Whilst searching through the British Newspaper Archive recently, I came across a story that affected me deeply. Essentially, it was the story of a child in need and how different characters responded to his plight. This reminded me of the parable of the Good Samaritan. When a stranger in trouble crosses our path, what is our response?
One winter’s day in January 1847, the Reverend James Stoughton Money Kyrle, the rector of Yatesbury, Wiltshire, was driving his gig to Chippenham, Wiltshire. As he reached Quemerford Gate, on the outskirts of Calne, his attention was caught by a boy, dressed like a sailor, walking by the roadside. He appeared to be in a lot of pain from the soreness of his feet. Although the boy was not begging “he looked at me so imploringly that I pulled up and spoke to him”.
The boy told the gentleman that his name was George Beale. He was fourteen years old and was travelling from Exmouth in Devon to his home in London. His parents lived at Chichester Place, Grays Inn, London where his father had been in good circumstances, but having fallen on hard times, had arranged for him to have a new life at sea. This was five months ago but the ship had left him in Exmouth.
After hearing this sad story, the good Reverend Kyrle gave him a shilling and told him to make the best of his way home. However, he was so touched by the boy’s plight and his effusive thanks that instead, he came up with a better plan, giving him a note addressed to his housekeeper, instructing her to look after him until his return from London. He was going to check out George’s story and if true, help him get a job or provide for him in some other way:
The Reverend was as good as his word and the following Wednesday, visited the boy’s father at Chichester Place, Grays Inn. He reported that the boy’s father had indeed fallen on hard times and was in a state of extreme destitution. He was lodging on the third floor, over a carpenter’s shop, but formerly, he had been not only the owner of the house but had built a large portion of the street in which it stood. With regard to his son, the father said that George was “naturally of a very good disposition, but that he had sent him to sea to keep him from the contamination of bad company”.
Taking a look at the 1841 census, the Beale family are indeed living at Chichester Place, Grays Inn:
Samuel Beale is a cooper by trade and appears in several London trade directories around this time.
In the criminal registers for the county of Middlesex, a George Beale is listed aged 13 at the county sessions at Clerkenwell on November 4th 1845. He is convicted on two accounts of larceny and is sentenced to a 1 month of imprisonment and was whipped on each conviction. Perhaps this was the event that had precipitated Samuel Beale to send his son away from home and the “bad company”.
Reverend Kyrle told Samuel Beale that wanted to help his son, George, and the father expressed much gratitude. With his mission accomplished, the Reverend returned home on Saturday but then had an awful shock: the boy had been found dead.
According to witnesses, the boy had continued on the road towards Yatesbury, as far as Cherhill, but then needed to ask the way. The first stranger he stopped couldn’t tell him, the next was illiterate and could not read the note. He was eventually put on the right road but he never arrived at his destination. Instead he was found wandering about in great distress by a carrier who brought him back to Quemerford Gate at two o’clock in the morning on Tuesday. Here he was kindly taken in, fed and permitted to sleep by the keeper of the gate, a man named Clifford. At nine in the morning, Clifford consigned him to the care of Angel Bullock, the Yatesbury postman, with strict orders that George was not to leave him until he had reached the Rectory. At the same time, and for better security, he took the Reverend’s note and gave it to Angel Bullock for safe keeping.
Angel Bullock was obviously none too pleased to have this boy in his charge, who, due to the pain in his feet, could only walk slowly. After walking with him only 200 yards, he told the boy that he would have to leave him behind, despite the boy crying bitterly, begging and praying Bullock not to desert him. Nonetheless, this is what Bullock did, taking the Reverend Kyrle’s note with him.
The boy continued as far as Cherhill, where he had been the day before, but he was either too frightened to go to the Rectory at Yatesbury or did not know the way. He spent the night in an outhouse belonging to a man named Church and the next morning, he was standing near the house of Mr Pottow, who kindly gave him some breakfast. The story then takes a darker turn:
George obviously felt he could not put up with any more and took his own life.
After this tragic event, a coroner’s inquest was held. The newspaper reported that the coroner paid a compliment to the “very humane and benevolent conduct of Mr Kyrle towards the unfortunate boy”. The Reverend paid for the boy’s funeral and he was interred in the churchyard at Yatesbury:
The newspaper article ended by saying the the Reverend Kyrle intended to erect a tablet to George’s memory.
This story gave me much to consider. Firstly, George’s father, Samuel Beale. Samuel was obviously, at one time, fairly prosperous, earning a solid living as a cooper, building houses and supporting his family well. How had he been reduced to penury? According to family information, Samuel Beale died on March 10 1847 aged 53, just a month after his son. He had suffered from a protracted illness which had caused the severe decline in the family fortunes. Life must have been so precarious. By enlisting George in the Navy, probably in the knowledge that he had not long left to live, Samuel must have felt that he was giving his son the chance of a better future.
George cuts a tragic figure. Perhaps life on board ship did not suit him at all and he was desperately unhappy and homesick. After being abandoned by the crew of the ship in Exmouth, he sets out on a journey of over 170 miles back to his home in London in the depths of winter. With inadequate footwear, his feet are a mass of chilblains and blisters, increasing his distress. Can you imagine what he was going through? Perhaps he felt he had let his father down but what else could he do? Still many miles from home he encounters a kind man, the Reverend Kyrle who wants to help him. Sadly, things didn’t turn out as planned and George loses all hope and drowns himself.
What about those who feature in the story? The Reverend Kyrle is the Good Samaritan, who encounters someone in need and offers help at his own expense. Other characters also come out well. The kindly keeper of the gate at Calne, a man named Clifford, who tries to ensure that George is escorted safely to Yatesbury Rectory, Mr Church who lets him sleep in an outhouse and Mr Pottow who gives him breakfast. The one unsavoury character is Angel Bullock, the Yatesbury postman. It just so happens that he was the uncle of my own 3 times great grandfather, Angel Bullock. If he had shown some compassion towards George Beale that day and taken him to the sanctuary of the Rectory at Yatesbury, would George’s life had been saved? It makes you think. Who is my neighbour? Actions, both good and bad, can have unforeseen consequences and an event that happened over 150 years ago contains a salutary lesson.
© Judith Batchelor 2020