Thursday, 17 September 2020

The poisoned parson & the travelling corpse; more tales of exhumation at Highgate Cemetery

Pity the poor gravedigger; digging graves in Victorian cemeteries was dirty and dangerous work. With no mechanical aids to assist, a gravedigger would have had to rely on mattock, shovel and brute strength to remove three and a half tons of earth to create the six-foot-deep trench required by a standard coffin. If it was difficult burying the dead it would have been even harder digging them up again when the earth was loose and more liable to slippage and the coffin and its contents would have started to decompose. Getting a coffin into a grave merely requires it to be lowered in on ropes. Getting it out again means some poor soul had to risk serious injury or inadvertent premature burial by descending into the newly opened grave and manhandling the coffin into a position to run the ropes underneath it to allow it to be hoisted out. And once they had done all that and the police, the lawyers, and the medical men had finished their grisly inspections, they were expected to rebury the corpse all over again. Exhumations would not have been the highlight of the job.  

Not all exhumed bodies were reburied in the same cemetery of course, some would have been taken elsewhere to be buried. In October 1890 the Canterbury Journal, Kentish Times and Farmers' Gazette reported on the case of a restless widow who could not bear to be too far away from her deceased husband, a former clergyman;

A SINGULAR STORY. A BODY THRICE EXHUMED AND FOUR TIMES INTERRED. A widow lady named Jcnes last week took her departure from Canterbury accompanied by the remains of her husband, who expired two years ago. Mr. Jones, who, we believe, was a clergyman, died at Portsmouth, where his body was duly buried. Subsequently his widow removed to Highgate, and having obtained the authority of the Home Secretary her husband’s body was exhumed and re-interred in Cemetery, having been previously enclosed in a second coffin. About eighteen months ago Mrs. Jones came to reside in apartments in Canterbury, and again she had her husband’s remains exhumed, the corpse being brought to this city and buried in the new Cemetery at St. Thomas’s Hill, the ceremony being conducted by the Rev. P. W. Loosemore. Before re-interment another coffin was made in which the other two were placed. Once more Mrs. Jones determined to shift her place of residence, and again she obtained the permission of the Home Secretary to exhume her husband’s remains. Mr. Wiltshier, of Canterbury, was employed to make another coffin and convey the corpse to Liverpool, whither the lady has now gone to reside. Her husband’s body has thus been re-interred for the fourth time. The expense incurred on each occasion of the exhumation and re-interment is stated to have been about £30. A marble cross was erected over the grave of Mr. Jones in Canterbury cemetery with the inscription engraved thereon “rests from his labours.” A more remarkable case than this was probably never heard of.

Ensconced within four separate coffins Mr Jones would have resembled a Russian doll by the time of his final burial.  Mrs Jones would have found it much more convenient to travel with her dead husband accommodated in a cinerary urn but cremation was a novel and rather radical method of disposing of the dead at the time. The first crematorium in the UK had been founded in Woking in 1878 with the first cremation, of a horse (they were just practicing), on 17 March 1879. Legal objections prevented further cremations taking place until 1884 and so Mrs Jones was left with little choice but to continually exhume her husband if she wished to carry on visiting him regularly whilst peregrinating around England. 


The Reverend Henry Walker of 1 Fitzroy Square was a retired clergyman who died at home om 10 March 1844 and was buried in the recently opened new cemetery at Highgate. Within a few days of being buried his eldest daughter, Jane Power, and her husband Edward who was a barrister, complained to the authorities that the “deceased had been found dead in his chair, and that he might have come to his death from an over-dose of pills of morphia, either administered by his own hand or that of someone else.” They suspected foul play and on Edward Power’s insistence the recently buried clergyman was exhumed and an inquest held into his death. Chairing the inquest was the hyperactive Thomas Wakley, who in addition to his duties as the West Middlesex coroner was also editor of The Lancet and the Member of Parliament for Finsbury. The Inquest was held in the Gatehouse Tavern on Highgate Hill just a short walk from the cemetery which is where the coroner and the jury started the day by viewing the exhumed body, still in its lead coffin, in the catacombs. After seeing Rev. Walkers corpse, the party returned to the Gatehouse and the inquest proper began.  Thomas Wakley told the jury that it been his ‘painful duty’ to request Rev. Walker’s disinterment because “a member of the family had demanded that an inquest should be held. The law rendered it imperative on the Coroner in whose jurisdiction the body should be, when such a demand was made to hold an inquest, and however much he might regret it in the present instance, he was compelled to hold that inquiry.” Jane Walker, the clergyman’s widow was called to give evidence first. She told the packed inquest that “she found him dead, or, as she thought at first, fainting, in his sitting room, on the 10th of March, about nine in the morning. He was seated in his chair, partly undressed.” She had called for help and the servants had gone to fetch the vicar’s surgeon from his house in Charlotte Street, just a short walk away from the Square. After a short examination the surgeon pronounced his patient dead. A distraught Mrs Walker told the inquest “he took no opiates that l am aware of, nor any other medicine but that which was prescribed for him. He had never made any attempt on his life. He was too religious and good a man. I solemnly believe that he died a natural death.” Next to give evidence was Mary, another of the vicar’s daughters. She told the inquest that she had given her father his two morphia pills at 8pm the previous evening. According to the Morning Post of Friday 31 March 1848 the Edward Power then barraged the coroner with questions to be put to his sister-in-law; 

Mr. Power here submitted a number of questions to the Coroner to be asked of this witness, to which she replied with great bitterness — My father was never under any restraint during my recollection. I never supposed he was not of sound mind. I never heard any one breathe anything of the sort except that man (pointing to Mr. Power). He is the libeller. M. Power said the restraint being denied, he begged to hand in a letter, which, if the witness admitted it as her father's handwriting, he demanded should be read to the Jury. The witness having done so, the letter, which was addressed to his eldest daughter, Mrs. Power, was read. It was dated the 8th of February, 1848, and addressed "Mrs. Jane Power, to the care of Mr. Tims, 3, Charlotte-street, to be called for." The following is the extract referring to the restraint: —

"My dear Jane — Soon after we parted yesterday it poured in such torrents that I became quite nervous on your account, as well as for the dear little girl, fearing both might take cold by exposing yourselves to it. I shall be glad to hear from you to-morrow that you may both have escaped such danger; but I must beg of you to direct your letter to Mr. Tims, 3, Charlotte-street, Fitzroy-square, till called for, and I will give : Mr. Tims instructions on that score; for your handwriting (is known by the whole family, and by the Seymours. It might very possibly involve me in dispute, which I, in my I present nervous state wish to avoid." The remainder of the letter was upon family, matters, and was signed — "Yours very affectionately, " H. Walker."

When Jane Power was called to the witness stand she told the inquest that she had last seen her father on 06 March when he had visited her at home in Pimlico; “In answer to questions put by the Coroner, at the suggestion of Mr. Power, The witness said deceased told her he was much worried at home, and was very uncomfortable. He expressed a wish to go abroad again, and on her remarking that he was too weak, deceased replied that he could pay for a nurse, who would treat him quite as well as he had been treated at home; and that he could be buried cheaper abroad. The witness also complained that she and her husband had been refused to attend the funeral.” There was clearly an ongoing family feud between Jane and her husband and the rest of the family. The poor Rev. Walker seems to have felt stuck in the middle and no doubt the family squabbles didn’t help improve his ailing health. Mr Wakley was no doubt exasperated by Edward Powers’ continual interventions in the inquest, trying to inflate every minor discrepancy in the testimony into a cause for grave doubt about how his father-in-law had died. And what were the Powers actually alleging?  Were they seriously trying to imply that the rest of the family had conspired to murder the Reverend? Or that he had taken his own life? Edward Powers seemed to veer between these two possibilities without coming to a clear accusation. Eventually Mr Wakley cut to the chase by calling the very eminent Dr. Richard Quain of Harley Street (great grandfather of Ian Fleming and author of Quain’s Dictionary of Medicine) to the stand. Dr Quain had been asked to carry out the post mortem on the Rev. Walker’s exhumed body. He told the inquest that he had found “considerable disease in the kidneys and urinary passages. The heart was very large, and the brain soft and much irritated by a point of bone pressing upon it. He had subjected the blood, some serum found in the pericardium, and the contents of the stomach, to the most perfect analysis, and the result was, that there was a considerable amount of urea in the blood, and the most minute traces of morphia in the stomach.” He told Mr Wakley that the cause of death was the state of the hear, kidneys and the urea in the blood. He was unequivocal in declaring the “death to have resulted from purely natural causes.” At this point the Coroner declared that there was no point in protracting the inquiry, that the jury should consider its verdict, which could of course only follow Dr Quain’s conclusion of death by natural causes. Edward Powers refused to bow to the inevitable however and leapt to his feet and demanded that Mr Wakley read to the jury once again the original grounds on which permission to hold the inquest had been granted. With gritted teeth the Coroner complied with the request reminding the jury that the allegation had been that the “deceased had been found dead in his chair, and that he might have come to his death from an over-dose of pills of morphia, either administered by his own hand or that of someone else.”  The reminder did Powers no good, the jury swiftly returned the only possible verdict of death by natural causes. We do not know if the breach between Jane and the rest of her family was ever mended but it seems unlikely.  


Thomas Wakley’s successor as Coroner for Central Middlesex was the equally energetic Dr Edwin Lankester who also a surgeon, the president of the British Association, an esteemed naturalist and friend of both Charles Darwin and T.H. Huxley. In September 1866 he was in charge of the inquest into the death of Richard Golding an 80-year-old retired engraver who despite being a man of some means had died in filthy lodgings in Stebbington Street, Somers Town the previous December and buried at Highgate on 2nd January. The new Home Secretary, Spencer Walpole, has signed an order for Golding’s exhumation due to allegations that his last medical attendant, a Dr James Part of Camden Road, may have unduly influenced his patient into making a will out in his favour and then poisoned him.  Golding had been a successful engraver when younger; Benjamin West had asked him to engrave his ‘Death of Nelson’, Robert Smirke his illustrations for Don Quixote and Gil-Blas and, amongst many others, a portrait of Princess Charlotte of Wales after the painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence. He made a lot of money during the years he was in demand but his career stalled when he was middle aged and he went into semi-retirement, living off his capital and passing his time angling. For over 20 years he lodged with a mother and her unmarried daughter, both called Frances Southgate at their house in Eve Terrace on Pancras Road. 15 months before his death he had suddenly decided to change his lodgings and moved into Mrs Todd’s rather run-down premises in Stebbington Street, Oakley Square, just five minutes away in Somers Town. The Southgates visited Golding in his new quarters and were present when he died during the Christmas holidays.

The inquest was held at the Angel Inn on Highgate High Street and after formally commencing the proceedings the Coroner’s first act was to send the jury off to Highgate Cemetery to view the body warning them that “this body had been interred since Christmas last.” When the green faced jurymen returned to the Angel the first witness called was William Booth, upholsterer and undertaker of Camden Road who confirmed that he had been the undertaker responsible for burying Golding (on the instructions of Dr. Part), that he had viewed the body exhumed at Highgate and he was certain that it was Richard Golding. Next up was Frances Southgate the daughter. She told the inquest that she had been to see Golding on Christmas day and that he was in bed with a cold. He refused to see a doctor and instead was determined to make a will. She went back to see him on Boxing day and found him worse. This time he agreed to see a doctor and sent her off to fetch Dr Part from Camden Road. According to The Express of 14 September 1866 Frances then said:

he came on Boxing-day about 3 o'clock. I was there when he came, and although I was not in the room, I heard him give Dr Part instructions for his will to give to a solicitor. He gave him the pictures, plate, and portfolios, and I heard him mention my own and my mother's names. He said, "Frances Southgate, widow, and Frances Southgate, jun." I did not hear what was said because of the noise of the children, but I heard him tell Dr Part that he had received great kindness from my mother. Dr Part said to me at the door, "Mr. Golding has left a legacy for you and your mother, and at your mother's death the whole will come to you." Dr Part promised to send a nurse, but none came. The deceased seemed better in the afternoon of Boxing-day, and the day after he seemed much better, and ate two rounds of toast. I think I was there the whole day. That afternoon Dr Part brought his solicitor and Captain Brooker, who was his son-in-law. He did not tell Mr. Golding that Captain Brooker was his son-in-law, but he called Mrs. Part "mother." I never heard the will read. I did not see Mr. Golding sign the will, but he told me all about it when they were gone. He laid hold of my hand and said, "I am glad I have made my will, Fanny. I have left your mother £700, and I have left you £700, and I have left Dr Part my pictures in the portfolios and £50. He is well paid. He has got my will, and is executor."  

When Frances went back to see Golding the following day, she found him in convulsions and sent for Dr Part who limited his treatment to a little sherry and water and a couple of pills. Golding died three hours later and Frances claimed Dr Part immediately removed a pocket book with £40 in bank notes in it and two silver watches. Golding had died in his trousers and much to the horror of Miss Southgate the doctor said he should be buried in them. Mrs Southgate the mother was also present at this point and when she objected the doctor told her that he was the executor and he could send Golding’s body for dissection if he wanted to. Mr Beard, the solicitor acting for Dr Part asked her about a bag of money she had tried to remove from Golding’s room on the day of his death. She told Beard that Dr Part had demanded that the money should he handed over to him, which she did. Beard asked her if Dr Part had told her that there was £110 missing from the bag and she burst into tears and said “yes, after he had taken it all away by himself.” Dr Lankester, clearly feeling uncomfortable about this line of questioning wondered if it had any relevance to the cause of death. Beard contended that “as this witness had charged Dr Part with ransacking the house and taking away silver watches and money, he had a right to show her conduct in the matter.” The coroner said that he had heard enough of this part of the case and dismissed the witness. The solicitor who prepared the will was then called. He described the general circumstances in which he had drawn up the will and obtained Golding’s signature. He admitted that Dr Part had given him his initial instructions; “I prepared the will in accordance with those instructions. Having done so I attended and saw the deceased, and read it over in his presence. I read the whole of it. The decreased was perfectly sensible, and spoke of knowing Dr Part for upwards of 20 years, and having great regard for him as being connected with the Artists' Fund. The will was read to deceased in the absence of Dr Part, while Dr Part had gone to get the ink for him to sign it. After I had read it deceased said it was quite right, and executed it in my presence.” As the results of the post mortem were not yet available the inquest was adjourned at this point.

When the inquest was resumed Mr Beard insisted that Frances Southgate be recalled. He then proceeded to examine her in some detail about the pills Golding had taken the day before his death. She claimed the pills were provided by Dr Part. How did she know that? Beard asked. Because Golding has told her, she said and because the pill box had Dr Part’s name on it. The pills made Golding drowsy she claimed but you did not mention this to Dr Part when he attended, Beard asked and she admitted she had not. Southgate told the inquest that “previous to the death of the deceased he never expressed a wish to be buried in his trowsers. He always wished to be buried in a Christian-like way.” Mr Beard asked her if she knew that Prince Albert had been buried in his trousers and she had to confess that she did not. Mr Beard produced letters to his client from Frances Southgate accusing him of stealing Goldings property, inveigling him into making a will in his favour and poisoning him. He also read letters from his client to Miss Southgate accusing her of stealing the £110 mentioned the previous day and of making up the accusations against him because she had been disappointed to find that Golding had only left her £100 in his will not the £700 she had expected. Mrs Todd, Golding’s landlady was recalled but had nothing much to say other than she had made cocoa for the deceased but he had been too ill to drink it. Then Professor Julian Edward Disbrowe Rodgers was called to give his evidence on the results of the post mortem examination of the deceased (The Sun 20 September 1866);

[the professor said] I have made an examination of the stomach, spleen, liver, and other portions of the intestines of the deceased. I first made a search for alkaloids, and I found a mere trace of morphia. I have made a special search for strychnine, and anything that would produce convulsions, without discovering any trace. I have also made an examination for metallic poison; and here I would say, as I am bound to speak the truth, that in the stomach I found a small quantity of arsenic. In the intestines I did not find a sufficient quantity to say it was arsenic, and in the liver none. I need not say that the greatest care had been taken in preparing for the examination. I discovered the arsenic by Reinch's test. I made a special examination of the liver, and from finding arsenic absent I came to the conclusion that no quantity of it had been swallowed that could destroy life or shorten it for any length of time, for had that been the case I must have found it in the liver.

Coroner—You are quite sure you found arsenic in the stomach?
Witness—Yes, quite sure.
Coroner—Did you look for other poisons?
Witness—Yes, and found none.
Coroner—Have you formed an opinion as to the cause of death?
Witness —Yes. There is nothing inconsistent in a man so afflicted as deceased was with bronchitis. Convulsions sometimes precede death from bronchitis. The throwing up of the arms would be an effect to get air.
Coroner—Where do you think the arsenic came from?
Witness—My impression is that there must have been an error in making of the medicine.
A Juror—Do you think the arsenic you discovered could have been contained in the cocoa the deceased took a short time before his death.
Witness—No. Had it been made in an enamelled saucepan, that might possibly account for it.

Mrs. Todd was here again recalled, and in answer to the coroner, said she did not boil the cocoa in a saucepan. She made it first into a paste in a teacup, and then poured boiling water upon it....

Dr Part, at the termination of the evidence of Professor Rodgers, was examined, and said that his great endeavour was to alleviate the sufferings of Mr. Golding, who had been during his illness very much neglected. He denied ever using any persuasion to induce the deceased to make a will in his favour.

The Jury’s verdict was death by natural causes. No charges were ever brought against either Frances Southgate or Dr James Part.


On Friday 23 July 1869 the Islington Gazette reported on another of Dr Lankester’s cases this one involving the exhumation of an 11 week old baby who had died following a vaccination of cow pox (intended to provide at least partial immunity from the deadly small pox which in the 1790’s, the time Edward Jenner discovered innoculation, was killing around 10% of the UK population every year (without a single suggestion of a lockdown)). The cause of death was given as erysipelas, a bacterial infection of the skin also known as St Anthony’s fire;

On Monday, Dr Lankester held an inquiry at the “Brookfield Arms" Tavern, Highgate New-town, relative to the death of William Emery, infant son of a ham and tongue dealer, of Great Portland-street, Marylebone, who was alleged to have died through the introduction of impure matter into the system in the operation of vaccination. The inquiry resulted from one held a few days ago by Mr. Bedford, the coroner for Westminster, in which the same allegation was made, both children being vaccinated at Dr Allen's surgery, 11, Soho-square. The verdict of the jury in the case before Mr. Bedford was one of death from natural causes, Dr Clark stating that the death was due to erysipelas, consequent on vaccination, not from the vaccine matter, but from the punctures in the arm, the vaccine not taking effect. Mr. Emery was present at that inquest, and, having lost his child from the same cause, pressed for an inquiry. His child was buried at Highgate Cemetery, but in conformity with the wishes of the father, the body was exhumed, and the present inquiry was held. Mr. Lewis senior attended on the part of the father of the deceased; and Mr Mirams represented Dr Allen.

Mr Aaron Emery, father of the deceased, identified the body as that of his son, who was vaccinated at Dr Allen’s establishment, the 31st of May, being then eleven weeks old. Four wounds were made in the right arm, one of which appeared to be very deep, and bled very much. On the 7th June the child was taken back, the four vesicles having taken, and two of them were opened, and some of the matter introduced into the arm another child. Two days after symptoms of a dangerous character set in, principally proceeding from the largest wound, whence the matter had not been taken. The inflammation spread all over the arm, which swelled to double its size. Dr Allen and his assistant attended, and the swelling decreased in the arm, but went into the body, back, legs, and scrotum. From the 9th day of June till its death on the 4th July, the child appeared be unconscious. It only dozed, and started up shrieking with agony.

 Mr. Thomas Masse y Harding, F.R.C.S., said he had been a public vaccinator for more than twelve years. He had made a post -mortem examination of the deceased, and found, notwithstanding its illness, that it was a very fine, well-nourished child. The immediate cause of death was exhaustion from erysipelas produced by the vaccination —he thought by the cow-pox virus being introduced into the wounds. He had vaccinated from 4000 to 5,000 children, and he had never had death. His brother and Dr Ballard, of Islington, had also vaccinated some thousands, and they had only had one death each. If erysipelas set after vaccination he might not know it, as parents would take their children to their own doctors. An unclean lancet or other instrument used for making the excoriations for the reception of the lymph might produce erysipelas. If matter were taken from an arm and introduced into another after the eighth day it was likely to produce erysipelas, the matter becoming deteriorated. The matter was never taken from the cow. He had vaccinated from 4,000 to 5,000 children, and it was not taken from the cow, but from arm to arm. The cow-pox was similar the small-pox.

Some discussion here ensued, in which was introduced the discovery of vaccination by Dr Jenner, and its ultimate adoption. It was shown that out of 1,600 patients admitted into the Small-pox Hospital, 1,300 had been previously vaccinated : but those who had been vaccinated received the disease (which only came once in a lifetime) in a very mild form—it was modified, and less severe in those successfully vaccinated; 30 out of every 100 were susceptible and liable to small-pox if exposed to it, but it would not be fatal. Mr. Harding (in reply  to Mr. Lewis) said he had seen the child from which deceased had been vaccinated, and it was perfectly healthy, as were also the father and mother. Dr George Allen, 11, Soho-square, said he had been a vaccinator since he was 15 years old, and had performed as many operations as 100 in a day, and he had never seen fatal case before. He believed the erysipelas was produced after vaccination, through some fault in the child. He knew nothing of the children who were vaccinated before or after Mr. Emery's child. Before he administered the matter to a child he did not inquire whence it came. The matter was not direct from the cow, and it would not deteriorate for years. He had used such matter for thirty years. Mr. Harding said Mr. Badcock, of Brighton, used supply the institutions with lymph from the cow. The jury ultimately returned a verdict of "Died from erysipelas, caused by vaccination."

 



Wednesday, 9 September 2020

The dead man's beard and other tales of exhumation at Highgate cemetery (Part One)


Professor Pepper's statement in the course of his evidence in the case in the Druce case that the growth of hair ceases very soon after death, and that it is quite impossible for a corpse clean shaven to develop a bushy beard, is emphatically controverted by Dr. W. A. Jones. The latter says that he was concerned in case at Bedminster in 1881, in which the body of a man was exhumed after three months owing to allegations of poisoning. The man was clean shaven when he died, but the exhumed body had a large beard. There is, too, the instance of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's wife, whose body was exhumed in Highgate Cemetery to recover the MSS. of book of poems which her husband in his grief had placed in the coffin. It was found that the deceased lady's hair had grown to an extraordinary length, and had become so entangled with the MSS. that had to be cut to recover the volume.

Grantham Journal - Saturday 11 January 1908


Highgate was the location of London’s two most celebrated cases of exhumation; the pre-Raphaelite model Elizabeth Siddal who died in 1862 and was dug up again in October 1869, and the proprietor of the  Baker Street Bazaar, Thomas Charles Druce who died just a couple of years after Lizzie in 1864 but had to wait 43 years for his brief disinterment in December 1907. Lizzie Siddal’s unearthing was a furtive affair carried out in the dead of night by the light of a bonfire whilst T.C. Druce’s was carried out in such a blaze of publicity that the cemetery had to be closed to keep out the crowds and a temporary shed constructed over the grave to prevent snooping by the press and public.


The Druce-Portland affair is a well-known (and complex) story which became a cause célèbre in the early years of the last century. Thomas Charles Druce was a London businessman with obscure origins who worked himself up from being a salesman on Oxford Street to becoming sole proprietor of the Baker Street Bazaar, a sort of forerunner of the department store whose upper floors were once occupied by Madame Tussaud’s waxworks. Druce had a complicated personal life involving two marriages, one of which wasn’t strictly legal as the bride had falsely declared herself to be of age at the ceremony, and a sizeable brood of children from both wives. He died in 1864 of complications arising from a fistula and was buried beneath a three-ton memorial at Highgate Cemetery. 34 years later Ann Marie Druce, the widow of one of Thomas’ sons by his second marriage, petitioned the Ecclesiastical Court of London to have her father in law exhumed. She claimed that T.C. Druce had at least two alternative identities and had been leading a double secret life, one as a Dr Harmer who she had met when he had held a position in a Lunatic Asylum and the other as the 5th Duke of Portland, the reclusive, eccentric and extremely wealthy owner of Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire. Marie claimed that the Duke assumed the identity of TC Druce and faked his death in 1864 when he had decided to retire to Welbeck. Although she may not have been entirely rational Marie had done her homework and had a significant amount of supporting evidence to back her superficially implausible claims. The Ecclesiastical Court dismissed her case nevertheless but the indefatigable widow refused to accept defeat and continued to pursue her efforts to get her father in law exhumed through other courts. As the matter rumbled on other Druce relatives were drawn into the fray, no doubt attracted by the sizeable estate of the deceased Duke who had never married and whose title and possession s had passed to distant relatives on his death in 1879. Marie’s case came to an abrupt end in 1903 when she admitted to a lunatic asylum but the battle to get Druce exhumed to prove that the coffin contained only lead weights was continued by George Hollamby Druce, an Australian grandson of Thomas via his first marriage, who financed his legal battle by selling shares in a limited company (premiums to be paid on settlement of the case). In 1907 the case finally reached the courts via a perjury charge against Herbert Druce, one of Thomas’ sons who had been with him when he died. It was to settle this case that the order to exhume Druce was finally signed by the Home Secretary.  


To thwart public prurience not only was the cemetery closed during the exhumation but an L shaped shed measuring 40 by 35 feet was built over the Druce grave at the insistence of the Home Office. Police patrolled the grounds of the cemetery from closing time and all through the night of 29 December and next day, according to the Falkirk Herald “the time officially fixed for the commencement of the operations was eight o’clock, but an hour before that 200 police constables relieved the watchers of the night, and posted themselves in the pathways and behind clumps of trees at all the entrances to the cemetery, and upon prominent points of vantage within it. They even guarded the doors of the grave-diggers’ cottages in Swain’s Lane lest some adventurous person might seek to use the windows overlooking the grounds.” Inside the shed ‘a small group of gentlemen’ and a larger group of workmen gathered. The gravediggers had to remove ‘mould and sod’ from the top of the grave then remove the massive flagstone which covered the entrance to the vault. Once the vault was opened an electric light was lowered into and it and a ladder was placed inside. The workmen first removed the coffin of Mrs Druce using ropes to pull her up into the shed and then removed the slabs covering the coffin of T.C. Druce himself. Before it was brought up a photographer was summoned to take a photograph of the coffin in situ. The account goes on:

The coffin was allowed to lie at the bottom of the tomb awaiting the arrival of Dr Pepper and Sir Thomas Stevenson, who appeared promptly at the appointed time. The men once more descended, and ropes being got round the casket it was hoisted to the surface with the utmost care. It was an old-fashioned coffin covered with cloth and studded, panel style.' with brass nails. One of its six brass handles had come off, but otherwise all that was amiss was some fraying of the cloth and a little wasting of the edge of the lid. Careful measurements were made of the dimensions by the professional gentlemen, and both Dr Pepper and Sir Thomas Stevenson made a detailed note of all these particulars, as well as of the actual state of the casket. The name-plate having been washed, the inscription became plainly visible; “Thomas Charles Druce, Esq., died 28th December, 1864, in his 71st year.” A photograph was taken, after which the gravediggers were ejected, and two workmen employed by the undertakers entered the shed, Unscrewed the lid with powerful pliers, and showed the lead inner coffin, which bore on its surface the same inscription as that on the outer oaken and cloth-covered coffin. Further measurements were taken and noted. A workman next cut through the lead all round the outer edge of the upper surface; the lid was removed, bringing away with it the top of the innermost wooden shell which was attached to it.

Then there was displayed a shrouded human figure, which proved to be that an aged bearded man. It is understood that after the Home Office experts and the other interested persons had made all the observations and records which the circumstances of the case demanded, steps were immediately taken to replace the coffin, to restore the vault to its original condition, and to replace the monument by which has hitherto been covered.




If anyone thought that the discovery of a body in the coffin rather than a set of lead weights would be the end of the case they were to be disappointed. As the London Evening Standard reported just two days after the exhumation, you can’t keep a good conspiracy theory down, and the principal claimant was already revelling in the potential ramifications of this new development;  

Mr. George Hollamby Druce, writing to the Daily Express, says that one vital question is who was the man, and what manner of man was he whose body was disinterred at Highgate and adds:—“What a maze of complications would ensue if it should turn out that the body interred in 1864 was that of man who was known as the Duke, while the man known as Druce lived on to personate and masquerade as the Duke!”

Druce’s beard now came into its own as a matter for contention. Ann Marie had always alleged that the clean-shaven Duke of Portland donned a false beard when posing as T.C. Druce; she even had photographs to show the transformation. These daguerreotypes were in themselves controversial. The reclusive Duke of Portland had never been known to subject himself to a studio sitting for a photographer so Ann Marie’s supposed image was immediately an object of suspicion. The picture did bear an uncanny likeness to a photo of Druce in full beard but the defence in the trial said that both photographs were of Druce, one clean shaven (apart from his mutton chop whiskers) and the other bearded. Virtually every witness called who had met either the Duke of Portland or T.C. Druce was quizzed about their facial hair at some point in their testimony. Contradictory responses abounded. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph on 03 December 1907 under the subheading  “Mr Druce, his change of whiskers” reported on the evidence of 73 year old Robert Cobington Naylor, of 73, Cromer Street, Gray’s Inn Road, who had worked as a photographer for Southwood Brothers, a studio opposite the Baker Street Bazaar, from 1860 to 1862;

Mr. Goodman: Have you any recollection of gentleman named Druce being a customer there? — Yes, decidedly.
Was he Thomas Charles Druce? — Yes; the proprietor the Baker Street Bazaar.
Have you yourself photographed him at Southwoods? — Yes.
Once, or more than once? — l think four times.
Did these occasions spread over the two years you were there, 186l and 1862? — I think the first time was in the early part of 1861, and the last time August 1862.
Had he always a beard on when you photographed him? — No.
Had he sometimes? — Yes.
Had he always, side whiskers? — No.
Had he sometimes? — Yes.
Did he wear a moustache? — Sometimes.
The three photographs were then handed to Mr. Naylor—the large one and two smaller ones. He identified all three photographs of Thomas Charles Druce and said that the large one was not his own work but the other two were produced by his firm. The beard, side whiskers and moustache worn by Mr. Druce were all false, but in the two small photographs it was natural hair which appeared. 

Naylor went to explain that when he left Southwood Brothers he had moved to Hastings. He had visited London in 1865 to go to the funeral of Tom Sayers the boxer (at Highgate cemetery) who had photographed with his dog at Hastings the year previously. Naylor told the court “that he met two friends while in London—John Rawlins and Mr. Batting, artificial florist, and they went together to the Baker Street Bazaar. It was in the afternoon, about four o’clock, and when they reached the Bazaar they saw Thomas Charles Druce in the hall, going into the waxworks. He was standing up in a frock coat, muffled up, and had a beard on.” Naylor said he had acknowledged Druce, and Druce had replied with a gesture. All this was odd because Druce had died over a year earlier. When challenged Naylor told the court he had not heard of Druce’s “supposed death and was therefore not surprised to see him.”  It was out of such muddled testimony that the prosecution hoped to create doubt against more reliable witnesses such as Druce’s sons. Following the exhumation though the judge was having none of it. He allowed the prosecution lawyers to quiz Professor Augustus Joseph Pepper on whether it was possible for a beard to grow post mortem but the venerable professor explained that it was not, that human hair did not continue to grow after death and any appearance to the contrary was simply due to shrinkage of the skin. On Monday 06 January the counsel for the prosecution finally faced up to the inevitable and withdrew their case adding “"I should be acting entirely contrary to the best traditions of my profession if I were to persist in this case."  Mr Plowden the Police Magistrate overseeing the case commented that this was not only a “wise and proper course, but if you will permit me say so, it is the only course which was open to counsel of your experience.” Speculating on how “the myth that confused him [Druce] and the fifth Duke of Portland in one and the same Personality ever arose would be idle to speculate on: sufficient say that the case is a fresh resultant of that love of the marvellous which is so deeply engrained in human nature, and is likely to be remembered in legal annals as affording one more striking proof of the truly unfathomable depths of human credulity.”

The Rossetti family grave in Highgate

A Rossetti Tomb Mystery. Professor Pepper, in his evidence at the Druce trial, called to prick one bubble, demolished a second. We are all familiar with the story of Rossetti's sacrifice; of his burying the manuscript of his poems with the body of his wife; of his yielding to the importunity and entreaties of friends, seven-and-a-half years after the interment, to have the manuscripts uncoffined. At dead of night, with a fire burning at the side of the tomb, the coffin was brought to the surface and opened, and the poems were removed from it. Mr. Hall Caine tells us that the beautiful golden hair of the dead woman had grown about the poems, and so enclosed them that it had to be cut. But Professor Pepper told the Court the other day that hair does not grow after death that such lengthening as is apparent results from shrinkage of the skin.
The Sketch 15 January 1908

It was inevitable perhaps that the Druce case would bring to mind that other celebrated Highgate exhumation, of Lizzie Siddal in 1869. The Siddal exhumation has already mentioned during the case itself during an argument in court about whether the Home Secretary’s permission was required before an exhumation could be carried out. The arguments about Druce’s post mortem growth of beard instantly reminded many commentators of the legend of the miraculous post mortem preservation of Lizzie Siddal’s corpse and the superabundant growth of her auburn hair filling the coffin and entangling itself in her husband’s manuscript. In January 1885, little more than 15 years after the exhumation, that most pragmatic of publications, the Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette, was reporting An Anecdote of Rossetti in a manner more suitable to a fairy-tale than a news story;  

When Gabriel Dante Rossetti was very young, scarcely more than a boy, he was deeply in love with a young girl; and having a poet’s gift, he sang a poet’s love in numerous sonnets and verses to her. She died young, and by her wish the manuscripts of these poems were placed in her casket, and laid under her head, so that even in the last sleep they should be, as they always had been, kept beneath her pillow. Years passed and Rossetti’s fame grew, until every line of his composition became precious, and some of those who prized his writing most asked him for copies of the songs that had been buried. He had kept no copies, or they had been lost. At all events, he could furnish none; and when they asked him to re-write the verses, he declared that he was utterly unable to do so. At last his friends importuned him for permission to have the original manuscripts exhumed. He consented after some hesitation, and after all the necessary preliminaries having been complied with, the grave which had been sealed for many years was opened in the presence of a wondering few. Then a strange thing was found. The casket containing the poems had proved to be of perishable material, and its cover had crumbled away The long tresses of the girl had grown after death, and had twined and intertwined among the leaves of the poet’s paper, coiling around the written words of love in a loving embrace long after death had sealed the lips and dimmed the eyes that had made response to that love.

Lizzie Siddal was a talented artist in her own right - this is one of her drawings
Dante Gabriel Rossetti met the 20 year dressmaker Elizabeth Siddall in 1849 when she was modelling for his friend Walter Deverell. She quickly became Rossetti’s model and muse and, somewhat less quickly, his wife (in 1860).  Rossetti’s middle class family did not approve of the working class Siddall and their relationship was always troubled. Lizzie’s health was also poor – at the time of her wedding she was so frail that she had to be carried into church. Her health was not improved by a pregnancy that resulted in a still birth in 1861 and following that trauma she quickly became pregnant again. She died of a laudanum overdose in February 1862. The death was judged to be accidental by the coroner at her inquest but rumours persisted that she had killed herself deliberately and had left a suicide note pinned to her nightdress which Rossetti had removed and destroyed.  She was buried, along with Rossetti’s manuscript, in the Rossetti family plot in Highgate. Seven years later is was Rossetti’s agent Charles Augustus Howell (“the vilest wretch I ever came across” according to Swinburne, “a base, treacherous, unscrupulous and malignant fellow,” in Burn-Jones’ view and for Ford Maddox Brown “one of the biggest liars in existence”) who persuaded him to exhume Lizzie and retrieve the missing poems. He arranged the exhumation and attended on Rossetti’s behalf. He was also generally acknowledged as the source of the story of Lizzie’s uncorrupted corpse and of the growth of her hair after death. 

Lizzie's memorial stone of the Rossetti grave


Friday, 28 August 2020

The pious pelican and devoted mother of Highgate; Baroness Elizabeth de Munck (1767-1841) Highgate Cemetery


When the savage pelican resolves to give his breast to devour his young, having as witness only he who knew how to create such a love, in order to make men ashamed, although the sacrifice is great, this act is understood.

Comte de Lautréamont - Les Chants de Maldoror

As it is probably the only exemplar in a Victorian cemetery, guides at Highgate always point out the relatively modest memorial to Elizabeth de Munck who was interred here in 1841 just a couple of years after the cemetery opened. The motif of the pelican feeding her young with her own flesh or blood was once a common heraldic device and is a symbol of both maternal and christian devotion. The Physiologus, an early didactic Christian text written in Greek in Alexandria and hugely popular and frequently translated from the 5th century onwards, claims that the Pelican loved her young but when they flapped their wings in the nest and hit her in the face, she lost patience and pecked them to death. Smitten with remorse she cried over her dead chicks and struck at her breast with her bill until she bled. Immediately the blood touched her dead chicks they revived and came back to life. “In the same way, our Lord Jesus Christ's breast was pierced with a spear by the Jews,” says the author, “and blood and water flowed out, and revived the Universe, namely the dead. That is why the prophet said: ‘I resembled a desert pelican.’" 

In Pseudodoxia Epidemica (Enquiries into very many received tenets and commonly presumed truths, also known simply as Pseudodoxia Epidemica or Vulgar Errors) the ever sceptical Thomas Browne noted that in “first in every place we meet with the picture of the Pelecan, opening her breast with her bill, and feeding her young ones with the blood distilling from her. Thus is it set forth not onely in common Signs, but in the Crest and Scutcheon of many Noble families; hath been asserted by many holy Writers, and was an Hieroglyphick of piety and pitty among the Ægyptians; on which consideration, they spared them at their tables.”  In the version of the story he had heard it was serpents which had killed the pelican’s brood, making a slightly more credible version of the tale. Nevertheless he is not convinced; “concerning the picture, if naturally examined, and not Hieroglyphically conceived, it containeth many improprieties,” he says including it commonly being pictured as green or yellow when in fact the bird is white, being described as the size of a hen when it is as big as a swan, and being generally painted with a short bill “whereas that of the Pelecan attaineth sometimes the length of two spans.” He also points out that the feet are shown as like those of ‘fissipedes’, birds which have claws or feet divided when it fact it is web footed and, most remarkably of all, almost all images miss out the part “more remarkable then any other, that is, the chowle or crop adhering unto the lower side of the bill, and so descending by the throat; a bag or sachel very observable.” On the subject of the pelican’s crop Browne’s scepticism suddenly deserts him, it is, he claims “of a capacity almost beyond credit; which notwithstanding, this animal could not want; for therein it receiveth Oysters, Cochels, Scollops, and other testaceous animals; which being not able to break, it retains them until they open, and vomitting them up, takes out the meat contained. This is that part preserved for a rarity, and wherein (as Sanctius delivers) in one dissected, a Negro child was found.”


In Paulo Rego’s extraordinary image, a full sized pelican (very much larger than a hen), very naturalistically portrayed as white, with a bill of at least two spans, web footed and complete with capacious crop (absolutely nothing for Sir Thomas to complain of here) is seen perched on Jane Eyre’s lap who is leaning back with eyes closed and mouth wide open apparently about to receive nourishment from the pelican’s beak. This bizarre and powerful image is called ‘Loving Bewick’ and refers to a sentence in Jane Eyre when Jane says ‘with Bewick on my knee, I was then happy; happy at least in my way .’ Bewick is not a pelican but a book Bewick’s History of British Birds of which the young Jane loves the pages “which treat of the haunts of sea-fowl; of “the solitary rocks and promontories” by them only inhabited; of the coast of Norway, studded with isles from its southern extremity, the Lindeness, or Naze, to the North Cape…” and the illustrations which include a “quite solitary churchyard, with its inscribed headstone; its gate, its two trees, its low horizon, girdled by a broken wall, and its newly-risen crescent, attesting the hour of eventide.” In her essay on Rego In an Artist’s Dream World Marina Warner observes that “in the print of Jane billing the pelican’s beak, Rego introduces a note of true sustenance: it is through the mind-food of books and pictures that Jane survives.”

Maria Caterina Rosalbina Caradori-Allan probably chose the pelican symbol for her mother's grave

We know little about Elizabeth de Munck. The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1841 tells us that “lately in Upper Norton street aged 74 Elizabeth Baroness de Munck” has died, “her body was buried at the Highgate Cemetery on the 29th May.” A few days later The Atlas of Saturday 12 June told its readers that “In consequence of the death of her mother, the Baroness de Munck, Madame Caradori Allan has been compelled to relinquish her engagements at several of the principal concerts of the season, including those of Lablache, Putter, Puzzi, &c.” Baroness de Munck’s daughter was Maria Caterina Rosalbina Caradori-Allan, a celebrated and successful operatic soprano who had been born in 1800 at the Casa Palantina in Milan. Her father was a member of the Alsatian lesser nobility, the Baron de Munck and “her mother whose maiden name was Caradori, was a native of St. Petersburg. Owing to her father's death she was forced to adopt music as a profession, though the only training she received was from her mother.” (DNB 1885-1900). If she really died at the age of 74 Elizabeth had Maria at the relatively late age of 33. Maria seems to have been her only child. After touring in France and Germany the opera singer and her mother were called to London for an engagement at the Kings Theatre in 1822 where Maria took the role of Cherubino in the Nozze di Figaro and earned £300 for the season. Mother and daughter settled in London, Maria marrying a Mr Allan who happened to be the secretary of the Kings Theatre and accepting a salary of £500 a year to sing. It must have been Maria who chose the new cemetery at Highgate as her mother's final resting place and who commissioned the handsome memorial with its pelican motif to acknowledge her mother's devotion to her life and career. Although she occasionally took engagements abroad Maria remained in England for the rest of her life, dying at Surbiton in 1865. Maria did not join her mother in Highgate – she was buried in Kensal Green, probably with her husband.   

Monday, 24 August 2020

A true sense of their mortal condition; the City of London Cemetery, Aldersbrook E12


All these cemeteries rightly have their constant visitors and sometimes their places in books on London but the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium at Manor Park (1856) should equally be visited. The contrast with Kensal Green at the other end of London is remarkable. The site iS flat, but planted with magnificent planes and one of its chapels is in a most elegant style of gothic, exceptionally good for cemetery architecture. Here the solid merchant worth of the City is symbolised by sheer weight of simple polished granite; there is no fantasy and the most remarkable tomb only has a life-size white marble Descent from the Cross, but there is a curious circus of huge granite books with cord markers, and another of passionate angels (the largest angel is elsewhere, on the tomb of the Elfes, monumental masons). There are also some special plots consecrated to the re-interment of the dead taken from some of the scandalous old City graveyards, A good solemn cemetery. 

Barbara Jones ‘Design for Death’ (1967)


The condition of the churchyards in the City of London was a national scandal by the start of the 1850’s. The City authorities had been slow to react to the threat to health that the overcrowded city churchyards represented; concern over intermural burials had resulted in the establishment of the ‘magnificent seven’ cemeteries in London starting with Kensal Green in 1832 and ending with Tower Hamlets in 1841 but in the City the authority of the Church of England went unchallenged and all attempts at burial reform were passively resisted. The City authorities were belatedly stirred into action when the 1852 Metropolitan burial act allowed the secretary of state to prohibit further burials in any churchyard or burial ground deemed a health risk anywhere in London. The act also made the Commissioner of Sewers a burial authority and so William Haywood, the City Surveyor, found himself given the job of finding a site for the City to open its own cemetery. Haywood’s report to the authorities called the city churchyards ‘overgorged’ and ‘disgusting’ and recommended the purchase of 200 acres of arable, pasture and meadow land at Aldersbrook to the east of London, between Manor Park and Ilford.  


Haywood’s proposition met with stiff opposition from some senior church members. Archdeacon Hale, a High Tory and staunch opponent of any attempt to disrupt traditional burial arrangements was particularly vocal. The Banner of Ulster found the Archdeacons attempts to thwart the opening of a new cemetery so ridiculous that it could only assume that the most reverend William Hale was joking “let the journalist relate how Archdeacon Hale jested with his clergy and hoaxed the City Commissioners of Sewers. It is, indeed, a pity that he did not find a more appropriate theme upon which to display his talent than the sepulchre. The mirth is rather ghastly; but, after all, there are few personages that excite more laughter in theatre than the gravediggers,” it remarked in 1855. The newspapers correspondent was exasperated that the Archdeacon’s objections were taken at all seriously and that William Haywood’s time was wasted having to respond to them. One of Hale’s objections to the new cemetery was that it was not divided into 108 compartments, each one allotted to one of the city parishes, “that all the parishioners, having lived together and traded together, may die together and lie together, and that none presume to mingle their dust with their neighbours of the next parish” the newspaper noted. Another objection to the cemetery was that dissenters should not be suffered to be interred with churchmen; “Excellent! Dissenter may to Heaven and the angels in company with Churchman, but he shan't to the grave and the worms.” His final objection was that there was no need for a cemetery, that the City’s churchyards still had plenty of room, were not overcrowded and were not a health risk, a demurral so risible that it drove the Banner’s journalist to a paroxysm of mockery; “so, far from being unhealthy to inhabitants in the houses around, they are rather the reverse; look at sextons, how old those men generally are; in fact, as the gravedigger says in Hamlet, ‘There is no ancient gentlemen but gardeners, ditchers, and gravemakers; therefore —no occasion for the Ilford Cemetery. Here he has risen to the height of his great argument, to the climax of his jest. It would appear that the only thing which prevents the authorities from taming our churchyards into a resort for invalids, such as Bath or Brighton, is the extreme difficulty, perhaps also the impropriety, of finding suitable amusements in their precincts. If people would only reconcile themselves to playing at bowls with skulls, and fencing with crossbones, and turning the tombstones into billiard tables, nothing can possibly more salubrious than a graveyard, especially a city one- Pray don’t mention the odours of the place; medicines are odorous, and the stronger the smell, the more potent the medicine, the more certain the cure. “Death is as natural as life;” therefore it is as good as life; it is, in fact, a form of life.”


Haywood’s chosen site at Aldersbrook was on the edge of Wanstead Flats, an area of what was, back in the Pleistocene when mammoths grazed the water meadows, the alluvial plain formed by the Thames. The course of the river has moved southwards by four or five miles over the last 100,000 years but the clay and gravel deposited by the river are well drained and are not too difficult to dig for graves. The land formerly belonged to the Manor of Aldersbrook; the manor house had been demolished by the most recent owner and the formal gardens dug up and converted to pasturage but the site still retained a farmhouse and a large pond. The Evening Standard noted that “the situation of the cemetery, though not picturesque, is nevertheless admirably well adapted for its purposes. It is flat, but at the same time well drained, the land being particularly fertile, which fact is amply testified by the unusually flourishing aspect of the recent horticultural improvements.” The owner of the land was the Earl of Mornington but the purchase was delayed because of a dispute between the Earl and his son about whether the profligate father actually had the right to sell. The dispute was eventually settled and the City Corporation bought the land in 1854. With Haywood in charge work on the site proceeded at a brisk pace; all existing buildings on the land were demolished, the lake was drained and drains and roads laid out. Two chapels were built, one Anglican and the other non-denominational, an impressive entrance was built on Aldersbrook Road along with lodges and houses for the staff.  The last features to be constructed in the impressive layout of the cemetery were the catacombs, built in their own valley and intended to be a centrepiece of the overall design. The draining of the lake had created a natural amphitheatre and Haywood utilised this to create the catacombs. They were not a commercial success though as the initial enthusiasm for catacombs which had led to their construction in most of the new garden cemeteries had worn off by the time City of London opened in 1856. They became more important as a landscape feature and a promenading spot than as a place of burial and were never more than half filled.  


Although the cemetery opened for business in June 1856 consecration was delayed until November of the following year as the Bishop of London was unwilling to go through with the ceremony unless all 108 parishes were in agreement (Archdeacon Hale had clearly got to him). Many of the parish priests were concerned at the potential loss of income but it soon became obvious that most of their flock didn’t care if the cemetery were consecrated or not and were quite happy to be buried there regardless. The clergy bowed to the inevitable and on Monday 16 November 1857 the consecration ceremony took place with all due pomp and circumstance as The Evening Standard described the following day:

Yesterday the new cemetery at Little Ilford, which has just been completed by the burial board of the City of London, was consecrated with the usual ceremonials by the Lord Bishop of London…. At about eleven o'clock in the morning the Lord Mayor, accompanied by a large proportion of the aldermen and common councilmen, arrived at the ground, and, in company with the committee of the burial board, received the Bishop of London on his arrival, a little before twelve; soon after which the procession, consisting of the committee of the burial board and the choristers of St. Paul's; the chaplain of the cemetery, followed by the Lord Mayor and corporation of the City; the Bishop of London, accompanied by his chaplain, chancellor, registrar, and the clergy of the City of London, moved forward from the gate through the grounds to the church. Those composing the procession having taken their places in the church, morning prayers were read by the appointed chaplain of the cemetery, the Rev. Mr. Taylor, the first and second lessons being taken from, the 23d chapter of Genesis and the 19th chapter of St. John. During the service the 39th and 90th Psalms were chanted by the choir. At the conclusion of the service the commission of the burial board was read by the registrar, when the Lord Mayor presented the authorisation of the corporation for the consecration to the bishop, after which the authorisation was read aloud, and subsequently signed by the bishop. The procession again formed, and proceeded out of the church in the same order, and passed through the ground to be consecrated, the choir chanting the 16th and 49th Psalms. The procession then again returned to the church, when the chairman of the burial board presented the deed of conveyance to the bishop, who then offered up the final prayer. The procession again formed outside the church, when three verses of the 39th Psalm were chanted by the choir.


To show there were no hard feelings the Bishop delivered one of his better sermons:

The service having concluded, the Lord Bishop of London came forward and said, that on an occasion such as had brought them together he did not think they ought to separate without considering well the impressive and important ceremonial which they had assisted at. They had been assisting at the consecration of a metropolitan mausoleum, or city of the dead, as much as the busy throng which they had but recently left was a city of the living. The condition of man would indeed be dangerous in the extreme if it were not that God is continually giving him warning that the state of security in which he reposes cannot last for ever. In assisting at the consecration of this city of the dead they were irresistibly reminded that the great and busy throng which filled the streets of London must in a few years become its inhabitants. It had been an ancient and a holy custom to bury the dead within and in the immediate vicinity of the churches, in order that the survivors might in times of prayer be reminded of the uncertainty of their condition. This it had recently been considered necessary for the health of the public to discontinue, but at the same time it was thought right to embellish the cemeteries wherever they were placed, in order to induce people to take their recreation in them, that a true sense of their mortal condition might at least occasionally be brought to their minds. A slight collation was provided by the corporation for those present, which was under the admirable superintendence of Messrs. Staples.


For the members of the Improvement Committee of the Commissioners of Sewers the annual inspection of the Cemetery proved to be a popular event (certainly more popular than the annual inspection of drains and sewers would have been) involving as it did a leisurely drive down to Little Ilford along the Mile End and Romford Roads in the company of the incumbents and churchwardens of many of the city parishes. July was the month chosen for the inspection and the inspection party generally left the Guildhall at 1.00pm in six open carriages. The party would arrive at the cemetery sometime after two and would be met at the main gate by the Superintendent, Mr. Stacey, Mr. Haywood, the Engineer to the Commissioners of Sewers, the Reverend J. F. Taylor, the Chaplain of the cemetery, and the Reverend Mr. Hibbitt, the Rector of Little Ilford. The Committee would inspect the books and the cemetery plans in the lodge and would then visit the chapels and catacombs and then do a round of the cemetery grounds. Having found everything in the most perfect order and having worked up quite an appetite during their drive down and perambulation of the grounds the entire party would be driven to the Castle Hotel in Woodford where a five-course dinner would be served. (see London City Press - Saturday 14 July 1866). 


In January 1900 the Corporation was presented with a bill to build a crematorium at the cemetery. The idea was controversial and the aldermen instinctively backed away from such a radical proposal. The following year the idea was debated again this time the Sanitary Committee were charged with considering and reporting on the most suitable sight to potentially construct a crematorium within the grounds of the cemetery and to submit plans and estimates for the work. It took until October 1903 for the Corporation to pluck up enough courage to pass the plan and agree to the building of the first municipal crematorium in the country at a cost of £7000. The crematorium was completed the following year (costs having, of course, gone over budget) and in December 1904 the Essex Newsman was able to report that “the Home Office has approved the scale of fees which the City Corporation has prepared in connection with the new crematorium the City of London Cemetery, Ilford, recently erected at a cost of nearly £10,000. The cost of cremation has been reduced to four guineas, which fee includes an urn for the reception of the cinerary remains. These will be kept for twelve months, and if not claimed and removed they will be buried in a portion of the cemetery which been set apart for the purpose.” The cost of cremation was later reduced even further to £3 16s 6d and the cremation services offered by the cemetery heavily advertised in the local press; an indication perhaps that take up of the service was not as brisk as the corporation would have liked. 


Ironically overcrowding of burial space has once again become an issue, this time in the ‘new’ cemetery. The Guardian reported in September 2000:

Something is stirring amid the reverential quiet of the City of London cemetery at Manor Park, the country's largest burial ground. Hushed tones and respectful silences may be the usual mode of behaviour, but Ian Hussein, director of the city's cemeteries, can barely contain his frustration. A suspicion he has been harbouring for years is rapidly becoming a crisis, but he believes few in power are listening to his warning: we are running out of space to bury the dead.

Mr Hussein was keen for the Government to change the law to allow existing graves to be reused:
Since the 1970s they have been permitted to reclaim plots after between 50 and 100 years, and to exploit any grave spaces within them that were never used. But archaic laws - dating from an era when grave robbing was rife - mean they are banned from disturbing any bones below. This renders impossible their preferred solution, "lift and deepen", in which an old grave is reopened, the remains removed and reburied more deeply, leaving space above for the newly deceased. It is already an accepted practice in much of Europe. "You can disturb human remains in this country for any reason you care to name - housing development, shopping complexes, road widening, you name it," said Mr Hussein, whose organisation has for years been buying back plots it is banned from redigging. "But the one thing the government will not allow is for graves to be disturbed for the purposes of creating more graves." Nor, he adds, should talk of a crisis be lightly dismissed. "Death is, after all, one subject which affects everyone in the end."

The law was changed. You can now purchase a used grave in the City of London Cemetery and be buried on top of the old occupant. If the monument on the grave is not of historic significance or does not occupy a key position in the cemetery landscape you are allowed to reuse it, turning it around and inscribing the new deceased’s details on the unused face of the grave stone. If the monument is historically significant or occupies a key position in the landscape you may add a small plaque to the existing details.



Wednesday, 12 August 2020

"The great work of diffusing Anglo-Saxon energy throughout the globe..."; Captain Mayne Reid (1818-1883) Kensal Green Cemetery


THE Wild West fiction of Captain Mayne Reid (1818–1883), translated and simplified, was tremendously popular with Russian children at the beginning of this century, long after his American fame had faded. Knowing English, I could savor his Headless Horseman in the unabridged original. Two friends swap clothes, hats, mounts, and the wrong man gets murdered—this is the main whorl of its intricate plot. The edition I had (possibly a British one) remains in the stacks of my memory as a puffy book bound in red cloth, with a watery-gray frontispiece, the gloss of which had been gauzed over when the book was new by a leaf of tissue paper. I see this leaf as it disintegrated—at first folded improperly, then torn off—but the frontispiece itself, which no doubt depicted Louise Pointdexter’s unfortunate brother (and perhaps a coyote or two, unless I am thinking of The Death Shot, another Mayne Reid tale), has been so long exposed to the blaze of my imagination that it is now completely bleached (but miraculously replaced by the real thing, as I noted when translating this chapter into Russian in the spring of 1953, and namely, by the view from a ranch you and I rented that year: a cactus-and-yucca waste whence came that morning the plaintive call of a quail—Gambel’s Quail, I believe—overwhelming me with a sense of undeserved attainments and rewards).

Vladimir Nabokov ‘Speak Memory’ Chapter 10

DEATH OF CAPTAIN MAYNE REID. The death of Captain Mayne Reid is not the premature end of a career, for the literary activity of the author of the " Scalp Hunters " practically ceased some years ago. It is no discredit to a man to say that at the age of 67 he has written himself out. Though a cripple, Captain Mayne Reid was a familiar figure in one of the numerous local Parliaments in London, and, in spite of his infirmity, he did not look like a man who had nearly reached the end of the allotted span of existence. Captain Mayne Reid must have enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing that though his hand had lost its cunning, and he was no longer able to weave stories of breathless adventure as successfully as of old, his early books were still precious to the schoolboy. Few writers have made a more vivid impression on the juvenile mind, and there can be little doubt that to Captain Mayne Reid's novels many a man owes the impulse which led him as a lad to seek a life of adventure beyond the seas, and to take his share in the great work of diffusing Anglo-Saxon energy throughout the globe. It cannot, of course, be said that Captain Mayne Reid was gifted with brilliant imagination or with great literary power.

South London Chronicle - Saturday 27 October 1883



DEATH OF CAPTAIN MAYNE REID. Captain Mayne Reid, the well-known novelist, died at a late hour on Monday, at his residence, Maida Vale. He had been ailing for the last two years, and was in his sixty-seventh year, but died in harness, having half completed a new work. Men of the Time says that Capt. Mayne Reid was a native of the North of Ireland, and paternally descended from one of the pioneers of the Ulster Plantations." He was born in 1818, and educated for the Established Church. A taste for travel and adventure induced him, in 1838, to set out for Mexico, without any very definite aim. On arriving in New Orleans, he went on two excursions up the Red River, trading and hunting in company with the Indians, and afterwards made other excursions up the Missouri and on the prairies, where he remained for nearly five years. He afterwards travelled through almost every State in the Union, and these journeys, with his previous experience in the backwoods, acquired that knowledge of character and incident displayed his writings. In 1845, when war was declared between the United States and Mexico, Mayne Reid, who had devoted himself to literature, obtained commission in the United States' army. He was present at the siege and capture of Vera Cruz, and took active part in various encounters, led the last charge of infantry at Churubusco, and the forlorn hope at the assault Chapultepec, where he was shot down and reported to be killed. For his gallantry at Chapultepec Captain Reid was honourably mentioned in the despatches. At the close of the Mexican war he resigned his commission, and 1849 organised a body of men in New York to proceed to Hungary, to aid in the struggle of that country for independence. On reaching Paris he received the news of the total failure of the Hungarian insurrection. Captain Reid repaired to London, where he once more devoted himself to literature.

Manchester Evening News - Wednesday 24 October 1883

What manner of man Mayne Reid was, the following sketch of his career will show. Mayne Reid, the son of a Presbyterian minister, was born in the north of Ireland in 1818, and died in London in 1883. His father naturally desired that his eldest son should become a minister like himself; but it was found that the young man's inclinations were altogether opposed to this calling. He yearned to travel; and when the opportunity of visiting America came, it was "without a sigh that he beheld the hills of his native land sink behind the black waves, not much caring whether he ever saw them again." In America Mayne Reid had the most varied experiences. He encountered bears and buffaloes on the prairies; he met Indians on the war path with their trophies of scalps; he trapped, he hunted, he rode. Moreover, he kept store, drove niggers, and taught a school. Then be drifted into journalism, which he gave up in order that he might join the army. He obtained a commission in the New York Volunteers, the first regiment raised in New York for the Mexican War, and in December, 1846, sailed for Vera Cruz.

Pall Mall Gazette - Thursday 17 July 1890



No man could have been better qualified to recount thrilling adventures in America in the days when Indian warfare was a more serious business than it is now. Captain Mayne Reid began life by roving about Texas with his life in his hand, and that hand against every Mexican he met. His contempt for Mexicans, who were contemptuously called "Greasers", is vigorously expressed in several of his books.

South London Chronicle - Saturday 27 October 1883

Before the war was over, Mayne Reid was reported to have died of his wounds. "Gone!" exclaimed a young poetess of Ohio, in some verses written and recited at the time:-

Gone-gone-gone;
Gone to his dreamless sleep;
And spirits of the brave,
Watching o'er his lone grave,
Weep-weep-weep.

But Mayne Reid hadn't gone. He stayed in the City of Mexico, and made love to the fair Mexican ladies, by whom he was called "Don Juan de Tenoris." He must have been a captivating young gentleman, or an American journalist (one of those gentlemen who eschew exaggeration) would not have described him as a "mixture of Adonis and the Apollo Belvedere with a dash of the Centaur."

Pall Mall Gazette - Thursday 17 July 1890


THE CAPTAIN AND HIS CHILD WIFE. We cannot conclude this notice of Mrs. Reid's book without making some reference to Captain Mayne Reid’s "child wife " - that is, to herself. She was not more than fifteen when she married. Reid met her at an aunt's house, and, although she was scarcely thirteen, he fell in love with her at first sight. She resembled the Zoe of his "Scalp Hunters," he said. But " Zoe” did not take kindly to the "middle-aged gentleman" as she called him, and it was two years before they were married. "Her aunt was greatly astonished at hearing the news of the marriage, as she was daily expecting her niece's arrival en route for school." In fact, Mrs. Reid was generally thought by strangers to be the captain's daughter.
Pall Mall Gazette - Thursday 17 July 1890




CAPTAIN MAYNE REID. The Times cannot take Captain Mayne Reid seriously as a novelist. His books will hardly live, even among the favourites of schoolboys; and if they do, it will be rather as fairy tales than as literature. There is a vast difference, for example, between his work and that of Fenimore Cooper, with whom it is natural to compare him.… We do not ask for this kind of work in Mayne Reid. Look to him neither for character nor for nature, nor for imagination in the strict sense of the term; but only for a kind of barbarous invention, and for a power of painting in coarse, effective colours, like the colours of a scene-painter, the deeds of savage heroes, bad and good. When he tried to write a novel of a sober kind the attempt was a ludicrous failure; the measure of his powers was reached when he had described his Spanish Indians, their loves and hates, their wild lives and violent deaths in the forest or on the prairie. Of his class of writers, he was certainly the best; and those who have read him as boys will not allow their maturer critical judgment to condemn him altogether.
St James's Gazette - Wednesday 24 October 1883