William Quekett on the death of Dr Farington

from My Sayings and Doings (Kegan, Paul & Trench 1888) pages 165-170

As for the Rector, Dr. Farington, he was unable to care for anything personally. He was a thorough bookworm, and spent all his time reading and writing. The only intimations he had that the work of his church was being carried on were the ringing of the bells, and the daily return handed to him of the number of weddings, funerals, and baptisms. As the windows of the Rectory looked into the churchyard, he could, when he wished, see what was going on outside the church. With the exception of one or two occasions, I never heard him preach. He had an impediment in his speech, and was somewhat difficult to understand. As a rule, he did not even come to the services.

Dr Farington kept two servants in the Rectory, but though his housekeeper, Sarah, had lived with him for a long number of years, he never seemed to trust his servants much. Every year he paid a visit to his nephew, Admiral Farington, in the Isle of Wight. He always took away the plate-chest as well as his trunk.

One day I observed that the shutters of his study were not open. I said to Verrall, the parish clerk: "What! has the Doctor gone away without telling us?" Verrall did not know  of his having gone, and we therefore felt there was something strange about this, and we called to inquire. Old Sarah said, "No, her master was not gone, but he had not got up." "Have you not called him?" I asked. The old woman said she had not, as she supposed if he did not come down, and wanted anything in his room, he would ring. I felt uneasy about him, and made my way up to his room. I found the old gentleman gasping for breath, and evidently in pain. He was unable to speak and seemed as if he had suffered a paralytic seizure. I determined to go for Dr. Hopke, his medical man. As I passed through the house I looked into the study, and saw the Rector's pocket-book and spectacles lying on his table. It appeared that he had had some words with the housemaid, had dismissed her and paid her wages, and had then gone off to bed, never to get up again. It was well I did this, for the pocket-book was afterwards found to contain over £130.

When I reached the doctor's house and begged him to go to the Rector, he said, "Has he sent for me?" and expressed his extreme reluctance to go. It was with the utmost pressure that I prevailed upon him. "Suppose that he were to be found dead in bed," I argued, "and you, having been summoned, should be convicted of having failed to come, what then?" The doctor felt that this was an uncomfortable view of the case, and consented to accompany me. "But you must hold me harmless", he said, with evident fear of his patient's displeasure. Indeed, so much did he dread Dr. Farington's anger that I had literally to push him into the room; and I could hardly be surprised at the doctor's reluctance to enter when I saw Dr. Farington's angry and impatient wave of the hand bid him go away. Happily, the doctor's medical instincts got the better of his timidity. He saw that Dr. Farington was dangerously ill, and hastened at once to his assistance. He told me to send for the relatives. I knew of none but Admiral Farington; and to him I wrote, urging him to come immediately. Locomotion was not good in those days; but with as little delay as possible the Admiral arrived, accompanied by his eldest son. They did not go to the Rectory, but came to me; and I provided for their accommodation. "The fact is," said the Admiral, by way of explanation, "the doctor and I have not been good friends for the last few years. The last time he stayed with us in the Isle of Wight we had some lady friends calling one day, and the doctor sent out to the carriage without his hat to see the ladies, and stood talking for some time. I took out his hat, fearing he might take cold, and put it on his head. This he looked upon as an insult, and so irritated was he that, unable to listen to explanation or apology from me, he packed up his things and went off that very day."

I went down to the Rectory to learn how the Rector was, and to bring back tidings. Old Sarah told me that her master had never called or rung, and I therefore felt it right to go up and see him. He took no notice of me, and had evidently lost consciousness. Fearing that the worst might happen I advised the two servants to bring down a bed, and to have a fire in the room adjoining their master's; and I then reported to Admiral Farington the very serious state of things. About six o'clock next morning a rap came to our door. It was the sexton, to say that Dr. Farington had died in the night, and was found dead in his bed. I roused the Admiral, and he went down to the Rectory, and soon afterwards sent for me. He informed me that there were two other nephews, who must be sent for. This I did; and the Admiral then said to me, "I shall make you take possession of everything till the will is found." I told him that I had already locked up the study, and I proceeded to lock every room, except the kitchen and the servants' bedroom.

In two days the nephews arrived at the Rectory. Admiral Farington explained to them that he had made me take possession of everything till a will could be found. They expressed themselves ready to commence the search; and I handed them the keys and was about to retire when they all requested me to remain as a witness of what they did and of any discoveries they might make. In Dr. Farington's clothes there was found only one little key and a few shillings. He always sat in his study, at a little table near the fire. In the drawer of this table we found a knife and fork, a silver spoon, and a key. Round the study, and arranged in parallel lines throughout the room, with narrow passages leading to the fireplace, were bookcases with drawers beneath. The arrangement was like that of a college library, except that instead of the shelves of books being carried down to the floor, there were drawers which formed the lower part of each book-case. All the drawers were locked, and we consulted old Sarah as to where the keys could be. She told us that in one of the lumber-rooms upstairs there was a clothes-basket full of keys. These were with some difficulty brought down, and we began to try them; but so lengthy did the process threaten to be that we agreed to send for the blacksmith, who informed us that "the gentleman was very particular, and whenever he went away from home, he had new locks fitted on to all his drawers and cupboards. They keys in the basket were old ones, and of no use at all. The proper keys were no doubt locked up somewhere."

The nephews decided to lose no more time, and the blacksmith was told to use his tools and open all the drawers by force. As each drawer was opened, we found it full of the Rector's letters, which had accumulated through a long course of years, and all of which he had kept. We emptied drawer after drawer till at last we were up to our knees in letters. The bottom drawers were very heavy; they appeared to be crammed with manuscript sermons, and we left them open on the floor, walking over them with irreverent carelessness. At the end of the third day's search we had found nothing, We then came to the conclusion that without a doubt the will had been left where the plate-chest was. Alas! we could not find the plate-chest. Advertisements were then put into the papers offering a reward. We made enquiry at the Bank, but found that nothing had been deposited there, and indeed for some time past Dr. Farington had kept no banking account. We sent for the police, and we had the boards of the floor taken up. The nephews knew that there must be very valuable plate; for an old lady had died, leaving him all her silver, and he had had besides much of his own.

On the fourth day Admiral Farington found a pencil memorandum on the back of an old Admiralty letter with the date, "September 12th, 1812", "Form of a will". On opening it he found written in pencil on the back of the letter - "I, Robert Farington, give to my nephew, WIlliam Farington, all the property which I shall be possessed of at the time of my death, and hope that he will take care of his sister Mary." This was signed "Robert Farington", the surname having one F only -  a style which the Doctor had recently discarded, having adopted the spelling of Farington with double ff. We therefore went to the registers of the church to see if we could find any similar signature about that time. We found on the very date, September 12th, 1812, Dr. Farington had taken a wedding, and had signed the register with one F in his surname. Admiral Farington went into the kitchen and asked old Sarah for some milk, by pouring which over the pencil writing he rendered it indelible. He then showed it to the other two nephews, saying, "It is all mine up to this time"; and he told them they might search as much as they liked, for he was quite satisfied.

We were now near the end of the week, and we had found nothing of the Doctor's money or plate beyond the £130 in the pocket-book. It was, however, time that we buried the old man, and we asked Sarah whether she had ever heard Dr. Farington express a wish as to his burial. She said she had once heard him say that his relatives were buried at Broxbourne, in Hertfordshire, and that he should like to be buried there. Arrangements were accordingly made for the funeral; but the other two nephews, in disgust at finding themselves entirely dispossessed, would not remain to go down to Broxbourne. The Admiral told us that if anything further should be discovered he would let them know, and they returned to the North. I was asked to bury my old Rector; and I accompanied the Admiral and his son.

Shortly afterwards the Admiral proved the will, Verrall and I swearing to the identity of the handwriting and to the authenticity of the signature; and he then took formal possession of the Rectory, and sent for his wife and younger son. One of the Rector's brothers had been a great artist, and among the pictures in the Rectory were may choice productions from his pencil. The Admiral himself was no mean painter, and he was most anxious to make a good selection from the Rector's pictures, while he determined that all the rest which the house contained, with the exception of a few pieces of the best furniture, should be sold. On the evening of Mrs. Farington's arrival they invited me to dine; and as the Rector was supposed to have a first-rate cellar of wine, which he had brought from Brasenose, the Admiral gave the keys to his son WIlliam, and told him to bring a couple of bottles, one of port and one of sherry. The dinner was a very plain one - merely a roast leg of mutton. We had just commenced when the Admiral said to his son, "Glass of wine, William"; and the young man proceeded to draw the cork. Suddenly there was such a crash in the courtyard adjoining the library that every one present was startled and alarmed; and we went out to discover what had happened. We found that some old bottle-racks containing about fifty dozen empty bottles had all at once given way, and that the bottles had fallen with a tremendous force on the pavement of the courtyard, and were lying smashed in all directions. On learning the cause of the startling crash, the Admiral turned as white as a ghost, left the table, and did not again make his appearance during dinner. He explained afterwards that not being yet fully established as the owner of the property while there remained even the chance of finding another will, he looked upon the shock as a judgement for his presuming to open a bottle of wine which might belong to another.

Messrs. Longmans, the well-known booksellers and publishers, were appointed to pack up the books and to remove them to their saleroom. There were thousands of volumes. But an extraordinary discovery impeded the progress of the removal of the library. Mr. Edmund Farington was looking over a book of pictures when a five pound note fell from between the leaves. On turning the book over, another note of £10 was discovered. This led to the supposition that Dr. Farington had hid his money in his books; and accordingly orders were given that every book must be carefully examined and not taken away by Messrs. Longmans until a stamp had been put upon it to show that it had been searched. The examination of the books of the library yielded a large amount. Another discovery at this time was equally satisfactory to Admiral Farington. The heavy drawers full of sermons were in the way of the men removing the books, and it was found necessary to empty them, and put them away. What was our surprise on finding that the sermons merely covered and concealed the old gentleman's plate! The plate-chest, so carefully carried away from the rectory each time Dr. Farington had left home, was all a myth. The plate had been hidden for security under the old sermons; and the money, in dread of Lord John Russell's ruining the country, had been secreted in bank-notes between the leaves of the books!

There was a sale. Admiral Farington took away the best of the furniture and pictures, and all the rest went under the hammer. The Admiral made me a present of a book, which his uncles had greatly valued, and in which the following was written:-

Woodvale, Sept., 1842.
Mr Quekett is requested to accept this as a memorial of the sense entertained by all of us of the warm and friendly aid he gave the author's seventh son, Robert - the late Rector of St. George's - for many years, when the advance and decline of life and bodily infirmity no longer permitted him to perform the sacred dutiers of his sacred station.

Thinking it a poor present, I put it away amongst the rest of my books; and it was never observed again till being placed in my library at Warrington, when it was found to be a volume of sermons preached by Dr. Farington's father in Warrington Church, and published at Warrington by William Eyres in the year 1769. It seemed strange, indeed, that I should become a successor of my old Rector's father in the Rectory of Warrington, and that this book, unvalued by me when given, should form a link with a hundred years before in my new sphere of work.

This is the report of the 1841 proceedings in the Prerogative Court  when the nephews unsuccessfully contested the grant of prabate to Captain Farington:

A will of 1822, revoked by a pencil-writing without date.—Probate of the former, at first, refused, but afterwards, on circumstances afforind a presumption that the pencil-writing was made after 1838, granted.

IN THE GOODS OF THE REV. ROB. FARINGTON, D.D., DEC.—Motion.—The deceased rector of Saint George in the East, died 18th September, 1841, having made a will dated, 6 June 1822, by which he gave his whole property to his nephew, Captain Wm. Farington, with directions that he should give such a proportion of it as he supposed he (the deceased) would give, to his niece, Mrs. Frances Coxe. This paper was signed, but not witnessed, and the following words formed the concluding paragraph: "This is a sketch of what I design to do respecting my property;  but should I be prevented from making a more minute and formal disposal of it, I sign this as my last will and testament."  After diligent search amongst the deceased's papers and advertisements in various newspapers, no more formal will could be discovered, and no paper of a testamentary nature was found besides the before-mentioned will, and two scripts, which were in a pocket book of the deceased. One of these scripts was an unfinished sketch or draft of the heading of a will. The other was written on the two sides of a small scrap of paper, forming apparently a portion of the outer sheet of a letter, the wafer seal remaining on it. This paper is signed, but without date. The writing, which is in pencil, is to this effect: "I do hereby revoke ["cancel", interlined] the draft of a will which I made in 1822, and is in some of my drawers, and I leave all my property of every description to be divided equally ["exclusively", interlined] between my nephew, Capt. Wm. Farington, R.N., and my niece, Esther Frances Coxe, for her sole and exclusive right and disposal.  R. Farington." Capt F., the sole executor named in the will, stated that he had "reason to believe" that this paper was written about the beginning of 1841, and Mrs Coxe, who is named in it with him as universal legatee, did not propound the paper, and consented to probate of the will of 1822 to Capt F.  The personal property was between £20,000 and £25,000.
Sir J. Dodson, Q.A., moved for probate of the will of 1822 to Capt F., the sole executor.
SIR H. JENNER.—There is no doubt that, if no other testamentary paper of subsequent date had been found, the paper of the 6th June, 1822, which contains a complete disposition of the property, and is signed by the deceased, would have been entitled to probate as his last will and testament. But it appears that another paper was found in the deceased's pocket book, without date, but signed by the deceased, which purports to revoke or cancel the will of 1822, which, as he says, was to be found in some of his drawers. In this paper there is an equal division of the property between Capt. Farington and Mrs Coxe, instead of leaving it to the option of the former what proportion of the property Mrs Coxe should have. Now this paper is very fairly written, considering that it is written with a pencil; it has no date, but it may possibly be a good and valid disposition of the property, and a revocation of the paper of 1822. Now it is stated by Capt. Farington that he has some reason to believe that this paper was written some time in the present year (1841); but there is no reason assigned, and nothing before the Court to bear out that averment. The paper may have been written after 1838, but possibly it may have been written before. The will is dated in 1822; sixteen years is a long time before the new Act came into operation, and he died three or four years only after it took effect. The property is large, and although, it is true, Mrs Coxe and her husband consent to probate of the former paper passing, and do not propound the other paper, I do not see that the Court has any authority to make a will for the party. Why should I pronounce that the will of 1822 is the will of the deceased, and that the paper by which it purports to be revoked and cancelled is not the will of the deceased? This paper is found in a pocket book—it is not stated for what year it was; that may be some guide to the Court. I am not prepared at the instance of a party, to make a will for the deceased. If there is any reason why it is probable that the paper was written in 1841, it should be stated to the Court. Under the circumstances I reject the motion.

Dec 16. Further affidavit
On the By-Day, Sir John Dodson renewed the motion Dec 16 upon a further affidavit by Capt. Farington, setting forth a variety of circumstances upon which he founded his belief that the deceased had written the paper in pencil in 1840 or 1841, and stating that the book in which the paper was found was a mere case, without a calendar, and contained papers of recent dates. Mr. and Mrs. Coxe now appeared by a Proctor, and declined to propound the paper, consenting to probate of the paper of 1822.
SIR H. JENNER.—When this case came before the Court on the former occasion, as Capt. Farington prayed probate, contrary to the interest of another party, of a paper described as a "sketch", which the paper found in the pocket book purported to revoke, the Court looked into the affidavit to see the grounds upon which it was supposed that the paper revoking the will of 1822 had been written in 1841, but there was a total blank. The pocket book is now produced, and turns out to be a mere case, without a calendar, containing papers of all dates, and furnishing no information as to the date when the pencil-writing was made.
Circumstances satisfactory
But Capt Farington's affidavit now sets forth various circumstances, not very strong, certainly, but sufficient to satisfy the Court that it was written after 1838. He states that the deceased had always entertained great regard and esteem for him, and had given him reason to believe that the whole property was to be his, as by the will of 1822; that the deceased paid a visit to the Isle of Wight in 1840, at which period he manifested great but unreasonable irritability and displeasure against him (Capt. F.) although they had before been upon the best possible terms. Under these circumstances, it is not improbable that the paper may have been written at this time, and there is nothing to shew it was written before 1838. Under the circumstances, I am of opinion that probate of the will of 1822 should pass to Capt. Farington.

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