What follows are two obituaries written for one of Exeter's most distinguished citizens - a man of great talent called Harry Hems who was greatly loved by the poor people of Exeter for whom he did so much, usually by stealth, and also by the men of the Rifle Volunteers who he supported for years. He was a great craftsman who created a treasure trove of beautiful artefacts throughout Devon and indeed, throughout the world. Curiously, he never seems to have achieved the recognition he deserved within the City of Exeter.
He had an odd sense of humour which sometimes jarred - like naming his little boy who died soon after birth "Lord Archibald Hems"; he had a couple of well-publicised (by him) brushes with the Inland Revenue in which he was clearly in the wrong; and he fanned the flames of publicity whenever he could see a benefit to his business - in other words, he was a maverick in the Victorian business world who sometimes shocked and puzzled other influential men in the town, and perhaps even made them feel uncomfortable. But you should have heard the rafters ring for him at the 1st Rifle Volunteers' Smoking Evenings and you should read this extract from a poem written by an elderly local man on the day following his death:
"The poor will miss him, and the poor will weep,
The aged and infirm, with nought to crave
Save kindliness and sustenance and sleep,
And a verdant carpet to a lowly grave -
These will remember how he loved to take
Their hands in his and lead them to the feast
Of old-time Christmas, and desired to make
Them all at home, the greatest with the least."