|Mary Ripley Fisher, 1871|
Mary Jane Ripley Fisher was the oldest daughter of William Young Ripley of Rutland, Vermont and his second wife, Jane Betsey Warren - learn more here.
In summary from"With Pen or Sword: Lives and times of the remarkable Rutland Ripleys," by Robert G Steele:
Mary Jane Ripley Fisher was the first Ripley to head to a foreign land. It was still war time being summer of 1864. Despite being the least adventurous of the clan, was about to head to London. At the ripe old age of 29, she had married Cyrus Fisher and moved to his home in Vergennes, some 50 miles to the north. They honeymooned at Niagara Falls. Cyrus was a full-bearded, handsome, and ambitious young lawyer. He had made arrangements to go to London as a representative of Emma Mine Company of Utah, a company headquartered in New York City, presumably to market their securities in Europe. The one of the clan she would miss the most was her sister Mary, who had married and moved to Cleveland, Ohio. Once arrived in London, she wrote home frequently, and glimpses of those letters are available in Pen & Sword, starting at page 171. Her early life there was one of routine. Cyrus worked long hours and she had few friends or activities in which to partake. She did do a little sightseeing and her description of her trip to Windsor Castle follows:
"The housekeeper allowed us to go into them (the Royal Chambers) since we are foreigners, but will not allow the English people in, and was very anxious that we should not tell of it here, as it would be a great desecration. She said we must not touch anything, but as I went up first and she last I sat down in the Queen's seat before the housekeeper came in. No one sits in the Queen's Closet since the death of the Prince Consort."
On April 15, 1865, her beloved sister Mary died in childbirth - the same day as the assassination of President Lincoln. Mary took to her bed and grieved for weeks. She wore black and and had nightmares involving her sister's death. Her husband stayed by her bedside during those days until she was recovered enough to resume some sort of daily life. Her grieving would continue and she would occasionally take to her bed. During all this time, they lived as lodgers or in apartments, the cost of housekeeping being out of reach.
Cyrus Fisher, 1871
According to her letters, nourishment took up a large part of her communiques. She asked to have food shipped over as she found the lack of vegetables in the diet of Londoners appalling. She was constantly on a diet and despite it became quite fat. She learned to dress in a style more European and stylish and they entertained quite often.
She had various health concerns over the next years and Cyrus was most solicitous. They traveled to Paris and Mary met with further health issues, delaying her return to London. During this time they also made a trip to Rutland for a visit. Cyrus went back to tend to his law business and while there, finally found a small London house to let in the Hyde Park neighborhood that they could afford.
Cyrus' practice was prospering and he took an additional job with Brooks, a prominent banking house in the City as a trial advisor.
Over the course of the next little time - from 1871 to 1872, they traveled Europe. In 1873, the stock markets began to tumble and before long the world was in a depression. Cyrus had made a number of loans and found himself short of money. Mr Park, President of the Emma Mine Co., owed him 4,200 Pounds, a very substantial amount. He was in New York. Cyrus decided that he would need to see Mr Park personally about the loan and made arrangements with Cunard Line, but another of those who owed Cyrus money, Colonel Fuller, owed him 50 Pounds - he could not pay in cash, so he provided them with first class passage to New York on the White Star liner, Atlantic in payment of the debt.
The Fisher's embarked from Liverpool and were happy with their comfortable cabin and saloon deck. The Atlantic was less than two years old and carried 50 cabin passengers. Almost 900 others were also carried below decks, mostly immigrants. Later reports said the ship had left with less than optimum amounts of coal for the journey due to the Welsh coal miner strike.
The executives of White Star instead of loading enough coal for a round trip, laden it only with enough for the West-bound segment. Four days into the trip, they were caught amidst a full-fledged North Atlantic gale. The captain calculated that if the storm continued one more day, they would have no chance of reaching New York before running out of fuel. Accordingly, he altered course to Halifax, Nova Scotia. On March 31, 1873, they spotted the Halifax shoreline. The captain was unfamiliar with the harbor and the port could not support the ship in the storm and no harbor pilot could get a ship out to help.
On April 1, 1873, they went aground on Mars Head, at Cape Propsect, 25 miles from Halifax. Only one lifeboat was launched and it sunk immediately. Within 15 minutes, she began to break up. Most of those aboard were swept out to sea, with only a few strong enough to struggle ashore. Of the 50 cabin passengers, only 13 survived. One told of seeing Cyrus and Mary on deck together, clinging to the rigging as wave after wave washed over them.
All together, 535 people died. All the women and children aboard perished, making it the greatest maritime disaster of all time until another White Star ship bound for New York would sink 39 years later - The Titanic.
Seneca Dorr was sent to Halifax to recover the remains. Unfortunately, they were never brought up. He was able to recover Mary's chest and all the "court dresses" and costly lace inside.
William was left to deal with the estate. The Fisher finances were tangled. Mr Park wrote from New York expressing sympathy, but stating that far from his owing 4,200 Pounds to Cyrus, Cyrus owed him 7,000 Pounds - he seemed to take advantage of Cyrus' death and ensured that he did not have to pay back the princely sum. Many other financial issues came up. Many admitted that while Cyrus was scrupulously honest, he had been spending more than his income and was trying to make it up in the London Stock Exchange. It also came out that he borrowed certain sums from his father-in-law W Y Ripley, on the security of Mary's potential inheritance on WY's death. Cyrus and Mary, still in their 30s, with the enthusiasm and optimism of youth, had lived it up in London, but their quest for the end of the rainbow led them to no pot of gold, but only a morass of debt and untimely death.
In Rutland, there was a memorial service, with an abundance of black crepe and calla lilies. Their epitaph on the marble shaft in the cemetery reads: Their bodies rest in ocean graves."