Francis Hobart Hemery, poet, was born at sea on the 22nd March 1847, the son of John and Anna Hemery (nee Beatty). He was baptised in Jersey on the 12 May. His father was a successful merchant who became manager of the London and County bank. The family later moved to Canterbury.
Francis joined the navy as a cadet and was appointed sub lieutenant on 11 September 1860.1 He was assigned to H.M.S Achilles, a broadside ironclad frigate which defended the waters of the English Channel as part of the Channel Fleet, as a sub-lieutenant on the 5 June 1867.
Francis was invalided two years later on the 30th April 1869. He was reported fit for duty three months later on the 2nd August and joined the crew of H.M.S Inconstant on the 12th of that month, once again as part of the Channel Fleet.
Two months later on the 14th October, he was sent to Haslar Hospital per H.M.S. Helicon for ‘general mania’. General mania was defined by William Augustus Guy in his Principles of Forensic Medicine (1845) as ‘a form of mania which affects both the intellect and the passions, and throws the whole mind into a state of mingled excitement and confusion’.2 It was characterised by Pinel (1806) as a ‘rapid succession of uninterrupted alternation of insulated ideas, and evanescent and unconnected emotions’ as well as by an ‘abolition of the faculty of judgement’.3 It was clear that Francis was unfit for the responsibilities placed upon him. He was discharged from the hospital on the 7th May 1870, after a six and a half months stay.
On release from hospital, Francis was assigned to H.M.S Duke of Wellington, the flagship of the Port Admiral at Portsmouth. The flagship fired salutes to passing dignitaries such as Queen Victoria on her way to Osborne House. It was clearly a softer option for a man who was seen as lacking judgement. Three months later on the 10th August, he was sent to H.M.S. Repulse, a guardship at Queensferry, for temporary service, returning to the Duke of Wellington on the 21st October. On the 15th March in the following year, he was assigned to H.M.S Danae, when recommissioned, taking a passage out to North America. His time on the Danae was to be short and after thirteen days he was sent home unfit. On the 17 November 1871 he was deemed to be unfit and ten days later was granted 2/6 home pay. He was retired from the navy with rheumatic fever on the 20 February 1872.
At this period, Hemery began writing and sending poems to the periodical press. His poetry anthology The Soul Speaks and Other poems was published by Samuel Tinsley in 1874. His poems reveal his troubled soul as he struggled with his lack of usefulness in society, unrequited love and religious doubts:
The close of life! – for old men die, –
Not those so young and strong as I!
O! mercy, I cannot, will not go.
How can a man pray tormented so?
Oh help! dear doctor do save me,
I’m lost! – have mercy! – save me! save me.4
The anthology was reviewed in The Academy: ‘The writer has “noticed that readable poems at a small price cannot be obtained by the general public.” His poems are certainly readable, they have a sort of amplitude and sonorousness which makes one regret the absence of anything rare or special in their substance. He has a natural ear for rhythm, but his metre is often incorrect: technical study would cure this. If he is capable of precise thought, it might enrich the content of his poems to read what he found stimulating, and refuse to rest in vague excitement.’5 The book was a thin paper back available for 1 shilling and probably sold very few copies.
In 1875, Hemery joined the Canterbury-based Persistent Scribblers Society and contributed a couple of poems in that year under the pseudonym D.V (short for Deo Volante – God willing), but he was not a regular contributor and the lack of votes he received from his fellow writers may have deterred him. His sisters Kate and Leonora later joined the society and contributed short stories.
In the following year, Hemery published his poem ‘The Snow Angels’ in the Kentish Gazette. From 1877-9, he achieved some success in the popular periodicals: The New Monthly Magazine, Chamber’s Edinburgh Journal, St James’ Magazine, Tinsley’s Magazine, Mirth and Bow Bells publishing at least 25 poems.
Hemery’s poetry was fairly standard sentimental fare and it is possible his desire to be a poet created tensions at home. His father John, who was a bank manager wrote to the navy in 1875, 1876 and 1878 requesting that Francis not be allowed to commute his pension. Whether this was because he desired his son to become a successful man of business, or whether he recognised that he could not be trusted with money is uncertain.
At some time around August 1878, Francis had a mental breakdown and was admitted to Dr Boyd’s private asylum, Uxbridge. After five months, Dr Boyd believed him to be ‘sufficiently cured to require no further restraint’6 but Hemery requested to remain at the asylum, not wishing to return home. His father suggested that he move to the house of a clergyman. On the 25th April 1879, Hemery was found lying dead on his bed with a small phial of cyanide of potassium and a letter saying that he was ‘determined to destroy himself’ because he felt ‘lost to the world’.7 Hemery’s suicide was reported in the newspapers. His father became mayor of Canterbury in that year.
This article was published: 4 February 2023.
National Archives - ADM 196/17/58 ↩
William Augustus Guy (1845) Principles of Forensic Medicine. ↩
Pinel, Philippe (1806) A Treatise on Insanity. ↩
Hemery, Francis H. (1874) The Soul Speaks, and Other Poems. Tinsley. ↩
The Academy October 10, 1874, p.402. ↩
Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald May 3 1879. ↩
Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald May 3 1879. ↩