She was born on 1 April 1803 in Liverpool, the daughter of Captain Edward Clark(e), a mariner and his wife Eleanor Rogerson. Her baptism took place on 14 December 1803 at St Thomas’s Church, Liverpool, where her parents were married on 13 July 1799.
Sarah’s father was a master mariner. In 1806 he was the captain of the ship ‘Rein Deer’ which had sailed from Liverpool on 7 June 1805 on a slaving voyage to Bonny, Africa, and then to Kingston in Jamaica. The ship was attacked and Captain Clarke had his right arm shattered. He returned to Liverpool on 14 June 1806 after a four and a half month stay in Jamaica. He was described as a Manx navigator and was presented with a plate by the Liverpool Underwriters for his gallant conduct in beating off a French Privateer (Lancaster Gazette 1 March 1806). The report on the ship’s arrival in Liverpool stated the cargo contained coffee, nicaragua wood, cotton, sugar, hides, and rum (Lancaster Gazette 21 June 1806). After this he captained the ‘Charlotte’ .
In the 1841 census Sarah was living with her mother, Eleanor/Ellin (now a widow), in Duke Street, Liverpool, where they are running a ‘ladies seminary’. In the 1851 census she was a boarder at Bay Villa, Grange, the home of Captain Robert Wright (master mariner like her father and a widower), his son Richard Wright (a seed and spice merchant) and wife Ellen, and Robert’s unmarried daughter Elizabeth, a former pupil at the seminary. Sarah died at Bay Villa on 24 August 1857, aged 53, of ‘dropsy in combination with heart affection’. Her funeral service was held at Cartmel Priory and she was buried in the churchyard at Field Broughton. Also recorded on her gravestone are the subsequent deaths of Robert Wright, Elizabeth Beardsley (Robert’s daughter and Richard’s sister), Amos Beardsley (son-in-law) and their granddaughter Margaret Elizabeth (who lived only 14 days).
In the Liverpool Daily Post 30 January 1861 there is a report for the Liverpool Governesses’ Institution. Following the death of Mrs Ellen Wright (widow of Richard), who left a legacy to the Institution, ‘£450 had been invested in the London and Northwestern Railway Stock to form an annuity to be known as Miss Sarah Clarke’s annuity, the income to be paid by way of an annuity to a governess, a native of Liverpool, not less than 50 years of age, who should have been engaged in the fulfillment of the duties of a governess for 15 years previous to the coming into the enjoyment of the said annuity”. Liverpool Daily Post 18 January 1860 had earlier reported that the executors of Mrs Ellen Wright’s will, Mr Arkle and Mr Crosthwaite, had been in contact with the Institute to tell them of her bequest and it was mentioned that ”the lady whose name and memory it was desired to perpetuate is well known and respected in the town. She was engaged in conducting a ladies school in Duke Street, on retiring from which she devoted herself to works of charity and benevolence, and mainly through her exertions a church was built at Grange, near Cartmel, which remained a monument of her unwearied zeal and activity”.
The following is an extract taken from one of the many letters that Sarah wrote while staying in Grange, which were printed in the Kendal Mercury in the late 1840s.
“What church do the Grange people attend?” I inquired of my hostess, the first Sunday after my arrival. “Some go to Lindale and some to Cartmel, Ma’am (Bay Villa owned two pews, one in Lindale Chapel for five persons and one in Cartmel Priory for six), but it is a good two miles to either, and a very uneasy road all the way. It is a sad let down to Grange to have no church, especially for the old people who cannot walk so far, and in winter many of us cannot get at all when the weather is stormy. Oh what a blessing it would be if we had a nice little chapel of our own. There was talk of one being built, but I heard there was no ground to be got to put it on, so nothing more was said about it; and yet one thinks that ground could have been found, if the money had been quite ready.”
That was enough for Sarah, and she then set about ways and means of raising the necessary funds – estimated to be £2,000. One of the means was by re-publishing these letters as ‘Sketches of Grange and the neighbourhood’. Robin Webster republished them again in 2001 with his introduction; they provide a remarkable insight into Grange and district in the 19th century. Another means was the widespread appeal which brought in subscriptions from places as far apart as Jamaica and Chile. (This may have been due to Sarah’s father, Captain Clarke, and Robert Wright’s seafaring history.)
At our regular morning Eucharist on Wednesday, 11th October, special thanks were given for Sarah’s life and for all she had done in raising the funds to build St Paul’s Church. 165 years ago on this day the foundation stone had been laid by the Earl of Burlington with great pomp and ceremony. Our curate, Andrew, prayed:
O Almighty God, kindle in our hearts a sense of gratitude to thee for all thy mercies to us, especially for the piety of those who have gone before, whereby we are enabled to sing thy praises, hear thy Word, and receive thy holy sacraments. Inspire in us the desire to give to others what we ourselves have so richly enjoyed.
This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Following the service this Wednesday 8 brave members of the congregation braved the elements to drive over to Field Broughton in the torrential rain and through flooded roads where Andrew read out thanksgiving prayers from the Book of Common Prayer within the shelter of St Peter’s.
The little party then moved to Sarah’s graveside to pay a floral tribute made by the flower team at St Paul’s. We did not linger long before heading for the Crown Inn at High Newton for a reviving bowl of soup.