Sambo's grave

Sunderland Point

[Photo of grave]
[2003 photo of grave by Zombi Hamster] [2003 photo of grave by Zombi Hamster]

Up until the 18th century, Sunderland Point was the main port serving Lancashire. Trade was undertaken with the West Indies involving cotton, rum, sugar and to a lesser degree, slaves.

Sambo, it is thought, was a young slave, possibly bought at auction, and taken into service by either a sea captain or a merchant with the idea of using him as a personal attendant. How old he was, how long he served and the manner of his death are all unknown today, but there are two theories as to what happened.

One states that he was the sole survivor of a shipwreck, perishing shortly after being washed ashore. This would appear to be a verbal tradition, not appearing in print until fairly recent times.

A more traditional version tells us that Sambo's master, having being called away unexpectedly on urgent business, left his charge to wait for him in or around Sunderland. The lad then either perished through the cold, or more romantically, fearing that he had been abandoned forever on an alien shore, died of a broken heart.

Sambo was buried in an isolated field close to the sea shore, his grave being initially marked by a plain wooden cross. Its splendid isolation however, combined with its associated legends started to draw a large number of curious visitors. One, the Reverend James Watson, a retired headmaster from Lancaster, visited the site in 1795. He was so moved by the story and the aura of the area that he collected a shilling from any visitor willing to donate. With this money he has a proper memorial stone carved complemented by a brass plaque bearing the following inscription

Here lies
Poor Sambo
A Faithful Negro
(Attending his master from the Weft Indies)
DIED on his arrival at SUNDERLAND

Full sixty years the angry Winter's wave
Has thundering dafhed this bleak and barren shore
Since SAMBO's Head laid in this lonely grave
Lies still and ne'er will hear their turmoil more

Full many a sandbird chirps upon the sod
And many a moonlight elfin round him trips
Full many a summer's sunbeam warms the clod
And many a teeming cloud upon him drips

But still he sleeps-till the awakening sounds
Of the Archangels Trump new life imparts
Then the GREAT JUDGE his approbation founds
Not on man's color but his worth of heart
James Watson Scr. H. Bell. del

The verse suggests a date for Sambo's death of around 1736, although another version of the story dates it at around 1720. Repeatedly vandalised, the grave now bears a plea for respect.


The grave lies in an open meadow on the west shore of Sunderland Point, a short distance up a lane leading off the Esplanade.

When I last saw it the grave was easily located and still in a well maintained condition. (Note that the road access to Sunderland is tidal).