Sunday, July 27, 2014

Looking Back to the Past - the British Colonial Cemetery

The remains of British residents who once lived and died in Bencoolen
Last updated: June 5th 2018

By Adriansyah Putera

The Colonists Endured Hard Times and Great Strife in Bencoolen
The graves in the British Cemetery (Indonesian: Makam Inggris) in Bengkulu are pieces of history that will tell us about bitter conditions and experiences linked to the British East India Company and deaths of hundreds of British Bencoolen inhabitants who were affected by the Bencoolen resistance movements and fatal diseases during the British colonial rule in Bencoolen (now known as Bengkulu). This historic cemetery is known by various names, including Makam Inggris, Kuburan Belanda, the British Bencoolen Cemetery, the European Cemetery, and the British Cemetery at Bencoolen.

This site, less than a kilometer east of the Fort Marlborough, was selected by British colonial government as a cemetery location not only to host the graves of British soldiers who fell in the vicinity of various Bencoolen battlefields but also to host the graves of British Bencoolen inhabitants who died from malaria and diarrheal diseases. During the 17th and 18th century, several diseases like malaria, cholera and dysentery were major problems in Bengkulu. These diseases killed more British Bencoolen inhabitants in the 18th century than those that died on the battlefields in Bencoolen.  

During the British colonial period (1685 – 1824), there were 709 recorded deaths of British Bencoolen inhabitants in Bencoolen – including four of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles’ children. Raffles, best known for his founding of Singapore and a Governor General of Bencoolen (administration 1817 – 1822), was devastated for losing four of his five children by his second marriage with Sophia Hull. It is so sad that Raffles’ children tragically died before their fifth birthday due to diarrheal diseases during an epidemic. It is strongly believe that four Raffles’ children were buried at this site, but I can not confirm their graves due to a number of inscriptions are damage or lost. Probably, their graves are parts of the sunken graves or unmarked graves.

The remains of Capt. Thomas Tapson who died on July 1816
Although hundreds of British inhabitants died and might be buried in the British cemetery, only a total of 53 graves (but the BP3 Jambi report records 128 graves) with some of them unmarked can be found in the British cemetery to this day. From a total of 53 surviving graves, there are 15 graves with large gravestones and 4 graves in one gravestone. The earliest surviving colonial British gravestone in the British cemetery commemorates Stokeham Donston Esquire, a British man who died in 1775, and the last British surviving gravestone dates to 1858 which marks the final resting place of Frances Maclane.

A Carved “Five-Petal Flower” on the Gravestones
When the Dutch controlled Bengkulu, after the Anglo-Dutch treaty signed in 1824, the British cemetery was reused by the Dutch colonial rule as a Dutch burial site. The last colonial Dutch surviving gravestone is dated 1940. Unlike Dutch colonial graves, in this site, British colonial graves usually have a carved “five-petal flower” on the gravestones. What does that five-petal flower symbolize? I did a research and found out the meaning of that carved floral symbol. A five-petal flower symbolizes the “Tudor rose”, the symbol of the united houses of Lancaster and York, which is also the traditional floral heraldic symbol of England. A Tudor rose on a headstone may indicate that the person it commemorates was of English descent. This cultural symbol can be very helpful for visitors to identify the difference between the British and the Dutch colonial gravestones in the cemetery.

Besides British and Dutch graves, this cemetery also hosts a Japanese grave. This lone Japanese grave is located at the far right of the cemetery main gate where a Japanese name Tanakara was buried.

The Sad Condition of the British Cemetery - A Call for Concerns
In contrast to the Fort Marlborough which is always in excellent condition, this British colonial cemetery seems to have been allowed to fall into a sad condition. The cemetery has been sadly neglected for many years since the last major restoration and preservation project that was conducted in 1988 to 1991 by the Bengkulu provincial government which funded by British companies based in Jakarta.

Some unmarked graves
Many visitors in Bengkulu have complained and remarked at the sad condition of the British cemetery. Sunken, tilting gravestones, damaged inscriptions hold almost all the remains of British residents who once lived and died in Bencoolen.

An English tourist James Richardson said, “Don’t be surprised when you visit this site and see laundry covering and choking the headstones and leaving you with the impression you're in something of a large open laundry, not a cemetery. In the late afternoon, the cemetery turns into a fun playground for children playing soccer.”

“It is hoped that some action will soon be taken by the authorities to prevent the British cemetery from becoming more of a wreck than it is. I give this cemetery a 5-star for the historical value and probably a 2-star for the condition of it,” said Lisa Ross, an Australian taphophile. “Why the city has left the cemetery continue in such a condition?” Miss Ross asked.

It is sad, but true. The cemetery is still under threat. The relevant departments and the locals need to keep the cemetery safe from dangerous conditions and criminal violations, so Bengkulu's past can be maintained. I hope this writing can help more people understand, interpret and appreciate this British colonial cemetery as important cultural and historical resources.

Location: The cemetery is located at *Jl. Veteran or Jl. Rejamat, kelurahan Jitra, kecamatan Teluk Segara Bengkulu. Right behind the gereja HKBP (the Batak Protestant church), across from the Bencoolen cafe. Click here to find the British Cemetery location on Google Maps 

Let’s help each other!
Let’s make this post available in various languages! Translating this post can help more readers in your language to understand this post. If you would like to translate this post into your language or if you need help to translate some of your posts into Indonesian, please send me an email to

More photos:
These graves are testament to the colonialists’ vulnerability to malaria.
The colonial graves will surely take you back to the memories of the British rule days

Photos by: Peter Kimball, Adriansyah Putera and Edward Sullivan


  1. It's so sad to know that this British colonial cemetery has fallen into a sad condition. Very interesting post. Well-presented post and great photos. Keep sharing pls.

    1. Indeed. I appreciate your feedback. Thanks for reading.