The DeRenne monument in Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery is perplexing. Transparently modern in its barren granite pad and pedestals, the monument commemorates a man now over a century dead. The torso-length bust of Wymberley Jones DeRenne dates to 2001, whereas the two bronze sphinxes flanking him seem better dated to the first half of the twentieth century. I have no answers, but let’s have a look, shall we?

Figure 1. DeRenne monument. Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, GA. Photo: author.

DeRenne stands in the middle of three interesting generations of the family, which might better be considered the Jones family, his father, George Frederick Tilghman Jones, having changed his name to George Wymberley Jones DeRenne. Our man, born before the name change, had his name changed, too, from (one presumes) Wymberley [something] Jones to Wymberley Jones DeRenne.

Figure 2. DeRenne monument. Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, GA. Photo: author.

The elder DeRenne, a plantation owner, identified closely with Georgia and Savannah. In the years before the Civil War he amassed a collection of books and related materials concerning the early history of the colony and state; this collection was impressive to his contemporaries. The whole thing was lost in the war, but an undaunted DeRenne picked up again afterwards, amassing a collection of similar scope and impressiveness and publishing his own editions of some longhand records in his Wormsloe Quartos, named for his family’s plantation.

Figure 3. Wormsloe Plantation driveway. Photo: Serge Yurovsky. CC-BY-SA 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

The plantation, by the way, going back to colonial times, is just what you’d expect (figure 3), having survived the Civil War and remained in family hands to the present day.

Figure 4. DeRenne monument. Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, GA. Photo: author.

Our man’s mother, Mary Nuttall DeRenne (1835-87), branched out and amassed a collection “second to none” of Confederatiana. This collection went eventually to the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia.

Our man, Wymberley Jones DeRenne (1853-1916), was more cosmopolitan than his parents, and amassed an even more impressive collection of Georgia-related materials, publishing several editions of things like manuscripts, or the unpublished letters and telegrams of Robert E. Lee. He built a fireproof structure for the collection at Wormsloe.

Figure 5. DeRenne monument. Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, GA. Photo: author.

In the third generation under examination here, Wymberley Wormsloe DeRenne (1891-1966), son of Wymberley Jones DeRenne, and his sister Elfrida DeRenne Barrow built the collection out to its final form, catalogued it, and eventually sold it to the University of Georgia.

There’s a lot to be learned about the once-upon-a-time southern upper class and old money here. I mean that earnestly. See for a start the family’s onomastic practices: the adoption of DeRenne to distance the branch of the Welsh family from the commoner surname ‘Jones.’ The adoption of toponyms such as Wormsloe; the rhyme in the names Wymberley (1853-1916) and his daughter Audrey (1889-1931); the educated callback of the famous architect in Inigo Jones DeRenne (1919-1928); and whimsical historic Welsh-derived names like Kentwyn Floyd DeRenne (1923-1969, son of Wymberley Wormsloe DeRenne). See, too, how they pass names like Wymberley down the male line.

Upper-class whimsey may be responsible for the pair of Sphinxes on pedestals that flank the DeRenne portrait. DeRenne’s holding of a book is not so much whimsical as it elides more traditional civic virtues to focus instead on DeRenne’s bibliophilia. Let’s remember, though, that the portrait, by ‘D. Glaysker’, dates to 2001 (figure 5). The portrait’s pedestal was probably incised around the same time. See how it insists on stuffing the man’s entire name in the first line, followed immediately by his dates in a second. The rest of the face of the pedestal is blank. This is clumsy and recent in its sensibility.

Presumably, the ledger stone incised DE RENNE 1913 covers a crypt which lies under the platform and which contains (at a minimum) the persons listed in the stone in front of the ledger. I don’t know how much Bonaventure floods, but it is also possible that the platform serves the practical purpose of restraining DeRenne coffins from bubbling up in a hurricane. One sees this expedient a lot in coastal North Carolina.

Figure 6. DeRenne monument. Detail: foundry mark on right flanking sphinx. Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, GA. Photo: author.

The sphinxes are a wonder. To be sure, things Egyptian are, or were, regularly used in American funerary contexts—there are at least two mausolea at Bonaventure in the revival style. While I saw no mark on the portrait bust apart from the artist’s signature, the right sphinx has the foundry mark of the Roman Bronze Works, without a date (figure 6). Roman Bronze Works went out of business about the time this monument would have been designed, c. 2000. The style of the sphinxes is, to my eye, of an earlier time, though there is nothing to say that such generic funerary decorations were not “on hand” at the Works or with some intermediary. I did not photograph both sphinxes carefully, but from my images, I believe the two here are identical castings.

I had a look at the hieroglyphs on the sphinx in figure 4: it says something about “HOM-DAI” and “Kadish Mal, Paradous, Paradous!”, I think. But in all seriousness, if the gentle reader can make headway into translating the hieroglyphs, I’d be glad to hear about it among the comments. The hieroglyphs could, of course, be entirely decorative. They needn’t be meaningful, at any rate, and they needn’t represent Egyptian language, even if they are meaningful.

My cautious reconstruction of this site’s history would be: creation of the vault with platform and ledger stone cap (1913). Interment of various Wymberleys, Kentwyns, and Wormsloes through the 1960s. When the site had ripened (i.e., no one was ever going to be added to the existing residents) the three granite pedestals with bronzes were put in place (c. 2001), the sphinxes either reused from some earlier monument or bought as ‘new old stock’.

Nikon Z 7ii with Nikkor Z 24-200 mm f/4-6.3 lens.

Figure 1. 42 mm, f/8, ISO 100, 1/200 s.
Figure 2. 63 mm, f/8, ISO 100, 1/60 s.
Figure 4. 94 mm, f/8, ISO 100, 1/100 s.
Figure 5. 140 mm, f/8, ISO 100, 1/250 s.
Figure 6. 94 mm, f/8, ISO 100, 1/100 s.

Edited in Apple Photos.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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  1. This from my former student Andy Hogan, MA Egyptology, Oxford, PhD Classics Yale, but to me, “Hogaaaan!”

    So from right to left, it’s the end of a cartouche with a royal name, then nbt with two sets of plurals, ankh, 3 (pronounced ah), then the bull and arm, k3 nHt “victorious bull” then I think Amun or Re with a badly drawn mry sign, which would be “beloved of Amun”, then nb t3wy “Lord of the two lands’

    Then the start of another cartouche

    Having read the article [your blog, Greg], this is likely the latter portion of a titulature that the family gave themselves

    And they were just tacking on royal epithets from all over

    The more standard stuff is likely on the other side of the statue


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