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To Everything, A Season – Pt. 5, Ebor House series


*SPOILER ALERT: You may wish to read Pt. 4 before this one.*


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.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Front 2

Three of the Farncomb sons – William, John and Frederick Edward – became Anglican priests.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Anglican church in Fenelon Falls

Blog Photo - Ebor House Rev. Farncomb in church

Two others – Alfred and Thomas – became doctors.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Entrance

Alfred became a popular and influential general practitioner in the Newcastle area. His wife Hannah appears to have helped him with the record-keeping. She 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.


Blog Photo - Ebor House - B and W photo of St. George's

He’d married cousin Jane in 1880 and they had five children. Two sons, Frederick Charles and John Robson, went to Trinity College, a prestigious 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. 

Lake Ontario held tragic memories for their father John and the older Farncombs; John’s brother Charles had drowned at the Bond Head Harbour at 14 years of age.

But 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 on the first hot days of their summer holidays, the boys could hardly wait to put down their school stuff, shuck off their school uniforms and head to the nearby lake for a swim. 

Blog Photo - Ebor House Entrance lookign to lawn 3

But August 11 was different.  Frederick and his brother John did not return home that day. Both drowned in a boating accident in Lake Ontario. 

It was as if the world had come crashing down on the Farncombs.

The tragedy made the news far and wide – even the New York Times carried the story.


Blog Photo - Ebor House and Bond Head harbour

Parents who have experienced it will tell you that the worst thing that can happen is to lose a child.

Jane and John 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, there would be plenty of comfort and strength – that everything would be alright.

But everything was not alright.


St. George's Anglican

The boys died in August 1901, and John, Jane and their remaining children left St. George’s Church before the year was over. John served at another parish for several years.

How did they cope?

One imagines they tried hard to get over the loss.

That they relied on each other, their families and their faith.

But – as happens with many parents who lose a child – Jane fell apart, and, in his own way, so did John. She died in 1914, broken. He followed three years later.


In the century that followed the boys’ deaths, momentous events took place in the world.


Blog Photo - Ebor House - Normany Landing

The first and second world wars, in which many 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.

Blog Photo - Ebor House

Ebor House lived through them all.  Despite tragedies, it occupied a special place in the Farncomb family – as their ancestral home, and a busy family dwelling to successive generations.  It appears to have been full of activity inside and out.

Frederick Farncomb’s granddaughter Helen (daughter of Alfred) married Reginald Le Gresley and they operated the farm.

The huge barn on the property, Newcastle Dairy, produced 1,000 quarts of milk each week.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Newcastle Dairy  Bottle

They hired outside help for the farm and dairy, but the whole Le Gresley family worked there – adults and children alike.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Barns and hydrangea

There were also many fun times, especially for the children.

There was a creek nearby for fishing and a beach for swimming.

Neighborhood children to play with. And the knowledge that their parents were within hollering distance from wherever they played.


The records show that Frederick Farncomb died in 1893 and his wife Jane died in 1905.

Blog Photo - Ebor House F Farncomb

The house passed to their son Alfred (the doctor) then to Helen, Alfred’s daughter, then to Helen’s son Balfour. He was the last Farncomb to own Ebor House.  He held on to the house for some years before selling it to Ron.

Blog Photo - Ebor House ron sits on table

Not much was written or said about John and Jane Farncomb in the decades after their deaths, even within the family.  Their shared tragedy seems to have haunted their lives to the very end. 

As if to make sure their part in the family history was remembered, one or more Farncomb descendants had a memorial stone made for the couple in recent years.

The wording is one of the most moving I’ve ever read.

Photo by Laura
Photo by Laura

“Heartbroken on drowning of sons Frederick and John Farncomb.”


Click here for Part 6: The series ends with a twist.

50 thoughts on “To Everything, A Season – Pt. 5, Ebor House series”

  1. Human stories contain times of great happiness and times of tragedy. This story of a beautiful house and happy family was harshly touched by the loss of two sons and to compound the tragedy, the unbearable burden of that loss on their parents. I love your story and hope there is a happier ending in store.

  2. I can’t imagine losing two children on the same day. I had a niece who was killed in a terrible bicycle accident when she was just 11, and I’ve seen what it can do to a family. You need a lot of strength just to go on and you never get over it, so I would say that the words on that stone are accurate.

  3. I feel the broken hearts. Very interesting to see ‘wife and cousin’ written on the headstone. The cousinly relationship was obviously very important.

      1. After reading your post, I happened upon this
        By Elizabeth Barrett Browning
        I tell you, hopeless grief is passionless;
        That only men incredulous of despair,
        Half-taught in anguish, through the midnight air
        Beat upward to God’s throne in loud access
        Of shrieking and reproach. Full desertness,
        In souls as countries, lieth silent-bare
        Under the blanching, vertical eye-glare
        Of the absolute heavens. Deep-hearted man, express
        Grief for thy dead in silence like to death—
        Most like a monumental statue set
        In everlasting watch and moveless woe
        Till itself crumble to the dust beneath.
        Touch it; the marble eyelids are not wet:
        If it could weep, it could arise and go.

        Perhaps you already know it. EBB wrote it after the death of her brother, by drowning. I think your post and this poem complement each other beautifully. I hope you agree.

      2. I’ve read and liked much of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry – and not just because she had a Jamaican background! (smile)
        It is such an expressive poem.Of all human emotions, grief must be the most painful, and she’s captured the bleakness – and the silence of it – so well.

      3. I have read some EBB, but not a great deal. Often I don’t understand what she is writing but, for some reason, ‘the light went on’ with this poem.

      4. Sometimes, with a poem, I have to struggle to understand the overall meaning, but lines and phrases jump out at me and hit me in the gut. She’s one of those.

        Wonder what it was like for her and Robert Browning, being a couple. I know they wrote to each other in poetry sometimes. But did they talk to each other in poetry too? (smile)

  4. How very sad. I am glad you are inserting such history into the story — it makes the tale all the more real, vivid in the reader’s imagination.

    1. Thank you, Rose. There is one last episode to come, the closing episode. I’m going to miss the Farncombs and Ebor House. Researching their story gave me a unique glimpse at the history of my country.
      I’m so glad you and others have encouraged me to keep going, exhausted though I am at this moment.

    1. You’re exactly right. As someone once said “a house’s best ornaments are the people who visit”.

      And maybe the people who live there help to bring out a house’s “soul”.

  5. What a sad story. They had so much to make them happy and it was all snatched away in the most painful way imaginable.
    I suppose every old house has seen great joy and great sadness too.

    1. Yes, Chloris. But I think you British know and expect that every old house has seen great joy and sadness. After all, many of your houses are hundreds of years old.

      With Canada being a newer country, most of our houses are new or new-ish, especially near cities.
      And not only is there a preference among many for new houses, but a real suspicion about older houses too, because some believe that they’re most likely to have experienced tragedy.Perhaps it’s a “new world thing”. Is it, or does the same suspicion exist where you are?

      1. I think it probably is a new world thing. After all if you have a very old house you know many people will have died in your house. And because medicine was so primitive every family had to endure enormous loss. Infant mortality rate in Tudor times was 200- 250 in every 1000 babies. Life expectancy was very low., and of course the plague kept wiping out whole families. I know people who lived in my house will have endured great hardship but I hope they will have enjoyed happy times too. It feels like a happy house.

      2. Mine too. But perhaps that’s because I’ve lived in it, and now it is just home. I imagine that people who have lived in Ebor House feel the same way.

  6. Those poor people! One can hardly imagine how they must have felt that day – wondering where the boys had got to and then the awful news…
    One of the houses I lived in when I was growing up was haunted. I never saw or heard anything but my father and sister did. The woman they saw and heard seemed very unhappy and she was seen when they themselves were feeling low. I was aware of an atmosphere sometimes but never felt scared. The house had been lived in and to live fully is to experience all the emotions. I think there are certain places where those strong emotions seem to linger and can be experienced again ‘second-hand’

  7. I wonder if some of us are more sensitive to sad energy left in a house, while some are not? And does that mean that those people are also more sensitive to joyful energy in a house?
    I don’t like the idea of a house being haunted by sadness, but I sure like the idea of it being haunted by joy!

  8. This was indeed a tragedy that went to the graves with John and Jane. I’m glad that a good life was to be had by the next generations. It seems sad to me that it still isn’t in the family. I’ve seen this happen many times. I have my trusts written so that this doesn’t happen to my place and the land. Great work you did on this. You really should consider a book. You could follow the guys on American Pickers. Lol. Great job, Cynthia.

    1. I know. so many people would prefer this, but it wasn’t possible in this particular case.
      I am glad you read this. I was thinking about a piece on your blog – a Chambers piece about how hard it is to stay on the mountaintop – that it is down in the valley that we find God. But some tragedies are so painful at times that it feels as if God isn’t listening. Even a priest and his wife must have felt this. My heart went out to that family.

      As for a book: If a 6 part blog series takes so much work, can you imagine what it would take to do a book on this? Yikes.

      1. You’re right on the feelings and the Chambers piece. Remember that Jesus said He felt like God had forsaken Him before the crucifixion. It’s by faith that we lay hold of The Lord in spite of our circumstances. We all can go through these times but we know we shall overcome in the end.

        I think you have already done a splendid job and the book may be half finished with most wonderful photos.

      1. Thanks very much, Cynthia. The house had been built for a wealthy haberdasher in the town in the 1890s. We were only the fourth owners – those who sold it to us having been living there only 4 years. It was really unchanged. For an art project my daughter produced an architectural history of the house as one of local interest. Unfortunately the college kept it so I haven’t been able to use it.

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