Reader – he married her!

London Metropolitan Archives

On July 14th 1881 Frances Harriet Williams arrived in Llanderfel where she stayed for over a month with her uncle and aunt William and Margaret Pamplin.  Her mother, Frances Williams, had been in Llanderfel the previous month.  Nothing is said in Thomas’ journal about the events of these two visits, beyond descriptions of walks taken, but since Thomas was to marry Frances Harriet in October 1881, one can conjecture that Mrs. Williams was asked permission to marry her daughter in June and that a proposal was made to Frances Harriet in July or August.

The July/August visit must have been an important one, since a marriage proposal to Frances H. would involve her becoming stepmother to three youngsters – Thomas Alexander aged 13, William P. aged 9 and Mary Emily aged 7.  Frances Harriet Williams was herself already aged 35 and must have been considered by her family as perhaps unlikely to marry.

Thomas reveals nothing as Frances H. leaves Lllanderfel in August 1881.  the next time she returns she will be Mrs. Ruddy. ‘August 19th I went to Ruabon to see Miss Williams off to London. Afterwards I rambled about and walked back to Llangollen. I got a few shells on the way and also plants, but nothing new to me. ‘

Thomas records in detail a walk ascending Cader Idris with companions from the Chester Society on August 23rd (see future post) and the same walk with Master Robertson’s current tutor and former tutor on September 3rd, his description including a very competent geological sketch:

Thomas Ruddy: diary page for 3rd September 1881

Then on Friday October 7th 1881 Thomas departs for London by train, and at last there is confirmation of the forthcoming marriage:  Mr. Williams and his dear sister (my intended wife) met me at the train. I was delighted to see them, and they were no less so to see me, so that our meeting was as happy as it was enthusiastic. Our faces beamed with joy, and we were all excitement. We got a cab, which took us to 25 Kennington Park Road SE about a quarter past 8 o’clock. Mrs. Williams was waiting to welcome me to her home. I was soon at home and most comfortable. We all spent a happy evening together.

The next two days are spent meeting close family friends of the Williams’ and going to church three times:  Sunday was very fine. We went to Newington Church in the morning, and Frances and I went to the afternoon service in the Abbey. After service we looked through it to see the monuments. Got introduced to Miss Neate in the evening. All had tea together and went to St. Thomas’s Church Lambeth. Mr. Starey the vicar preached. 

So far, so good.  But Thomas was Thomas, and how could he resist visiting two Museums in the capital devoted to his enduring passions, natural history and geology.  Miss Williams can have been in no doubt about the abiding interests of her future husband.  Fortunately, she seems to have shared his interest:  Monday 10th Frances and I went by the District or Underground Railway from Westminster Bridge to South Kensington. Visited the Geological Museum there. I was highly interested with what I saw in the way of fossils. Saw the skeleton of a mastodon 18 feet in length, a Dinotherium with tusks 4 or 5 yards in length and a mammoth with tusks 4 yards in length. I also saw a fine male and female Irish Elk, Ground Sloth, and a cast of monster armadillo.

 Among the Saurians I saw fine specimens of the following: Plesiosaurus, Ichthyosaurus and Pterodactyl, with many others. I saw a fine collection of bones from caves. I had a letter of introduction from Mr. Palin to young Mr. Etheridge, whom I found to be very courteous and willing to show me the Silurian Collection. I can say that Mr. Etheridge is quite an enthusiastic geologist. The British Caradoc or Bala collection is very poor. Frances and I stayed 2 and a half hours in the Museum. We went from S.K. station to Kew Gardens. We had but a little over a couple of hours. The palm house is very good. The collection being well-grown and clean. The Lily House is also very nice and interesting with its lilies, valisneria [aquatic foliage plant] and other rare plants. The Fern House has a good and clean collection.

Tuesday 11th Frances and I went to the Geological Museum, Jermyn Street [Established 1853, transferred to Exhibition Rd. S. Kensington 1935, taken over by the Natural History Museum 1985  see here ]  I can say that there is a magnificent collection of minerals and fossils, and all beautifully arranged. The collection of Bala fossils is very good, and the Irish specimens are very good, but many of the British specimens are poor. Indeed, I could only see very miserable representatives of many of our Welsh species.   Mr. Newton kindly opened the cases for me, so that I might examine them critically.

Internal and external pictures of the Geological Museum, Jermyn Street

At some time Thomas must have set about rectifying the poor collection of Brutish Bala fossils, as I have established that there are over 1,000 specimens collected by Thomas held at present by the Natural History Museum.

By Wednesday Thomas and Frances Harriet had re-focussed on their marriage, and by mid-day on Thursday they were husband and wife:  Wednesday 12th Mr. Williams and I went to Doctor’s Commons, near St. Paul’s to get the marriage license. After getting it we went as far as the Bank of England, the Mansion House, Royal Exchange, down Cornhill; and afterwards got back to Queen Victoria Street, and saw the Civil Service Stores, then home over Blackfriars Bridge.

Thursday the 13th  at 11 o’clock I was married to Frances Harriett Williams at St. Mary’s Church, Newington S.E.   Mr. Palmer the rector officiated, and also delivered a very beautiful address. Miss Neate acted as bridesmaid, and Mr. Irvine as best man. Her brother Mr. Williams gave her away, and her mother was present. All of us signed the Marriage Register. We had a very beautiful day with the sun shining, so that we wished the old saying to be true, ‘happy is the bride the sun shines on’. We all enjoyed ourselves up till 4 o’clock, when Frances and I took our departure for London Bridge Station amidst a shower of rice.

Newington Church and Mr. Palmer, Rector in 1881

 

 

 

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Closer to the Pamplins

 Angel in Rûg Chapel, © Copyright Mike Searle and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Angel in Rûg Chapel, © Copyright Mike Searle and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

During 1880 Widower Thomas had been walking with Frances Harriet Williams, niece of his friend William Pamplin, who lived with her parents in London.  See details of their walk here.

A sad event in early 1881 brought Frances Harriet – and presumably her parents Frances and William Williams – back to Llanderfel.  Frances Williams was William Williams’ second wife.  He had previously been married to Sarah Mason and they had a daughter, Sarah before her death in 1841.  Sarah had apparently been living with the Pamplins in Llanderfel, and died there in February 1881.  The photograph of Sarah, below, was taken in Denbigh.

Sarah Williams, 1841-1881
Sarah Williams, 1841-1881

Feb 1st Thursday Miss Williams, Mr. Pamplin’s niece died [Sarah Williams, daughter of William Williams & his first wife Sarah Mason. Half sister to Frances Harriet] Miss Williams was an old and valued friend who will be much missed by all who knew her.  2nd (inserted later)I went to Rûg and met Miss F.H. Williams.

8th Very rainy & stormy so that the river rose to a high flood.
9th Miss Williams buried at Llandderfel – fine.


13th I and Miss Williams went to Llandrillo church

20th I and Miss Williams went to Rhosygwalia church and from there up to Aberhirnant pool, and from there home by Maeshir and Bwlchhannerob. [A round trip of about 8 miles, if they walked both ways].


22nd Tuesday. I went to Ruabon to see Miss Williams off to London.

Introducing Miss Williams – 1880

Few photographs exist of Frances Harriet Ruddy, neé Williams.  this is apparently taken when she was a young woman.
Few photographs exist of Frances Harriet Ruddy, neé Williams. This is apparently taken when she was a young woman.

Sept 17th Friday. I went with Mr. & Mrs. Pamplin and his niece Miss F.H Williams to Dolgelly.

This is Thomas’ first mention of his future wife, Frances Harriet.  It is unclear to what extent there was a degree of matchmaking on the part of her uncle William Pamplin.  William himself had been widowed in 1876 when his first wife Caroline died from cancer.  William married Margaret Parry, a local woman considerably younger than himself, two years later in 1878.  One interesting point is that Frances’ mother, Frances Williams did not join the walk, although she was usually included in later walks.  It is likely that she had accompanied her daughter to Wales, but the party consisting of Mr and Mrs Pamplin, Thomas and Frances encouraged an opportunity for conversation on a walk of some length.

We went with the first train to Bontnewyd. On our route we could see the effects of the great floods – the debris of bridges strewn in the bed of the rivers; riverside meadows covered with large stones, sand and gravel. There were plenty of signs of destruction all along the line from Llanwchllyn to Bontnewyd [SH771 201]. From Bontnewyd we went up past the village of Brithdir [SH767188] to the head of the Torrent Walk. The village is scattered about; the bulk of the houses being covered with creepers; the tropaeoleum speciosum being very conspicuous. There was an Independent Chapel in the village, and a school a little further on. From the village we had beautiful and extensive views. South of us stood Aran, on the north conspicuous were the cone of Moel Offrum and the high Rhobell-faur. West of us stood Cader Idris in all its beauty, its east side showing the steepness of it. The walk by the torrent was most pleasing; numerous cascades or steep slopes of rock, down which the water rushed; deep gorges when the water disappeared, overhung with lichen covered trees; the rocky slopes of the torrent being covered with moss, ferns or flowers. The little filmy fern (H. Wilsonii) being most beautiful and abundant.

We lunched by the torrent, and strolled down leisurely until we arrived at Dolserau gate. We next went through the grounds of Dolgûn [SH747184] which pleased my friends very much. I showed them the old smelting work, the beautiful trees of Dolgûn, and rare ferns, especially the Ceterach and a branching, fronded Asplenium trichomanes. We were all delighted with the walk, and as it was all new to my friends, they were full of admiration. On our way to Dolgelly we found the Tutsan St. John’s wort by the roadside. We crossed the river Aran which runs down from Cader, and got into Dolgelly by 3 pm. We had a substantial meat tea at the Talbot Hotel, where we were most comfortable.

After tea we walked out to Cymmer Abbey. On the way we passed the young ladies’ school, Dickson’s Nursery and the mansion of Hengwrt – once the residence of a noted antiquary Robert Vaughan. My friends stayed on the road in sight of the abbey while I went to see it. On my way down I saw fine walnut trees in the grounds. I entered the ruin which is a long nave with three windows (lancet) in the east end, the entrance being at the west end. The walls were built of shale except the coigns and mouldings. A great quantity of Asplenium trichomanes and the pellitory of the wall grew on the walls. The garden is a square attached to the abbey, but it has no very old trees. Along the south boundary wall there is a ditch full of water cress, showing that the monks cultivated it. The abbey is situated, as abbeys usually are, in a beautiful spot at the entrance to Llanelltyd valley, and close to the river Mawddach. We returned to Dolgelly at the back of Hengwrt, where we got charming views. While waiting until train time, we had a stroll about the town, which is famed for short, crooked streets, houses with entrances by outside steps, and everything in confusion. We returned home in good spirits and delighted with our very interesting and pleasant trip.

For both Frances Harriet and Thomas the walk was something of a test of their mutual suitability.  Frances had been brought up in a town, but seems to have sustained two walks, the first about four and a half miles,  partly over rough terrain,  the second at least two and a half miles.  This must have seemed satisfactory to Thomas, who was to lead her on many such demanding expeditions for the rest of her life.  On her part, Frances appears to have relished Thomas’ commentary on all things botanical, geological and historic encountered along the way.  This is not surprising as she was the grand daughter of a nurseryman and botanist, and the niece of a botanist and botanical bookseller.  No wonder Thomas returned delighted and in good spirits from what was to be a very significant expedition.

Visitors to the fossil collection

methodist-college-bala
Methodist College, Bala

Thomas’ diligent and painstaking collection of Bala fossils and his careful and accurate labelling and display were beginning to bring interested visitors to his door on a regular basis.  Thomas was obviously able to converse with local worthies as an equal, and was seen as an authority on his chosen subject.  Mr Dean, brother-in-law of Thomas’ employer Henry Robertson had obviously recovered from his severe illness of the spring of that year.  It would seem that the Robertson family were very happy to allow Thomas to show visitors his collections.  Although, sadly, he almost never mentions the Palé gardens in his journals, his work must have been satisfactory to the family as they allowed, even encouraged his geological and other activities.

[1880] July has been very remarkable for fearful and frequent thunderstorms, heavy rains and high floods.

During the month my collections were visited by the Revds. Ellis Edwards, Professor at the Methodist College Bala, and Ogwen Jones of Rhyl.   Mr. Dean brought Mr. Edmund Aitken, surgeon of London, to see them, also the Revd. Wynn Williams, and his son, from Fronheulog, to whom I gave a collection of Bala fossils.

It is interesting that so many clergy came to view and discuss the fossils.  The hostility of the church to Darwin’s ideas, and the clash of views over the dating of fossils vis à vis the Biblical view of the date and process of creation led to much discussion during the second half of the nineteenth century.  By the time of Darwin’s death in 1882, the Church of England was ready to give him a state funeral and burial in Westminster Abbey.  This article details the growing reception of the ideas of the formation, dating and geology of the earth by the Church of England over the 23 years between he publication of The Origin of Species and Darwin’s death.  For the clerical visitors to the very ancient Silurian and Ordovician fossils, the questions raised must have ben theological as well as scientific.

See here for details of Methodist College.

220px-theodore_martin_-_project_gutenberg_etext_17293  Sir Theodore Martin, via Wikipedia

A distinguished visitor to Palé who chatted to the Head Gardener was Sir Theodore Martin, with his wife, a noted actress.  Like Henry Robertson, Theodore Martin, was born in Scotland, and had moved to nearby Bryntysilio Hall.  He had been chosen by Queen Victoria to write the biography of Prince Albert; this had been finished, and Martin knighted in 1880.  A Biographical note is here.

His wife, born Helena Faucit [written Fawcett by Thomas] had been a noted Shakespearean actress.  She had appeared as Beatrice, on the opening of the Shakespeare Memorial at Stratford-on-Avon on 23 April 1879.  For a portrait of Lady Martin see here and a biography here.

Sept 7th Tuesday I had a long chat with Sir Theodore Martin of Bryntisilio near Llangollen; he was very chatty and pleasant to talk to.  In asking me the name of a plant I gave him the only one I had: Salpiglossus; he said it would take a lifetime to remember such a name. A great author like him to say that. His lady was with him here on a visit. She is no beauty, and she has a peculiar unhappy like expression.  Lady Martin was well known as the famous actress Miss Helen Fawcett.

A typical geological expedition, 1880

Chain Coral
Chain Coral

Despite the sad circumstances of bereavement that had overtaken both Thomas and the Robertson family, Thomas’ abiding dedication to his all-consuming hobby of geology and palaeontology kept him busy through the summer of 1880.  His diary entry for May 26th – 27th gives a great deal of detail about an expedition accompanied by Mr Shrubsole of the Chester Society of Natural Science.

The 1881 census shows George Shrubsole aged 53 owner of a Chemist’s shop employing an assistant and two boys, living at 50, Northgate Street Chester with his wife Fanny, aged 50 and their sons George, 16, and Alfred, 14.  His assistant William Jones, 22, also lived in the house, and there was a General Servant, Eliza Edwards, aged 27.  George senior had been born in Faversham, Kent, and Fanny in Preston, Lancs.  George Shrubsole was sometime Chairman of the Geological section of the Chester Society, and a Fellow of the Geological Society.

I include a longer extract than usual, demonstrating Thomas’ very lively and quite elegant prose style, particularly the vignette of the confrontation with the irate farmer and the fishermen, both illustrating the slight tension between English and Welsh speakers and the incomprehension of the locals meeting these devoted collectors of the new-found and relatively suspect pursuit of geology and fossil hunting.  The Oxford confrontation between Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce had taken place only 20 years earlier, and the topic was still by no means resolved.

May 26 Wednesday  [1880] I left here on route for Glyn Ceiriog [SJ203382]. I started from here by 5.30 am in a trap to Corwen, where I arrived by 6.30. Left Corwen by the 6.50 train and got to Llangollen by 7.15. I crossed Llangollen Bridge for the first time, and went through the town, which I thought looked very clean and nice. I passed the front of Plasnewydd, well known as the residence where the ‘Ladies of Llangollen’ spent their quiet lives. …

From Plasnewydd I had a very steep road to go up; it was almost as steep as the roof of a house. I stopped to rest and look back occasionally over the beautiful vale which was well worth the climb to see. There was the town, snugly nestled by the Dee, withy Castell Dinas Bran towering above the vale, backed up by the wonderful rocks of Eglwyseg.

I got to the top of the hill by the farmhouse of Penlan …I soon began to descend the very steep winding slope leading into the vale of the Ceiriog. My first view of it pleased me very much; it looked like as if the river had no outlet, and I thought it ran the reverse way to what it did until I consulted my map. I got first to the church which is … perched on the steep slope near some straggling houses which forms the village of what is called Llansantffraid Glyn Ceiriog. … About a mile from the church I came to the New Inn, which is situated by the river and at the terminus of the tramway. The New Inn is at the centre of a modern village, and surrounded by slate quarries. 

I was at the New Inn by 9 o’clock where I was to meet Mr. Shrubsole from Chester…… Mr. Shrubsole arrived at 11, so that I was now in my element. We were both very much excited when we met, and I in particular meeting a good friend in a ‘happy valley’ which was new to me, but which I long had wished to see. Mr. Shrubsole had been here before. We were soon equipped with bags and hammers , ready for hard work at fossils, for which we had here met. We crossed Pont-dwl-wern, and turned to the right up the side of the river, along the side of a wood. I was delighted, and in capital trim. Our hammers soon went clink clank and soon we had before us corals, shells, and fragments of Trilobites. I soon saw that we were working in the upper beds of the Bala rocks. We got many interesting things here, then we went upwards, although it was downwards in the beds until we got to a wall where it was built of blocks of limestone. I saw a block with curious white markings on it, and while examining it, I was asking Mr. Shrubsole where he found the chain coral when here before; his answer was that he could not exactly tell. I was particularly anxious to find some of it. I called Mr. Shrubsole’s attention to the markings in the block, which puzzled me as they were new to me. He gave an exulting shout which startled me; and clink clank went his hammer, all I could get out of him was ‘Chain coral!’ which at once made me quite excited. We were at work knocking off chip for chip, which we bagged, while Mr. Shrubsole teased me for not knowing chain coral.

Our fun was soon interrupted by a loud voice, and on looking round we saw a gaunt, tall, ill featured man coming up the road towards us, with quick, long strides, and evidently very excited. He came up almost breathless, and at once shouted, ‘Stop, stop gentlemens! Stop that! Don’t you know gentlemens that you are damaging my wall, you must not do that. I know what you be wantin – you be after the shells.’ I mildly replied thast we were, and that I had come from Bala to examine the Calch llwyd (grey lime) of Glyn Ceiriog, so as to compare it with the Calch llwyd of Bala; and to do that I must try and find some shells, and that I would be sorry to go back to my Bala friends without being able to find any. The Welshman looked at me for a little, then said ‘You be from Bala then. I said ‘Yes’. ‘Well you be talk Welsh’. I answered ‘Je, tipyn bach’ (yes a little). I watched his austere features gradually relax into a smile, then he exclaimed, ‘Oh gentlemens you not be the bad peoples I see come here from Manchester, them be very bad, they be knockin down my walls gentlemens.’ Mr. Shrubsole who watched the drama at once chimed in ‘Yes, the people from Manchester are a rough lot.’ Mr. Jones (as we learned) seemed pleased, and when Mr. Shrubsole added, ‘But we are not all like the Manchester people’ Mr. Jones at once said ‘No I see you be not like them, they be very bad indeed.’ I asked now if I might try for shells, because I wished to be able to tell the Bala people all about Glyn Ceiriog. Mr. Jones quickly answered with great animation, ‘Yes, sir, you get anything you want and go anywhere.’ I asked who was the landlord. Mr. Jones at once said ‘It’s my own land, it’s my freehold, and that place there where you will find an old lime kiln is the freehold of my uncle Richard Jones, and gentlemens, I give you leave to go anywhere you like on my land and on my uncle’s land.’ I thanked him very much and got a deal of information from him as he led us up to a kiln where he formerly burned the lime rock, which is the equivalent of the Bala limestone. He told us that it was 29 years since he had burned any; that about 30 years ago he sent it to the railway viaducts of Llangollen and Chirk to make cement for building, and that it was better than any other lime.

We worked hard near the old kiln and we were quite excited with our finds – beautiful weathered and solid chain corals stared at us; Omphyma, Petraia, and shells were bagged, until our bags and pockets were full. Near the kiln I saw a beautiful patch of the Orchis mascula. About 4 o’clock we returned to the inn well pleased with our bag, and ready for a good substantial meat tea which was soon ready for us.

After tea we put our fossils past, and made ready for another voyage of discovery. We went up the north side of the river. The valley was very narrow, with very steep slopes, covered with young larch plantations, where I could see the turtle doves flying from tree to tree. We got to the thick bed of felstone. This felstone had been quarried and sent to the potteries as ‘china stone’, but it did not answer, so that the works were abandoned. About two miles up we came to a little hamlet near Pont Menbion, at the foot of a little brook called Deirw which comes down a romantic dingle from Nantyr. It came on to rain rather heavy, so that we returned with a few minerals.

We spent the rest of the evening watching the young quarryman playing at football, and in reading.  We made up our plans for the next day’s work, and went to bed on a light supper. I was awoke next morning by a peculiar monotonous noise, and on looking out, I saw that the noise was caused by a heavy rain. I could see the river rushing down red with mud, and in a high flood, while pat, pat, pat went the pouring rain. It was a bad prospect, but I was thankful for the first day’s work, and content as I had the chain coral.

We enjoyed a good breakfast and read the Geological Journal, but still it rained, and the wind sighed through the trees. We next watched the idlers who were taking shelter in doorways, and who were making themselves as happy as they could.  At 12 o’clock the rain ceased gradually, so we sallied forth with our hammers and bags. We went up the wooded slope from Pont-dol-wern until we got to an old lime kiln almost hidden by young larch and brambles. Here I worked eagerly at the upper limestone bed, which was difficult as we could only get pieces here and there. I got several fossils, the most interesting being a beautiful Ischadites, and a Raphistoma, also a poor Orthisena and a nice Philodictya fucoides. From this we went up through the land of Richard Jones to Mynyd Fron-frys [SJ214371], famed for fossils, but we only got common species. We next crossed over to large quarries which are in the Tarannon shale, and which had been at one time extensively worked for slate. On the way I found the ‘Hirnant Grit’ in loose blocks.

We next followed the Oswestry road to near Nant Iorwerth having a fine view down the broad valley which extends along the Ceiriog from the New Inn to Pont Fadog. The sides of the hills are well-wooded and dotted with **** like farm houses. We turned up Nant Iorwerth [SJ364217]to a quarry where we got shells plentiful, among which were several mussels. A little higher in the beds we got to the Bala limestone bed where we got the chain coral Omphyma and Petraia, etc. Our bags were quite full, and even our pockets, so that we had to carry enough, and return to our inn, well pleased.

When crossing the bridge we observed a solitary fisherman fishing a little below the bridge.  Mr. Shrubsole asked him if he had any fish – no answer, but he stared hard at us. I thought he did not understand, so I said to him in Welsh as short as I could pysgod (fish), he shook his head and said ‘Dim’ (no); with the effort he took his line out of the water, and what did we see but a twin with a shoemaker’s waxed thread at the end of it instead of gut, and a monster worm on the hook. I did not wonder at his lack of success. Going up through the village the people stared hard at us from the doors, I could see the heads of the people half out of doors peeping at us. We met our friend John Jones of the previous day who put on the best smile he could, but which was only a hoax grin as he asked us if we had been successful, and he was very much pleased when we answered in the affirmative.

We got packed up, had a substantial tea, settled with the landlord, David Foulkes, and seated ourselves in the tram car. This car is very light, being only covered with canvas, and the same on the sides which can be drawn back at pleasure when fine, so as to have a view of the surrounding countryside. It is drawn by a horse, and runs smoothly along. The tram has a fall all the way from the New Inn all the way to Pont-faen, the terminus. We paid a shilling each for the tram ride. We were but a short time seated when the bugle sounded and off we went down the side of the Ceiriog. At Pont Fadog we picked up a passenger. Pont Fadog is a little hamlet where the tramway crosses the river. A mile or two lower down we passed a church, then we saw where the shale and mountain limestone meets. We next passed along the side of Chirk Castle park, where I saw unusually large elm trees and fine old hawthorns. I was very much pleased to see the viaduct and aqueduct of such fine proportions crossing the valley. When crossing over the splendid viaduct which spans the Dee we got a good view of the aqueduct which carries over the canal, both viaducts being the work of Mr. Robertson my employer. I parted with my friend Mr. Shrubsole at Ruabon, and I arrived home in good spirits and delighted with my trip which was very satisfactory.

Realities of Victorian Life and Death: 1880

geograph-608425-by-richard-croft

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!

1879 Carrying on with life

A train on the Bala - Ffestiniog railway
A train on the Bala – Ffestiniog railway.      Photo J.S. Gilks from http://www.forgottenrelics.co.uk/tunnels/cwmprysor.html

The journal entries after the death of Thomas’ wife Mary in June 1879 almost all concern geology and walking expeditions.  Reading more closely, it is clear that his friends and acquaintances accompanied him on days out, perhaps sensing that his lifelong love of the natural world and geological studies in particular would be the means of his coping with bereavement.  It is also clear that he must have been confident in the care of his young children during his absences, either by the maid living in at the Garden House or with staff at Palé.

The family at Palé and a local friend were the first to encourage Thomas to go on an expedition.  John Dean was brother of Mrs. Robertson, and a frequent companion to Thomas over the years.  I have not identified Mr. Brandt.  Inevitably, the day involved geological and botanical exploration. See here for Cwm Prysor:

July 2nd  I went with Mr. Dean and Mr. Brandt from Bala to Cwm Prysor [SH757368] on the Bala and Festiniog line. …… During the day I examined with great interest the ash and slate rocks of the Llandeilo and Lingula beds. I got no fossils, but I brought specimens of rocks and minerals. I only got salix repens and galium boreale in the plant way. 

Later in July two friends from the Chester Society of Natural Science took him on an expedition.

July 23rd  I had a day at Hafod-y-Calch near Corwen with my friends Messrs Shrubsole and Palin of Chester. We were very successful in getting fossils and enjoyed ourselves very much. Both these friends were very kind to me.

By August, Thomas was in sufficiently good spirits to lead an expedition of a local Scientific Society:

August 25th Monday I went to Bala and acted as guide to the members of the Wrexham Society of Natural Science. I took them up pat Wenalt to Cornelan. Here we lunched, and I then showed them the first ash bed with the Orthis alternate zone. We next examined the beds of Brynbedwog, where we got plenty of fossils. I next took them down the side of Afon Cymmerig to Gelli Grin. Here we found fossils. We got into Bala by 4.30 pm, and had a most substantial meat tea at the Plas Coch Hotel. I was very highly honoured by the whole party, had lamb to carve. I sat by the side of my old and valued friend Mr. Bennion Acton of Wrexham.

As we read between the lines, it is touching to see Thomas’ friends rallying round him in bereavement, recognising that his dedication to geology and natural history would be the best means of helping him through the difficult summer months of 1879.

Read the full account of his expeditions and entries for the rest of the year here.