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North Mymms - Parish and People
by Dorothy Colville

Chapter 23 - The Sabine Family of Hertfordshire

One would expect the bearers of such an unusual name as Sabine to be unusual people, and one would not be disappointed. Sabines or Sabens or Sabyns or any one of a dozen other variants of the name are to be found scattered about the world, and wherever they have settled they have become useful and honoured citizens.

Bertha Wenham Sabine, born in Montreal in 1844, spent twenty-five years of her life as a missionary in Alaska and was the first white woman to penetrate as far north as Anvik. Robert Sabyn, aged thirty, was stated in a "muster of the inhabitants of Virginia, 1625" to have arrived in that country three years earlier. Of Frederika Victoria Sabine it was said that she "was born with the British flag at the head of the bed" in Philadelphia in 1863.

Hertfordshire was the home of at least five generations of Sabines, who were descended from Joseph Sabine, himself a descendant of some settlers from England. There was at least one Joseph in every generation, so for convenience they are numbered one to five throughout this account of the Sabines. There were also always an Amelia and a Diana. Such unoriginality must have made life complicated at times.

Joseph 1, of Wicklow, had at least three sons - Rawlins, Joseph 2 and Henry. Henry’s son William became the second husband of the lady who was later to become Lady Cathcart and whose unusual life story was the theme of Castle Raclcrent, a best seller by the Irish novelist Maria Edgeworth.

Joseph 2, born in Ireland in 1661, famous soldier and M.P. for Berwick, was a product of the times in which he lived. Capable but flamboyant, he saw service under the great Duke of Marlborough. He was wounded at Schellenberg but recovered and four years later, in 1708, led the attack at the battle of Oudenarde, where on the heights above the little town "Sabine’s brigade of Welsh fusiliers fought and defeated seven French battalions and forced them to beg for quarter and lay down their arms" (Narcissus Luttrell). Promotion followed rapidly, and by 1713, when the war ended, he had attained the rank of major-general. In 1715 he bought Tewin House, which was completely rebuilt at a cost of £40,000. George I twice visited Tewin House in order to admire its marble hall and staircase, its fine frescoes and the general’s fine collection of pictures and to stroll in the grounds, which were laid out in magnificent style. To enlarge his garden the general had closed the village’s main road down to the River Mimram but had given land to make the wide drive down to the church.

Joseph’s portrait was painted by the court painter, but he had no coat of arms. He remedied that by taking part of the arms of the Kent family and combining it with part of the arms of the Ipswich family on the same shield, though they were related neither to each other nor to him. In 1730 he became governor of Gibraltar, where he died nine years later. He had made his will a few months before and had mentioned an estate in Kildare and "my silver bason and ewer which the magistrates of Ghent presented to me when I commanded as Governor of that city." His body was brought home for interment at Tewin, where a large marble memorial was erected by Margaretta, his widow. In her will she left a sum of money "to buy Yellow serge or Woollen stuff to cloath poor Tewin boys," a condition of her bequest being that the memorial to her husband be kept in good repair.

Of the many children of the general and his lady, Joseph 3, a dashing young soldier, was killed at the battle of Fontenoy in 1745. His brother John, who inherited the Sabine estates, seems to have been a quiet country squire, living at times in Ireland, where his eldest son, Joseph 4, was born, and at other limes at Tewin, where four sons were born to his second wife. One of the sons is known to have been a soldier towards the end of the American war and another, Robert, became a naval surgeon. John, their father, was a colonel in the Guards, and when the Hertfordshire militia was formed in 1757 he became its colonel. He died in 1771 and was buried at Tewin.

Joseph 4, cornet in the Horse Guards, a young man of twenty-eight when his father died, found the estate so encumbered when he inherited it that he was eventually forced to sell Tewin House. Sabines continued to live in the county, however. When Joseph 4 died in 1814 he left a family of at least five children - Joseph 5, who never married; Caroline, who married Henry Browne, of North Mymms Place; John, an officer in the Grenadier Guards, whose wife was Maria, daughter of Admiral Pasley; Diana Amelia, who became the wife of a wealthy Devon man; and Edward. Their mother had died a month after the birth of Edward. Caroline, then aged seventeen, had kept house for their father and had "mothered" the younger children until her marriage to Henry Browne in 1797. Joseph made his home at North Mymms after his sister’s marriage to Henry Browne, a man whose tastes were similar to his own.

In 1806 the bells of our church were recast by the famous bell-founder John Briant, of Hertford, and into the mould of one bell he incorporated the names of the churchwardens, Joseph Sabine and Richard Mason. Joseph was essentially a countryman, with an absorbing interest in horticulture and rare plants and in ornithology, especially British birds. He was an original member of the Linnean Society, which was founded in 1788. As the honorary secretary of the Royal Horticultural Society he straightened its accounts, its affairs and its methods, for which services the society presented him with a gold medal. He was a fellow of the Royal Society and from his sixtieth birthday until his death seven years later he was actively interested in the Zoological Society. He was an authority on the flora of Hertfordshire and he provided Clutterbuck with a list of eighty-eight rare flowering plants and four rare lichens for inclusion in his history which was published in 1815.

Henry and Caroline Browne had a family of six children. Were they the first of a long line of young botanists to know of a secret patch of wild orchids, the whereabouts of which was revealed to one’s dearest friend only on condition that "you don’t tell anyone"? Did their uncle encourage them to make collections of pressed wild flowers and did they wander from Teakettle bridge across Potterells Park picking lovely quaking grasses to decorate the pages?

Despite his wide interests and the voluminous correspondence in connection with them he was a faithful churchwarden. His important contribution to parochial affairs was the unravelling of the tangle into which the ancient charities had fallen. Joseph had been called to the Bar and had practiced until 1808, in which year he had been appointed inspector general of taxes. He held this position until 1835. This early training stood him in good stead, for it needed many months of patient work before his searchings were complete.

To the ancient charities Joseph added one more: "2 pounds of meat, a sixpenny loaf and a small quantity of potatoes to be distributed to poor widows on Easter Eve."

At the time of his marriage Henry Browne had bought North Mymms Place from the Duke of Leeds. Henry was a very wealthy man, being chief of the East India Company’s settlement at Canton, China. He was keenly interested in new farming methods and in the experiments of’ Turnip’ Townshend, of Bakewell. As he aimed to make his estate a model one it must have been a grievous loss in August 1800 when, as recorded by John Carrington, farmer, of Tewin - "15 of this month the Great Fire at North Mimms near the Church begun about 10 at night after they left Harvest Cart the Boys fell asleep in stable with Lantron and Set fire Burnt 12 Large Hay Reeks I Large Wheat Stack I Peas Do, all the Barns and Outer Buildings 2 Horses Hoggs & etc. Carts and Waggons fowls to a great amount." The loss of the barns gave an opportunity to replace outdated buildings, and when Arthur Young published his General View of the Agriculture of Hertfordshire in 1804 he reported that "Mr. Browne’s farmyard and offices now building ... are the most considerable which I have seen in the county." Henry, like his brother-in-law, had been elected a fellow of the Royal Society and was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. It was to him that Clutterbuck was indebted for the pedigrees of the former families of North Mymms.

When the long-drawn-out struggle with France was over men were once more thinking of such adventures as the finding of the North-west Passage. Edward Sabine, eighteen years younger than Joseph and even more years younger than his brother-in-law, Henry, had had his studies supervised by these two cultured men. Edward was an officer in the Royal Artillery, but the Duke of Wellington granted him general leave of absence on the understanding "that he was usefully employed in scientific pursuits." On May 9, 1813, the packet Manchester sailed out of Falmouth bound for Canada. The surgeon aboard was "Mr. Sabine," and his cousin, Edward, was also aboard in the official capacity of astronomer. Eight days out from Ealmouth Manchester was attacked by an American privateer, Yorktown, and in the ensuing running battle, which lasted twenty hours, Edward Sabine and his young soldier attendant handled a gun "to good effect." Manchester was, however, "compelled to strike her colours." Two months later she was recaptured by a British frigate, and after a short spell of military service at Quebec, Edward returned to England.

Two expeditions to the Arctic followed - in 1818 under Commander Ross in Isabella and in May of the following year under Sir Edward Parry. This second expedition lasted until November 1820, and during the long, tedious winter, when for ninety-six days the sun did not appear above the horizon, he produced a weekly journal for the amusement of the party. Known as the "North Georgia Gazette and Winter Chronicle," this journal is said to have run to twenty-one issues, and one wonders how Edward Sabine could possibly have had enough material at hand to amuse for so long a period spent in the semi-darkness of the Arctic wastes.

The favourite studies of this brilliant man were astronomy, terrestrial magnetism and ornithology. He was an authority on Arctic bird-life. Elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1818, he was its treasurer from 1850 until 1861 and its president for the next ten years. He was president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and was created a K.C.B. in 1860. His wife, Elizabeth Juliana Leeves, an accomplished woman whom he married in 1826, helped him in all his scientific work. Their happy partnership lasted for more than fifty years, ending with her death in 1879. His death occurred four years later when he was ninety-five years old. The Royal Society has a portrait of him, and another, painted by G. F. Watts, R.A., when Sir Edward Sabine was eighty-eight, hangs in the mess-room of the Royal Artillery at Woolwich.

Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924) cannot truthfully be called a Hertfordshire man. We in North Mymms have a nodding acquaintance with him, for his grandmother was Diana Amelia Sabine, sister of the churchwarden who left the charity to tie "poor widows." Sabine Baring-Gould was a well-known cleric, collector of folk-songs and writer of hymns. His ancestral home was Lew Trenchard, a village set in beautiful surroundings about ten miles from Tavistock, Devon.

The little Sabine had a carefree childhood and all the advantages that money could buy, including continental travel so extensive that by the time he was fifteen he could speak five languages. He was, however, handicapped by lack of regular schooling. When he was seventeen the family finally settled in Tavistock and it was then that one of his main interests was born - that of collecting folksongs from road-menders and stone-breakers of the moor.

He left Cambridge with firm religious convictions, and after his ordination went to Horbury, near Wakefield. It was there that he wrote the hymns that were to make him famous. It is said that "Onward, Christian soldiers" was first sung at the Horbury "wake" when the aristocratic young curate led his congregation through the streets of the little town. At his side marched a young mill girl with whom Sabine had fallen in love. He had her educated, sending her to a ladies’ academy in York. He left Horbury, took charge of Dalton, a very small parish near Thirsk, and then married Grace Taylor.

When his father died he became squire of Lew Trenehard and in 1881 became its vicar. His early interest in the folk-songs of the countryside reasserted itself. In his little dog-cart he travelled hundreds of miles, noting songs that would otherwise have been lost for ever. Within seven years he had published his Songs of the West. Perhaps the most beautiful "folk" prayer in the English language, ranking with the haunting Negro spirituals that were being rescued at the same time, is "Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, bless the bed that I lie on" noted by Sabine Baring-Gould.

Grace, his wife, died in 1916. He lingered until early in January 1924 and was then laid beside her in the churchyard of the little church they had loved and in which they had worshipped. Appropriately his choir and his friends sang "Now the day is over," another of his hymns. But his hymns know no county boundaries. They are part of our heritage.

Dorothy Colville, 1971

Chapter 24 - The Pretty American
Index - North Mymms Parish and People

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