29 May 2014

Charles C. Erichsen: Gone but not Forgotten

Nagasaki is home to Japan's oldest and most diverse international cemeteries.  All told, several thousand foreigners are buried here, from Chinese merchants who ended their journey in 17th-century Nagasaki to British retirees who chose to stay with their Japanese wives during World War II and died of old age in the postwar period.

When Lane Earns and I put together the book Across the Gulf of Time: The International Cemeteries of Nagasaki (Nagasaki Bunkensha, 1993), our research was hampered by a lack of sources.  In fact, we relied mainly on gravestone inscriptions and obituaries from the English-language newspapers published in Nagasaki from 1861 to 1928, with inevitable gaps and omissions.  We also had to leave out the hundreds of people buried in the Chinese and Russian cemeteries and to gloss over periods not covered by the newspapers.  As a result we have been constantly on the lookout for further information, especially that provided by descendants who happen to notice the names of relatives in the above book or on our website.  The following is a report on one such event.  

I recently received an inquiry regarding Charles C. Erichsen, a British-Danish traveler who died in Nagasaki in 1883 at the tender age of 19.  The short obituary published in the English-language newspaper The Rising Sun and Nagasaki Express states simply that he died on board the "Seine," a steamship operated by the "Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Co."  The rather opulent gravestone erected at Oura International Cemetery suggests a wealthy background, but the inscription provides no further clues.

Charles C. Erichsen's gravestone (right) at Oura International Cemetery

However, the information provided by the writer of the above inquiry revealed that Erichsen was the younger brother of Nelly Erichsen (1862-1918), a British-Danish artist and illustrator who studied at the Royal Academy of Art in the 1880s and worked with a number of publishing firms including J.M. Dent and Macmillan.  His father was Herman Gustav Erichsen, a native of Denmark who had emigrated to England as a young man and later invested in the formation of the Great Northern Telegraph Company, going on to become the company’s representative in England.  The Great Northern Telegraph Company built an international telegraph network, connecting England, Russia and Scandinavia by means of undersea cables and establishing an extension company that laid the first cables connecting Nagasaki with Vladivostok, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Charles C. Erichsen was probably visiting Nagasaki as a company representative and met an untimely death due to a sudden illness.  His identify and family connections went unknown until now, 131 years since his burial in the Oura International Cemetery.

A Hard Day's Labour, by Nelly Erichsen.

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