In or about 1863, while the American civil war was in progress, a Federal ironclad The Nashville was chased by the Confederate cruiser Tuscarora into the Solent. The Nashville fled into Southampton, the Tuscarora waiting for her in Cowes roads where she stayed for some time. She waited to chase the Nashville outside the three mile fighting limit and then to engage with her. Soon after this a naval fight between the Confederate Alabama and the Federal Kearsage took place in the English Channel in which the Alabama was sunk. The survivors were rescued and brought to Cowes by the private yacht Deerhound. Great Britain had to pay over 3,000,000 pounds for the damage caused by the Alabama as she was built at Birkenhead, England.
About this time, 1864, my father was nominated and legally compelled, with two other inhabitants of West Cowes, to collect the town’s income tax. One was an invalid chemist, almost useless, the other an agricultural labourer who was absolutely unused to any sort of business. Anyhow it was impossible for my father to complete the collecting by the stated time.
At a certain period he had to report to the head man a few miles away. He was a knight and a celebrity. The result was that for being behind in the work this head man said: “Mr Huffam we fine you 10 pounds.” Father rose from his seat, marched up to this big noise and fired at him “Who are you to fine me 10 pounds as if I were a criminal, I will not pay it.” On arriving home father at once wrote a full account of the affair to Gladstone, then, I believe, Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Going down again in a few days to report, he met this almighty commissioner on the way. He took off his hat to father and said: “O Mr Huffam, I am so pleased to meet you, my house and grounds are close by and I should be pleased to have wine with you and show you my pictures.” “Hullo” thought father, “what has happened now?” Next he met the commissioners secretary, who said “Mr Huffam we have had a bombshell, a stinging letter from Gladstone which has frightened the whole lot of us.” No more was said about the 10 pounds. When father got home there was a letter from Gladstone stating what he had done also that he was taking measures to carry out father’s recommendation, viz., that it was a wrong principle that the residents should collect their own income tax and that it should be collected by the exciseman. That is, I understand, how it has since been collected.
METEORIC SHOWER OF 1866
But the most remarkable and outstanding event of my life and of many persons who witnessed it was the wonderful meteoric shower of 13th November 1866. The newspapers advertised that on that night a very unusual meteoric display starting at about 11 or 11:30pm would be visible so of course we all sat up. The meteors were punctual and increased in number till about 12:30 after which the numbers began to dwindle. It was a most magnificent and wonderful display, and it was estimated, or guessed rather, that probably 240,000 were visible in that short time – so numerous that it seemed imposssible to count them. There was a point in the constellation Leo from which that meteors radiated and rapidly moved all over the heavens. Astronomers tell us that the evidence seems to prove that these meteors are the remains of a disintegrated comet (Tempel’s) which had an elliptical orbit reaching out to the planet Uranus and revolving around the sun. Owing to planetary attraction the tail was pulled to pieces by the planets or a planet of our system and the tail is now distributed all over its orbit forming an elliptical ring many million miles in extent. Every November the earth dashes through this ring and on the 13th or 14th a few meteors are generally visible. One part of this ring is, however, larger and denser than the rest and every 33 years the earth dashes through this particular part. It only takes 3 or 4 hours to do this so that if it takes place in the day time there is absolutely nothing to be seen. There should be another display this next November. Perhaps some of our local astronomers could inform us as to the probabilities of seeing this marvelous display. So far I have only come across two people who have seen it, the late Mr C. Y. Fell and the late Mr. Campbell Ellis. I trust this bit of very elementary astronomy will be excused, but if any person saw this display and did not wish to know more about it, he or she must be devoid of all reasonable curiosity.
I was brought up to take an interest in our natural environment and to educate my powers of observation when out for walks with my father. One afternoon my brother and I saw and earmarked what looked like some large lobster shells in a quarry by the roadside three or four miles from our Yeovil home. At our first opportunity we hurried off to investigate these objects more fully. The result was three fine ammonites, the largest I should guess eighteen inches in diameter and the smallest ten inches. The total weight was roughly 50 or 60 lbs. We were struggling with these when along came a timber lorry which kindly offered to take us; so we rode home in triumph to find the family anxious, as no-one knew where we were and it was a long way past the dinner hour.
These fossils were placed just outside our back door and father one day was showing them to two gentlemen who wanted it explained to them what these curious objects were so they were told that a few hundred thousand years ago these things were alive swimming in the sea etc etc. Father overheard one man say to the younger one “Don’t you believe him he is pulling your leg. The whole thing is absurd.”
ELECTIONS OF 100 YEARS AGO
Father once told me of an experience of his when a small boy. It was election time in the old country and his father had something to say or do for the candidate at the hustings, which was a temporary platform on which political candidates stated their views. My father was there and he well remembered that while the speeches were in full swing the listening crowds below were tumbling down helpless. Right up to the hustings came a gang of prizefighters who were subsidised by the rival candidate to spoil the other man’s speeches. At those times over 100 year ago, it was a very forcible and useful argument. The Eatanswill election as described by Dickens in “Pickwick Papers” was not a bit overdrawn.
The great tragic and Shakespearean actor of Convent Graden and Drury Lane theatres, Mr. W. C. Macready, lived in retirement near Yeovil and my father used to see a great deal of him. In his house he had many rare and curious objects, valuable pictures, trophies and presents from all the crowned heads of Europe. Many of these were availble for an exhibition of fine art in Yeovil of which my father was secretary. Macready also gave most effective readings from the best authors and was always ready to help in any good work of this sort. He told my father that although he had two fine daughters he had never allowed them to see him on stage.
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