Tales from Chatham Jewish Cemetery

November 14, 2009
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There would appear to have been a couple of unusual burials at Chatham and, in one case, perhaps no burial at all.

In the middle of Jun 1786 Mr Levi Israel a silversmith in Chatham, and lease holder of the Synagogue, received a parcel sent to him from London. The parcel contained a small coffin with the body of a young male child aged between 7 to 10 days. The letter enclosed with the parcel asked that Mr Israel bury the child.

Sadly the Times article of Jun 26 1786 doesn’t record the name on the letter and therefore there is no indication as to who the child’s parents were, but we can imagine that they were from Chatham and perhaps travelling to London.

The article does however confirm that the baby was buried in Chatham cemetery by Mr Israel in the presence of a Constable.

According to records held by Medway City Ark,  Levi Israel died between 1794 and 1808 and therefore would not have been alive at the time of the Abraham Abrahams affair. Had he been, I wonder if the decision would have been the same?”

It is said that, following his execution in August 1819, Abraham Abrahams was buried at Chatham cemetery. In the  transcriptions of the legible tombstones at Chatham there was one Abraham Abrahams buried in 1800 aged 60 years, so obviously not the same person.

A search of the Times for 1819 brought up one quite detailed account of the execution of Abraham Abrahams. He, along with others, including Judah and Joseph Solomons were indicted as accessories before the fact in a burglary at Sheerness on 30th Jan.  They were all being held at New-Gaol, Maidstone  when the sentences for Judah and Joseph were commuted to transportation (transported 8th Oct on the Prince Regent). The sentence was reported as being the result of the evidence of the principal witness, Abraham Buckee, and  ’corroborated by a long chain of ‘circumstantial evidence’. Buckee, who turned King’s evidence,  received the Royal Pardon for his part in the burglary.

Joseph Solomons was Abraham Abrahams father-in-law and had brought him up from a child. He was allowed to meet with Abrahams at 6am on the morning of his execution but refusal was given for a minyan to meet and pray with the condemned man the previous night.

When  Abraham’s body was released it was placed in a coffin, with the intention of it being taken to Chatham for burial the same day. However, a letter was received from Dr Hyam of Chatham, stating that the body should be taken to Sheerness and not to Chatham. The hearse and attendants seem to have ignored this and made their way to Chatham but were refused entry on arrival. The result being that the coffin was eventually conveyed by water to Sheerness and interred there the next day.

The story of the trial and execution of Abraham Abrahams has been extensively covered in the book by Jeremy I. Pfeffer “From one End of the Earth to the other: The London Bet Din 1805-1855 and the Jewish Convicts transported to Australia: Sussex Academic Press.

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