Read Greenwich Hospital - The Park, etc of Stories and Legends of Travel and History‚ for Children , free online book, by Grace Greenwood, on


Greenwich, though a large market town, containing a goodly number of elegant and noble buildings, and many thousand inhabitants, appears in this age of steam to form a part of London for when you set out from the metropolis to visit it, you seem to have hardly got comfortably seated in the railway carriage, before you are there.

Greenwich is delightfully situated on the south bank of the Thames, and is certainly one of the most beautiful and interesting places in the vicinity of London. From the time of Edward I., the English monarchs had a royal residence here, but by the time of Charles II., this old palace had become a rather mouldy and tumble-down affair, so he commanded that it should be demolished entirely, and a magnificent structure of freestone erected in its place. We read that “riches take to themselves wings,” but King Charles’s riches seem to have gone off with one wing, for he had only means enough to finish that much of his new palace, and even that cost him thirty-six thousand pounds an enormous sum for his time, or for any time, indeed. This answered his purpose tolerably well, and he condescended to reside here occasionally, when he was tired of Hampton Court and his London palaces.

No more was done to the building till the reign of William III. It had been suggested by his queen, Mary, that an asylum for old and disabled seamen should be built, and as the royal family had really no need of the palace at Greenwich, Sir Christopher Wren ventured to advise that it should be finished, and converted into a hospital. The king and queen graciously consented, and so the good work went on. The building was enlarged, beautified, and finished with simple elegance, and now there is not a more imposing palace in all England. Not only is it a princely, but a comfortable and happy home for nearly three thousand poor seamen. Here they have excellent and abundant food and clothing; skilful medical treatment, when they are ill, and their wives, as paid nurses, to attend them; a reasonable sum of pocket-money is given them to spend as they please. Here is a library, a picture-gallery, and a chapel, for their especial benefit, and a school, where their children can be educated. Is it any wonder that these veteran seamen, nearly every man of whom has lost a leg or an arm in the service of his country, should be contented and happy, in such a noble asylum as this such a quiet and comfortable place of refuge and rest?

Near the hospital is Greenwich Park, an inclosure of nearly two hundred acres, planted principally with elms and Spanish chestnuts, many of which are very large and magnificent trees. This park is hilly, and on the highest eminence stands the Royal Observatory, where, as you know, many valuable astronomical calculations are made.

In the park, on pleasant days, many of the old pensioners can always be seen, hobbling along the shady avenues, or sitting together on the benches, under the great trees, talking over old times telling tales of storms and shipwrecks, or more terrible still, of battles at sea.

Those who fought under the heroic Lord Nelson most love to talk of him, for he was idolized by all his men.

In the great hall of the hospital hang many pictures of him and his battles; and there also, in a glass case, are kept the clothes which he wore when he was killed all stained with his blood. Not a man among his veteran seamen can look at these relics without feeling his dim old eyes grow yet more dim with tears. Among the pictures, there was one which, though not very fine in itself, impressed me not a little at the time, and which I still remember vividly. It represents an adventure which happened to Lord Nelson when he was a young sailor-boy, cruising in the north seas. In the picture, he seems to have wandered off in a freak of boyish rashness, far from the boat and crew, and is standing on the ice, surrounded by vast wastes and mountains of ice, alone, but in a very fearless attitude, facing a monstrous white bear, who is evidently coming up, eagerly, to hug the young mariner, yet has any thing but an affectionate expression on his ugly face. Nelson has his long knife drawn, and seems to say: “Come on; I’m ready for you, old fellow!”

I do not remember ever to have read any account of this adventure, so I cannot tell how it terminated for the bear. We know well enough that Bruin did not get the better of Nelson, for he lived to fight again and again with foes no less ferocious than the bear, though without his excuse of brute instincts and hunger. But only suppose it had been different; suppose the bear had killed and eaten the hero of Trafalgar, like any common sailor-boy, what a difference it would have made with the glory and boasting of England, and it may be, in its power on land and sea.

In the eastern part of Greenwich Park are “the barrows,” very singular circular mounds, supposed to be burial-places of ancient Britons. These the English people so much respect that they will not suffer them to be opened, or even levelled.

Just without the park lies Blackheath, a large expanse of common, full a mile wide, and more than that long, I should say. Opening off from this is Blackheath Park, and here, in a lovely homelike cottage, embowered in trees and flowers and vines, I spent some of the happiest days of my happy visit in England. Oh, I so often think with a sad longing of that home, and wonder if I shall ever see it again! There is a certain pleasant window of the family parlor, looking out into the garden, and sometimes, when I sit alone at evening, I dream that I am sitting at that window, enjoying the long English twilight. I seem to see one very dear to me, flitting lightly about among the flowers, singing low, and smiling to herself, because her heart is made so glad by their beauty and their fragrance. And the flowers seem to know her, and bend to her and claim relationship with her the roses for her bloom, the lilies for her white dress and innocent look, while the violets kiss her feet, as she passes, because she is good.

I can almost hear the good-night song of the blackbird, before he goes to sleep among the golden laburnum boughs; can almost smell the good-night sigh of the flowers, as they nod their sleepy heads and swing lazily in the evening wind.

Just across the heath lives another dear friend, Mrs. Crosland, whom my little readers know. When going to visit her, I never chose to ride, enjoying much more that walk across the heath. Here the air was always fresh and cool, and the winds, without a tree or house to obstruct them, had a bold, strong, frolicsome sweep, as though glad to be free of both forest and town.

The ground of this heath is smooth, and gently rolling. It does not grow the heather, but is covered everywhere with a firm turf of fine grass, which, thanks to frequent showers, always looks soft and green, though it is kept very closely cropped.

In pleasant summer weather there can always be seen ranged along one side of this heath, queer little pony chaises, donkey carts, goat carriages, and ponies and donkeys saddled and bridled, all waiting to be let to invalids and children, by the hour, or for the ride.

It was very amusing, on Saturday afternoons, to see school children consoling themselves for the week’s confinement and study, by a wild pony trot, or a scrambling donkey gallop across the heath. Wild girls, with gipsy bonnets falling on their shoulders, and their long hair flying in the wind; wilder boys, with their satchels bobbing at their backs, their hats swung in the air, and their feet remorselessly digging into the sides of the poor little bewildered beasts who carried them.

“Great fun!” “splendid sport!” they said it was, when they dismounted and paid their six-pence, but perhaps the ponies and donkeys had an opinion of their own on the subject.

Donkey-riding is said to be a very healthful exercise, and invalids often drive out from town to the heaths, where these animals are always to be had, for the sake of a free ride in those fresh, open places.

Hampstead-heath, which lies on the other side of London, is more frequented, both for health and pleasure; and as this was the scene of the story I am about to tell, we will take leave of Blackheath, a dear, pleasant, sunny place, in spite of its name.


Robert Selwyn was the only son of a poor widow, who kept a small green grocer’s shop, at Hampstead.

Robert, at the period at which our story commences, was a fine, handsome, intelligent lad of twelve, with frank, engaging manners, and a warm, honest heart.

For a boy of his age, he was remarkably thoughtful and serious; he loved books more than any thing in the world, except his mother, and actually seemed to hunger and thirst after knowledge. Mrs. Selwyn was a woman of considerable education, as she had seen better days in her youth, and now she taught Robert all that she knew, beside sending him to the parish school as often as she could spare him.

The widow owned a very pretty fawn-colored donkey, good tempered and well trained, which she used to hire out to invalids, and so added something to her little income. Every pleasant summer afternoon she would send Robert with “Billy” to the heath, telling him never to allow any wild boys or girls to ride the good little animal for sport, but to let him to invalids or very young children, and always to walk or run by his side. Robert faithfully obeyed his mother, and though bold boys and girls thought him hard and disobliging, he and his pretty donkey were in great demand among the invalids and children. Many were the sweet little girls and gentle boys that he taught to ride trotting along beside them, up and down the heath.

One balmy afternoon, late in May, Robert was standing on the edge of the heath, leaning against his donkey, waiting for a customer. Billy always plump and sleek, was wearing, for the first time, a nice new saddle, with a fine white linen cloth, fringed with crimson, and really looked fit to carry a prince.

At length, an open carriage came slowly driving that way; it had a coachman and a footman in handsome livery, and contained a lady and a little boy. This child was about Robert’s age, but looked much smaller. He was slight and delicate, and his face, which was very beautiful, was almost as white as marble, and would have been sad to look upon, had it not been for a sweet lovingness about the mouth, and a cheerful, patient spirit smiling out of the eyes.

The lady was a noble, stately person, dressed all in black, and looking as if she had seen a great deal of sorrow. She had an anxious expression on her face, and held the hand of the little boy tenderly clasped in hers.

“Oh, mamma,” the child suddenly exclaimed, “may I not have a ride on that nice donkey yonder, standing by that handsome, red-cheeked boy?”

The lady sighed as she looked at Roberts robust form and blooming face, but she answered, cheerfully:

“Certainly, my love, you may take a little ride, if the donkey and the boy seem trustworthy.”

So Robert was called, and questioned about Billy, and answered so frankly and modestly, that the young invalid was soon seated on donkey-back, and gently trotting down the heath, with Robert running at his side. He liked his attendant so well, that he soon got into conversation with him, asked his name, and told him his own. Robert was a little startled, when he found that his sociable new customer was a real young nobleman Arthur, Lord Evremond.

When they returned to the carriage, his lordship felt so much benefited by his ride, and was so much pleased with both donkey and donkey-boy, that he engaged their services for the next afternoon.

Lady Evremond had come up to London from her country-seat, where she lived in great retirement, for the best medical advice for her son, who had come home from Eton, ill, and who, young as he was, seemed threatened with consumption. Her husband and daughter had died of that disease, in Italy, and she had not the heart to take her Arthur away from England to die.

The physicians gave her hope that the child would recover; he seemed better in the air of London than on his estate, which lay low in a little valley in Devonshire. His new exercise of donkey-riding, seemed to benefit him greatly for awhile. Two or three times a week the little lord drove out to Hampstead, to take his ride on the breezy heath. He became more and more friendly and confiding with Robert, whom he never treated as an inferior. He loved best to talk with him about the good he meant to do if God would only make him well, and let him grow up to be a man. He said that if he died, the title and estates must go to his cousin, who was a wicked, wasteful man, and who would do nothing for the poor and suffering; and that, he said, was what made it hardest for him to die. Next to that, was the thought of leaving his mother; but she would soon come to him in heaven, and all her grief be over while the sorrows that his hard-hearted cousin might cause his poor tenants, would last a long time.

When the young lord spoke so sweetly and nobly, there was always such a holy light on his beautiful face that he seemed to have become already one of God’s blessed angels, and Robert was almost ready to worship him. So great was the boy’s reverence for his goodness, not for his title, that when Evremond asked him to call him “Arthur,” instead of “my lord,” he gently shook his head, and said: “I would rather not.”

After a few weeks had gone by, Robert noticed that his noble friend seemed to be getting still weaker and paler. He talked more and more earnestly and tenderly of heaven, of his papa and angel sister, and seemed to feel yet more loving pity for all the poor and suffering. He now seldom rode faster than a walk, his voice grew faint, he rested his hand wearily on Robert’s shoulder, and fell languidly into his arms, when he dismounted.

At last he failed to keep his engagement at the heath. Day after day, a whole week went by, and still he did not come, and poor Robert was almost heart-broken with disappointment and anxiety. At length, to his great joy, he saw the well-known carriage coming! Alas, it was empty! The footman brought a message from Lady Evremond her son had been taken alarmingly ill, the night after his last ride he had been failing ever since, and now it was thought he could not live many hours. The carriage was sent for his friend Robert, whom he wished to see before he died.

Robert sent home his donkey by a friend, and sprang into the carriage, where he buried his face in his hands and wept all the way to Grosvenor Square.

He was conducted into a great hall, up a noble staircase, through several elegant rooms, filled with beautiful and costly things, strange enough to poor Robert, but his eyes were too full of tears and his heart of grief to notice them. A chamber door was opened softly before him, and Robert saw his friend lying on a couch by the window, with his head resting in his mother’s lap. His eyes were closed, and his face so deathly pale that Robert thought he had come too late, and staggering forward, he fell at the young lord’s feet, and hiding his face against them, sobbed aloud.

“Dear Robert; have you come?” said a low, sweet voice.

“Yes, my lord,” answered Robert, joyfully.

“Oh, won’t you call me Arthur, now that I am dying?” said his friend.

“Arthur, dear Arthur,” murmured Robert, and that was all that he could say for weeping.

After awhile, Lord Evremond, looking up to his mother and clasping Robert’s hand, said:

“Mamma, I leave you Robert; love him and take care of him; send him to school, and let him have just such an education as you would have given to me. Promise me that you will, dear mamma.”

“Yes, Arthur, my beloved child, I promise but oh, my son, my darling only boy, how can I part with you!”

“Dearest mother, only think, it is for but a little while, and then we shall all be together. Kiss me now, and let me sleep, I feel so drowsy.”

And he did sleep, for some time, very peacefully, smiling sweetly, as though dreaming pleasant dreams. Suddenly he opened his eyes, and reached up his arms, calling out joyfully: “Papa! sister Mary!” and died without a pang of suffering.

Ten years had passed. It was Sunday morning, and the church bell of Evremond was calling the people to worship. All were eager to see and hear the new minister, who was to preach his first sermon that day. Out of the pleasant Rectory he came, supporting an elderly lady on his arm. It was Robert Selwyn and his mother. At the church door they met a lady, who grasped them both by the hand. This was Lady Evremond.

Robert Selwyn performed the sacred rites with dignity and true feeling, and preached a noble discourse, such an one as makes men’s hearts strong against sin, but soft toward the erring.

After the services, when all save she had left the church, Lady Evremond lingered for some time before a white marble monument, which stood under a high church window. The sculpture on this monument represented the young Lord Evremond, as he lay on his couch, when dying, and an angel, with a face very like his, lovingly lifting him from his mother’s arms, to bear him to heaven.

As Lady Evremond gazed on the marble image of her dead boy, she murmured:

“Have I not been true to thy trust, my son?”

Late in the dim twilight of that day, another form was kneeling beside that monumental couch. It was Robert Selwyn; and when he rose, there were tears on that sweet marble face. All night long they glistened in the pale moonlight, and sad starlight, shining through that high church window; but in the morning the happy sunbeams came softly down and kissed them all away.