Monday 29 April 2024

The woman in white; Caroline Graves ( c. 1830-1895) Kensal Green Cemetery


As a young man Collins probably had his romantic experiences those "intimacies" to which the Dictionary of National Biography rather ambiguously refers. But when he was thirty-five and seemingly a confirmed bachelor, he formed an attachment with a married woman ten years his junior, which greatly influenced his life and about which he remained steadfastly and discreetly silent to all but his closest friends. It began with a queerly dramatic encounter. One summer evening in 1859 Wilkie and his brother Charles were accompanying Millais, the artist, back to his house in Gower Street after he had dined with them at Hanover Terrace, Regent's Park, when suddenly they were startled by a shriek from a near-by house and the appearance of in Millais's words "a young and very beautiful woman" dressed in white arid obviously terrified. She darted off and Wilkie, his curiosity and chivalrous instincts aroused, followed her into the darkness and his companions saw him no more that night. On his return next day he was rather quiet about the episode, but it seemed that he had caught up with the lady in distress and extracted from her a woeful tale of imprisonment and maltreatment by a villain in a Regent's Park villa, and of final desperate escape. While it was obvious that the fair fugitive and her plight had impressed Collins, his friends could not have guessed that he would fall head over heels in love with her. Yet this is what happened.

Britannia and Eve - Friday 01 February 1952

It was the son of the artist Millais who was responsible for perpetuating, in print at least, this heavily romanticised version of the first meeting between Wilkie Collins and Caroline Graves. No doubt the painter had been repeating the story in drawing rooms and salons for years, in front of audiences of sceptical listeners who took it with the pinch of salt it deserves. But by including the fantastic episode in his biography of his father, ‘The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais’, John Guille Millais lent it that spurious credibility which repetition in print can create for even the silliest rumours. Creating a mysterious backstory for the lower-class girl from Gloucestershire would have suited Caroline who was doing her best to do exactly the same. Caroline was not her real name (she had been christened Elizabeth), she lied about her age, she said her father was a man Courteney, and claimed her first husband, George Robert Graves, was a man of independent means. In reality she the daughter of a carpenter called John Compton, had married the penniless Graves when she was 18 and then moved to Bath and ten Clerkenwell with him and his mother. George Graves died when Caroline was just 18 and left her in straitened circumstances with a young baby to look after. How Caroline managed to scrape a living over the next four years we do not know but in 1856 the 26-year-old Caroline met Wilkie Collins in circumstances no doubt much less melodramatic than those claimed by Millais all those years later.

Although she is not mentioned on the headstone, Wilkie Collins is buried with his mistress Caroline Graves. Although the pair lived together for the best part of thirty years, Wilkie always refused to marry Caroline. Even worse after a decade of living ‘in sin’ with Caroline, Wilkie started another relationship with a younger woman called Martha Rudd with whom he went on to have three children.  This caused a rift in his relationship with Caroline and she left Wilkie to marry a plumber called Joseph Clow. The wedding took place on the 29th October 1868 at St Marylebone Church.  The witnesses were Caroline’s daughter Elizabeth and Francis Carr Beard, a doctor and close friend and medical advisor to both Wilkie and his best friend Charles Dickens (and also buried at Kensal Green). Wilkie was also present at the ceremony! The marriage did not last; within two years Caroline was back living with Wilkie who now had to maintain two separate households for the two women in his life. When he died in 1889 Wilkie left clear instructions about the disposal of his remains; a plot was to be bought at Kensal Green and a plain stone cross erected over the grave. No scarves, hatbands or feathers were to be worn and the cost of the funeral was not to exceed £25. He also wrote the inscription on the gravestone. The funeral was not well attended, Wilkies unusual domestic arrangements were simply too scandalous for most of his friends and acquaintances to contemplate attending. Caroline attended the funeral but Martha did not, she had to content herself with sending a wreath of white flowers. When Caroline died in 1895 she was buried with Wilkie;  Martha took over looking after the grave.

Friday 26 April 2024

'Who hath no wife, he is no cuckold'; George Hill (1802-1864) Kensal Green Cemetery


Was George Hill as dull as his epitaph suggests? It is not unusual for memorial inscriptions to mention the grave occupant’s occupation but very few are as exclusively focused on career achievements as George’s. “For upwards of 30 years the deceased was an esteemed and valued member of the local civil service in the Bengal residency,” it says. This about as much as we would normally want to know about George’s life in the Colonial Civil Service but he wants us to also know that the Government of India, no less, “were pleased in several dispatches to the court of directors to bear testimony to his public worth.” Very good, lets move on. “He was, moreover, for many years secretary to the retiring fund established by the medical officers of the Bengal Army.” Very interesting George, how about your family? “And during his incumbency he so materially enhanced and consolidated the permanent interests of that institution…” - did you have a wife, George? Children? - “that his resignation was the subject of general regret…” I don’t think so George. I bet they couldn’t wait to see the back of you, you old bore. We get his dates; born 20th October 1802, died 24th August 1864 and, in the first snippet of any interest, his place of death; ‘the Palace Hotel, Buckingham Gate, SW.’ but otherwise George’s summation of his life is a tedious recital of his CV, as though he was applying for a middle management position in Paradise.

Although he doesn’t mention him George’s son is also buried here, George Hill Junior, his ‘second son’ according to his epitaph on a side panel of the memorial, who apparently followed his father into the Bengal Civil Service before becoming the Senior Lieutenant in the 1st [West] Norfolk Regiment of Militia before “seriously impaired sight compelled him very early in life to relinquish public employment.” Although he deliberately chose not to mention it, George Hill senior was in fact married twice, the first time tragically, the second time scandalously, and was the father of 9 children. Traumatised, particularly by his second wife, at the end of his life an embittered George apparently preferred to dwell on the meagre satisfactions of his career rather than recall a troubling and chaotic domestic life.

Despite my best efforts I have not been able to find out anything about George Hill’s origins. I have not been able to trace a birth record in either the UK or India. In 1828 he was initiated as a Freemason in the Aurora Lodge, Candour and Cordiality in Calcutta. His profession was listed as merchant. Two years later when the Aurora Lodge merged with the Lodge of True Friendship, George had embarked on his civil service career and gave his profession as General Treasury. He was already a married man at the time of his initiation into the Masons having married Evelina Virginia Howe at St John’s church (then a cathedral) on 10 May 1827; the groom was 25 at the time of the marriage, the bride 22. Evelina was already a third generation Anglo-Indian; her paternal grandfather had been born in Nottingham and moved to India to serve in the Bengal presidency army. In India he lived for 10 years with an Irish woman called Margaret Shaw and had three illegitimate children with her including Evelina’s father, before he married her in 1786. He had two more children with Margaret and then oddly, married her for a second time in 1806. Evelina’s own family was large and thoroughly Anglo-Indian family; both her her parents had been born in Calcutta and she had 8 brothers and sisters. Evelina and George wasted no time in starting their own family; they were married in May, Evelina became pregnant in June and their first child, Mary Letitia was born on Match 17th the following year. Tragically she only lived 4 months and 21 days, dying on the 8th August 1828. Initially Evelina produced babies almost at the rate of one a year, after Mary Letitia in 1828 came eldest son Stuart, born in 1829, and George junior in 1830 and daughter Theodosia in 1831. Theodosia died before she was three, in 1834. There were three more surviving children, John Alexander in 1835, Latitia in 1836 and Octavious William in 1838 though John Alexander died in 1839 when he was four. In November 1841 Evelina gave birth to a still born girl and on the 5th January 1844 her eleventh and final child, a boy, was also still born. Evelina died herself six days later of a post-partum infection, worn out by childbearing and heartache no doubt. Unlike George’s dry epitaph, the epitaph on Evelina’s headstone in South Park Street Cemetery in Kolkata is heartbreaking.

Evelina Hill's epitaph on her memorial in the South Park Street burial ground in Calcutta (from 'The Bengal Obituary; A  compilation of tablets and monumental inscriptions from various parts of the Bengal and Agra presidencies' W. Thacker & Co London 1851)   

According to Evelina’s epitaph her 6 surviving children were all in England whilst George, now 42 years old, remained alone in Calcutta. But not for long; he soon met another Anglo-Indian, a 21-year-old woman called Anna Maria Lyster, the daughter of “a distinguished officer in the Bengal Artillery” Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Hawtrey. Young as she was Anna Maria was already widow with a two-year-old daughter. The young widow was immensely attractive but penniless and in need of a protector.  George was older, his children were far away in England and he ‘held a lucrative appointment, as head assistant to the Military Board of the Accountant General's Office’. He was not the most exciting catch but he offered stability. The couple were married at St Johns on 16th January 1847, the groom 20 years older than the bride. According to an account of Anna Maria’s divorce petition in the London Evening Standard of Friday 22 July 1864 “the union, from an early period, was a very unhappy one.” Anna Maria had secrets, which she claimed to have divulged to George on the eve of their wedding; the groom “said he would take a day to consider before he decided but he then agreed to marry her notwithstanding what had occurred.” This the Evening Standard’s version of what Anna Maria told George;

It appeared that Colonel Hawtrey died several years ago, leaving a widow, a son, who was in the Indian army, and the petitioner and another daughter. After his decease the widow, who was left in limited circumstances, came to England with her daughters, and while staying at Margate formed the acquaintance of a Colonel Lyster, to whom the petitioner, then almost a child, was married in 1847, and by whom she had a daughter, which is still living. It was discovered that Colonel Lyster, who is dead, had a wife at the time he contracted this marriage.

According to her, Anna Maria’s marriage had been contracted ‘in a room’ in Wales and unsurprisingly no official record of it exists. She continued to live with Colonel Lyster until his death in 1846 when she returned to India.

South Park Street Cemetery, Kolkata from Kevin Standage's wonderful blog 

George “was of a jealous and suspicious character, and frequent altercations took place between him and” Anna Mara according to the Newspaper but despite this Anna Maria bore him two children, a boy named George after his father and a daughter Alice. The rift between the couple became open when George decided to return to England with his young family:

Sometime after the marriage they left India for England, but in consequence of differences on the voyage the petitioner refused to accompany her husband further than Mauritius, where she remained for some time, but ultimately returned to England and took up her residence with her friends. It was at the period of this rupture between the parties that the first adultery was alleged to have taken place with a Lieutenant Hickey. Sometime after her return to England she was induced by the respondent to resume cohabitation with him, and they continued to live together until 1857. In that year she accompanied him to Folkestone, on his way to Germany, when he told her that he had altered his mind about taking her with him abroad, and desired her to go with the children to Sandgate, and remain there until he returned in about a week or fortnight. While she was staying there he addressed a most offensive letter to a policeman in that neighbourhood, asking to be informed how she conducted herself since his departure. On her return to England he agreed to allow her £100. a year, but refused to live with her, but the allowance was sometimes not paid in full.

Anna Maria petitioned for a divorce on the grounds that George had deserted her and that he was not paying alimony as previously agreed. George contested the divorce and the case was heard, in front of a jury, at Westminster by Judge Sir James Wilde. George’s case was that he had not deserted Anna Maria but had separated from her because of her unreasonable behaviour. She had, he claimed, been unfaithful to him with two different men; she had committed adultery with Lieutenant Hickey on board the steam ship Argo on the voyage between Calcutta and Mauritius, and in England she had conducted a ‘clandestine intimacy’ with a Mr Edward Warwick, an unmarried man, at his chambers in Regent Street and ‘at diverse other places’. In George’s version of events after separating at Mauritius Anna Maria had followed him to London and begged him to take her back, saying that she was not guilty of infidelity as George thought. George took her back but then “not withstanding his kindness” Anna Maria was treated him with “insolence and neglect, exhibited towards him great violence of temper and on some occasions violently assaulted him, pulled his hair and threw divers missiles at him.” She also frequently absented herself from home and refused to say where she had been. The petition also includes a copy of an incriminating letter from Lieutenant Hickey addressed to ‘My own darling’. George claimed that when the Argo arrived in Mauritius Anna Maria went with Hickey to a hotel for the day and never returned to the ship leaving him to travel on alone with their daughter.  According to the Evening Standard after listening to all this “the learned judge said that there was no chance of these parties living together, and suggested that a private arrangement should be made between them which would render the scandal of further proceedings unnecessary. The counsel then retired, and after about an hour's absence an arrangement was made and the proceedings terminated.”

One can only imagine the toll these humiliating court proceedings took on George and Anna Maria. It must have been bad enough in court in front of the judge and jury but then to see lurid details printed in the newspapers in the following days. Anna Maria strikes one as being the more robust character. She lived until 1897, surviving not only her husband but her son and daughter. George on the other hand didn’t live more than another month, dying of a seizure in his hotel room at the Palace Hotel in Buckingham Gate. 

The Palace Hotel, Westminster where George died in 1864.

Thursday 14 March 2024

Death at the Zoo; murder, suicide and drunken accidents in the first 75 years of London's Zoological Gardens

Children of all ages will be Interested in the chatty and pleasant account of "Half Holidays at the Zoo," issued from the Westminster Gazette office. It is illustrated by a large number of capital photographs of all the popular favourites. The "Zoo" has been an institution since 1826, and during that time there have been only two fatalities-one being the accidental crushing of an old man by an elephant, the other, the result of a drunken man playing with a cobra. The London "Zoo," we are told, Is the most famous, most complete, and richest of all "Zoos” and it has an Income of £20,000 a year.

Derby Mercury - Wednesday 27 November 1895

Charles Morley and Hulda Friederich’s ‘chatty and pleasant’ collection of sketches from the Westminster Gazette, published as ‘Half Holidays at the Zoo’ certainly did not mention the deaths of Edward Horatio Girling, who was bitten by a cobra in 1852, or parrot keeper Goss, who was crushed by an elephant in 1879, so quite why the anonymous reviewer in the Derby Mercury felt compelled to raise them is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps he (surely it was a he) was rather disappointed that the close and risk filled proximity of human beings with so many large, wild and dangerous animals had only resulted in a mere two deaths in over 70 years.

On 23 October 1852 the Daily News reported that on the previous day “Mr. WakIey held the inquest on Edward Horatio Girling, killed by the bite of the Cobra at the Zoological Gardens on Wednesday” at the York and Albany public house, on the Parkway in Camden, just a short distance from the zoo.  The jury were first taken to view Girling’s corpse and were then walked to the zoo to see the snake that had killed him. Whilst they were at the zoo David Mitchell, the Secretary of the Zoological Society, gave them an impromptu lecture on the proper manner of handling venomous reptiles, using a wire. The newspaper noted that during Mitchell’s talk “the serpent was taking the water… It is about five feet long, with a flat broad head and a yellow mark at the back of its neck.” Back at the pub the jury listened to an account of Girling’s last moments alive, given by Mr GF Burdett the surgeon who had attended him when he had been brought to hospital. They heard that Girling was almost unconscious, unable to speak and kept pointing to his throat. His complexion was livid and there were 10 small puncture wounds on either side of his nose. Burdett ordered Girling to be placed in bed and as his breathing failed artificial respiration and galvanic shocks were applied to try and revive him. Artificial respiration was continued for 40 minutes after Girling stopped being able to breath by himself but to no avail. “The most certain remedy would have been for some person to have sucked the wound the instant after the bite, if any one could have been found having the boldness to do it,” Mr Wakley commented helpfully.

How had Girling been bitten? According to Edward Stewart, the Humming Bird keeper and Girling’s friend, the pair had left work at 6pm the day before the accident and gone to Girling’s for their ‘tea’ and had then gone out to see a friend who was moving to Australia. They had drunk some porter at the friend’s house and then moved on to a public house in Shoe Lane where they had spent the entire night drinking before going back to work at around 6am the following morning, where they breakfasted on gin. Stewart was asked if Girling was intoxicated. “No, no not at all, just a little excited,” the humming bird keeper told the jury. Shortly after 8am Stewart was passing through the reptile house with a basket of larks when he saw Girling remove a rocco snake from its enclosure. Stewart ran over to him and told him ‘For Gods sake’ to put the snake back. Girling laughed, said “I am inspired!” and draped the snake around Stewart’s neck. Stewart again told him to put the snake back, which he did. Then he walked over to another vivarium saying “Now for the cobra!”  Stewart again asked him what he thought he was doing but Girling ignored him, removed the snake and slipped it into his waistcoat. The cobra passed through the waistcoat and Girling took hold of it in the middle of its body. The snake pulled back and then darted at Girling’s face, biting on either side of the nose. The jury learned that Girling was employed at wages of one guinea a week and that he had no experience of handling animals. His previous job had been as a guard on the Eastern Counties Railway. David Mitchell had trained Girling himself and told the jury that he had previously reprimanded him for not taking sufficient care when feeding the adders. None of the witnesses said that they had ever seen Girling intoxicated but the jury were having none of that, they thought Girling had clearly had far too much to drink and brought in a verdict of “died from the mortal effects of wounds produced from the bite of a venomous serpent, known the cobra de capello, and that the said injuries were the results of his own rashness whilst in state of intoxication.”

There was a near miss in the summer of 1867 when, according to the ‘Illustrated Police News’ (06 July 1867) an unnamed ‘countryman’ descended unobserved into the bear pit to recover his hat which had fallen into the enclosure. He was immediately “seized by one of the bears upon his arriving at the bottom of the pit. No sooner had this taken place when two other boars immediately came from their cave and also seized him, and began dragging him towards it.” The spectators began to throw their walking sticks at the bears hoping to distract them. A nearby zookeeper saved the day by rushing to the scene, At the sound of his voice the bears abandoned their quarry and ‘slunk back to their cave’. Another newspaper quoted by the Police News noted that “a man will do astonishing things to recover his hat! A peculiar sentiment seems, indeed, to attach to that objectionable head-dress, resembling the feeling with which an ancient Roman or Greek regarded his shield.”  

On Sunday 18 May 1879 the Era reported on the inquest held on the death of the Zoo’s parrot house keeper, who was 72 years when he was crushed by an elephant (none of the newspaper accounts dignified keeper Goss with a first name);

Fatal Accident at the Zoological Gardens. An inquest was held on Wednesday afternoon by Dr. Hardwicke, at the University College Hospital, on the body of Goss, the keeper of the parrot-house at the Zoological Gardens, who died from the effects of injuries inflicted on him on Easter Tuesday last by an elephant. The house surgeon to the hospital stated that the patient was admitted with a fractured leg, the small bone having been broken. There was also a dislocation of the large bone of the leg from the corresponding bone of the ankle joint. The seventh rib was also fractured. Amputation of the leg was performed, but the patient, who was seventy-two years old, died of the shock of the wounds and the operation. Barnes, the driver of the elephants, stated that he left his beasts for a few minutes in order to get a pair of steps for the visitors to mount, and that he asked Goss to stand at the elephant's head while he went for the steps. When he returned, he found Goss sitting down on the seat. He said that the elephant had trodden on him and broken his leg. The animals had already been three times round the Gardens before the accident happened. They were quiet as usual. Mr A. D. Bartlett, who has been manager of the Gardens for twenty years, stated that the four Indian elephants had always been perfectly gentle, and that he had never known any of them show symptoms of temper or vice at any time. He was on the spot a few minutes after the accident. Barnes had gone for the steps, and Goss was standing by the elephant's head when the animal suddenly started forward, pushed Goss over, and trod on his foot. He thought it possible that some mischievous person had prodded the elephant from behind with a stick or umbrella, or else pulled his tail, thus making him suddenly start forwards. The elephant was presented by the Prince of Wales, and was named Restom. He was one of the smaller elephants, and weighed a ton and a quarter. He was by no means a vicious or ill-tempered animal. Goss had been a keeper in the elephant-house before he was made keeper of the parrot-house. He had been in the Society's service many years, amid bore a very excellent character. The Jury returned a verdict of " Accidental Death."

Searching the records I have been able to identify ‘Goss’ as John Goss, born in Pakenham in Suffolk in 1806. He married Mary Ann Dean at St Dunstan’s in the West on 21 October 1834 and the couple went on to have seven children, six girls and one boy. At the time of his death he was living at 2 Egbert Street, NW1 in the house of the Zoo’s superintendent, Clarence Bartlett, presumably a relative of the Mr A.D. Bartlett who gave evidence at the inquest.

SUICIDE AT THE ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS.  Dr H. Wynn Westcott held an inquest on Saturday, at the Ossington Coffee Tavern, Marylebone, concerning the death of William Farrow, forty-three years old, a helper In the monkey-house at the Zoological Gardens, residing at 26, Egbert-place, St. Georges-road, Regent's Park, who on Thursday morning was found in a room adjoining the monkey- house with his throat cut. Ann Farrow, widow of the deceased, said her husband occasionally drank, and was then violent. He kept a razor for shaving at the gardens. The coroner's officer said Farrow took the elephant Alice to Mr. Barnum in America. Benjamin Morley, a labourer at the Zoological Gardens, deposed to finding the deceased in a room adjoining the monkey-house, lying on a truss of straw with his throat cut. He lived about a quarter of an hour after witness discovered him. James Baker, money-taker at the Gardens, said he found a razor smeared with blood in a box about forty yards from the deceased. The widow said the paper produced was a in her husband's handwriting. He gave it to her on Monday evening. He was playing with bis children, and wrote the paper, promising to become a teetotaller on and after the 16th inst., that date being the anniversary of the deceased's return from India, and with their youngest child finished the writinq. Mr. Charles Bartlett, acting superintendent at the Zoological Gardens, stated that the deceased had at been in the employ of the Zoological Society for nineteen years. Two years ago, because of his intemperate habits, he was, reduced from the position of a keeper to that of helper. Lately he had been very unsteady. The witness remonstrated with him, to and he promised to become a teetotaller. During the past fortnight he had kept sober, or nearly so. Twelve months ago he took out two lions to the Calcutta gardens, and returned with a rhinoceros and a tiger, After hearing the evidence of Dr. T. Bennett the jury returned a verdict of suicide whilst  in a state of temporary insanity, induced by habits of habitual Alcoholic intemperance.

The accounts of another suicide the following year were much terser. This is from the Western Gazette of Friday 09 November 1888;

A well-dressed man committed suicide on Wednesday morning shooting himself through the head with a revolver in the Zoological Garden. The man died instantly.

My attempts to find out more about this incident have all resulted in failure. Although the suicide was widely reported, interestingly there were no follow up stories in any newspapers that I can trace even though there must have been an inquest. In January 1898 25-year-old Ernest Harrison, a keeper at the zoo, shot himself in the head in his lodgings there. According to the Morning Leader of Thursday 06 January 1898 “he was seen by another keeper at quarter-past nine, and had requested the latter to feed his cranes. He seemed greatly depressed at the time. When the second keeper relurned to Harrison’s room at half past ten he found the door bolted and the blinds drawn. Climbing on to the roof and looking through the skylight he saw Harrison lying on the ground with a rifle wound in his head. The wounded man was at once removed to the North-Western Hospital in Kentish Town-rd., where he died shortly before two o’clock in the afternoon. The deceased was a native of Lincolnshirse, and his family have been communicated with. His age was 25. By his side, when discovered, was found a bottle of carbolic, and it is thought that he took poison before shooting himself through the mouth.”

In 1911 another keeper shot himself through the head in his room at the keepers lodge. 21 year old Frank Leonard Hann was found kneeling by his bedside with a bullet wound in his right temple and a revolver by his side. His superiors and colleagues all thought him to be “rather strange in his manners” according to the Leicester Chronicle of Saturday 6 May 1911, who reported on the inquest at St Pancras Coroner’s Court. Walter Sutton, the headkeeper, reported Hann to be “rather late with regard to meal times” and said that “after dinner sometimes he would sit down and read a book for about 20 minutes, then suddenly jump up and say ‘This way to the talking Mynah’ referring to a particular bird in the aviary.” Sutton also claimed to have seen Hann “reading novels”; an unwarranted slander according to Hann’s father who stood up at the back of the court and shouted that there had been no novels in his room and that his son had probably been reading a book on natural history. The coroner told him to sit down and said he would tolerate no further outbursts of that sort in his court. Further examples of Hann’s ‘strangeness’ came from Edward Tanner, a fellow keeper, who sand that “sometimes when in the aviary he would start singing at the top of his voice and then laugh in a deep, unnatural voice.”  Tanner told the inquest that Hann had showed him a revolver and said that he would use it to shoot stray cats in the garden. Edward Ockenden, the assistant superintendent, told the jury that Hann was reported for being absent without leave on 25 April and was dismissed and told to hand in his keys and uniform to the financial clerk. Hann appeared in Ockenden’s office to argue his case but was told by the assistant superintendent that there was nothing he could do, the matter was out of his hands. Hann left the office, slamming the door behind him but returned almost immediately, stormed up to Ockenden and slapped him on the left ear. Two or three of the clerks intervened and bustled Hann out of the office. An hour and a half later a shot was heard in the office and they soon all learned that Hann had killed himself. Further peculiarities of the deceased whilst on duty in the bird house was given Mr. Arthur Denman, a Fellow of the Zoological Society, who said that had had occasion to caution him for whistling in an annoying manner. The jury returned a verdict of suicide whilst of unsound mind.”

In 1928 one of the Zoo;s elephant keepers was accused of murdering his colleague, The case caused a sensation, not least because the murdered man was Sayid Ali, an Indian, and his murderer San Dwe, was from Burma. In the small hours of the morning on 25 August two policeman had climbed over the fence of the zoo after hearing moaning coming from inside. “At the foot of the Tapir House,” according to the Gloucester Citizen of Tuesday 04 September 1928, “over which San Dwe lived, they found him holding his foot and groaning, and wearing only his pants, vest, and a pyjama coat. When questioned he made incoherent statements. With the aid of torch Ali was found upstairs over the Tapir House lying dead on his bed, clad only in his vest, with the left side of his head badly battered, and his body also wounded. A pickaxe was at the bottom of the bed.” Dwe told the police that four men had tried to kill him and that he had hidden under the bed, and then jumped from his window. Dwe was taken to hospital and, for some reason, placed on a mental ward. Back at the Zoo “in the room at the Tapir House was found a blood-stained sledge hammer, and in the bedroom a pickaxe similarly stained. A green wooden box, the property of Ali had been opened, and the contents were scattered over the floor. On top of the box were two bags of coppers. Between the sheets and mattress of Ali's bed was a wallet containing £36 10s. in notes. There was also a Post Office Savings Bank Book, showing deposits of £60.” Later Dwe was taken to Albany Street Station where he made his first statement claiming that he had been laying in bed reading until about 10.30 when Ali put out the light and stood by the window. He said to Dwe “Come and look English, English, one by one," meaning that there was a couple in the street openly having sexual intercourse. Ali swore at them and “an Englishman shouted back, ‘Shut up vou black man! shut up!" San Dwe said he then went to sleep. He was awakened later and heard Sayid Ali being hit by someone. San Dwe took some blankets and jumped out of the window.” In a later interview Dwe told the police that over the previous few months he had been repeatedly approached, whilst training his elephants, by an English man always dressed in a trilby and trench coat, who would question him about Ali and his savings. Dwe confessed to accepting money from the man to answer his questions and to leave the door of their shared room open that night. Dwe said he forgot to leave the door open that night and the man in the trench coat and trilby and an accomplice had then battered the door down and murdered Ali for his savings. The two contradictory versions of the events of that night and the fact that none of Ali’s money appeared to have been taken cast suspicion on Dwe himself. In November he was found guilty of Ali’s murder and sentenced to death. In December he received a reprieve and his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

Sayid Ali and San Dwe photographed before the fateful events of the 25th August 1928

Friday 8 March 2024

The Mysterious Barclay Grave; Elizabeth Anne Barclay (1834-1895) Kensal Green Cemetery

This memorial in Kensal Green cemetery first caught my attention back in 2013.  The unusual design is unlike anything else in the cemetery; a trefoil cross carrying a crude depiction of Christ carved out of one large piece of stone, it looks semi pagan, vaguely Celtic, a product of the dark ages when Norsemen swept through the British Isles putting Christians to the sword and ransacking monasteries. It is pretty hefty; almost four feet tall with a span of two and a half feet across the patibulum, made from hard-wearing, unpolished granite, it must weigh at least 650Kg. The bottom of the cross is slotted into a base of the same stone just over three feet long, a foot wide and 9 inches deep. The weight of the base is just a fraction of the weight of the cross, 200Kg perhaps. Unsurprisingly then the cross is starting to incline at quite an alarming angle. The weight of the base can’t be enough to support the cross and as soon as earth movement took the upright out of perfect vertical alignment, the whole memorial was going to gradually, but inexorably, topple over in real time slow motion. Standing it back up will be quite a job, base and cross together weigh over 130 stone, well over three quarters of a tonne.  There is no epitaph or any other inscription or mark on the memorial to give any clue as to its age or who might be buried here. Whether some element of the memorial is missing or whether the person buried here wanted anonymity is impossible to tell. Having admired the rude beauty of this monument for over a decade, I decided it was time I did some research to find out who was buried here.

I started by locating the grave on the cemetery maps. These give the number of the grave and a surname. In most cases, but by no means all, the name on the map is the name of the person buried in the grave; the name is actually that of the grave owner, the person who purchased the plot, and is this is generally a close relative, spouse or child, they tend to share the same name. The map gave me the name Barclay and the plot number 35332. The grave number is useful because these were allocated sequentially by the General Cemetery Company so it gives us a rough date for the purchase of the grave. Graves close by numbered in the 35000’s all dated from the 1890’s. This was a surprise; I thought the grave might be more modern. With a surname and a timescale, I could search Deceased online, who have Kensal Green’s burial records, for any Barclays buried in the cemetery in the 1890’s. There were only four. I paid to view the burial record of the person who was buried in the middle of the decade, an Elizabeth A. Barclay, and bingo, the grave number matched 35332. The records also have the address of the deceased, in this case Horbury Crescent, Notting Hill. With a name, an address and a date of death it was then a relatively simple matter to search on Ancestry for further records relating to Elizabeth Barclay.

Probate records show that Elizabeth Anne Barclay died on the 12 March 1895 at number 13 Horbury Crescent, W11 but her permanent address is given as Mendon Vean in Falmouth. Her estate is valued at £14,117 and 18 shillings which was a substantial sum in the 1890’s. On-line estimates of the cash value of £14,000 at current prices say that it would be worth over £2 million but this must be an underestimate. Some assets, particularly land and property have risen significantly more than cash values in the last 130 years. Elizabeth was the only voter registered at Horbury Cresent which means that she almost certainly owned it. The property still stands and online estimates of its current value are all over £5 million. Elizabeth also owned her property in Cornwall and also owned land. She was an extremely wealthy woman. She was baptised on 28 December 1834 at Great Bookham in Surrey which means that she was 61 when she died. Her parents were David and Maria Dorothea Barclay who had recently bought the grand mansion at Eastwick Park and its ‘uncommonly fine’ estate, once the home of the Dukes of Effingham. David Barclay, had been the Whig MP for Penryn in Cornwall and the year after her birth would be elected as MP for Sunderland. He had substantial business interests, he formed Barclay Brothers and Company, at 34 Old Broad Street, the merchant house of which he eventually became head and was also an auditor of the Rock Life Assurance Office, a director of the Anglo-Mexican Mining Association, 1825-8, and had two spells as a director of the Bank of England.  The Barclays were an extremely wealthy Quaker family; Elizabeth’s grandfather Robert had bought Thrale’s brewery in Southwark. Dr Johnson, who had acted for the Thrale family during the sale, famously said that the purchaser had ‘the potentiality of becoming rich beyond the dreams of avarice’ and so it proved, the brewery became the biggest and most profitable in Europe. When Robert died in 1830, David inherited a one-eighth share in the brewery, a legacy of £15,000 and a share in the residue of the personal estate, which was sworn under £160,000. Elizabeth’s grandmother was a Gurney and two of her aunts married into the Fox family of Cornwall, Quaker aristocracy. 

But all was not well with her parents’ marriage. Outwardly respectable David Barclay was not in reality quite the upright, moral figure he presented to the world. The couple had six children and Elizabeth was the youngest. Her mother died at the age of 48 in 18 in 1846 when Elizabeth was just 12. Elizabeth and her older sister Maria were sent to live with her mother’s sister, Sophia, who was Countess of Zetland after marrying Thomas Dundas, the Earl of Zetland, in 1823. The boys in the family stayed with their father. The scandalous reasons for this unusual arrangement only became public knowledge three years later when David Barlcay issued a writ of habeas corpus against his sister-in-law and her husband, demanding that his youngest daughter be returned to his custody.  The court proceedings were widely reported in the newspapers at the end of April when an error by David Barclay’s lawyer, Sir Frederic Thesiger (later Lord High Chancellor of England and 1st Baron Chelmsford) led to the reading out in open court of the Zetland’s return to the writ. On the day scheduled for the hearing the Court told Sir Frederic that the Attorney General had requested that the date of the hearing be postponed. Sir Frederic was furious at the postponement and demanded that the case go ahead. It was rescheduled for 3pm that day, to allow time for Elizabeth to be brought back to court. When the court reconvened Sir Frederic insisted that the Zetland’s return to the writ be read out in open court, in front of Elizabeth and her father, despite the Attorney-General, who was acting for the Zetland’s saying “l am anxious to prevent unnecessary discussion and painful inquiry, but if my learned friend, who appears for Mr. Barclay, insists on a return, I am ready to give one.” Perhaps David Barclay had not fully appraised Sir Frederic of the full circumstances surrounding the decision by his late wife, to place her daughters under their aunt’s protection. This is what the Attorney General read out to the Court as reported in the West Kent Guardian of Saturday 28 April 1849;

Miss Elizabeth Anne Barclay was the youngest daughter of David Barclay and Maria Dorothea his wife, and was sixteen years of age; that her mother died on the 24th of June, 1846, leaving two daughters, the elder being now twenty-two years of age; that the late Mrs. Barclay was the sister of the Countess of Zetland, and that, previously to her death, the two young ladies resided with their father, and in the year 1844 there was a female resident in his house who acted as governess to the children, with which female Mr. Barclay in the lifetime of his wife carried on adulterous intercourse, which caused Mrs. Barclay the most poignant anguish and distress, and that immediately prior to her death she requested the countess to take charge of her two children, and always to let them remain with her, which the countess promised to do; that on the day of Mrs. Barclay's funeral the two children, with the concurrence of their father, went to reside with the countess, and have ever since remained under her care and protection, with the exception of a short visit made by Elizabeth Anne to her father; that during the years 1847 and part of the year 1848 Mr. Barclay carried on an adulterous intercourse with a female who resided in the neighbourhood of his house in Surrey, and that in the spring of 1847 the earl and countess, being ignorant of the fact, permitted Elizabeth Anne to visit her father for a short time, and that during the visit the father allowed her to meet and associate with the female in question; that in the year 1848 differences arose between the earl and countess and Mr. Barclay as to the custody of the children, and a negotiation took place between Sir Hedworth Williamson, Baronet, the brother of the countess, on the part of the earl and countess, and Charles Barclay, Esq., on the part of David Barclay, when a written agreement was entered into that the two children should remain under the care of the countess, and that Mr. Barclay should allow £500 per annum for their expenses, to be paid to the elder Miss Barclay. There were also provisions for the occasional access the father and his son to the young ladies.

John Henry and Diana Clements, the two friendly geologists, who tentatively identified the Barclay memorial as being made of Cornish granite

I imagine that no one in the court knew where to look as the Attorney-General read out his statement. Elizabeth was probably hearing these salacious details of her father’s life for the first time and was possibly not aware of the “poignant anguish and distress” he had caused her mother. David Barclay no doubt sat listening in barely concealed turmoil as details of his private life were made public and probably could not bring himself to look at his youngest daughter. Sir Frederic, doing his best to retrieve the situation, blustered that he could disprove all the allegations against his client but suggested that to avoid further painful discussions in open court, that an interview be granted between his client and Elizabeth, in the Judges Chambers, to ascertain what her wishes were – did she want to stay with the Zetland’s or return to her father. “After some further discussion,” reported the West Kent Guardian, “it was arranged that Mr. Barclay and his son should see Miss Barclay in the judges' private room, in the presence of the judges, the Earl and Countess of Zetland, and of the Attorney-General and Sir Frederick Thesiger. A short interval having elapsed, the judges returned, and it was understood that Miss Barclay elected to remain under the care of the countess, but nothing transpired in court upon the subject.”

Two years later the 18-year-old Elizabeth appears to have left the Zetland’s home and was living in Falmouth with another of her aunts, Lucy Fox. Had there been some sort of rift? Lucy Fox died in 1859 and by the time of the 1861 census, 28-year-old Elizabeth was living with her father at Roscow in the parish of St Gluvias in Falmouth. Whilst not quite Eastwick Park, the property was still very substantial and there were six live in servants including a butler, a groom, a cook, and house, kitchen and laundry maids. David Barclay barely had time to complete his census return that year as he died on the first of July. Elizabeth never married and spent the rest of her life moving between homes in London and Cornwall.  After her father’s death she seems to have a house at 26 Bolton Street, WC1 no doubt to be near her eldest brother who lived at number 25. She also acquired her own property at Mendon Vean and was staying there at the time of the 1881 census.  I can’t trace her in the 1891 census, perhaps she was abroad? By 1895 she was dead. We don’t know who commissioned her memorial or why there is no epitaph or inscription. Two geologists who looked the memorial with me told me that it was probably made of Cornish granite which may indicate that Elizabeth had already chosen the mason who made it while she was alive. 

Thursday 29 February 2024

When figures from the past stand tall; Ian Curtis (1956-1980) Macclesfield Cemetery & Crematorium

My father lay dying in Macclesfield, an unknown town to us but the District General there was the nearest hospital to his care home. Network Rail had closed the entire West Coast Main Line down for the weekend, between Stafford and Manchester, to carry out engineering works. With time running out for the old man I still had to get to Cheshire and my brother, with ill-concealed bad grace, agreed to pick me up from Crewe station, a 20-mile drive from Macclesfield, mainly along unlit country lanes. We drove, too fast, in the rapidly fading light of a bleak January Sunday afternoon, between high hedgerows and through small villages, making desultory conversation. I appreciated that it was a pain in the ass having to pick me up and make a forty-mile round trip but my brother seemed more resentful of my father for taking his time to die, than he did of me. In one of the many silences that punctuated our conversation, I cast around for something to say. 
“Wasn’t Ian Curtis from Macclesfield?” I suddenly remembered. My brother takes his time to answer.
“Buried there,” he eventually says, rather tersely, knowing of my interest in such things, before adding “the cemetery is near the hospital.”
At some point during one of the two nights I spent sitting by my father’s hospital bed, I recalled this conversation and checked where the singer’s grave was. The cemetery and crematorium were in Prestbury Road, a ten-minute stroll away from the hospital. As day dawned after my second sleepless night spent in a chair in dad’s hot and stuffy side room, when I went to his window to look out at the view of brick walls, service pipes and rubbish bins, I was surprised to see that it had been snowing. The snow must have been silently falling for hours as there were a good couple of inches on the ground.  When my sister came to join me an hour or two later, she encouraged me to get some fresh air. Forty minutes was enough time to walk to the cemetery, stroll round, find the grave (helpfully marked on google maps), take a few photos and walk back to the hospital. The snow-covered cemetery and Curtis’ grave reminded me of Kevin Cummin’s famous photos of Joy Division taken 45 years ago, in January 1979, standing on the Princess Parkway in Hulme. Time collapsed for me and I found myself vividly reliving my own memories of the time and of the band. 

Ian killed himself on the night of Saturday/Sunday 17/18 May 1980, though the 18th is usually given as his date of death. I found out the following day, the Monday, probably around 10.15pm. I was about to leave the student bar at my college when my friend Joe walked in. A bespectacled Cornishman in a worn leather jacket and crumpled cords, he looked like he was in shock and said that he needed a drink. Unusually he ordered a neat whisky. “I was listening to John Peel,” he told me, “Ian Curtis is dead.” It was my turn to be thunderstruck. We had been to the second of the three gigs Joy Division played at the Moonlight Club the previous month and the Rainbow in Finsbury Park in November when they supported the Buzzcocks. The band were everywhere – they were on the cusp of the big time, the music papers raved about them, John Peel, if no one else, played tracks from Unknown Pleasures and the various singles and EP’s every other night on his Radio 1 show and they had done their first TV appearances. Their new album was already recorded and due out in the summer. We were obsessed by two bands, The Fall and Joy Division; Joe had introduced me to both. We caught every gig we could, we bought the records, read the reviews and interviews in the music press and, about Joy Division, we gossiped because one of the girls at the college was going out with a music journalist and he knew the band well enough to go backstage and hang out with them when they were in London. He told us things about the band that weren’t common knowledge. That Ian had a wife and kid ‘up north’ and that he had a glamourous ‘French’ girlfriend (in reality she was Belgian and her name was Annik HonorĂ©). There were hints of his marital problems. We knew about his epilepsy. We knew next to nothing but felt like we knew a lot. But now Ian Curtis was dead and we didn’t understand how or why he had died. John Peel’s announcement at the start of his show had been brief, apologising for being the bearer of bad news he told his audience that Ian Curtis, the singer of Joy Division had died and he had no further details. After saying that his thoughts were with the family and friends he played ‘New Dawn Fades’ and when the track finished my stunned friend came to knock on my door to see if I had heard and, when I wasn’t in my room, he made his way to the bar. After much discussion we decided that it must have been Ian’s epilepsy that had killed him. 

The last known photo of Ian Curtis, a photo booth passport shot, taken for the American visa he needed for the band's forthcoming US tour

It was our journalist acquaintance who first told us, a couple of days later, that he had committed suicide, that he had hung himself in the kitchen of his house. We found ourselves in shock all over again. Premature deaths in the music business weren’t unknown but they were the usually the result of an accident and drugs were generally involved somewhere. We didn’t know of any other case where someone has actually killed themselves. Someone on the brink of success, with fans that idolised him, a wife, a child, a girlfriend, who journalists called a genius, killed themselves. It just did not make any sense. The mythmaking began immediately; hagiographic accounts of the tortured, sensitive genius, too good for this world filled the music press. Just a couple of weeks later Dave McCulloch in Sounds wrote “his was a poetically beautiful death. It was no cheap r’n’r death….Ian Curtis belonged to the real world: the bleak and industrial pyre you made for him is now your own pyre, your own guilt, your own stupidity, your own way of evading the simple truths…That man cared for you, that man died for you, that man saw the madness in your area.” Leaving aside the irony that the final lines in McCulloch’s angry eulogy were lifted from songs by The Fall, what is interesting is how the writer seems to somehow blame the reader for Curtis’ death. The singer has become a martyr to and for his listeners! 

As always happens following the death of a noteworthy musician within a few weeks Joy Divisions next single ‘Love will tear us apart’ was in the charts. It only reached number 13 but that was still incredible for an Indie band. The second album ‘Closer’ came out a month later and reached number 6 in the album charts. For the whole of that year the music press seemed to speak of little else other than Joy Division and Ian Curtis’ death. I found it all rather harrowing. I had been struggling with my own mental health issues since I had left school in 1978. I had spent the first 8 months of 1979 attending a psychiatric day hospital and had made multiple, incompetent, suicide attempts. At college I gritted my teeth and marched miserably through each day, somehow hoping that things would improve for me. Ian Curtis’ suicide was a horribly bleak reminder that life really probably was not worth living. I found myself poring over the lyrics to the later songs and identifying completely with Ian’s despair, like this from that otherwise quite chipper track ‘Isolation’;

Mother I tried please believe me
I’m doing the best that I can
I’m ashamed of the things I’ve been put through
I’m ashamed of the person I am

I became so obsessed that at the end of the year I wrote a long letter to the NME explaining exactly why Ian had killed himself. Much to my amazement they published the letter; thankfully I have lost my copy and that edition of the paper has never been digitised as my explanation was no doubt, hopelessly callow. My heart felt theories about Ian’s reasons for killing himself were, as these things often are, an attempt to understand my own feelings. My identification with the singer’s emotions, as expressed in his lyrics, was so complete that dissecting them was dissecting myself. From Ian’s suicide I moved onto others; Sylvia Plath and John Berryman in particular. My obsession with Ian’s death, reading Al Alvarez’s The Savage God and talking to my friends were the only forms of therapy I had. Psychiatrists checked in on me, assessed my symptoms and adjusted my medications but there were no other methods available to help me deal with or understand my crippling depression. It took me quite a while, the best part of three years perhaps, but I eventually managed to dig my way out of the hole I was burying myself in. I learned to cope with myself, with my emotions and with the messiness of life. My friends, all just kids themselves at the time, helped me enormously. But Ian Cutis helped me too, and I will be forever grateful to him for that, and for the music, which I still listen to.

Tuesday 27 February 2024

A Winter Afternoon in Brompton Cemetery; 10 January 2024


I’ve strolled through cemeteries around the world, like everyone who is deathly afraid of death and dying (actually, which are we more afraid of —death or dying?) who wants to see his fear's lair, to confirm that this place is calm, quiet, that it has been made for people after all, for a rest…. A place for getting used to it as it were. Isn’t it strange, Gaustine once said to me, it’s always other people who are dying, but we ourselves never do.

Georgi Gospodinov - Time Shelter

Thursday 22 February 2024

Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way; Joseph Bonomi (1796-1878), Brompton Cemetery


There are eight people buried in the private grave of Joseph Bonomi in Brompton Cemetery, five of his children, his wife and his mother-in-law. The first four of his children predeceased him, all dying within one harrowing week in April 1852; the eldest still hadn’t reached their sixth birthday and the youngest was, at just eight months, still an infant. The epitaph on the rather simple Grade II listed headstone describes Bonomi as a ‘sculptor, traveller and archaeologist’. The only unusual element in the design is the motif, drawn from a hieroglyph, of the god Anubis, in his full jackal incarnation (i.e. not just jackal headed but jackal bodied too) sitting on top of a tomb with battered sides, practicing his guardianship of the dead.

Cemetery records show that the Bonomi grave was originally dug for the funeral of the families four young children. The gravediggers cannot have been pleased when they were told they had to excavate a grave deep enough to take four coffins; the burial records says a shaft 12 feet deep was dug. The Bonomi’s had been married in September 1845 at St Marylebone Parish Church in the Marylebone Road; the groom, at 49, was just 10 years younger than his father-in-law, his bride, Jessie Martin, was just 20. Joseph wasted no time starting a family; the couple’s first child, a boy, was born exactly 9 months after the wedding, in June 1846, and was named Joseph, after his father and grandfather, and Menes, after the Pharoah who united Upper and Lower Egypt into one Kingdom and founded the first dynasty (fellow Egyptologists would have got the reference immediately). Their second son, Cautley Frederick, was born 17 months later, in November 1847. A daughter, named Jessie after her mother, was born in July 1849 and another son, John Ignatius in September 1851. The family were living at 7 Upper Cheyne Row in Chelsea with a couple of live in servants.  Through the final months of 1851 and during the start of the new year Joseph had been putting the finishing touches to his book ‘Ninevah and its Palaces’, not only written but illustrated by him, and been seeing it through the presses. It was due to be published at the end of April. In was in this month that all four of his children fell ill with whooping cough. Caused by a bacterium, Bordetella pertussis, this was a fairly common disease amongst children and infants at the time.  All common illnesses would have been a cause for concern for parents at the time as without antibiotics, infections could get out of hand and prove fatal. Even so it would have been usual to lose four children to the same disease. On the first day of the tragedy, the 11th April, the Bonomi’s lost their youngest and oldest children, 8-month-old baby John and then Joseph Menes, who was just two months shy of his sixth birthday. Cautley Frederick died on the 15th April.  Perhaps in an effort to get her somewhere where the healthy effects of sea air might ease her breathing, 2-year-old Jessie had been removed to Worthing. It did no good; she died there on the 17th April.  Two days later the Rev. Albert Badger, chaplain of Brompton Cemetery, presided over the funeral whilst Joseph and Jessie watched all four of their children lowered into the 12-foot grave shaft.  

The Bonomis went on to have four more children, the first, a daughter Isabella, was born in March 1853, less than a year after the couple has lost their first four. Then came Cecilia in June 1855, Marion in August 1857 and a son John Ignatius in 1858. At some point, probably after her husband had died in 1854, Jessie’s mother, Susan, had come to live with the Bonomi’s at their new address, 13 Vicarage Gardens in Kensington, close to Kensington Palace (the house still stands). As the headstone explains, Susan was the widow of John Martin, the visionary painter who was famed for his vast and dramatic canvasses showing human beings dwarfed by fantastical landscapes, often undergoing apocalyptic upheavals, deluges, plagues, volcanic eruptions and so on. Thomas Lawrence referred to him, probably enviously, as ‘the most popular painter of the day’.  The couple married in 1810; John was 21 but his bride, at 30, was 9 years older than him. They went on to have ten children of which only six survived to adulthood. Susan lived with the Bonomis for about four years, dying herself on 30th December 1858. Cemetery records show that she was buried on January 4th 1859 by Rev Nathaniel Badger and that the grave was dug to a depth of 9 feet.  

'The country of the Iguanodon' John Martin's imagination fired by the recent scientific discovery of the dinosaur 

Jessie, quite possibly worn out by grief and child bearing, survived her mother by just 9 months before dying herself, at the age of just 34, in September 1859. She was buried on Tuesday September 13. The Rev. Nathaniel Liberty, the chaplain of Brompton Cemetery, officiated at the funeral and her grave was dug 7 feet deep. Her oldest child at the time of her death, Isabella, was still only six and the youngest was just one. With a young family to look after, many men in Bonomi’s position would have hastily remarried but the 63-year-old was probably overwhelmed by grief. Instead, his wife’s older, unmarried sister, Isabella, came to live with him and the children to take care of them and the household. The family moved to a new house in Wimbledon, The Camels. Bonomi found steady employment as the curator of the John Soane Museum in Lincolns Inn Fields and settled into old age, focussing on his responsibility for providing for his young family. 

Despite already being an old man at the time of his young wife’s death, Joseph survived her by 19 years, dying at his at his home in Wimbledon, The Camels, on the 3rd March 1878. He was buried at Brompton on the 8th, with the Rev Nathaniel Liberty conducting the funeral service. Because there were already 6 people in the grave, the gravediggers only had to dig to a depth of 6 feet. On Saturday 16th March The Illustrated London News published a portrait of the recently deceased Egyptologist and published the following obituary;  

THE LATE MR. BONOMI. The death of Mr. Joseph Bonomi, Curator of Sir John Soane’s Museum, in Lincoln’s-inn fields, was announced last week. He was Italian, born at Rome, in 1796; but his father, who had been architect to St. Peter’s at Rome, came about that time to live in England. The son, as he grew up in London, became a student of the Royal Academy and a pupil of Nollekens, the sculptor. In 1821 he was engaged to accompany Mr. Robert Hay to make a collection of Egyptian antiquities, which has since been placed in the British Museum. He stayed in Egypt eight years studying and drawing the hieroglyphics with Hay, Burton, Arundale, and others. In 1833 he went with Arundale and Catherwood to the Holy Land. At Jerusalem they were the first to visit the so-called Mosque of Omar and make detailed sketches of it. Mr. Bonomi had adopted the Arab dress, and he was able to pass himself as an Arab on this occasion. He also visited Sinai, Damascus, and Baalbek. On his return to England he was busily employed in making drawings in connection with works on Egypt, such as those of Sir Gardner Wilkinson, Dr. Birch, and others. In 1812 the great expedition was sent out under Lepsius by the King of Prussia, and Mr. Bonomi was added to the important staff which composed the party. On this second visit to Egypt Mr. Bonomi was two years in that country. A record of this expedition was cut in hieroglyphics over the entrance-passage of the Great Pyramid of Ghizeh. These hieroglyphics were designed and carved by Mr. Bonomi. On his return to England he produced the drawings from which panorama of Egypt was painted and exhibited. In 1853 he assisted Mr. Owen Jones in the works at the Egyptian Courts of the Crystal Palace. In 1861 Mr. Bonomi was appointed Curator of Sir John Soane’s Museum. In addition to illustrating and assisting other labours, Mr. Bonomi produced some original works of his own, such as “Nineveh and its Palaces,” besides numerous papers for learned societies and contributions to scientific journals. Mr. Bonomi married one of the daughters of John Martin, the painter. The portrait is from a photograph by Messrs. T. and J. Holroyd, of Harrogate.

It is interesting that Joseph is reported to have designed and carved a hieroglyphic inscription in the great pyramid of Giza. If you check any reliable reference source it was almost certainly tell you that there no hieroglyphics in the pyramids; this, for example, is what the Encyclopaedia Britannica has to say, “contrary to what one might expect, there are no hieroglyphic texts, treasures, or mummies in any of pyramids of Giza.” And the last known use of hieroglyphs in Egypt is usually accepted as a piece of graffiti on the temple of Philae known as the Graffito of Esmet-Akhom, which was carved on 24th August AD 394. Joseph was a member of the Prussian expedition led by Karl Richard Lepsius during the period 1842-1845. The Prussians decided to commemorate the birthday of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV on 15 October 1842 by carving an inscription in hieroglyphics on one of the western gables above the original entrance of the great pyramid. The inscription was possibly written by Lepsius himself, but it was definitely designed and carved by Bonomi who therefore gives the lie to the commonly stated facts that there are no hieroglyphics in the pyramids themselves and that the last recorded use of hieroglyphics was in 394 of the Common Era.

The last interment in the Bonomi grave was of Joseph and Jessie’s only surviving son, Joseph Ignatius, who had been just one when his mother died, died himself at the age of 72 on the 27th March 1930 at his home at 55 Holland Road, Kensington. The grave was opened to a depth of 5 feet according to the Brompton burial register.  According to the 1881 census, the 23 year was already a Lieutenant in the Kings Own Regiment of Foot (later the Kings Own Royal Lancaster) based at Bowerham Barracks in Lancaster. He had already been on active service and fought in South Africa in the Zulu war of 1879. He remained a military man all his life, retiring in 1897. With nothing better to do with his time the now retired Major, finally married. His bride was a Frenchwoman, Jeanne Marie, who was 12 years his junior. Jeanne did not die until 1957, when she passed away in Westminster Hospital. The couple had no children.   

Photo of the 19 year old Joseph Ignatius Bonomi, standing at the rear of this photo