By 1901 William John becomes the landlord of the Six Bells with his cousins, running the establishment The Victoria Inn, across the road.
It is about this time that a tragic fire took place with a 100 yards of the Six Bells when Two cottages that lay opposite the chapel [which was later the Temperance Club] and adjoined the forge were destroyed by fire.
The Topley family appear to have escaped before their home collapsed but tragically the Kenknight family, who lived next door, were trapped by the flames. Ellen Elizabeth, aged 7, Lilian May, 4, and their father Richard Henry Kenknight were found in each other’s arms burnt to death.
Their mother Elizabeth Jane died two days later in hospital.
Their burial takes place on the 15th of that month at St Helen’s Church, Cliffe. It is believed that William John Thorndike was among the rescuers and sustained a head injury when the upper floor collapsed upon him.
William’s life is soon turned upside down with the sudden death of Clara, his wife in 1907 and the following year his son, William Hector dies of TB.
Whether William John has a longing for a return to his Australian life of adventure it is not known but what is known however that he has four houses built on Buttway Lane with a view over the Thames and names them Murray Downs, Swan Hill, Victoria and Australia Which replicated his place of settlement in that land.
On the 16th May, 1912 William secretly marries his childhood sweetheart, Priscilla Albon at Chatham Registry Office and the details of their marriage was withheld from his friends and with the known exception of Thomas his cousin who was landlord of the Victoria Inn, his family also.
On 22nd of May, 1912 Priscilla enters the downstairs room to find her new husband laying upon the floor with his throat cut. Dr Rogers is sent for and, when they turn William over, they discover multiple self-inflicted stab wounds to his chest. William leaves a note behind explaining his actions.
William John Thorndike is buried on the 28th of May at St Helen’s Church Cliffe where his headstone still stands.
It should be noted also that although he committed suicide William John Thorndike was allowed a burial within the church grounds which was not always the case.
This perhaps conveys as much as any epitaph can, the stature of the man and reflects perhaps upon the fact that the scars that he carried both physically and mentally after the tragic fire, that took the Kenknight family in 1901, were considered when the decision to allow the burial was made.