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The Death & Final Resting Place of Charles Waterton

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Final Resting Place

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The Death of the Squire
as recounted by Norman Moore, B.A. (1)

I was staying at the time at Walton Hall, whither I had gone upon an invitation, which was one of the last letters Waterton lived to write:-

"Walton Hall, Friday, May 5th, 1865.

My Dear Norman,

I have received your communications, and I thank you for them. Two nightingales are singing here most melodiouslly, one in Stubbed-piece, the other in our plover swamp. Cannot you manage to slip over and listen to them? Probably it may be that you have never yet heard the song of the far-celebrated chorister.
In great haste, very truly yours,
Charles Waterton."

I happened just then to be reading for an examination, and Waterton asked me, whenever I was up at twelve, to go and chat with him for a few minutes after he came back from his midnight visit to the chapel. I went accordingly on May 24, 1865, and found the dear old wanderer sitting asleep by his fire, wrapped up in a large Italian cloak. His head rested upon his wooden pillow, which was placed on a table, and his thick silvery hair formed a beautiful contrast with the dark colour of the oak. He soon woke up and withdrew to the chapel, and on his return we talked together for three quarters of an hour about the brown owl, the night-jar, and other birds.

The next morning, May 25, he was unusually cheeful, and said to me, "That was a very pleasant little conflab we had last night: I do not suppose there was such another going on in England at the same time." After breakfast we went with a carpenter to finish some bridges at the far end of the park. The work was completed, and we were proceeding homewards when, in crossing a small bridge, a bramble caught the squire's foot, and he fell heavily upon a log.

He was greatly shaken, and said he thought he wasb dying. He walked, notwithstanding, a little way, and was then compelled to lie down. He would not permit his sufferings to distract his mind, and he pointed out to the carpenter some trees which were to be felled. He presently continued his route, and managed to reach the spot where the boat was moored. Hitherto he had refused all assistance, but he could not step down from the bank into the boat, and he said, "I am afraid that I must ask you to help me in." He walked from the landing-place into the house, changed his clothes, and came and sat in the large room below.

The pain increasing, he rose from his seat after he had seen his doctor, and though he had been bent double with anguish, he persisted in walking up-stairs without help, and would have gone to his own room in the top-storey, if, for the sake of saving trouble to others, he had not been induced to stop half way in Miss Edmonstone's living room. Here he lay down upon the sofa, and was attended by his sisters-in-law. The pain abated, and the next day he seemed better.

In the afternoon he talked to me a good deal, chiefly about natural history. But he was well aware of his perilous condition, for he remarked to me, "This is a bad business," and later on he felt his pulse often, and said, "It is a bad case." He was more than self-possessed. A benignant cheerfulness beamed from his mind, and in the fits of pain he frequently looked up with a gentle smile, and made some little joke. Towards midnight he grew worse.

The priest, the Reverend R. Browne, was summoned, and Waterton got ready to die. He pulled himself upright without help, sat in the middle of the sofa, and gave his blessing in turn to his grandson, Charlie, to his grand-daughter, Mary, to each of his sisters-in-law, to his niece, and to myself, and left a message for his son, who was hastening back from Rome.

He then received the last sacraments, repeated all the responses, Saint Bernard's hymn in English, and the first two verses of the Dies Irae. The end was now at hand, and he died at twenty-seven minutes past two in the morning of May 27, 1865. The window was open. The sky was beginning to grow grey, a few rooks had cawed, the swallows were twittering, the landrail was craking from the Ox-close, and a favourite cock, which he used to call his morning gun, leaped out from some hollies, and gave his accustomed crow. The ear of his master was deaf to the call. He had obeyed a sublimer summons, and had woke up to the glories of the eternal world.

I have thus been minute in describing Waterton's death, partly because of the deep impression it made upon me, and partly because it was a characteristic conclusion to his simple, manly, pious life.

Click on the images to enlarge.

Click to enlarge

(Illustrated London News, 17 June 1865)

Saturday week was a day of mournful solemnity at Walton Park, for more than four centuries the ancestral seat of the Watertons, and latterly endeared to the present generation of lovers and students of animated nature as the abode of that most genial and enthusiastic of all field naturalists, Charles Waterton. We read of the fine old place as it passed from the noble Saxon Thane by Swein and Fitz-Swein and the De Burghs to the Watertons, and history tells how the castellated hall was attacked by Cromwell and his troops, and how Oliverhimself fired a musket ball at the heroic lady of the mansion; and thither tourists have long resorted to read in many fondly preserved relics and memorials the romantic chronicles of Walton and its possessors; but there is nothing in all these fortunes and records that so moves the heart of the man "who can hang a thought upon every thorn," as the appropriation of Walton, as an "elysium of animals," by its latest owner, Charles Waterton. The place must ever be especially dear to the lover of ornithology: The birds, ... Securely there they build, and there Securely hatch their young. (Extract from the lengthy article in the ILN)

Click to enlargeIn his book Letters of Charles Waterton (1955), R.A. Irwin includes this note: "The Illustrated London News gave an excellent picture of the procession. Beside the Bishop in the first boat can be seen a small acolyte. His name was Spurr [William Spurr], and he was the son of Lucy Barnes (mentioned by the Squire in his autobiography; see Norman Moore's 1870 edition of the Squire's Essays, p. 116) who married Edwin Spurr of Walton. The small acolyte grew up and his son is Mr. William B. Spurr of the Manor House, Walton, who is one of a committee who look after the Squire's grave."
Mr William B. Spurr is also mentioned in the book's acknowledgments: "his devotion to the Squire's memory and care of his grave are worthy of special mention." (2)

Click to enlargeThe grave of the old Squire. These days, the lake no longer almost touches the grave and the area itself is wild and overgrown - a wilderness that Waterton might well feel at home in.

'He was a man who did no harm to the world he lived in but enhanced it by his presence and his care of it. Would that we could all have a similar epitaph.'
Gerald Durrell, May 1988.
Foreword to Charles Waterton 1782 - 1865, Traveller and Conservatonist, by Julia Blackburn. (3)

Click to enlargeWaterton's Grave in 2009.
© John S. Sargent 23rd July 2009.
Click to enlargeIn June 1867, when Edmund Waterton was still in residence, his aunts Eliza and Helen Edmonstone (the sisters of Anne Waterton) visited Walton Hall. They asked Edmund if they could have iron railings erected around the grave. Edmund agreed.
Charles regarded his sisters-in-law as his sisters.

© John S. Sargent 23rd July 2009.
Click to enlarge'Orate pro anima: Caroli Waterton: cujus fessa juxta hanc crucem sepeliuntur ossa.'

'Pray for the soul of Charles Waterton,
whose weary bones lie close to this cross.
Born 1782. Died 1865.'
© John S. Sargent 23rd July 2009.

'The cross remained straight, but the letters of his epitaph were so thickly overgrown with moss, that they could scarcely be deciphered by anyone not previously acquainted with the words, and so could never tell the visitor whose weary bones were lying near the cross.'

Mrs William Pitt Byrne, writing after visiting Walton Hall in 1891 after it had been occupied by the Simpsons (the family that owned the Hodgson and Simpson soap factory, the pollution from which was at the centre of a legal battle between them and Charles Waterton). (4)
1. Essays on Natural History by Charles Waterton. Edited, with a Life of the Author, by Norman Moore, B.A., Frederick Warne & Co., London, 1871.
2. The Letters of Charles Waterton of Walton Hall, near Wakefield. Edited with Notes by R.A. Irwin. Rockliff, London, 1955.
3. Charles Waterton 1782 - 1865, Traveller and Conservationist by Julia Blackburn, 1989. Vintage, ISBN 0 09 973600 4.
4. Social Hours With Celebrities, being the Third and Fourth Volumes of Gossip of the Century by Mrs William Pitt Byrne (Julia Pitt Byrne, née Busk), edited by her sister Miss R.H. Busk, Ward & Downey Ltd., London, 1898

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The Death & Final Resting Place of Charles Waterton
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