Saturday, 13 July 2019

'Highgate Cemetery; Victorian Valhalla' John Gay & Felix Barker (John Murray, London 1984 - out of print)

One of the key publications in cemetery studies “Highgate Cemetery; Victorian Valhalla” is sadly out of print but good second hand copies can be picked up online for less than a tenner.  Originally published in the UK in 1984 by John Murray in conjunction with the Friends of Highgate Cemetery, unusually for a book on a single London cemetery an American edition was published by Salem House the same year. The public image of Highgate was essentially created by Gay and Barker’s book and thereafter assiduously marketed by the Friends of the Cemetery. There have been further books on the cemetery, John Swannell’s 2010 book of photographs published by Hurtwood Press and the Friends for example, but the view presented of the cemetery always sits comfortably within the template set by Gay and Barker.

John Gay was born Hans Göhler in 1909 in Karlsruhe, Germany. He studied art in Paris but taking an interest in photography returned home to try and make a career for himself as a photographer. He  left Germany for good at the age of 24 in 1933 when Hitler became Chancellor and the Nazi’s snatched power and emigrated to London where he had friends. No doubt the increasing hostility to Germans in the run up to the Second World War were ultimately behind the decision to give himself an English name but the reason for his choosing the 18th century poet who wrote The Beggar’s Opera as his namesake is not clear; perhaps he had seen the 1931 film of Brecht’s Die Dreigroschenoper and was making his political affiliations clear? Like his fellow national Bill Brandt, Gay became a successful commercial photographer in England taking striking portraits of the famous and documenting the daily life of the country for the magazine market. 

As the cover makes clear this is a book of John Gay’s photographs, Felix Barker’s contribution is merely an introduction. Barker was a successful journalist who had become the youngest drama critic on Fleet Street at the age of 19. He was also interested in art and architecture and as a sideline published books on London’s history including the innovative “London As It Might Have Been”, which looked at all the grand architectural plans for the capital that never got off the ground. He was an inspired choice for the text of the book. In a little over 30 pages he retails all the key narratives that have since become the story of Highgate Cemetery; its creation by Stephen Geary, its architectural marvels, its unparalleled success as the premier Victorian cemetery, and its decline into semi wilderness and eventual rescue by the Friends. As for its inhabitants he tells us about James Selby the coachmen, General Otway, George Wombwell, Tom Sayers and Julius Beer amongst others. We also learn about the Druce and Rossetti scandals but there is no mention of vampires or Satanism.  It is a lively trot through the history of the cemetery and sets the scene effectively for Gay’s photographs.      

Gay’s cemetery photos, particularly those he took of Highgate, are iconic. His is an essentially romantic vision; he was clearly fascinated by the cemeteries return to nature, angels wreathed in ivy, sometimes only a face or an upturned managing to escape the sprawling vegetation, tipsy monuments seemingly on the point of being toppled by tree roots, stairs covered in dead leaves, memorials imprisoned in a thicket of saplings, collapsed tree trunks held up by cast iron railings. Everywhere in the photos the work of civilisation, the human drive to memorialise the dead, is being engulfed and obliterated by the twin forces of time and nature. Whether he set the fashion or merely captured the zeitgeist, his photos are now the prototypical vision of what a London cemetery should be. The Friends expend considerable effort maintaining the cemetery just as Gay saw it. Nature is only allowed to run rampant up to a point, then it is carefully trimmed back, uprooted or cut; monuments must not be allowed to fall or be damaged. Nature must be carefully held in check, its attempt to overtake the cemetery frozen in mid course. It is a very tight balancing act.  

If you pay to go on one of the Friend’s guided tours you will get to see the majority of the monuments and sites within the cemetery photographed by Gay. Very little has changed since 1984 when the book was published.  Undergrowth has been trimmed back to better reveal some of the memorials and despite the best efforts of the Friends some monuments have succumbed to the ravages of time or vandals. There has also been some new burials – the tour guide will inevitably point out Alexander Litvinenko’s grave after you have paused at  James Selby’s and might draw your attention in passing to Beryl Bainbridge. George Michael is off limits though, one more of Highgate’s secrets carefully guarded by the Friends.  

Friday, 5 July 2019

Reasons To Be Cheerful? - Chiswick New Cemetery, Staveley Gardens, W4

“This is not one of London’s most appealing cemeteries,” says Hugh Meller with typical understatement, in ‘London Cemeteries’,” and it must be one of the noisiest, set down in a water meadow sandwiched between an arterial road and a suburban railway line. The planners probably realised the site was not ideal for residential development, but would not have anticipated the additional roar of aeroplanes that now regularly fly overhead to Heathrow. However, the dead don’t complain and the cemetery remains in regular use.”

I was last at this unappealing 15 acre plot in May 2014 looking for the grave of Moura Budberg, Russian émigré, possible spy, society hostess and lover of H.G.Wells and Maxim Gorky. The Russian graves were easy to find, marked as they are by Byzantine crosses. There were far more of them than I expected – in fact they seemed to stretch almost as far as the eye could see, hundreds of them in neat rows, blackened with soot and with heavily weathered inscriptions often in Cyrillic. My heart sank – finding Moura was going to be a nightmare. I almost gave up before I’d even started. I was standing on the path and I looked down at the cross in front of me. The inscription on the base was still legible though lacking a few letters M RIE BUDBERG nee ZAKREVSKY (1892-1974). It was the easiest grave search I have ever done. 

The cemetery was opened in 1933 by Brentford Council. The brick and Portland stone chapel was designed by the borough surveyor Joseph R. Musto and thriftily constructed for just £5000. It looks like an Art Deco cinema and was deliberately never consecrated to allow cross denominational services. It is small, relatively recently opened for a cemetery, belongs to the council and nothing much of any interest ever seems to have happened there. The one time it seems to have hit the news was last year when cemetery users complained it had become so overgrown that it was ‘like a jungle’. Photos showed that the grass hadn’t been cut for at least a couple of months....

The site may be unattractive, there are no really striking memorials but there are a few interesting burials here. Moura for me still remains by far the most fascinating character but the grave of Father Nigel Bourne also caught my attention. It isn’t often that you come across a catholic priest buried with his wife. There are many Polish as well as Russian graves including Wincenty Andrzej Rudolf Rapacki (1901-1980) whose epitaph reads 'ostatni potomek slynnej rodziny aktorskiej' – the last descendent of the famous acting family. He was named after his grandfather, the great Polish actor Wincenty Rapacki who was born in Lipno in 1840 and went on to found one of an acting and performing dynasties which included well known musicians as well as painters. Chiswick’s Wincenty was a pianist who fled Poland after the Second World War and settled in London, working as producer for Radio Free Europe.

At least three victims of the 1960’s serial killer popularly known as Jack the Stripper are buried here. The killer operated in West London and is believed to have murdered at least 8 women, all of them vulnerable to predatory attacks by a psychopath because they were working as prostitutes. The first to be killed and buried in a common grave at Chiswick was Elizabeth Figg a 21 year old from the Wirral who was found at 5.10am on 17 June 1959 by police officers out on a routine patrol in Dukes Meadow, Chiswick, a couple of hundred yards from Barnes Bridge. She had been strangled. Her underwear and shoes were missing and her dress had been ripped open to reveal her breasts. She was identified by family from a post mortem photo published in the newspapers. Also buried at Chiswick in common graves are Irene Lockwood whose naked body was found on the Thames foreshore at Corney Reach, Chiswick on 08 April 1964. She was 24 and was another northern girl working in the capital; she had been born in Retford, Nottinghamshire. She had been last seen alive the night before her body was discovered at a pub in Chiswick. The post mortem revealed that she was pregnant at the time of her death. Found just a couple of weeks later, in a Brentford alleyway, on 24 April 1964 was 22 year old Helen Barthelemy from East Lothian in Scotland. She was buried in the same grave as Irene Lockwood.     

In July 1979, the miserable, early months of Thatcherism, Ian Dury attempted to perk the nation up with ‘Reasons to be Cheerful Part 3’. His catalogue of things calculated to put a smile on the face of the gloomy British public included;

Something nice to study, phoning up a buddy
Being in my nuddy
Saying hokey-dokey, Sing Along With Smokey
Coming out of chokey
John Coltrane's soprano, Adi Celentano
Bonar Colleano

Dury was perhaps one of the few who remembered Bonar Colleano, a bit part actor whose film credits included A Matter of Life and Death and Escape By Night. Bonar was born in New York in 1924 and came to the UK when he was 12. He retained his American accent which stood him in good stead, winning him innumerable parts as an American serviceman in British movies of the 40’s and 50’s. He died at the age of 34 in 1958 when his red sports car was involved in a fatal collision in Birkenhead. He is buried at the cemetery. He fathered two children before his premature death, one out of wedlock, who grew up in Dundee to become Robbie McIntosh, a founder member of the Average White Band. Which means Bonar was connected to two top 10 1970’s hits as his son drummed on the AWB’s ‘Pick Up The Pieces.’  

P.S. This cemetery has strong personal significance for Sheldon from the Cemetery Club. His has written about at on his own blog, and for Loren Rhoads Cemetery Travel. 

Thursday, 27 June 2019

There's a Home for Little Children - West Ham Cemetery, Cemetery Road, E7

Edith Ledingham's memorial was raised by public subscription

When asked to think of burial places in the capital the like of Highgate and Kensal Green are the most likely to spring to mind, but in the interests of honesty it has to be conceded that most London cemeteries are relatively small, scenically dull and in terms of their monuments and memorials, unremarkable. The affluent, the important, the powerful, those with any degree of celebrity at all, are likely to be buried in one of the magnificent 7 or in a handful of later rivals but the vast majority of London’s population, the hoi polloi who pass their lives toiling in unnoticed anonymity, are more likely to be buried somewhere utterly undistinguished, like West Ham Cemetery.

Like many of its counterparts across London the West Ham Burial Board was set up following the passing of the first of the Metropolitan Burial Act’s in 1852. The cautious alderman of the borough took their time acquiring 12 acres of land from local philanthropist Samuel Gurney, advertising the tender in 12 newspapers and writing to 10 local land agents before settling on a flat and barren site in the far north of the borough. The West Ham Cemetery opened in 1857 and was later enlarged; its 20 acres now lie contained within a 10 foot high brick perimeter wall adjacent to the 10 and a half acres of the Jewish cemetery. The cemetery is now owned by the London Borough of Newham and is still a working burial ground. In London Cemeteries Hugh Meller notes that “it is apparent that little regard was paid to the landscaping potential [of the site], good drainage and cost being considered more important. Thus West Ham is remarkable more for its lack of distinctive features than anything else.”  It is true that to the casual observer the cemetery contains little of interest, no impressive monuments, no well known burials and only a few trees punctuating the rather bleak prospect. But some at least of the rather ordinary memorials do have interesting stories to tell.  

The most impressive memorial in the cemetery (there isn’t much competition it has to be said) belongs to Edith Ledingham. The monument was raised by public subscription, over 5000 people contributing to the £50 cost of the terracotta tablet set in Portland stone showing a small child seeking comfort from a diaphanously draped woman. Edith was the steward of the SS Iona, a passenger ship which caught fire while docked at Limehouse in September 1895. She died saving a child from the flames and was hailed as a heroine as a result. The Edinburgh Evening News of 21 September 1895 reported that the “funeral of the stewardess took place yesterday afternoon at West Ham Cemetery in the presence of a sympathetic assembly. It was at first intended to make a start from the Custom House, where the parents of the deceased reside, but with a view avoid any crush, the funeral met at the undertaker's premises, High Street, Poplar. The coffin, elm, bore the following inscription: Edith Mary Ledingham. Died 16th September, aged 21. The principal mourners were the mother and sister of the deceased.” Edith was initially buried in a public grave, presumably because her family could not afford a private one but 10 months after the funeral she was exhumed and moved to a private plot as memorials were not allowed on public graves.   

Researching the history of Margravine Cemetery in Hammersmith I had been astonished at the stories of dead babies found abandoned in the cemetery by the staff, something I hadn’t come across at other cemeteries. Trawling through newspaper archives for mentions of West Ham cemetery I came across a similar dead baby story in the Barking, East Ham & Ilford Advertiser and Upton Park and Dagenham Gazette for Saturday 11 August 1894:

BABY FOUND A HALF-DUG GRAVE, Mr. Coroner Lewis held an inquest at West Ham on Wednesday on the body of a newly-born male child. lt appeared from the evidence of the gravedigger, John Jarvis, that Friday night he left a grave in West Ham Cemetery only partly dug out. Next morning he was surprised find a deal box in the hole. The box was handed to the police, and was found to contain the body of the child. Dr. Grogono said the child had been born three days. The cause of death was exhaustion from lack of proper attention at the birth. A verdict in accordance with this evidence was returned. The Superintendent of the cemetery said, in reply to the Coroner, that the wall was too high for any woman to climb over.

The first burial in the cemetery took place on 03 November 1837. The Essex Standard of 11 November reported on the event and on the new cemetery:  
The remains of Mrs. Meeson, wife of John Meeson, Esq., of Stratford, were interred in West Ham Cemetery on Tuesday last, being the first interment in this newly consecrated burial ground. Since the closing of All Saints and the Brickfield's Chapel burial grounds a very large increase of interments has taken place at St. John's. Stratford, and St. Mary's, Plaistow. The incumbent of St. John's very considerately made a reduction in the burial fees so as to afford greater facilities to the poor for the interment of deceased relatives, and a similar arrangement was also made by the incumbent of St. Mary's, Plaistow. The remoteness of West Ham Cemetery from many parts of the parish would point out the necessity of the parochial authorities providing some economical conveyance for the mourners as well as for the corpse, as there are many who are ill able to meet the ordinary expenses of a funeral, upon whom this increased charge would fall a great hardship. This matter would appear deserving the notice of the burial society, especially as they have a local precedent to warrant them in so doing. For several years past the guardians of the West Ham Union provided a horse-hearse, with cloaks, & that the funerals of paupers have been conducted with a decency and respectability that strongly contrasts with pauper funerals in many of the other metropolitan parishes.

Ann Maria Meeson must have died relatively young. Her husband, John Meeson Esquire of Statford only joined her in the cemetery 33 years later, in 1890. The Essex Newsman reported that the borough flag was flown at half mast and that the “large and representative congregation” in the parish church “was hundreds more in West Ham Cemetery, where the body of the deceased was laid in the grave which years ago received the remains of his wife. The funeral procession was of great length. An open carriage lined with lovely wreaths and crosses headed the procession. Next came an open car bearing the body, the coffin being hidden by wreaths. The mourners followed in eight carriages, and upwards of thirty other carriages were in the procession, many of them being those of gentlemen of the district.”

On a corner plot by the side of the main path stands a small red granite obelisk. The inscription on the base reads “In memory of the 26 boys who unhappily lost their lives by the disastrous fire which occurred at the school Forest Lane West Ham 1st January 1890 – erected as an expression of sympathy with the bereaved relatives by the managers and staff of the Forest Gate District School.” The story was reported widely in the papers all over the country; the Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette of Tuesday 07 January 1890, just a week after the fatal fire, gives an account of the funeral of the victims the previous day;


The funeral took place yesterday at West Ham Cemetery of the twenty-six little boys who perished New-Year’s morning at West Ham Industrial School. An immense concourse of people assembled along the route and at the cemetery. The relatives of the deceased were supplied by the school with tea and bread and butter before the funeral. Several officials attended to represent the Local Government Board, and Mr Theobald, M.P. for the Romford Division, was also present. The bodies were conveyed in seven hearses to St. James's Church, and among the followers were twenty boys and twenty girls from the schools, who acted as choristers. The Service at church, which was choral, was performed by the Rev. Dr Nicholson, and at the grave side the Rev. Canon Scott officiated. The little coffins, which merely bore the names and ages of the victims, were placed in five graves, and during the sad ceremony the children mourners sang the hymn, “There's a Home for Little Children.'’

One can’t help wondering how anyone could think that a hymn with these words, sung by a choir of 40 children, would do anything but fill the hearts of the bereaved parents with wormwood and gall;

There's a home for little children
above the bright blue sky,
where Jesus reigns in glory,
a home of peace and joy
no home on earth is like it,
nor can with it compare;
for everyone is happy
nor could be happier there.

And tea and bread and butter before the funeral? Supplied by the institution that had let their children perish?  The industrial school was effectively a care home for children whose parents for whatever reason, were unable to take care of them (poverty probably being the commonest reason). The children came from as far away as Croydon but the majority were from the crowded slums of Poplar, Stepney and Bethnal Green. At the inquest the school superintendent Charles Duncan explained that the children had been put to bed at 7.45pm on New Years Eve, the same time as any other night, and that nothing unusual occurred until he was called from his quarters after midnight by the needle mistress Miss Terry who, in some consternation, told him that the needle room was on fire.  When he went to investigate he found not only the needle room but the corridor outside and the stairs leading to the dormitories full of smoke “so dense that be found it difficult to breathe.” He tied a handkerchief around his mouth and nose and on his hands and knees groped his way to the fire hydrant and extinguisher and tried, unsuccessfully, to put out the blaze. While he grappled with the fire other teachers evacuated the children. Unfortunately one of the dormitories was locked and the key in the possession of a teacher who had the evening off and had gone out to celebrate New Year. It took an hour to get into the two locked dormitories – every single child sleeping there had died of smoke inhalation and suffocation. The cause of the fire was a badly swept stove chimney which had set alight releasing clouds of toxic smoke.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Only doing their duty; Henry Vickers (1868-1917) & Frederick Charles Sell (1872-1917), West Ham Cemetery

49 year Sub Officer Henry Vickers and 45 year old Fireman Frederick Charles Sell were members of the West Ham Corporation Fire Brigade based at the fire station in Silvertown. They were both killed in the 1917 Silvertown Explosion, caused by a fire in a TNT factory which the government had, with minimal regard for health and safety, set up in the Brunner Mond Chemical works, just across the road from the fire station. The factory had opened in 1893 to produce soda crystals and caustic soda. In 1912 management terminated production of caustic soda which left spare capacity in the factory which the government requisitioned in 1916 to carry out the extremely dangerous process of purifying TNT. Brunner Mond objected, pointing out that the factory was in a heavily populated area of London. It was also a very poor area of London so Brunner Mond’s objections went unheeded.  On the evening of 19th January 1917 a fire broke out in the melt pot room of the factory. The fire station was literally a few hundred yards away and so the corporation’s fire fighters were quickly on the scene and already tackling the blaze when it ignited 50 long tons of TNT. The resulting explosion spread red hot debris for miles around, causing many secondary fires.  A chunk of heated masonry hit a gasometer on the Greenwich peninsula, 200,000 cubic feet of gas exploding into a spectacular fireball.  60,000 buildings were damaged but, amazingly, only 73 people died, mainly because at 7pm on a Friday the factory and surrounding workplaces were all deserted. Many of the victims were mangled beyond recognition and identification, in those pre dental records/DNA test days, was a traumatic affair. Cases recorded by the Stratford Express include a fireman who was at the scene at the time of the explosion miraculously survived only to return home to find his wife and child had perished. A mother of a worker at the factory identified him by his head, which happened to be the only part his body that had been recovered. Another man identified a fellow lodger from the remains of a lower leg because he recognised the copy of the Daily Sketch which the victim had used to stuff a hole in the sole of his boots that morning before he left for work. A millhand identified the body of his 32 year old wife in one mortuary and his 13 year old son in another. His ten year old daughter he found in the ruins of his house. 

Henry Vickers and Frederick Charles Sell were both fighting the initial fire in the melt room and were killed instantly by the subsequent explosion.  Frederick’s 15 year old daughter Winifred and Ethel Betts, the 4 month old daughter of another fireman, are buried in the same plot in West Ham Cemetery. Henry’s son Harold formally identified the body of his father and his 15 year old sister. She had been in the fire station at the time of the explosion and was found in an adjacent field with her back broken. Harold arrived home in time to assist a colleague of his father’s carrying his sister from the field to the pavement in front of the fire station. He helped to lay her on a mattress where she quietly died. Two of his brothers and his mother had also been in the station at the time of the explosion but they survived. Also based at Silvertown fire station was George Betts. His wife had put their 3 children to bed at 6pm. After the explosion she brought two of them out into the street and a passing stranger went back into the house to find the third, four month old baby Ethel, but she was already dead. 

Monday, 3 June 2019

Crumbling into Anonymity - Highgate Cemetery (West)

"Highgate Cemetery....a vast army of Victorian Merchants, officers, widows and judges gently crumbling into anonymity beneath ivy and saplings and lushly sinister mare’s tails.”   

Professor Mark Girouard
It may be the doyen of London cemeteries but I have never been especially fond of Highgate. Uniquely amongst London cemeteries (in fact uniquely amongst any cemeteries anywhere as far as I know) the Friends of Highgate charge an entrance fee for visitors to the East cemetery. The current charge is £4, which isn’t extortionate by any means, but one has the feeling that Karl Marx, who is after all the major draw amongst the permanent residents, probably doesn’t approve of this blatant bit of capitalism. Once you have paid your four quid you can roam freely and completely unsupervised and spend the whole day inside if you want.  Access to the older Grade II listed West cemetery is more tightly controlled and is by guided tour only. One of the reasons I like cemeteries is that in a city if 8 million inhabitants they give me the opportunity to get away from other people. I hate being herded around anywhere but particularly in cemeteries which I prize as little oases of calm in the general bewilderment of London.  Having said that the tours are good, the guides knowledgeable and they only cost £12. But they tend to follow the same route around the cemetery and you are not allowed to stray away from your group or loiter over anything you find particularly interesting. The whole thing is just too controlled for my liking and has stopped me forming any sort of attachment to the cemetery itself.


Highgate seems to exert a particular fascination over foreigners with taphophilic inclinations. Tracey Chevalier (American), Audrey Niffenegger (American) and Fred Vargas (French) have all set novels in and around the cemetery in recent years. Loren Rhoads (American), author of 199 Cemeteries to see before you die dates her own taphophile obsession back to a visit to Highgate in the early 1990’s. Her visit was inspired by a chance encounter with a copy of Highgate Cemetery; Victorian Valhalla in WH Smiths on Victoria Station and its iconic photographs of the cemetery by John Gay (aka Hans Göhler, German). Guy Vaes (Belgian) featured Highgate prominently in his 1978 book of photographs  Les Cimetières de Londres. The abandoned and overgrown Highgate of the 1970’s and 80’s photographed so lovingly by Gay has come to epitomise Victorian Gothic (even though the Victorians would never have allowed any cemetery to get into such a dreadful state of neglect). It is the cemetery converted to wildwood with toppled headstones and angels smothered in ivy that has found a special place in so many taphophile hearts. Only the English would so willfully neglect their burial places and allow them to revert so spectacularly back to almost untrammeled nature. Can you imagine the French letting Père Lachaise to get into the same state as Abney Park or Nunhead?

Highgate was the creation of Stephen Geary, an architect and entrepreneur, who was heavily involved in the Victorian burial reform movement. Like many who concerned themselves with the   campaign to abolish churchyard interments he had a marked proclivity for grandiose architectural styles (see Thomas Willson for example).  His first significant work was a sixty foot monument to King George IV which stood in an area then known as Battlebridge at the junction of Grays Inn, Pentonville and Euston Roads.  Neither the King nor his monument proved particularly popular and the giant statue was demolished in 1842, just six years after being built. Its nickname has lasted rather longer however – Kings Cross. Geary was a founder of the London Cemetery Company which founded Nunhead and Brompton as well as Highgate Cemeteries.  In 1830 the 17th century Ashurst Manor in Highgate was demolished and St Michael’s Church built on the site of the house. The London Cemetery Company bought, for £3500, 20 acres of the estate’s gardens due south of the new church, on the slopes of Highgate Hill. These were laid out as the cemetery with landscaping by David Ramsay and the first catacombs and the celebrated Egyptian Avenue designed by Geary himself.

The cemetery was consecrated on the 20th May 1839 by the Bishop of London and the first burial, of the 36 year old Elizabeth Jackson of Golden Square, took place just two days later on the 23rd. Elizabeth was buried in a grave 10 feet deep, 6ft 6in long and 2ft 6in for which her family had paid 3 guineas. The depth of the grave and the additional cost (13 shillings more than the minimum price) were to allow for additional burials in the same plot and Elizabeth was eventually joined by three other relatives. Business in the newly opened cemetery was brisk – there were 204 burials in the first year and numbers substantially increased in the years that followed. By the 1850’s the company was charging between £10 and £94 for space in the terrace catacombs depending on how many coffin places were required, brick vault graves taking 6 coffins were £15 5 shillings or £21 for one big enough to take a round dozen. A common grave was £2. Demand was high enough to justify acquiring 19 acres of additional land on the other side of Swains Lane and opening what is now the East Cemetery. Around 163,000 people have been buried in 53,000 graves since the cemetery opened. The business plans of all the cemetery companies suffered from the same fundamental flaw – plots were sold in perpetuity meaning that income was high in the early years when the cemetery was empty but dropped off steeply when the available space for burials inexorably filled up. The cemetery started to hit financial problems in the mid twentieth century. By the end of the second world war there was little unused space in the cemetery, income was no longer sufficient even to maintain the grounds property. In 1975 the cemetery closed.

In 1865 William Justyne wrote in his Guide to Highgate Cemetery that “no cemetery near London can boast so many natural beauties.” He praised the hilly ground “rising in terraces”, the winding paths, the long avenues of shrubbery and said that in summer “when the birds are singing blithely in their leafy recesses….there is a holy loveliness upon this place of death, as the kind angels hovered about it…” The hyperbole started early. Justyne also praised the view of London from the cemetery grounds, “there spread out like a broad map, is the great metropolis of the world with its countless spires of every shape and almost every age.”  The rampant vegetation has long since obscured the views of London, you will need to go to Hampstead Heath to get a sense of what they once would have been.  Nunhead and Norwood   had views to challenge Highgate’s, and still retain them today..  Hugh Meller has to concede that “the one disappointment at Highgate is the moderate quality and variety of its monuments which seldom compare to with the best at Kensal Green or Norwood.” I can’t dispute that Highgate does have its own romantic charm but I can’t imagine ever loving it as much as I do Kensal Green.   

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

216 coffins and 279 cases of bones; the St Olave Jewry & St Martin Pomeroy memorial, City of London Cemetery

The tightly packed and heavily populated warrens of the medieval City of London were full of religious buildings; there was a monastery, priory, nunnery, chapel, church or cathedral on virtually every street.  In the aftermath of the Great Fire of London the population thinned out as the new streets were widened and regulation was finally imposed on the previously chaotic building practices of the city. The number of parishes was culled as a result of the falling population. Continuing development of the city as a commercial and financial rather than residential centre in the 19th century drastically reduced the population of the remaining city parishes even further, to the point that by the 1850’s there were sometimes more officiating clergy than worshippers at religious services. The 1860 Union of Benefices Act allowed the Church of England to rationalise the number of parishes and to dispose of unwanted buildings and land, including burial grounds and churchyards.  By the 1880’s the population  of the seven pre 1666 city parishes of St Olave Jewry, St Martin Pomeroy, St Mildred Poultry,  St Mary Colechurch, St Christopher le-Stocks, St Bartholomew-by-the- Exchange and St Margaret Lothbury had fallen to just 601. All seven parish churches were destroyed by the great fire but only five of them were rebuilt, all to designs by Sir Christopher Wren; St Martin’s was joined to St Olaves and St Mary’s to St Mildreds. Only St Margaret Lothbury still stands, the rest have all been demolished.
St Olave Old Jewry, depicted in the early nineteenth century

St Christopher le-Stocks on Threadneedle Street was the first to go, knocked down in 1781 to make way for Sir John Soane’s extension to the Bank of England. St Bartholomew’s proximity to the Royal Exchange turned into a liability when it was demolished 1840 in order to improve access to the new exchange building. St Mildred’s was demolished in 1871 and in 1884 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners turned their attention to St Olave Old Jewry. The Graphic was appalled; it called St Olave’s “a beautiful specimen of Wren's architecture,” and appealed “on behalf of the City Church and Churchyard Protection Society for contributions to its nearly exhausted funds with which it may oppose these and similar acts of destruction and desecration.” It did no good; the church was closed in 1887. The St James Gazette was less sentimental than the Graphic, as St Olave’s “had no architectural merits, it is impossible to lament over its destruction,” it said, adding that “doubtless the site, when sold for the erection of one more block of offices, will bring in money enough to build and endow several churches in some poor district.” If the Gazette’s feature writer had any regrets about the demolition of City churches it was “the disappearance of their picturesque names. It is pleasant, in the wildernesses of industrial and mercantile London to come across a St. Antholin’s, or St. Olave’s, or St. Mildred’s, whose titles ‘fall upon the ear like the echo of vanished world.’” Apart from the tower the church was demolished in 1888. On 18 July 1891 The Star reported that a “placard on the doors of the church of St. Olave, Old Jewry, gives notice that the fabric and site of that building will be put up to auction at the Mart.” Two weeks later the freehold site of the church was offered for sale at the Auction Mart in Tokenhouse Yard, by Messrs. Edwin Fox and Bousfield and was knocked down for £22,400. Wren’s tower was retained by the new owners and incorporated into the new office building they put up on the site of the old churchyard. It still stands today as the entrance to a much newer office block.

Burials at St Olave’s continued right up until the 1852 Metropolitan Burial Act prohibited them, though the number of interments had obviously declined with the reduction in the living population. Although St Martin Pomeroy, which stood so close to St Olave’s as to be almost adjacent, had been destroyed in 1666 the parish burial register continued to be kept separately to St Olave’s until the early 19th century.  The fees for both parishes were identical; in 1820 £11 for the chancel, vestry and parish vaults and £1 3s 6d for either churchyard. Prior to the demolition of the church it was decided to remove all coffins and human remains from the site and rebury them at the new City of London Cemetery in Ilford. The churchwardens gave notice to the known relatives of anyone buried within the church or in the churchyard that they had 3 months to remove their remains. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners had set up a special fund with which to reimburse the costs of reburial elsewhere, up to a limit of £10. If no application was received to remove a body by the 1st December 1887 it would be removed by the Commission for Sewers and reburied in Ilford. The commission’s workmen dug up the churchyard and broke open the vaults, removing 216 coffins and 279 cases of bones. The job of taking these to Ilford was subcontracted to John Shepherd, undertaker of 55 Bishopsgate Street. At the cemetery the remains were reinterred in a brick lined vault and a new memorial was erected sacred to all of those formerly buried in the two parishes but specifically commemorating, in two long lists on either side of the monument, some of the more worthy deceased.   The Frederick family vault for example contained 27 coffins dating from between  1610 and 1799. Most of them are listed individually on the memorial including a couple of Frederick baronets, an admiral, a judge, and  Sir Humphrey Weld,  Lord Mayor of London in 1608. 61 coffins were removed from the chancel vault including the Revd Dr Samuel Shepherd.

The only name I recognised on the memorial was John Boydell the printmaker and publisher. His wife Elizabeth, who had been his childhood sweetheart and who he married in 1848, is also listed. According to the St Martin Pomeroy parish register he was buried on December 19th 1804 in the Doctor’s vault inside the church. According to Walter Thornbury’s “Old and New London” (1878) the 84 year old died on the 11th December, his death, “occasioned by a cold, caught at the Old Bailey Sessions.”  He goes on to say that “it was the regular custom of Mr. Alderman Boydell…, who was a very early riser, to repair at five o'clock immediately to the pump in Ironmonger Lane. There, after placing his wig upon the ball at the top, he used to sluice his head with its water. This well known and highly respected character was one of the last men who wore a three-cornered hat, commonly called the ‘Egham, Staines, and Windsor.’” That these crack of dawn, midwinter, open air dousings under the parish pump didn’t kill him off until he was in his eighties stands testament to his robust constitution.

Boydell was born in Shropshire in 1720, the son of a land surveyor. He came to London in 1740 as an apprentice, to learn the art of engraving. He opened his first business in 1746 making and selling his own prints. Thornbury’s principal source for his account of Boydell’s career, ‘Rainy Day’ Smith told him that when Boydell started publishing “he etched small plates of landscapes, which he produced in plates of six, and sold for sixpence; and that as there were very few print-shops at that time in London, he prevailed upon the sellers of children's toys to allow his little books to be put in their windows. These shops he regularly visited every Saturday, to see if any had been sold, and to leave more. His most successful shop was the sign of the 'Cricket Bat,' in Duke's Court, St. Martin's Lane, where he found he had sold as many as came to five shillings and sixpence. With this success he was so pleased, that, wishing to invite the shopkeeper to continue in his interest, he laid out the money in a silver pencil-case; which article, after he had related the above anecdote, he took out of his pocket and assured me he never would part with.” He gradually gave up engraving in favour of making prints of other peoples designs. He became enormously successful , transforming what had hitherto been a niche market for imported French prints, into a thriving domestic and export market in British produced prints.
In 1789 Boydell opened his Shakespeare Gallery on Pall Mall. He commissioned paintings based on Shakespeare’s works from Britain’s best known artists which the public paid one shilling to see. The entrance fee was a bargain – the Royal Academy charged considerably more ‘to prevent the Rooms being filled by improper Persons’. The real money spinners were the prints of the paintings produced by a team of 46 printmakers which were available to purchase singly, as a portfolio or as bound illustrations in a specially commissioned edition of Shakespeare’s plays. Boydell’s impressive profits enabled him to pay hefty fees to the artists who produced the paintings. Even Sir Joshua Reynolds, who as President of the Royal Academy strongly disapproved of Boydell’s gallery and who thought that prints based on paintings were vulgar, put aside his objections to the scheme when he was offered 1000 guineas for a single painting of the three witches from Macbeth. According to Thornbury George Stevens, the editor of the special edition of Shakespeare, took it upon himself to persuade Sir Joshua to accept the commission; “taking a bank-bill of five hundred pounds in his hand, he had an interview with Sir Joshua, when, using all his eloquence in argument, he, in the meantime, slipped the bank-bill into his hand; he then soon found that his mode of reasoning was not to be resisted, and a picture was promised.” The painter’s scruples completely collapsed in fact and he soon produced 3 paintings for Boydell’s gallery. The most famous of these was a Puck or Robin Goodfellow painted in 1789. Walpole described it as depicting 'an ugly little imp (but with some character) sitting on a mushroom half as big as a mile-stone.'  Thornbury, again, describes the birth of this picture “Mr. Nicholls, of the British Institution, related to Mr. Cotton that the alderman and his grandfather were with Sir Joshua when painting the death of Cardinal Beaufort. Boydell was much taken with the portrait of a naked child, and wished it could be brought into the Shakespeare. Sir Joshua said it was painted from a little child he found sitting on his steps in Leicester Square. Nicholls' grandfather then said, 'Well, Mr. Alderman, it can very easily come into the Shakespeare if Sir Joshua will kindly place him upon a mushroom, give him fawn's ears, and make a Puck of him.' Sir Joshua liked the notion, and painted the picture accordingly…. The merry boy, whom Sir Joshua found upon his door-step, subsequently became a porter at Elliot's brewery, in Pimlico.” Gillray satirised Boydell and the Shakespeare Gallery ironically using the very medium Boydell had done so much to popularise, print making. In ‘Shakespeare sacrificed or the offering to avarice’ Boydell is shown in his alderman’s robes burning the bard’s works, producing thick clouds of smoke which support travestied figures from the paintings commissioned for the gallery, watched by a ancient goblin like figure clutching two large money bags. 

Monday, 18 March 2019

Career Opportunities; the Attorney General & the Brazilian Slavers; Robert Porrett Collier, 1st Lord Monkswell (1817-1886), Brompton Cemetery

In the summer of 1845 Robert Porrett Collier was a fiercely ambitious 28 year old junior barrister on the Western Circuit, desperately searching for a big case that would show the world what he could do and set him up in his career. His marriage the previous year to Isabella and the birth in the spring of their first child, a son named Robert after his father, only added to his determination to prove himself. His own father, who ran a flourishing business in Plymouth, had been generous in helping him set up home with his new bride and even more liberal on the birth of his first grandson. But Robert was determined to make his own way in the world and his father’s open-handedness was yet another spur driving him on. The brief he was offered in early July didn’t immediately look like it had the makings of a great case, not least because it seemed so open and shut; the trial of a dozen Brazilians who had been taken prisoner by the West Africa Squadron of the Royal Navy on one of their routine anti-slavery patrols off the coast of Nigeria. They were accused of piracy and murder; having taken control of the ship in which they were being detained they murdered the British crew before trying to make their escape back to Brazil.  Senior colleagues had already taken on the cases of those accused where the evidence admitted to at least some doubt as to their culpability. Probably because no one else wanted them, Robert had been left with the four, Janus Majaval, Francisco Ferreira de Santo Serva, Manuel José Alves, and Sebastião de Santos, whose guilt seemed most well established and almost certain to lead them to the gallows. Not only did the case seem virtually unwinnable but it was also morally distasteful; Robert had been brought up a Quaker and an abolitionist and he could not quite suppress his repugnance for the cut throat, slave trading foreigners who were accused of killing 10 members of the Royal Navy.

Number 11 is Janus Majaval the man who stabbed Midshipman Palmer, No 8 is Serva, captain of the Echo, No 6 is Alves the drinker of spilt blood, and No 10 Antonio Joaquim who cut off Mullins fingers. 1 is Lieutenant Stupart, 2 Lieutenant Wilson and 3 Captain Cerquiera of the Felicidade 
The trial commenced on Thursday 24th July at Exeter Assizes. “At an early hour the Court was besieged with eager crowds,” said the Exeter & Plymouth Gazette “anxious to gain admittance to the interior, so as to witness the proceedings.” At 9.00am prompt the judge, Mr Baron Platt, took his seat and ordered the prisoners to be placed in the dock. The indictments were then read out; 22 year old Janus Majaval was accused of the murder of Thomas Palmer “on the 2nd day of March on the high seas, on board a vessel called the Felicidade, by striking him with a knife upon the belly, giving him a mortal wound of which he died...” or “by throwing the said Thomas Palmer out of the vessel, and drowning him.” The other prisoners were indicted for being feloniously present and with aiding and abetting Majaval.  The next thirty minutes were taken up by legal arguments by Sargeant Manning, one of Robert’s senior colleagues, with interjections from Robert (who had drafted the argument in the first place). The eager crowd who had besieged the courtroom for a place early that morning must have grown restive as the two lawyers and the judge argued the form of the indictment and whether it should have been set out contra formam statuti. The Judge asked what statute makes murder on the high seas a felony? The 28th of Henry VIII said Sargeant Manning. “But that only altered the mode of trial to that of the common law,” the Judge observed. Sargeant Manning tried to explain but Robert interrupted to explain that the common law jurisdiction arose out of an offence committed in some county of the realm but this offence not having been committed in any county but on the high seas, was not cognisable in a common law Court. The two lawyers wanted the trial transferred to the Court of Admiralty but Judge Platt was having none of it and ordered the trial to start. The interpreter was sworn in and Robert interrupted again to object that the interpreter was speaking Spanish and his clients were Brazilian and spoke Portuguese. The interpreter told the judge that the accused understood everything he said and ordered them all to stand up. When they did this was considered sufficient evidence of the interpreters fluency. The jury unusually, de medietate linguae, half English and half foreigners, were sworn in and to the relief of the public the trial proper started. Mr Godson, Queens Counsel, began by addressing the jury and explaining the events that had led up to the murder of Midshipman Palmer and his shipmates and had brought the twelve accused to Exeter to stand trial for their lives.

The Portuguese salve ship Dignidade captured by the navy in 1834
In January that year (1845) a vessel called the Felicidade (Happiness!) was fitted out at Salvador de Bahia in Brazil for a slave trading mission to the west coast of Africa under the captaincy of Joaquim Antonio Cerqueira. It was not the first slaving mission for either the ship or the captain;  Capitão Cerqueira was well aware that he had to avoid the coastal patrols of the British navy as he made his way through the lagoons and sandbanks of the treacherous West African coast en route to Angola but on this journey he ran out of luck and found himself taken by HMS Wasp not far from Lagos. He didn’t have any slaves on board at the time but the manacles, fetters and chains that were everywhere you turned on the schooner made it pretty clear what his business was. The crew of the Felicidade were transferred as prisoners to the Wasp leaving just Cerqueira and his cook, 22 year old Janus Majaval, on board ship, their places taken by 16 ordinary British seaman, a midshipman called Thomas Palmer and Lieutenant Stupart. The Lieutenant’s orders were to take the Felicidade to Freetown in Sierra Leone where the Prize commissioners would adjudicate on her (as a slaver she would be sold and the proceeds divided up amongst the navy personnel who had taken her). On the morning of 1st March another slaver was spotted by the men aboard the Felicidade. Lieutenant Stupart gave the command to pursue the other ship, a much bigger Brazilian slaver, a 70 ton brigantine called the Echo. It took a couple of days to catch up with her and discover that she had a human cargo of 430 sequestered Africans on board, destined for a life of slavery in the sugar and coffee plantations of Bahia. Lieutenant Stupart was faced with a dilemma; he and his crew of 17 now had control of two ships, 30 Brazilian slave traders, and 430 African abductees. Stupart’s solution was to split up the Brazilians – he transferred half of the crew of the Echo into the Felicidade, locking some of them into the hold and putting some of them into a small boat which was towed behind the ship. With 7 of his own men he went into the Echo leaving midshipman Palmer, 9 other ranks and 2 native sailors, Kroomen, in the Felicidade. 

A sketch of Janus Majaval made at the trial
The first night the tiny flotilla was at sea passed without incident. The nest morning Leitenant Stupart returned to the Felicidade and allowed the master of the Echo, Francisco Serva and his brother in law, and the captain of the Felicidade, Joaquim Cerqueira, up from the hold to take coffee. Stupart then had himself rowed back to the Echo leaving Palmer in charge. Serva tried to convince Cerqueira that they could take back his ship from the English; “I have four men below who I can depend on to kill the English and throw them overboard.” Cerqueira was frightened and said they would be foolish to try when there were English cruisers everywhere. Serva called Cerqueira a cobarde and no doubt added a filho da puta to boot and Cerqueira threatened to inform the British of what Serva was plotting. Serva said no more for the moment but half an hour later, when Midshipman Palmer was washing his hair and the rest of the English were lying on the decks snoozing in the morning sun, he went to the hatchway and called up his men. Once again Cerqueira told him not to be a fool and when Serva ignored him he called to quarter master Mullings and drew his attention to the Brazilians coming up on deck. Mullings grabbed an iron bar and struck Alves, the first man up from below decks, then threw the dazed Brazilian overboard. Grabbing a handspike the quarter master took on three of the slavers and managed to wound them all. Meanwhile Serva was hauling in the boat tied behind the ship and Majaval, the Felicidade’s cook, emerged out of the cabin carrying a long filleting knife. The cook killed midshipman Palmer who was making his way to aid the quarter master, stabbing him in the belly and then throwing him overboard. He then stabbed a sleeping English sailor in the chest. By now the deck was swarming with armed Brazilians. The sentry had been wounded and thrown overboard but he clung to the foresheet to avoid falling into the sea. Two men took it in turns to try and make him let go by striking him over the head with logs of wood. When that didn’t work a certain Antonio Joaquim pushed the others out of the way and pulled out a knife. He cut off he sentry’s fingers and watched him slide insensible into the sea. Two native Krooman sailors brought on board by the English preferred to take their chances with Neptune rather than risk death or slavery with the Brazilians jumped into the sea and swam for the distant shore. Alves, originally pitched into the sea by quarter master Mullings, had by now climbed back into the boat only to find that all ten British sailors had been killed and their bodies tossed overboard. Thwarted in his desire for revenge he used both hands to scoop up blood from a pool on the deck and drank it. According to Cerqueira only Mullings and Palmer tried to defend themselves; the rest of the crew were massacred in cold blood. Now in control of the schooner Serva hoisted the Brazilian flag and sailed over to the Echo where he demanded that Stupart and the remaining British sailors surrender his ship. Stupart refused to yield and told Serva that he had released the 400 slaves from their shackles and chained up the Brazilians in their place. If Serva and his remnant crew fancied their chances of taking the Echo by force they were welcome to try. Serva fired a couple of guns at his ship in frustration and then sailed away intending to take the Felicidade back to Brazil in place of the lost Echo.  Three days later the Felicidade found itself being pursued by HMS Star. The schooner was no match for the cruiser and the Brazilians found themselves taken prisoner again. They were put aboard the Star and taken to Sierra Leone where they were indicted as pirates. The captain of the Star put a Lieutenant Wilson and small crew in charge of the Felicidade with instructions to sail her to Freetown. The fatal ship almost killed another crew when she foundered in a storm and sank. Wilson and his men saved themselves by constructing a raft from the spars of the sinking ship. They spent 20 days adrift in the Bight of Benin before they were rescued, keeping themselves alive by drinking the blood of sharks and eating their flesh. 

Serva's slave Sobrinho de Costa who gave evidence
at the trial
Listening to this sordid saga the Exeter jurymen, foreigners or not, must have found it relatively easy to make up their minds as to the guilt of the accused. Sargeant Manning did his level best to confuse them. When he rose to make his closing statement he was, according to the Western Times “visibly affected by his sense of the awful responsibility which rested upon him.” During his speech he referred to the Brazilian slave traders as ‘unfortunates’ and even managed to squeeze the odd tear or two out when he described their underprivileged  upbringing in the slums of Bahia. He laid into the interpreter, a Frenchman who knew his own language and English well, Spanish passably but was completely ignorant of Portuguese as it is spoken in Brazil. His insistence on speaking Spanish to the accused was ridiculous; Spanish stood in the same relation to Portuguese as Latin did to Italian he asserted (incorrectly). Why it was as though a professor of classics had been called from Oxford to interpret for a organ grinder (who were always, of course, Italians) accused of some capital crime. How accurately would the organ grinder understand a 1500 year old language? The learned Sargeant attacked the legality of the seizure of both the Felicidade and the Echo but particularly the Echo. As both ships were seized illegally they had never, from a legal standpoint, been in the possession of the crown and therefore remained foreign vessels. The court had no jurisdiction over foreign vessels or foreign nationals. How were the crew of the Echo to even know that they had been taken by the British navy when it sailed up to them in a Brazilian slave ship? Was it surprising that they put up resistance? He conceded, according to the Western Times “that Mr Palmer came by his death upon the Felicidade,” it was not a fact he was prepared to dispute. But who killed Midshipman Palmer? He looked slowly around the court and then raised his hand slowly and pointed the finger of accusation at the crown’s principal witness, Joaquim Cerqueira, the Captain of the Felicidade, a ‘clever knowing fellow, a ruffian, a liar, a murderer “the planner and prime actor in this bloody tragedy”. This was the guilty man, not his clients. By the time Robert Collier stood up to address the jury on behalf of his own clients there was little left to say. What he did say, he said well. The Western Times remarked that his “speech indicated great promise. It was earnest, forcible and fearless, though marked with signs of inexperience.” The few snippets of the actual content of the speech given by the newspaper bear no trace of cutting legal arguments. Instead he seemed to rely on an almost certainly misplaced appeal to pity from the jury. “These poor men,” he said, “had come to the castle prepared for death…. They did not dare to ask for a priest, thinking that it would be denied them.” Some of his hyperbole was just plain ridiculous; “if the jury would believe him,” he said, “he would, if he were in the jury box rather lay down his life than convict these men.” It is difficult to imagine the jury believing him, and if they had they would have assumed he was an idiot. He almost went out of his way to prove them right. “He was satisfied,” he told them “that they did not believe that they were committing murder.” After listening to evidence of stabbings and drownings, of the cutting off of hands and fingers and the drinking of blood, the jury must have wondered what on earth he was trying to say. If Sargeant Manning had planted any seeds of doubt in their minds Robert Collier surely overwatered them and made sure they never germinated. The verdicts when they came were that 7 of the 10 accused were guilty of piracy and murder on the high seas.  Judge Platt praised the jury for their fine Christian feelings and for shedding tears over the fate of the Brazilians (perhaps Robert’s speech had affected a few of them after all) “but,” he said, “this is not a case for tears, the justice of the country must be vindicated with all its severity although it will extend to you more time for preparation than you gave to those unfortunate men to met their end… Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed…. The sentence of the court upon you and each of you is, that for this foul murder of which you been respectively found guilty, you be taken from hence to the place from whence you came, and from thence, at the usual time, you be conveyed to the place of execution and that there you be hung respectively by the neck until you be dead.” The Western Times said an awful scene of consternation took place amongst the prisoners and only Serva maintained his placidity to the end, but even his heart seemed to die within him. They were all removed in handcuffs and taken back to prison.

The story did not end there. In November all seven accused were tried again in absentia in front of 13 judges at the Court of Exchequer . According to the D.N.B after the trial, unhappy with the outcome and with Judge Platt’s refusal to accept the arguments about the legality of the seizure of the two Brazilian ships “Collier hurried to London and laid the matter before the home secretary (Sir James Graham) and Sir Robert Peel. Both ministers appear to have been convinced by Collier's argument, and on 5 Aug. it was announced in both houses of parliament that Baron Platt had yielded.” The matter still had to go before the courts however, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister not having powers to overturn a decision of the Exeter Assizes. The Brazilians were not required to attend as this was to be a trial of legalities. The murder of Midshipman Palmer and his crew mates were not the issue. What mattered was the right of the Royal Navy to seize a foreign ship for the offence of slaving when there were no slaves on board. The 13 judges listened to Sargeant Manning’s exposition of naval law back to 1570, his analysis of the various treatises with Brazil, Portugal and Spain, and his argument that all this made the seizure of the Felicidade and the Echo illegal. He won the argument and the 10 accused were all acquitted, much to the consternation of the country. The Examiner commented acidly “The point or quibble of law by which they [the accused] have been enabled to escape is one thing, the effect that will be produced on the slave coast and in Brazil is another. Hitherto the British officers and seamen who captured slavers and who remained very often in small numbers to guard and conduct to trial a much more numerous crew, as was the case with the Felicidade, relied upon the rights by which they boarded and seized, on the respect and awe excited by the British name, and on the certainty of vengeance overtaking those who sought to set British authority at nought. The result of the acquittal or escape of those tried at Exeter will be first of all to acquaint foreigners engaged in the slave trade that they may resist, rise upon and murder with impunity, the British seamen and officers who have captured them.”
Robert Porrett Collier, 1st Lord Monkswell, in later life.
The trial and subsequent controversy did no harm to Robert Collier’s career; “On his next visit to Exeter he had nineteen briefs,” says the D.N.B. He went on to become a very successful trial lawyer and eventually Recorder of Plymouth, then counsel to the admiralty and fleet. He also became an MP, a member of the Privy Council and eventually the attorney general. He was made a peer in 1885. The D.N.B’s summary of his private life was “He married in 1844 a daughter of Mr. William Rose of Woolston Heath, near Rugby, and her sudden death in April 1886 shook him severely. In failing health he went to the Riviera, and died at Grasse, near Cannes, on 27 Oct. 1886, and was buried in London on 3 Nov. He was highly versatile and accomplished. He was a good billiard-player, an excellent scholar, and wrote some very pretty verses both in Latin and English. His memory was most retentive. But it was chiefly in painting, of which he was passionately fond, that he was distinguished. As a young man he drew very clever caricatures in the H.B. manner. When solicitor-general he painted in St. James's Park, and he exhibited frequently at the Royal Academy and Grosvenor Gallery, especially pictures of the neighbourhood of Rosenlaui, Switzerland, where he spent many vacations.” He had three children, the eldest, Robert, followed him into the law, John became a professional artist and his daughter Margaret was a writer, author of “Prince Peerless, an original fairy tale” and “Our Home by the Adriatic.”