Edinburgh has its fair share of burial grounds, and in somewhat reverse order I visited the Old Calton Burial Ground after visiting the New one. Due to some of the monuments in the cemetery (the Martyrs’ Monument and David Hume’s mausoleum), this cemetery is easily visible from different places, but especially on Calton Hill. As mentioned in the New Calton Burial Ground post, part of this cemetery was excavated and the remains reinterred in the new grounds when Waterloo Place was built. There’s actually a small section of the original cemetery that is separated from the main grounds that still exists, but I didn’t have a chance to see it today.
Back when I was a history student in university, we had to read some Hume for one of our classes, so I was a bit surprised to come across this massive memorial to him – it brought back a few memories. The monument is quite impressive, much bigger than what he had requested for when he died (something simple with his name and dates).
Another important monument that you can’t miss in the cemetery is the large obelisk that is the Political Martyrs’ Monument. Five men (Thomas Muir, Thomas Fyshe-Palmer, William Skirving, Maurice Margarot, and Joseph Gerrald) had pushed for universal suffrage in 1793 and were sentenced to deportation to Australia (which of course, was a penal colony at that time). Two of the men served their 14 years (Palmer and Margarot), one escaped but died during the French Revolution (Muir), and the other two died in Australia of tuberculosis and dysentry (or alcohol and drugs). Only Margarot ever returned back home. Eventually all five men were pardoned in 1838 and the monument went up in 1844.
One thing I love about old gravestones is how wordy they are, and there are plenty of examples here too – some details about the deceased, who paid for the stone, quotes, etc. I find them so interesting and they tell a lot about what life was like then – so many people died young, or in the colonies, etc. It’s not something we see much of in modern cemeteries.
One monument that I did find a bit surprising was the Scottish-American Soldiers Monument. It features Abraham Lincoln and has a freed slave reaching out to him from below. It’s the only monument dedicated to the Civil War that exists outside of the United States and was the first statue of an American president to be featured abroad. It’s dedicated to six Scottish men who had volunteered and fought on the Union side during the war. Only one (William Duff) is buried below the monument, the others are nearby. It’s right next to the Hume memorial and is quite striking, as it is so different from all of the other stones in the cemetery. It would not be out of place in the type of monumental cemetery that became popular in the 19th century, but here in this small simple cemetery it really is the standout. I found it to be quite moving and unexpected.
Monuments: Since it is such an old cemetery there are some old symbols around, as well as massive monuments to the more notable people buried in the cemetery.
Grounds: It’s basically on a hill so there are slopes everywhere but it makes it interesting to walk around.
Visitors: A few. This is in the old town and part of the tourist trail, so there were a few people here to look at the monuments, especially the Hume memorial and the Scottish soldiers monument.
Site: Old Calton Burial Ground
Notable Internments: David Hume (philosopher), David Allen (artist), Captain John Gray, William Woods (actor), John Haig (whisky distiller), Thomas Hamilton (architect), Robert Burn (architect), Peter Williamson (sold into slavery), William Blackwell (publisher), and many others.
Location: Calton Hill, Edinburgh
Hours: 09:00-17:00 daily
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