Author: Victorian Professions

The Unusual Obituary of Archibald Hugh Conway Fargus

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Archibald Hugh Conway Fargus: photo courtesy of Gloucestershire County Cricket Club

Dr Kim Price has already touched on the devastating effect that WWI had on the second and third generations of the Victorian Professions cohort in his blog post The Sludge of Flanders. There was significant loss of life, with the officer class to which most of our sample belonged suffering the greatest fatalities, but survivors also experienced great difficulties acclimatising to life back home.

Archibald Hugh Conway Fargus was the son of cohort member Bristolian auctioneer Frederick John Fargus, perhaps better known as novelist Hugh Conway. Educated at Clifton College, Haileybury, and Pembroke College, Cambridge, Archibald was ordained as a Vicar and joined the Royal Navy in 1907 as a Chaplain. Although he had left the Navy in 1913, the outbreak of WWI in 1914 prompted Archibald to reenlist, and he was assigned to H.M.S Monmouth which set sail for the Pacific in January 1914. In November 1914, the H.M.S Monmouth engaged in the Battle of Coronel off the coast of Chile where it was sunk, with the loss of all on board.

During his time at school and Cambridge, Archibald had proved himself to be a talented cricketer, winning his Blue for cricket in 1900 and 1901, and representing Gloucestershire County Cricket Club. This cricketing prowess meant that Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack picked up on the story of Archibald’s death at sea, and printed his obituary in their 1915 edition. Somewhat embarrassingly for Wisden (but much to Archibald’s relief!), he had in fact never been on board H.M.S Monmouth because he missed his train to the port, thus placing him in the very unusual position of being alive to read his own obituary. Somewhat ironically, Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack failed to record Archibald’s actual death in 1963, only finally printing his correct obituary in 1994.

Dr Jennifer Aston

 

With thanks to Roger Gibbons of Gloucester County Cricket Club. His book In Memoriam Gloucestershire Cricketers Killed in the Great War is available here http://www.gloscricket.co.uk/product/in-memoriam/

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Anonymous Heroes: the Dinas Mine Rescue Service

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Dinas Mine Rescue Service c.1912.
Photograph courtesy of Merthyr Tydfil Local Studies Department

 

On a recent trip to Merthyr Tydfil Library, I was searching through several large boxes of uncatalogued photographs, newspaper articles, and photocopies of handwritten notes when I discovered the image of a mine rescue team above. There were no annotations on the back of the photograph to give any clue as to the names of the men, the date of the photograph, or even where it was taken. However, from the hair (and moustache!) style of the subjects, I estimated that the picture was probably taken circa 1910.

This was an exciting discovery. Although mining disasters had sadly long been commonplace, any serious rescue and recovery efforts only became possible after Johann Heinrich Dräger and his son Bernhard invented valves that allowed the successful removal of carbon dioxide and the regulation of oxygen flow in tanks in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. Therefore, the equipment in this photograph must have been among the very earliest available[i].

Some online detective work led me to Andrew Watson at MRS Training and Rescue (formerly Mines Rescue Service), who confirmed that the equipment in the picture was the 1904 Dräger model which had been used by rescuers in the Courrières mining disaster in 1906, saving many lives. Astoundingly, despite the small amount of background shown in the picture, Andrew also managed to tell me where the photograph was taken; the Dinas Mine Rescue Station, some 16 miles south of Merthyr Tydfil. The station was opened by King George V and Queen Mary in June 1912, and I suggest that this picture is most likely from around this date.

 

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One last mystery remains: who were the men in the photograph? Or perhaps more accurately, who were the men and boys in the photograph? While none of the men are old, the two figures in the top left corner, particularly the one on the left, cannot be any older than their mid-teens. It is unlikely that we will ever discover the identity of any of the men (although if you recognise anyone, please do get in touch), but the harrowing accounts of miners and mine rescue workers from the early 1900s shows that serving in the Mines Rescue Service must have required an extraordinary amount of bravery, and one can only imagine the horrors they faced, even with cutting-edge breathing apparatus.

 

Dr Jennifer Aston

With thanks to Mary Oates at Merthyr Tydfil Library and Andrew Watson at MRS Training & Rescue.

[i] For more information see: http://www.draeger.com/sites/assets/PublishingImages/Segments/Corporate/EN/About-Draeger/Company-profile/the_history_of_draeger.pdf