October 1, 2013

Sea burials: Last stitch is through the nose

One Last Stitch to Make Sure That He's Dead  John Farrier at Neatorama

Before ships had refrigerated morgues, it was common to bury the dead at sea. A sailor's body and weights would be sewed up inside a hammock. His mates would finish the task by sewing the last stitch through the dead man's nose--to be certain that he was really dead.

Here's a description provided by one sailor from his experiences in the 1960s:

The mate sent me down to assist the bo'sun to prepare and stitch up the corpse, as he said I would be unlikely to witness such an occurrence again. The bo'sun, a North Sea Chinaman (ie, he hailed from the Orkney Isles), was in his sixties and had performed the task several times before. He was a deft hand with the palm [leather glove] and needle used to sew the heavy canvas into a shroud around the body, and when he came to the final stitches around the face he pushed the large triangular-shaped needle right through the nose. I winced, and he looked up at me and said, "That's the law of the sea, the last stitch through the nose, if that don't wake him up I know he's dead."

Apparently, it was not uncommon for sailors or passengers to be mistakenly pronounced dead. This was the final test.

 Burial At Sea

Posted by Jill Fallon at October 1, 2013 8:40 AM | Permalink