09 May 2017

Grave matters: ‘To die whilst sitting on a seat’

While researching my previous post about Penarth Cemetery, I came across this odd little story in the old Welsh newspapers and my curiosity was immediately aroused. I had to find out more and, if possible, find the grave. Here’s the result.

Evening Express, 28 August 1907
Vice-Consul's Wish
TO DIE WHILST SITTING ON A SEAT
A CURIOUS COINCIDENCE
An inquest was held at Penarth Police-station on Tuesday touching the death of John William Tornse [sic], the Norwegian Vice-Consul at Cardiff, who had been residing at Penarth.
Miss Jessie Maud Hart, nurse at the Cardiff Union Workhouse, stated that she was at Penarth on Sunday afternoon, and went for a walk across the cliffs. At about 6.10 she saw the deceased gentleman sitting on a seat. He appeared to have a kind of faint, and she ran to his assistance, to prevent him falling upon some stones at the side of the seat. In about five minutes he died.
A gentleman who was passing was despatched for Dr. Rees, who arrived at about 6.30. Witness laid the deceased upon a seat, with his head resting upon her lap. Dr. Rees stated that when he arrived the deceased was lying as described by the nurse. Death, which had taken place shortly before, was due to failure of the heart's action. The jury returned a verdict accordingly.
The doctor said that the deceased three days previously said that he would like to meet his death quietly, and suggested that he would like to go for a walk and sit upon a seat, where he might expire. It was strange that his wish should have been so minutely carried out.
The funeral will take place at Penarth Cemetery at four o'clock to-day (Wednesday).

So, who was this man who achieved his wish of wanting ‘to die whilst sitting on a seat’? Johann Wilhelm Tornøe was born on 27 January 1847 in Bergen, Norway to Johan Ernst Tornøe and Magdalene Christine Wiese. I’ve not found out anything about his early life but he appears to have become a career diplomat.


In 1888 Johann married Caroline Amelia Stromback (nee Harvey) in Kensington, in London. Caroline was then 23, eighteen years younger than Johann, and had been born in the English county of Kent.

The 1891 edition of The Australian handbook (incorporating New Zealand, Fiji, and New Guinea) and shippers' and importers' directory, which rather surprisingly includes all the consuls of foreign states then resident in London, lists John Wilhelm Tornoe as the Vice-Consul for Sweden and Norway. The electoral registers for 1890 and 1891 show him living at 106 Adelaide Road in Hampstead, though perhaps that was the address of the Consulate as the 1891 census shows he and his wife living as boarders, in Lansdowne Square, in the settlement of Brighton and Hove in Sussex.

Some time between 1891 and 1903, Johann made an upwards move, both in his career and his physical location, as he appears in Slater’s Royal National Commercial Directory of Scotland, published in 1903, as the Consul for Sweden and Norway in Edinburgh, living at 68 Constitution Street, Leith.

By 1906 he had moved again, as the Evening Express of 13 June 1906 reports that

The Deputy-Lord Mayor of Cardiff (Councillor W. L. Yorath). accompanied by Alderman P. W. Carey, J.P., and the Town-clerk (Mr. J. L. Wheatley) to-day paid an official call on the Vice-Consul for Norway at Cardiff and Glamorgan (Mr. Johan Wilhelm Tornoe) at the Norwegian Consulate ...

It appears, though, that Johann was already hard at work a few weeks before his position was officially ratified by Edward VII as The London Gazette (20 July 1906) reports that on 9 July 1906 ‘The King has been pleased to approve of ... Mr Johan Wilhelm Tornoe, as Vice-Consul of Norway at Cardiff for the county of Glamorgan (with the exception of Swansea).’


His diplomatic service earned Johann official recognition from the governments of Norway and Sweden. He was made a Knight of the Order of St Olav by the Norwegian authorities, ‘as a reward for remarkable accomplishments on behalf of the country and humanity’, and from the Swedish government he was awarded The Royal Order of Vasa, ‘for service to state and society’.

As we have seen, Johann passed quietly away on 25 August 1907. It seems his wife was still residing in London at that time but, at some point, she also moved to Wales. Caroline survived her husband by almost 37 years, not passing away until 20 May 1944. Her death was registered in Cardiff and she is buried with Johann in Penarth Cemetery.