|The wording on the
(on the front) To the memory
of Alice, daughter of Mr.
Francis Taylor, surgeon of this town
(on the drapes of the couch) Francis
(on the south side) Is it
well with the child? It is well
Little Alice died in
1843 of scarlet fever at the age of two years and five
months. Her grieving father kept her memory alive with
this life-size model of his daughter lying asleep with a
rosebud in her hand, broken at the stem. It is said that
when she fell ill her father brought her a rose from the
garden and she was still clutching it when she died. She
had only been ill four days. The effigy is a charming, if
sentimental, tribute. A contemporary wrote: The monument
is a pure piece of poetry ... Romsey has reckon to he
proud of Mr. Taylor. He has the hand of an artist and the
lender susceptibility of a poet.
The Biblical quotation (Is it well with the child? It is
well) comes from II Kings, chapter 4, where the story is
told of how the prophet Elisha brought back to life the
son of a Shunnamite woman who had given him hospitality.
A slice of Victorian history is brought to life by the
figure of this long-dead child. Alice was the second
daughter and third child of Dr. Francis Taylor and his
wife Jemima. They lived at Lansdowne House in Church
Street, a large house now used as offices.
Dr. Taylor was born in Hull in 1811 and came to Romsey as
assistant to a Dr. John Reddome. It is believed that he
married Dr. Beddome's daughter. By the time of the 1841
census they had a daughter Fanny, aged two, and a son
William, aged 10 months. Alice must have been bom soon
after the census was taken.
Ten years later in the 1851 census there were six
children at home. Fanny, Frank, Jemima, Arabella, Ann and
George. William, then aged 10, for some reason was absent
but it is known that he later became a doctor like his
father and lived at Cheltenham.
In all, there were 10 children born to (he parents but
only five survived into adult life. Even in a doctor's
household in the Victorian era there were few remedies
for illness other than trying to improve a patient's
natural resistance to disease. The Hampshire Chronicle of
13 January 1844 spoke of the long continued wet and foggy
weather which had been very injurious to the health of
some inhabitants of the town and noted that a number of
children had lately died of scarlet fever. One of the
victims was Alice who had died the previous month on 10th
December. Some years later her eleven-year-old sister,
Arabella, died from complications after measles. High
mortality and large families were typical of the
Victorians, but three sisters lived to a good age and one
of them, Jemima, was 91 when she died in 1933, so so
linking the Victorian era with our own.
Dr. Taylor was a man of parts. He was a sound doctor and
surgeon as well as an accomplished sculptor. He was also
a keen churchman, alderman and Justice of the Peace and
was mayor of Romsey in 1854 and 1855. In 1851, only four
years after chloroform was first introduced he used it to
extract three teeth from a cook and subsequently used it
successfully for a confinement. (Was the cook, perhaps, a
guinea pig?) He invented an automatic earth closet: when
the seat was depressed and released, it operated a
ratchet which deposited a quantity of earth in the
appropriate place. A further example of his inventiveness
is referred to in The Hampshire Chronicle of 6 July 1844:
Mr. Taylor, surgeon, who invented some time since a
simple and successful instrument for feeding infant
children, has received a very satisfactory testimonial
from the Palace, in the nursery of which it has been
employed, as well as Her Majesty 's permission to style
his invention. 'Taylor's Royal India Ruhher luhes for
Francis Taylor died in 1870 at the age of 59 and his son
Frank took over his practice. Frank continued to live at
Lansdowne House with two of his sisters who became
responsible for the book-keeping. In those days before
the N.H.S. every doctor had some problems over collecting
his fees and some bills were marked 'Hopeless' or 'No
The two sisters appear to have been strait-laced. They
were against public amusements and objected to the annual
carnival on the ground that it led to drunkenness. Young
Frank by contrast was a wag with a reputation for using
strong language. He wrote an irreverent poem entitled
'The Parson's Love of Money'. His shocked .sisters tried
to suppress it but it was preserved by a friend.
The first and last verses read:
Money oh money
thy praises I sing.
Thou art my saviour, my God and my king.
'tis thee that 1preach for and thee that I pray
And make a collection thrice each Sabbath day.
In the cold silent earth I may soon be laid low
To sleep with the rest who went long ago.
1 shall lay there in peace till the great resurrection
Then be first on my feet to make a collection.
He surely did not have the
Victorian vicars ofRomsey in mind, for they were most
generous to the abbey and to the poor of the town,
sometimes paying their doctor's fees for them.
In spite of his sharp tongue, Frank Taylor was loved and
respected and was a favourite with the children. The
practice covered an area six or seven miles round Romsey
and the doctor would ride or drive out in his trap,
wearing a frock coat and tile hat, until his death in
Alice, with eight of her nine brothers and sisters, is
buried in the Botley Road cemetery. Her effigy is a
poignant reminder that in past times death was a frequent
visitor in nearly every home. Looking at her, we can only
echo the words on her monument: Is it well with the
child? It is well.
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