In the churchyard of St Mary’s, Rotherhithe, stands the substantial tomb of Lee Boo, the first Palauan Islander to visit Britain, who died of smallpox at the home of Captain Henry Wilson in Paradise Row, Rotherhithe, on 27 December 1784 (Fig. 4.1). The tomb and its inscription, composed by no less a figure than Brook Watson, the merchant and celebrated subject of John Singleton Copley's recent (1778) painting Watson and the Shark, were erected at the expense of ‘the Honourable United East India Company’, as the inscription states:
as a Testimony of Esteem for the humane and kind Treatment
afforded by his Father to the Crew of their Ship
the Antelope, Captain Wilson,
which was wrecked off that Island
in the Night of the 9th of August 1783.
Then Watson's epitaph concludes on a note of sentimental pathos:
Stop, Reader, stop! – let Nature claim a Tear –
A Prince of Mine, Lee Boo, lies bury’d here.
That a Pacific Islander should be accorded celebrity status in late eighteenth- century London is not necessarily surprising, given the acclaim and publicity surrounding the arrival of Mai on Cook's returning second voyage less than a decade previously. However, that he should be treated with such deference, admiration and compassion as Watson's – admittedly somewhat melodramatic – couplet demonstrates, is indeed extraordinary. It is still more remarkable that he should be buried within a genteel London churchyard, in a tomb more appropriate to the merchant class or gentry, and paid for by the East India Company, which was hardly renowned for its generous treatment of subaltern peoples.
In one sense, Lee Boo may be seen as just one of a growing number of non-western visitors to Britain in the eighteenth century, a consequence of its rapidly expanding empire and global trade, alongside other significant individuals or groups such as Mai, Olaudah Equiano, Ignatius Sancho, Dean Mahomet, Joseph Brant, or the embassies of American Indians. Yet, as his epitaph indicates, his celebrity status, which continued well into the nineteenth century, was associated with a rather different form of cross-cultural exchange than that deriving from exploratory voyaging, colonial expansion, or the iniquities of the African slave trade.