Thursday, February 8, 2018

"Unpleasant Rumours" in Cornwall

Constantine is a "picturesquely situated and usually quiet Cornish village." The church of St. Constantine enjoys a commanding position with excellent views. The Rev Francis Robert Hole had arrived in 1875 and, for a decade, his "exertions" were credited for the restoration of the church tower and the enlargement of the surrounding churchyard. The vicar and his wife were justly proud of the vicarage garden offering "shady walks, quiet nooks for study, talking, and whispering lovers." The garden wound through a secluded ravine, amid rocks, ferns and a small pond. On Sunday morning, 24 January 1886, the Rev. Mr. Hole made a determined effort to drown himself in that pond.

For the previous three weeks, there had been "unpleasant rumours" in Constantine linking the vicar with a local schoolgirl as young as twelve years of age. The Rev. Mr. Hole insisted the charges of misconduct were false and requested the Bishop of Truro to hold a formal inquiry, which was pending. But that Sunday morning, when the vicar personally rang the bell at eight for the Communion service, no one came to church. The obvious rebuff left the vicar "greatly agitated," said his wife. But she had not seen him leave the vicarage later that morning. Near noon, a manservant, checking on the livestock, heard splashing from the pond. The weather was quite cold and the pond was partially iced over. A human hand could be seen above the water. The servant was able to drag a gasping and weak Rev. Hole from the pond and then ran for help. The rescuer was horrified on his return to see the vicar once again in the pond. Again, the clergyman was pulled from the water and, this time, carried home where Dr. Haswell had arrived from Helston. “I did it in consequence of the rumors about me,” the vicar told him.

The Rev. Hole would recover. A report that he had also swallowed vermin poison was contradicted. The terrible drama of that Sunday morning was "the chief and almost the sole topic of conversation" across Cornwall. It was a crime to attempt suicide and the vicar of Constantine, still appearing pale and unwell, appeared before the Falmouth magistrates on 5 February. Rev. Hole made no statement and the magistrates dismissed the charge. The Cornish papers denounced the "sensational statements" carried elsewhere and reported that "expressions of sympathy are to be heard from all sides" for Hole and his family in "their hour of trouble." By 18 February, the Cornish Telegraph reported that "the rumours which caused the vicar of Constantine to attempt suicide are false."

The parishioners began to return to St. Constantine. A fund was started to help defray the vicar's medical and legal expenses. But in March, the Rev. Mr. Hole resigned. He sold up all his furniture. A devoted bee-keeper, he also auctioned "his fine stock of hives." A curate was assigned to Constantine but soon the unoccupied vicarage was the "very picture of desolation."

A new vicar arrived in 1887. By that time, the Rev and Mrs. Hole had found their new home in distant Manitoba, a prairie province in western Canada. He served there for many years as a "pioneer priest."

The rate of suicide among the Victorian clergy was a
great cause for concern. The story of the Rev. Joseph Weedow of Yorkshire is told in the first volume of Clerical Errors, A Victorian Series. NB: Volume 1 is available for Kindle readers only. Volumes 1 and 2 are sold exclusively through and

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