John Howard’s Memorials Near Kherson

face of a prisoner

John Howard died on January 20, 1790 at Kherson in present-day Ukraine. He apparently died of an acute illness, the cause and nature of which was the subject of conflicting reports. Folk tradition preserves various accounts of his murder. Before dying, Howard requested to be buried on the farm of Mr. Daupine about four kilometers from the town of Kherson, with no tombstone but a sundial. Howard’s burial was evidently a major public event in Kherson:

All the convalescent population of the town flocked together to accompany his remains to their last resting place. At the head of the funeral cortege were the celebrated Admiral Mordvinow, married to an English lady, Rear-Admiral Priestman, and Major-General Koblet.

The funeral events included making, under the supervision of Admiral Mordvinow, a death-mask of Howard.^

By 1802, Howard’s grave was marked with an obelisk “ornamented with his bust and an inscription enumerating his services he had rendered to humanity.” In addition, Howard’s grave monument was surrounded by stone pillars supporting iron chains. The monument stood in a distinguished position:

on the high bank of a ravine called Verevchina Balka, in the midst of vegetable gardens and stone quarries, from which rich supplies of Pontic lime-stone are obtained. The place of Howard’s burial commands a view of the buildings of the Mental Hospital, situated on the other bank of the Verevchina Balka, while at the bottom of the ravine itself, in Howard’s times, there was a beautiful centuries-old park, afterwards known as “the Count’s Garden,” because, later on, the land had belonged to Count de-Witt.^

The stone pillars and iron chains surrounding Howard’s grave were pillaged sometime before 1802. The bust and inscription were pillaged in 1802. Writing in 1817 regarding Howard’s grave in Kherson, the Russian official supplying that information also wrote, “There is now no longer a trace of anything which speaks of Howard.” Nonetheless, the official’s description makes no mention of the destruction of the obelisk. Moreover, the official noted that the Emperor had authorized “the restoration of this monument.” A responding official noted that Howard had requested no grave marker other than a sundial and proposed that a new monument to be placed “within the walls of the fortress of Kherson.”^ That position would protect it from looters. The new in-town monument apparently was to include the obelisk that had been part of the earlier grave monument. Hence that obelisk evidently still stood at Howard’s grave in 1817.

A sundial was added to Howard’s grave monument soon after 1826. In 1851, the Governor of Kherson erected a stone wall around the grave monument.^ The grave monument was restored again, at state expense, in 1875. A description of the grave monument in 1929 described it as being “surrounded by a stone wall, 140 feet in length, with an iron gate.”^ Here’s a credible, first-hand description of Howard’s grave monument, based on direct observation no later than 1879:

The tombstone is a square pedestal in marble on a stone base. This pedestal measures three-fourths of an archine {53 centimeters} in width and one and one-half archines {107 centimeters} in height. The inscriptions {on the marble cube} are:
North side: “Johannes Howard. Ad Sepulcrum stas Quisquis es Amici.” {John Howard. In this tomb lies your friend, whoever you are.}
East side: “1790.”
South side (in Russian): “John Howard. Whoever you may be, it is your friend who lies here.” {Іван Говард. Хоч би хто ти був тут друг твій похований ^}
{West side is blank}
The higher level of the pedestal is ornamented by a sun dial.^

While definitive documentation probably exist somewhere in archives in Russia or Ukraine, the best interpretation of the above documentation is that the tombstone, with inscriptions, survived from a Howard grave monument erected sometime before 1802. Most likely, the tombstone and engravings were made in 1790 to serve in the major public event that was Howard’s funeral. They existed beneath the obelisk, looted of its Howard bust and the surrounding stone pillars and iron chains, until the obelisk was removed to be placed at the new memorial in Kherson. The tombstone remained to become part of the restored grave monument.

Moving the obelisk from the grave monument to the in-town monument would better accommodate Howard’s last wishes, but design problems emerged. About 1820, a medallion of Howard was made to be placed on the new in-town monument. The medallion was probably meant as a replacement for the lost Howard bust. However, the medallion apparently would not fit on the original obelisk. The obelisk was rebuilt to accommodate the medallion.^

The new in-town monument proposed in 1817 was nearly complete in 1826. It was placed in front of a new prison being construted in 1818. Like the grave monument, the in-town monument was restored at state expense in 1875. In 1879 the in-town monument existed “in the center of the great square, facing the prison.” A first-hand observer then described it thus:

It is made of gray stone. Three large steps lead to the great pedestal surmounted by four Ionic columns. Upon these columns is a second pedestal, smaller and ornamented by a marble medallion of Howard in profile. Upon the two east and west sides facing the prison may be read in the panels the Latin inscriptions:

East side: “Alios salvos fecit.” {Others he made safe.}

West side: “Vixit Propter alios. {He lived for others.}

Upon the principal face of the great pedestal the Russian inscription reads: “Howard. Died the 20th of January, 1790, at the age of 65 years.”

The monument is surmounted by an obelisk, ornamented on the south side by a sun dial. The total height of the monument is four sagenes and two and one-half archines {10.3 meters}. The entire monument is surrounded by a stone wall with an iron gate. The interior of the walled inclosure is planted with trees.^

In 1929, a similar description noted that the monument, described as having “the form of a quadrilateral pyramid, thirty-five {10.7 meters} high,built of stone,” contained on its principal face “a plaster portrait of Howard” and a sundial.^ While the documentary sources are somewhat confusing, including a sundial apparently was part of the proposal for the new, in-town monument. That the “marble medallion of Howard in profile” had become a “plaster portrait of Howard” suggests challenges in maintaining even the in-town monument. The prison that Howard’s in-town monument faced existed in 1890, but not in 1929. In 1929, the in-town Howard monument was opposite a cemetery.

The Kherson municipal council ordered the erection of an additional monument to John Howard at the centenary of his death. Among celebratory resolutions the municipal council adopted on January 9, 1890:

3. A marble tablet with inscription will be placed upon the wall of the house formerly occupied by Howard.

4. The street at the end of which stands the {in-town} monument of Howard will be named “Howard street.”^

Howard’s house and the associated marble tablet were described about 1929 thus:

a modest two-storeyed house, with two windows, one to the front and the other into the courtyard, No. 13 in the Street of the First of May (formerly the Suvorovskaya), bearing a marble tablet with the inscription: “In this house, in 1789, lived the great philanthropist John Howard, an Englishman.”^

Thus about Kherson in 1929 existed at least three monuments to John Howard.

The in-town pyramidal Howard monument was ravaged during World War II. The Germans occupied Kherson from 1941 to 1944. The Soviet News, September 17, 1945, reported:

German soldiers marched to the square, tore down the bas-relief, broke the sundial and smashed the monument. John Howard Street was renamed after some German fuehrer.

The spring of victory brought back joy to Kherson. … To-day there are men at work on the site of John Howard’s grave. {actually, the in-town Howard memorial} The pyramid has been rebuilt, the sundial is back in place. The square has been cleaned up and a fence erected around the monument. Flower beds have been planted around the grave. Only the bas-relief is missing. A new one is being made.^

John Howard was an extraordinary man. So too is the history of remembering him and memorializing him.

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