ROBERT McCORMICK was a British Royal Navy ship’s surgeon, explorer and naturalist. He was born on 22 July 1800 at Runham, a village near to Great Yarmouth in the County of Norfolk, England. John Marius Wilson’s 19th century ‘Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales’ described Runham as such:
“RUNHAM, a village and a parish in the Flegg district of Norfolk. The village stands near the river Bure, at the Runham-Swim Ferry, 4½ miles W N W of Yarmouth and was once a market-town. The parish includes a detached portion, called New Runham or Vauxhall, immediately adjoining Yarmouth, and on which fish-offices, manure-works, and the terminus of the Norwich and Yarmouth railway [would be] situated; and it was [to be] re-turned in the Census of 1851 as including also the extra-parochial tract of Nowhere……”
Robert McCormick was the only son of Robert McCormick, Royal Navy, a ship’s surgeon from Ballyreagh, County Tyrone. Young Robert spent his childhood around Great Yarmouth; he was educated by his mother and sisters. His father had encouraged his son to become a naval executive officer, but the father’s death in the wreck of the HMS ‘Defence’ off the coast of Jutland on 24 December 1811 left Robert junior without the necessary influence and means by which to achieve his father’s desires.
It should be said at the outset that Robert McCormick junior was to turn out to be an eccentric and sometimes difficult character. His naval career would disappoint him, and promotion would be slow. Distinction also would elude him for his ambitions were greater than his application to his work. He would regularly invalid himself out of active service and only occasionally seemed to find work that he was keen to undertake. Almost certainly, his ambitions were destined to be thwarted by his own personality, and he was neither to make a great name for himself in the navy nor as a naturalist.
Nevertheless, in 1821 young Robert McCormick decided to enter the Royal Navy ‘as the only chance now left me of entering upon a naval life’. He asked to be trained as a surgeon and was accepted as an apprentice by the famous Sir Astley Paston Cooper, also originally from Norfolk. Following his studies in London, namely at Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospitals, he became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons on 6 December 1822. The following year, he was assigned to the flagship Queen Charlotte as assistant surgeon.
When Robert McCormick entered the navy, the status of a naval surgeon had risen from that of the turn of the 18th century. He always maintained, however, that his father’s death had left him without enough money or influence to join the ‘executive line’ of the navy; also, his medical training in London would have cost perhaps £200 a year, ‘much the same as a young gentleman at Oxford or Cambridge’. However, it was a fact that a surgeon who had good connections in the Admiralty would have been in a far better position to achieve a successful career – for McCormick it was not to be!
Lack of family influences or fortune aside, McCormick seemed to be incapable to make friends in high places, and it has been argued that his lack of promotion came from antagonising the powerful William Burnett (1779-1861). Burnett sat on the Victualling Board from 1822, and became Director-General of the Medical Department upon its creation in 1832. It was said that Burnett ‘despised the spectacular, the second rate, or the ’dilettante’; but Burnett was not a scientist or a literary man, and seldom promoted those whose interests obviously lay more in the field of geology or botany than medicine. Indeed, McCormick did have more enthusiasm for exploration than for medicine, or natural history – maybe, therefore, he was considered by Burnett as both a ’dilettante’ and second rate!
Certainly, McCormick’s love of the spectacular would not have endeared him to Burnett. The sum total of McCormick was that he was a man with the wrong aptitudes in the wrong place at the wrong time in history. His efforts in natural history, intended to distinguish himself on the Navy’s congested personnel list, antagonised the Admiralty’s Medical Department, and alienated those with the power to advance him. Added to this, McCormick seemed neither good at, nor dedicated to, disciplined natural history collecting. To his further detriment, his dabbling came at the time when both natural history and medicine were growing complex networks. As a qualified but unexceptional naturalist, he had limited capacity for otherwise overcoming his lack of connection to London’s scientific elite. His case reveals the tensions inherent in the position of the ordinary naval surgeon in the mid-19th century – in which one individual performed the roles of doctor, scientist and naval officer, and these roles sometimes came into conflict. These tensions were to be amplified by the presence of the young Charles Darwin on HMS Beagle’s second voyage to South America in 1831.
But first, McCormick’s served in the Caribbean where, in 1825, he contracted yellow fever and was invalided home. He then spent two years as medical officer to shore stations. Then, in 1827, he gained his first experience in the Arctic with William Edward Parry aboard the HMS ‘Hecla’ to Spitsbergen. Although he was not a member of Parry’s unsuccessful polar sledge party, he did contribute significantly to the expedition by keeping the crew healthy and by studying the plants, animals, and geology of Spitsbergen. Following this expedition, he was promoted to the rank of surgeon and then spent a year on half pay, after which he was assigned to the HMS Hyacinth and Caribbean duty, only to be invalided home again in 1830. By May 1831 Francis Beaufort was looking for suitable personnel for a survey expedition to South America. McCormick appeared well qualified, and was recruited as ship’s surgeon for the second voyage of HMS Beagle under Captain Robert FitzRoy.
While the preparations of the Beagle progressed in late October, McCormick met Charles Darwin who had been given an unofficial place on board as a self-funded gentleman naturalist who would be a companion to Captain FitzRoy. Darwin wrote telling his university tutor John Stevens Henslow about McCormick:
“My friend the Doctor is an ass, but we jog on very amicably: at present he is in great tribulation, whether his cabin shall be painted French Grey or a dead white— I hear little except this subject from him”.
When the voyage got under way, their first landfall was at St. Jago in the Cape Verde Islands in January 1832. McCormick and Darwin walked into the countryside together, and Darwin, influenced by Charles Lyell’s ideas on geology, found the surgeon’s approach old-fashioned:
“He was a philosopher of rather an antient date; at St Jago by his own account, he made general remarks during the first fortnight and collected particular facts during the last.”
McCormick became increasingly frustrated when FitzRoy took Darwin onshore, leaving McCormick behind and thereby denying him an opportunity for collecting. The last straw came at Rio de Janeiro in April 1832, when FitzRoy arranged for McCormick ‘s collection to be packaged and sent back to England. McCormick was also invalided home; he recalled in his memoirs of 1884:
“Having found myself in a false position on board a small and very uncomfortable vessel, and very much disappointed in my expectations of carrying out my natural history pursuits, every obstacle having been placed in the way of my getting on shore and making collections, I got permission from the admiral in command of the station here to be superseded and allowed a passage home in H.M.S. Tyne.”
McCormick’s upcoming return to England on 29 April 1832 gave Darwin the chance to send post home. He began a letter to his sister, Caroline, where he referred to McCormick, his former colleague:
“I take the opportunity of Maccormick [sic] returning to England, being invalided, ie. being disagreeable to the Captain & Wickham. – He is no loss.”
When HMS Tyne sailed, McCormick was unaware that he was conveying home not only Darwin’s letter, but also his opinion of him. Probably comfortable in his ignorance of Darwin’s words, McCormick settled into yet another ‘sabbatical’ before being posted once more to the Caribbean; only to suffer a further attack of yellow fever, for which he was sent home in 1834. For the next four years he was unattached except for one month aboard the HMS Terror in relief of ice-bound whalers.
In 1839 McCormick successfully applied for duty with the expedition of James Clark Ross to the Antarctic as surgeon and zoologist aboard HMS Terror. The expedition lasted from September 1839 until September 1843; during this time, it managed to undertake much important work in all branches of science from the Antarctic, through to Australia and New Zealand. The large collections of zoological materials obtained were catalogued later – but not by McCormick! The task was undertaken by John Edward Gray and Sir John Richardson, on orders from the Admiralty following the discovery that the task had been left undone after the expedition.
Here was another example of McCormick’s apparent lack of drive and skills; also, the scientific ability, to cope with such a massive collection. Small wonder then when he did gain some recognition with his election, in 1844, as an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons – a different field of course. Then, during the following year, McCormick received what he thought was a life-time appointment; that of surgeon to the yacht William and Mary. To his dismay, however, the commission was changed and he was assigned to the Woolwich Dockyard, east of London; but even in this post he was to be disappointed when, in 1849, he was superseded.
It seems not generally known that Robert McCormick was a proponent of the search for Sir John Franklin, and he was one of the first to lay detailed plans for such an expedition before the Admiralty and the House of Commons. He advocated the use of small boats and sledges to explore Wellington Channel, the Boothia Peninsula and King William Island. However, whilst his suggestions, were well based on Arctic and Antarctic experience, they were ‘unofficial’, coming as they did from a medical officer and not a line officer; inevitably, they were rejected! It was left to Francis Leopold McClintock to later demonstrate and prove that McCormick was correct!
In 1851 McCormick was appointed surgeon on the North Star in the search fleet of Sir Edward Belcher . At last, his life-long ambition was realised: for during this expedition, he became officer in command of a party. In August and September 1852, he explored the Wellington Channel, in a boat named Forlorn Hope, covering 240 statute miles. He did not find any trace of Franklin’s ships, Erebus and Terror, but did map the east side of the channel and establish the probability of a connection between Baring Bay and Jones Sound, virtually proving that Franklin had proceeded westward from Beechey Island.
McCormick was awarded the Arctic Medal in 1857 and then, in 1859, he was finally promoted to Deputy Inspector-General. This was his last rise in rank and he was placed on the retired list in 1865, and in 1876 received a Greenwich Hospital pension of £80 per annum through the good offices of his friend, the medical director-general, Sir Alexander Armstrong, himself an old Arctic hand. In 1884 McCormick published his ‘Voyages of Discovery in the Arctic and Antarctic seas, and Round the World’. Despite excellent illustrations, sound scholarship, and an interesting narrative, it came too late to arouse much interest – most of the information was already well known and the incidents were too remote for acclamation.
McCormick, in fact, spent the last 20 years of his life in relative obscurity. He had failed either to reach the top in the naval medical service or to become a distinguished biologist. He displayed stamina and competence in exploration but had little opportunity to engage in it except, perhaps, during the North Star expedition. His troubles in the Admiralty have been attributed to a lack of tact and a strong individualism which resulted in frequent disagreements with each of the medical directors-general of his time, especially Sir William Burnett. The yellow fever he contracted and his dislike of small ships led him to avoid assignments to the Caribbean, even to the point of insubordination. However, these characteristics do not explain his scientific failure. McCormick was on good terms with many influential scientists of the day, including Sir John Barrow, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, and Sir Charles Lyell, and had opportunities to make his mark, but he did not display the single-mindedness, patience, and learning.
McCormick’s only claim to fame was that his name was given to several natural features: in the Antarctic, to Cape McCormick by Ross; in the Arctic, to McCormick Bay by Beaufort and McCormick Inlet by McClintock; and in northwest Greenland, to a valley. McCormick was proud of having his portrait painted in 1853 by Stephen Pearce, one of a series planned on the commanders in the Franklin search. He thought it a harbinger of a distinguished future, but, in the event, the Forlorn Hope was his first, last, and only command.
In his last years, McCormick lived in a Wimbledon house he named Hecla Villa, after the ship on which he sailed with Parry, and the class of ships that included the HMS Erebus. His living companions included a duck named ‘the Duchess’, and a sparrow named Polly. McCormick died at Hecla Villa on 28 October 1890 – He never achieved the desired rank of Inspector-General.
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In the winter of 1932, Charles David Abbott observed that it is “Through the diaries of Parson Woodforde, that readers are given the opportunity to not only increase their knowledge of a departed age, but also to live among the fields and hedgerows and cottages of Georgian England.”
He does not say that his comment rings particularly true to those living in Norfolk where much of his diary was based. However, he does tell us that Woodforde’s 18th century was never poor in having literary memorials: London exists forever in the pages of Boswell; the upper circles will always gossip and there is much intrigue in Walpole’s letters; Cowper, would have succeeded in giving us the reality of country life, had he been able to keep his own too interesting personality and his poetic bent more in the background. But thanks to Parson Woodforde, we have ‘what Cowper was too great to produce’. The Parson paints a life as it actually was in hundreds of rural parishes throughout England.
The Parson Woodforde Diaries begin on 21 July, 1759 – when, at the age of nineteen years, he records being made a Scholar of New College – readers immediately plunged into an Oxford of ‘unregenerate’ days.
“Hooke, Boteler and myself went to Welch’s of Wadham College, where we designed to sup and spend the evening, but our entertainment was thus, one Lobster of a Pound, a half-pennyworth of Bread, and the same of Cheese, half of an old Bottle of Ale, half a Bottle of Wine, and a Bottle of Lisbon, and then we were desired to retreat, which was immediately obeyed……”
On another eventful occasion, the evidence was more lavish:
“Baker and Croucher both of Merton Coll: spent their evening in the B.C.R. [Bachelor’s Common Room]. Croucher was devilish drunk indeed, and made great noise there, but we carried him away to Peckham’s Bed in Triumph. Baker laid with me.”
Abbott, in his own words, goes on to say that James Woodforde was the normal undergraduate, by no means averse to the delights of collegiate existence but, at the same time, not unoccupied with the duty of preparing himself for the priesthood. His career was like that of the majority of university-bred men of his period – four years at Oxford, ten years of curacies in his native Somerset, followed by a year or two of residence as Fellow of New College and as University Proctor, all before he is finally presented to the college living of Weston Longeville in Norfolk. By the time he goes permanently to Weston in 1776, we are thoroughly acquainted with him.
He remains the same innocent fellow who in his first term at Oxford gave away his snuffbox “to a Particular Friend” and went “to see the man ride upon three Horses.” No breath of scepticism touched him. He has no doubt of Anglican doctrine, and he looks upon the church, in so far as he thinks about it at all, as the natural home for men of his sort. He questions none of the duties, dislikes none of them. They do not interfere with his simple pleasures, which consist largely of living comfortably in a rural retreat, where food is plentiful, the cellar spacious and well-stocked, and the neighbours sociable. He loves sport so long as it is not too strenuous—the coursing of a hare before dinner or the dragging of a pond. There is no chance of his ever growing bored with the life that he knows, from the carefully recorded daily breakfast to the evening rubbers of whist. He loves it all, and it is all a part of his simple nature. Everywhere he shows himself the wholesome, generous, affectionate, lovable gentleman who, we like to believe, is the typical country clergyman. We may therefore be amazed that so much good-nature never brought him a wife, but we soon grow accustomed to his continued state of bachelorhood.
It was on the question of Woodforde’s love life that Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941) had a particular view, as expressed in The Common Reader, Second Series:
“The Parson’s love affair, however, was nothing very tremendous. Once when he was a young man in Somerset, he liked to walk over to Shepton and to visit a certain “sweet tempered” Betsy White who lived there. He had a great mind “to make a bold stroke” and ask her to marry him. He went so far, indeed, as to propose marriage “when opportunity served”, and Betsy was willing. But he delayed; time passed; four years passed indeed, and Betsy went to Devonshire, met a Mr. Webster, who had five hundred pounds a year, and married him. When James Woodforde met them in the turnpike road, he could say little, “being shy”, but to his diary he remarked — and this no doubt was his private version of the affair ever after:
“she has proved herself to me a mere jilt”.
But he was a young man then, and as time went on, we cannot help suspecting that he was glad to consider the question of marriage shelved once and for all so that he might settle down with his niece Nancy at Weston Longeville, and give himself simply and solely, every day and all day, to the great business of living. Again, what else to call it we do not know.”
Such was the Parson’s disposition when he arrived at his parsonage of Weston Longeville in 1776, and remained there, in spite of the later irritations of poor health, during a twenty-six-year incumbency. At Weston Longeville, we come to know it intimately, as if we had been part of the Parson’s household. The local and domestic events are all chronicled, quite without any attempt to dramatise them:
“My great Pond full of large toads, I never saw such a quantity in my life and so large, was most of the morning in killing of them, I daresay I killed one hundred, which made no shew of being missed, in the evening more again than there were, I suppose there are thousands of them there, and no frogs…….”
The neighbours begin to call, particularly the Custances from Weston House, the great family of the parish, and soon the Parson is happily involved in the social life of the community. Dinner succeeds dinner, each duly recorded as to partakers and menu.
“We had for dinner, the first Course, some Fish, Pike, a fine large piece of boiled Beef, Peas Soup, stewed Mutton, Goose Giblets, stewed, etc. Second Course, a brace of Partridges, a Turkey rosted, baked Pudding, Lobster, scalloped Oysters, and Tartlets. The desert black and white Grapes, Walnuts and small Nutts, Almonds and Raisins, Damson Cheese and Golden Pippins. Madeira, Lisbon, and Port Wines to drink…..”
It is small wonder that, after so many dinners of these proportions, the good parson was to suffer later with a variety of internal complaints.
Regularly every summer, for many years, the Parson returns for a long visit with his family in Somerset, where his daily routine is unaltered, except that there are no clerical duties. We renew acquaintance with the various members of the family, particularly with Brother John, whose conduct does not always conform to the Parson’s notions of propriety. The Woodforde family is exhibited without any restraint on truth – we see them with all their jealousies, their humorous conceits, their pride and their affections, completely unadulterated. Woodforde has an innocent way of quite unconsciously laying bare the characters of his relations:
“Sister Clarke and Nancy had a few words at breakfast. My sister can’t bear to hear anyone praised more than herself in anything, but that she does the best of all.”
In such entries we are presented with the real materials that lie behind the artistry of Jane Austen. Finally, in 1779, Nancy Woodforde, a niece, leaves Somerset and comes to live at Weston with her uncle, whose comforts and trials she continues to share until his death.
Life, of course, goes placidly on in the Weston Parsonage, amid the round of dinners and the unceasing charity to the poor. The tithe-audit regularly takes place, and the Parson regularly entertains the tithe-payers at his “Frolick.” There are mild winters and cold winters, “such Weather with so much Snow I never knew before.” Some springs are merely moist and hence productive, others “so wet that Farmers cannot plow their lands for their barley.” The world of great events seems more than a few miles away.
Distant rumblings, of course, are heard from America and the Parson is occasionally aghast at the lawlessness of French mobs. As England becomes more and more involved in continental entanglements, even the Parson feels the shock of increased taxes. But such matters do not seriously interfere with his ways – including those of Nancy. His appetite remains unimpaired, and he is far more vexed by his niece’s chronic sauciness than by any affairs of the outside world!
Abbott wonders why the Parson’s unflagging repetition of daily small beer does not grow tiresome, and perhaps we are hoodwinked into thinking that our hunger for knowledge of a remote time is insatiable; but this is not the real reason, for we read the Diaries and are disappointed that there is not more, because Parson Woodforde in his unthinking, artless way has reproduced real life. He never repeats a conversation, and yet each individual from mere reiteration emerges as a definite personality. We learn to know every guest at every dinner, so frequently do they reappear; and, though we hear none of the conversation, we know pretty well from a hundred previous clues what was said. We become inevitably absorbed in all the details, just as if they were details of our own lives.
Finally, Abbott concludes by saying that everything is put down in the parson’s quaint fashion, unconscious of grammar and consistency, fact after fact, never any feelings other than mere bodily ones. But we know the emotions well enough; they lie between the lines, and as for the Parson, we are devoted to him. He has become an old friend, and when in the course of the last volume he begins to fail, and the daily routine is interrupted by long illnesses and seasons in bed, we grow sad because we know that the diary will come to an end and that with Parson Woodforde, we shall have lost the whole of his company of friends. And when he is gone, we can only echo the words of his last entry in his diary, and the grief of the one entry from Nancy’s diary’:
“17 October 1802: We breakfasted, dined, Very weak this Morning, scarce able to put on my Cloaths and with great difficulty, get down Stairs with help – Mr. Dade read Prayers & Preached this Morning at Weston Church – Nancy at Church – Mr. and Mrs. Custance & Lady Bacon at Church – Dinner today Rost Beef & Lamb.”
“January 1, . Saturday. Weston. Norfolk. This morning about a quarter after Ten o’clock died my ever-dear Uncle James Woodforde whose loss I shall lament all the days of my life…….”
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Part 1 dealt with William Gooderham, senior of three prominent members of the same family line – a line which had been well established in the Scole area of Norfolk throughout the 18th century, and probably much earlier. Part 2, here, is about William Gooderham Junior – a son who fell short of his father’s expectations!
William Gooderham Junior was born on 14 April 1824 at Scole, Norfolk, England, eldest son of William Gooderham Senior and Harriet Tovell Herring. Very little is known about William Junior, except that at the tender age of eight years he accompanied his father when the family sailed to York, Upper Canada in 1832. After receiving a grammar school education in Toronto, he refused, in 1842, to join his father’s milling and distilling firm and instead moved to Rochester, New York where he took up a mercantile career. Born into an evangelical Church of England family, William Jnr was converted to Methodism while at Rochester and became a strong temperance advocate. Then on 14 April 1847 he married Margaret Bright whose sister, Sarah, had married his cousin, James Gooderham Worts, in 1840. There were no children.
About 1850, William Gooderham, and his younger brother James, opened a general store at Norval in Halton County, West Canada. The business was not profitable and closed in 1859. William then became the Toronto-based partner in the Boston grain firm of Taylor Brothers, but when his misjudgements proved costly, the partnership was ended. Other ventures were equally unsuccessful and several times Gooderham had to be rescued by friends and relatives.
In the 1870s Gooderham was, however, named vice-president and managing director, and in 1873 became president and managing director, of the Toronto and Nipissing Railway Company, then controlled by Gooderham and Worts. He remained head of the railway until its heavy losses forced an absorption in 1882 into the group of lines consolidated as the Midland Railway of Canada. In 1871 he was an incorporator of the Confederation Life Association and represented family interests on its board of directors until 1872. Failing health and his wife’s illness caused him to withdraw gradually from active business management in the early 1880s. This was probably a sound move for as his obituary in the ‘Toronto World’ was to point out “His record as a business man tells of confidence placed in talents he did not possess.”
Two events shaped the last decade of Gooderham’s life. First, his own illness and that of his wife (who had become an invalid in 1875) brought about a reconversion to Methodism and, with it, William was to enter upon a career of evangelism which lasted to the day he died on 12 September 1889 at Toronto, Ontario. The second event which shaped matters was that, in 1881, he received some $300,000 from his father’s estate. With this money William launched himself into careers in finance and philanthropy. He invested large sums in the shares of several corporations and was elected to their boards. Of his investments, only the Central Bank of Canada proved to be a serious misjudgement, for when that institution failed in 1888, he was named ‘a liquidator’, probably because of his known rectitude and the fact that he owned a large number of shares. With double liability, his losses exceeded $40,000. Nevertheless, his estate was valued at approximately $450,000 at his death – (approx. $11,000,000 in today’s terms?).
In spite of his eccentric behaviour, which included importuning strangers in public places to proclaim the Word of God, his generosity to religious organisations was admired. He personally supported missionaries in India, the Canadian northwest, and in the South Sea islands; assembled a quartet of young people with whom he paid regular preaching visits to hospital wards; gave sermons in various Protestant churches; and financially supported numerous charities. He was a director of the Toronto Willard Tract Depository, a member of the Toronto General Hospital Trust, and chairman of the executive of the China Inland Mission. In 1888 he gave $25,000 to erect the Toronto Christian Institute. He died the next year preaching to destitute men at a Salvation Army haven.
Gooderham’s Will created a sensation. It was instrumental in ending the delay in the implementation of the Act of 1887, with the amalgamation of the federation of Victoria University at Cobourg with the University of Toronto; the move provided, in addition to a $75,000 permanent endowment, for $125,000 to be paid to Victoria on the condition that it moved to Toronto. Federation with the University of Toronto was proclaimed on 12 Nov. 1890 and the transfer was completed in October 1892. In addition, William bequeathed $150,000 to organisations such as the Upper Canada Bible Society, the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Christian Associations, the Boy’s Home, Girl’s Home, and homes for infants, the Toronto Home for Incurables, the House of Industry, and the Salvation Army.
Ultimately, this is intended to be the story of three particular members of the same family line – a prominent line and one which had been well established in the Scole area of Norfolk throughout the 18th century, and probably much earlier – they were the Gooderham’s. It is a story which is long, hence the need to split it into three parts. This is Part 1 – about William Gooderham, the evangelical patriarch!
William Gooderham was born on 29 August 1790 in, or certainly near Scole in Norfolk, the second son of James and Sarah Gooderham. Very little is known about William’s childhood, except to say that when he was 12 years old, he left his father’s farm in Norfolk to work in the London office of his mother’s brother, an East Indies trader. Then, during the Napoleonic Wars, he joined the Royal York Rangers and saw action in the capture of Martinique in 1809 and Guadeloupe in 1810.
William survived the actual conflict, however, at the age of 21 years, he was invalided home after contracting yellow fever on the island. After he had recovered, he continued with the force as a recruiting officer for the remainder of the war, which lasted until 1815. During this period, he was said to have ‘acquired’ the means by which to pay off an £800 mortgage on his father’s farm at Scole, which he was to later inherit in 1820 when his father died. This initiative of his also secured a modest income for himself; it was also the first sign of his in-built ‘business acumen’ which was to hold him in good stead in future years. For the moment, however, he simply became a gentleman farmer, although his estate at Scole at the time was to suffer from the general decline in values of British agricultural produce, brought about in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) when food imports recovered and there was a resumption of American trade following their own Civil War of 1812–1815.
This economic downturn for land owners, plus the rural rioting during that period, must have been an influencing factor in William’s decision, eleven years later, to emigrate. However, before then and shortly after his father had died in 1820, William married Harriet Tovell Herring and began the process of rearing their family of thirteen children, of which at least five were born at Scole. During the whole process of rearing a family, William went from ‘gentleman farmer’ in Norfolk to becoming a very successful and wealthy distiller, businessman, and banker in far off Canada.
In 1831 Gooderham’s brother-in-law, James Worts, (1792 – 1834) instigated a large immigration of their two families to Upper Canada. Worts, being the first to emigrate, established himself as a flour miller at the mouth of the Don River near York, Toronto, and began construction of a windmill. The following year of 1832, William Gooderham followed in Worts wake, bringing over to York a company of some 54 persons: members of his own and of Worts’s family, as well as servants and 11 orphans. Once settled in York, William invested the substantial sum of £3,000 in Worts’s milling business and the two brothers-in-law formed the partnership of Worts and Gooderham. The partnership abruptly ended when in February 1834, several weeks after Worts wife, Elizabeth Gooderham, died during childbirth, James Worts committed suicide; he drowned himself in a well on his own company’s property. William, ever the businessman, not only continued running the company, but also changed its name to William Gooderham, Company.
In 1837 he then added a distillery to his business so that he could make efficient use of surplus and second-grade grain. Four years later he introduced gas for illumination and converted the entire plant from wind-to steam-power. Shipment of consignments to Montreal in the early 1840s illustrated Williams growing interests in the harbourfront area and in distant markets. Six years later he built his own wharf there and by the 1860s owned schooners on the Great Lakes. During this period of expansion, William took on his nephew, James Gooderham Worts the son of the drowned James, as a trainee. In 1845, this same young nephew joined William as a full partner; the firm’s name was changed to Gooderham and Worts. During the 1860s and 1870s the company enjoyed a pre-eminence in Toronto’s industry, transportation, and finance, as well as on the stock exchange.
The complex of buildings owned by Gooderham and Worts, and designated the Toronto City Steam Mills and Distillery in 1845, grew to become an industrial showpiece and made its owners the city’s largest taxpayers. A major expansion was begun in 1859 with a new, five-storey distillery built; it was acknowledged as the largest distillery in Canada West and had begun exporting to the English market. In early 1862 the costs of new buildings, which included storehouses and an engine house, and of equipping the old windmill with modern machinery were estimated at over $200,000 – (apprx. $5,000,000 (£3,676,925) in today’s terms?). A brick malthouse was later added. After 1862 the windmill was used for further distilling of the company’s premium brands, “Toddy” and “Old Rye,” which enjoyed both an English market and large sales in Canada.
On 26 October 1869, a spectacular fire destroyed a storehouse and a lumber pile and gutted the interior of the main milling and distillery building, causing considerable damage; unfortunately, the company was not covered by insurance. However undeterred, William Gooderham and James Worts rebuilt, and their business continued to grow further. In 1874–75 the company produced over 2,000,000 gallons, or one-third the total amount of proof spirits distilled in the country. By the late 1870s, Gooderham and Worts, in common with other Canadian distillers, had withdrawn from the English market and had turned increasingly to selling grain alcohol for the manufacture of such products as vinegar and methylated spirits, as well as the scent “Florida Water.” Although Gooderham and Worts delegated direct management and some degree of ownership in the 1860s and 1870s, they were primarily responsible for the success of the firm.
Visitors to the Gooderham and Worts establishments after 1861 were said to bestruck by their massive size, by their cleanliness, by the fully automatic milling machinery which further distinguished the operation from most others in the province, and by the shelters for the livestock alongside the distillery. Just as the distillery had grown out of the mill, a livestock operation, begun in the 1840s, was an offshoot of the distillery business. William first raised pigs and then cattle, fattened on the nutritious swill that was a by-product of distilling. A dairy herd numbering 22 in 1843 grew into a dairy and beef operation which by 1861 was fattening about 1,000 animals a year, but at that time the herd was probably no longer owned by Gooderham and Worts. When improved transportation opened an English market, only beef was produced and by the end of the decade there were sheds for 3,000 animals near the distillery.
In the expansion of their facilities after 1859, Gooderham and Worts included a siding to the Grand Trunk Railway, large enough to hold 14 carriages; they were to be prominent among Toronto businessmen interested in the narrow-gauge railways promoted by George Laidlaw, a former employee. The partners’ interest in railways grew naturally out of the needs of their mills and of the Toronto flour-mill and distillery complex. In 1870, on terms favourable to themselves, they advanced a loan large enough to give the bonds of both the Toronto, Grey & Bruce and the Toronto and Nipissing railways a market value.
Thereafter their influence increased in the operation of the two lines, especially the Toronto and Nipissing railway of which William Gooderham Senior had become a provisional director upon its incorporation in 1868. Even before William Gooderham Jr became President of the Toronto and Nipissing Railway Company in 1873, the Gooderham interests were the railway’s main customer, and the Toronto terminal of this line was established conveniently near the distillery and cattle sheds. Although family control of a railway, built with much public funding, did not escape criticism, defenders of the line pointed to the need for Gooderham’s capital to launch the enterprise and to finance its chief activity, which involved buying cordwood in the north and storing it to season before transporting it for sale in the city.
When William Gooderham became President of the Bank of Toronto in 1864, a post he held until his death, he embarked on the last of several careers, leaving James Worts to look after their joint interests in the Bank. The Bank’s combination of conservative investment policy with internal efficiency and innovative management bore the mark of William Gooderham. Under him the Bank achieved an enviable reputation for stability which brought it a growing share of business. Its stocks remained at a relatively high price, even during the recession in the 1870s.
On a personal front William Gooderham, ever the ‘conservative’, avoided the public eye and shied away from exposure as a member on the first publicly elected school board in 1850; his only real venture into politics was as City Alderman in 1853 and 1855. At the same time, he was staunch evangelical Anglican, and a leading member of Little Trinity Church (which was near his distillery) and its warden from 1853 to 1881. William was also a lifelong freemason, and served as President of the York Pioneer Society from 1878 to 1880. His charitable activities were both personal (he took a growing number of orphans under his protection) and institutional. He represented the board of trade on the trust of the Toronto General Hospital, and along with Worts and William Cawthra he contributed the $113,500 (possibly valued around $3 million today?) needed to build a new wing for patients with infectious diseases.
William died on 20 August 1881 in Toronto, Ontario, having taken the opportunity during the last three or four years of his life to turn much of his business over to his third son, George, who had already become a full partner in Gooderham and Worts. It seems that William’s eldest son, William Junior, President and Managing Director of the Toronto and Nipissing Railway from 1873 had an inglorious career in other businesses and was to die in 1889. William’s second son, James, had already been killed in an accident on the Credit Valley Railway in 1879. Three other sons of William, Henry, Alfred Lee, and Charles Horace, were to be employed in branches of the family concern. The Reverend Alexander Sanson of Little Trinity Church eulogized William as a type of patriarch.
Even after providing for his children, William Gooderham left an estate which amounted to approximately $1,550,000 at first valuation (possibly valued around $40 million today?). Obituaries stressed the breadth of his influence in the business community and his contribution to the city’s growth from a town of “three or four thousand inhabitants, and little wealth” to the ‘metropolis’ in 1881. Gooderham built his Empire by combining the principle of dealing in articles of widespread consumption with a sensitivity, which he retained as he grew older, to the opportunities offered by new techniques and new markets. Not bad for this man from Scole, Norfolk, England.
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It was a vicious murder that worked its way into 19th century national imagination and also crept into later fiction. Many authors wrote about the crime and the man who perpetrated it. Sir Walter Scott became fascinated by him and even visited the scene of his crime. George Burrows was said to have been at his execution, but certainly wrote about him afterwards as editor of ‘Notable Trials’ when he wrote his personal account of the man’s execution. Scholarly crime studies also made a feature of the man, his background and the reasons for what was a murder, and a gruesome one at that! These studies began to filter through long after the actual gallows, on which the man swung, had long become an exhibit at Madame Tussauds. The murderer’s name was John Thurtell.
John Thurtell is a well-documented person of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, with numerous biographies and studies about him in various forms of print which were published in both the United Kingdom and abroad. His was a short and wretched life where many of the opportunities that were offered to him, or came to him by chance, were wasted and he was best known for his personal brand of criminality. Unfortunately, and despite Thurtell being an intelligent ‘hard’ man, he quickly became a compulsive gambler and seemed to have had no trouble in thriving on the trappings of shady deals and illegal prize-fights which he promoted – and in which he sometimes took part.
Born on 21st December, 1794, Thurtell had every opportunity to make the most of his life in times when to be poor probably meant hardship and deprivation. His parents were financially quite well off in their home at Harford Bridges, which is still just a handful of miles south of Norwich, in the County of Norfolk. It was there where his father Alderman Thomas Thurtell, a prominent merchant and city councellor – who also served as mayor of Norwich in 1828, celebrated the birth of baby John, his first son and the first in an ultimate line of several other children. As thrilled as the father must have been with the baby’s arrival, young John was to become his mother’s favourite child. This may have been one of the reasons why, as a child, John was not sent away for his schooling. A second reason may have been that young John, being an unruly child, had to be kept well within sight at all times when awake and active. Apparently, as John grew older, he became ‘not averse to tying canisters to dog’s tails’ – as George Burrow once put it.
Thurtell was certainly not a scholar and when he eventually went to school in Norwich, he remained permanently poor at both spelling and English Grammar. However, he must have shared the family’s social asperations at least, for he lacked the skills for much else. The truth was that he never applied himself to his studies and always seemed pre-occupied with competitive sports, mainly horse racing and prize-fighting (boxing). It was only after too many tussles for his family’s liking that his father decided that maybe a career in the navy would do young Thurtell good. So, at the age of 15 years, and with a freshly purchased commission by way of his father, John Thurtell joined Company 99 of the Marines as a second lieutenant and set out on 8 May 1809 to Chatham where he undertook a period of training before joining the HMS Adamant, a 50-gun Portland-class fourth rate warship which had just completed its final voyage after a thirty-year career as a fighting ship in the Royal Navy; it had served in the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary Wars, and the Napoleonic Wars.
During the month that Thurtell joined HMS Adamant, the ship was in the process of being fitted out as a ‘receiving ship’ which would be used, in harbour, to house newly recruited (also ‘impressed’) sailors before they were assigned to a ship’s crew. In the Royal Navy, the use of impressment to collect sailors resulted in the problem of preventing escapees. A receiving ship was part of the solution, for it was difficult to get off such a ship without being detected, and most seamen of the era did not know how to swim! Receiving ships, such as Adamant, were typically older vessels that could still be kept afloat, but were obsolete or no longer battle-worthy.
At the same time as Thurtell was being indoctrinated into his naval role, HMS Adamant was recommissioned under Captain John Sykes and in August 1809, presumably with Thurtell as part of its crew, took part in the ‘Scheldt Operation’ which was aimed at sealing the mouth of the Scheldt to prevent the port of Antwerp from being used as a base against the British Fleet. The primary aim of the whole campaign was to destroy the French fleet thought to be in Flushing whilst providing a diversion for the hard-pressed Austrians. Captain Matthew Buckle took command of HMS Adamant for this operation and was still in post two years later when Rear-Admiral William Albany Otway (not Robert Waller Otway as mentioned in other works – he came to Leith later) adopted the ship as his flagship.
It was on 16 July 1811 when Thurtell was disciplined and discharged from HMS Adamant by Rear Admiral William Albany Otway for misconduct. Beyond this point, real evidence of Thurtell’s immediate life and naval career is non-existent, and therefore some assumptions must be made. For instance, it can be assumed that his discharge was not absolute, for he went on to find another berth with HMS Bellona (another aging ship of the line) on 11 November 1811; just in time to be involved with the ship’s blockade of Dutch ports before a convoy trip to St Helena and back by September 1813 when she returned to the Basque Roads, but was back on blockade duty off Cherbourg by October of that year. From all this, it is clear that Thurtell’s service in the Navy was confined to two old ships which were fit only for blockading duties and not for any degree of real action.
But Thurtell was prone to boasting to his friends and family about his involvement in sea battles; how he stormed the port of San Sebastian on the north coast of Spain for instance. However, Naval records indicate that this and other stories of action on the HMS Bellona were untrue; Bellona was docked at the Isle of Wight on 1 August 1813 when San Sebastian fell and the ship merely cruised past San Sebastian several days after hostilities had ended. He also told a story of how the Bellona captured a brig of war; it was, in fact, an unarmed merchant schooner that surrendered without a fight. By June 1814 there were no further opportunities for his ‘heroism’; this was the month when he resigned his commission and returned to Norwich. Being permanently ashore from this point did not, apparently, curtail his story-telling; and he always seemed to have a good audience around him, particularly in and around the Haymarket public houses in Norwich. It is said that folks there were greatly impressed with his tales of derring-do.
This growing attraction of his to frequent public house brought further interest in the world of boxing, and this was to be fuelled in 1818 by the landlord of ‘The Anchor’ in Lobster Lane, who was none other than Ned ‘Flatnose’ Painter who famously defeated Tom Spring in the August of that year. But three years before all this happened, in fact shortly after Thurtell’s 21st birthday on 21 December, Thomas Thurtell had set his son up in a bombazine business, alongside a designated partner by the name of John Giddons – or was it Giddings? – some accounts refer to the partner being John’s Brother, Thomas Thurtell; maybe it was all three?. No matter; the situation of being backed and supported by his wealthy and respectable parents was a wonderful opportunity for John Thurtell; also having been placed in the booming bombazine manufacturing and selling trade and with a young Quaker girl on his arm – what could possibly go wrong with his life? Plenty it would seem!
Inherent weaknesses with the partnership included the fact that John Thurtell did not like hard work, or show any trace of faithful endeavour towards the business; instead, he preferred frequenting Norwich taverns, and participating in or promoting boxing matches, even making numerous journeys to London in pursuit of the sport – and, inevitably, falling in with the ‘underworld’ fraternity who frequented such pastimes; maybe even, falling foul of ‘The Fancy’ – those professional crooks and gamblers who, seemingly, merged effectively into the the semi-illicit sport of amateur boxing at the time. Frequently, underworld elements and gentlemen of so-called genteel society mixed in a sport that during the early 19th century was officially illegal; however, it was widely celebrated and openly advertised without much fear of police intervention. At the same time, boxing — with its brutality, fatalities and associations with unsavoury characters, had ample potential for morals to be expressed. ‘The Fancy’, said a judge in 1803,
“draws industrious people away from the subject of their industry; and when great multitudes are so collected, they are likely enough to be engaged in broils. It affords an opportunity for people of the most mischievous disposition to assemble, under the colour of seeing this exhibition, and to do a great deal of mischief; in short, it is a practice that is extremely injurious in every respect and must be repressed.”
It would seem the these ‘gentlemen’ were far better at the game than the likes of John Thurtell, who was seen by them as a country ‘yokel’, despite being the son of an Alderman and having successfully promoted a big fight at North Walsham on the 17 July 1820. That one event was probably the only moment when Thurtell’s standing with ‘The Fancy’, as a backer and partial promoter, was at its highest.
At least anecdotal evidence suggested that Thurtell’s behaviour after this fight remained as bad as ever, and he even caused a fight at another sporting event when he assaulted someone who he accused of being a pickpocket. Maybe his failing business was beginning to play on his mind at moments when he behaved so badly in public. Certainly, within six years of indulging himself elsewhere and not paying due attention to his bombazine business the partnership was swiftly heading towards bankruptcy. By 23 January 1821 Thurtell, it seems, was in an utter mess, but had already planned to go to London to collect a considerable amount of money owed to the bombazine partnership. Much of this money was owed to his creditors, but that was not what was on Thurtell’s mind when he collected it and returned to Norwich, where events took a very ‘mysterious’ turn. He put it about that he had received a note asking him to call on a Mr Bolingbroke who live near Chapelfield. Whilst on his way, an unidentified woman approached him and as they walked along Thurtell was violently attacked and relieved of the £1508. Afterwards he could neither identify the woman or his assailants! It followed that he immediately placed an advertisement in the local Norfolk newspapers; it read:
“£100 Reward: Whereas at about 9 o’clock on the evening of the 22nd inst, Mr John Thurtell was attacked in Chapel Field, Norwich, by three men, knocked down and robbed of a pocket book containing £1,508 in notes, thirteen of which were of the Bank of England, value £100 each, and the name of John Thurtell is endorsed on them. Notice is hereby given that whoever will give information which might lead to the apprehension and conviction of the persons concerned in this robbery, shall be paid the above reward on applying to Mr Thurtell; and any person concerned in the robbery who will give information of his accomplices will receive the reward and a free pardon.”
The total sum involved would seem to be an incredible amount of money to be carrying, and it was quickly established that this little episode was a complete scam and that the so-called wounds he received during the ‘assault’ had been self-inflicted. It became all too clear that Thurtell’s motive was to enjoy a public subscription from the publicity. However, his creditors were never to be impressed or taken in by what had been the latest of Thurtell’s antics and notices of bankruptcy against his and Gidden’s partnership duly appeared, stating that J Giddens and J Thurtell, bombazine manufacturers, dealers and chapmen of Norwich were listed as insolvent, and that Ides, Poole & Greenfield of Gray’s Inn Square had been appointed solicitors. A creditors meeting took place on 15th to 17th March 1821 at the Norfolk Hotel.
Within days of this meeting Thurtell fled to London with a woman named Mary Dobson, whose looks were proving more interesting to him than those of his Quaker girl-friend. They left Norwich, leaving his apparent naïve father as his biggest creditor. By this time John Thurtell was being better known as ‘Jack’ Thurtell, and over the next twelve months or so Jack managed to obtain a licence to run a public house; get his brother, Thomas, imprisoned for a claimed debt of £17 which Jack thought would help discharge his own bankruptcy – that failed but left a bad taste in the mouths of at least his family. Jack also continued with any scam which he thought would bring him money; one involved buying a consignment of bombazine and storing it in a warehouse which he and Thomas had previously had insured for £1900. Jack then made some internal alterations to the warehouse which effectively concealed the inside. He then sold his entire stock for cash, but before it was delivered the warehouse was gutted by fire on the night of 26 January 1823.
The inevitable insurance claim was lodged but when investigators found that there were no traces of bombazine the County Fire Officer refused to settle the claim. Thomas Thurtell, who was clearly a partner in this fraud, not only sued the insurance company but won the case; however, such was the level of suspicion that the insurance company’s Managing Director not only confirmed its refusal to pay out, but threatened to pursue a case of conspiracy to defraud. Jack and Thomas where effectively broke and literally went into hiding, wandering from inn to inn and mixing with the rogues of London. Individuals like William Probert who had married a woman described as ‘physically repellent but financially attractive’, and was thus able to purchase a cottage in Gills Hill Lane, Radlett. Here he lived with his wife, her sister, two children of Thomas Thurtell and a couple of servants. Probert also put his wife’s money to other use, by setting himself up as a wine merchant, a venture that failed around the same time as John Thurtell’s own business ventures collapsed. The two were well matched.
Another rogue was Joseph Hunt, 26 years of age and an illiterate whose only talent was that he could sing. Doubtless there were other such characters in Jack Thurtell’s world of dubious deals and gambling. Then there was 43-year-old William Weare, a gang member and a ‘notorious blackleg’, card sharp, gambler at billiard tables and race horse meetings. He trusted no-one, and kept his considerable fortune about his person, strapped to his chest or secreted within his clothing. He lived in lodgings at Lyons Inn, off the Strand. This had previously been the address of reputable solicitors, which would have made Weare appear ‘respectable’, an image borne out by his appearance, for he was always smartly dressed. He could, and did, fleece many an easy prey and Jack Thurtell, who was considered a novice amongst such ‘sporting people’, was to be Weare’s next victim.
In October 1883, Weare, who had been to Doncaster races, returned to town having had a very successful day. He was approached by one of London gang-leaders who further tempted Weare with more ‘easy pickings’. The victim would be Jack Thurtell who had already lost heavily but was given the opportunity to make up his losses by playing a certain person who was considered poor at playing cards. Jack Thurtell thus met William Weare, who duly lost early rounds, conning Jack to play ‘just one more round’ – Weare took Thurtell for £300, and the loser was not pleased at all and conspired to exact revenge on Weare.
Jack Thurtell invited Weare to accompany him and his few friends out into the country around Radlett for a spot of hunting; Weare gladly accepted. In the meantime, Jack Thurtell and Hunt had bought a pair of pistols, a rope and a large sack; also hiring a gig, which would have been ideal for making the trip to Radlett, except that it would be pulled by two greys which were to prove to be a ‘give-away’ when the planned crime had been committed.
On the appointed day, Weare appeared, complete with a gun and a change of clothing; he accompanied John Thurtell in the gig, whilst Probert and Hunt followed in a second gig. Together, the party raced along the Edgware Road, calling into taverns along the way as they settled into their boozy, sporty and ultimately murderous weekend. Entering Radlett, Thurtell went on ahead whilst, it seems, Probert dropped Hunt off, before heading off along Gills Hill Lane after him. What really happened near Probert’s cottage really depends on which story is believed; people’s accounts varied between the inquest and the trial that was to follow. However, one thing was certain; Jack Thurtell was still aboard the gig when he shot Weare in the face before striking him several times with his pistol. If that was not enough, which it wasn’t because his was a ‘grudge’ assassination in which he demanded full revenge; he cut Weare’s throat.
The Sequell: The deed done, Thurtell must have felt that the score was settled – short of disposing of Weare’s body of course. Now, whether or not Probert helped in this matter is not really clear, so speculation must be that Thurtell carried out this task alone; placing Weare’s body into a sack and dumping it under bushes. This was during the early 19th century when Gills Hill Lane was little more than a track, with wild bushes, tree and hedgerows; at approximately three-quarters of a mile long, this overgrown lane was, in those days, referred to as a ‘dismal ravine’. However, Weare’s corpse was not to lay hidden for long by that lane; Probert and Hunt joined Thurtell at the cottage, which lay east of the lane, before all three went to the hidden site and rifled Weare’s pockets. Then, later that evening, after darkness had well and truly fallen, they carried the body to a nearby field, on horseback, where they threw it into a pond. Thurtell, obviously panicking, then went back to the scene of his crime and searched for the two murder weapons, the pistol and the knife – but with no success. Strange therefore that during the very next day two workmen, who were employed to clear the lane, passed the very same spot and not only noticed blood on the ground, but also discovered the bloodstained pistol and knife. These they passed on to their employer, a Mr Nicholls, who later presented them to the Petty Sessions of the Watford Branch which happened to be sitting, in session, at the Essex Arms Inn; it was on Tuesday, 28 October 1823.
According to Pete Goodrum, in his book ‘Five Norwich Lives’ what followed next was that:
“The Magistrate did not praise or thank Nicholls but unsurprisingly admonished him for taking so long to report his story. On seeing that the pistol was covered in blood, human hair and brains, they were galvanised into action. Constable Simmonds of Watford was given the weapons, along with instructions to go straight to London to request a Bow Street Runner to come down immediately. [After 1815, the Runners’ most regular employment was to respond to help requests from prosecutors outside London. These were likely cases in which their skill and experience was thought to be useful in investigating offences in the provinces.”
At the same time as the police were being alerted, rumours were spreading. Firstly, a gunshot was heard by a Mr P. Smith, at nearby Battlers Green. Secondly, a man named Freeman had noticed a gig in Gills Hill Lane with two men on board; and thirdly, it became established that on the day of the murder, Joseph Hunt had sported a beard and moustache – at the time of his arrest just days later he was to be found clean shaven and wearing Weare’s clothes! Then a chanced remark from a farmer that he had ‘heard a shot’ about the time of the killing forced Probert to waste no time in telling his companions; this resulted in all three men racing back to the pond which held Weare’s corpse, retrieving it, placing it into the gig and driving to another pond near Elstree to drown it once more!
But time and events were against Hunt, Thurtell, Thomas (Thurtell’s brother) and Probert, the latter displaying his extreme uneasiness to such an extent that soon the police authorities became interested in him. Magistrate Clutterbuck visited Probert’s cottage, which stood just north of Elstree and found that Probert had packed his bags and was clearly in the process of making his escape. Probert was questioned and revealed that his weekend guests had been Hunt and Thurtell. A subsequent warrant authorised, at first, the arrest of Thurtell’s brother, Thomas, together with Probert; then the investigation was passed over to the London Detective, George Ruthven, apparently a well-known and minor celebrity.
Again, according to Pete Goodrum:
“Events then moved quickly. One of the magistrates, Clutterbuck, having returned home exhausted, was woken by two visitors. They introduced themselves as John Noel, a London solicitor, and a billiard saloon owner called William Rexworthy. Noel claimed that on his way to the theatre in London he had heard from a patrol on the Edgware Road that there had been a murder of an unknown victim in Hertfordshire. Putting two and two together, he had become anxious that the victim might be his client, William Weare. He had heard from Rexworthy that Weare had planned a trip to Hertfordshire to go shooting with somebody called Jack Thurtell. However, Weare had apparently not returned to London. His lodgings were locked and he’d not been seen in any of his regular haunts. Clutterbuck took his visitors straight to the Essex Arms where the hearing was about to commence and where Noel quickly took legal control.”
Meanwhile, Detective Ruthven arrested Hunt at his lodgings in London before finding Thurtell in the Coach and Horses in Conduit Street, again in the city. Finding some items of Thurtell’s clothing blood stained, some exposed parts of his body covered with cuts and bruises and significantly, a pistol in one of his pockets, he too was arrested. Both Hunt and Thurtell were then taken back to the Essex Arms to join Probert and Thomas; from this point onwards the principle of ‘Honour among criminals’ fell by the wayside as Probert and Hunt turned King’s Evidence and pointed the finger at Thurtell, and also revealed the location of Weare’s body. The inquest had been held at the Artichoke public house in Elstree, whose licensee was foreman of the jury. Dr. Ward and Dr. Kendall, of Watford had examined Weare’s corpse and concluded that the cause of death was as a result of severe blows to the skull by a gun, causing pieces of bone to lodge in the brain.
Joseph Hunt, clearly setting out to save his own skin, gave evidence against Thurtell and spun out a story which included a statement saying that Thurtell had bought the pistols for £1 17s 6d., and that he had also enquired about hiring a gig. Incredulously perhaps, Hunt also revealed that the party under suspicion had called at the Artichoke for a drink on the way to Radlett prior to the murder! He then added that, after the murder, Thurtell had admitted killing the man “who robbed me of £300 at Blind Hookey (cards)”, and that he had taken a gold watch from Weare’s body. Hunt then gave an account of the episode of dumping Weare’s body. Concluding his evidence, Hunt gave more damning details which included him previously passing on to his solicitor the fact that he (Hunt) had received Weare’s clothes and had also shaved off his whiskers. Unintentionally amusing was when a juror asked Hunt: “What has become of your whiskers and moustache?” Hunt apparently replied: “You must be able to see I have cut them off!”
It was the court custom at the time to question each person separately, and without them knowing the submissions of others; these submissions were to vary widely. Probert’s version matched Hunt’s, but only in absolving himself of murder; other than that, he frequently contradicted Hunt’s version. He told the court that Thurtell had gone ahead and killed Weare, and that he (Probert) had not been party to it. He agreed he had helped to dispose of the body and that he, together with Hunt, had shared some of the money stolen from Weare by Thurtell.
As for poor Jack Thurtell, he simply dug a hole from which he failed to extricate himself; particularly on the question of the pistol found on his person when he was arrested. He had, at first denied that he ever owned a pistol, until he was reminded that such a weapon had been found on him; also, that the second of the matching pair had been found ‘within yards’ of the murder spot. Thurtell must have realised that the game was up for him and that it was clear that the three men had obviously lured Weare to Probert’s cottage because Jack intended to murder him. Events at the Hearing was progressing irrevocably to wards a proper Trial. The court returned a verdict of ‘wilful murder’ and committed the prisoners to Hertford gaol to await such a trial, that was set for 6 January 1824 at Hertford.
Languishing in prison for over three months, the three men continued to protest their innocence. Plenty of accusations and counter-accusations were voiced, all designed to set the blame elsewhere. Outside, most of the country who were interested in following the case were fed by Newspapers and broadsheets which peddled the grisliest details of what was becoming a sensational case; and no report failed to mention Jack Thurtell’s fall from grace as a ‘son of Alderman Thurtell of Norwich.’
When the trial commenced on 6 January 1824 it quickly became clear that it was a complicated case, requiring a considerable amount of legal talent to enable a conclusion. To assist in this, legal trickery was employed and this included granting immunity to Probert on condition that he appeared as a witness against Thurtell. Neither he nor Hunt, whose neck was on the line, did Thurtell any favours. It was Thurtell who was allowed to conduct his own defence and appeared to be doing quite well, until he made a big mistake by talking too long and in the process did himself no favours. At the end, the judge summed up, the jury retired only to return with a guilty verdict for both Hunt and Thurtell. The inevitable sentence was that the two men would hang; however, on the eve of their executions, Hunt’s sentence was commuted to transportation. As for Probert, he was only to remain alive and well for barely a year and a half; he died on the gallows in June 1825.
When Thurtell took the short walk to the rope, on 9 January 1824, he was in chains but dressed smart, as was his nature. Soldiers, armed with staves separated him and his execution party from the estimated 15,000 spectators who were there to see the spectacle; many removed their hats. Now, the last words describing this scene are left to those of Richard Clarke:
Execution: “James Foxen, the hangman, arrived from London on the Thursday and made the usual preparations. Thurtell dressed for the occasion and was described as being “elegantly attired in a brown great coat with a black velvet collar, light breeches and gaiters, and a fashionable waistcoat with gilt buttons.” A little before 12 noon on Friday, the 9th of January 1824, Foxen pinioned Thurtell’s hands in front of him with handcuffs and he was then led from his cell to the accompaniment of the tolling prison bell and the prison chaplain reading the burial service. A few moments earlier he had confessed his guilt to the chaplain. He mounted the 5 steps slowly but steadily and positioned himself on the trap. Here Foxen removed his cravat and loosened his collar. When Thurtell had finished praying, Foxen drew the white cotton cap over his head and placed the noose around his neck. The Governor of Hertford Gaol and the Chief Warder both shook hands with him before Foxen adjusted the noose. Wilson said, “Good bye Mr. Thurtell, may God Almighty bless you” to which Thurtell replied, “God bless you, Mr. Wilson, God bless you.” At two minutes past midday on the signal from Mr. Nicholson, the Under Sheriff, Foxen drew the bolts and Thurtell dropped into the box like structure with a crash…….by the standards of the day, Thurtell died easily and was not seen to struggle. After hanging the customary hour, his body was taken down and sent to London for dissection in Surgeon’s Hall in accordance with his sentence.”
Postscript: Great sensation was caused in Norwich by the trial and execution of John Thurtell, at Hertford. The execution took place on 9 January 1824, and on the 24th the Norfolk Chronicle published a letter received by Mr. Alderman Thomas Thurtell, of Norwich, the father of the deceased; it came from Mr. Robert Sutton, High Sheriff of Hertfordshire, in which the writer commiserated with Thomas Thurtell in his great affliction. In the same paper was another letter addressed by Mr. N. Bolingbroke, of Norwich, to the High Sheriff of Hertfordshire, in which he wrote:
“It may appear to some that he (the father) has not acted with sufficient kindness of feeling towards his unhappy son; but you may be assured, Sir, that there was no part of his conduct which could not be satisfactorily explained. He has generally acted under the advice of Mr. Unthank, a respectable solicitor in this city, my own, and others. There are many actions in a man’s life of which no correct opinion can be formed without a knowledge of the motives by which such have been influenced.”
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Nothing is known with certainty of Revd. John Brooke’s early life and education, only a guess that he was probably born in Norfolk in 1709; however, it is recorded that he died at Colney, near Norwich on 21 January 1789. In between John Brooke was ordained a priest on 17 June 1733, and between 1733 and 1746 he became Rector, or perpetual curate, of five parishes in and around Norwich, England, all but one of which he held until his death.
In 1756 Brooke married Frances Moore, he was 15 years her senior. Frances was his second wife and already a prominent literary figure; they were to have a son and probably a daughter. Brooke was appointed acting chaplain in the British Army in February 1757 and was shipped out to Canada where he served as chaplain at the garrison at Quebec; he was part of the British forces fighting the Seven Years’ War with France, which included the territorial struggle for Canada. Frances, three months pregnant, went to live with her sister Sarah. On the other side of the Atlantic, Revd. Brooke was deputy chaplain in the 22nd Foot. By August 1758 he was garrison chaplain at Louisburg, Cape Breton Island until July 1760, when he went to Quebec.
In December of that year, Quebec’s Governor James Murray, who was a personal friend of Brooke for some 20 years, unofficially appointed him minister of Quebec and chaplain to the garrison. In Quebec, Church of England services, which had been celebrated in the Ursuline chapel from September 1759 until the summer of 1760, were held in the Recollet church following the Roman Catholic service. Neither the newly appointed Revd Brooke nor the Roman Catholic Church appreciated the arrangement; Brooke, in fact, considered it a humiliation for the state religion. In August 1761 about 100 civil officers and merchants in Quebec petitioned the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) to appoint Brooke its missionary at Quebec with a French-language assistant. By 28 Oct. 1761, Brooke was formally commissioned garrison chaplain, by which time he was also chaplain to the Royal Americans (60th Foot).
In 1763, with the war over with France, Frances Brooke set sail for Canada to join her husband after a six-and-a-half-year separation. She was accompanied by her sister and her son John Moore [Brookes], born on June 10, 1757, who had yet to meet his father. They arrived on October 4, 1763. In January 1764 he was chosen by the absentee auditor general, Robert Cholmondeley, as his deputy at Quebec. Murray reported to London in October the presence of 144 Protestant householders, Church of England and dissenters, in the town; the following month about 80 people repeated the petition of 1761 to the SPG. Murray officially supported the petition, but unofficially he began to criticise Brooke. To the SPG he regretted that Brooke did not understand French. To Cholmondeley he complained that Brooke:
“cannot govern his tongue and will perpetually interfere with things that do not concern him . . . ; Brookes certainly is an honest man and a man of parts, he is very well informed too and when passion does not interfere is a most agreeable companion [but] his sprightly imagination makes him . . . frequently forget that he wears Black. . . .”
Although Brooke, as garrison chaplain and unofficial minister of the town, was expected by Murray to be a peacemaker in the agitated relations between civilians and the military in the colony, his meddlesome and prickly nature, plus his good relations with the merchants, who were the military’s most persistent critics, provoked the garrison to question his value as a chaplain. Particularly galling was his appearance on behalf of the merchant George Allsopp who, charged with failure to carry a light after dark as required by law, had brought a suit for brutality against the two soldiers responsible for his arrest.
Governor Murray himself was probably angered most by Brooke’s friendship with Allsopp – the Governor’s obstreperous political opponent. Indeed, in July 1765 Murray identified Brooke to the Earl of Hillsborough, Secretary of State for the American Colonies, as a member of a cabal seeking to have him replaced; this cabal was composed mainly of merchants who, unlike the more patient Governor, sought the colony’s rapid anglicisation and protestantisation in order to facilitate integration into Britain’s political and economic Empire.
Murray was succeeded in July 1766 by Guy Carleton, who tended at first to sympathise with the merchants. Revd. Brooke became friendly with the new Lieutenant Governor and with his Huguenot attorney general, Francis Maseres who found Brooke “a very sensible and agreeable companion,” at first, but shortly after wrote that, although Brooke was a fine minister, he was also “rather too warm in his Temper which hurries him now and then into indiscreet Expressions.”
Guy Carleton and Maseres soon parted ways as the former came to realise the necessity of James Murray’s policy of conciliation with the Roman Catholic Church while Maseres was strongly anti-Catholic. Brooke was caught in the middle when in the summer of 1767 Leger-Jean-Baptiste-Noël Veyssière, a Recollet and parish priest converted to Protestantism, presented himself to the garrison chaplain to take the oath of abjuration, but Brooke refused to administer the oath to Veyssière. But if Veyssière had been temporarily hindered by Brooke, it was the latter whose future was cloudier. The two petitions in favour of Brooke’s appointment as an SPG missionary at Quebec were never granted. Brooke continued his unofficial ministry until 1768, even travelling back and forth between Montreal and Quebec for six months in 1766 until the arrival of David Delisle as Protestant chaplain in Montreal.
In July 1768 Revd Brooke auctioned off the household belongings. Some of these indicate that he and his wife Frances, who had first come to Quebec in 1763, lived comfortably; their home, a former Jesuit mission house at Mount Pleasant in Sillery, had been sublet to them by the merchant John Taylor Bondfield. In August 1768 the Brookes left for England and, despite his permanent absence from Quebec, Revd John Brooke drew full pay as garrison chaplain until his death.
Little is known of Revd John Brooke after his return to England, although he seems to have resumed his Norfolk church positions. In 1769, a year after their return, John’s wife Frances published The history of Emily Montague . . . in London, an epistolary novel, much of which was set in Canada. Émile Castonguay, Canadian author, has speculated that John Brooke actually wrote the letters of one of the novel’s characters, Sir William Fermor. Frances’ dedication of the novel to Guy Carleton, her husband’s patron, as well as John’s vocation and longer experience in the colony, would make it reasonable to speculate that, at the very least, Revd. John Brooke contributed substantially to the book’s comments on religion, politics, and the character of the Canadians which predominated in Fermor’s letters.
John Brooke died at Colney, near Norwich, Norfolk on 21 Jan. 1789, by which time his son, John Brooke, Jr, was also a minister – in Lincolnshire. Frances had been with her son in his parish ever since late 1788 when she had suddenly fallen ill, thereby missing her husband’s death. Frances died on January 23, 1789, two days after that of her husband’s in Norfolk – one day shy of her 65th birthday.
As for the Reverend John Brooke; his eight years in Quebec left no lasting impression, and he is now all but forgotten. He represents, however, that group of clergies, all chaplains, who served as a stopgap while the Church of England pondered the best pastoral approach to a colonial population almost entirely French speaking and Roman Catholic, but on to which had been grafted a minuscule but fractious band of British and French Protestant merchants, office-holders, and soldiers. Although his own unclerically febrile temperament and James Murray’s well-placed censures no doubt hurt Brooke’s chances of remaining in Canada, it was the church’s decision that a French-language clergy would best serve its cause which ultimately displaced Brooke and other British chaplains.
Norfolk – The Lincolns in the 16th Century:
Early in the 16th Century there lived in Swanton Morley a Richard Lincoln – or ‘Lincorne’ as it was then spelt. He was born around 1550 in the village and was churchwarden at its All Saint’s Church from 1599 to 1620; that we know. We also know that he was the 6th times Great Grandfather of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the USA.
It appears that Richard Lincoln’s son from his first marriage was Edward, and it was he who expected to benefit from his father’s Will when he passed away – but that was never to happen! In his will, written 3 January 1616, with a codicil in 1619, Richard Lincoln left everything, apart money for his burial and small gifts to the poor, to his wife and the children of his fourth marriage. The original Will, consisting of four sheets of paper, each sealed at the bottom with a red wax seal bearing the device of a hound, is still preserved in the Norfolk Record Office at Norwich.
Clearly then, Edward would not have been too pleased about being cut out of his father Richard’s Will after he had heard the news. In fact, a family squabble ensued as he abandoned his home at Swanton Morley and relocated to some small acreage at Hingham, taking with him his wife, Brigit, nee’ Gilman and his seven children. Amongst these seven children was Samuel. Now, some historians have said that this Samuel, and there have been many over the generations, may never have moved to America had his father not been cut out of Richard’s Will – meaning that the path of the Lincoln family’s history would have changed completely – and Abraham Lincoln would never have become the 16th President of the USA!
Samuel Lincoln was born around 1622 and baptised in St Andrew’s Church, Hingham on August 24 1622. At the age of 15 years, when he was an apprentice weaver in Norwich; he left home and sailed on a ship named John & Dorothy from Great Yarmouth for a new life in the USA. The year was 1637 and ironically, he settled in Hingham, Massachusetts. There, around 1649, Samuel married Martha Lyford from Ireland and bought a house plot so as to provide a permanent home. There, the couple had eleven children, three of whom died in their infancy. Samuel’s eldest son, born 25 August in 1650, was also named Samuel; however, the emigrant Samuel Lincoln’s fourth son was Mordecai, who became a blacksmith, and was the direct ancestor of Abraham Lincoln.
But on-board ship back in 1637, there were eleven Puritan ministers from Norwich among the passengers; they had been suspended during a purge by Bishop of Norwich Matthew Wren; the solution for these eleven, was to emigrate and seek freedom of worship elsewhere. Also on board, amongst those struggling with the demands of conscience, and maybe family as a result of Wren’s demands, was Francis Lawes, aged 57, a worsted weaver – he was young Samuel’s employer and companion for at least this journey, although it has been suggested that there were also other members of the Lincoln line from Hingham on board. Whatever may have been their reason for emigrating, it is not unreasonable to suppose that Lawes may well have been an influencing factor upon young Samuel’s own decision to place his future overseas. Samuel, in fact, was following in the footsteps of his brothers, Daniel and Thomas who had settled in Hingham, Massachusetts in 1635. Thomas, had been granted a house lot by the town and although twice married Thomas had no children. After his death, he left a great deal of his property, including several house lots, to Samuel and his nephews. Samuel was never to return to Norfolk.
It has been said that, despite his young age, religion did influence Samuel Lincoln in his decision to leave Norfolk; it was certainly the case that religion led future American Lincolns to connect with members of the Norfolk Gurney family and to renew a centuries-old link with the Lincoln’s ancestry back in Norfolk.
The Gurney Connection:
One Hundred and Fifty-one years after young Samuel Lincoln had sailed to America, and barely 12 years after the former colony had declared itself to be the ‘United States of America’, on 9 September 1776, Joseph John Gurney was born into the Gurney family in Norwich – the year was 1788. The Gurney family was famous for Banking and were also well known as Quakers. Joseph was one of ten children, which included his equally famous sister, Elizabeth Fry of prison reforming fame. It was with this particular sister that the now 29-year-old Joseph also campaigned for prison conditions to be improved, coupled with a call for the abolition of capital punishment. The year was 1817 and he was now an evangelical minister.
In his capacity as a prison reformer, Joseph Gurney made trips to the West Indies and the United States, between 1837 and 1840, where he preached and called for an end to slavery. While Gurney was preaching in the United States he caused some controversy that resulted in a split (schism) among Quakers. He was concerned that Friends had so thoroughly accepted the ideas of ‘the inner light’ that they no longer considered the actual text of the Bible and that the New Testament Christ was important enough. He also stressed the traditional Protestant belief that salvation is through faith in Christ. Those who sided with him were called ‘Gurneyite’ Quakers. Those who sided with John Wilbur, his opponent, were called ‘Wilburites’.
It was also during his first visit to America in 1837 that he, then 39 years of age, first met Eliza Paul Kirkbride, who was three years his junior. She came from Philadelphia and was able to make quite an impression on Joseph when she presented her extensive briefs on American life to him. It was also during this visit that Joseph had the opportunity to meet with Abraham Lincoln several times, and to address a joint session of Congress; he also exchanged letters with Lincoln, then a young and ambitious member of the Illinois House of Representatives. Was it simply a coincidence then that, in 1837, Lincoln made his first public declaration against slavery?
Eliza Kirkbride came to England with Joseph Gurney when he returned home to Norwich; she becoming a Quaker minister in July 1841, and marrying him three months later to become his third wife. For the record – Joseph’s first wife had been Jane Birkbeck, whom he married at the Friends Meeting House at Wells on 10 September 1817; they had at least two children before Jane died in in 1822. His second wife was Mary Fowler whom he married five years later in 1827 at his brother’s (Samuel) Ham House in Essex. It is not generally known that prior to this marriage, Joseph had an admirer in none other than Amelia Opie, the early 19th century Norfolk writer. According to Mrs Fletcher’s Norwich Handbook, 1857:
“In 1825, she [Amelia] was received into the membership of the Society of Friends, perhaps with the hope of becoming the second Mrs Joseph John Gurney. If so, she was disappointed…….” Mary nee’ Fowler died in 1835.
By all accounts, Eliza and Joseph were a formidable pair in their eloquent pursuit for better and fairer conditions for all. In this capacity they travelled far and wide and became well-connected; it was said that they once urged the French king Louis Philippe to abolish slavery in his Colonies! The two also founded Earlham College, in Indiana – an echo of Earlham Hall – it being the Gurney’s Norfolk family home.
But the good days were not to last; on a winter’s day in 1847, Joseph John Gurney, then 58 years of age, was thrown from his horse and died. He was buried alongside many of his family in the now overgrown Gildencroft Quaker Cemetery in Norwich; his funeral witnessed by many in the city who respected him as one of the Norwich’s great philanthropists. As for Eliza, his widow, she returned to her home country in the USA three years later, settling in an elegant 18th-century mansion at West Hill in Burlington, New Jersey from where, over the next eight years, she travelled extensively.
Eliza’s Possible Influence on Abraham Lincoln: Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln continued on his political rise, chosen as the first-ever presidential candidate for the new Republican party in May 1860. His election in November of that year hardened the sharp divisions between North and South over the issue of slavery. Seven slave states in the Deep South left the union and declared their own country, the Confederate States of America. Unsurprisingly, the now President Lincoln, along with the Northern states refused to recognise the new ‘country’, fearing it would lead to towards splinter- groups of ‘petty nations’. Both north and south were on an inevitable collision course. The first shot in the American Civil War came on 12 April 1861.
Eliza Gurney, like many others, had to choose sides. Being a Quaker, she was a passionate opponent of war – but also a passionate opponent of slavery. She soon decided that the northern ‘Union’ cause was the more honourable one. In this, she was determined to let Lincoln know of her convictions but her efforts to meet with him towards the end of October 1862, in the company of three other senior Quakers, failed – the Confederate army was waiting only a few miles from the capital city of Washington! But then, on the morning of Sunday 26 October an opportunity arose for Eliza and in her own words ‘the great iron door’ opened. The group was ushered into the President’s private apartments.
It was said that Lincoln rose to greet them, he remembering his old links with Joseph John Gurney, Eliza’s connection with Norfolk by marriage and his ancestral roots at Hingham and Swanton Morley. Eliza spoke to him for fifteen minutes and he listened. Afterwards, Lincoln was deeply moved for it was also said that he grasped her hand, then said: “I am very glad of this interview ……” and Lincoln never forgot Eliza – or her message of support. In fact, the two corresponded during the following two years, until on 4 September 1864, when he wrote to his ‘esteemed friend’ to thank her again for her ‘very impressive visit two years earlier’:
“We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and has ruled otherwise…… For those appealing to me on conscientious grounds, I have done, and shall do, the best I could and can, in my own conscience, under my oath to the law. That you believe this I doubt not; and believing it, I shall still receive, for our country and myself, your earnest prayers to our Father in heaven.”
Lincoln carried Eliza’s reply to this letter in his breast pocket when he went to the theatre – and was assassinated!
In 2018, Trevor Heaton, writing for the Eastern Daily Press in Norfolk about Eliza’s reply and the closing moments of President Lincoln’s life, stated:
“Five days after the surrender of Confederate general Robert E Lee, Lincoln was enjoying a rare evening away from the crushing burden of his public office. Together with his wife and two guests, they were at the Good Friday performance of the popular comedy ‘Our American Cousin’ at Ford’s Theatre in the capital. Then around 10.15pm, as the play reached its final stages, on-stage comedy turned to real-life tragedy. John Wilkes Booth, a 26-year-old actor and Confederate sympathiser, took advantage of the temporary absence of Lincoln’s bodyguard to step inside his state box in the theatre’s balcony and fire his Derringer pistol, point-blank, into the back of the President’s head. Lincoln, fatally wounded, died nine hours later. And in his breast pocket, neatly folded, was a treasured letter with a strikingly familiar Norfolk surname on it – Gurney.
The story of how that letter came to be written makes for one of the most moving insights into the character of a man hailed as one of the greatest-ever presidents, the man who finally ended the shame of American slavery. And how curious that Lincoln’s life should be book-ended by Norfolk connections. For his roots were set deep in the county, with family links to Hingham and Swanton Morley. Only a few months later prayers were being said for Lincoln not in support of the great burden of his office but for the comfort of his soul……… And of all the fine things that Eliza Gurney did in her life, probably she rendered no nobler service to humanity than when she gave spiritual comfort to a great president in his hour of need. No wonder, then, that as he lay dying, it was her treasured words that were – literally – the closest to his heart.”
Our previous blog about Jacob Mountain stated that the’ Mountain’ dynasty line was well settled in Norfolk by the middle of the 17th century – and it was seriously religious!
We also told you that their Huguenot ancestors fled from France after the Edict of Fontainebleau which was issued by Louis XIV of France on 22 October 1685; this revoked the Edict of Nantes (1598) that granted the Huguenots the right to practice their religion without persecution from the state. The family line was also directly related to Michel de Montaigne who formerly lived at Château de Montaigne, in France. From this, you will understand that the ‘Mountains’ settled in Norfolk as being ‘well connected’ – but still someway short of the wealth they once enjoyed.
By the mid-18th century Jehosaphat’s parents, namely Jacob Mountain Snr. (1710–1752) and his wife Ann (nee’ Postle) were living at Thwaite Hall on the Bungay Road, near the village of Thwaite St Mary, which remains just a short distance from the Suffolk border. Ann was the daughter of Jehoshaphat Postle, formerly of Thorpe-Next-Norwich, who purchased Colney Old Hall, near Wymondham; Postle was a Brewer and one-time chairman of the Norfolk Agricultural Association.
It was at Thwaite Hall where Ann, and her husband Jacob started their family; which consisted of two daughters and at least three sons, two of which are the subjects of both this blog, about Jehosaphat, and our previous blog about his younger brother, Jacob Mountain junior.
Jehosaphat Mountain himself was born at Thwaite Hall, Thwaite St Mary, Norfolk on 4 December 1745. Seven years later, in 1752, when the family had settled at West Rudham – a small village which straddles the A148 King’s Lynn to Cromer Road – his father died on the hunting field. A further seven years later, they moved from West Rudham to live near Wymondham, at the home of Jehosaphat Mountain’s uncle, from where he and his younger brother, Jacob, attended the local grammar school. Later, after the family had settled permanently in Norwich, the two brothers attended the city’s grammar school.
Jehosaphat married a Mary Leach in 1769 and had six children of his own. In 1777 he was admitted to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University as a ‘sizar’, which meant he was an undergraduate receiving financial help from the college for which he had to perform certain menial duties. Jehosaphat did not take his degree but was ordained a Deacon on 15 March 1778 and priest on 19 September 1779, both of which were at Norwich. After holding these curacies in the parishes of Quidenham and Eccles in 1778 and 1779, he moved on to Peldon, Cranworth, and Southburgh from 1779 to 1782, after which he served as rector of St Mary’s at Peldon in Essex until 1793.
In that year he was recruited to serve in Lower Canada by his brother Bishop Jacob Mountain, recently appointed to the Quebec See. Jehosaphat responded the more readily because the prospect of a good salary in Lower Canada promised to help settle a worrisome burden of debt he had. He left England on 13 Aug. 1793 in the British frigate ‘Ranger’, along with Jacob and their two maiden sisters. Jehosaphat was joined by his wife and three children; they included Salter Jehosaphat junior, their 23-year-old son who had just been made Deacon. The group of ‘Thirteen Mountains’ disembarked at Quebec on 1 November 1793 after a long voyage which involved surviving gales, and separation from their convoy which resulted in the Ranger being harassed by French corsairs. Jehosaphat then assumed the duties of assistant to David-François de Montmollin, rector of Quebec, in the absence of Philip Toosey who was in England from 1792 to 1794.
On 24 Jan. 1794 Revd. Jehosaphat Mountain was appointed assistant to Leger-Jean-Baptiste-Noël Veyssière*, Rector of Trois-Rivières, but he accompanied the Bishop Jacob on his visitation of the Canadas before taking up his post in the September. In practice, Jehosaphat replaced Veyssière in the performance of the rector’s duties, and the number of communicants rose from 4 to 18 in the year following his arrival. In early 1795 he was appointed missionary at Trois-Rivières of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. The appointment added the society’s annual allowance of £50 to Jehosaphat Mountain’s salary of £150 as minister.
Although the Mountains greatly appreciated the beauty of the countryside and the salubrity of the climate at Trois-Rivières, they felt socially isolated in the overwhelmingly French-speaking Roman Catholic community and longed at first to be back in England. Jehosaphat’s hope for a rapid transfer to Montreal was dashed in 1795 when Bishop Jacob Mountain learned that the incumbency there had long since been promised to James Marmaduke Tunstall. In 1797 Jehosaphat was appointed chaplain of the troops stationed at Trois-Rivières and was named the Bishop’s official (commissary) for Lower Canada, a post which made him in effect the Bishop’s deputy, authorised to visit the clergy and to administer discipline and oaths, but not to ordain, confirm, or consecrate. The same year Jehosaphat turned down an appointment as Philip Toosey’s successor at Quebec in favour of his son Salter Jehosaphat. Mountain succeeded Veyssière at Trois-Rivières following the latter’s death on 26 May 1800. Within a few months, however, he was appointed to Christ Church, Montreal, replacing Tunstall. The following year he was granted the Lambeth degree of dd by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Jehosaphat Mountain had been at his new post in Montreal only two years when in June 1803 his church, the former Jesuit chapel, burned down. An architectural competition for the design of a new building was won by William Berczy. The contract for the church, to be built on Rue Notre-Dame on a lot granted by government, was let in January 1805, and the corner stone was laid on 21 June. By the autumn of 1805 the walls, of a rather pretentious structure in the Renaissance style, were raised and roofed in. However, work soon stopped for lack of money. The congregation included wealthy and prominent members, but the unexpectedly high costs led it to appeal to friends for funds, and in 1808 to the imperial government for £4,000 to complete the building. In a time of war with France, Westminster wished to limit its expenditures, and feared alienating the Canadians by boldly supporting the Church of England. A government grant of £4,000 was finally made, but because of a bureaucratic blunder it was not received in Montreal until 1812. The building was considerably altered before its ultimate completion in the 1820s.
Jehosaphat seems to have lived in relative comfort in Montreal, where by the time of his death he owned a house and vacant lot in the faubourg Québec and a house at Coteau-Saint-Louis; he also owned six uninhabited, uncultivated lots, totalling 1,218 acres, in the township of Wendover. When he died on 10 April 1817, an obituary in the Montreal Herald extolled his “extraordinary generosity and warmness of heart,” while at the same time admitting his “little singularities.” Mountain’s was the first funeral to be conducted in the new Christ Church.
The’ Mountain’ dynasty was well settled in Norfolk by the middle of the 17th century – and it was seriously religious!
Their Huguenot ancestors fled from France after the Edict of Fontainebleau which was issued by Louis XIV of France on 22 October 1685; this revoked the Edict of Nantes (1598) that granted the Huguenots the right to practice their religion without persecution from the state. The family line was also directly related to Michel de Montaigne who formerly lived at Château de Montaigne , in France. From this, you will understand that the ‘Mountains’ settled in Norfolk as being ‘well connected’ – but still someway short of the wealth they once enjoyed.
By the mid-18th century Jacob’s parents, namely Jacob Mountain senior (1710–1752) and his wife Ann (nee’ Postle) were living at Thwaite Hall on the Bungay Road, near the village of Thwaite St Mary, which remains just a short distance from the Suffolk border. Ann was the daughter of Jehoshaphat Postle, formerly of Thorpe-Next-Norwich, who had purchased Colney Old Hall, near Wymondham; Postle was a Brewer and one-time chairman of the Norfolk Agricultural Association.
But it was at Thwaite Hall where Ann, and her husband Jacob started their family; which consisted of two daughters and at least three sons, two of which are the subjects of both this blog, about Jacob Mountain Junior, and a second blog about Jacob’s older brother, Jehosaphat Mountain.
Jacob Mountain junior was the youngest to be born at Thwaite Hall; he arrived on 1 December 1749. Three years later in 1752, when the family had settled almost at the other side of Norfolk in West Rudham – a small village which straddles the A148 King’s Lynn to Cromer Road, his father died on the hunting field. Seven years later, they moved from West Rudham to live near Wymondham, at the home of Jacob Mountain’s uncle, from where Jacob and his elder brother, Jehosaphat, attended the local grammar school. Later, after the family had settled permanently in Norwich, the two brothers attended the city’s grammar school. Sometime later, Jacob was sent to Scarning School near East Dereham where he became a favourite pupil of the master, the illustrious classical scholar Reverend Robert Potter (1721–1804). It would seem that Mrs Ann Mountain, who was to die in 1776, was careful with the education of her sons.
Jacob was to try his hand at a counting-house business but showed no aptitude for it; then, on 8 Oct. 1769 he was admitted as a pensioner to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. There he gained his BA (senior optima) and by 1774, had been elected junior fellow of the College and ordained deacon by the Bishop of Norwich, Dr George Horne. Three years later he took a further degree, followed by an honorary degree when he was made a Bishop himself, in 1793. But before then, on 17 Dec. 1780 to be exact, he was ordained priest by the Bishop of Peterborough in a ceremony which took place in the chapel of Trinity College.
Jacob married Elizabeth Mildred Wale Kentish on 18 October 1783, in Little Bardfield Church of St Katherine, Essex and would produce seven children. It was immediately following his marriage that he relinquished his Cambridge fellowship, to be appointed perpetual curate of St Andrew’s Church in Norwich, a post he was to hold for seven years. Then from 1788 to 1790 he was Castor Prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral, and from 1790 to 1793 he became the examining chaplain to the Bishop of Lincoln, George Pretyman Tomline, whose acquaintance he had made at Cambridge. He was also vicar of Buckden, Cambridgeshire from 1790 to 1793, and for the same period he held in plurality the vicarage of Holbeach. It would appear that a bright future lay ahead for Jacob Mountain in the English church!
Back in London, Letters Patent were issued on 28 June 1793 which created the See of Quebec; this embraced both Upper and Lower Canada (now Ontario and Quebec). On the same day, Jacob Mountain was appointed to the newly created ‘See’ after his name had been drawn to the attention of Prime Minister, William Pitt, by George Pretyman Tomline, who at Cambridge had been Pitt’s tutor and mentor and had since become his intimate friend and chief adviser on ecclesiastical matters. Jacob Mountain was consecrated Bishop in the Chapel of Lambeth Palace on 7 July 1793.
Very shortly after his consecration, Jacob and his family sailed to Lower Canada on 13 August 1793 in the British frigate ‘Ranger’; its passengers included Bishop Jacob, his wife and their four small children. Also in the party was Jacob’s brother Jehosaphat, his wife and their three children, including Salter Jehosaphat junior, their 23 year old son who had just been made Deacon. To complete the Mountain family on board were Jacob’s two maiden sisters. The group of ‘Thirteen Mountains’ disembarked at Quebec on 1 November 1793, after a long voyage which involved surviving gales, and separation from their convoy which resulted in the Ranger being harassed by French corsairs.
When Mountain arrived late in 1793, he found that the Canadian diocese clergy consisted of only nine priests of the Church of England; Quebec itself had no ecclesiastical edifice, no Episcopal residence, and no rectory. The three ordained ‘Mountains’ should have brought the number to 12, but of the three ‘old’ bilingual priests already in residence – who, by the way, had failed to attract Canadians to the church – two had already been placed in semi-retirement by Bishop Inglis and the third was immediately retired by Jacob Mountain. During the thirty-two years that were to elapse before his death, Bishop Jacob was to raise the church to a flourishing condition; the original nine clergy became 61 in number, he promoted the formation of missions, and also the erection of church edifices – including the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Quebec City.
But the ecclesiastical situation that faced Bishop Jacob on his arrival was that his diocese was huge and complex! Yet from the very beginning of his appointment he set out to transplant ecclesiastical traditions developed in England on to Lower and Upper Canada. For him the most important of these was the establishment of the Church of England as the state church in the colony. Such a measure, he felt, would heighten the status of the church and encourage dissenters and Roman Catholics to attach themselves to it, thus unifying the population under an institution that was bound to support the government. Jacob’s other purpose was to place his church on a more secure foundation by extending its privileges and reducing the power and independence of its Roman Catholic rival.
In accordance with the British practice of having Anglican bishops sit in the House of Lords, Mountain’s membership in the legislative councils of Upper and Lower Canada as Lord Bishop of Quebec had been arranged before he left England so, shortly after his arrival at Quebec, he requested a seat on each executive council as well, they being the real colonial influence on the provinces’ administrators. Once he was installed, the work of the councils occupied much of his time and most of his duties were unrelated to his episcopal office. His decision to play it fully was determined by his belief that only through the councils could he hope to counter the influence exercised by the Roman Catholic Bishop. Thus, in the 1790s and early 1800s he was to use the weight of his council seats to block the erection of Roman Catholic parishes, and to support the prohibition of refugees into the colony, including royalist clergy from revolutionary France. However, Mountain was also faced with the situation whereby, as head of the church for which he claimed establishment, he had less authority to place clergy than his Roman Catholic counterpart. In effect, his persistent and strong efforts to have a measure of control imposed on Roman Catholic appointments met with little success.
However, in general, Mountain’s relations with the Catholic hierarchy were amicable. Even on his arrival in 1793 he had been greeted by the aged and retired Bishop Briand with words of welcome and the Gallic salutation of a kiss on both cheeks. Joseph-Octave Plessis described his relations with Mountain as “not of intimacy but of reciprocal propriety.” But, because of Mountain’s vigorous and open efforts to advance his church, he was long viewed with apprehension by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Following his last and most discouraging trip to England, however, it saw him in another light. Plessis’s successor, Bernard-Claude Panet wrote, shortly after Mountain’s death:
“The old bishop was what we needed, since there had to be one……. because in his last days he was very quiet and scarcely looked to make proselytes and what is better still, he no longer bothered with affairs and had practically no credit.”
It seems a number of reasons impelled Jacob Mountain, after nearly 12 years in Lower Canada as Bishop, to plan a voyage to England. His sons Jacob Henry Brooke and George Jehoshaphat had been tutored at Quebec by Matthew Smithers Feilde since late 1800, but their further education was a matter of family concern. Of greater weight, however, were the Bishop’s doubts about his own future and his failure to advance the establishment of his church. Three roads out of these difficulties presented themselves to his mind: translation to an English bishopric, partial retirement on a pension with a country living in England, or an improvement in his position in Lower Canada. The Bishop and his family set sail early in August 1805 and arrived in England before mid-September. The boys were placed under the tutorship of the Reverend Thomas Monro at Little Easton, Essex where they remained until they both matriculated to Cambridge.
Bishop Jacob returned to England in 1816 when he attempted again to resign, or to receive translation; but, in these efforts, he failed once again. He also failed to persuade the Government even to pronounce that his church was established. Although the war was over, the Government’s primary concern was political and social peace in the Canadas, not the adoption of policies that might lead to strife. Jacob’s relations with Henry Bathurst, like those with his predecessors, were difficult. The colonial secretary, while acknowledging the Bishop to be “of considerable abilities,” found him rigid and “of a very striving disposition.”
One advantage Jacob did gain was renewed government interest in the creation of parishes and the setting up of rectories within them. In this campaign he now had the aid of a strong committee of the SPG; this being the ‘Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) as a high church missionary organisation of the Church of England which was active in the Thirteen Colonies of North America. Further delays occurred, but, between 1820 and 1823, twelve crown rectories were established in Lower Canada. Although Bishop Jacob succeeded in getting the titles of his assistants, namely his son George Jehoshaphat Mountain and George Okill Stuart, changed from official to archdeacon; however, he did not obtain a desired increase of £150 in their salary.
Bishop Jacob was an imposing man. In 1820, when he was 70 years of age, one of the diocesan clergies confessed himself:
“struck with admiration at as perfect a specimen of the human form as I ever beheld; erect, standing above six feet, face what might be called handsome, eye mild yet penetrating, features well set and expression benevolent, limbs fully developed, and symmetry of the whole person complete.”
Before meeting him, the Governor, Lord Dalhousie Ramsay, had heard him spoken of as “a clever man, amiable in his outward manners but a lazy preacher, very haughty and imperious in society.” When in 1820 Dalhousie heard a sermon by Mountain that pleased him, he described this “fine looking old Gentlemen” as “a Divine of exalted rank & of commanding abilities.” With his background and training Mountain moved easily and graciously in society. Of his wife, Elizabeth, John Strachan recorded that she was “in her manners amiable and engaging – in her religion sincere active and cheerful – in charity unbounded, without regard to sect or nation.” Through her letters to Elizabeth Pretyman Tomline written from 1793 to 1810 much can be learned of the home life of the Mountain family, of Mrs Mountain’s care for her children, of the Bishop’s many illnesses, of her continual concern for her husband and her sympathy with his problems.
Jacob Mountain died at Marchmont House, Lower Canada, 16 June 1825 and was buried under the chancel of Holy Trinity Cathedral he had built and which also contains a monument to his memory. He had never been able to overcome fully his English background and formation, and in 1823 after nearly 30 years as Bishop of Quebec he had referred to his situation as “this long expatriation”; from it he had numerous times tried to extricate himself. His objective had been not so much to adapt the Church of England to the specific and differing circumstances in Lower and Upper Canada, but to bring the religious life of the colonies and particularly the relations between the churches and the state into conformity with the situation in England. Dalhousie, a Scottish Presbyterian and despite his approval of Mountain’s ability as a preacher, felt that the Bishop carried “high church discipline too far for a colonial church,” and Strachan felt that “his habits and manners were calculated rather for an English Bishop than the Missionary Bishop of Canada.”
Thomas R. Millman, Author of, “Jacob Mountain”, stated in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6:
“Mountain gave to position, social dignity and prestige, both institutional and personal, an importance that they perhaps did not merit in the North American context. His clergy, most of them sent from Great Britain by the SPG, were never numerous enough to minister effectively in all areas of their large mission stations and differed widely in ability. Some, because of strict adherence to church rubrics, were not able to attract to their services settlers without strong church loyalties. Others, because of their fear of religious “enthusiasm” – shared by the Bishop – did not meet fully the emotional needs of a pioneer society. To all his clergy he held out high ideals for their conduct and spirituality, defending them in official correspondence, administering reproof and discipline in private as need arose. Jacob Mountain, despite his deficiencies, achieved much as a pioneer bishop, and even Strachan, recognising the difficulties that Mountain had had to face, acknowledged what had been accomplished. Mountain could not realise a number of his dreams and did not live to see the realisation of others, but in his long episcopate he fully earned the title given to him in his epitaph – ‘Founder of the Church of England in the Canadas’.”
In one sense, this is a sequel to the previous article: “Fishley: A Story of an Estate.” , which clearly outlined where Fishley, and its church, are in Norfolk. Suffice to say here that the church of St Mary’s is comfotably settled near the Estate’s heart, in an elevated position among open fields and just off the South Walsham Road, near Acle. A ‘just about’ driveable track leads the visitor from this road to the church before becoming a private link with the farm and Hall beyond.
St Mary’s is an old stone and isolated church and is one of around 124 existing round-tower churches in Norfolk and which, in 2009 was recorded by English Heritage as a significant survivor of the early 12th century. The mound on which it rides is tree-covered and lies about half a mile across the fields from the village of Upton with its own church of St Margaret’s. Upton-with-Fishley was once a Saxon hamlet and its Churches’ synonymous with each other; however, the whole place is often referred to as just Fishley:
“It is one of those places where, apart from its history, you will find peace, tranquillity, romance and curiosity, curiosity into wonder”.
So wrote Churchwardens, Ivan Barnard and Chloe Ecclestone, on the ‘British Listed Buildings’ website, some ten years ago. Nothing, it seems, has changed.
St Mary’s is enthusiastically stewarded, which should make any parishioner proud and an attraction to any visitor who has mustered sufficient interest to go there. Inside, they would find no medieval feel about the place, but they could easily imagine what it must have been like to attend services in this church in the 19th century when much was renovated.
In these days when often it feels fashionable to neglect, there are those places which are maintained to a high order – St Mary’s is one. Even some of its 19th Century headstones in the churchyard have, in recent years, been cleaned and relettered. For those who may prefer a more haunting and neglected setting for old churches, may I suggest that they simply view this particular church from a distance – in poor, damp and cold visibility, sufficient to lend the place a seemingly brooding appearance among its trees – else give credit to the volunteers who put their care into practice!
We are told, by those who know, that St Mary’s tower is probably Norman, with the rest of the building being essentially a late 13th century rebuild; thanks, it seems, to Sir John de Veile who appears to have been the most generous of benefactors to the Fishley Parish prior to Miss Edwards’ (of Hardingham Hall) intervention from 1860.
According to Francis Blomefield in his ‘An Essay towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, vol.11, 1810, pp.100-104’:
“the Manor of Fishley came into the ownership of the de Veile family sometime in the late 12th century. King John, in his 2nd year (of 1201) had grant and charter of confirmation of this manor, and those of Laringset, Witton, &c. as his ancestors held by the service of being the King’s ostringer (or falconer) dated at Dorchester, April 19, under the hand of Thomas, Archdeacon of Wells, witness, William Earl of Salisbury, and in the 13th [year]of the said King (1212), held it by the fourth part of a fee, and Thomas de Veile by the same tenure.
Sir John de Veile, and Leola his wife, was living in 1277 and gave lands in Fishley and Witton to the Priory of Bromholm; in 1300; John, son of Sir John de Veile, dying without issue, Reginald de Dunham, son of his sister Beatrix (b.1274), was his heir and inherited the Manor. By 1316 the manorial rights were in the possession of Peter Buckskyn who conveyed it in 1335 to Roger Hardegrey, a citizen of Norwich. In 1365 license was granted to John Berney and John Plumstede to give the Manor of Fishley to Joan, widow of Roger Hardegrey for life.”
Over the years, ever since the 13th century rebuild in fact, very little was done to St Mary’s as far as maintenance of the fabric was concerned. Certainly, by 1836, Fishley was considered to be a ‘decayed parish’ and nine years later, it had reached the point of being referred to as ‘dishevelled’. The situation seems not to have been redressed when Revd. Edward Marsham’s took over the Estate, and the only aspects of his occupancy which are noted is that, at some point, he replaced a William Henry Grimmer as occupier of Fishley Hall then, took advantage of his position of being a “squarson” – (a member of the clergy who was also the main local landowner) and installed himself as the incumbent of St Mary’s – replacing the Revd. Robert Cooper.
The position of the Estate’s owner, Revd. Edward Marsham (1787 -1859), meant that he was able to wield some clout, if he so desired. He was a son of Robert Marsham Esq (1749-1824), of Stratton Strawless, and Sophia, second daughter of Edward Hase Esq. of Salle. He was also the grandson of the famous phenologist, Robert Marsham (1708-1797), also of Stratton Strawless – the one who planted all those trees!
The young Edward Marsham was educated at St John’s College, Cambridge from 1803, and from where he became a B.A. scholar in 1805, and in 1808 – 10th Wrangler no less. He also became a Fellow of Emmanuel College on 28 May 1810, and was ordained Deacon at Norwich 8 July 1810. He also held the posts of Rector of Wramplingham in Norfolk, between 1811 and 1849, with that of Brampton between 1826 and 1828; also at Sculthorpe 1811-1859; and of Stratton Strawless 1828-1859. Included in his later years, up to his death in 1859, was Fishley.
It is yet to be discovered when the Fishley Estate came into his hands. However, when he died in 1859, the Estate was bequeathed to his niece, Miss Sophia Catherine Edwards of Hardingham Hall, near Wymondham. Kelly’s Directory for Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, 1883, pp.316-317, confirmed that Miss Edwards was the landowner and patron of the living, with the Revd. David Thomas Barry as Rector.
Miss Sophia Edwards proved to be a generous benefactress at Fishley, completing much there which had been left undone by her predecessors. The parish of the mid-19th century was fortunate to have had her, despite Sophia living in an age where women were barred from voting, attending universities, or even opening their own bank accounts or holding a mortgage. Sophia was certainly unique and probably something of an anomaly for that time; she remained unmarried but, importantly for Fishley, she was an independent owner of an estate and had the means to make her mark on that part of Norfolk, despite the fact that she was to follow every previous owner of the Fishley Estate by never actually living there.
Her benevolence to the parish included the extensive restoration and repairs to St Mary’s church in 1861, followed in 1875 with her financing the building of a new Rectory for its incumbent, Reverend David Thomas Barry; the Rectory was built on the outskirts of Acle, alongside the road leading to South Walsham. Sophia also funded the building of Upton School.
The Revd. David Thomas Barry’s CV ran somewhat along the following lines:
“Reverend David Thomas Barry was born in 1822 in Ireland, the son of David Barry and Mary Peacock Cooke-Collis; he married Ann E. McKee, daughter of Alexander McKee and Ann Miller. He graduated from Trinity College, Dublin University, Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland in 1844 with a Bachelor of Arts, followed with a Master of Arts (M.A.). He was a Curate between 1847 and 1848 at Parr in Lancashire, England, followed by a curacy at St. Paul, Toxteth Park, Liverpool between 1848 and 1853, then as Curate at St. Barnabas, Liverpool between 1853 and 1857. Finally, he became Rector at Fishley, Norfolk.”
So, this particular rector was to officiate at St Mary’s from the early days of Miss Edwards patronage, through to after her death in 1892. It was clear by then just how much he loved Fishley for not only did he dedicate the church lectern to Miss Edward’s memory but also, after his wife died and was buried elsewhere, he had her exhumed and reburied at Fishley. Reverend David Thomas Barry remained at Fishley until his own death in 1904.
Miss Sophia Edward’s 1861 restoration and repair of St Mary’s church was largely carried out to the designs of her cousin, the amateur architect Revd. John Barham Johnson, Rector of Welbourne, Norfolk. He, by the way, was also responsible for restoring the church at Mattishall, Norfolk in the mid-19th century and for designing the chancel and nave windows at Welbourne in 1874-76. Included in Revd Johnson’s plans was for a spectacular stained-glass window to be installed at St Mary’s, in commemoration of the former owner of Fishley and rector of the church, the Reverend Edward Marsham.
The work on St Mary’s brought it back from near total dereliction by first replacing the roof. Also, a large section of the south nave wall was rebuilt, as was the east gable; the chancel arch was demolished. The scissor-braced roof, which exists today, was designed with a very steep pitch, to cover both the nave and chancel in one sweep. The north side of the roof had previously rested on two beams which spanned the length of the nave and supported the rafters over the north extension. To counter this structural weakness, a cast iron column was installed to give extra support.
With the exception of a heavily-restored piscina in the chancel south wall and a ledgestone in the middle of the nave, marking the grave of Bridget Johnson (d.1747 – Revd, Johnson’s sister), all of the internal fixtures and fittings were removed. Precisely what was removed was never recorded, but one would assume that it included the box-pews, communion table, altar-rails, pulpit and font for there would be nothing left which pre-dates the 1861 work. The wooden lectern and the wooden reredos, both having been executed under the supervision of Barham Johnson were gifts of the Rev’d David Barry.
Amongst the items that were removed from the church in 1861 were two 13th century lidded stone coffins and the fragment of a third coffin-lid. The coffins were reverently placed in the churchyard to the south of the nave, and they were not rediscovered until 2010 when one was examined by Dr Julian Litten FSA in 2011. According to him:
“Whether or not the two stone coffins contained skeletons was not recorded at the time. Furthermore, no record was made of the……. positions, occupied by the coffins when they were in the church, and neither is it known if the items were visible in the building or were discovered below floor-level when preparations were made for laying the new tiled floor. The fragmentary coffin-lid, of Purbeck marble and with double-chamfer mouldings, was returned to the church in 2010 and now stands within a niche in the south wall of the chancel”.
Perhaps, of all the fixtures housed in St Mary’s today two stand out. One is the church’s 18th century organ which is hand blown and ideally suited to the church which remains unconnected to mains electricity. A plate affixed to the organ informs that it was made by Edward & John Pistor of Leadenhall Street, London in 1781. This organ is a chamber organ, the type of which was normally intended to be played in large houses. It was originally, and unsurprisingly perhaps, in Fishley Hall and was moved into the church in 1883 as a gift from Miss Edwards.
The second notable feature of St Mary’s is that it is the custodian of a unique map of the Norfolk and Suffolk inland waterways area, which includes the sites of some 75 churches (including Fishley) that surround former large ‘Great Estuary of Gariensisostium’; these churches are listed and displayed alongside the map for those who wish to explore further.
Stephen Heywood, in his ‘Conservation Based Analysis’ Report to the Norfolk County Council in October 2009, stated:
“This very attractive church, in its isolated setting and accentuated by the pine trees in the churchyard, retains a lot of its original fabric despite the wholesale restoration of 1861. Of very special interest is the virtually untouched tower which, through good fortune and good mortar, has not been repointed and keeps its valuable patina so easily spoiled.”
It would seem that for the present-day appearance of St Mary’s, credit should go to those who have applied a considerable amount of ‘elbow grease’, money and time with on-going maintenance, clearly backed by a considerable amount of love for such duties. Such people, not forgetting past benefactors such as Miss Sophia Catherine Edwards, have safeguarded the church from the ravages of time. Collectively, they have secured its tower, re-established the churchyard, installed a watertight roof, built a new access, gates and pathways and restored stained glasses.
“There hasn’t been a village at Fishley since the Saxons left, but here it stands, this remote gem in open countryside, which is a tribute to everyone that has loved the church and is determined to keep it safe.” – So wrote churchwarden, Ivan Barnard.