After 106 years, a grave in Waikumete Cemtery finally received its headstone today.
Waikumete Cemetery in West Auckland, is New Zealand's largest, started by the Auckland City Council in the 1880s and transferred to Waitakere City Council after local government restructuring late last century.
It is an intriguing place. I hope to be able to do some exploring amongst the history on its vast fields before my own earthly remains go up in smoke at the on-site crematorium.
I was invited to attend the unveiling of a memorial to an American who had been buried last century, but whose family then left the country, returning to the land of his birth. It was a good ceremony, on a fine sunny (and hot!) day amidst old gravestones and tall grass.
The following information comes primarily from historian Audrey Lange, who conducte the research into his story and first located the grave.
Andrew Andrews St. John (according to his headstone, although Audrey and the printed order of service for the unveiling of the headstone had his name as Andrews Andrew St. John), was born in 1835 in Connecticut, and enlisted as a private the Union Army during the American Civil War, mustering as a Corporal in August 1862. His time in the Army was short; after his regiment marched from Harrisburg to Washington DC, followed by postings at Poolesville and Falmouth, St. John received a disability certificate in December 1862, and was invalided out of the army.
His occupations over the next 20 years are indicated by service as a county clerk in 1870, and a return to his pre-war trade as a dentist by 1879. Next, he appears as the Commercial Agent in Fiji for the United States government in 1886, appointed initially as a “recess appointment” (one made by the U.S. President during the recess of the Senate) which was confirmed a few months later. He was posted initially at Levuka, already by then no longer the capital of Fiji (this had been shifted to Suva earlier by the British Government), but later he operated from Suva.
He left his post in 1893. According to John Desrocher, Consul General of the United States in Auckland (in his speech today at the graveside):
"It was in 1893, when the second administration of President Grover Cleveland turned its attention to what was called the ‘spoils system’ and, in particular, the salaries of U.S. representatives overseas, that St John left his post. Consular officers earning up to $1,000 per year could live off the fees they charged for their services, and also engage in trade locally. Those earning over $1,000 were no longer allowed to engage in trade. By Executive Order President Cleveland also required officers with salaries more than $1,000 to pass exams on consular regulations and foreign language proficiency. It was presumably this combination of more work for less money which prompted Andrews to leave Fiji after 7 years."St. John took up another position in Batavia (modern day Jakarta), but ended up by 1894 in Australia and the New Zealand. He died here in 1902, and was buried at Waikumete without a headstone. According to John Desrocher, his widow and family returned to the United States in 1908.
Audrey has been in touch with the surviving descendants of St. John, who are happily overwhelmed that their ancestor’s gravesite has been located and will now be marked with a veteran’s headstone.
Early photographs of Levuka from the 1880s can be seen here. Actually, I think there should be a book done sometime about the American commercial agents/consuls in 19th century Fiji. They appear to have had a lively history. Aaron Von Camp was also a Civil War veteran (of sorts) – he operated as a spy for the Confederacy, yet was still appointed to the post in Fiji (and also Samoa). Another, William Henry Bruce apparently invested in land in Fiji, the majority of which he lost when the British Government changed the rules in 1892. It's a shame any archives on Fijian history are at present inaccessible.
An update here.
Further update (10 November 2009): Jim Gray, of the American Civil War Round Table of Queensland Inc., has advised today (see comments below) that he was instrumental in the provision of St John's headstone at Waikumete Cemetery (and he's sent through documents via email to prove it). Good on you, Jim. I'm sorry that his part in this was not fully publicised at the time.