The Mystery of Robert Snarr

In my limited experience as a taphophile, it is unusual to find someone remembered on a headstone who isn’t family. Perhaps there are thousands of such people “out there”, but how many have had their story told by a great writer?

Robert SNARR died this day in 1849 and at the end of the following year, Charles Dickens published an article, The Sea-side Churchyards, in Household Words. You can read it in full at Dickens Journals Online but here is Robert’s Story:-

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What was the great man doing in Filey? I met someone at the grave by chance a year or so ago and the stranger told me that Dickens had a brother who lived not far away, in Malton. I don’t know if this is true.

The tragedy would have been fresh in the minds of local people and I suspect Dickens would have had no difficulty finding sources for the story. The reported exchange between Robert and “mother “ is such that  Dickens must surely have spoken with Mary Cammish (née SUGGIT). Other details should perhaps be challenged because they are at variance with contemporary local newspaper accounts. Robert may not have been an engineer and he may not have been journeying to Northumberland to start a new life.

What is certainly untrue is the assertion that Robert’s bloody corpse was brought back half an hour after his last words to Mary. It takes little more than five minutes to walk from the churchyard to Filey Railway Station so he could have thrown himself under the first train passing through, thus giving the Dickens version some veracity. However, Robert’s life ended near Seamer, a rail journey via Scarborough of about twelve miles.

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Why did Robert act foolishly?

I imagine he left his beloved’s grave in great distress.When he caught the train to Scarborough his intention may have been to return home to York and the bosom of his birth family, and to continue his career in the architect’s office. With the balance of his mind disturbed, maybe an idea came to him as he watched the telegraph poles zip past the carriage window. He was the seventh of ten children born to William and Elizabeth (née BLADES), aged 69 and 65 at the time of his death. I think he made his extinction look like an accident, hoping to lessen his family’s grief. The inquest jury and coroner did not, it seems, consider suicide.

We’ll never know his final thoughts, but the fact that he is with Elizabeth for eternity is wonderfully romantic.

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Also ROBERT SNARR of York, who departed this life March 12th, 1849 aged 31 years.

On FamilySearch Tree:-  Robert, Elizabeth, Charles. (Beware the bogus Dickens pedigree.)

A Loving Wife

Extract from Household Words, Charles Dickens

The sea-side churchyard is a strange witness of the perilous life of the mariner and the fisherman. It is only by a walk in it that we acquire a clear conception of the real nature of that mode of livelihood which such hundreds of thousands, all round these islands, embrace, as a choice or a necessity. We resort to pleasant places in the summer time, and see the great ocean glittering and rolling in playful majesty, and our hearts leap at the sublime spectacle.

We see white sails gleaming on its bosom, and steamers trailing their long clouds of smoke after them, as they busily walk the waters, bearing joyous passengers to many a new scene. We meet the hardy blue-cloth sons of ocean, on the beach and the cliff; see them pushing off their boats for a day’s fishing, or coming in in the early morning with their well-laden yawls and cobbles, and the sea and its people assume to us a holiday sort of aspect, in which the labour, the watching, the long endurance of cold, the peril and the death are concealed in the picturesque of the scenery, and the frank and calm bearing of the actors themselves.

What a different thing is even a fisherman’s life when contemplated as a whole; when we take in the winter and the storm to complete the picture of his existence! But, as few of us can do this in reality, if we wish to know the actualities of a sea-faring life, we may get a very fair idea of them in any seaside churchyard.

We lately took a survey of two such on the Yorkshire coast, and the notes which we there and then jotted down will afford some notion of the strange and touching records of such a place. Our first visit was to the churchyard of Filey, a mere village, well known to thousands of summer tourists for the noble extent of its sands, and the stern magnificence of its so-called bridge, or promontory of savage rocks running far into the sea, on which you may walk, at low-water; but which, with the advancing tide, becomes savagely grand, from the fury with which the ocean breaks over it.

In tempestuous weather this bridge is truly a bridge of sighs to mariners, and many a noble ship has been dashed to pieces upon it.

One of the first headstones which catches your eye in the little quiet churchyard of Filey bears witness to the terrors of the bridge. – “In memory of Richard Richardson, who was unfortunately drowned December 27th, 1799, aged forty-eight years :-

“By sudden wind and boisterous sea
The Lord did take my life from me;

But He to shore my body brought –
Found by my wife, who for it sought.
And here it rests in mother clay,
Until the Resurrection day.

“Also of Elizabeth, wife of the above, who died January 19th, 1833, aged eighty-nine.”

This fisherman was lost on the bridge, and his wife sought his body on the bridge for eleven weeks. She was possessed with an immoveable persuasion that there some day she should find him. All through that winter, from day to day, till late in March, she followed the receding tide, and with an earnest eye explored every ledge and crevice of the rocks, every inch of the wild chaos of huge stones that storms had hurled upon the bridge, and every wilderness of slippery and tangling sea-weed.

It was in vain that her neighbours told her that it was hopeless; that they assured her that she would get her death from cold; every day the solitary watcher might be seen, reckless of wind, or storm, or frost; and, at length, she did find the corpse of her husband, and saw it consigned to “mother clay.” She must have had a frame as hardy as her will and strong as her affections, for she survived this strange vigil of conjugal love thirty-four years, and to the age of nearly ninety.

The complete article can be read on the Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre website.

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The photograph is difficult to read but you can just make out the word “Child” at the base of the stone. In a note to Richard’s record in Filey Genealogy & Connections, Kath writes:-

He had been drowned from his coble at Christmas.  The story goes that his widow searched the Brigg for his body for 13 weeks in a terribly depressed state until she found him 13 weeks later.  Her baby was apparently neglected and left to the family but it too is supposed to have died.

I have found no record of a baby Richardson being buried around that time.

Two RICHARDSON children were baptized at St Oswald’s in the four years between Richard’s marriage to Elizabeth and his death but both Ann and Marianne were the children of John and Mary (maiden surname not known).

Elizabeth, Richard, and his parents are on the FamilySearch Tree.

Love & Grief

Robert SNARR’s betrothed, Elizabeth CAMMISH, died this day 1848 of consumption. For six months or so he often visited her grave in St Oswald’s churchyard. On the 12th March 1849 he said farewell to his lost love and spoke for the last time with her mother, Mary. Charles Dickens has left an account of this bitter-sweet encounter and I wrote about it in Romance and Railways.

I was much affected by the story and sought more information about Robert. The son of William Snarr and Elizabeth Blades, he followed his father’s trade as a bricklayer. In 1841 brothers William and Thomas were also bricklayers, George a butcher, and the youngest two, James and Henry were apprenticed to a cooper and a glass cutter. There were two sisters. They lived in York, hard by the Minster.

Robert was born in Appleton Roebuck in 1817 and was, therefore, about ten years older than his beloved. Dickens wrote that Robert “continued to regard [Elizabeth’s] parents as his own” but her father, Robert, had died five years earlier, in 1844. If the courtship had been a long one it must have begun when Elizabeth was sixteen or so.

That Robert Snarr was devastated by her death is not in question. Dickens gives us a sense of foreboding and then delivers his bloody corpse. But he says the body was brought from the railway line within half an hour of speaking to Mary Cammish – a clear case of artistic license – and the reference to Robert quitting Filey for an engagement in Northumberland may not have been true at all.

It appears the poor man walked to Filey station, traveled to Scarborough and there boarded the York train. If his intention was to say goodbye to his family before heading north it would appear he changed his plans.  Approaching Seamer station he did something puzzling and his life ended violently in the blink of an eye. The coroner’s inquest decided it was an “accidental death”. I’m not so sure.

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Robert Snarr’s body was brought back to Filey and he was laid to rest beside Elizabeth on the 16th March.

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The bizarre nature of his death seems to have delayed registration until the third quarter of the year.  (1849 Sep Q Scarborough Volume 24 Page 418.)

FamilySearch Tree Robert SNARR, Elizabeth

The CAMMISH pedigree is more extensive on Filey Genealogy & Connections but Kath has Elizabeth reaching a significantly greater age. If you choose to roam the Cammish byways you may soon find familiar names from a recent post – Elizabeth is the 4th cousin three times removed of Ruth Charlotte PRUDAMES; common ancestors John CAMMISH and “Mrs. John CAMMISH”.