The first time I visited Dolwyddelan cemetery, (which is of a triangular shape on a hillside) I climbed to the very top point to look at the view. There, hiding under the tree canopy was a large grave, slightly askew and difficult to read. Guessing it must be either the first family laid to rest in the cemetery, or someone of local importance I made the effort to read the inscription. Having lost an adult son myself, reading on the stone that two sisters had lost their life on the same day touched me deeply, and I needed to know more and to ‘say their names’ out loud.
I’ve spoken to some local people who knew that ‘something’ had happened, but it was the internet that gave me the wider story.
In Loving Memory of
Eugenie Power Brandreth
Born July 14th 1876
Born July 11th 1878
Beloved daughters of
Henry Daubeney & Addie August Brandreth
They fell asleep August 15th 1900
‘Till He come!’
“How shall I meet those eyes?
mine on himself I cast
and own my self the saviour’s prize
mercy from first to last!”
Henry Daubeney Brandreth the girls father, was the son of Benjamin Brandreth – ‘The Pill Man’.
Benjamin Brandreth set sail from Liverpool in 1835 with nothing other his ambition, but by the time of his death in 1887 he was a New York senator, a landowner, the owner of one of New York’s biggest hotels, and one of the richest men in the country.
How? by manufacturing and selling ‘Dr. Brandreth’s Vegetable Pills’.
Benjamin’s father in law was an English chemist who supposedly invented the first laxative pill, so when Benjamin reached New York he not unexpectedly set up a business along the same lines. He later amalgamated with Thomas Allcock to produced ‘Allcock’s Porous Plasters’ along with the pills. The factory was in the Sing Sing area of New York, (Sing Sing later being renamed Ossinig in the early 20th century to differentiate it from the prison).
At his fathers behest Henry came to the Great Britain at the age of 24 to run the British branch of the ‘Brandreth Pill and Porous Plaster’ business, settling in Hoylake, Cheshire, with a country home in Pont-y-Pant. Some reports saying he built Lledr House, but it being more likely that he modernized and enlarged a much older building, adding the wing on the right as you look at it from the road.
As to the events of that dreadful day in August 1900, so soon after the celebrations at the turning of a new century when Eugenie and Virginia lost their lives, these two contemporary newspaper reports explain it far better than I could.
Their father died 15 years later, never having recovered from their loss.
TWO YOUNG LADIES DROWNED
Were Swimming in a Welsh River
New York, Aug. 17. – A dispatch to the Journal and Advertiser from London says:
Misses Eugenia and Virginia Brandreth, the two accomplished daughters of Harry Brandreth, who is the European representative and manager of Alcock Manufacturing company, were drowned in the river Lledr, in Wales, before the eyes of two younger sisters and brother.
The family were at their beautiful Welsh home, Lledr House, Pontypanta, near Bettws-Y-Coed, by which flows the beautiful river from which it is named. The five went swimming together.
Miss Virginia, who was 22, got into trouble in a deep pool and her older sister, who was an accomplished athlete and a strong swimmer, went to her assistance.
For several minutes the struggled together in silence. Then suddenly the dying Virginia got a grip on her sister’s throat. Eugenia had just time to call for assistance when they went down for the first time. The younger sisters, horrified by the unexpected turn of affaires, screamed lustily for help. The gardener hearing them came running to the river. Other help arrived soon, and the unconscious young women were got to shore.
Miss Virginia died almost immediately. The eldest lived fully two hours but never regained consciousness.
The bodies will probably be taken back to Hoylake, in Cheshire, for burial.
TWO NIECES OF GEN. MCALPIN DROWNED
NO DETAILS OF ACCIDENT TO THE YOUNG WOMEN WHO WERE ENGLISH
A cable was received in Sing Sing yesterday by William Brandreth, telling of the drowning of the Misses Eugenie and Virginia Brandreth, twenty-four and twenty-two years old daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Harry D. Brandreth. Mr. Brandreth being the head of the Brandreth pill and porous plaster house in England. They were nieces of General Edwin A. McAlpin, William Ralph and Franklin Brandreth and John E. Barlow.
No details have been received as to how they were drowned. They were well known in Sing Sing having frequently visited their cousins in that village. The Brandreth factory is in Sing Sing.
From the Liverpool Mercury, Saturday 18th August 1900
THE BATHING FATALITY AT BETTWS-Y-COED
A COURAGEOUS BROTHER
On Thursday afternoon, Mr. J. H. Bodvel, the Carnarvonshire coroner, held an inquest on the bodies of Eugenie and Virginia Brandreth, daughters of Mr. Brandreth, Lledr Villa, Pont-y-Pant, Bettws-y-Coed, the circumstances of whose death by drowning in the Lledr River have already been reported.
Harry Daubeney Brandreth, who was the first witness, said – I am 16 years of age. I bathed yesterday in the pool for the first time this year with my sisters. There were six of us bathing. I and Eugenie and Virgie could swim well, my sister Carlotta not so well, and one of the others could not swim at all. We all ran into the water together, and I swam across the pool. Almost immediately my sister Carlotta, who was standing well within her depth, suddenly slipped into deep water. I went to her at once, and drew her out, my sister Eugenie giving me her hand. As I came to the shallows I just set Carlotta down, and, as she did not seem very bad I took no further notice of her, and only looked on the incident as a joke, as everybody else did. Then something else happened. I saw my sister Virgie out of her depth. Presumably she had been struck with cramp, as, though she was a strong swimmer, she was floating and not moving her legs. She was calling for help. I went to her, and took her out of the deep water and placed her in shallow water. When I looked round again, I saw my sister Eugenie, struggling and shrieking. She had got into water about ten feet-deep. I went to her, but she struggled so much that I could not get hold of her, and she sank. I immediately dived after her and got hold of her, but she struggled hard in my arms, and I had the cramp and lost hold of her. I got to the rock again, but when I saw her lying at the bottom of the pool I dived in again, and I got the cramp very badly. Then I seized the rake which the man Hughes was holding, and was dragged to the shore by him. What happened next witness could not very clearly tell. He had got his sister Virginia out, and thought she was safe, but when he got to the shore for the last time he found she had disappeared, and could only suppose that the horrible scene she had been witnessing – namely, his own desperate but fruitless attempts to save his sister Eugenie – must have caused her to faint and slip back into the deep water, unnoticed by the others, who naturally were intent on his efforts to rescue his other sister.
The gallant young fellow, as soon as he found that his other sister was also in the pool, was about to dive in once again, but his frenzied mother restrained him, wailing, “No, no; two is enough.” Thereupon he dressed, mounted his bicycle, and raced away to Dolwyddelen, a couple of miles, for a doctor. In the meantime, the screams and cries of the other children brought a number of passers-by to the spot, and an old man named David Williams waded into the water and got one of the bodies out. William Hughes, a bailiff in Mr. Brandreth’s service, also plunged into the water, but could not get at the other body, ten feet below him, so he got a ladder, tied a rope to it, and, arming himself with a long hayrake, he lay on the ladder and was floated out into mid-stream, spectators on each bank steadying the ladder by holding the ropes. Groping along the bottom of the pool with the long rake, he at last managed to entangle it in the young lady’s bathing dress, and then the people dragged him and the ladder and the dead burden at the end of the rake to the shallows.
By this time Dr. Lloyd Williams, of Dolwyddelen, and Dr. M’Donohue, of Bettws-y-Coed, had arrived on the scene, and for nearly two hours, assisted by Mrs. Brandreth, endeavoured to restore animation, but all efforts were in vain, and at last the two girls, 24 and 22 years of age respectively last July, were sadly conveyed across the meadow to their home, and there laid side by side in the same bed.
Both the boy Daubeney Brandreth and the man Hughes stated that the water in the river on Wednesday morning, in spite of the tropical sun, was of icy coldness, Hughes adding that after his quarter of an hour’s immersion in it, whilst recovering the body, he could hardly speak or move. Under these circumstances the jury came to the conclusion that the two young ladies had been seized with cramp, and returned a verdict of “Accidentally drowned whilst bathing.”
At the close of the inquest, on the motion of the foreman, the Rev. J. Davies, rector of Dolwyddelen, the jury passed a vote of condolence with the bereaved family.
FUNERAL OF THE VICTIMS
Amid the solitude of the secluded mountain vale of Lledr, near the famous tourist resort of Bettws-y-Coed, and with the stately peaks of the Snowdonian range looming like sentinels in the distance, the final act in one of the most painful tragedies that has ever occurred in North Wales was consummated yesterday, when the bodies of the two daughters of Mr. H. D. Brandreth were interred in the Dolwyddelen Cemetery. A gloomy sky added a sombre air to the funeral ceremony yesterday. Lledr Hall, the residence of the family, stands a prominent landmark opposite the scene of the tragedy and the railway station. At half-past one a small group of mourners stood bareheaded upon the terrace. The two coffins containing the mortal remains of the poor victims stood upon pedestals loaded with beautiful wreaths. In the roadway gazing with mournful earnestness at the scene were a number of visitors and residents. A short service, including the reading of a portion of the scriptures, extempore prayers, and the singing of a hymn, rendered with much devotion by the mourners, was conducted by the Rev. J. C. Smith, of the Presbyterian Church, Upton. Then reverential hands raised the coffins to the shoulders of the bearers, four to each coffin, and in this manner were the two victims of the untimely death conveyed to their last resting place in the picturesquely-situated cemetery of Dolwyddelen, which is a mile and a half from the scene of the disaster. The mourners who followed in the carriages were Mr. and Mrs. H. D. Brandreth (father and mother), Miss Brandreth, Miss Carlotta and Miss Annie Brandreth (sisters), Mr. Ben and Mr. Harry Brandreth (brothers), Mrs Bratton (sister to Mrs. Brandreth) and the Misses Bratton (Birkenhead), the Rev. J. C. Smith, Mrs. Smith, and Miss Smith (Upton), Mr. A. T. Walter, Q.C. (London), Mr. and Mrs. Beakbane and the Misses Beakbane (Blundellsands), Mr. J. E. Humphreys (Llanrwst), Dr. M’Afee (West Kirby), Mrs. Stewart and Miss Thompson (Oxton), Mr. John Dodson (Fairfield, cousin to Mr. Brandreth), Mr. W. G. Croston (Liscard), Mr. Scott (Oxton), and Mr. Hyham (Ainsdale).
The funeral cortage was met at the cemetery gates by the Revs. J. Davies (rector of Dolwyddelen), John Gower (rector of Trefriw), and D. Richards (rector of Bl. Festiniog). The funeral service was short and simple. An immense crowd grouped round the grave side, and amid a stillness, oppressive and solemn the coffins were lowered into the grave. The party then dispersed. The funeral arrangements were satisfactorily conducted by Messrs. Woollright and Co., Bold street, Liverpool.
Another of Henry’s daughters, Carlotta, was the entertainer Gyles Brandreth’s great grandmother.