By 1879 Thomas had established himself for ten years as Head Gardener at Palé. His new wife Mary had accompanied him from Derbyshire to his post at Llandderfel, and their children Thomas Alexander aged 10, William Pamplin aged 7 and Mary Emily aged 6 were growing up at the Garden House on the Palé estate. Then, in the spring and early summer of 1879 a tragedy struck.
1879 Up till April I have nothing particular to relate, except that my dear wife has been very ill, which causes me a great deal of anxiety. I have geologised a little and fished some to pass the time.
June 9th, Monday 11o’clock. My beloved wife died at a little after 11 am. This has been to me the most distressing thing it has ever been my lot to bear; for two months I have slept but little. I never seemed to be asleep, for I could hear the least movement during the night. Her illness was rapid consumption, so that she suffered no pain, but dropt off calmly to a better world. Mrs. Robertson was most kind and anxious about her. Mrs Pryce of Bronwylfa brought her a preparation of her own make, Mrs Richards of Fronheulog was also most kind, and all my neighbours showed the most sympathy and kindness to me during her illness.
June 12th My dear wife was buried; the neighbours showed their sympathy by coming from all parts, and by carrying the bier all the way. The village people had drawn their blinds and the shops their shutters, all of which was so kind of them, especially for a stranger. I have lost a kind and feeling mother of children, a wife but seldom equalled, a quiet living, good natured and reserved companion, but beloved by those who knew her. Mrs. Robertson in writing to me said that I little knew how much she and her family respected her, and how deeply they felt her loss. Her old and respected friend Mrs. Owen was with her in her last moments, and showed her all respect and kindness. [Probably Elizabeth Owen, Housekeeper of Palé, originally from Devon, and aged 61 in 1879 – ed.]
Mary’s death left Thomas with three young children of 10 and under. He does not comment in the diary about how he managed to look after them, do his work in the gardens, and continue with his geological and botanical excursions. In the Wales census of 1881 a servant, Jane Richards aged 21 was living in the house. Mrs. Robertson of Palé Hall probably ensured that there was enough support for the children. Thomas gives no clue in the diary about the children’s reactions to their loss of a mother at an early age – a relatively common experience among Victorian children.