Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Charles Gough, The Faithful Dog, and the Helvellyn Monument



On Saturday 18th April 1805, Charles Gough, a painter from (Kendal/Manchester) was holidaying in the Lake District, reported to be with his brother, and had stayed at Thomas Dobson's Inn at Patterdale. It was a common occurrence for him to holiday in The Lakes, as he had for the previous three years. On this day he intended on setting out for Wythburn with the intention of fishing in that water, now extended from Wythburn Water and Leathes Water to become Thirlmere; this was a regular haunt for him. He was to travel over the Helvellyn range and would take his fishing tackle with him, accompanied by his trusty companion a small brown terrier called Foxie. After eating at the inn he enquired if a guide could escort him over the range yet there was a General Review Day of the Volunteers in Patterdale and no guide was available. He set off to make the journey with his only companion being his little rough haired terrier (one account calls it a spaniel) and was never heard of alive again.

Striding Edge, as seen from the Nethermost Pike path.

Helvellyn summit looking back to Glenridding, and Charles Gough's route

Striding Edge with the rise to the Gough Memorial stone, likely the area of his fall.

Coming off Striding Edge for the final summit climb, where Gough would have fallen

Looking back along 'The Edge'.
Accounts state that people tried to dissuade him from the unaccompanied journey, yet he endeavoured to reach his goal, but the weather turned. One account says it snowed that day and the mist descended over the fells.
The exact location of his body is now not certain, but for reasons later disclosed it seems most likely to be the final ascent to the summit from Striding Edge, on the southern side of Red Tarn, Helvellyn. On 20th July 1805 a shepherd boy was out on the fells and heard a dog yelping. When he went to investigate he came across the decomposed and flesh stripped body of a man. The body was in such a state of decomposition the the head was detached and lying seven yards below the main corpse. Some accounts give the hands and feet as being detached. The shepherd boy raised the alarm in Patterdale and a party of men set off to recover the deceased male. On reaching it they checked the body and confirmed who it was through an engraved gold watch and papers in his pocket book, it was indeed that of Charles Gough. The dog appeared to be in a very nourished condition and had clearly been in pup when they began the fateful journey on 18th April. The searchers discovered she had born a litter; two were now dead and lay next to Gough's body, but at least one other was still alive, appearing to be about six weeks of age. The adult bitch could not be taken hold of and was hunted (to capture) by the shepherds dogs and eventually taken to Patterdale Hall, with the one remaining pup. These were then taken on to Kendal by his maternal uncle, a Mr W. Braithwaite

Picture of the supposed scene, by Sir Edward Landseer, depicting the faithful Foxie never leaving her master.
Tragic as the circumstances were of the death, that Mr Gough came by his unfortunate accident on the slopes of Helvellyn, it was clear that he had likely fallen from Striding Edge area. The monument is set above the final face of the southern side of the bowl of Red Tarn. The accounts of the time though are confusing, some speaking of the Edge, some of Red Tarn Crags and others of Cat-stee, which we would now call Catstye Cam. The exact location is perhaps an irrelevance, the fishing tackle he had taken added to the tale in that it was found at the top(it was not stated whether this was the summit or top of either Edge), above him and part of the scalp was below this, stuck to a rock with a deep cut through his cap; he had clearly come to rest at a location some distance down the Red Tarn cliff-face following a fall from height. He may even have reached the summit ridge and become disorientated in the fog, perhaps a snow cornice had given way which to this day remains a hidden and real danger for the uneducated 'climbers' of Helvellyn.

Attention initially centred on the well nourished dog and it was speculated at the time that it had nourished itself by worrying the corpse of its Master. In one article it was reported:

 '....; for, it appears that a small brown bitch, which accompanied him, had pupped after the fatal event; which, together with her litter, were found near his remains, uncommonly fat, and the flesh of the latter was mostly consumed. ...'

 Local people quickly dispelled this as a likely version of events, stating that it would have maintained itself from carcasses of dead sheep that would be in the area and the worrying of the corpse would be from carrion that thrived in the area. Thus the scene was set for the romantic tale that led to two of the great poets of the time to write on the subject, Sir Walter Scott and Wordsworth.

Sir Walter Scott - Helvellyn

I climbed the dark brow of the mighty Helvellyn,
Lakes and mountains beneath me gleamed misty and wide;
All was still, save by fits, when the eagle was yelling, 
And starting around me the echoes replied.
On the right, Striden-edge round the Red-tarn was bending,
And Catchedicam its left verge was defending,
One huge, nameless rock in the front was ascending,
When I marked the sad spot where the wanderer had died.

Dark green was that spot 'mid the brown mountain heather,
Where the pilgrim of nature lay stretched in decay,
Like the corpse of an outcast abandoned to weather,
Till the mountain-winds wasted the tenantless clay.
Nor yet quite deserted, though lonely extended,
For, faithful in death, his mute favourite attended,
The much-loved remains of her master defended,
And chased the hill-fox and the raven away.

How long didst thou think that his silence was slumber?
When the wind waved his garment, how oft didst thou start?
How many long days and long weeks didst thou number,
Ere he faded before thee, the friend of thy heart?
And, oh! was it meet, that—no requiem read o'er him,
No mother to weep, and no friend to deplore him,
And thou, little guardian, alone stretched before him—
Unhonoured the pilgrim from life should depart?

When a prince to the fate of the peasant has yielded,
The tapestry waves dark round the dim-lighted hall;
With scutcheons of silver the coffin is shielded,
And pages stand mute by the canopied pall;
Through the courts, at deep midnight, the torches are gleaming;
In the proudly arched chapel the banners are beaming;
Far adown the long aisle sacred music is streaming,
Lamenting a chief of the people should fall.

But meeter for thee, gentle lover of nature,
To lay down thy head like the meek mountain lamb,
When, wildered, he drops from some cliff huge in stature,
And draws his last sob by the side of his dam.
And more stately thy couch by this desert lake lying,
Thy obsequies sung by the gray plover flying,
With but one faithful friend to witness thy dying

In the arms of Helvellyn and Catchedicam.

Wordsworth however did allude to the practical question of nourishment in his final verse of:

A barking sound the Shepherd hears,
A cry as of a Dog or Fox;
He halts, and searches with his eyes
Among the scatter'd rocks:
And now at distance can discern
A stirring in a brake of fern;
From which immediately leaps out
A Dog, and yelping runs about.

The Dog is not of mountain breed;
It's motions, too, are wild and shy; 
With something, as the Shepherd thinks,
Unusual in its' cry:
Nor is there any one in sight
All round, in Hollow or on Height;
Nor shout, nor whistle strikes his ear;
What is the Creature doing here?

It was a Cove, a huge Recess,
That keeps till June December's snow;
A lofty Precipice in front,
A silent Tarn [1] below! 
Far in the bosom of Helvellyn,
Remote from public Road or Dwelling,
Pathway, or cultivated land;
From trace of human foot or hand.

There, sometimes does a leaping Fish
Send through the Tarn a lonely chear;
The Crags repeat the Raven's croak,
In symphony austere;
Thither the Rainbow comes, the Cloud;
And Mists that spread the flying shroud; 
And Sun-beams; and the sounding blast,
That, if it could, would hurry past,
But that enormous Barrier binds it fast.

Not knowing what to think, a while
The Shepherd stood: then makes his way
Towards the Dog, o'er rocks and stones,
As quickly as he may;
Nor far had gone before he found
A human skeleton on the ground,
Sad sight! the Shepherd with a sigh 
Looks round, to learn the history.

From those abrupt and perilous rocks,
The Man had fallen, that place of fear!
At length upon the Shepherd's mind
It breaks, and all is clear:
He instantly recall'd the Name,
And who he was, and whence he came;
Remember'd, too, the very day
On which the Traveller pass'd this way.

But hear a wonder now, for sake 
Of which this mournful Tale I tell!
A lasting monument of words
This wonder merits well.
The Dog, which still was hovering nigh,
Repeating the same timid cry,
This Dog had been through three months' space
A Dweller in that savage place.

Yes, proof was plain that since the day
On which the Traveller thus had died
The Dog had watch'd about the spot, 
Or by his Master's side:
How nourish'd here through such long time
He knows, who gave that love sublime,
And gave that strength of feeling, great
Above all human estimate.

This however came out after Scott's more romantic version of 'Helvellyn' which turned Gough into a martyr of heroic 'seekers of the natural world'. Scott was the known celebrity figure of the time and Wordsworth was much lambasted by the critics of the age, only finding popular favour later in his life. I myself am of the view that the dog worried his master's corpse. This will always cause debate, especially from those who humanise such an animal to be human in its characters. All I can say is that I have experienced more modern incidents that, following death, such animals have quickly given weight to my view. I will say no more here on that point.
 Later, emanating from these great masters of literature, their followers in turn were to pay for a memorial to commemorate the death of Gough on the fell with the placing of this memorial stone in his name. These two people were Canon Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley and the writer Frances P. Cobbe. It was erected by Messrs. Bromley of Keswick around November 1890.

The erection of the Memorial Stone to Charles Gough on Helvellyn. Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley stands behind the stone, facing the camera.
The Gough Memorial now. (sorry about the muzzle!)

In an article from The Cumberland and Westmorland Herald of 1903 it was said that Rawnsley had been fortunate enough to have spoken to the son of the man who found Gough's body. His father had told him that he was up the fell the same day as he met Wordsworth, Scott and Davy. Scott was going down to see the very spot where Gough came to rest. His father took Scott down and Scott then sat on a 'girt stane, and just luikt, an' luikt, an' luikt'. Rawnsley himself became interested and went and found the stone and green area, which could not be seen from above. Scott himself was to descriptively refer to: 'The dark green in the brown mountain heather.' One would expect that now the location of the body coming to rest was identified to these academics, then this would in turn be passed on, until Rawnsley was later in possession of the knowledge and therefor know where to best place the memorial.
Warren Hastings (the first Governor General of India 1713 - 1818) visited Patterdale in 1806 while travelling south from Edinburgh and obtained an account of the incident from a local man, assumed to be Captain Charles Luff, a friend of the Wordsworth's. It perhaps shows the interest the death now had on people of Society, that they would ensure they detoured to obtain as close an account as possible, to report on as a now acknowledged source.

Charles Gough was not a novice to the area, as earlier discussed it was his practice to holiday at Wythburn and he had at least climbed Helvellyn the previous year so would know of the precipitous drop on the eastern face. He knew his way around the Lake District and conversed with Mr. Robinson of Buttermere, the Fish Hotel proprietor and the father of Mary Robinson, the beauty (or Maid) of Buttermere, who would be so wronged by John Hatfield through a bigamous marriage in 1802.
Gough was born in Manchester and was a quaker by religion although he was excluded from them approximately two years prior to his death, following him joining the volunteers, the militia, this being the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Following the discovery and extraction of his remains from the fell, the Quakers must have relented, now he was answerable to only The Almighty. Thomas Clarkson, the great abolitionist of slavery, lived at Eusemere at Pooley Bridge, and Canon Rawnsley recorded that he had heard it was him who conveyed the body for interment at the Quaker burial ground at nearby Tirril, on 22nd.

(C)opyright



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