Robert Dymond, F.S.A. [Obituary]

Trans. Devon. Assoc., 1889, Vol XXI, pp.65-69.


Rev. W. Harpley, M.A.

Prepared by Michael Steer

The obituary was presented at the Association’s July 1889 Tavistock meeting. Robert Dymond, a keen local historian and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, was born in Exeter in 1821, the son of an Estate Agent. He bought Dunstone and Blackslade Manor in 1869 and lived in Blackslade Manor House on Dartmoor until his death in 1888. The ancient manor house was mentioned in Domesday as the Manor of 'Blacheslac' which, with Dunstone, preceded the settlement of 'Wydecumb' by some time. .He was a respected member of Exeter’s community joining numerous local societies. More details on Robert Dymond and his family can be found in Stephen Wood’s book ‘Widecombe-in-the-Moor - A Pictorial History of a Dartmoor Village. The article, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.

[The following obituary is substantially a copy of a notice which appeared in Notes and Gleanings, September, 1888, only a few corrections, omissions, and additions having been made.]

Robert Dymond, F.S.A., died at his residence at Widecombe-in-the-Moor, near Ashburton, on Friday, August 31st, 1888. For some years past Mr. Dymond's friends, aware of serious heart mischief, and of the prolonged fainting fits to which he was subject, had felt his life to be a precarious one, but even with this knowledge the shock of his sudden death was hardly lessened. While walking near his house with Mrs. Dymond, on August 25th, he was attacked by one of his dreaded fainting fits, and notwithstanding the almost immediate attendance of his son-in-law, Mr. Tosswill, of Exeter, and afterwards of Dr. Huxley, of Torquay, and of Dr. Adams, of Ashburton, he never recovered consciousness, except at very short intervals ; and on Friday morning, the 31st August, he quietly and peacefully passed away.

The late Mr. Dymond was a member of a family which, belonging to the Society of Friends, had for several generations held a respected position in Exeter and in the Western Counties. He was the eldest son of the late Robert Dymond, estate agent, of Exeter, who died in 1866, by Anne Priscilla, daughter of the late Mr. John C. Williams, of the same city, and was born 8th September, 1824, in the parish of St. Edmund, Exeter. He was educated at Mr. Lovell Squire's school at Falmouth, and subsequently practised at Exeter as a land surveyor and estate agent, in partnership with his father and his younger brother, Mr. Frank Dymond. During the last few years, however, he ceased to take any active part in the business, which is now entirely in the hands of Mr. F. Dymond.

In 1851 Robert Dymond was married at Kingsbridge to Josephine, daughter of Mr. Joseph Hingston, of that place, and by this marriage he leaves a son, Arthur Hingston Dymond, and two daughters.

Though never taking a very active part in the municipal affairs of Exeter, he always took a warm interest in the public life of the city and the Western Counties, and in the year 1872 he was appointed one of Her Majesty's Justices for the city. For many years, and until his death, he sat on the Board of Directors of the West of England Insurance Company, of which he was President in 1879. Between the years 1848 and 1853 he was particularly interested in the work and welfare of the Exeter Literary Society, of which institution he was for several years Honorary Secretary, and before which he read numerous papers on various subjects. In 1875 he was appointed Honorary Secretary of the Devon and Exeter Institution, an office which he held jointly with Mr. Alfred Wallis at the time of his death. He was also a member of the Committee of the Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter; a member of the Council of this Association ; a member of the Harleian Society ; and a member of the Teign Naturalists' Field Club (President in 1886) ; and in 1872 he was admitted a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. It is probable that Mr. Dymond would not himself have sought this honour, and his election must be attributed to the kindly urgency of his friend, the late Mr. John Gough Nichols, F.S.A., the then editor of the Herald and Genealogist.

Robert Dymond was a man of very kind and genial disposition, and noted for his attentive courtesy and ready assistance to all with whom he came in contact.  But it will be by his antiquarian and historical works that his name will go down to posterity, honoured and respected. From youth upwards he found delight in literary pursuits, and ever took an active interest in all that contributed to intellectual culture. He was a painstaking, zealous, and careful antiquary, and one who was particularly anxious to avoid those speculative enquiries and theories which have so often, since the time of Jonathan Oldbuck, brought the antiquary into disrepute. His numerous papers and pamphlets on antiquarian and historical subjects were always well and carefully written, and possessed that quality without which all contributions to scientific enquiry and research are of little value - accuracy.

During the last meeting of the Association in Exeter Mr. Dymond, in spite of failing health, made a point of being present throughout most of the proceedings, and a paper of his on "Manor Customs in the Parish of Braunton" was read at this meeting. This paper and an Abstract of the Muniments of the parish of St. Petrock, are the last works from the pen of Robert Dymond. We can ill afford to lose such an honest, painstaking literary character as Robert Dymond, and his place cannot readily be filled; deeply regretted by his literary friends, with them his memory will ever be green. He died as he expected, and indeed desired - quietly and peaceably amongst the glorious hills and tors of the Dartmoor he loved so well.

In 1871 he published in the Herald and Genealogist an elaborate "Memoir of the ancient Devonshire Family of Cary," the result of years of labour and research amongst the extensive muniments preserved at Tor Abbey. And in 1873 this was followed by a paper read at a meeting of the Association at Sidmouth, on "Sir George Cary, of Cockington: a Devonshire Worthy of the Elizabethan Era."

The other papers read at meetings of the Association and afterwards published in the Transactions were, "John Dunning; First Lord Ashburton;" and conjointly with the late Rev. Treasurer Hawker, "John Ford, Dramatist," read at Ashburton in 1876.

Later appeared "Heraldic Discoveries in Exeter Cathedral," and a "Historical Sketch of Kingsbridge and Dodbrooke," read at Kingsbridge in 1877 ; "Historical Documents relating to Dartmoor," read at Ilfracombe in 1879 ; "Ancient Documents relating to the Civil History of Totnes," and "The Old Inns and Taverns of Exeter," read at Totnes in 1880; and "The History of the Parish of St. Petrock's, Exeter," read at Crediton in 1882. This was the work which above all others called forth the praise of competent judges, and the late Mr. Stephen Tucker, of the Heralds' College, afterwards Somerset Herald, wrote a review of the book in The Antiquary, calling special attention to it as an "almost perfect" specimen of painstaking research and historical knowledge.

With the artistic assistance of his friend, Mr. Sidney T. Whiteford, Mr. Dymond wrote for five years in succession the "Report of the Committee on Works of Art in Devonshire," and out of this work grew a paper on “Thomas Luny, Marine Painter," of which the first part was read at St Marychurch in 1886, and the second part, containing a '' Descriptive list of Pictures," at Plympton in 1887.

He was also much engaged as a member of a Committee in the transcript in extended Latin, and the translation into English, of the large portion of Domesday Book relating to Devonshire.

Amongst other pamphlets were two essays on agricultural subjects (one of which gained a prize), reprinted from the Bath and West of England Journal in 1856 and 1857; "Bampfylde House, Exeter;" a "History of the Suburban Parish of St. Leonard, Exeter," which was based on a paper read at a Meeting of the Exeter Naturalists' Club and Archaeological Society in 1873; "Early Records of the Society of Friends in Devonshire in 1873;" "Exeter in the last Century," a lecture delivered to and published at the request of the members of the Exeter Literary Society, in 1887; and "A Deserted Meeting House and Burial Ground," reprinted from the Friends' Quarterly Examiner, in 1886.

In 1876 he edited and contributed largely to a book entitled Things New and Old Concerning the Parish of Widecorribe-in-the-Moor and the Neighbourhood which (as stated in the preface) was "compiled in connection with an effort to raise funds for the restoration of the fine old Parish Church of Widecombe-in-the-Moor," and the proceeds of its sale were devoted to that object. This book is now out of print. He contributed several papers to the Archaeological Journal, as well as sundry reviews on antiquarian subjects in the local newspapers and other publications, besides numerous other papers bearing his name or initials.

It has been touchingly and very aptly remarked that "whilst constantly alive to the uncertainty of his condition yet death had no terrors for him, and he was able to enter to the last, with his usual cheerfulness, into his ordinary occupations. It would have been more distressing had he at all outlived his vigour and clearness of mind."

It is interesting to note that Mr. Dymond was the nephew of Mr. Jonathan Dymond, the author of Essays on the Principles of Morality and on the Private and Political Rights and Obligations of Mankind, a work which has attained a world-wide celebrity, and has gone through several editions, and of which Mr. John Bright observed in 1885, "I know no better book in our language, dealing with morals as applied to nations, than Dymond’s Essays. As the world becomes more Christian this book will be more read, and the name of the author more revered." This work, in two volumes octavo, which must be regarded as one of exceptional importance to issue from the local press at that time (1830), was printed by William Carss Pollard, son of the founder of the firm of William Pollard & Co., Exeter.

Mr. Jonathan Dymond, with other members of his family, founded in Exeter in the early part of the century an "Essay Society/' their papers being known as the ''Iscan Budget."