Each year thousands of holidaymakers land at Malaga airport and then quickly disperse to the beaches and golf courses of the Costa del Sol without visiting the town itself. Hans Christian Anderson however, would have urged them to linger at least to see the English Cemetery that the creator of the Little Mermaid described as "my favourite place" in Malaga.
Andersen visited Malaga in 1862, thirty one years after the cemetery opened. Before that, English Protestants, being deemed heretics, had been denied burial in Catholic churchyards and cemeteries. Indeed, in Malaga they were interred at low tide on the beach from whence their corpses were washed out to sea to the consternation of fishermen and grieving relatives alike.
The situation changed in 1830 when Spanish King Ferdinand VII, bowing to British diplomatic pressure, initiated by William Mark, British Consul in Malaga, officially allowed the establishment of Protestant cemeteries in towns where British Consuls resided. Mark had by then obtained local permission to acquire land for his small cemetery about a mile from the centre of town upon a hillside slightly above the beach to the east of the old Moorish fortress.
When the cemetery was opened, according to contemporary travel writer Richard Ford, a plaque was placed over the entrance 'recording the royal permission, above that a cross'. The Malaguenos were
"amazed when they beheld this emblem of Christianity raised over the last home of Lutheran dogs", wrote Ford. Today the amazement has long abated and the heavy wrought iron entrance gates are now flanked by two pillars atop each of which sits a, presumably British, lion with a forepaw resting on a stone globe.
Mark's first 'customer' was the drowned owner of an English brig that had put into Malaga harbour. The second was Robert Boyd of Londonderry, an idealistic young army officer who foolishly enlisted in an expedition led by an exiled Spanish general to overthrow despotic King Ferdinand. With his Spanish companions he was quickly apprehended shortly after landing at Malaga and summarily shot on the 11th December 1831, 'in the sacred cause of liberty', according to his monument's inscription, "aged twenty six". This summary execution of a British subject provoked a political storm in London. Questions were asked in Parliament, the press railed against the reactionary Spanish monarch.
Richard Ford was in Spain at the time of Boyd's execution and, on January 11th 1832, wrote to his friend Henry Addington, British Envoy Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary in Madrid, that Mark, 'is gone wild about the Malaga events and the execution of Mr. Boyd. In his heart I believe he was as glad as a young surgeon to get a subject for his new churchyard. He certainly has a hankering after my wife's body, not her live body, but, hearing of her ill health, tried all in his power to get me to Malaga to have a pretty female specimen in his sepulchral museum'.
Four months later, the painter and future Royal Academician, David Roberts, spent three weeks with the Mark family during an extensive sketching trip in Spain. According to Mark's journal, he took Roberts on a tour of the cemetery 'where observing the pains I was taking to improve the situation, by planting trees in the adjoining ground, thereby forming an agreeable promenade', he made a drawing which he 'transferred to a lithographic stone that I may have numerous copies for the use of my friends'. Mark extended his hospitality to many other visitors, both living and dead, until 1849 when he joined Boyd and his companions in the 'sepulchral museum'.