Chapter Ten

Charles unwell – Charlie born – Louie unwell – A dreadful secret


In the summer of this year, my husband began to experience curious sensations in his hands and fingers, a tingling in them and inability to grasp anything, if he took up a glass or cup, it fell from his hand.

On consulting Mr. Toulmin he said it was the result of over strain and anxiety, he had so enlarged his scope of business, and was also engaged in the buying of property in the city, to build new offices, as a means of making money, such being very valuable.

Our family was so large and needed much outlay to keep them, and give them the best education, thus he felt he must exert himself to the utmost, and gain a fortune by extra toil beyond business.

It was the mistake thousands have made, health sacrificed for wealth, but it was not for himself he worked, but for me and his children.

Mr. Toulmin ordered him at once to go to the sea, and take a few weeks of entire rest.

We went down to Cromer in August, but could not get rooms, he returned to London, and then tried our old favourite place, Eastbourne where we had small rooms in Cornfield Terrace, taking Katie Margie and Maud, with Ellen Blain.

Charles lost the symptoms which alarmed us, and was only anxious to get back to town, where he was much wanted. In the Autumn, he took me to Torquay, and we paid a visit to Ilfracombe, on our way home, as my mother and sisters had a home for the Winter in Hillsboro’ Terrace.

At Christmas all were at home excepting Stewart, our three elder girls had been three years at school at Cheltenham, and Louie being 17 only needed masters so we arranged to have a resident governess for the four others, the younger ones, Kate and Margie requiring regular teaching. Miss Lauterain found the little ones, not sufficiently advanced for her, so she wished to leave, and we heard of Miss Woollett who came later on.

The rear of Grove House, which is now surrounded closely by later buildings

The rear of Grove House, which is now surrounded by later buildings

It was a hot Spring and Summer. On July the 7th our last child was born. Mr. & Mrs. Jacomb were his sponsers, and Bertie and Louie. I had for some years been much attached to Mrs. Jacomb, indeed she was one of the few friends I ever made. Mrs. Bernard Lucas was my very best, but her only child Matthew had made a very bad marriage in 1861, whilst we were at Worthing, and in the year after, when we removed to Grove House, the Lucas’ gave up their dear little home in Lower Clapton, and went to Putney, near Barnes Common.

Mrs. Blaxland too, soon after left Clapton Square so I much valued having Mrs. Charles Jacomb for a friend. In the early Spring of 1865, the Jacomb’s youngest boy, Harold died, he had only a slight fall from a stool, but it was fatal. We had decided on calling our baby ‘Horace Charles’ but meant to call him Charlie, our eldest son being Stewart.

When Mrs. Kingsford asked Mrs. Jacomb to name the child, she said ‘Harold Charles’. I thought at once that her lost boy’s name had been on her mind, and I would not alter it. Afterwards I heard, she had asked my husband to let the baby be ‘Harold’ and he at once consented.

All the early part of 1865, my dear sister Louie had been suffering much, they were in Bath and had a house on Sion Hill. Mr. Buttanshaw had been very ill, and not being fit for a journey, yet needing a change, my mother invited him to go to her house, there he had a serious relapse and was dangerously ill. A nurse was had, and my sister Jane often helped her. When he recovered sufficiently, he went to South Devon, and soon after, wrote to Jane, making her an offer which she accepted. She came to see us in the Summer before Charlie was born. In September, I went to Cromer, taking the five girls. Louie stayed at home with Charlie and his nurse.

All this year my dear husband was greatly harassed in business, so hampered by the difficulties in arranging for purchase of houses in Mark Lane, business also was bad.

He could rarely come to Cromer. Emma Bean came to stay with me, but I also was very anxious and not well.

We heard that my sister was more ill, and that an operation was needed, which Spencer Wells was to perform, and for which my mother and sisters were to come to London, I accordingly decided on going home.

Whilst we were away, before Louie became so very ill, Jane came to stay at Uncle John’s in Clapton, and Mr. Buttanshaw staid at Grove House, that he might be introduced to all our family, as the wedding would not be later than the Spring.

On our way home, we went to Norwich to see the Chapel in a stable which had been set up by Father Ignatius, (Mr. Lyne) who has gone on making himself conspicuous to this time. It was a poor place, with tawdry decorations, a stout young fellow in a Monk’s dress, with bare feet, was in charge. Emma asked him “How they lived’. “Oh”, he said, “we beg for all we need.”

“Indeed”, replied Emma, “Were I a stout young man like you, I would rather be a railway porter, then degrade myself by begging for food!” I was much amused at her suggestion to him.

My mother and sisters came up to Somerset Street early in October and I was often with Louie. She was very hopeful as to the operation, fully believing a perfect cure would ensue. I was not allowed to stay with her at the time, as she and I wished, but Emma Bean was chosen I had never felt so sure as the others, that all would go well, so I was not to be there.

Our friend and doctor at Clapton was present however, during the operation, and came to see me directly. I learned from him that no operation had taken place, as on examination Mr. Wells, found it would be fatal, this distressing part he did not see fit to communicate to any of the family, but Mr. Toulmin said he should at once tell me.

He advised me to say nothing of it, except to my husband. It was a great trial to us when we went to Somerset Street in a day or two, to find that my mother, Jane and all friends, were so delighted that all was well over, and when I saw dear Louie she was quite happy and sanguine as to speedy recovery.

A short time elapsed, and one day, Mr. Wells came into the drawing-room, when I was alone, and at once said he much wished to see as he knew that I was aware how differently all had occurred, to what was expected. I was very hard with him, as to the concealment of the truth, but he said, I must keep it a secret, as if known to any one who would divulge it to Louie, the result would be most serious.

He said she might live a year or two, perhaps less. I think he felt the disgrace of the misrepresentation he was making of the case, but still, insisted on my silence.

The following weeks of October, and into November, were to me dreadful, Louie was altered by the Chloroform I fancy, and was very excitable and irritable, the doctor and nurse who knew all, felt I was watching and blaming them.

Jane was to be married in February, and was engaged in buying her Trousseau; it was terrible to me to see poor Louie interested about the wedding, choosing her dress, etc. for it, and talking over plans, when I knew her days were numbered.

At last, as a change came over her, and all could see, she made no progress to recovery, Mr. Wells advised she should be taken home to Bath, feeling no doubt, she might sink and die.

I went with the party to Paddington on a dark foggy day in November, two porters

carried Louie from the carriage to the railway, and we placed her in a corner making a sofa, she looked awfully ill, everyone seemed shocked who saw her, when I at last said good-bye, she whispered, “Dear Mary, you have done all you could for me.” So we parted until the end came.

It was a dull winter, and I suppose I wrote to Bath in bad spirits.

Louie kept her bed, and gained no strength, but often wrote telling me to be more cheerful about her, as she should be well by the wedding, and preparing for it whilst we knew she was dying.

The holidays were a break and all but Stewart were at home, no one suspected our sorrow.

At last, on the 11th January 1866, a heavy fog of two days, brought tremendous snow storm and cold, all telegraph wires were broken by the snow.

I was alone about 4 p.m. when my husband came in, and I felt he had bad news. The guard of the Bath train had brought a note from Mr. Buttanshaw begging us to go down at once to Louie. I was very unwell, bur forgot it, and prepared to go by the last train. It was an awful journey, such cold, and a fierce gale of wind.

The ‘London’ a large vessel to Sydney, went down that night in the channel. Dr. Woolley of Sydney College was on board, and he collected all round him for prayer as the ship foundered. A carriage was waiting at the station at 12 at night for us, but the roads were in such a state from ice and snow, that the pair of strong horses could with difficulty draw us up Zion Hill.

All were up at Mother’s, and we learnt that in the day after intense pain, Louie had nearly died, when some internal formation had given way, so we were sent for.

It was exactly what Mr. Wells had foretold to me, and I knew there was only a few days of life for my dear one.

Thomas Spencer Wells, the physician who treated Mary's sister Louie unsuccessfully.

Thomas Spencer Wells, the physician who treated Mary’s sister Louie unsuccessfully (Wikimedia)

It appeared that acute pain had come on, and Dr. Coates sent for an eminent surgeon to see what caused it. After examination and much suffering, it was found that some formation had taken place, and that death must ensue. I told my mother and Jane all the history of Mr. Wells’ failure, and that he said she could only have lived a few months. It was a sad time, they were deeply offended I had kept it secret and of course, most indignant with Mr. Wells. There were two nurses and in spite of the intense cold, all windows open, I sat up with dear Louie, who did not know how near was the end, she was quite herself, but excited. In the week which followed, I was only out of her room for 14 hours to rest, I sat by her wrapt in a fur cloak.

I had to repeat all the story of failure to Dr. Coates and the surgeon who utterly condemned Mr. Wells, indeed the Bath Medical Journal severely blamed him.

On the evening of the 16th January, the nurse took some stimulant to Louie who put out her hand for the glass, saying, “I feel as strong as a good horse, nurse,” they begged me to go down at seven to have some dinner, but I suddenly felt I was wanted, and begging Mother to excuse me, ran upstairs. Nurse met me at the top, coming to fetch me. There was a change, I sent her for the others, and went to the bed head, Louie was sleeping, all came up about eight. A lovely pink colour came over her face, she opened her eyes as if she saw something which delighted her, and a sweet smile came, Nurse said, “She is gone,” and I closed her eyes.

I knew then what real sorrow was, and it seemed as if I had lost the most precious thing in life.

We all went home after the funeral. She was laid in the Abbey Cemetery. Jane broke down quite, and Mr. Buttanshaw was very kind, but I felt so bereft I could not lament or grieve outwardly.

All arrangements had been made for Jane’s wedding. My mother was to live with them in Russell Square and her house was let. On the 20th February, Charles and I with Louie, went to Zion Hill, and on the 21st the wedding took place in the Abbey. Only Mr. and Mrs. Thorp were present, and with the Rector, Mr. Kemble, came to breakfast, the couple went to Torquay, and the next day, my husband and Louie went home.

I was to remain with Mother till the pair came back to their new home. Mother went to them in March, and I was glad to be again at Grove House.

All our home worries and cares before, seemed as nothing to the loss of Louie. My husband was so greatly attached to her. She had our respect as well as our love.

From that time, I reckon began the long course of troubles and misfortunes which still continue to follow me, but I look back, and can often say it has been a wise discipline. I hope I may do so still. Business matters were very involved, and caused much anxiety, though my husband felt so sure all would eventually be prosperous, and he should be a rich man.

In April my dear friend Mrs. Jacomb who had been my great comfort was confined. I had two of her girls staying with us at the time. On the second day after the baby’s birth, Mr. Toulmin came telling me he was anxious about her, and begging I would take her girls to see her, and she specially was asking for me. I went into her room, where was Mr. Jacomb and his mother. My dear friend’s face was flushed, and her eyes so bright, her curly hair making her look so young.

She sat up as she saw me, and told me she was going home, and would I promise to be a mother to her children? I felt overwhelmed. She urged it again, and it was very grievous, with her husband watching her. At last I said, that whatever was in my power to do for her children, I would do it to the best of my ability.

She seemed happy, and kissed me, saying “Goodbye”.

In another hour, all was over.

Mrs. Jacomb’s loss was a great sorrow, for we were really friends, and I had depended much on her affection to fill a part of the terrible blank left by my Louie’s death, very different arrangements were soon made in Mr. Jacomb’s house, and his children were separated from old friends, but he never forgot the close tie between his wife and me.

After years his kindness proved this, and but a few years ago, when his son Edgar died at Davos Platz, he alluded to his wife’s last moments, in replying to my letter of sympathy.

The Summer of 1866 saw my mother settled in Russell Street, Bath, with Mr. Buttanshaw and Jane. He became quite out of health and they went abroad, my mother coming to us at Grove House. After the holidays Alice went to school at Mrs. Daugars in North Hampstead. We were at home in the Summer and Charles was worm with anxiety, so in the Autumn we went over to Normandy, and Brittany for a short stay. The weather was very bad and cold, and neither of us were very cheerful.

The old Norman towns of Lisieur, Caen, and others were however very interesting, but we turned back at Caen, giving up Brittany till a more favourable season.

We decided to spend the last fortnight in Brighton, sending for Louie and Amy to join us. I was suddenly taken ill and was laid aside for a month, Charles could not possibly remain away, so my cousin Emma Bean came to look after me and the girls.

During our stay there in November, occurred the wonderful “Meteoric Shower” of falling stars, the grandest which has happened yet.


Continue to Chapter Eleven: Return and unsatisfactoriness of Stewart (son) – Cannibals – Move to Woodford – Journey through the Alps for Charles’s health