An 80th Birthday Poem by the Aeronautical Baronet

Sir George Cayley, the 6th (aeronautical) baronet, was always a man who teased and flattered ladies. Including his wife, right up to the end of what was a very long marriage. Here is a poem he wrote on her 80th birthday in 1853.

Full many a pleasing, many an anxious thought
This lengthened day of eighty years has brought.
The sylph-like form, with budding beauty graced,
The guileless smile, by no reserve defaced,
In early life my soul enchanted held,
And every worldly anguish daily quelled.
In middle life a numerous offspring bound
Our hearts still closer on this mutual ground.
Advancing years dispersed that youthful flock:
Marriage and death parental bonds unlock,
And childhood ripened into man’s estate
Runs the same round assigned to us by fate.
In after life by gradual slight decay
We cheerful trod our ever downward way;
And now the barrier seems upon its verge,
A future world beyond the funeral dirge
Comes full in view, and with its cheering smile
In trustful confidence all fears beguile.
To meet in that bright world of peace above
Those who engaged our short and earthly love,
To part no more, and share in heavenly joy
Angelic thoughts, and loves that never cloy;
In these chaste views our hearts can still unite –
The rising moon outshines the coming night.

The reference to meeting in “that bright world of peace” may well have been hopeful thinking. Sarah, his wife, was prone to furious outbursts of temper, and it was said of Sir George that, as a result, he had been born in Paradise but lived in Purgatory.


In Full Regalia in a Rickshaw to Quell Riots

Henry Priaulx Cayley (1877-1942 – see A Banker’s Family) was a naval officer who spent part of his career with the Australian navy. He saw action in the North Sea during WW1. On one occasion in 1917 he reported that his ship, the Sydney, of which he was then second-in-command, was having some “differences of opinion” with a zeppelin which “amused herself by sitting up overhead, well out of range, and thoroughly bombing us.”

In 1919 he was on his way back on the Sydney, of which he was now captain, to Australia when riots broke out in the Straits Settlements – the colony consisting of Malacca, Dinding, Penang and Singapore. He and his ship were called in to help restore order.

Besides more conventional ways, like sending landing parties into Singapore and Penang, he clearly decided it was a time to show some imperial aplomb. At Penang he donned his full ceremonial naval uniform and rode through the chief city in a rickshaw. Whether this fearsome display was enough to end the disturbances there, alas the accounts do not tell us.

I am sure my sister-in-law, who, among her many artistic skills, is a brilliant cartoonist, could portray the scene!

A Right Royal Visit … and a Cayley

This has long been one of my favourite Cayley stories.

George Cuthbert Cayley (1866-1944, grandson of the 7th Cayley baronet) was a career naval officer who rose to the rank of Vice-Admiral. For much of WW1 he was in charge of naval facilities at Harwich. In 1915 King George V made a visit, and George Cuthbert Cayley escorted him around. George V asked him who one of the hovering dignitaries was. “Oh, that is the Chief Constable of Suffolk. He has been in office for 30 years.” When the king commented that that was a long time, the reply came, “Yes sir, just 30 years too long.” Asked to expand on this, our worthy Cayley added, “Well sir, he’s a damned old fool and the County have been trying to get rid of him for 30 years!”

Source: The Keyes Papers, vol. 1, pub. Navy Records Society 1975 – letter of 25 April 1915 from Sir Reginald Tyrwhitt (who was in command of the British ships based at Harwich)

An Australian bridge champion

I well remember when, in my later teens, my first real girlfriend, who was a bridge player, tried to teach me how to play. Bidding systems were beyond me, and it was almost the quick end of our relationship. We soon decided I had a mental block.

So it was with some humility that I discovered the other year that one Cayley was an Australian bridge champion. He was Harry Francis Cayley (1910-1981), usually known as Frank, son of Henry Priaulx Cayley (about whom there material for at least one future blog post) who was himself a keen bridge player. He was Australian national champion in all the main types of bridge championship – individual, pairs and teams. He represented Australia in bridge matches against New Zealand and frequently played in the top team of his own State of New South Wales. He was a founder member of both the NSW and the Queensland Bridge Associations: he was the first president of the latter, and president of the NSW Association for 38 years, afterwards being given the honour of being made President Emeritus. He was Vice-Presient of the International Bridge Association for ten years, and, for a period, President of the Australia Bridge Federation.

He was a journalist who was the second Australian to have a regular bridge column. He wrote a number of books on bridge, the last of which – Contract Bridge Made Easy – might have helped me in my teens if I had had any aptitude for the game. He also wrote what some regard as still the standard work on the history of the Australian flag – Flag of Stars, reprinted in 1980 as Beneath the Southern Cross: The Story of Australia through Flags.

He was 13 when he first played bridge. This was apparently a school punishment which was inflicted for playing poker, and the punishment angle was that he was kept indoors and not allowed to go boating. Many of us will have had experience of rather more severe punishments at school.

Let me close this blog post with words from Frank Cayley’s last interview, when he said that the “worst attribute in a bridge player is complacency. Self-satisfaction is fatal to progress. When you think you know everything, you really know nothing about the game.” Those thoughts could be applied wisely to so many aspects of our lives.

Main source:

The cricketing baronet

Sir George Allanson Cayley, the 8th Cayley baronet, played first class cricket for Cambridge University and the MCC. Unfortunately, despite the level at which he was selected to play, his actual record smacks just a little of the moderate sporting ability of a number of the Cayleys.

His heyday as a cricketer was from 1854 to 1862, and his batting average was 17.83 runs, not quite enough to get him into the record books, and as a bowler he never secured a wicket. In 1854, playing for the MCC against Cambridge University, he was out for 4 in the first innings (he never got a chance to play in the second). In another match that year, playing for the Cambridge Quidnuncs, he was, so the Chelmsford Chronicle gleefully recorded, caught for a duck.

In 1869, when he was playing for the Yorkshire Gentlemen, he was again out for a duck – though this time as a fielder he caught one of the opposing batsmen. On that occasion he was playing alongside his brother Digby, who was bowled out for 3 runs but managed to catch two of the other sides’ batsmen.

As someone who was always totally hopeless at all sports, I find all this comforting. But it has not stopped the Wikipedia article about George Allanson Cayley being entitled “George Cayley (cricketer)” to distinguish him from his grandfather the aeronautical baronet.


“Reports of my Death are Greatly Exaggerated”

One of a gaggle of Cayleys – father, sons and grandson – who distinguished themselves in the military was Henry Cayley (1834 to 1904), the father. He rose to the rank of Deputy Surgeon-General in India, and in retirement volunteered to go out to South Africa to run a hospital at the start of the Second Boer War, and was Honorary Surgeon to Queen Victoria and King Edward VII.

In his younger days in India, his aptitudes were evidently seen as going well beyond the medical. Early in his career, alongside medical duties, he was put in charge of a Sikh police corps. He took part in a number of expeditions in N W India and central Asia, and also represented the United Kingdom in a mission to Turkmenistan. In 1867 he was appointed Joint British Commissioner in Ladakh, and soon after the British newspapers reported that he had been killed. At the end of December that year, they issued a corrective report stating that, happily, “the reported assassination of Assistant-Surgeon H Cayley, the British representative at Ladak, was without foundation; and some very interesting notes by him respecting that remote region have just been published.”

Lacking in Bedside Manner

I always enjoy this extract from the obituary of my great-great-uncle Dr William Cayley (1836-1916) in the British Medical Journal.

“Cayley’s abilities as a physician were recognised by his colleagues as being of the highest order. But he was reticent to a fault and lacking in the bedside manner and the capacity for small talk that often contribute to popular success. A lover of flowers and the classics, he was an expert mountaineer, spending his annual holidays in Switzerland and the Tyrol. A bachelor, non-smoker and teetotaller, he died in retirement in Richmond.”

C E Lakin, who studied and worked with him, said that William Cayley was always “quick, direct and practical.” He described William Cayley’s ward rounds thus:

“at the bedside there would be a few questions, “a rapid examination conducted with a suppressed eagerness of manner and mostly with closed eyes, a picking out of the hidden feature of a case, possibly another question or two, and then the sudden enunciation of the diagnosis… It reminded one remotely of the oracular announcements of Apollo.”

William Cayley also gave lectures to medical students in an inimitable style. Quoting C E Lakin again:

“The lecturer started with rapid, jerky sentences as though possessed of great eagerness to impart important or wonderful information of absorbing interest, the words tumbling over each other in their intensely eager delivery. A short pause followed each principal sentence as though to give his listeners time to take in what had been so rapidly presented.”

When in my working life I gave training talks to junior civil servants, or spoke at conferences of business or City people, I suspect my manner was similar: it must have been in the genes.

One day William Cayley turned up at the Middlesex Hospital, where he was based, with a smile on his face. When a colleague remarked on this, he responded, “To see a patient at home is a somewhat rare event these days, but this morning I saw two and my dog bit them both!”

A number of Cayleys were noted for being socially awkward, like William Cayley. I would not dream of commenting on living members of the family – not even myself!