memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for July 7, 2011

An eccentric clergyman

The afore-mentioned book, THE BIBLE OF EVERY LAND, belonged to my scholarly great-grandfather, the Rev. Gamaliel Milner, who was reputed to have mastered no fewer than sixteen foreign languages. He had a voracious intellectual appetite for the contents of his many books without particularly caring for them per se.

I think it is fairly safe to say that my great-grandfather was an eccentric man. Born in 1852, the only surviving child of A respectable South Yorkshire family, he early showed signs of precocity of mind and expression. We have a diary of his which recollects some of his first thoughts:

–          The pulpit spanned the main avenue of the church which was taken up by proprietary pews. It was in one of these pews as I sat by my Father that the thought came to me for the first time: Who am I? Whence have I come?


He was first sent to a private school at Ripon then to Westminster School (separated from the great Abbey by just a cloister) where he was assiduous in his studies. In October 1869 he wrote to his mother:

–          You will be pleased to hear that Dr. Scott thought the translation from Horace which I wrote to be pretty good and gave one of those silver pennies to those with whose exercises he is pleased.

Horace Ode XXIV

  1. Why need there be a limit to my grief
  2. For the dear form that I no longer see.                                                                                                              Grant to this sorrowing friend this relief
  3. To sing a fitting dirge, Melpomene
  4. O thou that hast from Heaven’s Eternal fire
  5. A sweet melodious voice and the poetic lyre …

He went up to Christ Church Oxford in the autumn of 1870 (the year of the Franco-Prussian war). His rooms there were immediately under Great Tom; he chose them in the hope that the striking of the clock would awaken him early for his studies. He soon found however that he got accustomed to the sound and slept through it. He later bought an alarm bed, a contraption which at the time set turned up and deposited the sleeper on the floor …

He attended lectures on Sanscrit, Virgil, Thucydides, Divinity and Composition. He joined the University Volunteers and tells his mother not to be too anxious about his shooting. He thinks he hit the target fewer times than anyone else …


As soon as he came down from Oxford he was appointed Oriental Languages Fellow at St. Augustine’s College Canterbury, a college for training missionaries. It was at Canterbury that he met my great-grandmother Annie Horsley; a child of the British Raj, she had been born at Pallamcottah in Southern India, where her father, Col. W. H. Horsley RE, was stationed.

I have one of her sketch-books from presumably the early years of her marriage (c. 1880); the drawings show accomplishment and a sensitivity which is difficult to reconcile with the strict and forbidding matron who stares at the camera in later years.


She was very religious and abhorred alcohol in all its forms; when she became mistress of Thurlstone House after the death of her father-in-law, J.C. Milner (born, lived and died in the same house – a grand old man of 83), there is a story (which still sends a frisson of dismay unto the present generation) of how she ordered all the wine in the cellars (wine nurtured from grapes under a southern sun or matured in casks from the golden Douro valley) to be poured away down the cold stone sinks of the pantry.

What a crying shame,

what a waste!

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