George Fenn.

George Alfred Henty: The Story of an Active Life



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His ambition growing, he next bought the Dream, a thirty-two ton yawl. But Henty was no dreamer, and he changed her name to the Meerschaum, not after his pipe, but because of his love of sending her careening over and through the sea foam.

The Meerschaum only satisfied his desires, though, for about three years, when he purchased a vessel better worthy of his attention as an enthusiastic yachtsman, in the shape of the before-mentioned Egret, an eighty-three ton schooner. This boat he sailed with a skilful crew for years, indulging now and then in a handicap in the Corinthian or the Thames Yacht Club, of both of which, as well as of the Medway Club, he was a member.

He had various cups to show as the reward of his prowess. One of these, a handsome trophy, of which he was very proud, he would display to his friends with sparkling eyes, though the modest nature of the man stepped in at once as he hastened to say, “That was won by my men of the Egret at Cowes. They had the money prize, and out of it purchased this cup for me,” – a little fact this which clearly showed the friendly feeling existing between skipper and crew. The ambition to win what would be looked upon as a greater prize was shown more than once in his crossing the North Sea to enter the lists for the German Emperor’s Cup. On one occasion so brave a fight was made that the Egret would have proved the winner had not fate been against her; she was ready to battle with the sea no matter how rough, but was helpless when the wind failed, and this was what happened, to her owner’s intense disappointment.

A propos of prize cups, the sideboard in Henty’s museum-like study had a pretty good display of silver trophies, many of which were the prizes won during the time when he was a member of the London Rowing Club, where his broad, deep chest, heavy muscles, long reach, and powers of endurance made him a formidable competitor. And it was in this club, oddly enough, that he first made the acquaintance of Mr J.P. Griffith, who, being a very rapid scribe, became the amanuensis and writer to whom he dictated every one of the books which, calf bound, all en suite, made such an imposing show on the shelves of one large book-case.

In the summer of 1897, the Diamond Jubilee year, it fell to Henty’s lot to describe for the Standard the passing of the procession along the Piccadilly portion of the route, while a fellow correspondent for the Standard, Mr Bloundelle Burton, described the Queen’s journey along the Strand. This gentleman in the same year was acting as correspondent on board one of our battleships at the Naval Review off Portsmouth, and Henty, taking advantage of his position as a yacht owner, stationed the Egret off the Isle of Wight, and there in hospitable fashion kept “open house” for his friends.

He took a very keen and wholly natural pride in this graceful yacht, the Egret, perhaps because in acquiring her he pretty well reached the height of his ambition.

He liked to talk about her prowess in sailing, which he modestly veiled by setting it down to the skill of his men. But his pride in the Egret when she walked the waters like a thing of life, shone out of his eyes, and he did what he could to make her fame lasting by having her photographed. The accompanying admirable representation, which was taken for him by Messrs Kirk and Son, of Cowes, shows the little yacht running free before a brisk breeze off the coast of the Isle of Wight.

Chapter Forty Four.
A Final Word

In all probability the portrait of George Alfred Henty, which shows him on his yacht, was the last that was taken prior to his death. It is certainly Henty as we know him, and it shows him in his most natural aspect, for it was taken when he was not merely in the full enjoyment of his favourite pastime, but combining it with his work. It represents him unexpectant, grave, and intent, reading over and making corrections in the proof-sheets of one of his last books. Being a genuine snap-shot, nothing possibly could have been more happy, and it certainly deserves to be termed a perfectly natural untouched likeness. The taking of this photograph came about almost by accident. Just before his last cruise, Henty wished to have some alterations made in the sails of the Egret. A local sail-maker – a Mr Ainger – came on board to carry out the task, and he chanced to have brought his camera. Seizing an opportune moment, he took the portrait, with the accompanying excellent result, and in sending it to the writer Captain C.G. Henty adds these words, “It seems to me singularly characteristic,” – a comment that everyone who is well acquainted with the subject must feel bound to endorse.

Captain Henty goes on to state: “For some years before his death my father suffered from gouty diabetes. In the autumn of 1902 he complained of feeling very unwell, and, although he had laid up the Egret, he got her into commission again. After a short cruise, however, he returned, and finally brought the schooner to an anchor in Weymouth Harbour, and from there he never moved again.

“On Saturday morning, the first of November, he was stricken with paralysis, but after a few days he showed signs of recovering the vigorous health which he had enjoyed almost throughout his life. His great powers of recuperation stood him in good stead, and he steadily improved to such an extent that hopes were entertained of his being brought up to town. Exactly a fortnight, though, after the first seizure he was attacked by bronchitis, and on Sunday morning, the sixteenth of the month, he passed quietly away.”

He was laid to rest in Brompton Cemetery, in the same grave as his first wife and his two daughters.

Heading a long article descriptive of his career, the Standard, the journal with which he had been intimately connected since the year 1865, says in reference to his passing: “We regret to announce the death of Mr G.A. Henty, which occurred yesterday on his yacht at Weymouth. He had been in weak health for some time, but almost to the last he retained his capacity for work.”

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