A 17th century Headstone
The Vennel Churchyard, next to the Old Parish Church, contains many headstones, which yield much information about the inhabitants of Queensferry during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
Two 17th century tablestones mark the graves of sea captains. They feature navigational instruments such as a mariner’s quadrant and cross-staff, anchors, skull and crossbones and monograms ( B H A N T and I W P ). Under one of the tablestones is a further stone on which is carved a skeleton.
Many other references to sailors may be found here. A headstone inscribed in German marks the resting place of a petty naval officer of SMS Deutschland, Franz Mallolewski, who died here in 1894. The officers and men of H.M.S. Iron Duke erected a stone in memory of five shipmates who died at Queensferry in 1890 and 1891. Also interred in the churchyard are fourteen sailors from H.M.S. Caledonia a Guardship in the Forth which was used as a training ship after it was sold in 1886. Three sailors from H.M.S. Favorite Reserve Guardship on the East Coast of Scotland, lie buried here. Of these, Edward Rician drowned in Queensferry harbour in 1874 whilst another, Charles Edwards drowned in port Edgar in 1874. Sailors from H.M.S. Devastation and H.M.S. Lord Warden are also buried here.
William Girdwood’s Headstone
On the headstone of William Girdwood are carved the tools of his trade - a butcher’s knife and cleaver. A three-masted ship in full sail is carved on the stone of Captain Henry Steel, an eighteenth century shipmaster.
Varied trades are mentioned - fishcurer (John McKiver), flesher (Thomas Ritchie), naval surgeon (George McCallum), sailor (Henry Brash) and weaver (George Chalmers). Henry Brash and George Chalmers were deacons of their tradeguilds in Queensferry.
Although many stones are broken or fallen and many inscriptions worn, one fine epitaph remains clearly legible:- “here lyes all that was mortal of Mr Robert Dick who died 5th June 1783 aged 78. His Life was all along uniformly pious, useful and exemplary. His Death was suitable to such a Life, patient, resigned and full of Christian Hope. No one ever lived more respected than He or died more regretted by his Friends.”
In the early 18th century the Burgh Council decreed thay any animals found in the Kirkyard be confiscated until a fine was paid by their owners. Apparently horses, cows and sheep were wont to pasture there!
The Hutton bequest part of a legacy left by Miss Christine Hutton, Hope View, South Queensferry, provides for the upkeep of her burial ground and that of her sisters, and also for grass cutting and planting of flowers at the grave of Rev. Thomas Dimma. Also interred in the churchyard are two ministers of the United Presbyterian Church, David Carruthers, (died 1834) and his son, William Carruthers, who succeeded him and died in 1854.
In 1874 the Council agreed to purchase—-Taylor’s Garden” to extend the Churchyard. It was here in 1982 that workmen from the Youth Training Scheme erected on the wall the memorial from the Old Parish Church to those who died in the First World War. The four recesses in the wall next to the Memorial are bee boles in which were kept skeps (straw beehives).
To the east of the graveyard is the ground where in the late 17th century “sacramental preachings” took place. The Back Braes before the coming of the railway formed a natural amphitheatre. Here people from the neighbouring parishes and various parts of Scotland sat day after day in ascending rows behind the Parish Church, listening to sermons preached to them from an old yew tree, thought to be the tree covered in ivy to the east of Lilybank House. So popular were these gatherings that on occasion not enough bread could be obtained to meet the needs of the crowd.
The graveyard closed in 1900 although there were occasional burials after that. For those interested in visiting the old graveyard, the key may be obtained at the Council Offices or Queensferry Parish Church.