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North Mymms - Parish and People
by Dorothy Colville

Chapter 27 - From Pilot to Sky Pilot

The Rev. Horace Meyer became vicar of North Mymms in 1856. He was a remarkable young man aged twenty-eight, widely travelled, an excellent linguist, speaking fluent German, French, Italian and Hindustani, possessing a wonderful capacity for hard work, and already the master of one profession.

In his "life story related by himself for his children" Horace Meyer records that he was born in Mannheim in October 1828, the seventh son and tenth child of his parents, who had gone to live in Germany a few months before his birth. Of his childhood he remembered "the oil lamps suspended in the streets by means of rods and let down by pulleys to be trimmed and lighted; the acaeias; the great doorway; the apricot trees; and the huge kennels of our mastiff, Spanier, and how he sometimes dragged us in a sledge about the town in the snow." He saw the first turf cut at Weisbaden for the railway to Frankfurt and he watched the building of the Duke of Nassau’s great palace.

He was taught on alternate days by his mother, whom he adored, and by a German student, but when he was eleven he and his brother Edwin joined the other brothers at school in Bonn. "It was the first time I ever left home and I remember crying bitterly on the Rhine steamer."

But schooldays did not last for long. His father’s health began to fail, financial misfortune hit the family and the boys had to leave school. "The strictest economy was exercised" while his mother went to London, evidently on behalf of her children, for by Easter 1843 she had obtained an appointment for Horace with the East Indian Court of Directors in the Bengal marine or pilot service.

Now Horace had to put away childish things and, not yet fifteen, he sailed for India with "a midshipman’s outfit in a large deal box and a chart which I kept most carefully," and the prospect of a salary of £6/10/- per month, payable quarterly. He sailed in Prince of Wales, 1,350 tons, which "was very beautifully kept and all officers looked very smart in their uniforms and the captain paced the deck in his high hat, white waistcoat and blue tail-coat with anchor buttons. We were eighteen weeks on the journey and after a time the water became offensive, the salt provisions hardly eatable and the biscuits alive with weevils." His mother had paid £40 for his passage. He delighted in the flying fish, the porpoises, the great shark "which turns over on its back to seize his prey" and the albatrosses, "grand birds which on deck become sea-sick," but his companions were not congenial. Bullying and rough horse-play were of daily occurrence, so "it was with gratitude that I escaped from my prison when I left the ship at Calcutta on January 8, 1844."

His home when on shore was the old Sea Horse, fitted up as a hostel for the officers of the pilot service; afloat it was Salween, which covered the ninety miles of river from Calcutta to Kedgeree, "where was the first semaphore station and post office." His work was arduous and in addition he had to act as vet, to their mascot, a goat. Frequently he had to dose all and sundry on board, for "we had no doctor but a good medicine chest with printed directions," so he dealt with biliousness or cholera and, young though he was, on occasion he had to act as chaplain. The picture emerges of a lad with a highly developed sense of responsibility working steadily in a strange land with no home comforts and no relaxations, yet no hint of self-pity creeps into his story, though in later years he "looked back with some surprise on the quiet monotony of my life. To relieve the silence I used to spout Milton, Cowper and Pope." After eighteen months on Salween he had an unexpected promotion to the surveying brig Pilot, and found it "very hard work but scientific and pleasant after the pilot service."

He had been in India nearly four years, he had passed the examination for junior second mate and his salary had risen to £150 per annum when he heard a rumour that Salween was to be used to take prisoners to Van Dieman’s Land and bring back specimens of wood to serve as sleepers for the projected railways. His strong desire to see his brothers, who were settlers in New Zealand, led him to ask for a transfer back to Salween. "I found the change most disagreeable" was his understatement.

A voyage of eleven weeks and "we entered the River Derwent, Beautiful scenery; mountains with huge rocks and dark foliage trees on either side: river half a mile wide and very deep. We anchored off the town of Hobart in a lovely bay at the foot of Mount Wellington, 4,000 feet high. The one drawback to beautiful Tasmania was the sight of gangs of convicts, some in chains, guarded by men with loaded rifles."

Horace had just one short week’s leave to spend with his brothers John and Edwin, and after he had returned to his ship his brother Strother, having made the long journey from Australia, arrived in time for them to spend only a few hours together.

Exactly a fortnight after entering the Derwent they were "beating out of the mouth of the river" when overwork and exposure took their toll. The young pilot was very seriously ill and when they eventually landed in Calcutta his doctor advised him to go home. This he could not do, and the pilot and surveying duties were resumed and his final examination drew nearer. "Spurs were put into the flanks of a willing horse" in the promise of great promotion in 1851, but after successfully taking the examination in May 1850 his doctor told him he would not answer for his life if he remained in the country six weeks longer.

Two months later he was almost carried on to Malabar - 850 tons, "for in the summer months the best ships are not to be had" - and so began the long, tiring journey home, reaching Madras, "an unimposing place," a month later, admiring a "magnificent sunset" just before they reached Cape Town and having the pleasure of a drive in a drag to Weinberg and Constantia, where we tasted the luscious wine" before landing at Weymouth on November 8, 1850.

The voyage home had partially restored him to health. He knew he would never return to India and would have to find a new livelihood. For a few months he listened to advice and considered suggestions, but a chance visit with his cousin Fred to a Bible Society meeting confirmed his half-formed intention of entering the ministry.

January 1852 saw him at St. Catharine’s, Cambridge, and by dint of hard work he obtained his B.A. degree three years later. He spent his long vacations as a private chaplain or as a tutor, and while staying with some friends in Scotland he met Mrs. Faithfull, widow of the rector of Hatfield and mother of the vicar of North Mymms. He became a deacon in a busy parish in Birmingham, where his stipend was £100 a year but would become £120 when he became a priest. During the summer of 1856 he received an invitation to the Faithfull home at Hoddesdon. While there he and his hosts dined at Broxbournebury, where he met Mr. and Mrs. Gaussen. To his surprise, after his return to Birmingham he received a letter from Mr. Gaussen offering him the living of North Mymms ‘with the understanding I would relinquish it in favour of his son should he wish for it in fourteen years." The Clothall living had been offered to the Rev. James Faithfull by Lord Salisbury, whose gift it was.

Such was the story of the remarkable young man who became vicar of North Mymms in October 1856, a month after his ordination. As he stood at the west door of his little church and let his eyes wander slowly from the deer park over the tiny stream to where the graceful chimneys of Colonel Greville’s house were peeping above the frees ablaze in their autumn glory Horace Meyer must have thought "My lot has fallen unto me in a fair ground."

His health continued to improve, though he was never really robust. He ministered to a very scattered parish and was encouraged in his work. His energy soon showed itself and he set about the complete restoration of the church, which the eminent architect W.G. Habershon described as the most perfect example of its kind that he knew. His extra-parochial work brought him the honour of becoming the rural dean of Barnet. He won the affection and respect of his flock.

Although he stayed in North Mymms for less than eight years and served three other parishes during the following quarter of a century it was at Horace Meyer’s own wish that his body was brought back for interment in 1897 – "We were so happy there."

Dorothy Colville, 1971


Chapter 28 - Arthur Young, 1741-1820
Index - North Mymms Parish and People

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