Thursday, 18 May 2017

Victory over Blindness - the funeral of Sir Arthur Pearson, 13 December 1921, Hampstead Cemetery

The choristers from the Royal Normal School for the Blind at Sir Arthur's graveside
Sir Arthur Pearson died on Thursday 9 December 1921 and was buried the following Tuesday, 13 December. Despite the speed of his interment his funeral was attended by over 1500 people, around a thousand of whom were blind and came from all over the country. 200 Guardsman volunteered to act as guides, collecting blind mourners from all the main London stations and accompanying them to the funeral in Hampstead. According to The Illustrated London News of 17 December “preceding the coffin was a Boy Scout bearing a floral Union Jack on a staff topped by a dove and the letters V.O.B – the initials of Sir Arthur’s slogan: ‘Victory Over Blindness’” One of the officiating clergyman was blind and choristers from the Royal Normal School for the Blind sang at the graveside. The ILN article features a series of fascinating photographs of this most unusual funeral. Interestingly Blind Veterans UK, which Sir Arthur founded in 1915 as the Blinded Soldiers and Sailors Care Committee, continues to hold an annual ceremony in his honour at Hampstead Cemetery.

A Guardsman leads a group of blind mourners through Hampstead Cemetery
Arthur Pearson was born in Wookey, Somerset in 1866 where his father was curate. He was educated at Winchester College and after leaving school became a journalist on Tit-bits magazine. Although he always kept his hand in at journalism and writing, (going on to produce such classics as ‘Handwriting as an Index to Character’ under the pseudonym Professor P R S Foli) he became most successful as a publisher, opening a publishing firm in 1890, branching out into periodicals and newspapers and creating the Daily Express in 1900. Among his publishing highlights was ‘Scouting For Boys’, written by his friend Lord Baden Powell. The Daily Express was an innovative publication, printing news rather than advertisements on its front page, being the first newspaper to carry a regular crossword puzzle and featuring gossip, sports and women’s features. One of the first features in the paper was the explorer Hesketh Hesketh-Pritchard’s series of reports on the uncharted interior of Haiti where English readers heard for the first time an account of voodoo. The series was so popular that as soon as Hesketh Hesketh-Pritchard returned from the Caribbean Pearson sent him off again on an expedition to track down the giant ground sloth of Patagonia (he arrived 10,000 years too late, which in geological time scales is like arriving on the platform to see the train pulling out, as Bruce Chatwin would have known, being the owner of a mysterious swag of ground sloth pelt which is made much of in the opening pages of ‘In Patagonia.’)

Sir Arthur's coffin on its way to the graveside
In the 1900’s Person began to suffer with glaucoma. Despite undergoing an operation in 1908 he eventually lost his sight completely, his son telling the inquest into his death that his “sight began to fail in 1913. It came on gradually, not suddenly, and from 1914 he had been unable to distinguish light or darkness.” He remained an active and independent individual despite his disability and as he gradually relinquished his business interests threw himself into philanthropy instead becoming president of the National Institution for the Blind in 1914 and founding the Blinded Soldiers and Sailors Care Committee in 1915. He died on Friday 09 December 1921 at home 15 Devonshire Street, Marylebone, after slipping in his morning bath, gashing open his head and drowning.  The inquest was held by the West London Coroner H. R. Oswald the next day and reported in detail in many newspapers in their evening editions, including the Yorkshire Evening Post of Saturday 10 December. The main witness was Sir Neville Pearson, the dead man’s son. He told the coroner that “he last saw his father alive on Thursday night about 11 o'clock, and he was then in good health and spirits. He had followed his usual occupation during the day, and had been to the theatre in the evening. Physically, his father was a strong and well built man. It was his custom to take a bath every morning in his dressing-room.”  The account continues:

The principal mourners, Lady Pearson and the deceased's son Sir Neville Pearson
Portrait of Sir Arthur
TRAGEDY DISCOVERED. On Friday morning, about a quarter nine, Sir Arthur's secretary, Miss Campbell, told witness she had found him lying face downwards in a bath of water. As Sir Arthur had not come down to breakfast at half-past eight, Miss Campbell had gone to discover the reason for his non-appearance. Witness went up and saw his father in the bath. Sir Arthur s head was thrust down between the shoulders, and the water was bloodstained. His head was completely submerged. There were bloodstains on the nozzle of the tap. Only the previous day Sir Arthur mentioned that had once before slipped in his bath. If he slipped and fell forward in the bath his head would strike against the nozzle. Witness presumed that his father had been in the position in which he was found for about half an hour. Naomi Alice Glennie, head parlourmaid at 15 Devonshire Street, said she called Arthur at half-past seven on Friday morning, and took him a cup of tea. He seemed exactly the same as he always was, and inquired about the weather as usual. Sir Arthur always prepared his own bath.

Miss Amy Campbell, the secretary, said Sir Arthur was always very independent and did not let people help him. He preferred to do things for himself.  Sir Milson Rees, medical practitioner, said he was called by telephone and found Sir Arthur in the bath face downwards, with his head submerged. Death had taken place quite recently. There was a wound of about an inch in length between the temple and the forehead on the right side. It was exactly such a wound as would have been caused  by falling against the nozzle of a tap. It was obvious that Sir Arthur slipped in the bath and in falling struck his head. A man with sight could have recovered himself. He was evidently stunned.

The Coroner said enamel baths were slippery and such accidental falls were often heard.

A general view of the funeral showing the size of the crowd

The article in the Illustrated London News

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The final resting place of the great and the good; Hampstead Cemetery, Fortune Green Road, NW6

"Ever hear about the aviation pioneer kidnapped (and then worshipped) by cannibals?" Me neither but on the 24 June I will find out because I have booked myself onto the Cemetery Club’s tour of Hampstead Cemetery. I don’t normally go in for guided tours, particularly of cemeteries, as one of the things I most value about them is the chance to get away from the rest of humanity (the living ones at least) and experience a bit of solitude. I am going to make an exception though because I recently saw Cemetery Club founder Sheldon Goodman speak at an event at the University of Greenwich and he was very good.  To get myself in the mood I had a look through the photos I took on my one and only visit to Hampstead on a dull and miserable mid December day back in 2013 to see if I had managed to take anything worth posting.

Hampstead is a 26 acre, late Victorian cemetery, consecrated by the Bishop of London in November 1876, and now run by Islington and Camden Cemetery Services. The Hampstead Burial Board acquired the original 20 acres occupied by the cemetery in 1874 for £7000 when it became clear that the churchyard of St James was almost full and would soon run out of space. The site was surveyed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette and then laid out and planted for £2500 and a further £4843 spent on the building of the lodge, chapels, railings and gate piers. 30 gardeners were originally employed to keep the cemetery looking its best. Despite a further 5 acres of land being acquired in 1901, 60,000 people are interred here and the cemetery is full and no longer open for new burials. The catchment area for the cemetery has always been reasonably affluent and as a consequence there are some very interesting memorials and a relatively high number of notable burials. The Bianchi memorial is the jewel in the crown but the Barritt organ is also justly famous and the Fletcher memorial at the back of the chapels is quite spectacular. Notable burials include Kate Greenaway the illustrator, Henry Irving the actor, Joseph Lister the pioneer of antiseptic surgery and Marie Lloyd the music hall star.

The cemetery chapels with porte-cochère
Looking through the newspaper archives to see if there were any interesting stories about the cemetery and  there were the usual crop of suicides, sudden deaths and grave robbings but also, in the Ballymena Observer of Friday 09 May 1913, an ‘exciting incident’ (according to the paper) at the cemetery gates when a bulldog attacked one of the horses drawing a hearse. As the funeral procession was about to turn into the cemetery the dog leapt at the horse “and seizing it by the leg brought it heavily to the ground. In its struggles to free itself the horse pulled down its fellow, and for some time the confusion was such that all efforts to get the bulldog were unavailing. A young woman to whom the latter belonged eventually managed to grip its collar, but it was only after the animal had been stunned with a heavy piece of wood that his jaws could be prized apart and the horse released.” The horse was badly injured and no doubt the bulldog nursed a headache for a day or two after being walloped with a log.  

The wonderful Bianchi memorial
Cemeteries are a favoured spot for suicides and Hampstead is no exception.  The cemetery was less than a decade old when it had its first suicide. The Globe of 19 February 1884 reported on the inquest held at the Reading Room of the Hampstead Workhouse into the death of Alfred Pierpoint Chambers, 89 years old of Clapham Road. His body had been found on the previous Thursday morning by one of the grave diggers on the grave of his wife; the jury heard evidence that he had been seriously affected by her death. The post mortem revealed that Alfred’s quick, but undoubtedly painful, death was the result of taking Potassium Cyanide. The jury’s verdict was suicide whilst of unsound mind. Alfred was buried with his wife.  The following year another inquest was held at the workhouse on another cemetery suicide. The deceased was a 39 year old, Henry Butterworth, a chemist on Tottenham Court Road. Henry had left for work on the Thursday morning but then his wife received a telegram from him saying that he had gone to Hampstead “to see our Fred”, this being the name of their only child who had died three or four years before. Worried about his state of mind – he had been low in recent months and was drinking rather more than was good for him – Mrs Butterworth contacted the Police. Later that afternoon a policeman called at the house to break the melancholy news that her husband had been found dead on the grave of their child. The post mortem revealed that Henry had taken a fatal dose of Prussic Acid, another form of cyanide. Verdict – committed suicide whilst of unsound mind.

Isabel White Wallis, wife of Edward White Wallis who was for 48 years the secretary of the Royal Sanitary Institute
And then in December 1892 yet another inquest looked into the death of Edward Cornelius Scanes, a tinplate worker of 77 North Street, Marylebone. His son told the jury that “owing to his wife's health and mind not being very good his father had been upset of late, and it had been noticed that he was low and desponding. He had on several occasions disappeared for some days. On Monday he went away, and on Wednesday witness heard his father had been found dead on a grave at Hampstead Cemetery.” Robert Dickens, a labourer, testified that he had been walking through the cemetery when he saw Edward lying across a grave and “on going to him found that he was dead, and noticed that he had shot himself in the chest, while a revolver was lying near his right side.” The police constable who had been summoned to the scene found three letters near the grave; the coroner read one of them out to the court ''From dad — Good-bye, Will. Good-bye, wife. Dear mother, good-bye. My watch is for my son. Please, wife, not to follow my body to the grave. Good- bye. My poor head is very bad." The jury returned a verdict of temporary insanity.  (Morning Post - Saturday 24 December 1892).

Death in the cemetery was not just the result of suicide. 60 year old Margaret Alice Forbes of Palace Garden Terrace, Kensington collapsed whilst visiting her father’s grave in May 1934 and died before she could be taken to hospital. In 1901 61 year old Robert McLean, a “tall, stalwart man” who was a constable of the Metropolitan Police and had been a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary  was employed by the cemetery on Saturdays  “for the preservation of order and the protection the graves.”  He was found dead by colleagues after suffering an apoplectic seizure.  Another cemetery employee, 54 year old general labourer John Henry Smith, died in 1940 not at work but at his home in Selig Avenue, just off the Edgware Road, along with his wife, both dying of injuries to their throats and chest. Their 22 year old daughter had injuries to her throat and wrists – presumably she had been arguing with her father and he became physical, murdered him and her mother.

Clifton Barritt's upright organ
Grave robberies? Herbert Walter Watson, 47, was charged with stealing a bronze crucifix from the cemetery in June 1922 and fined 40 shillings. Detective Parfield of the Metropolitan Police told the court that when he had searched Watson’s room it contained a large number of figures of Christ, wreaths and crosses for which the defendant had no other explanation than “he suffered from a nervous complaint and could not account for what he had done, and had no remembrance of entering the cemetery.” William Alexander Cochrane was not so lucky when he appeared at Hampstead Police Court in 1927. Cochrane was the superintendent of the cemetery with 35 years service when he was dismissed for embezzling two sums of money from Hampstead Borough Council, £5 2 shillings on one occasion and 15 shillings on a second. The court sentenced him to 3 months and 6 months for the counts of fraud, both sentences to run consecutively. In recent years the cemetery has been plagued by thieves who steal irreplaceable brass memorials to melt them down for scrap metal. A beautiful bronze figure by Sir William Gascombe John on his wife’s tomb was stolen from Hampstead in 2001 but later recovered. It was removed to East Finchley Cemetery for safe keeping but despite being kept under lock and key in an outbuilding was stolen again in 2006. It remains missing and has most likely been smelted. In 2011 the Bianchi grave was targeted with the cast iron gate going missing first and then the wrought iron railings. The following year cemetery management stepped up security measures including dog patrols and closing time sweeps of the cemetery to check gangs of metal thieves weren't hiding away waiting for it to shut before helping themselves to more memorials. The more recent crash in scrap metal prices has probably done more to preserve the cemetery's security than any of the other measures taken.      


Tuesday, 9 May 2017

The dead are with us - 'Here is Where We Meet' John Berger (Bloomsbury £9.98)

John Berger at 88, photographed for an interview with the New Statesman

On January 2 this year 90 year old John Berger died at his home in Antony in the southern suburbs of Paris. He was born in 1926 in Stoke Newington during the annual pyrotechnics of November 5th. His father Stanley never fully recovered from the trauma of serving for four years as a Major in an infantry regiment on the Western front during the Great War. He must have hated the noise of Brocks fireworks shattering the quiet autumnal evenings; no matter how muted the explosions must have seemed in comparison to the artillery bombardments it must have reminded him of the war. Stanley was the son of a Hungarian émigré merchant from Trieste; Miriam Branson his mother, was the daughter of a brewery drayman from Bermondsey,  who became a vegetarian, a pacifist and a suffragette.  After the war Stanley tried, and failed, at various business ventures until he set up a very early version of a management consultancy called the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants which turned into an unexpected success and allowed the family to move from Croydon (where they had settled after Stoke Newington) to what passes in East London as a leafy suburb in Highams Park. Miriam ostensibly gave up radical politics when she married but almost certainly influenced  her son’s political development; John was declaring himself an Anarchist by the age of 15 and, once that phase had passed, became a lifelong Marxist.

John Berger in 1972, in his mid forties (and under the sartorial influence of the times) during the recording of 'Ways of Seeing'
He left boarding school in Oxford at 16 and returned to London to study at the Chelsea school of Art where one of his tutors was Henry Moore (whose work he later called a ‘meaningless mess’).  In 1944, at the age of 18 he was called up; after refusing a commission in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and as a result probably being viewed as unsound as a result his two years in the army were spent far away from any front line at a Belfast Training Depot in Ballykelly, where despite his reluctance to assume authority he still ended up becoming a lance-corporal. After his stint in the military he enrolled at the Central School of Art and Design in Southampton Row. Despite his determination to make a living as a painter he had to make ends meet by teaching drawing at St Mary’s Teacher Training College in Strawberry Hill, Twickenham. When a friend unexpectedly offered him a spot on a BBC World Service programme talking about art this led to him writing on the same subject for the New Statesman. He published a first novel in 1958 and went on to write over 60 books including 10 novels (one of which, ‘G’ won the Booker Prize in 1972 – Berger famously gave half the £5000 prize money to the Black Panthers after a delivering an acceptance speech in which he denounced the 130 year history of the Booker group in the Caribbean), four plays, five screenplays, two books of poetry and 48 books categorised by Wikipedia as belonging to the genre ‘other’.  The uncategorisable nature of his writing is one of its delights. He is most famous of course, for the television programme and book ‘Ways of Seeing’ in which, under the influence of Walter Benjamin, his opening salvo was “Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but word can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.”

In his later years Berger said he was haunted by the dead.  In an interview in the New Statesmen in 2015 he said “The past is very present to me and has been for a very long time. I first became aware of this quite intensely when I was a teenager, because of the First World War. You see, I think that the dead are with us. What I’m talking about now is a very ancient part of human awareness. It may even be what defines the human – although it [was] largely forgotten in the second half of the 20th century. The dead are not abandoned. They are kept near physically. They are a presence. What you think you’re looking at on that long road to the past is actually beside you where you stand.” Nowhere did Berger make his feelings about the dead clearer than in his wonderful 2005 book “Here Is Where We Meet”, a series of short pieces exploring memory and loss, transporting the past into the present, and mingling the living with the dead. For Berger, a long time exile living in France since the early 1960’s, London, his hometown, is one of those long lost dead, only to be recaptured in memory or imagination. The stories are set all over Europe, Portugal, Spain, Poland, France but each place evokes the past of his childhood and youth in London, in Croydon, Islington, and Highams Park where a river in Easter Europe evokes the river Ching that ran at the bottom of the Berger’s suburban garden.
The Aguas Livres aqueduct in Lisbon, scene of John's last encounter with the ghost of his mother
In the first story ‘Lisboa’, the narrator, called John, is sitting in the  Praça do Príncipe Real where a Lusitanian Cyprus whose branches “have been trained to grow outwards, horizontally, so that they form a gigantic, impenetrable, very low umbrella with a diameter of twenty metres. One hundred people could easily shelter under it.”  He notices “an old woman with an umbrella ... sitting very still on one of the park benches. She had that kind of stillness that draws attention to itself. Sitting there on the park bench, she was determined to be noticed. ...Abruptly...she got to her feet, turned and, using her umbrella like a walking stick, came towards me. I recognised her walk long before I could see her face. The walk of someone already looking forward to arriving and sitting down. It was mother.”  The ghost (if that is what she is) of Berger’s mother takes to appearing at unexpected moments as her 80 year old son explores the Portuguese capital.  Her voice rejuvenates so that it is the voice of her 17 year self that talks to John. His mother had no connection to Portugal so John wonders why she has chosen Lisbon to appear in; "perhaps Lisboa is a special stopover for the dead," he thinks, "perhaps here the dead show themselves off more than in any other city." His mother has a different theory, it is the trams;

“The trams in the centre of Lisbon are very different from the red double-decker ones that used to run in Croydon; they are as cramped as small fishing boats and they are a lemon yellow. The drivers, as they negotiate the steep, one-way streets, and nose their way round blind jetties, give the impression of hauling in ropes and holding rudders rather than turning wheels and operating levers. Yet despite the sudden descents, the lurches, the choppiness, the passengers, mostly elderly, remain contemplative and calm—as if they were still sitting in their living rooms or visiting a neighbour. And indeed, in places, the trams with their open windows, sway so close to these rooms that it would be easy to reach out and touch a birdcage hanging from a balcony and with a little push set it swinging.”

The cemetery of Prazeres in Lisbon, the city's most celebrated place of interment
John takes the number 28 tram to Prazeres the “old cemetery where the mausoleums have front doors with window panes through which you can look at the abodes of the departed. Many are furnished with low tables, a chair, bunks with bedspreads, photographs, statues of the Madonna, cushions. One has a pair of dancing shoes on a rug. Another has a bicycle and a fishing rod leaning against the wall facing the bunk with a small coffin on it.” He spots his mother in the street, flattening herself against a shop front to let the tram past but miraculously boarding it at the next stop; they visit the fish market. John’s memories obtrude, visiting the cinema with his mother to see Marx brothers films or the day she came home with all her teeth removed or the unanswered question of why she never read any of his books. Their last meeting is on the arches of the Aqueduto das Aguas Livres, a vertiginous 60 metres above the Alcântara valley.

‘Lisboa’ is my favourite piece in the book, perhaps because I know the city well, but the other stories are equally as good. In Madrid the narrator finds himself recalling in vivid detail the sad schoolmaster who taught him to write and how to catch a ball, in Krakow he meets Ken, another influential teacher who introduced him to books and sex (no hint here that the young ‘John’ was remotely traumatised by the teacher’s forbidden interest in his body), in Geneva Berger meets his (living) daughter Katya and they pay a visit to the grave of Jorge Luis Borges, in Islington he visits a friend from college who might remember the name of a girl John grew close to during the war, and at a wedding in Poland by the banks of the river Szum he recalls his childhood on the banks of the river Ching in Highams Park. As always the prose is impeccable, studded with arresting images (‘Art, it would seem, is born like a foal who walks straight away’ – on the Cro Magnon rock paintings), nuggets of wisdom (‘desire is brief – a few hours or a lifetime, both are brief. Desire is brief because it occurs in defiance of the permanent. It challenges time in a fight to the death’), or unexpected observations (‘travelling alone between Kalisz and Kielce a hundred and fifty years ago. Between the two names there would always have been a third – the name of your horse.’) Despite his prolific output John Berger’s writing was never less than interesting and at his best he could produce astounding work. This is a wonderful book.  


Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Grave News (April); the dead of London (and elsewhere) in the media

Just after Easter I was puzzled by the sudden flurry of interest in “Grave Wax, Corpse Liquor and Kissing Dead Queens – the boundless curiosity of the Gentlemen of the 17th Century”, a post from last July.  At the time I wrote the rather morbid little article I had hoped it might breathe a little life into my moribund blog and generate a few more page views than usual. But the macabre investigations of John Aubrey, Sir Thomas Browne and Samuel Pepys failed to pique the curiosity of the surfers and  browsers of cyberspace. I didn’t work out what had provoked the recent outbreak of views until a reddit thread called ‘Interesting as fuck’ showed up as a source of traffic and I followed the links back  to a Harry Mount article in the Daily Telegraph about the discovery of the Archbishop’s vault at St Mary-at-Lambeth. It was a story that had generated a fair amount of media interest over the Easter weekend but Harry Mount had uniquely mentioned that “most lead sarcophagi contain dry remains; however, some bodies decompose into a viscous black liquid known as “coffin liquor”. Should the ancient casings ever crack, it will spray forth.” The term ‘coffin liquor’ had been googled frequently enough in the following days to send my viewing figures rocketing for a post containing the synonymous term ‘corpse liquor’.  

St Mary-at-Lambeth; 14th century tower, the rest gothic revival
The ancient church of St Mary-at-Lambeth has some remarkable characters buried in the churchyard (or inside the precincts of the church) including the Tradescants, Elias Ashmole, Captain Bligh, the Comtesse de la Motte, William Bacon of the Salt Office (struck by lightning and burnt to a crisp) and Peter Ducrow. Of the medieval church only the 14th century tower now remains; the rest was pulled down in 1851 and rebuilt in a Gothic revival style entirely in keeping with the original. The reconstruction of the church was an opportunity to clear the crypt and vaults of a few hundred years of accumulated coffins and start afresh in a new, hygienic, miasma free atmosphere. It had always been assumed that the Victorians, in their usual conscientious manner, had thoroughly emptied and filled in the numerous vaults and so the discovery of a hidden flight of steps beneath the stone flags of the nave by workmen working on the remodelling of the building for the Garden Museum (who now occupy the church) was something of a surprise. In the old days some intrepid individual would have had to descend the stairs to find out what was down there in the forgotten vault but this being 2017 there is no longer any necessity to risk life or limb to make important archaeological discoveries, not if you have an iPhone and a selfie stick.  The first glimpse of the vault’s contents came from a video shot on a smartphone mounted on a stick and poked through a hole in the rubble – a tumbled pile of 30 lead coffins incongruously surmounted by a gold plated Bishop’s mitre.  The phone on stick technology, or a variant thereof, seems to have been the preferred method of carrying out a detailed assessment of the vault’s contents. Coffin nameplates have allowed investigators to identify some of those buried in the forgotten vault; they include two Archbishop’s of Canterbury, Richard Bancroft and John Moore and his wife Catherine Eden Moore, and John Bettesworth, a Dean of Arches. As parish records indicate that at least three more archbishops were buried at St Mary’s, it is strongly suspected that  Frederick Cornwallis (in office 1768-1783), Matthew Hutton (1757-1758) and Thomas Tenison (1695-1715) are also interred in the vault.  The Garden Museum have excavated a manhole above in the floor of the church glazed with a glass panel to allow visitors a view of the vault. The museum reopens this month and the 30 coffins and Bishop’s Mitre will almost certainly prove a draw with the general public.

Catherine Moore, wife of Archbishop John Moore, and her children by Daniel Gardner. Catherine was buried with her husband in the Archbishops vault at St Mary-at-Lambeth 
As part of a series called ‘Life Stories’ the BBC World Service broadcast a programme at the end of April called ‘Living With The Dead.’  It explores the unusual mortuary practices of the Toraja region of Sulawesi where animist beliefs still hold some sway against encroaching Christianity and the locals bury their dead with far less haste than has become the norm in the rest of the world. According to the BBC’s Sahar Zand “after someone dies, it may be months, sometimes years, before a funeral takes place. In the meantime, the families keep their bodies in the house and care for them as if they were sick. They are brought food, drink and cigarettes twice a day. They are washed and have their clothes changed regularly. The dead even have a bowl in the corner of the room as their "toilet". Furthermore, the deceased are never left on their own and the lights are always left on for them when it gets dark. The families worry that if they don't take care of the corpses properly, the spirits of their departed loved ones will give them trouble.” Corpses are preserved with liberal doses of formalin and then held onto until the family feels ready to hold a funeral. These are lavish affairs often lasting several days during which dozens of buffaloes and hundreds of pigs are slaughtered and guests sing and dance and gorge themselves on meat. After the funeral the deceased if interred in either a family tomb or in one of the many caves used for community burials. The wealthiest families commission realistic wooden statues of the deceased called tau tau, dress them in the dead person’s clothes, jewellery, glasses and even hair and set them to watch over the final resting place. Even after interment the Torajans continue to visit their relatives and handle their corpses. Zand says “In the rest of the world, these practices may seem bizarre. But perhaps the principles behind them are not so very different from those found in other cultures. Remembering the dead is something many of us try to do. The Torajans just take a very different approach.”   If you are interested you have about three weeks to watch the programme before it disappears from the BBC iPlayer.  

And finally, last week the Londonist featured an interactive map of London’s Magnificent Seven cemeteries :

Thursday, 20 April 2017

The horrible murders, attempted suicides and frighful execution of William Bousfield

The 1856 Death Register for Quarter 2 (April to June) unusually records the demise of no less than 8 Bousfields, a surname one would have thought was reasonably rare.  The strong showing for such an uncommon surname was triggered by no less than 5 unnatural deaths in a single family; in the early hours of Sunday 3rd February Sarah Bousfield and her three children, Anne (6 years old), Eliza (4 years) and John William (a mere baby of 8 months) were murdered at their home, 4 Portland Street, in St James, Westminster. Later that morning their father William confessed to the killings. He was hung for his crimes on March 31st in front of Newgate prison, by the notoriously incompetent public hangman William Calcraft, in one his most famously bungled executions. Retribution was swift enough in the mid nineteenth century for a murderer and his victims to be recorded side by side in the death register.   

The Quarter 2 Death Register entry for Bousfield records the murder of William's family as well as his execution 

The Berkshire Chronicle of Saturday 9th February carried a full account of the murder of Sarah Bousfield and her children and the apprehension of the murderer. As the newspaper made clear, it did not require Sherlock Holmes to solve the horrific murder as “on Sunday morning, shortly after seven o'clock, a man, who is described by the police as being about 34 years of age, 5 feet 8 inches in height, and of repulsive aspect, presented himself at Bow-street Station, with a particular request that he might see the inspector on duty.” His request was made to Police Constable Alfred Fudge, badge number 68F, by whom he “was at once introduced to Inspector Dodd, to whom he stated, with the most perfect calmness and composure, that he had murdered his wife. He said that he had that morning killed her by stabbing her in the neck with a chisel, and that in consequence of that act he was now desirous of delivering himself into the hands of Justice. There was nothing in the man’s demeanour to induce the inspector to suspect that he was labouring under a delusion of any kind, and he determined therefore that he would take down his statement and then proceed to the locality mentioned in it for the purpose of inquiring into its truth….” After taking Bousfield’s statement Inspector Dodd and a couple of Constables made their way to Portland Street (now gone, but once a side street off Oxford Street, between Berwick Street and Soho Square). It took a long time of loud knocking to rouse anyone inside the house. Someone, probably a servant, eventually allowed them in and called the householder, Mr John James, Sarah Bousfield’s father, father-in-law to the murderer and, of course, grandfather to the slaughtered children. Mr James found Inspector Dodd on the stairwell with a bull’s eye lantern in one hand and a sheaf of papers in the other. Dodd told him to come down at once as “'we have got the man who lives in the parlour; he looks very suspicious, as he is covered all over in blood.” John James opened the parlour door by putting his finger through a hole and pulling back the bolt. Inside the room his daughter lay on the bed with her throat cut, quite dead and cold already, along with the bodies of her two youngest children. On a separate bedstead lay the corpse of six year old Anne.  Almost immediately Mr James Hathaway the police surgeon arrived to examine the four bodies. The Morning Chronicle of 6th February gives an account of the inquest into the murders and details Mr Hathaway’s findings:

I found the deceased woman quite dead, with an incision in her neck from three to four inches in length. It was a clean cut wound. I found three incisions on the right arm, and four on the left, evidently to open the veins, but very little blood had flowed from them. There were two children on the bed quite dead. I then turned to a press bedstead in the room, and saw another child lying on it quite dead, with two incisions on the right side of the neck. Eliza Bousfield had two incisions on the right side of the neck. John William Bousfield, the infant, had two incisions on the right side of the neck and one on the lower part of the left ear. The bodies were quite cold, and I am of the opinion that they had been dead some hours. I made a post mortem examination of the body of Mrs. Bousfield. I found a punctured wound on the left cheek, and penetrating through the cheek. On the lower lip there was a lacerated wound.  I then came to the wound in the neck which was a clean incised wound about four inches in length dividing the skin integuments and all the soft parts. The carotid artery was nearly divided. There was also a small would above the larger one about an inch in length. On the front of the left shoulder was a clean cut would about an inch long. There was a cut through the nightdress corresponding with the wound. On the left elbow were two other punctures, and, also one at the back of the bend of the elbow. They were all superficial. On examining the right arm about two inches above the bend of the elbow inside there was another punctured wound, also superficial. There were no marks of wounds on the hands. The heart and other viscera were healthy. The cause of death was the division of the carotid artery.

Sarah Bousfield no doubt often sold newspapers with lurid headlines from the shop at 4 Portland Place,
never realising that she would be the subject of some of the most sensational stories of the 1850's
Dr Hathaway’s conclusion was that the perpetrator had, bizarrely, initially tried to bleed his victims to death, using a sharpened chisel to open veins on their arms and only when this did not work did he finish them off by slitting their throats with a razor. Both the chisel and the razor were recovered from the room. At the inquest neither the coroner nor the jury could understand how healthy adults or children could be killed by bleeding from the veins in the arms, surely they would put up a struggle or at the very least cry out? One of the jurors asked if there was any sign of chloroform having being used. Dr Hathaway eventually had to admit that he could not tell if the wounds of the arms of the victims had been made pre or post mortem. The modus operandi of the murderer was not the only puzzle, the motive for the killings was just as perplexing; “every one who is acquainted with the family is at a loss to account for the motive which prompted the brutal murder, as there was no poverty, and the murderer never evinced the slightest indication of mental aberration,” as one newspaper put it.  The man most likely to be able to shed light on the matter was John James and he was the first called to provide evidence at the inquest held just two days after the murders in the board room of St Ann’s workhouse Poland Street. The first grim business of the day was for the jury to view the bodies of the four victims. Once this was over the inquest proper convened. So strong was the public interest in the case that a temporary barrier had to be erected across the boardroom to keep the press of onlookers back from the jury and witnesses. The Coroner, Mr St Clair Bedford, called for John James who was led into the court in an ‘extremely agitated’ state. He was so distressed that the coroner called for a chair and allowed him to give his evidence sitting down. He told the coroner that his daughter “and her husband lived on very good terms” with their three young children in the parlour of 4 Portland Street where he occupied some upstairs rooms and lodgers occupied various other rooms. His daughter ran a shop, selling newspapers and tobacco,  from the front parlour and his son in law occupied himself occasionally as a supernumerary in the theatre earning a shilling or eighteen pence a night. Out of paternal solicitude Mr James, a carpenter and joiner, supplemented his daughter’s income as Bousfield’s wages in the theatre and her profits from the shop were not enough to keep the family. This dependence on her father caused tension between the couple “when she had two children she wished  him  to get work, and when the third child was born she begged him daily and hourly to get something to do, and be independent of me,” James told the inquest.  Nothing unusual had occurred on the Saturday night, James had popped downstairs to see his daughter at about 10.30pm and found Bousfield  “standing with his back to the fire. I said to him ‘Is Sarah in or out?’ and he answered ‘She has just gone out’. She came home at half-past eleven o'clock, with the boy, who had a new hat on, of which he appeared very proud.  I talked to her for some time and that was the last I saw of my daughter.”  One of the lodgers, Mary Ann Bennett, had a different story to tell the inquest about the relationship between the couple; she told the inquest that “Bousfield and his wife sometimes had words which was because he was out of employment.” She also told the court that the couple had not slept together since the birth of the baby eight months before and said “I have heard he was jealous and I have heard Bousfield say many times he did not like the young men who came to the shop. He also said he thought his wife was too free with them. .. She was a very pleasant woman in the shop, and many persons would come into the shop if she was there, but not if he was...He was not jealous of one particular young man.”   The jury’s verdict was wilful murder against William Bousfield.

Bousfield went on trial at the Old Bailey on March 6th. It was a swift affair in front of Mr Justice Wightman.  The newspaper coverage of the trial was perfunctory, partly because no exciting new details of the crime emerged and partly because the attention of the papers were occupied by a new and more fascinating murderer, Dr William Palmer of Rugeley, the Prince of Poisoners.  Bousfield  pleaded not guilty and according to the Yorkshire Gazette “appeared completely bowed down with grief, and being accommodated with a chair, buried his face in his hands, and remained in that  position during the entire trial.” The defence were keen to cross examine PC Verres who had watched over Bousfield after his arrest and who confirmed that the prisoner had thrown “himself forward to hit his head against the wall, and when pulled him back, said,  ‘Kill me at once.’ He then said, ‘Send for a doctor- send a doctor to my poor wife’ and afterwards said, ‘put me in a cell.’” Out of this poor evidence Bousfield’s counsel tried to construct a defence of insanity. The jury were not swayed, taking just a few minutes to reach a verdict of guilty to the charge of murder. Justice Wightman “then passed sentence of death in a most impressive manner, holding out no hope of mercy. The prisoner, on hearing the sentence, nearly sunk to the ground, and had to be assisted by two of the turnkeys from the dock.”
 Ironically 31st March was the date set for Bousfield’s execution; as it was also the day after the signing of the treaty of Paris which put an end to the Crimean War the London mob were out in force and in a jubilant mood engaging in impromptu celebrations. For the mob there was no better way to commemorate peace than by attending an execution and 5000 people got up early and walked to Newgate to the accompaniment of church bells tolling for the peace to make sure they had a good view of the 8.00am execution. Under the headline ‘Attempted Suicide and Frightful Execution of Bousfield’ the Examiner for Saturday 5th April carries a commendably well written and harrowingly detailed account of the events of that day (which I quote in full):

On Monday morning, in the midst of the public rejoicings for the announcement of peace, William Bousfield, who was convicted of the murder of his wife and three children at Soho, was executed in front of the Old Bailey. The scene was most horrifying – the unfortunate man was literally dragged to the scaffold, and struggled for his life with the executioner with the desperate energy of despair. Since his conviction the wretched man persevered in maintaining a sullen and morose appearance, pretending at times no recollection of the murder and that the whole was a dream to him; and, although repeatedly spoken to by the Rev. Mr Davis on the subject of his crime, who (says the reporter of the execution) to awaken some latent feeling of remorse and penitence in him, pictured the horrible scene that must have been present to him on the night of the murder, when he must have sat for hours with his lifeless and bleeding victims around him, before he gave himself up, all that could be got from him was, "Pray don't talk about it; it is a horrid dream." He moreover feigned that he committed the murders without the slightest knowledge of the atrocities of which he was guilty, but his previous profligate career, combined with a feeling of jealousy which he unjustly entertained in reference to his wife, lead to the conclusion that his conduct at the close of his life was hypocritical and deceitful.

On Saturday afternoon, after the culprit took his final leave of his two sisters, he continued to exhibit the same sullen demeanour he had exhibited throughout, and when visited by the sheriffs, and told he must prepare to undergo his sentence, made no reply. About four o'clock he was sitting on the end of his bed-stead, facing the fire, but at some distance off, watched closely by the turnkeys, who had been in constant attendance upon him; at the time he appeared dejected and lost, but suddenly he started up, rushed forward, and threw himself forward on the fire, his entire face being beyond the upper bar of the stove. His neckerchief catching fire assisted materially in burning him severely in the lower part of the face and neck. A turnkey seeing the movement, immediately pulled him from off the fire, and with assistance of other officers he was secured, and Mr Gibson, the prison surgeon, was sent for. He ascertained that the injuries Bousfield had thus inflicted upon himself were not of a dangerous character, although causing the face to be much swollen and burnt; remedies were immediately applied to reduce the wounds- lotions being constantly applied; but from that time the wretched man refused to speak or receive any food, exhibiting an utter prostration and helplessness, the only nourishment that he could be induced to swallow being some milk, and on Monday morning a glass of wine. All attempts to induce him to listen to religious instruction ceased, and during the whole of Sunday he exhibited the same state of helplessness. In that state he remained the entire night, watched by several turnkeys, and frequently visited by Mr Weather head. His appearance is described by the sheriffs and those in attendance upon him as truly hideous, the lower part of the face being swollen and burnt to a fearful extent. To reduce the swelling, the attendants, under the direction of Mr Gibson, constantly bathed the wounds with cold lotions, a piece of linen being placed round the lower part of the face.
Outside Newgate on execution day
At half-past seven the sheriffs, Messrs Kennedy and Rose, with their undersheriffs, arrived at the prison, and at a quarter to eight, accompanied by the governor and the Rev. Mr Davis, the ordinary, proceeded to the prisoner's cell. On entering the cell the wretched murderer was seen sitting on a chair supported by two men, in an entire state of prostration and apparently dying, the attendants from time to time wiping the froth that kept constantly oozing from his mouth, but not a sound or word escaped him. At a few minutes before eight o'clock Calcraft was introduced into the cell, and proceeded to pinion the arms of the prisoner. At this time he appeared so exhausted that Mr Sheriff Kennedy called upon Mr Gibson, the surgeon, to examine the state of the prisoner, who reported that his pulse was in a very low state. Restoratives were in consequence administered, but with no apparent effect, and the fatal moment having arrived, the sheriffs gave the signal for the procession moving towards the scaffold. The officers, who had up to this time supported the body of the wretched man on the chair, endeavoured to raise and induce him to stand on his legs, but without success, such was his apparent, but, as it subsequently turned out, assumed, utter helplessness that, but for being supported, he would have sunk in a mass to the ground; and it became evident that to get him to the scaffold he must be carried. One of the turnkeys took hold of his legs, and another carried him by the armpits, and in that listless state, nearly doubled up, he was carried to the foot of the scaffold, the sheriffs and undersheriffs heading the dismal procession, the Rev. Mr Davis, the ordinary reading the burial service, the prison bell tolling during the time. The signal of the approaching scene was caught up by the mob outside, amounting to some four or five thousand persons of the usual grade to be seen at executions.
On the procession arriving at the door, formerly known as the debtors' door, from which the steps are erected leading to the scaffold, a difficulty arose as to the manner in which the wretched man could be carried on to the scaffold and placed under the beam while the executioner was adjusting and fixing the fatal rope. A high-backed office chair was obtained from the office of the governor, upon which the wretched man was placed, up to the last moment exhibiting the same helplessness he had done throughout and in that state he was carried on to the scaffold by four of the officers belonging to the prison, and placed under the drop. Calcraft the executioner, who exhibited an unusual nervousness and terror, lost not an instant in putting on the cap, and adjusting the fatal noose and as soon as he had secured the rope to the chain, suspended by the beam, he ran down the steps, and, without any signal, withdrew the fatal bolt, the chair dropped from under the wretched man and the became suspended, but scarcely two seconds had elapsed before he exhibited a convulsive strength and power to the utter astonishment of all who had seen his apparent utter prostration for previous forty-eight hours. His shoulders and arms were raised upwards, his legs being thrown in various directions to obtain a footing in which he soon succeeded, by placing his right foot on the right edge of the scaffold, and by an extraordinary effort succeeded in placing his left foot close to it, and kept that position until one of the turnkeys went on to the scaffold and pushed down the legs, Calcraft, in apparent terror, running from under the scaffold. The sheriffs and other officials attempted to stop him, but he persisted in getting away, insisting the man was dead. His struggles at this moment became most fearful, and the crowd kept on yelling and hooting. In a few seconds more, for the second time the wretched man succeeded in placing both feet on the left side of the scaffold. The sheriffs, and particularly Mr Alderman Rose, became so horrified and indignant that they insisted on Calcraft being compelled to return and put an end to the fearful scene. The Rev. Mr Davis succeeded in allaying Calcraft’s terrors, and he went under and pulled the leg down and hung to them a short time; but on his letting go of them the wretched man for the third time succeeded in getting to his feet on to the edge of the scaffold; when on their being removed be dropt for the fourth time, and after a severe struggle, which had lasted upwards of ten minutes, he ceased to exist. 
William Calcraft - the man who couldn't hang

During the whole of this horrible scene the tumult and yelling amongst the crowd were terrific. The body having hung the usual time, at nine o'clock it was cut down by Calcraft, who was received with groans and hisses. The features in death were truly horrible. To account in some manner for the extraordinary conduct of Calcraft it appears that on Saturday he received an anonymous letter advising him to go to the Horse Guards and get a helmet to wear on the occasion, as the Kent street roughs were determined to shoot him, to put an end to any more executions.-A Court of Aldermen was held on Tuesday, at which it was ordered that a statement made by Alderman and Sheriff Kennedy, confirming the above-described horrible details, should be referred to the Gaol Committee, for them to inquire into the circumstances and report to the Court.   

Monday, 10 April 2017

The Other Andrew Ducrow; Andrew Ducrow fils (1842-1863) Rangiriri Cemetery, North Island, New Zealand

Commemorated on the Ducrow Mausoleum, on the same panel as his father (and below the famous epitaph ‘Erected by a genius for the reception of his own remains’, generally read as a piece of self aggrandisement by the deceased showman himself but almost certainly the words of his wife Louisa) is his youngest son. The full inscription reads: 
Also of
Andrew Ducrow
Ensign 40th Regiment
Youngest son of the above
Who died of wounds received whilst gallantly leading his men
In the attack on Rangiriri New Zealand Nov 20th 1863
He is mentioned in despatches as being
If not the first certainly one of the first
To enter the enemy entrenchments
He died greatly beloved and deeply regretted by
His brother officers and all who knew him
This tablet is erected to commemorate his noble death
And as a small tribute of a great love by his sorrowing parents
Peace to the memory of the brave
Born 18th June 1843 died 23rd December 1863

Louisa Ducrow gave birth to her youngest son on 18 June 1842, four months after the death of her husband and named the baby after his recently deceased father, Andrew Ducrow. She baptised him in November at St Johns in Waterloo. The baptismal register gives no indication that Andrew Ducrow père was dead; in the Quality, Trade or Profession column he is listed as an equestrian (an unsuitably vigorous trade for a corpse). Andrew Ducrow fils did not however remain sans père for very long. With her husband buried for little more than two years Louisa Ducrow married John Hay, on 24 February 1844, and Andrew fils and his three siblings acquired a stepfather. Some sources say John Hay was a brewer, but it is far from certain that he had any money. When he moved his new family from Lambeth to the more upmarket Albany Street, an extension of Great Portland Street, on the Regents Park estate, he may well have been spending what was left of Andrew Ducrow’s £60,000 fortune (in the 1851 census his occupation was simply listed as Gentleman, a career involving little or no remuneration. A decade later in the 1861 census he had become an hotelier).  Certainly by 1847 John Hay was in dispute with the executors of Ducrow’s will; he was no longer willing to spend at least some of the money set aside in the will for the upkeep of the Mausoleum. Ducrow had left £500 to meet his funeral costs, £800  “to be expended in or about the erecting or enlarging, or adding to or altering the monument then erected over his vault and for the purpose of placing inscriptions on the said monument,” and a further £200 to be placed in trust in the 3% bank annuities, the dividends to be used in “repairing, renewing, and decorating his said vault, monument, and obelisks or columns, and the inscription thereon, and planting and keeping up, and spreading such shrubs and flowers about or upon the same.” The £500 for the funeral had presumably long been paid out but perhaps there was still something left of the £800 and certainly the whole of the £200 to be invested in the 3 per cents. Louisa, or more likely John, were reluctant to tie up good money for the purposes of providing flowers for Ducrow’s tomb and one of the other executors, Oscar Byrne, felt obliged to take the matter to law. In June 1847 the case was brought before the Court of Chancery and brought to a swift conclusion when the defendant’s counsel raised no objection to any of the provisions of the will, effectively conceding the case.

Andrew Ducrow baptism record from St Johns, Waterloo 
We know nothing about Andrew Ducrow fils life growing up in the household of John Hay at Albany Street. The marriage between his mother and the gentleman hotelier was childless but all four of the Ducrow offspring were still living at Albany Street according to the 1861 census.  We know that Andrew fils was already in the army by the beginning of 1861 as according to the London Gazette he was appointed ensign by purchase, taking the place of former ensign Henry Swanson, in the regiment of the 40th Foot on the 15th January. Shortly afterwards he travelled with his regiment to New Zealand where he saw active service in the land wars, taking part in the invasion of Waikato and losing his life at the key engagement of the campaign in Rangiriri, being shot in the left knee on 20 November and dying two days before Christmas after having his leg amputated.  

DEATH OF ENSIGN DUCROW - It is with great regret that we announce to our readers the death of Ensign Ducrow at the Queen's Redoubt, at a quarter to eleven o'clock yesterday morning. As our readers already know he was one of the brave fellows who were wounded at Rangiriri, and whose wound was so severe that his leg had to be amputated. It was at first thought that he would recover, but at last he sank under it, and is now no more. His remains will be brought into town to-day, and we presume they will be buried on Saturday. Ensign Andrew Ducrow entered the service in the 40th Regt. on the 18th January, 1861, and shortly after embarked from England for this colony. In May last he went to Taranaki, and returned with the rest of the troops. This as might be expected from his youth and rank, was the first active service he had seen, and unfortunately it is the last. He was generally respected by his brother soldiers. His death increases the number of officers lost to the British service, and their sorrowing relatives, by the attack on Rangiriri, to no less than six.

Daily Southern Cross, 24 December 1863

St Johns, Waterloo
FUNERAL OF ENSIGN DUCROW - The remains of this unfortunate young officer, who was severely wounded at Rangiriri, and whose death we reported a few days ago, were interred yesterday in the Auckland cemetery. Although the rank of Ensign Ducrow did not entitle him to the same honours at his funeral as would be paid to those in a position above him, and whose services had made them more conspicuous for the part they had taken in the war, yet we are quite sure the attendance upon his obsequies was none the less sincere. It must, indeed, be a matter of regret that this gallant young gentlemen should have fallen at so early an age, as he was a promising officer; and might have achieved distinction for himself and done the state good service. Like Lieutenant Colonel, Austen, Ensign Ducrow had, through his relatives, just come into a very handsome income for his rank. From the enjoyment of this, however, he has been debarred; but he leaves behind him the name of being one of those who bravely fought for their country at Rangiriri and suffered.

It was arranged that the funeral procession should leave the Albert Barracks at half past 3 o'clock, and at that hour two or three hundred persons assembled there. This weather, although threatening, kept fine, and all the preliminaries; having been arranged, the procession started from the Albert Barracks about four o'clock, the band, of the 50th Regiment preceding it, and playing the Dead March. The following was the order of the procession:—

Firing party, consisting of forty men from the several detachments in garrison, under the command of Ensign Toseland.  Band of 50th Regt. The Coffin, drawn on a gun carriage, with six horses and drivers of the Royal Artillery. Pall Bearers; Mr Jones, Royal Engineers Department; Staff Assistant-Surgeon O'Connell; Ensign Green, 14th Regiment; Lieutenant Hobbs, 40th-Regiment; Chief Mourners. Lieutenant-Colonel Nelson, 40thRegiment; Lieutenant Burton, 40th Regiment; Staff Assistant-Surgeon Dempster, Detachment of troops in garrison,  Officers of Militia. Officers of the Regular Troops, 7 Officers of the Royal Navy, including Lieutenant Downes and Lieutenant Hotham, both wounded at Rangirirj.  Mr Whitaker, Premier. His Excellency the Governor, and General Galloway. &c, &c, &c.
The road to the burial ground was pretty thickly covered with spectators. On reaching the cemetery the usual funeral service was read by the Rev. Kinder, garrison chaplain, and three volleys having being fired over the grave the assemblage dispersed. The remains of Ensign Duerow were laid beside the rest of the dead heroes of Rangiriri, whose last resting place is now mournfully denoted by a row of fresh mounds of earth, unornamented as yet by those tokens with which the living seek to perpetuate the memory of the dead.  The following was the inscription on the coffin: ENSIGN ANDREW DTJCROW, 40th REGIMENT, DIED OF WOUNDS RECEIVED IN ACTION. 20th November, 1863, AGED 21 YEARS.

Daily Southern Cross, 24 December 1863

Most of his money went back to his mother and John Hay but he bequeathed his gold signet ring to his friend Lieutenant Burton who was still wearing it 33 years later as a prized souvenir of his departed friend.

Andrew Ducrow, probate register