Obituary of Denys Rolle

Obituary of Denys Rolle

Gentleman's Magazine, July 1797, p. 617

     In the course of his usual walk betwixt his seats of Stevenstone and Hudscott, co. Devon, in a fit of the angina pectoris (a disorder he had long been subject to), aged 72, Denys Rolle, esq. late of East-Titherley, in Hampshire, father of Lord Rolle, and descended from an ancient and very honourable family in that county, and to whose many public and private virtues, these who knew him well will hear ample testimony. The esteem and affection which Mr. Rolle had universally inspired, rendered the acquisition of rank to him of no moment; and for this cause, during his own life-time, the honours of the British peerage were conferred on his son. Mr. R. Was supposed to be the greatest land-owner in Devonshire, and possessed, also, large estates in Oxfordshire and Hampshire. He rent-roll is said to have amounted to 40,000£ per annum, though he never raised the rent of an old tenant. He was the general patron of merit and talents, and was every way worth of his great fortune, 20000£ of which he appropriated to charitable uses, though it was known that his disbursements under this head very far exceeded that sum. In his public conduct, as a member of the House of Commons, he was biassed by no prejudices, and attached to no party. Influenced by no private or selfish views, her preferred the good of his country to every other consideration; discharged the sacred trust reposed in him with fidelity and honour; and preserved with unshaken firmness and inflexible integrity, those honest and independent principles which he had laid down for the rule of his conduct. The same probity influenced and guided him in every transaction of private life, which was distinguished also by an exemplary piety and a virtuous charity. He was a liberal subscriber to many societies instituted for the purposes of promoting religion, and advancing the glory of God; and he contributed largely to many useful undertakings and benevolent institutions for the benefit and improvement of mankind, to such, particularly, as had a more immediate tendency to amend and reform the manners of the rising generation. His benevolence, at the same time, was extended to the poor and indigent, for whose distressed he had a heart to feel, and a hand very ready to afford them a speedy and liberal relief. Great was the talent intrusted to him, and good the use he made of it; so that, after a life thus spent, he may be truly said to have died full of days and of good works.

Gentleman's Magazine, Supplement, 1797, p. 1125

     Denys Rolle, esq. was descended of a family which have been possessed of estates in Devonshire ever since the Conquest, when their illustrious ancestor, Rollo of Normandy, came to England with hi cousin William, the duke of that province. In this long line of ancestry (a particular account of which may be seen in Prince's "Worthies of Devon") we cannot find one who disgraced, by his conduct, his ancient and respectable lineage. The late Mr. Rolle early showed an active turn of mind, and, about 1766, purchased of the Government a large tract of land in East Florida, with a view of colonizing it. For this purpose he engaged a considerable number of husbandmen and artificers in Devon and the adjacent counties, provided all kinds of suitable stores, and set out on his favourite expedition. His little colony, however, was soon broken up by sickness and emigration, the climate not agreeing with the constitution of the settles. He suffered there terrible hardships; and to so low a condition was he reduced, as to be obliged to return to England as a common seaman. After serving his country faithfully in two parliaments, her retired to finish his days in a domestic and rural life. His favourite employment was husbandry; and he used to get up early in the morning as any of the peasants, and, cloathed like them, with a bag of provisions and his spade on his shoulder, go out for the day, and work as hard as any day-labourer on his estate. He has been often mistaken, in this dress, for a common husbandman, and, in this disguise, has directed many an enquirer to his own house. Notwithstanding this particular turn, he was not avaricious. He was on the contrary, hospitable in his house, generous to his tenantry, indulgent to his servants, and , above all, extensively benevolent to the poor. He instituted several charity-schools in different parishes, allotting to each a portion of land for the employment of the children. As a magistrate, he was remarkably attentive to the morals of the people within his district, and successfully laboured, though with great and long opposition, is suppressing village-alehouses, cock-fighting, and bull-baiting. Torrington, near which his seat stands, was a place much disgraced with these worse than savage diversions, and Mr. Rolle took extraordinary pains to correct the evil. For this purpose he no only exerted his authority, as a magistrate, with great zeal and impartiality, but circulated large impressions of a pamphlet, written by himself, against such cruel amusements. In 1789 he printed an address to the nobility and gentry, circulated privately, calling for their concurrence in the great object which he had in view, of parochial reformation. In this tract he speaks largely on humanity to animals, whence, it is apprehended, the following extract may not be unacceptable: "I have experienced (says Mr. Rolle) the memory of wild beasts, in a bear, which, after more than a month's absence, was pleased with my taking him by the lip. I cannot account for the attachment I have met with of horses becoming tame to me without any dexterity; of the greatest dogs letting me lay hold of their jaws with pleasure; of venomous snakes that followed me, on invitation, which prevented fear and danger, and I used no precaution, as hunters did, about my legs. I traversed the wood for years without hurt, and lay in the most exposed places, in swamps full of venomous reptiles, and have had snakes under my pillow without being injured. Of a crane that followed me, and attended me all the day when at work; of a strange dog, that gently seized on my hands, when walking the road, and would go with me, and attended close to me, as defending me, in the night that I walked through Walthan Chace, near Portsmouth, making sometimes a whining noise, if separated a small distance, a kind of notice of attachment. Another instance, I recollect, of a small cat in Florida, who came some distance and fought some dogs that were howling round me, that she thought were attacking me, and drove them off. I can account for these manners no otherwise than by Providence answering my tender treatment of animals, which, I must always and humbly and thankfully acknowledge, has attended me through a long life." Mr. Rolle's ancestors were eminent in Devonshire for piety. Denys Rolle, esq. His grandfather, though a member of the Established Church, protected the Nonconforming Ministers in the reign of Charles the Second; and the famous Mr. Flavel found an asylum at Hudscott, a seat of the family, where he preached in the hall at midnight, when the persecution raged with the greatest violence. Mr. Rolle's father was also an example of piety. He had for a chaplain the learned Mr. Samuel Johnson, minister of Torrington, author of two volumes of sermons. The subject of the present sketch was distinguished by his piety, activity, temperance, and humility; in short, he was a man who lived to God, and for the benefit of his fellow creatures. His large estates devolved to his only son, John Lord Rolle; besides who he has left two daughters, unmarried.