HOBART TOWN DAILY COURIER - MARCH 25TH 1857
The fine old mansion on Richmond Green known as Hope House, and tenanted for several years past by the Royal School for the Education of Daughters of Naval Officers, was destroyed by fire at an early hour this morning.
The premises have been unoccupied since July last, when the pupils of the Naval School were removed to St Margaret’s, formerly the beautiful residence of the Earl of Kilmorey, on the Middlesex shore of the river, opposite Richmond, but now one of the newly acquired estates of the Conservative Land Society.
The Royal Naval Female School that came to St. Margarets from Richmond in July 1856 was founded in 1840 by Admiral Sir Thomas Williams to “provide education for the daughters of necessitous officers.” His endowment of £1000 (equivalent to £55,000 today) marked the end of a long career serving his country with distinction during the American Revolutionary War, the French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic War.
It was years later, in 1869, and long after his death that an account first appeared in a New Zealand newspaper of a “mysterious presentiment” that Admiral Williams had experienced while crossing the Atlantic during the early part of his career.
EVENING POST ISSUE 106 - 15 JUNE 1869
A mysterious presentiment
The following is published in the Court Journal, on the authority of the Dowager Lady Lyttleton, Hagley Hall: –
“Admiral Sir Thomas Williams, a straightforward and excellent man, founder of the Royal Naval Female School for the education of naval officers’ daughters, was in command of a ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean. His course brought him within sight of the Island of Ascension, at that time uninhabited, and never visited by any ship except for the purpose of collecting turtles, which abound on the coast. The island was barely described on the horizon, and was not to be noticed at all but as Sir Thomas looked at if, he was seized by an unaccountable desire to steer towards it. He felt how strange such a wish would appear to his crew, and tried to disregard it – but in vain. His desire became more and more urgent and distressing, and foreseeing that it would soon be more difficult to gratify it, he told his lieutenant to prepare to ‘put about ship and steer for Ascension’. The officer to whom he spoke ventured respectfully to represent that changing their course would greatly delay them– that just at that moment the men were going to their dinner – that, at least, some delay might be allowed. But these arguments seemed to increase Captain William’s anxiety, and he gave the word of command, which is never resisted. He saw in the countenance of his officers an expression of wonder and even blame, as strong as is ever shown on an order from the captain; but he was obeyed, and the ship was steered towards the uninteresting little island. All eyes and spy-glasses were now fixed upon it, and soon something was perceived on the shore. “It is white – it is a flag– it must be a signal!” and when they neared the shore, it was ascertained that sixteen men, wrecked on that coast many days before, and suffering the extremity of hunger, had set up a signal, though almost without a hope of relief. The shipwrecked men were taken on board and the voyage completed. Sir Thomas related this anecdote in the simplest and most tranquil manner, in A.D. 1818 (years after the date of its occurrence) to the writer of this account.
Admiral Sir Thomas Williams’ “mysterious presentiment” was picked up by Victorian clerics and used as a theme for numerous sermons - the argument being…
“It was the Spirit of God that made the Admiral steer his ship in the very opposite direction to what he and his crew wanted - in the same way as Christ’s supreme power steers us to witness for Him to others. He conquers our wilful hearts and this sinful world, if we will but obey His call.”
The good Admiral and founder of the Royal Naval Female School on the St. Margarets riverside died in 1841. Nearly 100 years later - on September 29th 1940 the School was damaged by blast from a bomb. The 70 staff and pupils were unharmed as they were sleeping in the basement of the building at the time. The following day it was decided to suspend the Autumn Term and the school was closed down. It reopened again on November 27th but this time at Verdley Place, near Haselmere. Two days later, on November 29th 1940 - the original school building in St Margarets was hit again by incendiary and high explosive bombs and destroyed. Locals suspected that the bombers were actually after Richmond Lock which was close by the school.
Strangely the Royal Naval Female School had also received a’ mysterious presentiment’ - this time of its own fate. It came in early September 1940 from the Nazi propagandist William Joyce, a.k.a “Lord Haw Haw”. Broadcasting from Berlin he announced…
“Germany calling! Germany calling…..we are sorry to have to bomb the Naval School - so upsetting for the fathers at sea!”
– from Martyn Day