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Ernest Horatio May's Diary (Part 1)
1908. Transcribed by
John Alexander Cyril May

[This is the start of a May family diary begun by my great grandfather, EH May, in 1908 and added to by his son EEB May after EHM’s death.  The book is 1½ inches thick, hardbacked dull dark blue with quarter binding in red leather, lined pages ½ x 8 inches.]

This is the record of one Ernest Horatio May, M.A., Clerk in Holy Orders, Rector of Bartlow, Cambs, being 57 years of age this day March 18th 1908.  It is my intention to write a short family History and also my own biography; not from any vain motive or because I flatter myself that the British Public will take the slightest interest in such a History but for the sake of “the children which are yet unborn”- that generation of Mays in the future may be able to gather some details of events which have happened to their ancestors and may take pleasure in perusing them.  I also desire to state that in writing this History I shall as far as possible set down the truth of the things here related, neither gilding what is copper, or unduly depreciating what is gold.  In every family there are shady members and shady deeds; there are also worthy members and worthy deeds.  The light and shade must be equally depicted in the family picture; whether it please or displease, is a matter of secondary consideration.  In recording the Annals of my family I shall not trace its descent either from Adam or Wm the Conqueror.  I shall content myself with making a start from my grandfather Daniel May and his wife.  The former died in the year 1851, having given me a silver cup; and the latter in 1857.  My grandfather Daniel May married Eleanor Barnard and had a family of eight children.

4 of them sons.  Here are their names and a brief acct of each of them.  

Thomas Mary
Walter Elizabeth
Edmund Fanny
Morgan Caroline

These persons resided at the village of Sonning, Berks of which county the Mays are sprung.  For over 200 years, the Mayor of Basingstoke was a May and some of the family still live there.  They own (or did once) an important Brewery and the legend John May & Co, may be seen outside many an Inn in the counties of Berks and Hants, as purveyors of Malt liquor.  Some of the May’s cousins were named Simonds: others Martin.  In the year 1858 there were two old ladies resident in Grosvenor, Bath named May - these were first cousins.  Colonel Martin and Eliza Martin died about that time and are buried in Lansdowne Cemetery, Bath.  My grandfather Daniel, lived a quiet country gentleman’s life.  Fond of horses and greyhounds, he gave these up as an act of self-denial, when his family grew up.  He was very mild in disposition and never spoke an angry word.  He left the care and training of his children in the hands of my grandmother, who though a small lady was able to chastise her children, when necessary.  She used to tie the victims to the bannisters and then ‘lay on’ - Daniel lived to the age of 74.  He had a great friend - a bachelor - named Perry Watlington.  PW promised Dan that he would leave him his whole estate, valued at some 50 thousand pounds.  Dan however pre-deceased his friend: and on his death-bed Dan sent to P.W. and reminded him of his promise and asked him not to forget Dan’s children.  P.W. promised that he would remember them - and he did.  When P.W. died he bequeathed each of the 8 children of Dan 1000 sterling.  Dan is buried in the churchyard at Sonning.  A handsome obelisk marks his last resting place, which can be seen by anyone who cares to look for it.  In this churchyard also lie several other members of the May family.  R.I.P.

My grandmother, I remember well.  She was perfectly blind before she died, at the age of 84 and lived with her daughter Mary, at Springfield Bath.  I saw her on her last bed of illness.  At her last moments, her eyes opened and she seemed to see a vision of Heaven, and then she departed.  She was quite an old fashioned little lady: dressed in black: and generally adorned with large sables and other furs.  On her thin hands were mittens - and she had a benign countenance, and one which seemed to claim the sympathy of the beholder.

“Pity the blind” - She was usually attended by an old fashioned lady’s maid called Ruth, who walked by the side of the Bath chair and saw that her mistress’ dressing gown was duly aired and her thin locks gently brushed.  “Good night - Grand Ma” -

Of my uncles, I can record rather fuller details.  Tom was a handsome man.  The Mays generally were noted for their raven hair and good complexions - in all my uncles were good-looking.  Tom was well off; as things go.  He resided at Durdham Down, Clifton, Bristol and took great delight in flowers, especially in the culture of chrysanthemums and pelargoniums.  He would often give £1 for a single plant of the latter.  His greenhouse at the season for these plants was a sight to behold and friends came from all quarters to admire them.  He also took interest in the Ragged School at Bristol and the General Infirmary; to the former of which Institutions he was a generous benefactor.  He died about 1886 - aged 74 leaving 2 children by his first wife - a daughter of Mr Hughes, M.P for Oxford, and 2 children by his second wife.  His eldest son, Delebere May was at Trinity College, Cambridge: with me later on.  Tom May had no occupation.  He was a good linguist and was somewhat fortunate in his Stock Exchange Investments leaving some 35 or 40 thousand pounds at his death to his widow and children..

Walter, the second son, was also a tall handsome man.  He had no occupation but that of ‘Gentleman’ - having married the daughter of one Higgs - and this secured a dowry of 60 thousand pounds.  He was far less cultured in education than his elder brother Tom, and was in the habit of slapping his trouser pockets in professing indifference to literature, as he had a good purse!  He lived in later years at a beautiful place called Cowley Grove near Uxbridge, said to have been the home of the poet Gay, and subsequently at Earley near Reading where he died at the advanced age of over 90 years.   His wife Mary Ann - the heiress - survived him a year or two, and they are both buried together

Walter and his wife, believed in the text “Increase and multiply”, for they had no less than 14 children. George, the 15th was buried at Sonning. See the wall in churchyard. None of them have distinguished themselves beyond filling the role of attorneys and doctors and such callings.  Some of the men were first-rate shots with a gun, and could ride the most spirited horses.  One of them (William) being known to have hunted all day and kept a half crown piece between his knee and the saddle.  My uncle Walter was occasionally eccentric and enjoyed a little practical joke.  One day when on a visit to his brother Tom, seeing a key in the door of a Railway Ticket office, locked the clerk up and put the key in his pocket and walked across the downs to his brothers house.  On nearing the house, and looking round, he perceived an angry crowd of officials making for the delinquent, who taking refuge inside his brother’s house, threw the key out of the window to the infuriated G.W.R. tribe left Tom to plead indulgence for his brother’s eccentricity.  The Mays of an early generation - Tom, Walter and Morgan - and some of their descendants had an unfortunate trick of sounding their R’s with a peculiar burr.  It is difficult, if not impossible to convey the sound by writing, but it was not pleasing.  They also delighted in interlarding their conversations with Hi, Hi, Ho. Ho.  He. He. and kindred sounds.  And following up their remarks - with “Did he, Did he? Did he?” which had an odd effect, as they increased in rapidity - and died away into a whisper, followed by Ha - Ha - Hi . Hi: Ho: Ho. in a diminuendo.  They used to repeat these and similar sounds and remarks like an old Greek chorus - iou, iou, popoi, popoi

Thus, Tom loquitur, “Took up a stone and broke his leg”.  To which Walter would reply,  “Broke his leg: broke his leg. broke his leg.”  Then Tom would take up his parable.  “Br-o-ke - h-i-s leg.  Broke his l - e - g -” - silence after this -

Another of Walter’s eccentricities was his refusal to allow any of his daughters, with the exception of two, drive in his carriage.  These favoured daughters were the good looking ones.  And he would not accompany or recognise the others whenever ‘he took his walks abroad.’  Two of his girls were positively lovely.  Alice and Annie.  In the year 1868, the fashion was for ladies of twenty to allow a single curl to fall down their backs and Camelias were the flower of the Ball room and the hair.  When Alice May, walked at Nice with her father, everyone stopped to gaze at this lovely woman.  She was extraordinarily beautiful.  Large, full, soft, eyes and throat like a Madonna.

My uncle Walter never allowed any son to choose his vocation, profession or calling.  “Am I to have no voice in the matter, Farrther?” - (observe the R in the word)  “You are to have none-”  “Farrther,” said another hopeful, “if you don’t increase my allowance, I shall be compelled to sit on your doorrr-step and rring your bell”- “Very well - Frred I will give you some more”-

“One day I was walking in my garden,” said Walter to Tom aforesaid, “and I saw a glow worm.” “Oh!  did you?  did you?  did you?”  said Tom.  “Yes a

glow worm: so I went up to it, and put my hand upon it (“oh hand upon it!  Hand upon it!”) and what do you think?  It was Frred’s cigarrr-  Hi.  Hi,  Ho Ho, Ha Ha . cigarr, cigar, cigar, cigar, cigar.”

Vale Waltere.  R.I.P.

I pass on to Morgan - the 4th son - omitting for a brief time Edmund - because Edmund being my father, I shall be obliged to mention him very often in the course of this History.  Morgan was trained for the Navy - and always retained the flavour of the Ocean.  He was a rough Diamond when I knew him.  Desperately fond of gardening - like his brothers and sisters - he invented several new sorts of carnations and picotees which were called ‘May’ after him and classified in the leading Horticultural Treatises of those times.  His predilection for the ‘R’ was extremely marked.  His name was generally pronounced MAR-gan and he used to tell curious tales of adventures by sea and land.  He was present at the sacking of Peking and became possessed of several red and green dragon china ornaments and other ‘loot’.  Once, when looking over the toft rail at sea, he saw 2 enormous spotted fish, like huge plaice but as large as a dining room.  What they were, he never discovered, but the monsters were peculiarly terrible of aspect.  He also told me that once when on a Sailing Ship, a lady and her two young daughters, incautiously stood near the sail, which was filled out with the breeze, when suddenly the wind rushing from the top of the sail towards the deck, took refuge in their skirts and raised them perpendicularly in an instant, and when the terrified ladies turned round, the breeze proceeded to lift the raiment, until they spun round and round, their things over their heads, and vainly endeavouring to replace them, while MARGAN and his brother ‘Mids’ laughed until they cried.  The poor ladies, never ventured out of their cabins again, the whole voyage.

Morgan married the Belle of New Orleans, and settled in Minnesota in America, having bought an estate, on the death of his father.  Here he passed an isolated existence, and in the winter endured untold privations through cold. The trees often cracked like guns, in the frosty air and the water froze on the stoves.  Years afterwards, Morgan became an American citizen and married a second wife - his first having died many years before - and had some children.  The last thing I heard of him was some 25 years ago.  He had built a Church in the Wilds and was a religious character.  I conclude he has long ere this (1908) been gathered to his fathers.

Reviewing then the character of the three uncles, I would say that they were all of a kindly disposition and of honourable independence.  In some ways this independence of spirit was carried to excess.  For when a friend told Tom that he was intending to give him a turkey at Christmas, Tom replied that he could buy one!  I remember in my undergraduate days entertaining my uncle Tom at breakfast.  After the meal was over, amid some Hi His, Ho Hos, and head shakings, he produced two Sovereigns desiring me to buy some books therewith, as the price of his entertainment.  Tom was passionately fond of games of skill: croquet and chess especially at which he was a first-rate performer. Morgan also loved cards.  One day having won a shilling at cards from an exceedingly miserly man, he stamped a hole thro the coin and hung it up by a blue ribbon in memory of his having extracted it from this miserly fellow.  I often saw this coin, in my father’s possession.  Morgan was an expert diver.  Often he would dive under the roots of trees in the river Thames at Sonning and return to the surface, grasping large chub in either hand.  At which there was much congratulation from the spectators.  Walter was in the habit, in the latter years of his life of bringing his will out of a desk and reading it over to his assembled family.  He would make his household sit round him, generally on Sunday afternoons, and read his will out, clause by clause - “Let me see - how much did I say for you Frred-” Fred: “Fayor fayousand payounds” “How much for you?”  “Free fayousand payounds” and so on - after this the document was carefully put away again in his desk.  This somewhat quaint procedure prevented there being any future misunderstanding about the terms of his will: everyone knew his portion: no one was disappointed.  I related this incident years ago to a Bishop in the north of England and he thought it was an excellent plan - “But why,” said he, “did this good man choose SUNDAY for his will-reading” - I suppose it was because Sunday was a day of leisure when the family were assembled together.  Tom, before he died became a terrible wreck of humanity.  Rheumatism had so badly injured his joints and constitution that he was hardly recognisable at the last.  Arthritis had converted his poor hands into veritable cabbage stalks of knotted deformity and his eyes had sunk into dark hollows in the emaciated sockets.  As I stood behind him, I could not repress my tears at this sight of human frailty.  It was horrible to witness.  I have observed in the course of experience, that the best looking people become the worst wrecks of all at their latter end.  When Apollo becomes old, he is uglier than Pan.

I must now pass on to briefly speak of the daughters of Daniel and Eleanor May.  Elizabeth died when about 20 years of age, of consumption.  I have a book which once belonged to her - “Milman's fall of Jerusalem” - a single straw which is sufficient to indicate the refined and the religious turn of her mind.  I believe she was a saintly woman.  Her sister Fanny, also died of consumption about the year 1847.  In a diary written by her sister Caroline, to whom Fanny was most deeply dear, I extract the following notices with regard to her latter days.  In all the range of my reading, I never knew a deathbed account so graphically described.  Caroline writes - ‘On Monday April the 26th my anxiety being more than usually excited on my dearest Fanny’s acct I went into her room to enquire how she had passed the night.  I found her looking very wretched and she told me that the uneasiness of her mind had prevented her sleeping at all.  We had been engaged in conversation both on Saturday and Sunday and I considered the subject of that was still disturbing her.  After I had assisted her in dressing she came down stairs, but only remained a few minutes.

I followed her shortly afterwards and on passing her door, she called me in to her.  Oh! what unutterable distress: every limb trembled-...My heart is smitten asunder whilst I think upon the words she uttered - they shall not be written, for they engraven with a pen of iron. We remained together I know not how long, clasped in each other’s arms. She lay on the sofa, and I beside her. After the horrible excitement had passed away, I hoped her strength would return, but it was not so, and she continued in her own room.  She rested comfortably and though her sleep was light it was wonderfully refreshing and her exhausted strength revived greatly under its influence.  She rose at 11 o’clock on Tuesday morning. Before leaving her room she extracted me and said with tears - “I am happier than I have ever been in all my life” - Doctor Cowan came at one, and she was with him for some time alone and she told me that his conversation was very delightful to her.  He thought her extremely weak but did not observe any striking alteration since his former visit, indeed he recommended her driving out the first mild day!  My darling sister continued so comfortable and cheerful the whole of that day, that at night I felt but little uneasiness in allowing her to sleep alone according to her request.  She expressed great confidence as to sleeping well, and bade me ‘good night’ with inexpressible affection.  On Wednesday Mg I received what I thought a satisfactory message from her before I rose.  What therefore was my distress on going to her to hear that she had not closed her eyes during the whole night.- the first part had been spent in prayer, and Christ had so clearly manifested himself to her soul as her Saviour from all sin, that she found it impossible to sleep for exceeding joy - but gradually that light and joy were quenched and when morning dawned it found her weary depressed and almost despairing.  I remained a considerable time by her bedside and we joined in prayer, but her uneasiness of mind did not subside, and there was a restlessness and distress in her countenance which I attributed to want of rest and therefore entreated her most earnestly to endeavour to sleep; that I might not myself interrupt this necessary repose I made a terrible effort and set off at 2 o’clock to Dunsden Green. What torture I endured in that walk - it was a foolish and needless infliction.  When I came back my darling had only slept for a few minutes and had felt my absence long.  After our dinner, she got up and dressed and lay on the sofa: a book came from Dr. Cowan as a present to her which gratified her much.  When the hour for tea came, she said she would walk down stairs.  It was evidently a painful exertion, but she thought it was right to make it, ever seeking the comfort of others rather self-indulgence, and so for the last time descended these stairs - for the last time she seated herself in her wonted place.  No word escaped her lips.  We all seemed oppressed with the same gloom and were also silent.  After some time Tom thought to relieve the painful silence by relating some trifling circumstances which had occurred in the Morning.  He dwelt upon them at some length.  Dearest Fanny said not a word till Papa went out of the room and then she desired to make her will, immediately adding that she supposed the subject of Tom’s conversation had pointed to that end!  Vain were our earnest assurances that such idea had for a moment crossed his mind - Whether it had or not, she was resolved not to put it off for a single hour.  Tom therefore wrote it for her from her directions and when her name was signed we flattered ourselves she would retire tranquilly to rest.  It was far, very far otherwise: when she had got upstairs, her manner became strange, incoherent, and hysterical.  She talked incessantly: but though I could not understand all that she said, I attributed her rambling way of speaking to extreme exhaustion and the loss of rest the night before.  I tried to soothe her by reading a chapter of her selection 1 John 4 and when she was in bed I gave her 6 drops of acetate of morphia, and a mattress for me being placed in her room I laid down.  In about half an hour she complained that the heaviness occasioned by the dose was going off and desired 3 drops more.  I did exactly as she desired and for half an hour after she seemed asleep.  At 12 o’clock she was awake and repeated in a clear voice the first four verses of the 103rd Psalm.  From time to time we just exchanged a word or two, but rather avoided conversation still hoping she would sleep.  It was near 4 o’clock when I observed that she was tossing about in the bed in an unusual manner.  I spoke to her.  She did not answer!  In an instant I was by her side.  Alas!  what did the dawning light of that fearful Mg reveal to my wretched sight.  There she lay, my own precious sister, her eyes fixed and wide open: her lips moving but without the power of articulation.  Her face pale and dark, with the cold drops of perspiration hanging about it.  I pressed her hand.  I kissed her, she took no heed of my embraces.  I thought that the hand of Death was upon her and I rushed for Tom.  He set off for Dr. Cowan, as soon as he had allowed himself one transient glimpse.  It seemed about an hour or rather more, that she remained precisely in the same state.  At last one little sentence was heard from her lips and tho it evidently showed that the mind was wandering there was unspeakable relief in hearing yet again the sound of her voice.  Dr. Cowan was here by 6 o’clock.  When she was told of his approach she made no reply but slipping hastily out of bed in a moment seized a bottle of Turpentine and raised it to her mouth.  I was in time to grasp it from her hand before she had tasted it and she quietly returned to bed.  Dr. Cowan urged her to take some food but she resisted with great determination.  He gave no hope of her continuing here many days.  Tom went to town to fetch Mary and Morgan who was staying with her and I wrote to Edmund.  Our kind Physician remained a couple of hours and saw dearest Fanny a second time when she swallowed a few mouthfuls of food and a little beer.  After he left us her mind began gradually to clear.  She said she would try to sleep if I would do the same.  And she remained quite still and tranquil for 2 hours.  At the end of that time she begged to be allowed to get up and rest on the sofa, which I resisted as much as I could, but she entreated, saying she should better get rid of the disagreeable thoughts which had so harassed her during the night.  She accordingly rose but she had only been up a few minutes before it was evident that such a movement should by all means have been avoided: excitement and wandering of mind increased immediately and ever moment she would fall on her knee offering up broken fervent ejaculations for pardon.  We made some vain attempts to get her into bed again but she seemed to think of it with repugnance and at last half dressed she laid down on the sofa in a state of exhaustion.  She took leaf-tea and the medicine prescribed for her every now and then.  At 3 o’clock they all came from Town, and dear Mary saw her directly.  She appeared to know her but took little notice, and as the evening drew on, she grew completely exhausted and more insensible.  Her position on the hard sofa was wretched and yet her weakness was so extreme that we dreaded lest moving her should occasion immediate dissolution.  The cold perspiration positively streamed from her face and hair and as we listened to her irregular breathing, we thought each minute wd be her last.  And so hour after hour passed on of that dreadful night, the worst of the five last which our beloved One was called to go through.  When morning began to appear, convulsive motions of the limbs gave proof of returning animation.  For nearly two hours she continued writhing about, her features usually so mild and placid undergoing every variety of distortion and repeating the same broken sentences over and over again.  At last seemingly by a great effort she rose up and rejecting all assistance prepared herself to get into bed.  She appeared quite unconscious of all that she had gone thro.  And when Dr. Cowan came at 9 o’clock, spoke to him as if nothing was the matter.  During this day she took nourishment frequently and willingly.  She did not talk a great deal but occasionally desired Mary and myself to read to her and evidently understood what she heard, though she had not the power of speaking coherently more than a sentence or two at a time.  Dearest Edmund arrived at 6 in the Evening. having received the sad tidings early that morning and lost not a moment on his journey.  Our darling seemed to have such pleasure in seeing him and talked to him an hour quite rationally and like her dear self.  She joined in prayer with him very earnestly and did not like him to leave her.  I went to bed at 10 o’clock leaving Mary and Edmund with her and rose again at 3 in the morning.  I found she had been very light-headed and was so still.  Dr. Cowan came early and talked a long time with her, endeavouring to rouse her out of the dreadful state of spiritual depression under which she laboured.  She made but brief reply and I believe understood but little of what he addressed to her.  In the course of this morning she spoke sometimes with perfect clearness and reason, but whether sensible or otherwise, always in the same heart-rending tone of utter despondency.  She said once to me, whilst sitting by the bedside “Do you not see that despair is written on my face.  You may try to assure me to the contrary but I know that I am LOST,” and with that she turned to me such a countenance of hopeless wretchedness - oh what can wipe out the terrible remembrance?  Nothing, but the view of the same beloved object changed and glorified at the right hand of Jesus!  Dear John saw her this day for the first and only time and most melancholy was the impression which her looks more than her words left on his mind.  She varied little during the day and took nourishment with great reluctance.  At night I again returned to rest.  Mary, Tom and Edmund remaining in her room.  Soon after one, Mary came to tell me that her breathing was so much impeded that they believed her end was approaching rapidly.  As we drew near her bedside, I heard her murmur - “It is finished” - for a moment or two it seemed as if the breathing had quite ceased, and then it came fluttering back again, and she said - “No it is not over yet.  I shall live a little longer”.  The power of respiration gradually became freer and for an hour she appeared to sleep.  But she awoke only to an increase of suffering.  About 5 in the morning she was seized with dreadful convulsions which seemed to arise from want of breath.  She sat up in the bed and gasped - crying out all the time most piercingly.  “Take me: oh take me, take me to glory.”  This lasted for 2 hours, and was, I should think the greatest bodily pain that our dearest Sister suffered during her last illness.  After the paroxysm had passed off, she insisted on every one of us assembling round her bed, and looking earnestly at each, she seemed to take a silent Farewell.  Our kind friend and Physician was with us by 8 o'clock.  He prescribed Ether to relieve the breath and a few drops of Laudanum to be administered frequently, which he said would calm and tranquilize without producing any additional wandering of mind.  We found that such was exactly the case.  For some hours in the morning she was quite herself and Tom read the Psalms to her.  She also pointed out other portions of Scripture which she was desirous of hearing.  Walter came in the afternoon and that Sabbath-Day closed most painfully - again I took my rest and did not rise till four on Monday morning when I received quite a cheering acct of the way in which she had passed the night.  It almost kindled a hope within me that she might linger on a few more days, or even weeks.  How vain that hope!  The sun was then dawning for the last time on the cherished object of all my love.  She awoke soon after I entered the room, and there appeared not the slightest cloud on her intellect.  She made anxious and tender enquiries about my health and the rest I had taken.  Then observing the disordered state of her bed which we had attempted in vain to arrange for the last three days she desired a clean sheet and night dress.  The change was accomplished with some effort, but it seemed a comfort to her and she laid down again, looking sweetly placid and composed.  She then begged me to read and pray to her, expressing her grateful feelings for the calmness to which her mind was restored and her earnest desire that it might not be obscured again.  I was very anxious that her good physician who had shown so much care for her soul, should have the satisfaction of seeing conversing with her whilst in this tranquil frame.  Accordingly when he arrived, her room for the first time was vacated by all of us and he remained with her a considerable time.  But alas!  no satisfaction to himself or benefit to our Beloved could result, for she no sooner began to converse than reason grew weak and wavering and by the time he quitted her, she had become rambling and incoherent as ever.  No change took place for several hours during which she talked very strangely, but not in the sad strain, she did on Saturday.  In the afternoon Mr. Pearson (the Rector of Sonning) called and I took a few turns in the garden with him, believing that he must be deeply curious to learn something concerning the state of a soul committed to his trust, and for which he would so soon be called to express a “sure and certain hope of the resurrection to Eternal life”.  He listened with earnest attention and assured me of the satisfaction and confidence he felt from what I had imparted to him.  On returning to the bedside, I found her quite sensible but her strength was declining rapidly:  she had scarcely taken any nourishment during the day and still absolutely refused everything except the Ether and sugar which was administered every quarter of an hour and gave some relief to her breathing which every moment became more painfully difficult.  Edmund repeated single texts and occasional supplications, as she was able to bear it and subsequently re-iterated them with the greatest fervency, especially, over and over again those words “Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.”  We may cherish this consolatory thought that the fears and doubts which had so grievously tormented her,  had now entirely passed away, and were exchanged for the blessed hope of a glorious immortality, for at this time she said to Edmund (supposing that I had left her in tears) “Poor Carry is weeping for me, but the Angels are rejoicing over me”-  I have felt inexpressible comfort in thinking of these words, because they must have been the spontaneous expression of her own feelings, not in any way suggested to her mind by what had been said to her -  I think it was about 8 o’clock in the Evening that almost the last words fell from the lips of our precious sister - she repeated twice “It is I be not afraid,” and then added, “I am not afraid.”  For more than 2 hours after this she did not speak and her breath came very hard.  During that time Tom and myself remained with her and occasionally supported her with our arms.  At 11 o’clock after increasing symptoms of restlessness she desired to get out of bed.  Tom quitted the room: with my assistance alone she left the bed - and quickly returned to it - the exertion must have been terrible - a few deep heavy breathings succeeded.  Tom came back to the bed-side - there was one deep sigh - It was the last’  Thus ends the story of Fanny May’s death written by her sister Caroline in the year 1847.  Fanny was buried at Sonning.

Caroline lived for ten years after this, and died at Stamford 1857.  She had come to that town to nurse my Mother who was dangerously ill after the birth of her child Henry Herbert.  In the Parish Church of St George’s Stamford of which my father at that time was Rector, there is a marble tablet which records her death.  Her character and virtues are recorded in the everlasting records of Heaven.  She was devoted to good works, nursing the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the poor as well as ‘the devotional duties of her religion’.  Plain of feature, but sweetly benevolent in disposition, she was formed from her earliest days for a Saint of God.  And as I record her spotless life and call to mind her loveable countenance which I well remember, I deem to have been her nephew one of the highest honours that has befallen me.  The affection and sympathy of her nature and the holy character of her life may be best expressed by her own words, after the death of her sister Fanny - “Oh, my dear, dear sweet sister, when shall I cease to mourn our separation.  When shall I look forward to our reunion with a more patient faith, better becoming the child of God?  There is one comfort which nothing can deprive me of - my treasure is safe.

She has passed through the waves and storms of this troublous life and entered the haven of everlasting rest.  Praised be God for this blessed assurance!  it may be His Will, that I continue for a little longer on the Ocean tossed and buffeted by the ruse waters, but Jesus will not leave me to traverse them alone, for he hath made ‘a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters,’ surely he will have compassion on the sinking faith of his suffering child.  Oh Lord in the bitterness of grief I cry out - ‘Jesus the Son of David have mercy upon me.’”  Caroline died in the 44th year of her age.  The inscription on her monument composed by my father, is as follows.

In memory of  Caroline,
youngest daughter of Daniel and Eleanor May,
sister to the Revd Edmund May Rector of this parish
who died at Stamford
in devoted attendance upon her sister-in-law
during dangerous sickness
after an illness of only three days, March 15th 1857.
Sick and ye visited me.
St Matt: 25.43

On the 8th May following, died Henry Herbert infant son of Edmund and Mary Elizabeth May.

There remains but one more member of the Sonning household - with the exception of my father - whose life I must briefly give - viz Mary the eldest daughter.  She was born in 1808 and died the year 1882 at Bath in her house Springfield, Lansdowne.  She married at the early age of 16, one John Roberts son of Dr Roberts the Provost of Eton College, a man of good connections, being in some way related to Lord Eglinton. John Roberts was a London clergyman.  His church was in Wood St EC and here he died about 1852, of cancer in the breast, a most rare and unusual complaint. Some years before this, George the seven year old eldest boy of Walter May - my uncle - stayed with the Roberts at their London Rectory and fell ill and died, to the inexpressible grief of themselves and his parents. The illness was a sort of rapidly fatal meningitis.  My father wrote the following lines for his marble monument.

            'Sweet child thou art gone to thy rest,
            'Where nothing disturbs or alarms;
            'Thy Saviour, he knew what was best
            'So he gathered the Lamb to His arms;
And when He shall come to decide
            For each what their portion shall be
            How many will wish they had died
In innocent childhood like thee.’

John Roberts was once a fellow of King's College, Cambridge.  Extremely fond of music, he was the intimate friend of Sir John Goss, organist of S. Paul's Cathedral, with whom he was accustomed to play the flute.  He was an amiable, spectacled clergyman of the old fashioned type and he left a little money to his widow and no offspring.  Mary his wife was always known to our family as 'Aunt John' - of saving habits, she was at times remarkably generous, and when she died, she left twenty-nine thousand pounds. Her great delight was to practise small economies and by this habit and by somewhat fortunate investments, she amassed this considerable fortune at the time of her departure.  She was always fond of my father, and on the whole, kind to me.  Once she gave me £100, and the marble clock inlaid with malachite in my study, as I write, reminds me of her generosity at my marriage. I shall have occasion to mention her name several times later on in this History so shall now leave her, and turn to a still closer relation, my own father.  I shall then have completed a brief account of the eight members of my grandparents family.  

More to Follow Soon.....

    © David Nash Ford 2001. All Rights Reserved.