There is no sign of the cross that would have stood on the plinth. Phot January 2017
Photo January 2017

The Reverend Professor Arthur Holmes (1836-1875)

Arthur was born in 1836 in Shrewsbury to an Irish father and Cambridge alumnus, the Rev’d Professor Frederick Holmes, and a local girl, Anna Maria Holmes (nee Loxdale).  Arthur was one of at least four children (Cecil, Rosamond, Arthur, and Lionel) and his two eldest siblings had been born in Calcutta, India where his father had been Professor at Bishop’s College.  Arthur and his brothers were educated at Shrewsbury School and whilst the youngest (Lionel) went into the Army Arthur and his elder brother (Cecil) continued their education at St John’s where their father had been educated.

Arthur was an exceptional and talented scholar in Classics and won a series of prizes and scholarships including the Browne Medal in 1857 and 1857 for composing a Greek Ode, and the Chancellor’s medal in 1858 for composing a poem in English.  He was ordained and was a preacher for the Chapel Royal in Whitechapel but continued in academia and became a fellow of Clare College in 1864 whilst continuing to lecture for St John’s and examine for St Catharine’s.

He married Eleanor Willan in 1861, the daughter of another academic and Cambridge alumnus (Leonard Richard Willan, matriculated in 1822 at Emmanuel College, but migrated to Peterhouse the following year).  The couple had three daughters (Ellen, Clara and Emily).

However, all was not well and one of Arthur’s close friends, Mr Russell Hall, who had known him since he came up to Cambridge and became not only his close personal friend but his physician, was aware that Arthur had broken down mentally several times since he had graduated due to the pressure of work.  On one occasion he burst into tears and Russell had spent a long time talking to him and was so worried he visited him again shortly afterwards.

At the beginning of 1875 Arthur’s youngest daughter, then aged 9, had had an attack of bronchitis, and the family under Russell’s advice had gone on holiday to the Isle of Wight for better air.  Arthur had returned to Cambridge leaving his family at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight but remained depressed and worried about his daughter.  He had also just recovered from ‘flu and had been unable to finish some examination marking for St Catharine’s.  He also complained that during a meeting of the Council in the Senate House he had become temporarily blind and had been unable to take any further notes.  His colleagues had tried to help him by talking to him, prescribing him medicine and by offering to reduce or remove his work-load (old fashioned flexible working!).

On Saturday, 17 April 1875 he had breakfast, and had conducted the service in Clare College Chapel.  He then had a conversation with another Fellow in Old Court, who thought he seemed much better than he had been recently.  However, shortly afterwards Arthur asked his “gyp”, Phipps, to find his physician.  Phipps returned without Russell but was sent out again by Arthur to find him.  Phipps then returned with Russell about five minutes later and Mr Hall entered Arthur’s bedroom to find him a pool of blood with a razor in his right hand and his throat cut from ear to ear.  Arthur was still alive but died about a minute afterwards.  In the midst of all this a porter, Mr Miller arrived with the gate bills (?).

The inquest was held on the Monday in the (Senior) Combination Room.  The jury viewed the body and then the inquest was conducted by Mr Gotobed.  The conclusion was (after direction from Mr Gotobed) that Arthur had committed suicide whilst temporarily insane.

The funeral service was held on April 21st in Clare College Chapel.  Old Court was draped for the occasion and the Master met Arthur’s body at the foot of his staircase before a procession took him round Old Court to the Chapel.  Clare College Choir sang the first of the Psalms to one of Purcell’s chants in G minor.  Arthur’s body was then taken in a horse-drawn hearse down King’s Parade and to Mill Road Cemetery where another service was held in the Chapel there before he was buried.  He was 39 years old.

Arthur’s widow and three girls (aged 12, 10, and 9) returned to live in Penzance, Cornwall where his wife’s family lived.  The eldest trained as a student teacher and became a governess.  The middle one eventually married late in life but had no children and died in Penzance.  At some point possibly before the Great War his widow and the other two girls emigrated to Switzerland.  All three of them lived together at 22A Via Mazzini, Lugano, Switzerland where they all eventually died in 1926, 1946 and 1949 respectively.

By Ian Bent

Arthur Holmes