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The Life of Robert Napier of West Shandon
Chapter XIV. Closing Years

In 1868 Mr and Mrs Napier celebrated their golden wedding, and friends came from far and near to offer congratulations and good wishes for their happiness.

What a change had taken place in these fifty years! Instead of the obscure mechanic living in a humble dwelling in Weaver Street, struggling to earn a subsistence for himself and his young wife, he was now the most prominent business man in the West of Scotland, his residence a veritable palace, his society courted by many of the great of the land. Yet in the midst of all his prosperity, Napier remained essentially a family man, and he loved to spend his time with her who had been the sharer of his joys and sorrows through so many long years.

His old friend Sir Spencer Robinson, Controller of the Navy, writing him on this occasion, said :—

Allow me to hope that your anniversary will be as prosperous and as happy as we sincerely wish it may be. I quite understand how short a time fifty years may be to look back upon; but it is certainly a great and unspeakable blessing to be able to look back on fifty years of an honoured, useful, successful public life, shared, assisted, and blessed during that long period by the closest and dearest of human relations.

Mrs Napier was well known for her sincerity and uniform kindness to all, and there was constant reference made to her by her husband's numerous correspondents.

One of her favourite occupations was the spinning of flax; and Sir George Harvey, President of the Royal Scottish Academy, painted her portrait in a most characteristic attitude, seated at her spinning-wheel. Sir George was very pleased with this work; and having expressed a desire to her Majesty’s Commissioners that his art should be represented by it in the International Exhibition of 1872, the picture was publicly exhibited there.

Though Mr Napier had good cause for rejoicing, still this joy was tempered with sadness, as the number of his friends was gradually lessening. Most of his early acquaintances, including the Melvills, Asshe-ton Smith, Wood, Duncan, Cunard, and his old manager Elder, were gone. From his own immediate circle he had lost his brother Peter and his three sons-in-law, Hastie, Wilkin, and Rigby. In 1869 his cousin, David Napier, passed away, and his death was followed some time afterwards by that of his brother James, with whom he had been so closely associated.

These partings he felt sorely; but a heavier trial awaited him. In the autumn of 1875 Mrs Napier, who for some time before had not been robust, peacefully passed away, leaving his home desolate. A few lines written to his nephew, James S. Napier, expressed his feelings :—

“23rd October 1875.

“My dear James,—It is my most melancholy duty to inform you that about 6 o’clock this night you have lost a kind friend, and I one of the very best of wives. Inform any friends, as I am not in a mood to do anything.—Yours always, R. Napier.”

His remaining days were summed up in this pathetic sentence, “I am not in a mood to do anything.” Up to this time he had taken an active part in everything going on around him, but this bereavement so affected him that he ceased to have any special interest in his former pursuits.

A few months later he was attacked with serious illness, from which he never rallied, and he died on 23rd June 1876, in the eighty-sixth year of his age.

To meet the wishes of many friends the funeral was a public one.

The place of sepulture was adjacent to the old churchyard of his native town, Dumbarton, where lay the bones of his ancestors, and where his wife was buried.

On the day of the funeral the inhabitants of Dumbarton, Helensburgh, and Govan showed their regard by closing their premises, and special trains from Helensburgh and from Glasgow brought many hundreds of those who desired to pay the last tribute of respect.

At Dalreoch Toll the cortege was joined by the immediate friends of the deceased, and by fourteen hundred of his workmen, and the sorrowful procession wended its way to the parish church.

When the company were assembled his eldest son addressed them as follows :—

I have to thank you for myself, and on behalf of my brother and sisters, for your kindness at meeting us to-day. It was my father’s wish, shortly after my mother’s death, that at his own burial no special invitations should be sent, and we have acted accordingly. Your presence here to-day shows us more than anything could do the high respect in which he was held during his life, and for which we are sincerely grateful. His grief at the loss of my mother so affected him that he lost all interest in his former pursuits. About three months ago he became seriously ill, but from the effects of this he so far recovered as to be able on several occasions to go out in a carriage for a few miles. But about six weeks ago he had a second attack, and from this he never recovered, but got gradually weaker and weaker till lie died. We do not know whether he suffered pain or not. He was, however, very uneasy till within twenty-four hours of his death, when he appeared to be asleep, with an occasional waking up for a short time. We believe he was sensible to the last.

A service was conducted by his friends the Rev. Dr Jamieson of St Paul's, Glasgow, and the Rev. Laurie Fogo of Row, and thereafter the procession being formed up on each side, the coffin was carried by some of his oldest workmen to its last resting-place.

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