Watler Cemetary

The wooden coffin lies buried in the ground underneath the stone slab supporting the monument.

Read about Traditional Sand Cemeteries here.

Settlers first came to the Cayman Islands almost 300 years ago. It became the custom in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for people to set aside a portion of their land for the family graveyard. There are a number of such plots around the islands, and many are still used today.

The graveyards are frequently to be seen beside beaches, and there are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, the island rock found inland is very hard limestone and dolostone, which is very difficult to excavate. The few areas of soil found by the settlers was needed to grow crops and anyway were not sufficiently deep to accommodate graves. The beach area would have been viewed as an ideal grave site, as the sand was easy to dig. Also, it must be remembered that it is only in the twentieth century that beaches have been seen as an asset. Early settlers preferred to live away from the threat of storm damage and flooding which they represented.

The graves in the Watler family cemetery at Prospect date from the early nineteenth century, but it may be that the cemetery was being used well before this. The Watler family is one of the oldest in the Cayman Islands, with the original settler arriving in the 1700's. It is possible that he was a Welshman named Walters, who had served in Cromwell's army in Jamaica, and who first visited Cayman with a companion named Bawden in 1658.

The name Watler is thought to have derived from Walters, while Bodden, another common Caymanian family name, is probably a derivation of Bawden. Many Caymanians today still carry these names.

Watler Cemetery was donated to the National Trust for the Cayman Islands by the Watler family in 1991. It is particularly interesting to note that so many of the graves are marked by house-shaped monuments, faced with crushed coral and limestone daub. These unusual gravestones are found throughout the Cayman Islands. Similar grave markers have been found in England and Wales, dating from mediaeval times, while others (dating from the early 1600's) are to be found elsewhere in the British West Indies.

The wooden coffin lies buried in the ground underneath the stone slab supporting the monument. This would have been sufficiently heavy to prevent all but the fiercest of storms from disturbing them. The name of the deceased was inscribed on a mahogany panel set into the wall of the "house". It is likely that wood was chosen in preference to stone because the local people were skilled carpenters, not stonemasons. Sadly, many of the markers have disappeared and others have become illegible over the years.

Visitors will notice that the more modern gravestones occasionally mark the resting place of more than one person. This was not the case with the old graves, although the groups of gravestones are very close together, as their occupants were, after all, from the same family. Due to the climate in the Caribbean, it was essential that bodies were interred with speed, and sometimes a grave was dug in readiness, with no specific person in mind.

An old stone wall encloses the graveyard. It is possible to see the position of the original entrance (now filled in) almost opposite the present one, and to see where mortar and daub have been used to repair the old dry-stone construction. Mature trees surround the spot - Sea Grape and Almond, among others, and many different kinds of birds and butterflies have made their home here. Certainly it is hard to imagine a more peaceful setting than this quiet and beautiful little graveyard, creating a deep sense of continuity of this old Caymanian family.

Next to Watler Cemetery is a centre run by the United Church, and a small beach. The beach is secluded and has a wide diversity of plant life. The roots of one fallen tree are so tightly matted, they have created a natural "wall", and Turtle Grass waves gently in the water. The centre is now used as a retreat and a centre for young Christians. At one time, however, one of the buildings was actually the church for the local community.

The whole area of Prospect is one of the most fertile on the island, and was among the first on Grand Cayman to have contained a settlement of any size. One of two forts built to protect Grand Cayman from attack by Spanish marauders from Cuba was built in Prospect. Although the fort was demolished many years ago, the site of it is marked with a monument which can been seen further along the Old Prospect Road on the way into George Town.

As early as 1846, a Presbyterian minister had been assigned to work in the area, and the church community flourished. The chapel building was begun in 1915. It has been altered over the years, but it is still possible to see the outline of the arched windows and porch above the more modern replacements. It functioned as a community centre as well as a church, and some community elders remember "Magic Lantern" slide shows and many other social functions being held in the building - some of them by gaslight! Gradually, the population of Prospect began to decline. There were many reasons for this: the hazards of the nearby reef and lack of a good deep harbour inhibited boat traffic, and poor road links to other settlements being some of them. Finally, the great storm of 1932 - which destroyed nearby Red Bay - caused many of the local families to relocate. Many moved to the Crewe Road area of George Town, and by 1936 the chapel no longer had its own minister. The United Church kept the building, though, and the site was dedicated to its present use in June, 1992.

Over recent years, Prospect has once again become an area for development. Whatever happens, it is to be hoped that this small corner will remain as peaceful in the future as it is today.

Last Updated: 29 Nov 2011