The Tides of Life - Autobiography of Dr Frank Dyer (1875 - 1963)
Extract reproduced by kind permission of his Grandson, Martin Dyer
Frank Dyer was born in Golant, Cornwall, in 1875. Before emigrating to the USA in 1892, he worked for a time for the Rashleigh family at Menabilly. His recollections will be of interest to Daphne du Maurier aficionados.
This story begins on the Coast of Cornwall, a land renowned for pirates, fisher-folk and miners. By the Tre, Pol and Pen you may know true Cornishmen.While these prefixes cover a lot of names of men and places, they do not tell the whole story of its varied people. The lure of its rugged coastline stretching from Plymouth to Falmouth on one side, and from Lands End to Tintagel on the other, brought adventuresome folk from many sources who were moulded into one definite type of people, not only by the rhythm and music of the mighty Atlantic, but by the equally rugged Celts who from time immemorial had occupied its noble hills and secret valleys, There was once a man who refused to tell where he was born, "I am here, what difference does it make?" He was not a Cornishman. Besides his love for Cornwall he carries with him everywhere the fame of three favourite dishes; Pasties, Pilchards and Saffron Cake. By these you can test Cornishmen. If he does not know and rave about these, he is no true Cornishman!
As this story involves a new California-Cornish Clan it is well to have these things well established. The new heads of that Clan are Braven, Brainerd, Bonar and Frank whose story will unfold in due course.
A sense of history is a growing attainment of cultured persons. It may
therefore, be anticipated that a growing band of pilgrims who share this
heritage may wish to know something of the story which forms their own
background. One should be able to claim a spot for his birthplace more
definite than the whole of Cornwall. That spot is one by the River
Fowey, where the tides flow in from the Atlantic twice a day. The
Golant; rumour has it that in early times when marauders tried to take
over the location for their own use the inhabitants put up such a
gallant defence that they were given the designation, "The Gallanters,"
from which the present names derives. Although I have now seen ten
thousand other places I would resent being dropped by the stork at any
other spot than my native village. Here beauty reigns as queen. Three
hillsides close her in at the back, and in front of her, for us to gaze
upon, flows the salty River Fowey, which penetrates the rocky coast two
miles below, where it forms the historic port with its ships from all
the world and flows by our beauty spot, so close, that without due care
some of us could roll out of bed right into it.
Four miles north of us the salt river ends at the town of Lostwithiel.
(This name based upon a catastrophe in which all was lost). Along this
deep water river you can find also the towns of Fowey and Polruan and
the place names of Pont, Lanteglos, Brixtow, Penpole, St. Winnow and
Quiller-Couch, the English Author, whose home was in Fowey, tells the story of our river to the world in "Troy Town".
By its banks we learned to swim, man the boats and gather the
delectables of sea food which removed us from the ranks of all
On the banks of that other Cornish river, the Fal, was born our beloved who became our sweetheart, wife, mother and grandmother, queen of our Cornish-California Clan. It is then not hard to understand why 'Tides' have had much to do with our life.
Sunday July 29th, my birthday, was the feast day of our Parish of St. Sampson which united the village with the outer land of farms which constituted our countryside. The Parish Church of St. Sampson-on-the-hill had been built a thousand years before. Sheer granite stones hewn out of the hills makes such endurance believable. St. Sampson was a Bishop from Wales, who later served across the water in Brittany, whose Christian fervour had brought him to Cornwall subdue our rugged forbears from pagan ways to faith in the supreme Lord and Saviour of us all. It was really a great honour to be brought in on that high tide of fellowship and festive honour for our great Bishop and Saint - Sampson.
Being the eleventh child it is hard to imagine any great welcome awaiting my arrival, but my father, as I came to know him, was a great-hearted man, with almost unlimited capacity for labour, who never gave the impression that another mouth to feed, was one too many. At the close of a full day he would plant another row in his three gardens and we were all fed. By the next Easter Sunday my mother was also reconciled and carried me up Church Hill to visit Saint Sampson, to be baptised in the faith, and to receive a name which I have borne ever since and which is now being shared by Frank II and Frank III and by several nephews.
The parish records reveal that the Vicar, the venerable Dr. Ross was the clergyman at the font, that day. I remember him well, not from that day, which would be too precocious, but from later days when he came into the village school and gave dignity to our doings there.
Another phase of religious experience was developed in the Wesleyan chapel, located in the heart of our village. There we went early in life and each Sunday morning to Sunday School, then to St. Sampson's, then to Sunday School at 2.00 p.m. then to Chapel service at 6:00 p.m., where lay preachers preached the gospel in plain language, and the village choir sang with true Cornish enthusiasm. If any boy in the Dyer family ever objected to this program, it is not on record. It should be remembered that father always went also, taught the big boys class and displayed the best bass voice in the village, I am glad my father practised ecumenicity and helped to prepare his son for due appreciation of the varied ministries of the one universal faith. The above record evoked the remark, "You had a great religions education. The answer was, I did get a big religions impression. If education and religion are both in a real sense atmospheric, then I got a goodly share, for which I never cease to be truly grateful. But father Charles Barrett Dyer was neither austere nor fanatical, but rather a many-sided man. We younger ones got many jolly rides on father's knee when the days work was done. This was always accompanied with jolly songs we loved. There was:
"It was a lucky, lucky dayThere were folk songs of greater merit for which father was famous. So down from London came the Reverend Sabine Baring Gould to listen and to record them. Father's reputation for Christmas Carols, which I carry over from childhood, was, That he set all the farm machinery vibrating wherever he went to sing.
That I came this way,
For to be a farmer's boy."
"Baa baa black sheep
Have you any wool?
No sir! no sir!
None today to pull."
"Ma said the little lamb
Cold it is for me,
Baa! baa! said the old ram
Colder it will be!"
None of us boys ever duplicated the resonance and power of his voice. But this happened to me when I as guest preacher in the pulpit of the Congregational Church one summer in Plymouth, England. When it came time for the sermon, the minister rose and said, "We usually need to warn our pulpit guest to reach the congregation under the gallery, but I shall not need to do this today. We have a man who can be heard from California." Father's voice once protected me. When I was about ten, mother often sent me, two miles on an old railroad track, with a warm dinner for my father. When the men were half done with dinner I left for home. I had to pass some ships at dock. From behind a railroad truck a tough-looking man approached and threatened to kill me. Frightened, I ran back to my father, where one of his observing friends said, "What is the matter with the boy?" Then I blurted out, "A man tried to kill me!" The men said, "That must have been three-fingered Jack." They knew what ship he was on. Father took me on the dock overlooking the ship and there was three-fingered Jack. In his stentorian tones father asked, "Did you threaten my boy?" His dumbness was the answer. Then and there he learned that if he ever attempted that again, eternal dust would be his portion. I still had two miles to walk alone, but that voice went with me, and always has. Apart from that incident more faces have smiled on me than have ever frowned. So I find a good motto to be, "If you love a smile, pass it on."
Just how my father and mother came to make Golant our home I never actually knew. Father's home had always been over the river at Lanteglos-by-Fowey. But mother's parents, my grandparents, William and Mary Braven, my sweet grandmother, whom I remember well, resided in the Golant area and therefore, he found his bride in the right place into which we brothers and sisters were all born, and to which, though we travel far, we have all returned in fact and in happy memories. As the preacher of the group, I have been honoured by invitations to preach in both chapel and church. But this was after much water had gone under the bridge.
The decade began as a process rather than a plan. It eventually covered four thousand miles and landed me in the heart of Chicago. Yes, it had a heart which I shall later reveal.
The house in which I was born was a real home but it could not successfully contain, too long, the fifteen children born therein. Sheer necessity kept the family on a moving basis, whichever was older went out next. Our home was a bee-hive where everybody did something. We all worked with our parents and for most of us there was always an older brother or sister under whose tutelage we developed. For me it was brother John Braven Dyer, with whom I cut seaweed along the shore; brought in by loaded boat at high tide, and carried the weed up steep banks on hand-barrows to enrich the garden soil. These brothers of mine had a reputation as workers. This brought recurrent demands for more Dyer boys. By my time the supply was running dry which brought me the choicest openings to serve. I lived in succession from age 12 to 17 in the three great houses of our vicinity, Torfrey, Penquite and Menabilly. The beginnings were simple. My duties were those of a glorified errand boy. There were many employees around such establishments. There were no telephones - I was a quick-footed messenger boy to deliver my master's orders and to bring in fresh supplies for larder and kitchen. Oh yes, I fed the big dog, who scared away tramps, and also other small creatures which awaited my visits.
I had a tricky black pony whose name was Billy, for my personal use, whenever I needed to go to the distant doctor's office for family medicine or to meet the Great Western mail train at Par Station with urgent letters for London.
It was a good place to grow - I sat at a good table, had a nice room, plenty of exercise, association with fine people and could visit my own home within ten minutes. After two years, I left for a period at Plymouth Town of Pilgrim Fame, thirty miles away and filled a similar position at a good class family hotel where I learned much about public relations. Later a similar spot in Torquay, Devon, invited me to their staff. It was their quiet season, on Torbay shore, and I sat for hours each day by an observer's window to be on call. Here the greatest event of my life came to me at fifteen.
Out of the background of my life there arose constantly within me the question, "Are you really and personally a Christian?" By some inspiration I determined to read the New Testament through to find the meaning and the way to answer this question. My afternoons ware often spent in this reading. One night I knelt at my bed-side in desperation, "Lord, I cannot find the way, unless you save me I am lost." Then suddenly there came upon me an ecstasy and peace truly indescribable. Then I knew to whom I belonged. This experience I first acknowledged to my father, who wrote me, "My son, be true to it." This I learned later, was what had happened to John Wesley, of which he said, "My heart was strangely warmed." This shaped his career and it certainly began to shape mine.
At this time, Evangelina Booth, then in her youth, came to Torquay to fight for the rights of the Salvation Army on the streets. I heard her with profit, also the fine Episcopal Rector in my neighbourhood.
From Torquay, the urge of home brought me back to the village. Soon I was invited to serve at the big house, Penquite, which overlooked our lovely river. On the other side the spire of the quaint church of St. Winnow, much admired by tourists, was plainly visible. The bells of four Saints-Parish churches, could be heard, from four directions on Sunday mornings, calling the scattered countryside to worship.
Saints never die. In this house, Garibaldi, the hero of Italy, had once been entertained. With regret I left this romantic spot to live at Menabilly, the centuries-old residence of the Rashleigh Family. This spot three miles from my birthplace has recently been made famous by Daphne du Maurier in her book Rebecca and the picture of that name.
This author gives a thrilling description of this historic place with its fascinating landscape and views of the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. Miss du Maurier now lives in this ancient house. No wonder she writes good stories.
It was an education to be the personal attendant of the famous Rashleigh family in its hey-day, to travel where they travelled, including to their London residence in Regents Park.
The Menabilly household included twenty-one persons with frequent guests who added their outlook upon what was for me a widening world. Several young men who had been previously employed in this household had gone to America. The name of Moody had much to do with this. In his campaigns he had become a famed factor in many lives. Two of my predecessors had already entered the Moody schools at Mt. Hermon and Chicago. The British Isles in those early days furnished a constant stream of young men for Christian service through the Moody agencies.
One of these later became a friend for life, the Reverend John Best and Edith were from St. Blazey. They and their children were tied in with our family through years of close association in the middle-west.
The average British youth could not aspire to special education. America became the land of hope. This was what loomed up before me. It required patience and time. Funds must be earned, duties decently concluded, and parental consent secured. Before my seventeenth year was completed these had been secured and the great adventure in expansion was really under way. With blessings on the Rashleigh family for their great consideration of my welfare, I boarded the good ship SS Paris for New York, unaccompanied, unheralded and unsung. A Cornish youth raised by the sea would not be deterred by fear. But as one views it now it had something of the Abrahamic quality of not knowing the end from the beginning."