A lifetime at sea

At the age of 12 John boarded a ship for the first time. That’s when the sea became his home.
At the age of 12 John boarded a ship for the first time. That’s when the sea became his home.

The eventful life of Captain Wimble

John Wimble was born in 1797 in Maidstone, Kent. His first voyage at sea was probably at age 12 or 13. By 1823, aged 26, he had gained sufficient skills and experience to become captain for the first time. He was in charge of an "extra" ship for the East India Company, contracted to carry goods such as dye, silk, cotton, tea and opium between India and England. The captain of an "extra" ship had to be at least 23 years old and made at least three return voyages to India, serving as chief mate on one of them. 

In his 34 years long maritime career, Captain Wimble served on several different ships. Sea voyages at the time could last over a year, so his wife Mary Ann often accompanied him, sharing some of his adventures. Apparently, he didn’t worry about the old superstition that it’s unlucky to have a woman on board. :)  

In 1819 John Wimble retired and together with his friend Franklin Allport, set up a ship and insurance broking business in the City of London. By 1851 he was living in Maidstone Cottage, Upper Tulse Hill along with his wife and two servants. John died in July 1851 of heart disease and was buried in West Norwood Cemetery (London, United Kingdom).

A self-willed wife

If John Wimble had had his way, his beautiful memorial would not exist today. In his will he instructed: “I direct that my body may be decently and plainly interred at the discretion of my beloved wife. She alone shall have the ordering and regulation.” Fortunately for us, Mary Ann was a very self-willed woman. She did not order a simple plain tomb for her husband. Instead, she chose to mark his interesting and eventful life with a fitting and unique memorial

To honor Wimble’s profession, there is a dedication on the epitaph that reads:

Sacred to the memory of Mr John Wimble, thirty four years of whose eventful life was passed on the seas. Died 23rd July 1851. Aged 54 years. “They that go down to the seas in ships and occupy their business in great waters; these men shall see the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep”. Also of Mary Ann, his wife, who shared in some of his perils. Died at Exeter, 22nd March 1886, aged 94 years."

Ships in stone

It is clear at first glance that Wimble’s tomb is the resting place of a seafaring man. On the top, there is a sailing ship’s hull, unfortunately without masts and riggings that were originally there. The base features decorative molding of a ship’s rope and on the sides of the tomb there are three bas-reliefs, depicting three of the many ships he captained.

The relief of the ship Florentia on the south side of the tomb is particularly dramatic. It is dated 24 June 1825 and shows the ship in stormy weather along the Cape of South Africa. Florentina was also the first ship Wimble ever captained.

Another of Wimble’s ships was the London, which he took to India five times in the 1830s. It is depicted on the west side of the tomb in heavy waters with a broken mast. The inscription reads “off Gangam in October 1832” and is likely to refer to Ganjam, a coastal district of Orissa in India.

On the east side is a three masted ship named Maidstone, displayed in calm waters with her topsails furled. It is dated 24 June 1840. Wimble captained this ship on a round the world journey in 1840. It travelled to Calcutta, then New Zealand, onto New Jersey and then finally New York.

Professional symbols

The tomb of John Wimble is a typical example of a grave with professional symbols on it. These symbols showcase the profession and life of the deceased but still make us wonder, what is the story behind them.

You can find a theme trail in the mobile app ARtour that follows professional symbols at the Pobrežje Cemetery in Maribor (Slovenia). Surely there are many graves with professional symbols in your home cemetery as well. We encourage you to find them and share their stories with us.

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