A Brief history of the Christian Cemeteries

in the Kingdom of Bahrain

 The ‘Old’ Christian Cemetery

 First Burial
Epidemics
Seamen
Extensions
Last Burial
Neighbours
Stewardship
Plot Plans
Christian Cemetery Committee
Major Restoration
War Memorial
BOAC Flying Boat Disaster
Air France Crashes
Air France Memorial
Seistan explosion 1958
Vandalism
Burials & Exhumations
Database / Register
New Christian Cemetery
Funding

Location:

The first of the two Christian cemeteries in the Kingdom of Bahrain, known as the ‘Old’ cemetery, is in Manama, the Capital of Bahrain, at the junction of  Zubara Avenue and Al-Maarif Avenue (Road No. 806). 

It is believed that the original plot of land for this cemetery was given as a gift by the Ruler of Bahrain,  Shaik Isa Bin Ali Al Khalifa, in response to a request from the British Assistant
Political Agent, Mr. John Calcott Gaskin. The title deed was dated June 1901 (12th Rabia Thani 1319).   

An early photograph of the cemetery (1903) shows the boundary wall and gate with no roads or buildings in the immediate vicinity. Such has been the development of Bahrain since that time, the cemetery is now completely surrounded by roads and buildings and is in the midst of a very busy area of Manama.      

A plan , produced 1932/3 shows what appears to be the original wall with a gate on the West side only.  The dimensions of the wall were, West to East, 80.3 ft (24.4m) by 82 ft (25m), North to South. The overall size of the plot is shown as 155.3 ft (47.2m) by 82 ft (25m).


First burial:

The first burial was made on 19th July 1901. The deceased was a child, Majeed, who died as the result of falling from a roof. Majeed was the son of Amin, a Christian convert.

Shortly after the first burial, the remains of five British Royal Navy Officers and men who had died in Bahrain between 1872 and 1889 and been buried outside the walls of what is now the Police Fort, opposite St. Christopher’s Cathedral, were transferred to the ‘Old’ cemetery. 

It is interesting to note that the Memorial Inscriptions on the ‘Fort’ headstones  were  recorded by Dr. Samuel M. Zwemer in 1893. By 1901 all but one of the grave markers had disappeared. The
surviving marker, that of Michael Kearney M.D. Surgeon, HMS Beacon, who died on the 19th July 1879, cause of death unknown, age 33 years, was transferred to the ‘Old’ cemetery.  The marker, made of teak wood, survives to this day (2004) and is still legible and in remarkably good condition.  



Epidemics:

In March 1903 the first of many epidemics hit Bahrain in the form of Smallpox.  The late rains had caused an increase of fever, pneumonia and diphtheria cases. On April 26th, just as the weather had begun to warm up, Dr. Sharon Thoms was presented with the first case of bubonic plague.  Most of the victims hit by the plague were dying within forty-eight hours of their first symptoms.

At the end of April 1904 another epidemic hit the island.  This time the scourge was cholera. Ten percent of the population from Manama and Muharraq were hit with the disease, with an astounding two thirds of them dying from its effects. [It is not known if any plague, smallpox or cholera victims were buried in the cemetery.]  


In June 1904, when the epidemic was beginning to subside, all four Zwemer children (Dr. Samuel M. Zwemer of the Mason Memorial Hospital, later known as the American Mission Hospital) went down with a severe attack of measles. [From 100 years of AMH, published December 2002.] 

The following month two of the daughters, Ruth aged 4 and Amy aged 7 died on the 7th and  15th respectively, and were buried in the same grave. 

Between February 1905 and January 1906 there were three burials where the cause of death was given as typhoid fever.  

The first of these was Arthur Ashbull Lockyer, an able seaman from the Royal Navy gunboat HMS Redbreast. The entries in the ship’s logbook read as follows: ” Tuesday 7th February 1905. Died at the Mason Memorial Hospital, Bahrein Arthur Ashbull Lockyer ABSG sightsetter, of an acute attack of typhoid fever.  Wednesday 8th February 1905. 7.40am Landed escort and bearers to attend the funeral of the late A. Lockyer AB at the Indian Government’s burial ground at Manama; interred the remains with naval honours – Rev. S. M. Zwemer officiating.” [From research by Kevin Patience] The second and third victims were also associated with the American Mission Hospital. Dr. Marion Wells Thoms died on 25 April 1905 and Jessie Vail Bennet, the wife of Dr. A.K. Bennet, was buried on 21 January 1906.


Seamen:

A total of 52 seamen of various nationalities were buried in the cemetery between 1917 and 1966.  These men and women had died aboard merchant vessels visiting or passing the island or had been landed in Bahrain for medical treatment.


Extensions:

In 1932, further land to the West and East of the original plot was granted by the Ruler,  Shaik Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa. Title deed No: 364/1351 dated 2nd March 1933 (6th Dhul Khata 1351) A final plot of land to the East was granted for an extension in 1949.



Last burial:

The final burial in this cemetery, took place on 3rd December 1966 with the burial of the still born infant son of the Reverend H. E. Franken, an American citizen, who also conducted the burial service.
The cemetery was then closed.


Neighbours:

The Eastern wall of the cemetery is now shared with a Shia Moslem ma’atam (meeting place). At the South West corner, separated by an alleyway lies the Jewish cemetery.



Stewardship:

From its establishment, the stewardship of the cemetery originally rested with the American Mission Hospital. This continued until at least 1950.

Correspondence in 1931/2 between the British Political Agent,  Mr. Charles Belgrave1, Advisor to the Bahrain Government and the Commanding Officer of HMS ‘Emerald’ regarding the burial of Lt. Peter Dabney Heinemann R.N. stated: 

“(a) The cemetery is known as the Christian Cemetery at Bahrain and is situated to the South of the American Mission building at a distance of some 400 yards.
(b) The key is kept by the clergyman of the American Mission at Bahrain.
(c) The Arabian Mission is responsible for the care and upkeep of the cemetery.
(d) No cemetery register exists at present.
(i) The position of the grave in the cemetery is not demarcated. (little has been done tograves in the past)”

Flight Lieutenant Peter Dabney Heinemann  R.N. died on 21 December 1931 when his ‘flycatcher’ float plane crashed into the sea whilst machine gunning floating targets as part of a display for local dignitaries. He was buried with full military honours on 22 December 1931. It was recorded that: “the following were present at the pier and accompanied the coffin to the cemetery and remained there till the burial ceremonies were over:-


Shaikh Sulman
Mr. Belgrave
Captain Parke
Mr. De Granier
Major Holmes
Dr. Dame
K.S. Yusuf Kanoo  C.I.E.
K.B. Abdul Aziz Qusaibi
K. S. Abdur Rahman Ziyani
Mr. L.C. Desouza
Mr. Faithful
Mr. E. Thomas
Mr. A.B. Desouza
Secretary Manama Baladiya
And a few others.”

In February 1933, Mr. Belgrave invoiced the British Political Agency in the amount of Rupees38 – 4 – 0 for the funeral expenses.
Plot plans

As a result of the incident and correspondence above, a plot plan was produced (believed to be the first). The plan is undated but given the fact that the most recent grave recorded is that of  Lt. Heinemann it can safely be assumed to have been drawn between late1931 and  1932. 

This plan shows the dimensions of the cemetery at that time, with a single gate on the Western side and records a total of 40 graves, 13 of which are identified. The rows shown correspond to Rows 6 to 13 on the most recent plot plan. 

A plan of the cemetery, compiled on 13 February 1945 by Capt. A. Nielson Hutton of the Graves Registration unit (Drawing No: GRE/30/187) shows 104 marked Christian graves and one grave marked with the Star of David, unfortunately, there is no listing of names or Memorial Inscriptions.  The drawing also shows that between 1933 and 1945 an Eastern gate had been added to the cemetery which now measured 150 ft. (45.6m) by 82 ft. (25m). 

A plan drawn in October 1964 shows that the Western and Eastern gates had been walled off and a single entrance gate installed on the North side (as it is today). The plan shows only the grave plots of British Military personnel, but indicates that the West / East measurement had now increased to its final length of 306 ft.(93.25m). 

The Christian Community Cemetery Committee (C.C.C.C.):

At some point (presently unknown but certainly post 1950), the stewardship of the cemetery passed to the Christian Community Cemetery Committee, a voluntary organization made up of
representatives of the various Christian churches and congregations on the Island under the Chairmanship of H.M. British Ambassador. The churches include: St. Christopher’s Cathedral (Anglican), The Sacred Heart Church (Roman Catholic), The National Evangelical Church, The Bahrain Malayalee Church of South India, St. Mary’s Orthodox Church (Greek Orthodox) , St. Peter’s Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church and The Mar Thoma Church. The Royal Society of St. George is also represented.  The Committee has a voluntary Secretary & Treasurer and one paid employee who looks after the maintenance of the two cemeteries.

 
Major restoration:

In 1988 a major restoration of the cemetery was begun by Mr. John Sinclair, Treasurer of the C.C.C.C. and carried on by Mr. Kevin Patience, his successor, supported by the committee and members of
the Royal Society of St. George (Bahrain Branch) together with members of the congregations of  St. Christopher’s Cathedral, the Sacred Heart Church and volunteers from the 1st. Manama Cub Scouts. During this renovation trees were trimmed, graves re-discovered and renovated and an estimated 20 tons of rubbish removed.

 
War Memorial:

A Memorial in the form of a small brick built structure with a tiled roof and wrought iron gates, was erected in 1993 to commemorate the dead of the two World Wars and also the restoration of the cemetery. This Memorial has now become the focal point of the Remembrance Day Service held each year at 11am on 11th November, which is attended by Ministers, Ambassadors, Members of the Armed Services and representatives of many organizations, groups, and schools as well as individuals.


Disasters:

 BOAC flying boat crash. 1948:

On 22nd August 1948 a British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) Plymouth Class flying boat G-AHZB, en-route on a scheduled flight from Hongkong to Poole, Dorset, UK, departed Karachi bound for Bahrain with a crew of eight under the Command of Captain  R. F. Stone and 18 passengers.

The flight to Bahrain was uneventful and the aircraft came in to land at the Marine Air base just before 0100 hours G.M.T. on 23rd August 1948.  It was a dark moonless night. The visibility was 6
miles and the wind was North Westerly 6 mph.

The aircraft touched down on the water and bounced. On the second contact with the water the forward part of the hull broke up and the starboard wing was badly damaged.  The aircraft rapidly filled with water and sank to the seabed 12 feet below the surface.  Three of the crew of eight and seven of the 18 passengers lost their lives. The remainder received injuries, mostly of a minor nature. [From research by Kevin Patience

Of the 10 crash victims, three crew and three passengers are buried in the cemetery. The other four were exhumed and repatriated. 

 
The Air France crashes 1950:

On the 12th June 1950 an Air France DC-4 aircraft F-BBDE was on a scheduled flight from Saigon to Paris and left Karachi for Bahrain at 16.05 hours with eight crew and 44 passengers on board.

At 21.15 hours the aircraft notified Bahrain air traffic control that it was making its final approach and received clearance to land.  Nothing further was heard from the aircraft.

 Search and rescue operations began immediately. The wreckage was located at about 05.20 hours on June 13th lying in approximately 12 feet of water at a bearing of 124 degrees True, 3.3 statute miles from the end of the runway at Muharraq.  

Six crew and 40 passengers were killed. Two crew and four passengers survived. 

Sir Charles Belgrave described the aftermath of the crash: ” It was a day of macabre muddle.  I was asked to help in making arrangements for the burial of the bodies which had been recovered from the sea in the little Christian cemetery which was looked after by the American Mission.  The Mission clergyman offered to take part in the funeral service as well as the Catholic priest, as it was not known which of the people were Catholics and which were Protestants. 

The burials did take place in Manama, and after some months the coffins were taken to France.”  [From the book 'Personal Column' by Sir Charles Belgrave.] 


Two days later, on the 14th June 1950 another Air France DC-4 aircraft F-BBDM on the same scheduled flight as the previous aircraft, left Karachi at 16.43 hours with eight crew and 45
passengers.

At 21.41 hours the aircraft reported it was over Bahrain Airport. At 21.52 hours the aircraft reported “Procedure turn” to the Bahrain Tower. The Tower replied “No.1 field clear for landing”. Nothing further was heard. 

Search and rescue operations were begun at 22.10 hours.  The first news of the aircraft came at  02.00 hours on June 15th when a vessel anchored off Sitra reported that one of its boats had rescued nine survivors.

The second crash occurred in the same location as the first. Ironically, among the passengers of this second crash were officials from Air France en-route to Bahrain to carry out an investigation
into the first crash. 


Three crew and 37 passengers were killed. Five crew and eight passengers survived.

Sir Charles Belgrave recorded the second crash, as follows:  ” In what seemed the middle of the night, though in fact it was about three o’clock in the morning, something disturbed me. I seemed to hear a voice speaking about the Air France crash. When I went to sleep my mind had been full of the disaster and the sights which I had seen, and I thought I was dreaming.  I roused myself and then I saw a young British police officer standing by my bed.  I was very drowsy.  ‘ An Air France aircraft has come down in the sea,’ I heard him say. ‘ Yes,’ I muttered, ‘of course, I know all about it. Why have you come to talk about it now?’  I then realized that he was very excited and upset. ‘Another Air France aircraft has come down in the same place,’ he said urgently. ‘It’s impossible,’ I replied. ‘It couldn’t happen again.’  By this time I was wide awake. ‘Sir,’ said the young officer, ‘it’s true, there has been another crash, at exactly the same time and in the same place as the one the day before yesterday”.

[From the book 'Personal Column' by Sir Charles Belgrave.]

In each case the Boards of Enquiry attributed the crashes to pilot error and made a recommendation that consideration be given to equipping Bahrain Airport with radio landing aids and suitable
runway approach lighting. [From a letter written by Eric J. Goodall, Manager Flight Safety, Gulf Air. Published in the Gulf Daily News 1995]

 Research into the crashes by Kevin Patience and his brother Colin, an airline engineer, found that the probable cause was a phenomenon associated with certain weather conditions known as ‘microbursts’ which would have created conditions that were beyond the recovery capabilities of both the pilots and the aircraft involved.  

 The victims of both crashes were initially buried in the cemetery but were all subsequently exhumed and repatriated.

 The Air France Memorial

On 9th December 1994 a Memorial was erected to commemorate the 86 victims of the two Air France aircraft crashes which occurred in 1950.  The memorial consists of a plinth upon which is mounted one of the actual aircraft propellers, recovered from the crash site of the second aircraft in the sea off Muharraq island by Kevin Patience in 1994. 


In May 1999 in recognition of his efforts in connection with the Air France crashes, Kevin Patience was appointed a Chevalier of the Order of Merit by the French Government.

 The Seistan Explosion 1958

At 9.35pm on the evening of February 19th 1958 the 7,440 ton British cargo vessel “Seistan” blew up in a shattering explosion in the Bahrain Explosives anchorage at Sitra.  The explosion killed 57 people consisting of ships crew, stevedores and a tug crew alongside.  

The vessel had been carrying a mixed cargo which included cases of Toe Puff, a substance described in the “Dangerous Cargoes aboard Ships” listing as; ‘Several layers of fabric impregnated with
cellulose nitrate solvent, rosin and dye.  Liable to spontaneous combustion. To be packed in hermetically sealed tins and packed in wooden cases and to be stowed away from inflammable cargo and not in the same hold as explosives.’ 

Two cases of this material had been stowed in No. 5 hold which also contained 156 tons of commercial explosive consisting of Geophex and gelatine together with cases of safety fuses and detonators.

 On 17th February 1958 as the vessel was entering the Arabian Gulf, via the Mediteranean and Red Sea, smoke was seen issuing from a deck ventilator in the vicinity of No. 5 hold. The hold was immediately filled with steam to smother any flames.  The steam smothering continued until  5.30 am on 18th February when the vessel anchored at Sitra where it was decided to discharge the explosives. Some 75 tons were subsequently discharged and steam smothering resumed.

During the day the vessel was moved closer to the port.  That evening, February 19th 1958, a glow was observed in the vicinity of No. 5 hold.  Minutes later, at 9.35pm, a vast explosion blew the
vessel in two – leaving a huge pall of smoke rising into the night sky. 
 

‘The shock wave from the explosion was felt in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. In Awali, the cinema screen shook like jelly. The ship’s stern was completely shattered, the after part of the main deck
being wrapped over the superstructure as if it were the top of a sardine can’. [ From 'The Islander' newspaper, published by BAPCO]. What remained of the vessel caught fire and sank by the stern in 40 feet of water leaving the bow and foredeck above the surface.

The explosion killed Captain Chappel, almost the entire Indian crew in the after part of the vessel and five crew members of a tug alongside.  There were 18 survivors. [ From articles written by
Kevin Patience and published in the Gulf Daily News.

Three victims of the Seistan disaster remain in the cemetery.

 Vandalism

On the night of 15th May 2002 a number of misguided individuals (unknown) climbed the cemetery wall and caused severe damage to the South Eastern quadrant of the cemetery. The damage included the uprooting and smashing of wooden crosses, the smashing of concrete grave surrounds, crosses and plaques and damage to the roof of the War Memorial and brass plaques. In all approximately 100 graves were damaged.

The public reaction to this incident was one of shock and horror that such a thing would happen in Bahrain, particularly given the Country’s long history of peace and religious tolerance. Expatriates and local people alike immediately made generous donations to help with the repairs.

The Bahrain authorities were immediately informed of the incident by H.E. Mr. Peter Ford, the British Ambassador and they too expressed their shock and sadness. As a result, the then Minister of Labour, H.E. Mr. Abdulnabi Abdulla Al-Shoa’la was delegated to deal with the matter.  The damages were repaired by the C.C.C.C. and the walls of the cemetery (which were sadly in need of repair) were completely refurbished and topped with a tasteful 1 metre high wrought iron fence to improve security.  All of these works were funded by the Bahrain Ministry of Finance. The works were completed on 8th October 2002.    

 
Burials and Exhumations:

From 1901 to 1966 more than 500 burials took place.  

There have been a number of exhumations over the years. In the late 1940′s the remains of  13 British Military personnel who died in Bahrain in 1942/3 ( during World War 2.) were exhumed and their remains transferred to the Basra Military Cemetery, Iraq. Three Burmese victims of the 1947 BOAC air crash were exhumed and returned to their families. The 86 victims of the two Air France crashes in 1950 were exhumed and returned to France and there have been a small number of other exhumations.

A total of 407 known graves remain in the cemetery, 45 of which contain the remains of British Military personnel and 27 those of their dependants. [ The graves of British Military personnel and their dependants who die in peacetime are known as " Non - War graves" and are the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence (U.K.) and not the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.] 


The Nationals of 25 countries are known to rest in the ‘Old’ Christian cemetery, including
:


Nationality:

Number:
 

Percentage:

Remarks:

British
121
29.80  
Of which 72 (17.7%) British Military.
Indian
119
29.31

American
19 
4.68 

Italian
6
1.48

Norwegian
6
1.48

Pakistani
1.48 

Portuguese
6
1.48
Iraqi
1.23
Irish
1.23
Dutch
0.98

Chinese
3
0.74
Greek
0.49

Jordanian
2
0.49
South
African 
2
0.49

Seychelles
2
0.49

Lebanese
2
0.49

Bahraini
0.24

Burmese
1
0.24
Danish
1
0.24

Finnish
1
0.24
German
1
0.24
Omani
1
0.24

Palestinian
1
0.24
Russian
1
0.24

Spanish
1
0.24

Unknown
87     
21.43


In addition to Christians of many denominations, there is at least one person of the Jewish faith and a number of Buddhists buried in the cemetery.

Database / Register:

In 2002/3, after physical surveys, reviews of previous research, various partial registers and the burial register of the Sacred Heart Church (1942 to the present) the information obtained was
compiled into a single, searchable, database for each cemetery. Plot plans of both cemeteries have also been produced.

A future project is to record all of the Memorial Inscriptions from the remaining headstones in this cemetery.


______________________________________________


The ‘New’ Christian Cemetery 

 Location:

This cemetery is situated at 311 Road 411, Salmabad 704.  It is believed that the land for this cemetery was donated by H.H. Shaikh Isa bin Sulman Al Khalifa in 1961.

Salmabad is roughly midway between Manama and Isa Town. 


First burial:

The first burial in this cemetery is believed to have been that of David Sidney Adams, a 23 year old corporal in the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers who died as the result of a hemorrhage on 21st March 1963.  This burial took place in a designated ‘Military’ Compound established within the cemetery and reserved for British Servicemen and their dependants.

Of the 24 plots in the ‘Military’ Compound, only one remains vacant. The last burial in this section, that of Sergeant Edward Daly, Royal Air Force, who died of heart failure on 25th February 1971.  


To date, (2003) the Nationals of 24 countries are known to rest in the ‘New’ cemetery, including: 



Nationality:
 

 Number:
Indian
318    
British
115  
Pakistani
34
Bahraini
18 
Filipino
17
American
14 
Lebanese
8
Sri Lankan
 8
German
5

Bangladeshi
4
Seychelles
4
Egyptian
4
Chinese
3
Australian
3
Japanese
2
Burmese
2
Iraqi
2
Dutch
2
Korean
2
Iranian
1
Italian
1
New
Zealand
1
Syrian
1
Uzbekistan
1

In addition to the above there are a number of persons of unknown name or origin. 

It is anticipated that this cemetery will be full by 2006 – 2007 at which point a third Christian cemetery will need to be established in the Kingdom of Bahrain. 


Funding of the Cemeteries

The ‘Old’ Christian Cemetery receives no official funding and there is no longer any income from burials.

Funds for the maintenance and upkeep of both cemeteries are derived from:

    • Burial fees (New Cemetery).
    • Donations from Churches, congregations and individuals.
    • A small annual income from the Ministry of Defence (U.K.) for the upkeep of the graves of British Military personnel and their dependants (known as Non-War graves).
We are always in need of funds.
Kind donations, however small, will be gratefully received and put
to good use in maintaining the Christian Cemeteries in the Kingdom
of Bahrain as fit places of repose and remembrance.

 

Nigel Preece

Treasurer & Secretary

The Christian Community Cemetery Committee

Mobile Tel: +973 3 9640916   E-mail: nigelp@batelco.com.bh
February 2004


Footnotes:

1.  Mr. Charles Belgrave1, Advisor to the Bahrain Government:  His son,
James Hamed D. Belgrave, who died on 29th June 1979 aged 50 years,
is buried in the Salmabad Cemetery. Row 44, Plot 11.