1869 - Death & Departure of George Peabody
18th December. The departure of George Peabody Financier, Banker, Entrepreneur and benefactor of the London poor. George Peabody was born in Massachusetts, America in 1795 in 1816 he moved to Baltimore where he lived for 20 years and in 1837 Peabody moved to London where he spent the rest of his life. He is acknowledged to be the father of modern philanthropy.
In 1868 Peabody established the Peabody Donation Fund that still continues to-day as the Peabody Trust, to provide good quality housing for the deserving poor. Peabody was made a Freeman of the City of London in recognition of his financial contribution to the poor. During his life-time he established many institutions, libraries and education funds for the benefit of his fellow man and it is known that he provided benefactions of more than $8 million. He never married, his religious beliefs were Unitarian. Peabody died in London on 4th November 1869 at the age of 74.
At the request of the Dean of Westminster and with the approval of the Queen, Peabody was given a temporary burial in Westminster Abbey. His will provided that he be buried in the town of his birth, South Danvers, (now known as Peabody.) and Prime Minister Gladstone arranged for Peabody’s remains to be returned to America on HMS Monarch the Royal Navy’s newest and largest turret battleship commanded by Captain John Commerell, VC, CB., who had been specially selected by the Lords of the Admiralty for this service.
Monarch’s escort was the United States screw-corvette Plymouth. They lay alongside the Railway Jetty of the dockyard. The Monarch’s officers were drawn up on the quarter deck in undress uniform while the fore part of the ship was manned by the marine artillery and light infantry of the ship. A broad gangway had been constructed from the jetty to the upper deck. At the jetty end stood the Mayor of Portsmouth in his robes and chain of office with his Chaplin the Rev. E.P. Grant, Vicar of St. Thomas’s Church, Portsmouth, with various Aldermen and members of the Corporation in their robes. From the Monarch to the north gate of the dockyard – about three quarters of a mile – were posted two lines of seamen and marines resting on their arms, and facing each other through which the funeral train would pass. Looking from the Monarch’s deck the post of honour was held by seamen and marines of the USS Plymouth with whom was Mr. William Thomas, United States Consul, and on the starboard side were seamen and marines from ships in the harbour. Thus officers and men of both nations stood facing each other under arms united in one common mission of peace and friendship. On the jetty were also assembled a large number of dignitaries and senior officers from the Royal Navy and the Garrison as well as a large attendance of the general public. A south-westerly breeze had brought a drizzling rain that increased to a steady downpour. The special train conveying the body and friends of the deceased from London was provided free of expense by the South-Western Railway Company. The train was appointed to arrive in the dockyard at 3-pm precisely when a gun fired from HMS Excellent moored in the harbour and was answered by the Monarch’s bow battery. Bugles blared out and all ships in the harbour dipped their ensigns to the “half mast”. The guns of the Duke of Wellington took up the firing at minute intervals as the train slowly pulled on to the jetty. The coffin was bourn to the ship followed by relatives and friends who had journeyed from London with the coffin. The Hon. Mr. Motley, the United States Minister to this country, was with the mourners. A small pavilion had been set up on the quarter deck for the coffin and, when all was ready, the ships moorings were cast off and slowly the Monarch headed out of the harbour to anchor at Spithead with the USS Plymouth. Inclement weather delayed the sailing of both ships for a few days. There is a statue to Peabody next to the Royal Exchange in the City of London, unveiled in 1869 shortly before his death.
Monarch was the first sea-going turret ship, the first British warship to mount 12inch guns and the fastest battleship of her day. When in America she excited much interest and the idea was spread that she could bombard the American seaboard towns with impunity.