It is little wonder that we can sometimes view Victorian culture as being inclined to melancholy and mourning. Death and dangerous illness were always nearby, and no class of society was exempt from their touch. In the first few months of 1880, when Thomas had been a widower for less than a year, tragedy struck the Robertson family and the staff of Palé.
First, Alexander Sherriff, the husband of Mr. and Mrs. Robertson’s second daughter Annie, died at the family’s London house; they had been married less than eight years. She had become a widow at 25.
February 8th Sunday Mr. Sherriff died at Lancaster Gate London aged 32. This has cast quite a gloom over us all, but especially Mrs. Sherriff and Mrs. Robertson. Mr. Sherriff to my knowledge was most honourable and straightforward, free from all mischief making, and deservedly popular. He used to come to see my collection, and was always amiable and humble in manners.
Within ten days Mrs. Robertson’s brother John Dean fell ill:
Feb. 18th, Wednesday Mr. Dean took Scarlet fever, which has cast another gloom over Palé. Feb 25th Mr. Dean in a most critical condition.
A member of Palé staff was the next victim, but fortunately Joh Dean survived.
March 8th Monday Miss Jarvis the head housemaid died of the fever after 4 days’ illness. She was a quiet, good and industrious servant, whose untimely death all deplore.
Mr. Dean, I am thankful to say is past danger, he came out of doors today for the first time March 19th.
Thomas’ family escaped the illnesses on the estate that winter, and so Little Mary Emily began her education, just nine months after the death of her own mother.
March 23rd Mary Emily’s first day at school.
These are mournful journal entries, the only ones until May of that year, but they bring sharply into focus he realities of life and death in the nineteenth century. The rest of the year becomes more cheerful!