I recently came across an article on the subject of statues in London, England, in light of the recent unveiling of a statue of Mary Seacole, a Jamaican nurse and traveller who moved to England after playing an important role in the Crimean War. The article raised the issue of other famous figures of London and the rest of the world who have not yet received the same honour.
Surprisingly, there is no statue of Charles Dickens in London. The Londonist article notes that, in his Last Will and Testament, Charles Dickens requested that he not be made the subject of a statue or other monument. On this subject, Dickens’ Will, dated May 12, 1969, reads as follows:
“I emphatically direct that I be buried in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner; that no public announcement be made of the time or place of my burial; that at the utmost not more than three plain mourning coaches be employed; and that those who attend my funeral wear no scarf, cloak, black bow, long hat-band, or other such revolting absurdity. I direct that my name be inscribed in plain English letters on my tomb, without the addition of ‘Mr.’ or ‘Esquire.’ I conjure my friends on no account to make me the subject of any monument, memorial, or testimonial whatever. I rest my claims to the remembrance of my country upon my published works, and to the remembrance of my friends upon their experience of me in addition thereto.”
It appears that at the relevant time, such language contained within a Last Will and Testament was, and it remains in Canada today, largely precatory. Though none in London, several statues of Charles Dickens have been erected worldwide. His former home is now the site of a Dickens museum and numerous plaques and a mural featuring the writer appear throughout London and his birth-town of Portsmouth. The typically-unenforceable nature of precatory terms within a Will highlight the importance of choosing a trusted estate trustee who will honour the wishes expressed during one’s lifetime and those recorded within the document. Further, the strong presence of monuments featuring Charles Dickens may serve as a reminder that public figures may not be able to escape continued attention long after death, whether they wanted it in the first place or not.
Some of the author’s other suggestions for other individuals worthy of memorialization in London include chemist Rosalind Franklin, boxer Muhammad Ali, and James Bond.
Have a great weekend.
In 1974, Lord Lucan, British aristocrat (think James Bond and Martinis, according to the New York Times), vanished after the body of his children’s nanny was found dead in the basement of his house.
A year later, in 1975, Lord Lucan, otherwise born as Richard John Bingham, the seventh Earl of Lucan, was declared the killer of his children’s nanny. Since 1974, Lord Lucan was never found notwithstanding an international Scotland Yard manhunt.
25 years later, Lord Lucan was declared dead in 1999, which allowed for the devolution of his assets to his Estate.
By virtue of a law that came into effect in 2014, Lord Lucan’s son, George Charles Bingham, petitioned the Court for a death certificate in order to become the eighth Earl of Lucan. Neil Berriman, the son of the murdered nanny, opposed Mr. Bingham’s petition for a death certificate on the basis that Lord Lucan could still be alive.
42 years later, the High Court has ruled that Lord Lucan is now presumed dead and a death certificate was issued on February 3, 2016.
In Ontario, the Declarations of Death Act, 2002 governs the relief sought by Mr. Bingham in London. An Application may be made to the Superior Court of Justice for a declaration that an individual has died if i) the individual disappeared in circumstances of peril; or ii) if the individual has been absent for seven years.
Thanks for reading!