Following recent interest from the Brooking Society, our Curator and Writer-in-Residence have been researching the life of a Victorian physician and surgeon.
Dr. Charles Henry Brooking was a native of Brixham, who took a prominent interest in the local affairs and development of the area, and played a leading part in the Volunteer Artillery.
Born in 1822, he trained at Guy’s Hospital and the College of Surgeons in London, returning to the port to assist his father in practice, qualifying as MD on his retirement and taking over the surgery, where he provided patients with medical attention for a further 30 years. On his own retirement, he spent two years in Italy and then purchased a property in Paignton, the Brixham practice passing to Dr. George Clement Searle.
In 1859, he had ‘succeeded where others failed’ and raised a group of men to form No. 2 Company (Brixham) of the Devonshire (1st) Royal Garrison Artillery, initially commanding them. The Battery used guns ‘that had seen service in the Napoleonic wars’; Captain William Murche later led the Company, his duties passing in time to Captain Lord Churston. Dr. Brooking’s colleague, Dr. Christopher Green, also participated, while Rev. Elrington, Vicar of All Saints’ Church, performed the duties of Chaplain.
By 1861, the unit had two 24-pounder guns, while drills took place at the Market Hall, Bolton Cross and outdoors at Berry Head. They also formed a band, marching to Lord Churston’s seat at Lupton, to play ‘a favourite air of the Yarde-Buller family’. During the same year, Dr. Brooking was present at the occasion of the extension of the railway from Paignton to Brixham Road (later Churston Station), stepping forward amidst the crowds on the platform to read a congratulatory address to those arriving on the new stretch of line.
Seven years later, he attended the further extension of the line to Furzeham Common, the Artillery Band one of three performing at the opening ceremony. Local entrepreneur, Richard Walter Wolston, had personally financed the new track; many people were waiting to see his party’s carriage pull in to Brixham Station and cheered when they came into sight.
After Dr. Brooking left Brixham in 1870, the Volunteers continued to meet, practising their rifle shooting and arms skills. Numbers were maintained and in 1903, when new regulations led to a wave of resignations across the country, the Brixham Artillery held firm; in 1904, 86 men were drilling. The requirements paved the way for the Volunteers to be disbanded and territorial units otherwise organised in the years leading up to the Great War. The Brixham Rifle Club was formed in 1909, opening an outdoor shooting gallery at Upton Quarry, while the Urban District Council purchased the Fishcombe Battery for use as a public space in 1910.
Dr. Brooking held the record for being the oldest Volunteer in the country. As such, he was invited to a ‘levee’ at St. James’ Palace, where King George V received him. Three months after his 100th birthday in 1922, Dr. Brooking died in Paignton, where his funeral was held.
More fascinating glimpses into Dr. Brooking’s life including an interesting connection to Isambard Kingdom Brunel have been found in local newspapers – see Website section: Research Reports.