O: Tom (1871 – 1884) “An African slave boy” rescued by Joseph Clark

This intriguing marker stone reads “Tom, an African Slave boy, died at Edinburgh April 19th 1884 aged 13.  Redeemed with the precious blood of Christ.  Erected by children of Rosehall U.P. Church”.

Why was an African slave boy buried in an Edinburgh cemetery in 1884, fifty years after the 1830 Abolition of Slavery Act?  Delving into the records has uncovered much of his story.  

Tom and another boy, Theo, were rescued from slavery in the Congo by missionaries who had gone to the Congo in 1879/80 under the auspices of the Livingstone Inland Mission.  One of these missionaries, Joseph Clark, who came from Aberdeenshire, had come home on leave in 1883 and brought Tom and Theo with him. While on leave, he apparently took the two boys with him when he was lecturing about his missionary work.  Newspaper advertisements show, for example, that they were in Belfast a week before Tom died.

Tom’s death certificate records that “Thomas Clark” died 19 April 1884 11h 45m p.m., Lochrin House, Lochrin, Edinburgh, aged 13 years.  Under parent’s names: “A native of Africa”.  Cause of death: “Haematemesis 1 day Ulceration of Stomach as certified by George Mackay M.B.”.  The death was registered on 22 April by “Joseph Clark, Guardian, present”.  

Haematemesis is the vomiting of blood, especially as the result of a bleeding ulcer.

Lochrin House was at Tollcross on the corner of Gilmore Place and Home Street, so nearly opposite where the King’s Theatre now is, and in 1881 and 1891 it was divided with half being occupied by Dr Mackay and his household and the other half by a small home for orphans.  It is not clear from the death certificate but it seems likely that Tom and Theo were living in the orphanage while Joseph was staying at his half-sister’s employer’s house in Morningside Park, which was the address he gave when he married Eliza Ann Milne at Lochrin House on 23 April, only four days after Tom’s death.  Unusually, there are three names in the witnesses section on Joseph’s and Eliza’s marriage certificate: “Gilbert Johnson Wildbridge, witness” (a close friend of Joseph’s), “Georgina Milne, witness” (Eliza’s sister), and “Theodore Walker”.  Was this Theo?

A short paragraph in the Dundee Courier, Friday 25 April 1884, reveals a little more. Headed “Death of a Congo Lad in Edinburgh”, the paper reported: “On Tuesday the remains of Black Tom, a little Congo lad, were interred in the Grange Cemetery. On Saturday morning he burst a blood-vessel, and in the evening he died. He had a companion named Theo, also from Congo. Mr Clark, who was sent by the Livingstone Inland Mission to the Congo about six years ago, returned on furlough last year, bringing with him the two boys. The one who died had been purchased by himself, while the other was also a slave, claimed by three different chiefs.”

Joseph and Eliza Clark went on to have a long career as missionaries in the Congo.  Joseph died there on 8 March 1930, aged 73.  Eliza was still alive in 1940, aged 82, and living with her elder daughter in Illinois. There is no further trace of Theo, although one of Joseph and Eliza’s sons was named Theodore Harvey Clark (Charles Harvey was one of Joseph’s fellow missionaries).  

The remaining mystery is why the children of Rosehall United Presbyterian Church raised the money for Tom’s stone.  What was the connection?!

O – Tom grave location