Avalanche II

Avalanche I gives the account of Henry Arkwright’s death in an avalanche on Mont Blanc in October 1866. This tells how Henry’s remains were found thirty-one years later, and were buried at Chamonix (pp175-179 in Champagne and Shambles).


When Henry was killed, Johnny and Lucy had just married.  They went on to have a son, Jack (in 1872), and three daughters, Geraldine (b1875), Evelyn (b1876) and Olive (b1882).  By 1897, where Henry’s story resumes, Jack had been to Eton and Oxford and was a practising patent barrister in London.  Johnny’s sister Fanny had married William Hill-James, whom she had met on a trip to Algiers with Johnny in 1881.  Johnny’s mother Tally had died in 1869.


After the rigours of the London Diamond Jubilee season of 1897, many of the Arkwrights moved north for the grouse in August.  Jack went up to Tor Castle, Fort William, to join his uncle Dick and aunt Minnie for a few days before his father and Geraldine, aunt Fanny and uncle Willie Hill-James joined them.  Jack and his uncle Dick enjoyed shooting together, and gardening.  Johnny and Geraldine headed north on 10th August.  From home, Lucy reported on the usual events.  Olive had gone to Shobdon to stay with Lucy's sister for a few days, and Evelyn was toying with the idea of a local gymkhana.  A couple of days later, the rector of Humber, Rev CRA Grant died at the age of 42.  Lucy sent Johnny cuttings of the funeral and reported that Olive and Evelyn were taking Meg the dog to the vet in Leominster to have her ears checked.  On 21st August, Jack went south again to Hampton Court, leaving Johnny and Geraldine at Tor.

Tor Castle embodied much of the popular romance of Scotland.  The imposing house stood in a bend of the peaty river Lochy, behind the ruins of the original castle.  Tor Castle was said to have been the home of ‘right-valiant Banquo,’ the ‘peerless kinsman’ of Duncan, King of Scotland, who heard, with Macbeth, the prophesies of the witches in Shakespeare's play and met his death at the hand of the Thane's hired assassins.  His castle stood in the floor of the intimate valley formed between Meall Bahanabhie and Ben Nevis, just above where the River Lochy flows into Loch Linnhe. 

The elusive peak of Ben Nevis was usually veiled so that only its lumbering lower slopes were visible.  The movement of clouds around the summit created a constantly shifting view.  Nevertheless it had shaped the development of Fort William and it was now, since the railway had come, an obligatory stop on any tour of the Highlands.  Another wonder to be seen was the western end of the Caledonian Canal that ran just behind Tor.  The canal, and Allt Sheangain, the byrne that flowed into the river just downstream, almost formed a little island of the outcrop on which the castle stood.

Johnny’s relationship with Dick remained sensitive.  At Tor, though, the brothers could put all the worries of the estate aside, and indulge their passion for fishing, a love shared from childhood.  Quiet hours on the riverbank rolled back the years and gave them an opportunity for an exchange of confidences and concerns, rare time when the views that they held in common outnumbered their differences of opinion.  They could speculate about Jack's future, in which he seemed to be taking after Dick with his legal career and political ambition.

Such were the pleasures of that summer in 1897 that were shattered with the arrival of a telegram for Johnny at Tor on 25th August.  He knew its contents the moment that he saw the French postmark.  It read simply, ‘Restes Henry Arkwright, péri Mont Blanc, 1866, retrouvés.  Avisez.  Payot, Maire.’ (i)  For 31 years, the unspoken When? had hung in the air and now, as if distilled from the ether, the words had formed and dropped at last.  Johnny's first duty was to break the news as gently as he could to Fanny, and to Dick.  For Fanny, the awful news must have revived the feelings of October 1866 as if they had been suffered only yesterday.

Johnny dispatched telegraphs to all the family.  He instructed Jack to go ahead to Chamonix, accompanied by his uncle Arthur.  To the latter he telegraphed, ‘Arthur meet Jack today Seymour Street & go Chamonix.  Have engaged rooms through Payot Maire.’  To the Mayor of Chamonix he replied, ‘Mon fils et frere arriveront bientot.  Reservez deux chambres.’  Edwyn was by chance back in England from Algiers at the time, and he offered Stanffer, his valet, so Johnny telegraphed, ‘If Stanffer may go with Arthur & Jack to Chamonix send him Seymour St today.’  Alice was at Seymour Street, where Johnny telegraphed her, ‘Arthur meets Jack your house today.  Go with Stanffer & wait telegrams Chamonix.’  Johnny's sister, Mary at Dingestow wanted her son Ronald to go to Chamonix, so Johnny telegraphed ‘Arthur & Jack going Chamonix.  Telegraph Ronald meet them.’


Jack ArkwrightAlmost before he can have been aware of it, Jack (left) was crossing the Channel with Arthur and Stanffer, his head spinning with instructions and questions.  How and where had Henry been found, and by whom?  Where should Henry be buried, and how could the authorities in Chamonix know with such certainty that they were indeed Henry's remains that had been found?  To Jack, whose Uncle Henry had been killed six years before he was born, the whole affair was part of family legend, and Henry's name was only really mentioned in the context of his own cricketing exploits.  

For Arthur, the telegraph had re-opened old yet raw wounds, and every circumstance of those days just weeks after Johnny and Lucy's wedding were still fresh in his memory. 




All the names that had become so familiar in 1866 came again to his mind: the Glacier des Bossons, the Grands Mulets and the Dôme du Goûter, the Ancien Passage, the Mer de Glace, and the Brévent, along with the names of people like Sylvain Couttet, brothers Francois and Joseph Tournier, Michel Simond, and their grieving families.  The long train journey from Calais to Cluses gave Jack plenty of time to learn the sad details of that October day, and afforded his uncle no respite from the swirling sounds, faces, places and smells that returned to him as if they had never entirely left.


Back in Scotland, Johnny's immediate problem was what to do with Geraldine.  If he left her there, there would be no one to bring her home, yet she could not make the journey south unaccompanied.  In the event, the Lethbridges (old family friends) came to the rescue, keeping her there with them, and offering to escort her home.  This left Johnny free to head off for France.  His feelings were those of muted joy at having found Henry and at finally being able to do right by his brother and give him a decent burial, either in Chamonix or at home.


For the journey, Johnny was joined by Fanny.  The image of Henry leaning down over his broken shoelace in the minutes before he left the shelter of the Grands Mulets was again in front of her every time she closed her eyes.  The nightmare of the long walk down the mountain to the village, with only the prospect of having to break the news to Mamma and Alice was as vivid as ever, as she and Johnny began the voyage south.  Banquo's weary words whispered after them: ‘A heavy summons lies like lead upon me, And yet I would not sleep.’


Lucy was left at Hampton Court, with her own memories of early-married life, when, just as now, her husband and brothers-in-law had been called to Chamonix.  Perhaps laying Henry to rest at last would be a fitting way to thank him for all he did at their wedding.  No doubt, her thoughts turned to Tally, and her grief at the loss of a child, a grief that Lucy could now understand so much better.  What joy Tally would feel to know that her boy was found again, and could finally be at rest.  Meanwhile, Lucy's own son was writing to her in scribbled notes during the journey through France.  Jack had written from Dijon at midnight:


‘Left Victoria 9.  Very calm crossing.  Uneventful!  Lunched immediately.  Paris 5 where we dined.  Raining.  Left Paris 7 & have now carriage to ourselves (Uncle A, Stanffer & self).  Don't change till 5am (?Geneva).  Expect to arrive Chamonix early afternoon.  Seymour St as much in the dark as ourselves, but we decided not to wait...  Hope & expect to be told funeral Chamonix, also to be able to return very soon.  Jack.’


Grand Hotel RoyalOn arrival at Chamonix, on 27th August, Jack, Arthur and Stanffer hastened to the Hotel Royal (left), where the Mayor, Monsieur Payot had reserved rooms. 


They fell upon their telegraphs with news of who was on their way out, when they hoped to arrive, and what they were to organise by way of a funeral.





Next, Arthur and Jack wanted to hear the news of the discovery, to find a clergyman who might be able to take the service, decide upon a day and time, and choose a burial plot in the Protestant churchyard on the edge of the town.  All of this was accomplished, but Jack and his uncle had to brave a curious public whenever they ventured out.  Mercifully, as Arthur could remember vividly (although the town had grown a great deal), the church was not far from their hotel, but it was an uneasy feeling to know that the whole town was buzzing with revelations.  To many of the inhabitants of Chamonix, the Arkwright name was a respected one, owing to the financial support given by the family to the other bereaved since Henry's death. 


Chamonix, in the intervening years, had become a fashionable alpine resort.  Instead of the few thousand travellers who found their way to the Avre valley in 1866, tens of thousands now came every year, particularly since the railway had arrived at Cluses.  In 1892, the railway’s first year, visitor figures had been estimated at 24,000 over the summer season.  By 1899 it was to reach 39,000, rising to 80,000 in 1903. (ii) Even with the rain during the season of 1897, which hit visitor numbers, there were numerous tourists who, being on holiday, had little to do but exchange the gruesome news of the find.  Idle speculations were fuelled by those who had visited the scene.  These included an Englishman who happened to be in Chamonix on holiday and walking on the glacier when he came upon the recovery. 


‘On arriving, I was surprised to find there the Maire, the juge de paix, the notaire, a doctor, two gendarmes, and the editor of the 'Revue du Mont Blanc,' all evidently present on business, while an atmosphere of awed and intense interest pervaded a small group of onlookers.  It did not take long to learn what had happened.

‘I was the only English person present while my countryman's remains were being brought from the glacier, where men were still searching for them.  Gradually they were laid before the officials, and those interested in making notes; and I, the dead man's only compatriot, was pressed forward into full view of them.  Never have I experienced a moment so thrilling, so filled with painful interest.  The thoughtless jest of a bystander was quickly and sharply rebuked by those in authority, and the solemnity of the moment was impressed upon all.
‘All except the feet and head were brought to light, but details are too painful to relate.
‘The right hand, which had once so firmly grasped the iron-plated pine pole that even after thirty-one years they were found close together, was marvellously life-like, the ice had even preserved in it the red tint of the blood.’ (iii)

A traveller, by the faithful hound,
Half-buried in the snow was found,
Still grasping in his hand of ice
That banner with the strange device,
Excelsior!                 (from Henry’s favourite song by Longfellow)           


‘There could be no doubt of identity.  From the pocket of the gray waistcoat was drawn a white pocket handkerchief with a plain blue border. [left]  It was as strong and sound as if new; the marking-ink might have been used upon it that day so distinct were the works [sic]:
H. Arkwright,
84th Regmt,12.
in one corner.



‘In the collar of what had been a white linen shirt was a small gold stud with a brilliant, in the front was a larger one set with a diamond star of eight rays in a bed of blue enamel.  A French sue was all the money found.  There was the remains of what might have been a silver cigarette case, in the trouser pocket; a handsome gold watch chain had been found the previous day, but no traces of the watch.
‘The juge de paix was soon ready for the inquest, almost the last stage of that slow, long, solemn, lonely progress of the body of Henry Arkwright towards his final resting place.’ (iv)


After hearing the story, and noting the formalities undertaken to date, Arthur and Jack set about finding the Chaplain to take the funeral service.  This was the Rev Henry Martin of Stockton-on-Tees, who, it transpired, in a curious quirk of fate, had known Henry.  Between them, they decided to hold the service on Tuesday 31st August, by which time it was hoped that as many of the family that intended to come, would have arrived.  Jack and Arthur then visited the small church on the edge of Chamonix.  Above its steeply-pitched tiled roof, the little stone spire thrust defiantly into the air, in reflection of the Aiguilles de Chamonix that bristled on the skyline beyond. 


Memorial to Henry ArkwrightMaking their way inside, they found the memorial to Henry (left), erected after his death in 1866.  Outside, again, they walked up the path to the south of the building, and at the rounded east end, found the plot that they wanted.  The Church was nearer to the great Mer de Glace than to Henry's massive Glacier des Bossons, but the latter was not far to their right, and the grave would face the lower slopes that ultimately rose to the summit of Mont Blanc that had eluded Henry.  He would be laid next to Richard Nettleship, a Fellow of Balliol, Oxford, who had died on the mountain ‘of cold and fatigue’ when Jack was at Oxford, almost exactly five years before. (v)  Over the low stone wall that marked the northern boundary of the graveyard, a few cattle grazed in the fields - a reminder of happier days at the ‘sweet home’ for which Henry had been homesick at prep school.





Having decided on the formalities, Jack and Arthur had once more to brave the whispers of interest on their way back to the hotel.  Outside the hotel, even the statue of HB de Saussure, placed there since Arthur's last visit, seemed to reflect the interest of the holiday makers; one of its figures pointed in frozen and relentless wonder to the Glacier des Bossons (below).

Statue of HB de Saussure pointing at Mont Blanc


Despite the exhaustions of the day, Jack sat up until gone midnight to convey to his mother all that they had seen and done.


‘Darling Mother,
We got here after a continuous & weary railway journey ending with an awful 5 hours in a diligence.  Payot, the Mayor, had taken rooms for us here.  Uncle Arthur got a hot cinder in his eye between Calais & Paris & suffered agony most of the way.  I don't know what we should have done without Stanffer - & yet we nearly did not bring him!  We rushed to our telegrams & found them most confusing.  We have had another tonight wh. further complicates matters.  All we can make out is that Ronald is coming for certain, Aunt Mary & Uncle Courthope also, probably Aunt Fanny & Uncle Dick, & possibly Father.  The last telegrams came after we had arranged the funeral here for Tuesday; our arrangements being based on what we found here & the 4 first telegrams.  It has not been easy by any means, not knowing what we were supposed to be doing.  But we did what certainly seems for the best.  Only I hope Father, Aunt Fanny & Uncle Dick wont attempt it.  We saw Mr. Martin the clergyman & he very kindly consented to stay till Tuesday although he had arranged to leave before that day.  We decided on a spot on the mountain side of the Church which is itself on the Mont Blanc side of the valley.  The next grave will be that of Professor Nettleship.  We saw the tablet in the Church; it is in excellent repair.  The discovery is more wonderful than we had imagined.  We have got the white handkerchief, folded, with a blue band, name ‘H Arkwright,’ regiment's number, & another number, stained through with blood.  Also a military glove with 2 buttons (also named.).  His watch chain, a heavy gold one, with 2 keys like those of a despatch box, the chain bright, the keys very rusty.  Still more marvellous a strip of shirt (quite small) with 3 studs (diamonds & gold & blue stone).  A cartridge extractor, 5 or 6 French & Swiss coins, & the top of a flask very much bent.  The body itself is still in the ice, having been put back there in a box immediately on discovery: They say the skull is broken all but the lower jaw in which the teeth still are.  Some doubt exists in our minds as to the remainder, but Stanffer says that he understands them to say that the trunk & legs are there & only the feet & hands missing; further that this is in a state of preservation; else why did they at once replace it in the ice?
‘By preservation, I mean that the flesh would be still perfect.  We shall possibly know tomorrow morning when we propose to go up to the lowest point of the ice, where they had to leave him.  Uncle Arthur seems very much upset & I hope for his sake that the funeral will not be put off beyond Tuesday.  We are the objects of the greatest interest, & am afraid shall be greatly put to it before it is over.
‘Today Payot brought the handkerchief to Uncle Arthur in the street with half the community looking round the corners.  I wish to goodness Aunt Mary was not coming if she is as emotional as you say it will be most distressing.  We shall have in all probability a full service with hymns, some of the English visitors etc having expressed a desire to be informed of the day & hour.
‘It is nice to think that Mr Martin once knew & admired Uncle Henry, when Uncle Henry was quartered where he was at school.  He seemed to know a good deal about his regiment, having played a good deal of Cricket with them.  A very small world again!
‘I feel as if I had been here 3 weeks already.  It is of course magnificent scenery (& the weather is very fine) but I had rather see it under other circumstances.  I saw some splendid butterflies & some interesting plants (more especially saxifrages) on the way up.  Having only one bag with me I shall be easily able to manage quite a decent sized hamper full of them on the way home.  Today has been crammed with events of one sort & another, & I have done my best to record a few - We may telegraph again in the morning, but probably not unless we get telegrams from England necessitating it.  I hope G has not been dragged from Scotland.
‘I am
Ever your Loving


Saturday dawned, and Jack and Arthur were to make the proposed walk up the mountain to bring Henry's body home to Chamonix.  The Arkwrights were not the only ones to be finding the circumstances difficult.  For the families of the guide, Michel Simond, and porters Francois and Joseph Tournier also who had died with Henry on the mountain, the discovery of the remains reopened wounds.  The guide that survived, Sylvain Couttet, was now an old man, mostly paralysed, and still living in Chamonix.  He remembered vividly Fanny’s bravery at the Grands Mulets that day.  Arthur and Jack met all the families and were touched by their determination to support the Arkwrights.  The events of the week-end were described by Jack in his next letter to Lucy, written on Sunday evening.


‘Darling Mother,
I am afraid much of this letter will not be cheerful reading, but I think you ought to know all about what we have been doing here, & so I set down the facts as nearly as possible.  I should say to begin with that Uncle Arthur has retired to bed with a bad attack of neuralgia [?], some sort of sciatica.  It will I fear be out of the question for him to attend the funeral.  He has been in great pain all day & has had to send for the doctor & have morphia.  He seems better this evening.  His doctor in England told him that either of 2 things would bring it on, over exertion or mental shock, & he certainly had both yesterday.

Items found with Henry Arkwright's remains‘The discovery of Uncle Henry's remains was made as it were by chance.  Pyott (?) [Payot - no direct relation of the Mayor] the guide, who lives by the glacier des Bossons, went with his son to a certain point in the glacier to plant a flag which was to indicate that it was safe to go to the spot. 



He had never been there before, & it is not really very clear why he went on this occasion.  However, he did go & there he found the remains. These he (or rather the Authorities) put in a box & replaced in the glacier at a lower point.  Meanwhile the news spread & various guides & visitors went up & searched.  They found a lot of clothing in shreds, his watch chain, 3 diamond shirt studs, a handkerchief in good preservation clearly marked with his name, the number of his regiment & 12, the top of a flask, the brass part of a pinfire cartridge, 5 or 6 Swiss & French coins, a kid military glove, various little things like buckles & (the worst of all to my mind) a thick alpine stock bent at the bottom & twisted in two places near the top.  These we have.  The watch was not found.  A French gentleman staying here found the chain.

Henry's collar‘Yesterday we went up, first to the place where he was found, & then on our way home we opened the box & saw the body.  We were given to understand that it would not take us long & that it was a very easy matter.  We took from 11 to 4 altogether!  If he had known what it meant, Uncle Arthur would not have gone to the higher place.  We were roped & they cut steps for us as we went. 




While we were there it rained & no doubt this helped to bring on the sciatica.  Our reason for going to the higher spot first was to avoid & disappoint tourists who had planted themselves where they knew the box to be & were awaiting us.  It sounds horrible, but it was only one of several such things.  I am very glad we went & so is Uncle A, for while we were there the guides found a gold pencil case (marked Mordans [?] London), the wad & other parts of the cartridge, & a piece of knotted climbing rope, thinner a good deal than that now used.  I collected a few bits of the glass of the flask.  After this we came down & opened the box.  This was of course very dreadful in any case, but the whole thing was made infinitely worse by the presence of a drunken French sort of police spy, whom we had some difficulty in getting away.  I was determined not to let him see anything as he said he had been sent by the Mayor & I knew he had not.  So we got him on one side & held sacking between us & him, effectually defeating his object.  The skull was smashed except the lower jaw in which the teeth were perfect.  The trunk was in a half preserved condition, the arms more so & one hand (which probably never left the ice) more preserved than them.  The rest seemed to be there except the feet.  A man said to us in the train on the way ‘I am afraid you will be very much shocked at what you are going to see’ & he spoke the truth.  Anything more awful than this state midway between real preservation and absolute dry bones it would be hard to imagine.  We are more than convinced now that our advice to bury him here was right.  The little bag full of clothes will be put into the coffin; from it I rescued another handkerchief marked E in plain embroidery with a little E.F. underneath in red.
‘That his identity is established is beyond any shadow of doubt; that he was killed instantaneously seems almost as certain.

‘And now perhaps the most distressing part of yesterday - on our return to the neighbouring chalet we found a photographer who produced awful photographs taken by him on the day of the discovery.  He seems to be always at the chalet & to have gone up on this occasion before the Chamonix authorities could take charge.  He had not only photographed what was actually there as it was, but had made an elaborate group for effect.  He is difficult to tackle, lied to us on several points yesterday & at the end of an interview this morning announced that he had certain things which we had ‘oubliés’, namely the pewter part of the flask and some hair.  The photographs were seen by Stanffer in the shop windows this morning, though he swore the shops had not got them.  We have turned the Mayor onto him, intimated that we shall not hesitate to take legal proceedings & I think he is thoroughly frightened & will knuckle under tomorrow.  If he does not I shall get in all the photographs I can, & manage to break the plate if possible, though I fear it is too late for this to be of much use.  The pewter we dont want, & we (Ronald, Stanffer & myself) all promptly said so this morning.  He did not let us see the hair, but I dont think it is desirable to have it from what I saw on the glacier.  He evidently played this as a trump card, & he was as evidently surprised & disappointed by the way in which we took it.  Meanwhile I have reported the possession of these things to the Mayor, pointing out that they are the property in the first case of the Authorities & through them ours.  The funeral will be at 3 o'clock on Tuesday, we have telegraphed to this effect to the Times & Morning Post.  I think I told you about the grave, & that the clergyman, Mr Martin used to know Uncle Henry.  Ronald & Maud [Mary's children] came yesterday.  R & I shall probably meet the coffin half way to where the body now is (in the glacier), & the others will join us here at the Hotel, which is close to the Church.  Uncle Courthope, Aunt Mary & Aunt Fanny come tomorrow.  I wish they did not, for the whole place knows every detail of all the story & it will be a very trying ordeal for them.  The papers here have been very truthful & in perfect taste & feeling about it all.  Did you know that Aunt Fanny's reception of the news is fully set out in ‘Le Mont Blanc’ par Charles Durier (president of the French Alpine Club).
‘-Eh bien! Sylvain?
J'avais la gorge trop serrée, je lève les bras comme ca.  Elle me crie
‘Mon frère!’
‘Faites courage, mademoiselle.
Alors elle devient blache comme la neige, se lève, va devant la fenêtre, s'agenouille, joint les mains et se met à prier en regardant la montagne.  Après, elle vient droit à moi et dit:
‘Vous pouvez tout me dire maintenant, Sylvain; je suis prête.’
Et quand j'ai eu achevé:
‘Nous l'irons chercher demain.’


‘None of this have [sic] ever been forgotten here, & the Simons [Simonds] know all the names of the family photographs which they produced yesterday though no names were upon them.  R & I shall probably start home Wednesday, though much depends on Uncle Arthur & other considerations.
Ever your


The final letter from Jack was dispatched to his mother on Tuesday night, after the funeral.

‘Darling Mother,
‘I hope that you will have got my telegram saying that all has ended well long before you get this.  The relief of tonight is very great.  As you know we had arranged the funeral at 3 today, this being the latest time at which it was possible for the Chaplain to conduct the service.  We accordingly made arrangements for good horses to meet Father & Aunt Fanny at Cluses, & hoped & believed that they would be in comfortable time.  Simultaneously this morning we got a telegram from father saying they had somehow got behind time (by missing or rather being left behind by, their train at Amiens I think) and the chaplain was missing.  He had gone for a long walk & did not appear for some time.  When he did, he agreed to stay & conduct the service at 5, & we arranged to get him a carriage & horses to take him away afterwards ( - he was going to walk to his next resting place, some 4 hours! - to provide a vehicle & save him his walk was the least we could do).  We thought that all was well.  At 4 o'clock we started from Pyott's [Payot's] house (in the valley below the glacier des Bossons) feeling a little uneasy at the non arrival of Father & Aunt Fanny, but thinking they would certainly overtake us.  Carriage after carriage came up without them, & at last at 5.30 we had got as far as this Hotel & Aunt Mary & Uncle Arthur were about to join us & go on to the Church.  Just as we were going to move on again, they arrived.  It has since transpired that our arrangements, although altered to suit their later time, had somehow or other fallen through, & that they had started with one old horse & had altogether a most distressing drive, although they got 2 horses at a later stage.  They had a few minutes to dress during which I put the uniform sword & flowers on the coffin (which we had already covered with the Union Jack - one Maud made with the assistance of ladies staying here) & then we went to the Church, Uncle Arthur being carried in a sort of chair, Aunt Fanny with him, Father & Aunt Mary being immediately behind the coffin.  The whole of Chamonix was there, & the scene was a most impressive one.  Very many of the people were in black & the shutters were up in the shops which we passed, & the Union Jack was flying half mast high on this house.  The Church was absolutely full; some idea of the number of people may be got from the fact that when we, preceded by some 50 guides, got to the Church, the end of the procession was well outside the Churchyard, & it this [sic] is some distance.  Three clergymen appeared to officiate, (vi)  rather to our surprize; one of them told me afterwards that in him the Alpine Club was represented.  ‘For all the Saints’ was sung inside the Church, (Maud playing) & ‘O God our help in ages past’ at the graveside.  The uniform & other military things, including the sword, were buried with him, not however the horse cloth.  The family's flowers were also buried.  There was a very large wreath from the sons of the guides carried by two people, & 3 or 4 other rather smaller ones, one being from the people in this hotel.

Henry's grave with the wreath from the sons of his guides


The widows of the guides who were lost came just after the family.  The part taken by the Chamonix guides & their families, to say nothing of the town officials must have been very astonishing to visitors who did not know the whole story.  Everybody seemed to be there, including the Roman Catholic priests.  I think Father was very much pleased; he said he thought it all very wonderful.
‘He appears to be a good deal upset though glad now that it is over.  I for my part am rather glad that he & Aunt Fanny were rushed at the last minute, as the trying part is now over almost before they knew they were in Chamonix.
‘In opening a letter of condolence tonight he said that a letter of congratulations would have been more to the point.
‘I think he proposes to go home on Thursday.  The latest telegram announces the arrival of Uncle Dick with his doctor on that day.  Ronald goes tomorrow morning.
‘Tomorrow Stanffer & I have promised ourselves ‘fresh fields & pastures new.’  To bed distinctly tired.
‘Your loving


Lucy received a second account of events on the black-edged Hampton Court mourning paper that her husband had taken with him to Chamonix.


‘Some 60 or 70 guides volunteered the carrying & formed a leading procession & following.  [The bearers were Joseph and Hubert Simond, Albert and Jules Tournier the sons of the porters and guide who were killed, plus Alfred and Auguste Payot who had found the remains.]  Arthur hurt his knee at the crevasse & was carried in a sort of litter... 3 clergy (one chaplain & 2 casuals) one was an Alpine Club Member.  It had rained nearly all the drive but just as we reached the valley the sun lit up the Bossons on the very spot & cleared off the clouds, as if it were on purpose... Alice got up at dawn to buy a Union Jack which we are going to put on the grave today.
‘The Church was crowded to the last place.  People have been remarkably kind to us all and the whole event has evidently made a profound impression.  To me it has been a great relief more than a sorrow - tho' there are very ghastly details of the search.’


Of the feelings of the rest of the family, little survives.  Fanny must have shuddered to see again the broken bootlace, tied around one of Henry’s red gloves.  She wrote touchingly to Johnny from Lowndes Street after their return.  ‘I was so pleased and thankful to be with you.  It is all like a dream.  I have been with Arthur a few days since, as he was alone, and it is still in all his thoughts.’  She enclosed the note with an Alpine cowbell that she had bought in Chamonix.  From then on, some of the pedigree cattle grazing near the house at Hampton Court always wore cowbells, whose sound took them back to Chamonix and to Henry.


Arthur was haunted by the event for years to come.  He dispatched accounts to Henry's old school Harrovian Magazine and to the Essex County Chronicle.  He even took the items that were found with Henry's body to the offices of the Chronicle, telling the editor that they were to be put in a display case specially made for the purpose, in the Chapel at Hampton Court, alongside the marble bust of Henry which already stood there. (vii)


There in the twilight cold and grey,
Lifeless, but beautiful, he lay,
And from the sky, serene and far,
A voice fell, like a falling star,


Henry  Arkwright’s grave at Chamonix’s Protestant Church

Henry Arkwright’s grave at Chamonix’s Protestant Church today.  The style of grave matches those of the Arkwright family at Hope under Dinmore church, Herefordshire.  The cross formerly stood upright, but has broken and been laid on the grave.


All photographs copyright the descendants of Mary Arkwright, and the author.
Text © Catherine Beale 2008



i. Telegraph contents reproduced by Arthur Arkwright in his account of Henry’s recovery printed in The Harrovian magazine, 1897, p103

ii. Figures from F Loux, A Ducroz, A Pocachard, Chamonix Autrefois; le Mont-Blanc et sa vallée (Fontaine de Siloe, Montmélian 1988)

iii.The Hereford Times 23rd August 1897 page 8

iv.Hereford Times 23rd August 1897 page 8

v. Hereford Times 3rd September 1892 p14

vi. Besides Rev Martin, these were Rev CL Felton, rector of Fornham All Saints, Bury St Edmunds and Rev HB George, Fellow of New College, Oxford.

vii. The Essex County Chronicle September 10th 1897.  Remarkably, the ‘case of treasures’ as the family called it, has survived intact to the present day, from which several of the photographs in this article were taken.


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