The up-turned torch signifying life extinguished. One of the many symbols which reoccur throughout the cemetery.
The huge leather-bound death register at Highgate Cemetery records the passing of each of the 166,800 persons buried in the cold ground of the hillside beyond, but gives little indication to their wordly achievements.
The following, are mini-histories of just some of those long dead Victoarians who attained distinction in their lifetime. Men and women whose accomplishments still influence our lives more than a century later.
JULIUS BEER (1836-1880).
Arrived in London as an immigrant from Frankfurt, Julius Beer rose from destitution to newspaper baron, through investment in the Stock Exchange. He owned The Observer newspaper and subsequently purchased The Sunday Times, the owenship of which he gave as a wedding present to his daughter-in-law. Subsequently, Beer and she became mortal enemies to such an extent, that on Beer's death, The Times refused to print his obituary. His tomb, the design of which is based on the original sepulchre of the Greek king Mausolus - one of the Seven Wonders of the World - is one of the grandest and most oppulent graves in all the cemetery.
LADY DIANA BELCHER (d.1890).
Widow of Admiral Sir Edward Belcher and step-daughter of Peter Heywood (Midshipman on board the Bounty, who was tried and sentenced to death for his part in the mutiny; but pardoned), Lady Diana wrote the best selling book 'The Mutineers of the Bounty' (1870) which led the attack on Captain Bligh. The book swayed public opinion to such an extent that Heywood was exonerated .
WILLIAM HENRY WEST BETTY (1791-1874).
Child actor. Billed as 'the young Roscius', Betty began appearing in leading tragic roles in 1803. His West End debut in Covent Garden, aged thirteen, witnessed scenes of mass adulation. Such was his popular appeal that the police were called out to preserve order of the immense crowds which had gathered. In the clamour which resulted when he appeared at the stage door, he was almost torn limb from limb.
'Bettymania' had not entirely abated when he left the stage in 1808, but the fortune his career had amassed was soon squandered by his alcoholic father, and their high-living life style. He attempted several unsuccessful comebacks between 1811-1824, and thereafter, spent the rest of his life in relative obscurity, trying to promote the career of his son, Henry (1818-1897).
JOHN SINGLETON COPLEY, the younger, Baron LYNDHURST (1772-1863).
Son of the famous American painter. Wanted to become an architect, but entered the law at his fathers insistence. His most famous case, in 1820, was conducting the prosecution of Queen Caroline (1768-1821), 2nd daughter of Karl Wilhelm, Duke of Brunswick.
Caroline had married her husband George Hanover in 1795, while he was the Prince of Wales. Following the birth of their child Princess Charlotte, a separation was arranged; the royal couple having lived together for only a very short time. When George IV succeeded to the crown in 1820, the Queen took steps to assert her position and was offered an annuity of £50,000, if she renounced her title and lived abroad. She returned to London from Italy forthwith, and assumed Royal state. The King retaliated by having a Bill introduced to dissolve the marriage. The result was the famous trial before the House of Lords. Copleys adversary, the legal luminary Lord Brougham, distinguished himself by a most eloquent defence of the Queen, but the Bill was passed by a narrow majority. However, public feeling so strongly backed the Queen that the Bill was never enforced. On 19th July 1820, she was prevented from entering Westminster Abbey for the Coronation by Royal Order and she died on 7th August, her funeral instigating popular riots.
CHARLES CRUFT (1852-1938).
Began his career as an apprentice to James Spratt, the dog food manufacturer, and started the now famous dog show as a terrier show in 1886 to appease his wife who adored the breed. 'Crufts' opened to all breeds five years later. Allegedly, Charles himself didn't care for dogs too much and, "much preferred the company of cats".
WILLIAM HEPWORTH DIXON (1821-1879).
His early career was as a journalist reporting on the dreadful state of London prison conditions though he became famous as an historian and travel writer. In 1872 the Pall Mall Gazette accused his report on American polygamous sects, 'Spiritual Wifes', of indecency. Dixon sued for libel and was awarded one farthing damages. One of the organisers of the 1851 Great Exhibition, he died as the result of a night of over-strenuous proof-reading.
MICHAEL FARADAY (1791-1867).
Self taught chemist and natural philospher. The son of a Yorkshire blacksmith, at thirteen Faraday became apprenticed to a bookseller in London and trained as a bookbinder. He began his scientific career by writing to Sir Humphrey Davey to ask if he might need an assistant. Subsequently employed by Sir Humphrey at the Royal Institute, (whose presidency he was later offered), Farraday became the first man to liquefy gases and discovered electro-magnetic induction of electric currents. A devout Christian and member of the Sandemanians; a small and despised sect, he is buried in unconsecrated ground.
JOHN GALSWORTHY (1867-1933).
Novelist and playwright. Author of 'The Forsythe Saga', parts of which he wrote sat on an old green folding chair beside the family monument. Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
CHARLES GREEN (1785-1870).
Pioneer balloonist and designer of the ill-fated Nassau balloon from which Cocking made his fatal parachute jump of 1836. In 1838, reached the record height of 27146 feet, enduring sub-freezing conditions and 100 mph winds.
RADCLYFFE HALL (1880-1943).
Poet and novelist. Her novel 'The Well of Loneliness' caused a sensation when it was published in 1928 and was declared obscene in England for its treatment of Lesbianism. Buried in the catacomb of her first lover, the famed Edwardian beauty and patroness Mabel Veronica Batten (d. 1915). Her second lover, Una Lady Trowbridge, was to have been buried with her but died on holiday in Rome, and was buried there. On reading the will, her family refused to pay for the expense of exhumation and reburial at Highgate.
SIR ROWLAND HILL.(1795-1879).
Progressive educator and founder of the universal penny post. Proposed the scheme in 1837 but government showed no interest in the idea. The public heartlily embraced his idea however, and by mere force of sentiment the penny post was ratified through parliament in 1839. Awarded the Knight Commander of the Bath in 1860 for his invention.
DAVID EDWARD HUGHES (1830-1900).
Inventor, electrician and professor of music. Grew up in America and spent much of his career in France because of the inadequate recognition for his work in Britain. Patented a new type-printing telegraph; which was adopted in America and France. Invented the microphone, as a telephone component, almost simultaneously with Ludtge, in 1878. Conducted early research on radio waves and in 1886 became President of the Society of Telegraph Engineers.
WILLIAM NASSAU KENNEDY (1839-1885).
Colonel, 90th Winnipeg Rifles. In 1884 joined the team of Canadian voyagers collected to guide Wolsley's boats up the Nile to relieve Gordon of Khartoum, and rose to become commandant of the group. Died of smallpox on the return journey
FREDERICK WILLIAM LILLYWHITE (1792-1854).
Professional cricketer, responsible for the introduction of round-arm bowling, which incurred the wrath of cricketing die-hards. Before his innovation, the hand had to be below elbow level at the moment of delivery. Such was his popularity as a sportsman that his monument was erected by public subscription, donations being limited to 5 shillings so that the general public could contribute.
ROBERT LISTON (1794-1847).
Surgeon, first in Edinburgh then at London University. Before the introduction of anaesthetics when speed was essential, Liston was noted for his dexterity with the saw and was celebrated as being able to take off a leg at the thigh in less than thirty seconds. His concern for the well-being of his patients, and the search for a lessening of death by shock following surgery, led to Liston becoming the first to perform an operation under ether in 1846.
SIR ARCHIBALD MACLAINE(d. 1861).
For 55 days (22 February- 27th April 1810) he held Matagorda; a ruined fortress at Cadiz, against Marshal Soult during the siege of the city. Experiencing dreadful hardships of starvation, severe water shortage and constant bombardment . He and the155 men in his command held out against Soult's 8000. In recognition of his achievement he was promoted to the rank of General.
KARL HEINRICH MARX (1818-1883).
Socialist. Moved to London in 1845 following death threats during political exile in France and Belgium. Lived in extreme poverty until awarded a yearly allowance by Engels, (whose family had amassed a fortune through ownership of Lancashire cotton mills). Marx identified himself with the cause of the labouring classes and published 'The Communist Manifesto' in 1848. In 1864 he became leader of the International Workingmens Association. His private life however, did not echo his ideals. The Marx family maid fell pregnant to him and to cover the scandal he forced her to leave his employ. His wife's protestations on discovering the truth, led to the maids return and adoption of the child. The family grave contains the remains of Marx's wife, mistress and also his daughter Eleanor, who died by her own hand.
CARL MEYER (1894-1944).
German filmaker. Co-author of the screenplay of 'The Cabinet of Dr Caligari' (1919), one of the corner-stone films of this century. Meyer also worked with Murnau on 'The Last Laugh' (1924), the first film ever to divorce the camera from its tripod, and many other influential German films. With the rise of Nazism he moved to England and worked as an adviser in the British film industry. Shortly before his death he was preparing to shoot a documentary on London, but due to anti-German propaganda, Meyer was unable to find a producer.
HEWITT HENRY RAYNER (d.1957).
Artist and Mystic. After living in extreme poverty in the 1930's; when his stylistic blend of gaunt realism found few admirers, Rayner subsequently found the success of his haunting portraits of blitz torn Londoners and bleak bombed landscapes difficult to comprehend. Able to live a comfortable life from their proceeds; but still plagued by the insecurities of his earlier years, he continued to live a squalid existence. He died by his own hand in 1957.
THOMAS SAYERS (d.1865).
The last of the Champion bare-fist fighters - Sayer's funeral was the biggest Highgate had ever witnessed. 100,000 people lined the route to show their respect and over 10,000 attended the funeral itself. Pride of place behind his masters coffin, in a carriage to himself rode 'Lion', Sayers's pet Mastiff dog. Wearing a collar of mourning crepe, the dog's gaze never faltered from his master's coffin for the entire procession and so impressed the assembled crowds that a statue of Lion was raised by Sayers's fans and placed at the foot of the grave - their to lie at his master's feet, for all of time
JAMES WILLIAM SELBY (1843-1888).
Owner and whip of the 'Old Times' coach, a horse drawn charabanc which daily plied the route from Piccadilly Circus to Virginia Waters.
With the arrival of the steam engine, passengers were lured away from the slower and less comfortable stage coaches and, when challenged upon the inadequacies of the outmoded style of transport, Selby readily agreed to demonstrate that there was life in the old horses yet. A challenge was arranged in which Selby would race from London to Brighton against the fastest engine on the line. The race commenced with great aplomb and much ballyhoo; the only stops allowed for change of horses and water for the engine. Much to everyones surprise (apart from Selby's), the coach and horses won the day: setting a speed record of 6hrs and 50mins, never beaten to this day. The weather proved so inclement that at the race's conclusion, buckets of boiling water were poured onto Selby's head to remove the hat which had frozen there. Such was Selby's esteem that the day of his funeral, all the hackney-cab drivers in the city of London, draped their carriages with black crepe as a sign of respect.
DONALD ALEXANDER SMITH, first Baron STRATHCONA AND MOUNT ROYAL (1820-1894).
Canadian financier and Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, helped negotiate the Company's sale of Manitoba territory to the Canadian government. The proposed sale having sparked a rebellion, Smith was sent to reach terms with the rebels and was held prisoner. As Director of the Canadian Pacific Railway, he drove the last spike on the completed railroad in 1885.