Research identifies British sailor's grave at Unalaska cemetery

Posted: Monday, April 03, 2000

UNALASKA (AP) -- A weathered marker at the Unalaska Cemetery dating back to 1907 has been identified as the last resting place for British sailor William Henry Honsey, a Royal Navy veteran.

The Celtic cross had been something of a mystery on the cemetery's hillside for nearly a century. But thanks to modern technology and some persistence, the identity of the grave's occupant was determined in February.

A.B. Rankin, a member of the Unalaska Historic Preservation Commission, did the research as part of a cemetery mapping project.

An examination of the grave marker didn't offer many clues, Rankin said.

She could only make out the name ''William H'' along with the final few letters of his last name. The marker said the grave's occupant was a British seaman who had died at the age of 27.

Salty sea spray and the high winds that whip across the Aleutians each winter had sandpapered off the rest. But Rankin found a British Navy researcher on the Internet and asked for his help.

The historian replied with a detailed description of the grave's occupant -- a Scotland-born sailor.

Honsey died as the result of an accidental gunshot wound in August of 1907. He was buried at the cemetery when his ship, the HMS Shearwater, tied up at Dutch Harbor briefly during a long voyage.

The cemetery committee eventually would like to compile a book about the Unalaska graveyard, complete with biographies of the occupants.

The committee has begun research on about a dozen graves from the former Methodist orphanage, along with some military graves scattered through the cemetery.

''There are really a lot of interesting histories and stories up there,'' Donna Detweiler, Unalaska Historic Preservation Commission chairwoman, told The Dutch Harbor Fisherman. ''It's really a fascinating place to learn about.''

Rankin, meanwhile, wants to ensure that the long-anonymous sailor finally is recognized.

She hopes to find some traditional red posies and place them on his grave Nov. 11 -- the day the British celebrate Remembrance Day to honor military veterans.

Rankin also is considering contacting some of Honsey's distant relatives in Great Britain.

''They probably don't even know where he is,'' Rankin said. ''I want to find them and say, 'Hey, we're taking care of your relative's grave up here.' ''

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