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Dover - The Wreck of the WA Sholten


M. Roberts

In November 1887 the passenger ship, the W.A.Sholten, was making passage, apparently from Holland to America, when it was lost off Dover with the loss of many lives including seven Jewish victims who were buried in the Dover Jewish Cemetery with great grief.

Dover - The Wreck of the WA Sholten

In November 1887 the passenger ship, the W.A.Sholten, was making passage, apparently from Holland to America, when it was lost off Dover. The ship was carrying some 106 passengers and crew. Many of the passengers (forty-five) were emigrants from Holland and Germany. Eighty of those on board were saved, but tragically 26 perished at sea including the Chief Officer of the vessel. Seven of the victims were Jewish, comprising one woman, five men and one boy.

The town of Dover was plunged into this unprecedented tragedy, and on 24 November most of the town turned out to watch the funeral cort├Ęge and burial of the victims.

'The funeral procession was timed to start at two o'clock from the Clock Tower. An hour before that, Dover was all on the move. A continuous stream of people was going in the direction of the Copt Hill Cemetery, and others were taking up positions along the line of the route, and all around the lifeboat house, the steps of the Clock Tower, the seawall, in fact the whole neighborhood was a dense mass of spectators. The start was fairly punctual but it was a work of time to place twenty-one coffins on the funeral cars. Dover does not possess a sufficient number of vehicles especially for funerals to meet such an emergency, therefore ordinary vans and breaks decorously draped were used...'

The whole route up to the cemetery was dense with people and all business in the town was suspended. At the cemetery itself there was an exceptional scene '...the [cemetery] ground, which slopes up like a natural amphitheatre, was covered with spectators numbering about seven thousand. The faces of the dense mass wore an intensely solemn and interested appearance, and the surrounding hills in their quiet eloquent grandeur, the sun bursting from the black clouds and irradiating the whole scene, formed a sight for life-long memory.'

The Christian interments proceeded impressively, amidst great stillness from the crowd, once the occupants of the funeral hearses had arrived at St Mary's cemetery. Both the Dutch and American Consuls were present. A separate detachment of four hearses had gone on to the Jewish burial ground opposite the Charlton Cemetery.

'...Meanwhile the Jewish part of the ceremony had been proceeding. The coffins had been taken from the funeral cars and placed on the floor of the Mortuary Chapel, then the funeral service proceeded, the Rev. I.Barnstein officiating, and the other Elders of the Dover Synagogue assisting and taking part in the service, some of the which was read in the English language and part in Hebrew. The ceremony occupied a considerable time, and when the portion in the chapel was over, the leading Jews - Mr. Alderman Hart, Mr. S. Hart, Mr. Isaac Davis, Mr. John Davis, Mr. Goodman, Mr. Cohen and others - put one coffin on a bier and ten of them taking it up carried it up the steep slope to where the seven graves were dug. It was a difficult task to carry the bodies up this slope, and midway the bearers had to rest, it took a considerable time to carry them all up, the actual interment lasting nearly an hour. The Elders cast earth upon the coffins, and them left the grave side to perform ablutions, according to the Law of Moses and the traditions of their nation. While the ceremony was proceeding the walls all around the cemetery was crowned with spectators, who on the whole behaved in a very respectful manner...'

The Jewish victims of the Scholten were:

1) An unknown female
2) Solomon Goldsmith
3) Beil? a barber from Russian Poland
4) An unknown boy
5) An unknown man
6) Cheim Friedmann, a wine merchant
7) Marcus Wasser.

Of these only Solomon Goldsmith's grave is marked with a memorial stone and the rest are ranged as blank plots about his grave plot and headstone - sad and enigmatic gaps in a cemetery where otherwise the family ties, loyalty and love, otherwise receive graven testimony in stone.

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