1785 — Two Sisters: Gravestone, Inscription, and Notes
This gravestone was photographed in Whitby, England, November 2013.
The Transcribed Inscription:
In memory of Rebecca Richardson, Daughter of William & Ann Richardson, who died June 5th 1785, aged 50 years.What heavenly thoughts while dying she express’d
Undoubted cause __ of eternal rest
With closing eyes and [_______ing?] voice she said
How [pleasant?] pain and [sank?] among the dead.
Tho dead she lives safe on the happy shore
Where __________ pain and sin no more.
Also of her sister Ann, died Oct __________ aged __ years.
[2 unreadable lines]
Notes About Research & Invention
Unlike most poetry inscribed on gravestones, I did not find another source for these poetic lines. The last two are adapted from cliché, but the first four are apparently original, having been written by an unidentified author for this stone. Rebecca’s sister Ann was likely her caretaker during the fatal illness, which would have enabled her to witness Rebecca’s last words and respond to them by writing the poem, although history does not recognize her as a poet. Erosion has rendered some of the original words indiscernible. They are missing from the transcription but have been replaced in the fiction to complete the poem.
No documents describing the lives of these sisters were found. The details were all invented, based on general history and the local context of Whitby: a maritime village with a harbor that was the home port of numerous sailing ships during the 18th century, with many farms on nearby uplands.
The backdrop used in the illustration is a photograph of the ruins of the Whitby Monastery, which is a few hundred yards east of the yard of St. Mary’s Church, where the Richardson sisters were buried. As is the case for all illustrations in this series, the character was created by adapting engravings published in the 19th century, and the antique photographic portrait of an unidentified individual.
Susan Marie Brown, © 2014