A Life of Matthew Fontaine Maury/Appendix D

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Notices of Maury's Death—Proposed Memorial to his Memory—Extracts from his Will.


The papers throughout the States, and the journals of almost all the countries of Europe, vied with each other in expressions of sympathy and respect for Maury's memory.

An "eye-witness" wrote as follows in the Richmond Dispatch of February 3rd, 1873:—

"It was announced in all the churches in Lexington yesterday that the remains of Commander M. F. Maury would lie in state in the hall of the library of the Military Institute from three o'clock this afternoon till Wednesday, in order that all friends and admirers of this great and good man might be enabled to see his face once more. The gallery round the hall was festooned with black. A large anchor and a cross of evergreens were placed at alternate angles. The columns were draped spirally. The wall was covered with maps constructed under the supervision of the deceased. Inclining at an angle of 45 degrees, on opposite sides of the gallery, were placed two flags, the one of his native State, the other of his adopted State—Virginia and Tennessee—both heavily draped. Near the bier stood a large globe tastefully draped, and the inscription was striking in its appropriateness—' The whole world is mourning for Maury." The bier was in the centre of the hall, and was covered with black broadcloth.

"At 4 p.m. the coffin was borne from the late residence of the deceased to the hall by twelve commissioned officers of the cadet battalion, in full-dress uniform, wearing sash and belt, followed by the Faculty of the Institute.

"The coffin having arrived at the hall, and the lid having been removed, a pall was thrown over the lower part of the body, the face and upper part remaining uncovered; then, at a motion from the officer in charge, the corporal placed his sentinel on the solemn beat alongside the bier.

"The body was dressed in a plain suit of black; on the breast had been carefully placed the various Orders that had been conferred upon him by different crowned heads in Europe in recognition of his distinguished services in the cause of science. The corpse was the most beautiful and life-like I ever saw: a sweet and gentle smile rested upon the cold lips, and he looked at peace. After the corps of cadets had passed in and looked their last upon the face of their dead professor, and the crowd of mourners had gone, the hall was deserted by all save the lonely sentinel pacing his round."

"For three days the body lay in state in the library," says the Norfolk Journal "and to-day, at ten minutes past one o'clock, the remains of Commander Maury, the great American meteorologist, were laid in their temporary resting-place in. a vault in the cemetery at Lexington. Among the decorations on the breast of the dead Maury, were the 'Legion of Honour,' given by Napoleon III.; the Portuguese Order of the ' Tower and Sword,' given for 'valour, loyalty, and merit'; Order of 'St. Ann of Russia'; Order of the 'Dannebrog,' given by the King of Denmark; Order of our ' Lady of Guadeloupe,' given by the Emperor of Mexico, and placed upon him by the hands of the Empress Carlotta, and others."

A solemn funeral service was held in the hall by the Rev. Wm. Pendleton, D.D., of Grace Church, of which the deceased was a member. The coffin was placed in a hearse, drawn by four led horses, and taken to the vault, attended by the cadet battalion in full force and the Faculty of the Institute, professors and students of Washington and Lee University and citizens generally. The senior class of the Institute acted as pall-bearers.

The business houses were all closed, the bells of the churches and public buildings were tolled, and guns were fired at regular intervals from the camp. The vault is of native mountain-granite, and is immediately in front of the grave of "Stonewall Jackson."

The New York Herald, February 10th, 1873, published a letter from "A British Sailor," who proposed to show the appreciation and gratitude of seafaring men by raising a substantial subscription for the benefit of Commander Maury's family. In commenting on this the New York Herald says, "We need only add to this merited testimonial of Commander Maury's services and appeal for his family, that we shall be happy to receive any contributions for the noble object proposed." The communication from "A British Sailor" was translated into French and published in the Courier dee États-Unis and in another French paper, and in many leading papers of the United States. When his widow was told of this she was deeply moved, and exclaimed to her children, as she burst into tears, "No, no! If your father has left me a little, that little shall be enough. Write at once to the papers and tell them I do not wish a subscription started there in my behalf "—which was done.

The following resolutions of respect and sympathy were passed by the General Assembly of Virginia, Monday, Feb. 3rd, 1873.



Lieutenant-Governor J. L. Morye in the Chair.


The following preamble and joint resolutions were offered by Mr. Anderson, of Rockbridge, after the reading of the despatch to the Governor announcing the death of Commander Maury:—

"The intelligence of the death of Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury has been received by the General Assembly with heartfelt sorrow and profound regret.

"The learning and labours and genius which through a busy lifetime he consecrated to the highest uses of his country and mankind, and his self-sacrifice and devotion to the State, render it proper that Virginia should recognise at the grave the virtues of her illustrious son.

"In the general grief which pervades thousands of hearts in both hemispheres, we but give expression to the sentiment of all who knew him when we point to his noble, earnest, and unselfish life as a beautiful illustration of what the most ardent votary of science, animated by lofty Christian principle, may accomplish for humanity. But while Virginia admires the virtues and genius of her lamented son, there is no need that she should show them to the world. The world knows him already. His fame, like his usefulness, has been limited only by the confines of commerce and of civilisation, and history will perpetuate the recollection of his character and achievements. Virginia mourns his loss, and with the loved ones of his household grieves over the sad event which has ended his labours on earth, and rejoices in the assurance that he has been borne from scenes of suffering here to the blessedness and peace of a happier and brighter world."

"Resolved (the House of Delegates concurring) that the foregoing paper be adopted by the General Assembly, and be spread upon the journals of the Senate and House of Delegates, and be communicated to the family of Commander Maury and to the Faculty of the Virginia Military Institute."

Mr. Anderson, of Rockbridge, in presenting the resolutions, made a fine eulogy upon the character, life, and services of the deceased. Mr. Wynne seconded the resolutions, and also eulogised Commander Maury, not only for his great scientific attainments, but as a Christian gentleman and as a Virginian who loved his native State with a warmth beyond comparison.

The resolutions were unanimously adopted and communicated to the House.




Speaker Hanger in the Chair.


Senator Anderson, of Rockbridge, came with a message bearing the Senate resolutions on the death of Commander M. F. Maury.

After eulogies upon the character and abilities and services of the deceased savant and patriot, by Messrs. Progue, Gilmer, and Douglas, the resolutions were unanimously adopted, and on motion of Mr. Donald the House adjourned.

Remarks of Mr. Anderson, of Rockbridge, in the Senate, upon moving the adoption of resolutions in relation to the death of Commander Maury:—

"The melancholy intelligence which you have formally announced, Mr. President, will occasion deep sorrow wherever it is received.

"In the presence of this sad event, I can hardly trust myself to speak of the character and the history of the great man who has just been removed from the scenes of his earthly labours and usefulness.

"It was, sir, vouchsafed to no man of his generation to live to see so much good accomplished as the direct result of his own efforts and discoveries; and perhaps no man, living or dead. has ever contributed more to the practical welfare of mankind. This is not strange, for he devoted his life to the advancement and improvement of his race, and, forgetting self, worked for the good of humanity.

"History will place his name and character in the same rank with Newton and Humboldt, for the field of his researches was no less extensive than theirs, and the benefits conferred upon the world have been as great.

"I doubt whether we yet fully realise the greatness of the work which he accomplished, and the fame which he achieved. His simple and unostentatious and laborious life was only rendered conspicuous by its results. His triumphs were the mastery of the laws of matter, and were bloodless and noiseless, but they were more beneficial, and not less glorious, than the victories of war.

"There is not a ship that moves on the ocean, there is not an article of commerce used by civilised men, which does not tell the story of his labours and his genius, and throughout civilisation, and especially throughout the maritime world, he is rightly regarded as one of the greatest benefactors.

"Others have perfected the systems which his genius originated, and have to a great extent reaped the fruits of his discoveries; but the world will, sooner or later, accord to him the debt of gratitude and the need of praise which are his due

"The crowning honour of Commander Maury's life was that, a devotee to science, he was a faithful servant of the living God, and a fearless searcher after truth; he was an humble and earnest soldier and follower of Christ.

"He has been an honour to Virginia, an honour to America, and an honour to civilisation, and in gratefully recognising this we do but honour ourselves."[1]

The road from Lexington to the then nearest railway-station passed through a beautiful gorge in the Blue Ridge Mountains known as the Goshen Pass. When the bereaved family were moving to their future home in Richmond, bearing the remains of their dead with them for interment at that place, this pass was decorated with flowers by loving unknown hands, in response to the touching request made before his death, "When you carry me through the Goshen Pass, let it be in the spring-time, and pluck the rhododendron and the laurel and shower them on my bier."

His body now lies in Holywood, between the last resting-places of Ex-Presidents Monroe and Tyler, on a lovely knoll overlooking the James River.



The following is a copy of a communication transmitted to Governor Kemper:—

Sir, Richmond, Va., Jan. 23rd, 1874.

The Superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute has received a communication from Commodore Jansen, of the Royal Netherland's Navy, proposing the construction of a lighthouse on the Rocos Banks as a memorial to the distinguished services rendered to mankind by the late Commander M. F. Maury, LL.D.

This proposition has received the endorsement of the Royal Geographical Society of Great Britain. We are permitted to submit the following extracts from letters on this subject:—

London, 21, Eccleston Square, S.W.,
My dear Jansen, May 13th, 1873.

The President and Council of the Geographical Society have authorized me to tell you, that as soon as the proposal for the "Maury Memorial" takes regular shape, they will be glad to give the plan their cordial support. Sir Henry Rawlinson thinks that the plan should originate in America. Will you ask General Smith, as soon as the plan is well under way, to write officially to our Geographical Society and to the Societies on the Continent?

Yours sincerely,
Clements R. Markham.

My dear General, Delft, Holland, May 15th, 1873.

From Markham's letter you will see that the Royal Geographical Society will give the "Maury Memorial," in the shape of a lighthouse on the Rocos, their cordial and hearty assistance and support, if it is set on foot on your side.

Now can't you find in every State, among the leading men, admirers of Maury, to club together into a memorial committee by which the circular can be issued to the scientific societies all over the world inviting their co-operation, and asking the Emperor of Brazil's sanction to erect a lighthouse by private international subscriptions to the great hydrographer; and if the Emperor would like to accept it for maintenance and repair, and by so doing let his contribution take this shape, that the lighthouse shall be built by His Majesty out of the committee's funds, and be lighted and maintained out of the Brazilian exchequer?

Most truly yours,
To General Francis H. Smith.

Maury, in his Sailing Directions, had called the attention of the United States Government to the importance of a lighthouse on the Rocos, as may be seen by the following extracts. Vol. 2, 8th Ed., 1859, p. 348:—

"The trans-equatorial trade of Europe, as well as that of America, is interested in the establishment of a lighthouse or beacon on the Rocos. Grass Island is ten feet or more—so says Lieutenant Lee—above the water, and the cocoanut would grow finely there. It is to be hoped that the request contained in the following letter will be complied with at an early day.

Sir, Observatory, Washington, October 29th, 1858.

The new routes to the line have brought the Rocos of Brazil in 'the fair way' of all vessels bound thence to Rio, to California, India, China, Australia, or any of the ports beyond either of the two Great Southern Capes.

These shoals (the Rocos) were well surveyed by Lieutenant S. P. Lee, in the 'Dolphin,' in 1852, when she was sent, under the law of 1849, to assist in the investigations of this office. They are in lat. 3° 51' S., long. 33° 49' W. Two small islands, Grass and Sand Islands, are on these shoals. They are a few feet above the water. The first warning that a navigator has of his approach to them is generally by the breakers.

Captain Sam G. Brooks, of the bark 'Inman,' thinks that cocoanut-trees would grow on them, and serve as an admirable beacon to ships that pass that way. Seeing that these shoals lie in such a great thoroughfare—for they are also in the track of all homeward-bound traders from South America and coasters from California—and considering the importance of the suggestion, I have to request that some of the vessels on the Coast of Brazil be directed to procure both the nut and the plant of the cocoanut-palm, and plant them on the Rocos as they pass that way.

The vessels of the Paraguay Expedition, as they return homo, afford an excellent opportunity of carrying out the suggestion.

Respectfully, &c.,
M. F. Maury,
To Hon. Isaac Toncey,
Secretary of the Navy.

The above letters impart great interest to the 'Maury Memorial,' and with the encouraging prospect afforded by them of the hearty co-operation of foreign governments and societies in giving effect to the scheme, we are well assured that your Excellency will take pleasure in laying the subject before the general assembly for such moral support as may most fitly be given by the representations of a State which gave Maury to the world.

In behalf of the Board of Visitors of the Virginia Military Institute.

John Letcher,
President of the Board,
To His Excellency, James L. Kemper,
Governor of Virginia."

The Petersburg Index Appeal thus wrote:—


". . . . Here is a signal and assuring instance of great labours faithfully done, in honour of which the world now raises its voice of emphatic acclaim and praise. The proposed erection of a lighthouse, to be named after Maury, is a fitting expression of the world's appreciation of his services, and reflects credit on the governments which have united in this tribute to the goodness and the greatness of the dead."


Virginia took no further steps in the matter, however, and the whole scheme fell to the ground and was forgotten. Twelve years afterwards a leading Southern journal said:—

"The value of Maury's services is incalculable, and that the Government has forgotten him gives all the more reason that the South should protect his memory and strive to perpetuate his fame.

"He was the greatest teacher that ever gave his talents to her service, and he gave up the surroundings and the work of his life to enter it. He has been dead now nearly twelve years, and yet no memorial marks his career and shows that of his stamp and kind are the men the South delights to honour."


  1. Extract from the Richmond Whig of Monday, January 26th, 1874.