Hilbers the Blood Royal Homeopath

His grandfather was the 7th Baronet Whichcote and  his father was an accountant. On his mothers side, George Hilbers could trace his lineage back to Edward III and is listed in the Plantagenet Roll of the Blood Royal.

Qualifying as a medical doctor at St Andrews in 1841, Hilbers was not long in this calling, and converting to a practitioner of Homeopathy becoming a member of the Northern Homeopathic Medical Association and practicing at Norwich.

In 1847 he made a kind of history by being the first homeopathic practitioner to seek appointment art a public hospital; also the first such seeker to be rejected.

Moving to Brighton, a centre for alternative healers even then, Hilbers commenced practice at the Brighton Homeopathic Dispensary on Prince Albert Street. A significant voice within the homeopathic movement, Hilbers penned several stout defences of the system, attempting to rebut critics from within the mainstream (allopathic) school.

Although harshly critical of mainstream medicine, Hilbers was happy to lend his support to alternative practitioners of other disciples. Henry Harrap was another of the Brighton success stories of that time; born in Helston Cornwall, He served in the army, and left the service whilst his regiment was stationed at Brighton. Taking trade as a cobbler, he became acquainted with ‘shampooing’ surgeon Sake Deen Mahomed, and picked up the healers art by observation, becoming well respected as a ‘rubber’ – using massage, manipulation and ointments to cure a range of ills. The historian John Ackerson Erredge wrote glowingly of Harrap, whom he credited with saving his leg from certain amputation. In 1860 Harrap was prosecuted in a civil action brought by an unhappy patient, and Hilbers intervention in support of Harrap helped ensure that he won the case, being awarded damages of £300.

Hilbers is remembered in the churchyard by the remains of a substantial cross placed by the path to the west of the edifice.


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Laurentia Dorothea and the penniless portrait painter

Before her marriage to Francis Robertson, Laurentia Ross sat for Thomas Lawrence – then a jobbing artist, later to become President of the Royal Academy and acknowledged as the finest portrait painter of the Regency period. They were probably introduced by fellow natives of Tain in Rosshire, William Charles Ross and his sister Magdalena, who both became notable painters of miniatures, with William becoming a member of the Royal academy and contemporary of Lawrence.

Lawrence and Laurentia developed a long and lasting friendship attested by a series of letters and poems written by Lawrence to Laurentia which are preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Aside from their friendship, Lawrence’s correspondence also gives a picture of the parlous state of his finances at the start of his career:

Dear Miss Ross,
Let me entrust you with a confidential secret and this in the form of a question. Does Mr Ross or the Gentleman whom I saw the other Day when I first began the picture pay for it / shall be very glad at this moment to add so much to my Banker’s account but the only way in which I can learn whether it would be convenient or not is through you on whom I have a complete dependence for the sincerity of the answer and for the ingenuity & delicacy that is necessary to ascertain the fact. I shall not complain of your Father or of your Friend if they don”t pay me these five years and for the best of reasons because I have no right to do so.

The ‘gentleman’ mentioned in the letter was Laurentia’s fiancé and future husband   Francis Robertson Esq. of Chilcote in Leicestershire, where he was Lord of the Manor and owner of the village which he substantially rebuilt.

In the northern extension burial ground a badly deteriorating box tomb to the memory of their daughter Sophia who died in 1832 remains.  Their only child surviving into adulthood was Eben William Robertson, who became High Sherriff of Derbyshire and accomplished historian of medieval Scotland.

In the Garden of Rest, they are remembered by a large unscripted panel laid onto the grass which includes the lengthy epitaph for each copied below.

To the memory of LAURENTIA DOROTHEA wife of FRANCIS ROBERTSON Esq died 2 August 1846 aged 70 years, also sacred to the memory of FRANCIS ROBERTSON Esq of Tain in Rosshire. born 1 August 1764 died 7 September 1852 aged 87 years who exemplary in all the social duties of life evinced the spirit of heavenly love, which actuated her performance of these duties and prepared her for the sufferings of a long and painful illness to submit with pious and cheerful resignation to the will of God and in the deep consciousness of her own utter insufficiency to rest her sole hope of eternal salvation on the atoning merits and mediation of her blessed redeemer.

Gifted with eminent abilities. Endowed with great virtues and possessing singular truthfulness of character the excellent qualities of his mind and heart rendered him esteemed and beloved in every relation of life, for the benefit of his fellow creatures many profited by his prosperity, and his unshaken trust in all the sufficient merits of the one and only saviour prepared him to meet death with the calm resignation of a true Christian. Deeply and fervently regretted by his surviving children and remaining friends he was permitted to retain his mental facilities unclouded to the last, and having been blessed with more than ordinary health and length of days his spirit returned to his maker almost without a struggle.

His end was peace.

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From revolution to nobility – the Baronesses Erskine

General John Cadwallader was a hero of the American revolution. Having waged war against Britain it seems odd that his daughter Frances should marry into the English nobility becoming Barroness Erskine. Or maybe not.

After their wedding in 1799 They travelled to England from her native Philidelphia to take up the family seat at Restormel Castle in Cornwall. Before she left, her father commissioned this portrait of her by artist Henry Wolf. Frances never did return to Philadelphia and died in 1843. Just four months after her death, the Baron married again – this time to her cousin Ann Travis Bond, who became the second Barroness Erskine. This appears an unseemly and swift period of mourning. Or maybe not. By 1853, the Baron was engaged on his third betrothal, following the death of his second wife at Brighton.

The Erskine tomb is one of the handsomest remaining. Although the lettering has become worn, much of the intricate ornamental stonework remains. The second Baroness was not the first occupant and was preceded by Rachel Bond, aunt to Baroneses one and two. Her initials are shown prominently in the stonework. We have not yet uncovered anything more about the Erskine~Bonds or their time at Brighton. The Erskine monument sits within the Rest Garden at St Nicholas opposite to the vaults.

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Within the Vaults – Outlaws and Others

The Rest Garden is dominated by the series of raised vaults which were designed by Amon Henry Wilds as a part of his initial layout.

The inscriptions were recorded by the council in the late 1940’s as part of the wholesale clearances which took place at that time, but the focus of this was to fulfill legal obligations around moving/removing headstones and tombs; as moving the vaults was not proposed, they were simply ignored during this process

Because of this, little is known about the vaults and of the fourteen it is only possible to identify those remembered at five of them; the noted Royal Physician Sir Matthew John Tierney, former mayor and Brewer Henry Smithers, the Butler family, the Outlaw sisters and George Rolle Walpole Trefusis

Of these, Sir Matthew Tierney and Henry Smithers are covered elsewhere on this site and no information has yet been uncovered about the Butler family or about Cap’t Trefusis.

The Outlaw sisters were the daughters of the Rev Robert Outlaw of Shropshire. Scant material has been uncovered as to their lives save for the curiosity that Ann Outlaw died at Brompton and was buried at Brighton, whilst her Sister Sarah died at Brighton and was buried at Brompton, which might be taking sibling animosity a bit far…

Vault 13 was never occupied – as vaults were purchased by the future occupants during their life, it may be that the superstitions attached to this number were off-putting. It is now used as a toolstore by the St Nicholas Green Spaces volunteer gardeners, and is opened for public viewing on occasion.

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Henry Smithers: Our most recent deceased.

Many of those remembered at the Rest Garden – especially those with the plusher resting places – were not ‘local’. From across the country and around the world they arrived, saw Brighton and died.

Henry Smithers was not one of these. Placed within one of the vaults, with a handsome memorial stone above and a window in the church, Smithers was very much local.

The Smithers antecendents occupy space at St Peters ground on Preston Drove, where an earlier Henry (1796) is accompanied by a Bartholomew Smithers (1791).  This patronymic alternation appears to have continued in the family, surfacing again when another Bartholomew Smithers departed this life in 1833, leaving substantial benefit to his son (and our subject) Henry.

This bequest comprised mostly public houses: The Bear Inn and the Crown & Anchor Inn at Preston, The Dolphin on the East Cliff, The Running Horse in Kings Street,  The Lord Nelson in Russell Street, The Unicorn in North Street in Brighton The Friar and Oak in Clayton. Also in the bequest was £14,000 to pay off a mortgage held by his son in law Thomas Isaacson (with anything left going to his other son – Bartholomew.)

Smithers set up in partnership with his brother in-law, forming the Smithers and Isaacson Brewery in 1839. Upon the death of Isaacson in 1846, Smithers inherited his share of the business, which then became simply Smithers Brewery. As well as running this business Smithers became a Town Commissioner, served on the Brighton Corporation and was elected the sixth Mayor of Brighton in 1861.

Although records have not been located, it may be assumed that he purchased his final resting place – one of the vaults in St Nicholas Rest Garden some years before his death. On hearing in 1854 that new burials were to be prohibited from this space, and his costly purchase would offer him no benefit in the hereafter, he is reported to have  exclaimed “over my dead body that will happen!*” and set about petitioning the Home Secretary for an exemption to this edict.

On 18th November 1884 – the day following his death – a burial license was issued granting his wish. The burial ground had closed as planned, but being placed in his family vault in the Rest Garden with a monument on the path above – ‘over his dead body’ it certainly was, making his probably the most recent burial at St Nicholas Gardens.

HENRY SMITHERS entered into rest November 17, 1884, aged 77 years also MARIA Wife of HENRY SMITHERS fell asleep Oct. 28 1841, aged 29 years, also Edward SMITHERS Son obit May 25 1854 Aveat 18. Give them O Lord eternal rest and let hope perpetual shine upon them.

* Note: This reported comment was almost certainly invented by the author of this work to add interest to an otherwise blemish free and upstanding pillar of  the Brighthelmstone community.


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James Justinian Morier and the Adventures of Hajji Baba

James Justinian Morier published The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan  in 1824 and followed in 1828 with The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan in England . Satirical novels, they explored contemporary Persian society through he eyes and adventures of the title character, a barber whose desire to get ahead, and cleverness in so doing, leads him from his hometown  to life with a band of Torkamans (Turkmen), Tehran, Qom, Karbala, Baghdad, Constantinople (Istanbul), and finally returning home as a wealthy representative of the shah. In these places and situations – in the bazaar and the royal court and among dervishes and clerics – Hajji Baba satirically depicts Iranian ways and offers entertaining observations on human nature.

When Hajji Baba of Ispahan was translated into Persian in 1905, it was widely assumed in Iran that the Persian version was the original and Morier’s English novel was the translation. The book was thought so accurate and detailed in its depiction of culture-specific situations and behaviour that only an Iranian could have written it.

Morier was born in 1780 in Ottoman İzmir (Smyrna), the son of a Swiss-born merchant. After private education in England, he worked in his father’s İzmir business between 1799 and 1806. He first visit to Iran was in 1808 as secretary to a special British envoy to the Shah and he published an account of his experiences in 1812 under the title ‘A Journey through Iran, Armenia and Asia Minor to Constantinople in the years 1808 and 1809’.  In 1809 he accompanied the Iranian envoy to Britain and in 1810 returned to Iran as Secretary to the British ambassador to Iran. He remained there until 1816 and after his return to England he published ‘A Second Journey through Iran to Constantinople between the years 1810 and 1816.’

He married Harriet Fulke Greville in London in 1820. He Died at Brighton in 1849 and his wife in London in 1858. Nothing is currently known about their time in Brighton. Both are buried at St Nicholas Ground in the Rest Garden.

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Sir Matthew Tierney: ‘The Bloody Baron of Brighthelmstone’

MATTHEW  TIERNEY, was the eldest son of John Tierney, a  farmer and weaver from Ballyscandland, co. Limerick. The family was not wealthy and   Tierney’s  education comprised what he could pick up at the local Hedge School.  Tierney was apprenticed to an apothecary in the town of Rathkeale and planned to establish himself in that profession, however, this ambition was thwarted. His poor background made it impossible for him to obtain credit to buy the stock he required to set himself up.

At the age of twenty one Tierney left Rathkeale and made his way to London where he got a job as Chemists Assistant and enrolled as a student of medicine at Guys Hospital. In 1799 he entered as a student of Medicine at Glasgow and graduated as MD on April 22, 1802 and the following summer he settled as a physician at Brighton.

One tale recalls that Tierney first encountered the Prince Regent as he lay seriously ill. As the Prince’s physician Sir Henry Holford was away, Tierney was summoned and; opting for bleeding, took 50 ounces of blood from the Prince and remained to watch over him throughout the night. In the morning the Prince was much recovered and Tierney was credited with saving the royal life.

This may be apocryphal; other versions tell of Tierney being adopted by the Earl of Berkeley as his patron, and forwarding his cause in within the Royal household. Whichever is most correct, the essence of this story remains one of a boy who propelled himself from his home in rural Ireland to serve with distinction to the highest in the land. Tierney was appointed physician extraordinary to the Prince of Wales, and later physician in ordinary to the Prince Regent. He was created a Baron Tierney of Brighthelmstone in October 1818, and on the accession of George IV, was gazetted physician in ordinary to the king. He continued in the same high office for William IV, who on the 7th May, 1831, created him a knight commander of the royal Guelphic order of Hanover.

Although Tierney carried out a rewarding and rewarded role progressing medical knowledge particularly through his contribution to work around vaccines, his success also contained a more brutal side, as – alongside other family members – he had substantial investment in slave plantations on the Caribbean island of St Kitts, the income from which doubtless added to his wealth and position and to the opportunities open to him.

In 1833 Parliament abolished slavery, and provided £20 million in compensation, to be paid by British taxpayers to the former slave-owners. The Tierney claim on this fund came to nearly £6,500 (around £778,798.09 today) which compensated him for the release of around 300 enslaved people.

For more detail on this aspect see his entry at the Legacy of British Slavery website

Sir Matthew Tierney died at his residence on the Pavilion parade, Brighton, 28th October, 1845, in the sixty-eighth year of his age. He was entombed within his family vault at St Nicholas Rest Garden, and the site is marked with a engraved plaque mounted at its entrance.

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Ghosts of the stones: if not the bones

Of course, when the monuments – the box tombs, the chest tombs, the headstones, the foot stones, the obelisks, the table tombs, the grave rails, the kerbs and other stonework items of memorial – were cleared, the workers only scratched the surface. Some hints of what may be found beneath are recorded here.

For other clues, visit the ground after the first rain falls upon a summer drought. The lawn embraces new life and new growth, greening overnight. Except where it conceals burial. Here the shadow ghost of the uprooted tomb and the marker of what lies beneath will be shown; parched, oblong and evident through contrast with the freshened green. These pictures from the Rest Garden, taken at a recent summertime dry spell and (curiously) delivered by their maker upon the stoke of midnight, illustrate this phenomena.

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How to Empty a Graveyard

Between 1949 and 1951, all three burial grounds were cleared by the council.
Some monument pieces were placed around the perimiter of the site, but most were removed completely. The photographs below illustrate the scale of change; the first was taken by local historian Robert Gregory around 1950 and the second (by Bob Young) shows this location as it is today. (In the background, the arched entranceway from Church Street can be seen in both images)

This third image – again by Robert Gregory – shows the work in progress. This is now the central part of the childrens playground. The handsome box tomb in the background remains in place adjacent to the sandpit.

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How to Fill a Graveyard

The Brighton Herald paints a stark picture of life at Brighton in the first part of the 19th C. Small wonder that first the churchyard, then the northern extension (1825) then the Rest Garden (1841) were filled so swiftly.

“There are, no doubt, predisposing causes, some of which are bad food ; bad drinks ; bad, dirty clothing ; dirty bodily habits ; bad drainage ;bad, ill-ventilated houses ; stinking walls ; rotting roofs, rafters, plates, joists, floors ; bad bedding ; close, over crowded rooms ; filthy stairs, passages, back yards, &c. At this season of the year great care ought to be taken against butchers, fishermen &c. selling tainted meat or stale fish, both of which are absolutely poisonous to a high degree. The same precautions ought to be taken to prevent the sale of any kind of stale vegetables, especially fruits of all kinds, such as rotting strawberries, cherries, oranges &c.  The children of the poor will eat any kind of vegetable garbage, if they can get hold of it – such as pea shucks, rotting apples, plums or pears ; and it is very well known that several lives have been lost of late in consequence of such garbage being devoured.”

Brighton Herald Saturday July 21st 1849

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