One of the ‘Places of Interest’ marked on my map of Melaka state is the British Graveyard in the small town of Alor Gajah. I went there yesterday to take a look.
Tucked away in the grounds of a primary school, it’s a very small graveyard, a fenced enclosure containing just three graves belonging to an English soldier, his horse and his dog.
The dog’s grave is the one in front, the soldier in the middle and the horse behind.
The soldier’s name was George Holford Walker. He was only 18 years old when he was killed serving as a junior officer with the 5th Madras Native Infantry, a regiment of the Madras Army of the (British)Honourable East India Company.
The inscription on the tombstone reads:
To The Memory Of Ensign George Holford Walker Doing Duty With The 5th Regiment M.N.I Who Fell While Gallantly Leading On His Division To Storm A Stockade At Allegaza On The 3rd May 1832.
This Tablet Was Erected By His Brother Officers As A Mark Of Their Esteem For One So Universally Beloved.
A plaque (in Bahasa) at the graveyard explains the context of his death. In 1829 the British administration running Malacca attempted to impose taxes on the district of Naning at the rate of 10% of the total harvest. Naning’s leader, Datuk Dol Said, refused to pay, arguing that Naning was outside Malacca’s jurisdiction and had not been taxed by the earlier Dutch and Portuguese colonizers. Britain sent in troops in 1831 but they were repulsed by Dol Said’s men. In 1832, a stronger British force was sent to Naning and they overcame Dol Said who was bought off with a pension of $100 per month until his death in 1849. Walker was one of the British casualties in this scrap. A fatal shot to the heart killed him instantly. Locals said his horse and dog stood loyally beside his dead body until they too died of thirst and grief. As a tribute to Walker’s youthful bravery and the devotion of his animal companions, the dog and horse were buried alongside their master.
The poet Margaret Hodson (maiden name Holford – a relative perhaps?) wrote a tribute to Walker which included this verse:
In yonder distant wilderness
He found a soldier’s grave,
Where the cassis sheds its spiciness,
And the broad palm-branches wave.
He sleeps on the wild and distant shore,
Where the elephant stalks and the eagles soar,
And the sandal breathes its balmy sighs
On the lonely bed where our hero lies:
They laid his lovely head
Where his brave heart’s blood was shed,
And the strangers wept, as they laid it there,
For the early doom of the brave and fair!
Location of British Graveyard, Alor Gajah
Margaret Hodson’s romantic image of the grave’s location differs somewhat from reality. The grave is in the grounds of this primary school which faces Dataran Keris in the centre of Alor Gajah town. If you visit during a weekend when the school is closed the security guard is more likely to let you in.
Go through the passageway next to the stairs in the centre of this photo and you arrive at the school canteen. The graveyard is right behind the canteen. An odd place for a cemetery but perhaps the sounds of school children playing is company for Walker who was barely older than a child himself.
Also worth seeing while in Alor Gajah is the District Museum and the Keris statue (both in Dataran Keris), a couple of neat blocks of 1930’s shophouses and an architecturally attractive mosque.