than any elaborate granite monolith ever can.
I returned to Burgershoop on 17 September 2012 and catalogued the graves around Pookety, and after consulting the register I am about 98% sure that the grave is that of Gerald Norval Allen Watt, aged 6 months, buried in grave J1546, on 17 January 1918.