Remembering Arniston is my first book. It is a story inspired by the immensely moving experience of the 2015 bicentenary remembrance of the wreck of His Majesty’s Ship the Arniston Transport on the 30th May 1815 in the storm near Cape Town, South Africa.
It is based on the actual people who sadly perished in the wreck - William John Molesworth and Frances Barwell, the 6th Viscount and Viscountess Molesworth of Swords. They were married in Saint George’s Church, Hanover Square, London, England and, together with 378 other souls, they lost their lives in the wreck of the Arniston Transport which was a maritime tragedy and loss of life only to be surpassed later by the RMS Titanic disaster in 1912.
The inspiration for this story comes as well from my love of the incredible natural beauty of South Africa. The tiny, secluded seaside town of Arniston takes its name from the famous wreck of 1815. It is a hidden gem, a treasure trove of natural beauty in itself, which can be found a few hours’ drive along the Southern African coastline outside of Cape Town.
|Product dimensions:||8.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.20(d)|
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A Bicentenary Picture Book in Commemoration of the Wreck of the HMS Arniston, South Africa, 30th May 1815
By Gary Oliver
Partridge AfricaCopyright © 2016 Gary Oliver
All rights reserved.
At the Ball
* * *
Westbury Park Manor was the jewel in the crown of stately homes, standing magnificently, overlooking the splendour of the Surrey Hills. It was one of England's finest homes built by Robert Molesworth, the first Viscount Molesworth in the early eighteenth century. He was the first Viscount Molesworth of Swords in the peerage of Ireland and from an old Northamptonshire family who made their fortune by provisioning Cromwell's army in the conquest of Ireland. Robert himself was better known to most in his time as a notorious swashbuckling privateer who made an even larger fortune from trading in exotic contraband in far-flung places of the world, and his colourful character lived on through the Molesworth bloodline down the centuries.
The tranquil summer evening was warmer than usual for July. The air was thick with the sweet scent from the rose bushes lining the expansive gardens surrounding Westbury Park Manor, and it was the perfect night for the summer ball in the grand hall. The ball was the highlight of the social calendar of London's elite families, and it was not to be missed by William John Molesworth himself, the great-grandson of Robert Molesworth.
William mingled with the gathering of England's finest nobility standing around the tables, being served with champagne, at one end of the ballroom, and he looked resplendent in his scarlet full dress uniform, sporting the unmistakable gold cross mounted on braded lapels of the Seventy-Third Rifle Regiment of Foot, one of King George's finest regiments. William's intense eyes and thick dark hair over his broad shoulders were the hallmark of the Molesworth family. He was the product of peerage and breeding and of Sandhurst military college, no less.
The grand hall was expansive, colourfully lit, and beautifully decorated with exquisite Georgian murals adorning the walls, and tonight was a special occasion with over four hundred people attending the ball. The British Army's senior ranks and gentry busied themselves talking of the latest news of events in the East Indies campaign, where the king's men were quite frankly taking a beating in the fight for the pride of the empire, the island of Ceylon. This was while their ladies talked instead of the summer fashions in London and of the latest gossip, while the younger single officers of the Seventy-Third Regiment tried not to be obvious in casting their looks at the single ladies across the ballroom, both of whom had expectations of an exciting evening ahead.
As the orchestra struck up the notes of the first dance of the evening, William broke away from his conversation with the officers under his command, and he walked over to stand by the windows overlooking the gardens so that he had a better vantage point from which to watch the dancing and, of course, to glance over in the direction of the ladies seated on the other side of the ballroom. He sipped thirstily on a tall glass of cool champagne, tapping his foot gingerly to the rhythm of the music as he watched the dancing couples glide in unison up and down the ballroom. Tonight he felt a deep contentment, secure in the Molesworth family home again, where he was born, and he was glad to be back from the Indies and the Ceylon war that he hated so much.
As ever, he was waiting for the perfect moment to take decisive action and his cue for the next dance. Then the moment came — it was the military two-step, one of William's favourites. As the orchestra struck up the first notes, William strode quickly and purposefully across the ballroom while steadying the sword at his side with one hand and holding the glass of champagne in the other.
'Good evening, Miss Barwell,' he said confidently, gazing down at the young lady seated among the group older women of refinement. 'May I have the pleasure of your company for this next dance, my dear?'
Frances Barwell was a rose among the thorns. Her youth and beauty shone from her sparkling blue eyes, and she had a look of mild surprise at the sudden and unexpected advance by William as she looked up at the tall figure presented before her.
'Oh, well, I am not sure. I ...' she responded, hesitating momentarily, and then she turned to look at her chaperone for the evening, Lady Seymour, who was seated next to her, as if to ask for her permission.
William stood his ground, and with a welcoming smile, he reached out to offer his hand. Lady Seymour nodded to Frances with approval, and Frances rose up to meet him, holding her beautiful sapphire-blue ballgown to one side as she gently curtsied to him in acceptance.
'And the sword?' she queried, looking down at his side. The other ladies seated behind Frances giggled in amusement at William's awkwardness and his moment of forgetfulness, and Frances smiled.
William laughed. 'Oh, yes, forgive me. I forget my manners. It is but the ungentlemanly habits of a soldier by heart to always keep a sword close at hand in case it is unexpectedly needed,' he explained, taking off his sword. 'Lady Seymour, if you would do me the honour of minding the king's sword for a moment while I dance.' And he bowed respectfully to Lady Seymour, and with the gallantry and style expected of a king's commanding officer, he handed her the hilt of his sword, which she accepted.
He took Frances by the hand and glided her to the centre of the ballroom to join the other officers and ladies, and together they quickly picked up the pace of the military two-step. Moving down the ballroom, he turned to her. 'You are more beautiful tonight than I ever remember, Miss Barwell.' And he relished the warmth of her presence, with her soft silken gloved hands in his firm grip.
Frances Barwell was in the prime of her youth. Not yet thirty years old, she was twenty years the junior of William, unmarried, and she looked ravishing with her auburn hair worn elegantly in a French twist and falling provocatively over her right shoulder.
She gazed into his eyes. 'Please, call me Frances,' she said softly as she leaned into his strong arms to balance herself in the twirling movements of the dance. 'It is a most pleasant surprise to see you again, William. I had no idea you would be here tonight. I thought you were still away in Ceylon.'
'Frances, I would not miss this for the world. Westbury Park Manor is my home,' he said with pride, twirling her around again. 'Although I have taken leave of these fair shores of England these past two years, it is as if nothing has changed at all, and that is what I like about it. And tonight my mood is one of celebration and merriment, my dear.' And he laughed again as he spun her around on his arm.
'Yes, I can see that,' Frances said, struggling to catch her breath, her hands switching left and then right again in William's hands as he led her down the ballroom in line with the other couples.
'And it is most pleasing to see old friends again on this beautiful evening,' he added. William thought that he wanted to say that differently, but he held himself back from telling her the truth. He had lived a life of many adventures in faraway lands with the regiment. He had loved many women and had killed many men, but it had been a life empty of feeling needed by someone and, over the years, he had learned to be what he was expected to be — Lord William John Molesworth, the sixth Viscount Molesworth of Swords and sole heir to the Molesworth family fortune.
The dance soon came to end, and he offered, 'Will you share a glass of champagne with me, Miss Barwell?' He wondered if he should dare to take a step further. Then looking deep into her sapphire blue eyes for the first time in two years, he wondered if she had the slightest idea that he had not been able to take his eyes off her the whole evening.
Frances had always been a mystery to William, and that was part of the attraction that he had for her. He stood next to her and then still closer to her, taking deep breaths to inhale the sweet smell of her perfume. He felt his heart pounding in his chest after the dance, like a stag running for its very life in the hunt, his blood surging through his body, and it was because of her.
'That was a fine dance, my dear Frances, and I hope we can share the last dance later tonight,' he told her after catching his breath.
'Yes, that would be wonderful. It would indeed be a pleasure, and it does leave me with a sense of wonderment about where you learned to dance like that, William.'
'Just something I picked up along the way during my years in Ceylon.'
'Ah yes, I see,' she replied, looking back over to other side of the ballroom where Lady Seymour sat. Then turning again to William, she moved her eyes away to avoid direct eye contact with him and told him quietly, 'Thank you for the dance, William, and now I must rest and return to my seat with Lady Seymour and the other ladies.'
'My dear, I would urge you not to return over to the other women, Frances,' William said.
'But why ever should I not, William?' she questioned abruptly.
'Let me just say that you are a beauty among the thorns. That is why you should not,' he said, reaching for his champagne glass.
'Thank you for saying that, but that really is no good reason for me not to return to be seated with them, and so I really must.'
'But do you not see? Stay here with me, and enjoy the remaining time we have together.'
'Why, William? Is it that you do not approve of them?' she asked with a hint of irritation in her voice.
'No, indeed not. It is not that at all. I believe Lady Seymour and her cousins to be fine people, and I know them to be from good, respectable families, but it is just that ...' William hesitated momentarily, and then he looked at her in earnest and continued, "They are not your family, Frances. I fear they may not approve of you, and I wish you not to be hurt by that. All the same, why is it that you wish to go back over to them when you can enjoy yourself, let your hair down, and be in my good company tonight?" he asked.
Lady Seymour and her cousins sat across the ballroom, and all their eyes were on William and Frances talking tempestuously on the dance floor.
'I must go back to them, William,' she returned sharply. 'The dance was wonderful.' She thanked him and curtsied to him, then returned to take her seat next to Lady Seymour.
And with that, William retired from the dance floor. He picked up his champagne glass and walked over to the windows of the grand ballroom to gaze in relaxed and contemplative solitude upon the beautiful gardens of Westbury Park Manor, his family home and place of birth.
Looking out to the gardens, his thoughts gently drifted back to his time in Ceylon, where he had spent four tours of duty over the past years. He dreamed of the temple monkeys jumping from tree to tree in the gardens of the tea plantations surrounding his residence in Colombo. Lying in his bed alone at night, he recalled the monkeys seemed to be talking to him, beckoning to him to always think of Ceylon as if somehow he belonged there and as if he had an unfinished journey which was yet to come full circle for reasons he knew not.
In the Gardens
* * *
The following weekend, it seemed to William that most things in his life happened for a good reason. He resigned himself to never seeing Frances again after the ball, for he was soon to depart back to the Ceylon wars to do his duty and die for king and country if need be, and he knew he might never return to see Westbury Park Manor ever again.
Then on the Sunday morning, William thought that it was only by God's grace that while heading out for a ride in the grounds of the manor that morning, who should come visiting unannounced but Lady Seymour, who had arranged to see her cousins nearby and also so she could return William's sword that he had entrusted to her, as she explained to William. And with her for company for the day's outing was Miss Frances Barwell.
William's heart leapt for joy, though not for the return of his sword, and he wasted no time in inviting Frances to join him for the ride through the beautifully landscaped gardens sweeping down from the grand entrance to Westbury Park. With Frances and William both mounted on one of Westbury's finest pair of steeds, the ride was swift, and William felt exhilarated and breathless as they rode swiftly down through the gracious and unending rows of tall Scots pine trees stretching on for miles and miles across the vast property, which made Westbury Park Manor the envy of all London. This was the prized possession and cherished home of William, sole heir to the Molesworth family fortune.
The rich smell of the pine trees scented the chilled early morning air, and the dew on the golden leaves covering the forest floor began to slowly fade in the soft rays of the morning sunshine.
By midday they rested their horses awhile, and William and Frances sat together underneath the statue of Pan, which marked the turning point of the ride at the far reaches of the forest. It was plainly evident that William was pleased to see Frances again after the ball, but he felt a growing sense of foreboding that events were repeating themselves and all too soon.
'It is with a sad and heavy heart, Frances, that I ...' William paused, stumbling awkwardly over his words and turning his head away from her. 'What I mean to say is that ...' He stopped, feeling the words catch in his throat.
'What is it, William, pray tell me?' she asked, looking up at William, her deep-blue eyes of sapphire showing surprise and curiosity, which were always aroused when she was with him.
He continued solemnly, 'What I would like to say is that I do feel a sense of delight now that we are together again for these brief moments. Alas, by virtue of my current standing with the regiment, it is with a sad and heavy heart that I have to now bid you farewell again, my dear.' She listened intently as William went on, 'Although this may sound somewhat remarkable to you, Frances' — he paused again — 'regrettably I have to take my leave of you once again and return to Ceylon, but before I go, I have always meant to tell you that ... It is just that I have always felt that we share something of an inevitable and unavoidable pathway in life, you and I.'
'Yes, do go on, William,' she urged him with a look of growing wonderment in her eyes. 'What is it that you believe is inventible, William?' She turned away from him as if to avoid what she always knew deep down in her heart would come.
He reached over to gently take her hand in his. 'Miss Barwell, what I want you to do right now is to give great and true consideration to what I am about to say. I am saying that I am totally, madly, and hopelessly in love you with all my heart and I have been since the first time I had the pleasure of making your acquaintance. And I know that our meeting here again in Westbury Park Manor was meant to be. At times when I was away in Ceylon, I can say with sincerity that you occupied my thoughts on many a long and balmy night. Visions came to me many times in my dreams, and I knew then as I do now that I love you most solemnly.'
'But, William, I must protest!' Frances returned. 'It was a lovely evening last weekend at the ball, and it was indeed a pleasant surprise to see you again, but we have so seldom seen each other these past two years. I really know not what to reply when you tell me such things.'
'Yes, you speak some truth indeed. I know I have been away with the regiment for a long time now, he admitted, hanging his head in a moment of reflection, but then he looked up at her intently to continue,' and that it may seem to you sometimes that we hardly know each other well enough and that it is hardly justifiable and that I should have worthy cause to feel this way about you. I can understand if you think this way. It is in part as a consequence of the ball last week that I could be myself with you, and for just a short while, I did not have to be the sixth Viscount Molesworth of Swords. With you, there are no pretences, no need to maintain the airs and graces of one's station. With you, I can be myself, William John Molesworth, and for that alone, I thank you.'
She laughed light-heartedly, the only way she knew how to avoid his advances. 'William, you are such a delight at times, but then at other times, I think I do so thoroughly loathe you. Your bravado, your forthrightness, and your candour, I see you disperse them so generously with the other ladies, although I have to admit that you do have a certain charm and wit about you that I like. But I urge you, William, not to talk to me about things of love. Was it not the dancing girls of Ceylon that haunted your dreams on those lonely balmy nights when you have been away from your home these past two years?'
Excerpted from Remembering Arniston by Gary Oliver. Copyright © 2016 Gary Oliver. Excerpted by permission of Partridge Africa.
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