You may not know it, Mr William Bolitho of Ponsandane. More comfortable for all concerned, indeed, if we assume that you do not. But today is your final day.
The Cornishman, in its next issue, will help us to conjure you: a man of “robust appearance and active habits of mind of body”. True, the medical men have been in attendance for some time. And the surgeon George Millett has of late been invited along on your annual “six weeks' Continental trip”– partly for company, yes, but always ready to step into his professional role and forestall any attack of your old trouble. You’ve left him £500 in your will, along with other worthy bequests: £500 to the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall, with which you have a long-standing connection; another £500 to the Library in Morrab Gardens to spend on books costing at least £2 10 shillings apiece; the same amount again for a “memorial window or silver or brass tablet” to be placed in Gulval church. And the exterior of the church? A handsome £1,000 for its “maintenance and beautifying”, along with the upkeep of your new Bolitho Memorial Chapel. Generous, yes: but it will hardly leave a dent in the £188,283 value of your estate.
Gulval church whose steps would mark Mr William Bolitho's last journey (photo: Linda Camidge)
But all this talk of bequests is surely premature. There has been no cause for alarm; no fear of the “fateful termination”. You have been attending to your work, both public and private, as is your custom. And today, after feeling a little seedy earlier in the week – a little below par - you seem “better than for some time”. You’ve paid a visit – at your “usual hour” – to the Consolidated Bank of Cornwall, of which you are the “active general manager”. At the Bank you’re the man to go to now that your brother, Robert Foster, has grown so deaf. It has fallen to you to manage the investment of five million pounds.
In fact, you’ve been out and about most of the day. But the “insidious and weakening disease” has been working its will inside you, and will claim you before the winter dawn breaks over the Bay.
What are your thoughts as you bid goodnight to your brother and sister Robert and Sage, and the household staff? As you retire to the land of sweet repose? Are you looking forward to taking your place at Gulval Church in the morning, head of the Ponsandane branch of the family? Are you confident - serene? Or are there any qualms – any foreshadowings? Impossible to know.
And tomorrow? Advent Sunday? The church service will go on. The restoration in which you took such an interest , the newly-built Bolitho chapel with its “chaste adornment” will provide eloquent testimony to your generosity. But no, Mr Bolitho, you will not be in your place. For when your butler, Mr Bartlett, knocks on your door at 8.00, and again at 8.15, there will be no reply.
How will you be remembered? As a “quiet but a shrewd observer”, with a “kindly nature”; a “prompt and generous sympathiser “ in cases of “genuine need”. To the poorest, you would give ear. In business, you would bring calm in place of strife. You had – to the knowledge of the Cornishman - no enemies.
In due course you will be interred in the churchyard at Gulval where – in the fullness of time – your unmarried siblings will follow. And what will the future then hold for the big house at Ponsandane?
Cornishman, Thursday 6th December 1894, page 5
The Bolitho Family, 1927, pages 31-32. Knowing your Bolithos is always a challenge, and even the compiler of this useful book was confused between our man, William Bolitho of Ponsandane (styled “William Junior”), and his cousin William at Polwithen (who died the following year): the page proofs at the Cornish Studies Library Redruth have been corrected to put the confusion right.