My ancestors had a saying when asked why some of their relatives had married first cousins:
“Cousin and cousin make good soup.”
The Farncomb family must have made a lot of good soup.
Frederick married his cousin Jane.
Son John married his cousin — another Jane.
Younger son Alfred married his cousin Hannah.
But let’s go back to 1867.
Frederick inherited money from his uncle Thomas Farncomb, the wealthy Lord Mayor of London, England. He and Jane bought more land in Bond Head, and hired a Toronto architect to draw up the plans.
The house was built in 18 months, between 1868 and 1869.
Three of the Farncomb sons – William, John and Frederick Edward – became Anglican priests.
Two others – Alfred and Thomas – became doctors.
Alfred became a popular and influential general practitioner in the Newcastle area. His wife Hannah appears to have helped him with the record-keeping. Hannah was a skillful host of weddings and other special gatherings at Ebor House. She was also the organist at the family church (St. George’s Anglican) for 40 years.
In 1895, John, who’d been posted to various Anglican churches in Ontario, returned home to St. George’s as the Reverend Canon John Farncomb…. a nice step up from being an ordinary priest. He was a well-respected rector.
He’d married cousin Jane in 1880 and they had five children. Two sons, Frederick Charles and John Robson, went to Trinity College, a private school in nearby Port Hope that previous Farncombs had attended.
In the summer of 1901, the boys were 16 and 18 years old. They were home for the holidays.
There was a nice sandy beach at Bond Head, and it was a popular spot for both adults and young people alike. I imagine that the boys could hardly wait to put down their school stuff, shuck off their uniforms and go to the nearby lake for a swim. They did that often that summer.
But August 11 was different. Frederick Charles and his brother John did not return home that day.
Both drowned in Lake Ontario.
It was as if the world had come crashing down on the Farncombs.
Parents who’ve experienced it will tell you that the worst thing that can happen is to lose a child.
John and Jane lost not one, but two children in one day.
Two beloved sons gone.
And now, John and Jane were expected to grieve, but carry on.
Perhaps onlookers thought that a priest and his wife would have some special way of coping with tragedy. Perhaps they thought that with three priests and two doctors in the family, everything would be alright.
Everything was not alright.
The boys died in August 1901, and John, Jane and the remaining children left St. George’s Church before the year was over. He served at another parish for several years.
How did they cope?
One imagines that they tried hard to get over the loss.
That they tried to rely on each other and their families and on their faith.
But Jane fell apart, and, in his own way, so did John. She died in 1914, broken, and he followed three years later.
In the century that followed the boys’ deaths, momentous events took place in the world.
The first and second world wars, in which many young Canadians fought.
The great depression.
A man landing on the moon.
The cold war between the west and Russia.
And these were just a few.
Ebor House lived through them all. Life went on.
Despite the tragedy, Ebor House continued to be “home” to Farncomb descendants. It appears to have been a wonderful home, full of activity inside and out.
Alfred’s daughter Helen married Reginald Le Gresley and, from the huge barn, they operated Newcastle Dairy. It produced 1,000 quarts of milk each week.
The whole Le Gresley family worked in the dairy, adults and children alike.
There was a creek nearby for fishing. A beach for swimming.
Parents who worked in the barn behind the family house.
And neighborhood children to play with.
The records show that Frederick Farncomb died in 1893. His wife Jane died in 1905.
The house passed to their son Alfred, then to Helen, Alfred’s daughter, then to Helen’s son Balfour. He was the last Farncomb to own Ebor House. He sold the house to Ron.
Not much is written or said about John and Jane Farncomb in the public sphere. Years after their deaths, one or more Farncomb descendants had a memorial stone made for the couple.
The wording is one of the most moving I’ve ever read.
“Heartbroken on drowning of sons Frederick and John Farncomb.”