Tag Archives: Victorian mourning

Hearse Horses: 1860-1911

 

Miniature model of a hearse and horses, c. 1865-75 http://www.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/collection/artifacts/M990.674.1

It is the week-end of the Royal Windsor Horse-show and Mrs Daffodil has been persuaded by a box of really excellent chocolate cremes to allow Chris Woodyard, the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, to post a guest article on the theme of “hearse horses,” a class which Mrs Daffodil can confidently assert will not be on the programme at Windsor. In view of Prince Phillip’s impending retirement, a Hearse Four-in-Hand event might be seen as lacking in tact.

But enough persiflage. Chris Woodyard is champing at the bit….

Hearse and plumed hearse horses, 1870

In the United States, until the advent of the automobile hearse, hearse horses were a cherished commodity, well-known and sometimes beloved by the communities they served. The acquisition of a new pair of hearse horses was, like the purchase of a new hearse, an important event—something to be puffed in the papers. A smart team of plumed hearse horses was a selling point for any undertaker.

As late as 1911, E.F. Parks, an undertaker in Bryan, Texas, announced the arrival of “our fine team of hearse horses” rhapsodizing: “They are simply beautiful. White with a touch of red about the ears, back and hip. They are full brothers 5 and 6 years old.” Undertaker Parks even ran a contest for several weeks in the local newspaper to name the horses, selecting “Prince” and “Pilot” as the winning names. The Bryan [TX] Eagle 16 March 1911: p. 1

Mexican hearse with six netted horses. 1884

Articles about the acquisition of hearse horses often stressed the animals’ training (which seems to have been primarily about gait and speed), yet there were hundreds of accounts in contemporary newspapers of hearse horses running away or colliding with trees, trains, or telegraph poles, often with grave consequences.

FUNERAL HORROR FRIGHTENED HORSES

The Corpse of a Man Pulled After the Demolished Hearse in a Runaway

Rochester, N.Y., Feb. 24. A ghastly accident occurred at the double funeral of Mr. and Mrs. John Hackett, held near Lyons yesterday afternoon that has deeply shocked that community.

While the first hearse, drawn by a spirited team of blacks, was passing through a deep snow drift the horses became frightened, and, unseating the driver, ran away. The hearse containing the coffin and the remains of Mr. Hackett tipped over and the casket was demolished, throwing out the corpse, which, becoming entangled in the wrecked hearse, was dragged a considerable distance over the bare road and through deep snow drifts. When the terrified team finally broke loose from the wrecked vehicle and its ghastly occupant, the corpse was so badly mangled as to be almost unrecognizable. A driver was sent to look up another casket, which was procured several hours later, after which the funeral procession proceeded to the cemetery, where both bodies were interred in one grave. Tucson [AZ] Daily Citizen 24 February 1902: p. 4

One undertaker, when he discovered that the hearse horse he had trained could not keep to the required solemn gait, made the best of a bad job and released the horse to a racing career:

There is a son of Del Sur in California that they call “The Los Angeles Del Sur Wonder,” but known, for short, as the “hearse horse.” He was bred by an undertaker, and used for a while hauling the hearse. He was found to be rather faster than was needed to keep at the head of the procession, and being trained, trotted a 2.20 gait and paced in 2.18. Otago Witness, 28 April 1892: p. 27

 

White child’s hearse with driver outside Neil Regan Funeral Home, Scranton, PA c. 1900 http://en.wikipedia.org

An essential part of funeral pageantry, black horses were used for many adult funerals; white horses—or sometimes white ponies—drew the white hearse of the maiden, the child, or the infant. White horses were also used at state funerals:

Last of the Lincoln Hearse Horses.

A local celebrity recently died after a kind, useful life of thirty-eight years, says the Indianapolis Journal. His name was Jesse, and the one act which entitled him to mention was participation in the funeral cortege of the martyred Lincoln. He was the last of the six white horses which drew the hearse containing the honored body along the streets of Indianapolis. His mate in the proud but sorrowful lead of the team died eight years ago. The McCook [NE] Tribune 3 July 1891: p. 8

Since they were so much in the public eye, certain traits made for the most desirable hearse horses. In the United States, this was a suggested standard:

A more popular hearse-horse is coal-black with no white markings, and he must also have a long, flowing tail. Occasionally they are accepted when slightly marked with white, which is less objectionable on the hind feet than in the face or on the front feet….A hearse requires a horse from 15-3 to 16-1 hands high and weighing 1200 to 1250 pounds. Quarterly Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture, Volume 21, 1909 p. 490 and 512

In England, a matched set of black Drenthe horses from Hanover were employed at royal funerals. For the fashionable society funeral, black Belgian stallions were the ne plus ultra. Some of the cheaper imported stallions lacked the all-important tail-weepers and were provided with false tails:

A queer English custom is that of decorating the black hearse horses with long false black tails. They attract no more notice on a street in Liverpool than do the black nets used in this country to cover the horses. Pierre [SD] Weekly Free Press 16 November 1905: p. 1

The use of nets, as seen in several of the illustrations, seem to have been confined to the Americas. If draped, a European funeral horse would wear a blanket, as we see in these pictures of Russian and Roumanian hearse horses.

Russian hearse with elaborately draped horses, First World War http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205250983

Draped Roumanian hearse horses c. 1920

Rich in detail is this account of the “Black Brigade” of funeral horses in London. I’m particularly amused by the horses being named for current celebrities. It is also fascinating that an influenza epidemic put pressure on the supply of desirable hearse horses.

A sample of the Black Brigade

THE BLACK BRIGADE

A good many of the coal horses are blacks and dark bays, and by some people they are known as ‘the black brigade ‘; but the real black brigade of London’s trade are the horses used for funerals. This funeral business is a strange one in many respects, but, just as the jobmaster is in the background of the every-day working world, so the jobmaster is at the back of the burying world. The ‘funeral furnisher’ is equal to all emergencies on account of the facilities he possesses for hiring to an almost unlimited extent, so long as the death rate is normal. The [funeral] wholesale men, the ‘black masters,’ are always ready to cope with a rate of twenty per thousand —London’s normal is seventeen—but when it rises above that, as it did in the influenza time, the pressure is so great that the ‘blacks’ have to get help from the ‘coloured,’ and the ‘horse of pleasure’ becomes familiar with the cemetery roads.

A hundred years ago there was but one black master in London. He owned all the horses; and there are wonderful stories of the funerals in those days when railways were unknown. The burying of a duke or even a country squire, in the family vault, was then a serious matter, for the body had to be taken the whole distance by road, and the horses were sometimes away for a week or more, and were often worked in relays, much on the same plan as the coach-horses, only that rapid progress through the towns and villages was impossible, for the same reason that no living undertaker dare trot with a tradesman within the limits of the district in which the deceased happens to have been known and respected….

Hearse with Plumes, John Henry Walker, 1850-85 http://www.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/collection/artifacts/M930.50.7.409

Altogether there are about 700 of these black horses in London. They are all Flemish, and come to us from the flats of Holland and Belgium by way of Rotterdam and Harwich. They are the youngest horses we import, for they reach us when they are rising three years old, and take a year or so before they get into full swing; in fact, they begin work as what we may call the ‘half-timers’ of the London horse-world. When young they cost rather under than over a hundred guineas a pair, but sometimes they get astray among the carriage folk, who pay for them, by mistake of course, about double the money. In about a year or more, when they have got over their sea-sickness and other ailments, and have been trained and acclimatised, they fetch 65£. each; if they do not turn out quite good enough for first-class -work they are cleared out to the second-class men at about twenty-five guineas; if they go to the repository they average 10£; if they go to the knacker’s they average thirty-five shillings, and they generally go there after six years’ work. Most of them are stallions, for Flemish geldings go shabby and brown. They are cheaper now than they were a year or two back, for the ubiquitous American took to buying them in their native land for importation to the States, and thereby sent up the price; but the law of supply and demand came in to check the rise, and some enterprising individual actually took to importing black horses here from the States, and so spoilt the corner.

Three-horse hearse, c. 1895-1898 http://www.historymuseum.ca/collections/artifact/140018/?q=deueil&page_num=2&item_num=2&media_irn=5249990 Canadian Museum of Civilization digitized historical negatives

Here, in the East Road, are about eighty genuine Flemings, housed in capital stables, well built, lofty, light, and well ventilated, all on the ground floor. Over every horse is his name, every horse being named from the celebrity, ancient or modern, most talked about at the time of his purchase, a system which has a somewhat comical side when the horses come to be worked together. Some curious traits of character are revealed among these celebrities as we pay our call at their several stalls. General Booth [founder of the Salvation Army], for instance, is ‘most amiable, and will work with any horse in the stud’; all the Salvationists ‘are doing well,’ except [George Scott] Railton, ‘who is showing too much blood and fire. Last week he had a plume put on his head for the first time, and that upset him.’ [Journalist W.T.]Stead, according to his keeper, is ‘a good horse, a capital horse—showy perhaps, but some people like the showy; he does a lot of work, and fancies he does more than he does. We are trying him with General Booth, but he will soon tire him out, as he has done others. He wouldn’t work with [biologist Thomas Henry] Huxley at any price!’ Curiously enough, Huxley ‘will not work with [physicist John] Tyndall, but gets on capitally with Dr. [philanthropist Thomas John] Barnardo.’ Tyndall, on the other hand, goes well with Dickens,’ but has a decided aversion to Henry Ward Beecher. [Liberal statesman John] Morley works ‘comfortably’ with [Conservative politician & PM Arthur] Balfour, but [Liberal statesman William Vernon] Harcourt and [Irish political leader Michael] Davitt ‘won’t do as a pair anyhow.’ An ideal team seems to consist of [political activist and atheist Charles] Bradlaugh, John Knox, Dr. [Alfred] Adler, and Cardinal [Henry Edward] Manning. But the practice of naming horses after church and chapel dignitaries is being dropped owing to a superstition of the stable. ‘All the horses,’ the horsekeeper says, ‘named after that kind of person go wrong somehow!’ And so we leave Canon [Frederic] Farrar, and Canon [Henry] Liddon, and Dr.[William Morley] Punshon, and John Wesley and other lesser lights, to glance at the empty stalls of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, now ‘out on a job,’ and meet in turn with [celebrity quack doctor] Sequah and [Louis] Pasteur, [hypnotist Franz Anton] Mesmer and [Electrohomeopathy inventor Cesare] Mattei. Then we find ourselves amid a bewildering mixture of poets, politicians, artists, actors, and musicians.

‘Why don’t you sort them out into stables, and have a poet stable, an artist stable, and so on?’

‘They never would stand quiet. The poets would never agree; and as to the politicians—well, you know what politicians are, and these namesakes of theirs are as like them as two peas!’ And so the horses after they are named have to be changed about until they find fit companions, and then everything goes harmoniously. The stud is worked in sections of four; every man has four horses which he looks after and drives; under him being another man, who drives when the horses go out in pairs instead of in the team.

One would think these horses were big, black retriever dogs, to judge by the liking and understanding which spring up between them and their masters. It is astonishing what a lovable, intelligent animal a horse is when he finds he is understood. According to popular report these Flemish stallions are the most vicious and ill-tempered of brutes; but those who keep them and know them are of the very opposite opinion….

There is an old joke about the costermonger’s donkey who looked so miserable because he had been standing for a week between two hearse horses, and had not got over the depression. The reply to this is that the depression is mutual. The ‘black family’ has always to be alone; if a coloured horse is stood in one of the stalls, the rest of the horses in the stable will at once become miserable and fretful. The experiment has been tried over and over again, and always with the same result; and thus it has come – about that in the black master’s yards, the coloured horses used for ordinary draught work are always in a stable by themselves.

1880 hearse

The funeral horse hardly needs description. The breed has been the same for centuries. He stands about sixteen hands, and weighs between 12 and 13 cwt. The weight behind him is not excessive, for the car does not weigh over 17 cwt., and even with a lead coffin he has the lightest load of any of our draught horses. The worst roads he travels are the hilly ones to Highgate, Finchley, and Norwood. These he knows well and does not appreciate. In a few months he gets to recognise all the cemetery roads ‘like a book,’ and after he is out of the bye streets he wants practically no driving, as he goes by himself, taking all the proper corners and making all the proper pauses. This knowledge of the road has its inconveniences, as it is often difficult to get him past the familiar corner when he is out at exercise. But of late he has had exercise enough at work, and during the influenza epidemic was doing his three and four trips a day, and the funerals had to take place not to suit the convenience of the relatives, but the available horse-power of the undertaker. Six days a week he works, for after a long agitation there are now no London funerals on Sundays, except perhaps those of the Jews, for which the horses have their day’s rest in the week.

To feed such a horse costs perhaps two shillings a day—-it is a trifle under that, over the 700—and his food differs from that of any other London horse. In his native Flanders he is fed a good deal upon slops, soups, mashes, and so forth; and as a Scotsman does best on his oatmeal, so the funeral horse, to keep in condition, must have the rye-bread of his youth. Rye-bread, oats, and hay form his mixture, with perhaps a little clover, but not much, for it would not do to heat him, and beans and such things are absolutely forbidden. Every Saturday he has a mash like other horses, but unlike them his mash consists, not of bran alone, but of bran and linseed in equal quantities. What the linseed is for we know not; it may be, as a Life Guardsman suggested to us, to make his hair glossy, that beautiful silky hair which is at once his pride and the reason of his special employment, and the sign of his delicate, sensitive constitution.

The Horse-world of London, William John Gordon, 1893, pp 139-147

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We find equally telling detail in this section from an article on unusual professions. Painting over inconvenient white portions of a funeral horse was widely practiced. An 1875 article tells of undertakers “not stinting with paint or black lead.” A lady observer in 1912 wrote about “dyed horses” in Paris funeral processions.

Vista of funeral horses, man painting out a white fetlock.

The last curious industry deals with funeral horses. Mr. Robert Roe, of Kennington Park Road, has imported these stately animals for upwards of twenty-five years. It seems they come from Friesland and Zeeland, and cost from £40 to £70. There must be about nine hundred funeral horses in London. The average undertaker, however, keeps neither horses nor coaches, but hires these from people like Seaward, of Islington. Mr. Seaward keeps a hundred funeral horses, so that a visit to his stables is an interesting experience.

“It is dangerous,” said one of my informants, “to leave a pair of these black stallions outside public-houses, when returning from a funeral; for these animals fight with great ferocity.” Once, at a very small funeral, the coachman lent a hand with the coffin; but, in his absence, the horses ran amuck among the tombstones, which went down like ninepins in all directions.

A white spot takes a large sum off the value of a funeral horse. In the photo one of Mr. Seaward’s men is painting a horse’s white fetlock with a mixture of lampblack and oil. A white star on the forehead may be covered by the animal’s own foretop.

On the right-hand side in the photo. will be seen hanging a horse’s tail. This is sent to the country with a “composite” horse— a Dutch black, not used for the best funeral work, owing to his lack of tail. He is sold to a country jobmaster, with a separate flowing tail, bought in Holland for a shilling or two. In the daytime, the “composite” horse conducts funerals, the tail fastened on with a strap; but at night he discards it, and gaily takes people to and from the theatres.

Worn-out funeral horses, one is horrified to learn, are shipped back to Holland and Belgium, where they are eaten.

The Strand Magazine, Vol. 13, 1897: p. 202

At least, that was the practice in England; Belgian horses were prized in their native country for their tender meat. In the United States, a hearse horse often retired to green pastures, after a long and useful career. This clever hearse horse had a well-deserved tribute paid to him on his retirement.

KEPT UNDERTAKERS BUSY

Horse Always Stopped at Houses Where Crape Hung on Door.

From the New York Press.

Having reached such a degree of zealousness in behalf of his owner’s business interests that he would stop in front of any house on the front of which symbols of mourning were displayed, Dan, for twenty years a faithful horse for Thomas M. O’Brien, an undertaker of Bayonne, N.J., has been retired on a pension. The undertaker made arrangements with a farmer in Orange county to take good care of Dan for the rest of his life, and to give him decent burial when he dies. Dan was shipped away yesterday. Twice when on the way to the railroad station the horse balked, and it was noticed that each time he balked it was in front of a house with crape hanging on the door. It was not until the driver whispered in Dan’s ear that his boss already had the jobs that the intelligent animal consented to move on.

Dan knows the way to and from every cemetery within 20 miles of Bayonne. Some persons even assert that he knows most of the family plots in those cemeteries. More than once the horse placed O’Brien in an exceedingly embarrassing position by stopping with a hearse in front of houses on which mourning was displayed regardless of whether O’Brien had been retained to have charge of the burial.

One of the stipulations entered into between O’Brien and the Orange county farmer is that Dan must not be compelled to do any work. He must have good oats and timothy hay in winter and, added to that, all the grass he can eat in spring, summer, and fall.

“He’s earned his retirement by twenty years of faithful work,” O’Brien said. “If he were a man instead of a horse, he would have been a partner long before this. He was simply indefatigable in hunting for new business.” The Washington [DC] Post 17 January 1909: p. M10

Shrouded horses with hearse, 1858, advertising Undertakers Massey & Yung, San Francisco

The hearse horse might also serve as an equine memento mori as in this elegiac New England article:

THE OLD HEARSE HORSE

Among the long-standing fixtures of our day are the Hearse-man, the venerable Robert Bell, and his scarcely less venerable old Black Horse, which will be twenty years old next months. For fourteen years the same man and the same horse have been in attendance at almost every funeral that has taken place in our city. For nearly two thousand times have they borne to their resting places the old and the young—the rich and the poor, the learned and the unlettered. There can be seen scarcely a more grave sight than these funereal accompaniments. The old horse though lively and active on other occasions, knows the moment a corpse is put into the hearse, and he will scarcely mind the admonition of a whip to change his speed from walking. His master is growing infirm and the horse is nearly blind—a premonition that all must ere long return to the dust. Portsmouth [NH] Journal of Literature and Politics 12 May 1860: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is sure that we are all very grateful to the subfusc author for being so relentlessly informative and are pleased to have learned something new to-day about this department of the Victorian funeral industry.

Mrs Daffodil has noticed an unlikely resemblance between the plume-adorned hearse-horses with their dark burdens and beplumed circus horses drawing brilliantly carved and coloured circus wagons at a stately pace. One idly wonders if an aged circus horse ever retired to a career as a hearse-horse or if a black horse of too cheerful a disposition might run away with the circus.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

Queen Victoria and the Governess: 1883

On the date when Her Majesty Queen Victoria joined her beloved Albert in the Other World, Mrs Daffodil presents a story of Her Majesty’s kindness to a mourning governess.

QUEEN VICTORIA’S TENDERNESS.

There is so much cruel forgetfulness of the rights of inferiors and servants on the part of the ” privileged classes ” generally, that we are always pleased and refreshed to read the stories which are told of Victoria’s good heart and kind consideration. Grace Greenwood relates the following:

When I was in England I heard several pleasant anecdotes of the queen and her family from a lady who had received them from a friend, the governess of the royal children. This governess, a very interesting young lady, was the orphan daughter of a Scottish clergyman. During the first year of her residence at Windsor her mother died. When she first received the news of her mother’s serious illness, she applied to the Queen to be allowed to resign her situation, feeling that to her mother she owed even a more sacred duty than to her sovereign.

The Queen, who had been much pleased with her, would not hear of her making this sacrifice, but said, in a tone of most gentle sympathy:

“Go at once to your mother, child; stay as long as she needs you, and then come back to us. Prince Albert and I will hear the children’s lessons; so, in any event, let your mind be at rest in regard to your pupils.”

The governess went, and had several weeks of sweet mournful communion with her dying mother. Then when she had seen that dear form laid to sleep under the daisies in the old kirkyard, she returned to the palace, where the loneliness of the royal grandeur would have oppressed her sorrowing heart beyond endurance had it not been for the gracious, womanly sympathy of the Queen, who came every day to her school room, and the considerate kindness of her young pupils. A year went by, the first anniversary of her great loss dawned upon her and she was overwhelmed as never before by the utter loneliness of her grief. She felt that no one in all the great household knew how much goodness and sweetness passed out of mortal life that day a year ago, or could give one tear, one thought, to that grave under the Scottish daisies.

Every morning before breakfast, which the elder children took with their father and mother in the pleasant crimson parlor looking out on the terrace at Windsor, her pupils came to the school-room for a brief religious exercise. This morning the voice of the governess trembled in reading the Scriptures of the day. Some words of Divine tenderness were too much for her poor, lonely, grieving heart— her strength gave way, and, laying her head on the desk before her, she burst into tears, murmuring, “O, mother, mother!”

One after another the children stole out of the room, and went to their mother to tell how sadly their governess was feeling, and that kind hearted monarch, exclaiming, “Oh, poor girl, it is the anniversary of her mother’s death!” hurried to the school-room, where she found Miss __ struggling to regain her composure.

“My poor child,” she said, “I am sorry the children disturbed you this morning. I meant to have given orders that you should have this day entirely to yourself. Take it as a sad and sacred holiday—I will hear the lessons of the children.” And then she added: “To show you that I have not forgotten this mournful anniversary, I bring you this gift,” clasping on her arm a beautiful mourning bracelet, with a locket of her mother’s hair, marked with the date of her mother’s death. What wonder that the orphan kissed, with tears, this gift, and the more than royal hand that bestowed it?  

Friends’ Review: A Religious, Literary and Miscellaneous Journal, Volume 36, Samuel Rhoads, Enoch Lewis, eds., 1883

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It was, indeed, a very kind gesture from Her Majesty, in keeping with this anecdote from the first moments of her reign:

The first act of her life as queen was to write a letter, breathing the purest and tenderest feelings of affection and condolence to Queen Adelaide. . . . Her majesty wrote the letter spontaneously and having finished it folded it and addressed it to “Her Majesty the Queen.” Some one in her presence, who had a right to make a remark, noticing this, mentioned that the superscription was not correct and that the letter ought to be addressed to “Her Majesty, the Queen Dowager.”

“I am quite aware,” said Queen Victoria, “of her majesty’s altered character, but I will not be the first person to remind her of it.” Wit, Wisdom and Foibles of the Great, Charles Anthony Shriner

Her Majesty’s rigidity over the forms of mourning caused acid comment in the papers at the death of her son, Leopold, the Duke of Albany:

CONVENTIONAL MOURNING.

Dear Mr Editor, I hope I shall not shock you very much if I let your readers know in confidence that some of us are getting just a wee bit tired of the fuss people still persist in making over the death of the poor dear Duke of Albany. Fancy having to go into mourning at the very commencement of summer for six weeks. It seems too dreadful. A friend of mine, a charming woman, but sadly independent, declares nothing shall induce her to make herself uncomfortable for so long, and that she means to dress as usual next week. Of course nothing can come of her resolve unless some ill-natured friend tells the Court officials, but it is certainly running a risk. Ladies in society who disregarded the Queen’s injunctions about wearing mourning for the Prince Consort, were struck off the Lord Chamberlain’s list and debarred from attending all Court balls, State concerts and drawing-rooms for three seasons afterwards. This, I can assure you, is a very serious punishment. It means social annihilation for the time being, as people do not care to be seen in your company lest they too should incur Royal displeasure. The Queen does not insist upon crape, even her ladies-in-waiting are relieved from this infliction, but she requires that the period of mourning shall be strictly observed. As John Brown used to say, “When Her Majesty mourns, she mourns.” Truth remarks, perhaps a little ill-naturedly, that the Queen seems to take a morbid pleasure in ceremonies of a mournful nature, and to almost revel in all the undertaker’s details as to coffins, services, graves and monuments. Certainly she seldom seems as active and vigorous as when superintending something of the kind. Star 9 June 1884: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

For more on the customs of Victorian mourning, see The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Mourning for a Mother-in-Law: 1899

[An Englishman, his wife, and her sister are travelling in Germany.]

At the Hotel du Nord they registered our luggage, gave us our tickets, attended us to the omnibus in waiting—quite a small crowd of officials, including one porter to open the door, a second to close it, a third to give the signal of departure, and a fourth to meet us on the platform—all rendered smiling and amiable by the inevitable backsheesh. The last was a magnificent specimen of gold braided uniform, quite over six feet high. Well for us that we had his protection, for the platform was thronged with an excited crowd of people, all going their separate ways in search of a day’s pleasure.

It was nothing but a rush and a series of mistakes: excursionists bound north getting into trains going south and having to get out again. The noise, confusion, tearing to and fro, shouting in German language from German throats, cramming of thirty people into a compartment made for ten—until one no longer wondered at the conjuror’s inexhaustible hat—the shrieks of some poor unfortunate skeleton of a man suddenly crushed and extinguished by a mountainous frau sitting down upon him without warning and with all the coolness imaginable: all this we had never seen equalled on an English occasion.

E., unaccustomed to such scenes, was alarmed and agitated, though in our first-class compartment (patronized on the Continent, it is said, only by cooks, Englishmen and fools) the rough element was severely absent.

Opposite to us was our one fellow-traveller: a tall, thin man, evidently a gentleman, dressed in deep black even to his studs and moustache (but the latter seemed black by nature), with a most melancholy cast of face and a frequent indulgence in deep sighs.

“Poor man,” E. murmured in English; “he has evidently lost his wife; do say something to him and try to cheer him when the train has started.”

[Interlude where melancholy gentleman reassures the ladies that they will not be molested by other travelers, summons an official to ejects a parcel-laden boor, and muses on class distinctions in Germany.]

The train steamed onwards. Our companion relapsed for a moment into melancholy, as though he suddenly remembered that he had a sad role to keep up. His countenance went into mourning, to match his clothes, studs, and moustache. Even his watch-chain was of jet or vulcanite, with alternate gold links. E. gave us another expressive look. It said as plainly as possible: “Now’s your time. Seize your opportunity. Do say something and console the poor man.”

We felt a little nervous. It seemed almost an intrusion upon his privacy. What right had we, the acquaintance of an hour, to offer him our condolence in what was evidently a severe family affliction?

Would he not deem it an impertinence? But a sigh more deep than the last seemed to answer all objections, and taking our courage in both hands, we addressed him. After all he was very communicative, and seemed distinctly drawn towards us. He would not resent our good intentions.

“Sir,” we began, with some diffidence; “you seem in trouble, in great affliction; you appear to have had a serious loss. Will you allow us to offer you our sincere condolences? Troubles are not needlessly sent. May we not hope that those lofty ideals and higher aspirations and serious purposes of life to which you just now referred, will all be strengthened”

We hesitated in astonishment. A flash like a brilliant gleam of sunshine breaking through clouds passed over his face, transforming it, making it ten years younger, giving it a singularly beautiful expression. The change was quite startling. Then he paused a moment, seemed to deliberate rapidly, gave another deep sigh—it almost sounded like a sigh of relief—and spoke.

“Do not waste your pity,” he said; “rather offer me your congratulations.”

E. turned a little pale. Was he going to prove an ogre—rejoice in the loss of an amiable and long-suffering wife? He did not look that sort of inhuman wretch.

“In order that you may do that,” he continued, “I must take you into my confidence. I am not overwhelmed with grief as you would imagine; I am wild with joy. But I am so afraid of letting my joy be seen, of giving boisterous expression to it, and so creating a scandal, that I have to clothe my countenance in grief and put on the deepest mourning. For I hate scandals, or to be, in the smallest degree, a topic of conversation amongst my neighbours. In a word, monsieur “—and here his face again broke out into sunshine—” I have just buried my mother-in-law. She was a cat. Now you will not pity but congratulate me.”

It was a relief to find that after all we were not travelling with a Bluebeard.

“You must have been a great sufferer,” we observed sympathetically —it was difficult to know what to say under the circumstances.

“My mother-in-law was a cat,” he continued; “but a cat without any pretence to a velvet paw; her claws were always out, and she was a perfect spitfire, with her back always arched. My wife and I are as happy as two turtledoves when we are alone; but my mother-in-law paid us a six months’ visit every year, upset all our calculations, thwarted all our plans, set everybody quarrelling with everybody else, and in short made life an absolute burden. For the other six months in the year she could not let us alone, but pestered us with annoying letters, and, directly and indirectly, placed a hundred obstacles in the daily course of our lives. She had made her own husband’s life a perfect misery upon earth, and she was insanely jealous of our own happiness. It was sufficient for her to see any human being happy to make her their bitter enemy, but much more so those of her own family and household. I believe she would have ended in killing off both my wife and myself, if one fine day she had not caught a cold which settled on her chest, and she died; died, monsieur, fighting the air, because she had no one else to fight. In short she was a cat.”

“But are you not rather maligning the cat-tribe?” we asked.

“Oh, there are bad cats,” he replied; “very bad cats; and my mother-in-law was one of the worst. Now can you wonder that I rejoice; that I feel in paradise; that I am absolutely afraid of allowing my delight to be seen; and so clothe my face as I do my body, in deep mourning? But I shall not keep it up long. After all, the days of mourning for a mother-in-law are restricted. Ah, here we reach my destination,” as the train steamed into Coblenz. “And there is my wife on the platform. It is hard to say it, but I am afraid she is really and truly happy and at rest for the first time in her life. We have a charming chateau near Arenberg. I wish we could have the pleasure of receiving you there.”

As the train stopped, a lady in black came up to the carriage door. Her face was pale—paler perhaps by contrast with the deep mourning that surrounded it—but extremely beautiful; without a trace of the high cheekbones and innumerable angles that so unpleasantly distinguish the German women; whilst her voice—oh, wonder of wonders in this Rhineland—was soft and musical . He got out of the carriage, embraced her affectionately, asked her several rapid questions, to which she replied in clear harmonious tones, and then turned to us.

“Adieu, monsieur,” he said, at the same time taking off his hat and making a low bow to E. “Adieu. May you have a most agreeable journey. And,” he whispered, “may you never have a mother-in-law who is a cat”

His countenance beamed with happiness and delight as he spoke; it did one a positive good to see him; but when he turned and offered his arm to his wife, and walked away followed by a footman carrying his rug and umbrella, his face had once more assumed its grave outlines. The station master came up, opened for him a private exit from the platform, and whilst the train still waited, we saw them drive rapidly away in a well-appointed carriage. He happened to look out at the moment, caught sight of our face at the window, and waved his hand, whilst his lips seemed to form themselves into the words: “She was truly a cat, and one of the very worst of her kind.”

The Argosy, Volume 67, 1899

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: What a shock to find that there are persons in this world whose mourning is only feigned—a sort of fancy-dress sorrow instead of the genuine, heart-felt article. One hopes that the gentleman’s wife, with her un-Germanic dulcet tones and high cheekbones, was really and truly happy and at rest about the demise of “the cat.”

Gentlemen, as Mrs Daffodil has had occasion to remark before, were bound by fewer strictures than the ladies when it came to mourning clothing.  While a wife was required to wear mourning for her husband’s relatives precisely as she would for her own; her husband could do as he pleased.

In “complimentary” mourning, a ghastly term used to denote that worn for parents-in-law, the rule is the same as for the closer and truer kinship. The mourning for parents-in-law is, however, purely arbitrary and depends principally upon how much they leave. The bigger the bank account the deeper the mourning, especially for mothers-in-law. Any man, however, who honors his wife will show her deceased parents the same respect he would his own, and nothing could possibly appear in worse taste than to see a woman in all the trappings of woe, while her husband disregards the custom entirely. 1892 

Mrs Daffodil finds it amusing to learn that

Queen Alexandra wore no crape after the death of her son, but had her gowns very deeply trimmed with it on the death of her mother; also of her mother-in-law. This seeming inconsistency may have arisen from some beautiful idea of death being a gift of the gods to the young. Certain it is that Queen Alexandra wore the deepest crape for Queen Victoria, even more so, if anything, than her Majesty did for the Queen of Denmark [Queen Alexandra’s mother.] 

Etiquette for Every Day, Mrs Humphry, 1904

Mrs Daffodil suspects that Her Majesty protested too much.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

“Mother lived without the Parish; she’ll be buried without the Parish:” 1842

The Potters Field

The Potters Field

It was a fine summer Sabbath evening in June, and we were knocking about among the tombstones as usual, making our observations upon life and character, when our attention was arrested by a plain coffin, borne upon the shoulders of four men in black, and followed by eight chief mourners, all in decent but humble suits of sables. The chief mourners were eight children—four boys and four girls: or, to speak more correctly, three boys and three girls, with two little ‘ toddles,’ mere infants, straggling in the rear. The eldest boy and girl might have been about fifteen and fourteen years respectively; the next, twelve and eleven; the third pair between seven and eight; the youngest, as we have said, between infancy and childhood. The eyes of all spectators were upon the bereaved ones as they stood around the grave, yawning to receive their only parent and provider; and few were the dry eyes of those that behold the melancholy group— the eldest boy looking fierce and manlike, the rest weeping bitterly, save the youngest pair, looking wonderingly around, as if marvelling what all the ceremony might mean.

“Cutting funeral, that, sir;” observed a little pursy man in black who stood near us; “werry cutting funeral, indeed,” repeated the little man, blowing his nose violently.

“Who are they?” we enquired, not without anticipating something like the little domestic history we were favoured with by the nose-blowing little man in black.

“Horphans, sir—every one on ’em horphans; that’s their mother as is a bein’ buried, sir.”

“Indeed.”

“Yes, sir; she was a ‘spectable woman—highly ‘spectable, indeed— werry wirtuous, poor woman, sir—paid rates and taxes in the parish for twenty year. I ought to know it; for I’m one of the overseers—I am.”

“I should like to hear something of the family.”

“Should you, sir? Well, you shall hear; but it’s a melancholy story— wery melancholy, indeed. You must know, sir, there wasn‘t a more decenter couple in this parish than Thomas Mason and his wife, Jane; they were well to do, and doing well; every body respected them, for they paid their way and was civil to their customers. Well, Thomas fell in a decline, sir, and died; but he didn’t die soon enough— for his sickness wasted all their substance, and the business was neglected, so the family fell into poverty: but the poor widow struggled on, and the exertions she made to maintain them little ones was really the wonder of the neighbourhood. ‘Mr Smith,’ says she to me, when I offered some relief, ‘I won’t trouble this world long, and parish money shall never cross my palm; but when I’m gone, you won’t see my desolate orphans want a morsel of bread.‘ So, poor woman, she was right; for she soon sickened, and was bed-ridden for thirteen months; and them children, as you see a standin’ ’round their mother‘s grave, worked themselves to an oil to keep her from the hospital–much more the workus. The girls worked all day; and boys and girls sat up all night, turn and turn about, with their poor mother–she was sorely afflicted, poor woman. Well, sir; when she died at last, our vicar went and offered his assistance, and told the children, of course, the parish would bury their mother ; but that there hobstinate boy, him that’s a givin’ his orders, wouldn’t hear of it, and blowed up the vicar for mentioning such a thing. So the vicar comes to me, and says be, Mr Smith, these here young Mason’s is the oddest babies as ever I see, for they’ve sold their bed and all their things to bury their mother; let‘s make up a purse for them, and there’s my sovereign to begin with. Says I, sir, never mind, I‘ll bring them right; and the parish shall bury the poor woman, so that’ll be so much saved: and with that I goes off to Poppin’s court, and into the fust floor; there was the poor woman dead, and the room stripped of all the furniture and things. Says that there youth, ‘ Mr Smith,‘ says he, ‘ I’d be wery glad to see you another time, but we’re in great grief for our mother bein’ dead, and we hope you‘ll excuse us not askin’ you to sit down.’ Lord love you, sir, there wasn’t the sign of a chair or a table in the room, nothing but the corpse, and a bit of a plank. Says I, ‘my boy, I’m sorry for your grief, but I hope you won’t have any objection to let the parish manage your poor mother’s funeral.’ With that, sir, the boy flares up like any think, whips up a poker, and swears if he catches the parish a-comin‘ to touch his mother, he’ll brain the lot of ’em: ‘Mother lived without the parish,’ says he, ‘died without the parish, and she’ll be buried without the parish!’ With that he opens the door, and shews me down stairs as if he was a suckin’ markis: that‘s the story on ’em, sir; and they’re a riggler hindependent lot as ever I see. God help them, poor things!”

And with this the little man blew his nose once more, as the group of motherless children, reformed in their sad order of procession, and with streaming eyes, and many repeated last looks at their mother‘s grave, departed to their naked home.

Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 52, 1842

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Just as going to the “work-house” or, in the United States, the “poor farm,” was a disgrace—the last humiliation of the desperate— being on the parish dole was seen as a mark of shame. A “pauper’s funeral” was considered equally degrading: the coffin, if there was one, was of the cheapest wood, nothing more than a coarse shroud was provided, and burial was in the Potters Field where one would lie cheek-by-jowl with the stranger, the unchristened, and the immoral. Shuddering at the prospect, many persons went into debt to pay for a respectable funeral.

If anyone could have used financial assistance, it would have been the bereaved Mrs Mason and her brood of eight, but her pride would not allow it. One hopes that Mrs Mason’s children saw happier days and, when they had families of their own, purchased extensive life-insurance coverage to protect their loved ones from a similar, sad fate.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

A Baby in Mourning: 1889

Baby with mourning bows. http://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/resource/B+47559

Baby with mourning bows and a black petticoat http://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/resource/B+47559

A BABY IN MOURNING

TRAPPINGS OF WOE WHICH WERE DECIDEDLY OVERDONE

The wearing of black fabrics, especially of that particularly somber black fabric known as crape, as emblematic of mourning has long been a much-mooted question. Even those who have taken a decided stand against such as would abolish the custom, on the ground that in too many cases it savored of mawkish sentiment, have agreed that its excessive use is revolting. Perhaps a more aggravated case of revolting excess in this direction was never witnessed than that which was necessarily endured by a carful of passengers on a Sixth-avenue L train yesterday.

A woman, whose face was lit up with more than ordinary intelligence, got on the car at Fifty-ninth-street with two children, a girl about four years old and a babe in arms. Under different circumstances the hearts of those who saw this mother must have gone out in kindly sympathy, for she was young and a widow, as was evidenced by the fact that her dress was of the deepest black and her headgear a long crape veil, reaching far below her waist. The three should have formed a most attractive group, for the children were unusually bright and pretty, but it is doubtful if the passengers, judging from the expressions on their faces, ever looked upon a picture that filled them with greater disgust. The mother’s “weeds” should and would have commanded respect, in spite of their superabundance, had it not been for the fact that she advertised her bereavement by arraying her little ones in costumes which, because of the contrast, were even more somber than her own.

The little girl, whose hair was so golden that it seemed as though the sun was streaming through it, had not a touch of color about her, except that which came from her hair and bright blue eyes. Her dress was of black cashmere, with a heavy drapery of crape, and she wore a black hat, also trimmed with crape. Even the little pin that fastened her somber dress at the throat was of jet, and she carried a black-bordered handkerchief. The climax was reached, however, in the clothing of the babe in arms, a swaddling robe of unrelieved black crape, the little head covered with a baby’s cap of the same material. The effect was positively ghastly, and there was a sign of relief when the widow and her two little ones left the car.

New York [NY] Times 5 August 1889: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: How very unkind of the passengers to be “disgusted” by a bereaved lady with two very small children!  To be fair, there was much controversy over whether it was healthy to put children into full mourning. Crape was considered depressing to health and spirits in adults and it was feared that the effects would be magnified in vulnerable, impressionable children and infants. Despite this, it is possible that the widow was pressured by an officious mother-in-law or well-meaning friends to clothe her little ones in black as a mark of respect for their departed father. There was much anxiety among the bereaved about “correct” mourning, Common sense was sometimes sacrificed on the altar of propriety.

A child's mourning dress, c. 1882. It shows signs of being hastily made. http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/explore/collection/work/50734/

A child’s mourning dress, c. 1882. It shows signs of being hastily made. http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/

No Crape for Children

It is fortunately no longer the custom, as a general thing, to put little children into black, and even when it is done crape is no longer employed, even as trimming, and black cloth coats and hats and black ribbon sashes are the greatest concessions that are made. The St Paul [MO] Daily Globe 13 January 1895: p. 13

A child's black velvet dress. This was a mourning dress for a little boy, Travers Buxton, who wore it on the death of his mother in 1871. http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/658369

A child’s black velvet dress. This was a mourning dress for a little boy, Travers Buxton, who wore it on the death of his mother in 1871. http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/658369

Official Court Mourning: The children all wear black sashes on their white dresses; black gloves, black veils, and black ribbons on their straw or Leghorn hats. La Belle assemblée: or, Bell’s court and fashionable magazine, 1824

A child's half-mourning dress and bolero c. 1850-60 http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1362562

A child’s mourning or half-mourning dress and bolero c. 1850-60 http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1362562

Young persons, or those who are in mourning for young persons, frequently wear a good deal of white, as for instance, white ribbons, handkerchiefs, and white gloves sewed with black: very young children, only wear white frocks and black ribbons. The Workwoman’s Guide, by A Lady, 1838

Children are, as a rule, dressed in white when they are placed in mourning, as so many people feel that black is out of harmony with their tender years and bright feelings, which can happily be only temporarily damped. Bruce Herald 7 April 1899: p. 6

And then the girl remembered that she had seen a baby downstairs decked out in crape and black ribbons, and she knew that this must be Jacky’s baby sister. How could this mother be so very foolish?  Star 26 January 1901: p. 1

For more details on Victorian mourning see The Victorian Book of the Dead and posts on this blog labeled with the topic “mourning”.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

“No Flowers”: 1891

"Gates Ajar" funeral flower tribute. [private collection.]

“Gates Ajar” funeral flower tribute. [private collection.]

NO FLOWERS AT FUNERAL

But You Can’t Defeat an Enterprising Florist

[Chicago Mail.]

“Remember that that ‘Gates Ajar’ must go up to Brown’s before 9 o’clock to-morrow morning,” said a Wabash-avenue florist to one of his employes the other afternoon, “and don’t forget that it is to be an n.f. affair and that you’ll have to keep our eyes open.”

“What is an n.f. funeral?” I ventured to ask, after the young man addressed had left us.

“No flowers,” sententiously answered the proprietor.

“That means, then, that you are taking flowers to a funeral where they are prohibited?”

“Precisely.”

“Do so frequently?”

“Every day.”

“Then ‘no flowers’ really doesn’t mean no flowers after all, does it?”

“It doesn’t if we can help it—rest assured of that. We are here to sell flowers. The funeral trade forms an important part of our business, and we have to protect ourselves against the anti-floral cranks as best we can. The ‘no flowers’ order is a fashionable fad and nothing else. It originated in New York years ago at a funeral of one of the Vanderbilts, who requested that no flowers should be displayed during his obsequies. I was working for a new York florist at that time, and I well remember what a flutter this innovation caused among the tradesmen in our line of business. They did not care about losing the single Vanderbilt job, but they feared that such an example in the ultra-fashionable world would be followed by its general adoption. Thus a whim of fashion might deal a severe blow to the floral trade. The leading florists immediately held a conference and it was unanimously decided that the great funeral must not be permitted to set the fashion and inaugurate an anti-flowers era. Several very costly and elaborate floral pieces were prepared, but I spite of all we could do the orders of the deceased were obeyed to the letter and we were unable to get a solitary flower inside the Vanderbilt residence. An attempt to bribe the servants failed, as they had received ironclad instructions not to permit a floral offering of any kind whatsoever to be taken inside the house. This ultimatum fell like a wet blanket upon our hopes, but still we determined not to quit the field without making one last bold ‘bluff.’ A magnificent ivy cross was made—one of the finest that ever was seen in this country. I was about six feet high and was composed of a mass of English ivy leaves and tendrils. It represented a good round sum, let me tell you, and a good deal of work. But there was not a bud or a flower in it anywhere. Just before the time appointed for the exercises to begin we took the cross to the Vanderbilt residence, and, as we expected, were stopped at the door by a liveried lackey, who denied us admission.

“But there must be no delay about this matter, we insisted. ‘It must go in and at once. Come now; we have no time to parley with you.’

“’You can not come in.’

“’We must.’

“’I have strict orders not to admit any flowers. I can not do it.’

“’But there are no flowers in this. Look at it for yourself. It was built entirely in accordance with the wishes of the family. You have no orders against admitting ivy, have you?’

“He hesitated. Just then something round and hard dropped into his hand. He was lost. A moment later that beautiful cross stood at the head of the casket. I shall always remember the remark of my companion as we left the house: ‘Well, Jim. We’ve beaten the old man cold at his own game.’”

Talk about push and business enterprise! Are there any limits beyond which they can not go?

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 8 August 1891: p. 11

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The “anti-flower cranks” came in several flavours:  reformers who felt that the tributes contributed to the extravagance of Victorian funerals; those who found them vulgar; and those who had medical grounds. Here is an argument from the latter:

The reformers suggest that the notice of the death which appears in the papers should end with the announcement: “No flowers.” A novel argument against the sending of these tributes is that the petals of the flowers serve to keep the germs which are given off from the dead body, and in the case of people who died from infectious diseases they may become a positive source of danger, and…be absolutely death dealing. Then again the custom of preserving these wreaths is denounced by many medical men, who contend that they, containing as they do morbific bacteria, are a constant source of danger and a menace to the healthy life of those who afterward occupy the rooms. Evening Star [Washington, DC] 14 February 1891: p. 12

“No Flowers at Funeral” is an excerpt from The Victorian Book of the Dead, which contains other stories about floral tributes at funerals in its look at the popular culture of Victorian death and mourning.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

 

 

The Corpse Counted the Coins: 1892

corpse sitting up

A GHASTLY FRAUD.

The story is just being told of a remarkable swindle which was perpetrated recently in Hawthorn (Vic), and it goes to show the extremes to which people will sometimes go in order to carry out imposition on the charitably disposed (says a Melbourne exchange). It appears that some little while back a leading official of the Hawthorn Ladies’ Benevolent Society was waited upon by a woman who was crying bitterly, and who was apparently in deep and genuine distress. Her appearance was that of one poverty-stricken and woebegone in the extreme. She told a pitiful tale to this lady, whose character for charitable deeds is well known.

For a long time, she said, they had had scarcely anything to eat, and, worst of all, her poor husband had just died, and there was no money in her possession to give him a decent burial. The recital of this terrible tale of alleged destitution was accompanied with much sobbing, and hypocritical blessings were called down upon the charitable lady, when a promise was given that the case would be attended to. No time was lost, for with an equally kind-hearted and generous lady friend a visit was at once paid to the house where this terrible family disaster had occurred.

The two ladies entered the house. It was found to have very little furniture in it, and what there was was of the poorest description. The place was dirty and ill-kept; but this was accounted for by the “widow” by the statement that want of food had deprived her of the requisite strength to do household work. The hearts of the ladies were indeed touched at the picture of poverty presented to them. They were assured there were no food in the house, while walking through the house was another woman mourning loudly, like the mourners of old, and tearing her hair at the decease of her brother.

Filled with pity for the poor creatures the two ladies entered what they supposed was the chamber of death. What a picture was here presented. On a stretcher lay the body of a splendidly-formed man, and even now it was in the poorest burial shroud which it had been possible to procure. Evening was coming on, and the corner of the room was wrapped in gloom.

“Look, at his dear dead face,” the woman said, wringing her hands the while and lifting the sheet at the same time. The ladies were rather frightened at the spectacle which presented itself during the few seconds the sheet was lifted, for beneath it was the face of a man of less than middle age. It bore the hue of death, and hastily turning aside the ladies proceeded to be practical.

In the first place they left an ample sum behind them for the funeral expenses, and informed the mourning relatives that they would order the necessaries, and even luxuries, of life to be forwarded from a local store. Then they departed, but after being gone a few minutes one of the ladies discovered that she had left her umbrella in the house. She ran back, and went straight into the room where the body had been.

She started back in affright, for there was the corpse sitting up in bed, coolly and collectively counting over the cash which had been left for his burial. The strange and startling discovery was at once reported, but before steps could be taken to award punishment the coterie of swindlers had flown. It was amply proved afterwards, however, that the face of the “corpse” had been liberally treated with coloured whitewash to give it the appearance of a dead person, and there is every reason to suppose that he has “died” in the same way many a time before.

Ohinemuri [NZ] Gazette 16 July 1892: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  This was a popular “old chestnut” to judge by the many variants one finds in the popular press. In some the corpse is already coffined in a borrowed casket and clinks the coins to ascertain whether they are genuine; in others, the money is snatched back from the corpse by the charitable lady. It is certainly possible that the imposture actually was perpetrated on numerous occasions, but the tone and the changing locations to suit each newspaper (Melbourne, Baltimore, &c.) suggest an “urban legend.”  There were also many stories of corpses reviving from cataleptic trances, but one doubts that the first act of those resurrected persons was to count the charity cash or to check it for counterfeit coin.

Mrs Daffodil found it interesting that the “widow” in this story claimed she was too weak from hunger to clean house. Cleanliness in the face of dire poverty was one of the marks of the “deserving poor.” The charitable ladies apparently found this excuse a plausible one.

Of course the sub-text of this story is the importance of a “decent burial,” even to the very poorest. There were also religious committees where ladies gathered to sociably sew shrouds for the poor. For example, that funereal person who wrote The Victorian Book of the Dead found notices of the meetings of the “Ladies’ Shroud Sewing Society” in Denver, Colorado in 1904-1912, where the women of the synagogue made shrouds both to sell as a fund-raiser and for burying the poor.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.