‘Greater love hath no man’ – Who was William Fish Groves? A guest blog post by Nathan Staniforth

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Nathan Staniforth, picking up the trail in America. confirms William’s identity and his tragic end.

William Fish Groves, was born on the 11th December 1850 to Samuel Groves, a saw manufacturer, and Eliza Fish. Strangely enough, his baptism isn’t recorded at St. Philips until the 29th September 1872. Due to his baptism occurring when he was already an adult, his occupation is also included, he is an Engraver living at Watery Street, Sheffield.

A few years later William Fish Groves set sail on the S.S. City of Chester bound for New York in the United States, the immigration record states that he paid for himself, and the immigration date is 13th September 1875.

The next time we find mention of William, is two years following his immigration date when tragedy strikes in the town of Concord, New Hampshire. On August 5th 1877 it was first reported in the Burlington Daily Hawk Eye Gazette:

‘Henry Groves of Concord, New Hampshire while assisting in saving goods at a fire at Straw’s Point, on Saturday, was overcome by smoke and burned to death’

Henry Groves? This surely wasn’t Sheffield’s own William Fish Groves?

A few days later on August 8th 1877, the New Hampshire Patriot and Gazette featured an in-depth article on the event:

‘Fire At Straw’s Point

Distressing Fatality:

On Saturday night news reached the city that the cottage of B.A. Kimball, Esq. of this city and Dr. E.M. Tubbs of Manchester, at Straw’s Point, had been destroyed by fire during the afternoon of that day, and that Mr. W.F. Groves had been burned while endeavoring to rescue from the flames some of the contents of Mr. Kimball’s house. The sad news quickly circulated through the city and expressions of sorrow were heard from all lips. The dispatch stated that Mr B.A. Kimball had been seriously burned, but have meagre information of the matter. There was a universal hope among the community that the report might be wrong or exaggerated, but the telegraph on Sunday morning brought more details, confirmatory of the first melancholy tidings.

Various stories regarding the fire and fatality were reported during the day, but on Monday reliable information was obtained from the papers and from Mr. W.G.C. Kimball who came up from Rye Beach on the morning train. The circumstances in brief, were as follows: At Straw’s Point, one end of the great beach, a mile from the cottages and main settlement of Rye Beach proper, is a group of handsome cottages owned by gentlemen from Manchester and Concord. The ocean cable telegraph is near. Gov. Straw also has fine buildings here; then, on the other side of the road, which ends in a few rods at the seaside are the cottages of Dr. Tubbs of Manchester, Mr B.A. Kimball of Concord and others. The Tubbs cottage this season was occupied by Mr. W. G. Ladd’s family of Portland, Oregon.

At a quarter after two o’clock on Saturday afternoon, fire broke out in the stable of Dr. Stubbs’ cottage with a fresh breeze blowing; the house adjoining with Mr Kimball’s across the yard, were soon in a blaze, and all the three structures were wholly consumed. The cottage and barn of Mr. B.F. Martin of Manchester was in the greatest peril. The entire side toward the fire was charred like charcoal. Probably the force of the wind swept the flames from long contact with the wood, feeling mostly the intense heat. As soon as the alarm of fire was given a crowd collected, but nothing could be done beyond saving the furniture and apparel, most of which was got out.

Mr. William F. Groves of this city, who lost his life in the flames, had for some weeks past been staying at Fosa’s Beach. Saturday morning he went from the hotel where he was living to St. Andrew’s Espicospal Church, in the musical exercises at which, he had during his stay at the seaside taken an active interest, to assist in the rehearsal of the choir. He had previously composed a musical score for the Litany responses which was to be sung on the following Sunday. On returning from the church he stopped at the house of Governor Straw to dine, in accordance with an invitation received. At the cry of fire, he rushed out and worked assiduously to rescue the contents of the houses from the flames. After most of the goods had been removed from the cottage of Mr. B. A. Kimball, he, with Hon. John Kimball of this city went into one of the upper rooms. Here they became alarmed for their safety and went into one of the lower rooms. The flames had made such rapid progress that they at once saw that their lives were in danger. They were entirely surrounded by the fire and Mr. Groves excitedly asked how they could get out. Mr. Kimball replied he was going out “this way” and immediately rushed out through a door, across the piazza, on the side from which the wind was blowing, and escaped into the air. His face was badly burned, his whiskers scorched nearly off and his hands were seriously burned. Mr. Groves did not follow Mr. Kimball, but instead attempted to escape over the piazza on the opposite side of the cottage. He jumped out of a window through which Mrs. B.A. Kimball who was ill had been taken. On this side of the house the flames were blowing and raging with great violence and it is probable that Mr. Groves was overcome and fell to the ground, as where he was found after the fire was some ten feet from the house and about two feet from the piazza.

About the time that he attempted to escape a lady saw the flames part for an instant when a black form, which she thought to be a bundle thrown from the window, shot across the piazza. That so horrible an accident had occurred was not known till all was over, when at the place on the lawn stated above, something thought to be the remains of a human body was seen. This was taken out by some gentlemen present, and by a watch in the pocket was identified as the remains of the unfortunate Groves. His arms were burned off, one at the elbow and the other between the wrist and elbow. The legs were burned off at the knees and the body and head were shockingly burned and charred. The remains were brought to this city on the morning train on Monday and were interred with funeral services at the First Baptist Church by Rev. Dr. Eames at 12 on Tuesday.

Mr. Groves was a member of the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, this city, but the Baptist Church was kindly offered for the funeral, as St. Paul’s is undergoing repairs. The church was largely filled with people to pay their last sad tribute to the memory of their late friend and companion. A delegation from Straw’s Point came up on the morning express, and were present in a body, among whom were Capt. William Walker, Phinehas Adams, Wm Webster, B.A. Kimball, J.C.A. Hill, Harry Parker and Mr. Green. The Carwen Harmonic Society of this city, which was organized last January by the deceased, also attended in a body, as did the employees of W.B. Durgin’s silverware manufactory, where Mr. Groves was employed as an engraver. The floral tributes were very beautiful and profuse. The pulpit as well as the platform, contained elegant and choice bouquets of flowers, and the casket bore a great many wreaths and bouquets, placed there by loving hands. One of the most beautiful floral devices was a lyre, composed principally of white roses and green, and on a green background in letters of white were C.H.S. This was a gift from the Carwen Harmonic Society.

The service consisted of the beautiful and impressive burial service of the Epicospal Church. Mr. G. Prescott, the organist of the Baptist Church, officiated at the organ, and a select choir consisting of Messrs. Howard and Andrews and Mrs. W.G.C. Kimball and Miss Georgia Morse, sang, finely, “I heard a voice from Heaven” and “Dear Father, bear my prayers” during the services.

At the conclusion of the burial services, Rev Dr. J.H Eames who officiated, made some very beautiful and touching remarks in memory of the deceased. He briefly mentioned his introduction in this country and this city, the many and true friends he made by his gentlemanly bearing and affable manner, the connection existing between employer and employed, his musical ability and endowments and the peculiar tact which he had for imparting his musical knowledge to his pupils. Dr. Eames mentioned his dignified and pleasant address and genial conversation in society and his willingness to instruct and elevate his fellows. He spoke of his moral and religious character and pointed to his past life as one for young men to follow. Dr Eames said that prior to the advent of Mr. Groves in this country he was a member of the English Church and when he first came to our city he immediately took an active interest in the affairs of St. Paul’s as being the nearest approach of the English Church in the country. He remarked of his musical connection with the church. The last time communion was administered to him at St. Paul’s and his last meeting with him on the street. Dr Eames then graphically described the fire at Straw’s Point, the heroic and generous conduct of Groves, his sad and lamentable death and the effect that it would likely produce on his kind and devoted mother and grandmother. At the conclusion of these remarks the dead march from Saul was played and the remains were borne from the church.

As the funeral procession passed through the streets the dead march was played on the bells of St. Paul’s, the remains were taken to the old cemetery and deposited in a tomb with the usual committal services. The funeral was conducted by Horace A. Brown Esq. and the bearers were Messrs. F. Reed, F.W. Smith, F.E. Knight, W.J. Green, J.R. Saye and T. Woodward.

The home of the deceased, Mr. Groves, was in Sheffield, England, where he has a mother, grandmother and uncle living. He would have been 27 years old in December next. He came to this city four years ago last winter, and during his residence was employed as an engraver at Durgin’s on School Street. He was a man of exceedingly upright character, affable and agreeable in manner, of passing presence and always a thorough gentleman. His pleasant and gentle ways, charitable heart and generous impulses had gained for him large circles of warm friends in this and other places in the state. He was possessed of fine musical taste and ability and the many entertainments in the city of which he was the author will be a pleasant memory to many in this city who are called upon to deplore his terrible fate. His relatives abroad, particularly his mother, who is nevermore to look upon the face of her tenderly loved son, but must henceforth bear this great burden of sorrow, with no anticipation of a reunion on earth, will receive the heartfelt sympathy of our entire community.’

Finally, word must have reached home, as on August the 25th, 1877 the Sheffield Daily Telegraph posted the following report:

‘DEATH BY FIRE OF A SHEFFIELD MAN IN AMERICA.

A promising citizen, Mr. Willie Fish Groves (nephew of townsman, Mr. John Fish), has lost his life in New Hampshire, Concord, under very shocking circumstances. Mr. Willie F. Groves was native of Sheffield, and worked as an engraver at the silver-plate manufactory of Messrs. Bradbury, Eyre-street. About four years ago he went to America, going directly to Concord, and commenced work at Mr. W. B. Durgin’s Silver-ware Manufactory, where, New Hampshire newspaper informs us, “he was a genial young gentleman, ever ready to lend a helping hand to every good enterprise, and made many warm friends.” Mr. Willie Groves’ death occurred in this manner; — On the 8th inst. fire occurred at a villa at Straw’s Point, owned by Dr. Tubbs, Manchester. A stable connected with the house took fire, and communicated with ex-Mayor Kimball’s house. Mr. Kimball and Mr. Groves went into the second story of the house to get something that remained, and descended to a room on the lower floor, where they encountered sheet of flame. Mr. Kimball escaped creeping on his hands and knees: Mr. Groves made his way to a window, through which he had assisted to save the sick wife of Mr. B. A. Kimball. Mr. Groves then got through the window safely and struggled across tho verandah, where ha sank down from exhaustion and perished near to the house, which was burned down in about twenty minutes. The deceased was distinguished not only in commerce but in music. At the County Hall exhibitions on two occasions he obtained the gold medal for engraving on gold and silver ware. But it was as a musician (according to the lengthy notices which appear in the New Hampshire papers) that Mr. Groves excelled. It appears he was one of the finest tenor singers in Concord, and also a composer. He had recently composed an invocation to use in St. Andrew’s Chapel; on the Saturday he attended the rehearsal, on the Sunday assisted the service, which was conducted by Bishop Cox (who has since paid fitting tribute to his memory), and on the Wednesday following he was no more. The deceased was leader of the choir of the Universalist Society for a number of years; he formed a class for the study of music on the Curwen system, and was also a Sunday school teacher, in all of which offices was very popular. Mr. Willie Groves was accorded a public funeral, which was largely attended by leading local citizens, who formed in procession to the First Baptist (Episcopal) Church, where the service was conducted by Dr. Eames. The coffin was covered with an elegant floral cross, wreaths, lyre, and harp, and the platform and pulpit were adorned with flowers. Mr. G. D. Prescott presided at the organ, and the service was very impressive. Dr. Eames alluded in a touching manner to the character of the deceased—of his advent to the city and the useful and upright life he had lived there, of his love of music and devotion to it as an art, of his method of teaching it, his social qualities, his prominent moral characteristics, his fidelity to religions duties, and his readiness to assist in church singing. In his efforts in that direction at the little chapel by the sea-side where he was seeking rest, his chivalric soul (said Dr. Eames) was sent home to Heaven in chariot fire. The learned doctor concluded by expressing sympathy for deceased’s relatives and friends in England, and the remains were then convoyed to the Old Cemetery, where the service was concluded.’

In conclusion, researching this gentleman was a privilege despite the fact he met such a tragic end, the headstone in Wardsend Cemetery still remains in great shape, with the inscription:

‘William Fish Groves

Who died August 4th 1877

At Concord U.S. Of America

Aged 26 Years’

Although it was difficult to find mention of this man online, I felt like I was bringing a forgotten figure back to the forefront, and I am proud to be able to put this man’s story into words, one of many Sheffielders that travelled across the ocean and touched many lives.

The Friends of Wardsend Cemetery would like to thank Nathan for his assistance in following up this story from the other side of the Atlantic and for writing this blog post. He is currently making enquires about William’s last resting place in the old cemetery in Concord, New Hampshire.

Photo Hugh Waterhouse

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