Sunday, December 14, 2014

"Goddesses of Mercy", Women of the Other Holocaust

On 14 May, 1941, a fifty-four year old spinster turned on the kitchen gas in a house in Indianapolis and did away with herself. It wasn't the first time she had tried - a year earlier on her way home to the United States after close to thirty years missionary service in China she had attempted suicide on the ship. Considering the mental burdens she must have carried and the horrific physical abuses and tortures she had witnessed, it isn't that surprising. Her name was Wilhelmina ("Minnie") Vautrin, known to the Chinese as "Goddess of Mercy" for her actions during the infamous Rape of Nanking (Warning - link contains some graphic images) in which she saved many thousands of Chinese women from rape and murder by the Japanese army.

I am very familiar with the story of the Massacre as I grew up hearing about it from my parents who lived in China at the time and who personally knew some of the witnesses who escaped from Nanking to Shanghai to tell the tale of what they had seen. My father served in the Shanghai Defence Force during 1937 and I still have his albums that contain gruesome photographs that he took of the Japanese carnage inflicted on the civilian population of China.

What makes this event particularly distressing is that, unlike the Holocaust in Europe which is only denied by a recalcitrant few, the majority of Japanese still refuse to acknowledge it ever happened, or at least they minimise the scale of the brutality and dispute the Chinese figures of 300,000 dead.

And as if the rest of the world still doesn't want to know either, just this weekend reports of the first Chinese commemoration seem to have been relegated to the less important mid-sections of Western newspapers. BBC version - Nanjing Massacre

Minnie Vautrin knew the truth of it. And so did Tsen Shui-fang - reputedly the only Chinese woman to keep a secret diary of the events as they unfolded. Their stories are told in two books by Hua-ling Hu.

See Google Books for full biographical details of both women

The other book by Hua-ling Hu.

 Minnie Vautrin is buried in Illinois.


Links to other sites:

Youtube re-enactment of Minnie's testimony.

Detailed history of the atrocities of the Massacre.

John Rabe - German Nazi businessman who saved an estimated 250,000 Chinese.

Several movies:

Article about Chinese film The Flowers of War.

Another Chinese film City of Life and Death

German film John Rabe (apparently Minnie was written out of the script and replaced by a French woman!)

American film Nanking (Mariel Hemingway played Minnie.)

Many books on the subject - just key "Nanking" or "Nanjing" into your search.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Off with the Pixies

My lovely daughter Vix -- who is a very talented and perceptive tarot reader (find her on Facebook and see her in action here at New Age Hipster) -- sent me a link to this interesting blog about Pamela Colman Smith. 

An original line drawing by Pamela Colman Smith

What an amazing story - and I can't believe I knew nothing of this woman in spite of having seen her work before in all sorts of publications - possibly as Pixie Smith, the other name she was known by. She is just one of so many female artists who have never had the recognition they deserve. Only through her images for early tarot cards is she now remembered, but she did so much more. This book on The Russian Ballet may be familiar to many:

More images in the full text available at Gutenberg

Being a little dubious about what the blog said about Pamela/Pixie's origins - that her mother was Jamaican and father American, it seems that there have been a lot of errors about her being perpetuated across the Internet. Some state she was born in Manchester, others in London, and some even say that she was adopted, or was the foster daughter of the actress Ellen Terry!  Other sites allege she was Lesbian, others that she was a reclusive and committed Catholic. 

As it seems people have taken these assorted facts and embroidered them to suit their own agendas, there is definitely scope here for a reliable and authoritative biography about this woman. I did some swift research of my own through various genealogical sites and also found a few sources that appear more trustworthy than others.

Her full name was Corinne Pamela Mary Colman Smith and she had solid New England American ancestry on both sides and just because she wrote and illustrated a book on West Indian folklore it seems assumptions have been made that she had to have black heritage! I recommend this website by Phil Norfleet as one of the better ones.

Pamela died in 1951 in Bude, Cornwall, leaving a modest estate of just over £1,000 and it looks as if there is no gravestone or plaque to mark her existence. Norfleet's site also says this about Pamela/Pixie:
"... in my opinion, she chose that area because pixies were believed to be particularly concentrated in the region around Devon and Cornwall. She always thought herself as a pixie who really didn't fit in well among ordinary humans. She once told W B Yeats that she had been able to see fairies in Ireland. I hope that she found and was able to see what she was looking for in Cornwall! "
(New Age Hipster Vix may find it psychically interesting that her own ancestors on her grandmother's side all came from the Bude region - where of course piskeys/pixies and fairies still exist!)

Cats from "In Chimney Corners - Merry Tales of Irish Folklore"


Monday, November 3, 2014

Not a job for a woman - Aleen Isabel Cust

"I freely admit that the best of my fun I owe to horse and hound"

(Aleen Isabel Cust)

Early female doctors are given a lot of coverage in lists of "firsts", but when I went in search of the first woman veterinarian there was little information available. Almost expecting her to be an American, I discovered that she was, in fact, English – or more correctly, Anglo-Irish.
Aleen Isabel Cust was born in 1868 in County Tipperary, one of six children of Sir Leopold Cust. When her father died in 1878, she came under the guardianship of the very wealthy Widdrington family of Newton Hall, Northumberland **.

The Widdringtons recognised that Aleen was a spirited young woman with a mind of her own and they encouraged her ambitions. She originally trained as a nurse in London, but having loved animals since her childhood was determined to become a veterinary surgeon instead. (Her grandmother, Mary Cust, a lady in waiting to the mother of Queen Victoria, was a cat fancier and wrote the book, The Cat: its History and Diseases (1856). 

Aleen’s family tried to stop her doing something so radical as it was not considered a job suitable for a woman, but having a modest private income at her disposal, in 1894 she moved to Edinburgh, changed her surname to Custance and was admitted into the New Veterinary College, founded in 1873.  
Aleen was a top student, always first in her classes and she won a gold medal for zoology. When she prepared for her first exams, however, she received a blow as the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) decided that a woman couldn’t sit their examinations. The College was divided on the issue and the profession at large became involved in the debate. After much wrangling, she was able to complete her studies but she could not officially call herself a veterinary surgeon. Her professor gave her a high recommendation and suggested she take up an assistant’s post with William Augustine Byrne, a new veterinary graduate setting up a practice in Roscommon, Ireland.
The following paragraph is taken from the Oxford Dictionary of Biography (ODB) and gives some startling information about Aleen’s private life as well:
"He [Byrne] was an engaging personality, handsome, witty, and popular both socially and professionally. The arrival of Miss Cust as his assistant caused consternation and scandalised the priesthood, but her competence and poise won her respect. There is reason to believe that they lived as man and wife and that she had two daughters, born in Scotland, who were later adopted. Aleen never married, though in 1904 she was engaged to Bertram Widdrington, son of her guardian."
Did Aleen really have two illegitimate daughters by Byrne? It seems astonishing, even a bit far-fetched, given the Irish clergy were already scandalised by a woman doing the work she did - what would they think of her having babies out of wedlock as well? Maybe it was some rumour put about to further discredit her, as I am unable to find anything else that substantiates it, but I must defer to the ODB as a respected and authoritative publication and I doubt they would have accepted such a statement without fairly strong proof. What happened to end her engagement to Bertram Widdrington is also unknown, and he married another woman in 1912.
A biography on Aleen Cust by Connie E. Ford (interesting in her own right) was published in 1990, but copies are rare, so I am unable to check if all this information is contained in it and if anyone reading this can tell me more, do please contact me.

After Byrne died, Aleen took over his practice and the ODB further says:
She made her visits riding side-saddle on an Arab stallion, or driving one of her several horses in a gig. When the day's work was done she would dress formally for dinner, and be waited on by her servants.
With the outbreak of World War I, Aleen left Ireland and drove herself to France where she was based in Abbeville and volunteered for three years looking after the countless thousands of horses in transit to and from the Western Front. In 1918, she enlisted in Queen Mary's Auxiliary Corps where she worked as a bacteriologist.
Finally, after the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919, which forbade the exclusion of women from the professions, Aleen Cust could no longer be refused membership of the RCVS and, after a brief examination, she was finally awarded her membership twenty-two years after she had completed her training.
Aleen returned to Ireland, but the situation there was no longer welcoming for people of her Anglo-Irish background and so she retired to Lyndhurst, Hampshire. She travelled much during her later years and while visiting friends in Jamaica in 1937 she died suddenly and is buried there.  In her Will she specified that no motorised transport should be used at her funeral, only horses.

The first woman vet in Australia was Isabelle Bruce Reid and it seems the first American was a woman with the curious name of Mignon Nicholson.  She graduated in 1903 from McKillip Veterinary College in Chicago, Illinois, but there is very little to be found on her on-line so this is subject to verification. (There is no Wikipedia entry on her and if you try Googling that name, you can end up with a brand of piano!) There is also this story on Elinor McGrath.

Apart from the ODB entry, more about Aleen can been read in International Women in Science: A Biographical Dictionary to 1950 and here.
A general article here (American) on other early women vets.

** The Widdrington family are a fascinating family. The Hall and its contents were auctioned off in 2009. Read about them in this article from The Newcastle Journal.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Afflicted Widow and Mother

Returning to my interest in shadowy wives of the British Empire, on a recent visit to Bath Abbey, several memorial plaques on its walls spiked my curiosity and this one in particular “erected by [an] afflicted widow and mother” brought tears to my eyes. *

FEBY 19TH 1849, AGED 1 YEAR,

Surviving officers of the 53rd Shropshire Regt on return to England in 1861 after the Mutiny
Shropshire Regimental Museum

I was staggered at the thought that this woman had not only lost her husband, but four children as well – three of them in the same year with two whose only grave is the sea. Plus, she had obviously been an army officer's wife in India at the time of the Mutiny and exposed to all the extra dangers and traumas that would have entailed. She suffered tragedy piled upon tragedy.

So who was the unamed wife of Joseph Maycock? Did she have any other surviving children? However did she cope afterwards?

Clearly, to afford a marble plaque in such a prestigious setting as Bath Abbey, she must have had financial means or others close to her, e.g. wealthy in-laws, helped to pay for it. A search of  various ancestral and genealogical websites reveals some of her story.

Elizabeth Mary Selina Brown was born on 15 November 1823 and christened on 17 July 1824 in Secunderabad, India.  Her father was Robert Brown, her mother, Ann. An elder sister, Selma, born the year before did not survive beyond the age of two. It is possible her father was associated with the army but having a common name he is not easy to trace.

On 14 January 1847 at Hingoli, aged 22, Elizabeth married Lt. Joseph Maycock, aged 27, of H.M. 22nd Regiment.  On the marriage register, Joseph’s father is shown as James Dobbin Dottin Maycock ^

From then on, Elizabeth seems to have moved frequently and been pregnant every second year.  Apart from the four children listed on the plaque, she had another two boys who did survive - Francis Mellowes Maycock, her second son born in Karachi in September, 1849 (just nine months after his elder brother died) and Stewart MacMurdo Maycock, born in Dagshai in 1851. Both men went on to serve in the army as well, both retiring in England as full Colonels.  Francis, too, suffered the loss of a child to India, with his only son, Gerald, dying there at the age of 3. Although married, Stewart does not appear to have left descendants.

Elizabeth received a widow's pension and it is likely that Captain Joseph Maycock's promotion to Brevet Lt. Colonel may have helped to secure a higher rate for her, but it is difficult to know how much income she would have had. In 1861, the Probate Registry shows that the Captain had effects of "less than £20" in England, with Elizabeth being resident at Westbury-upon-Trym, Gloucestershire, at the time.

In 1870, Elizabeth Maycock of Eldon Villa, Redland, Bristol, is shown as the beneficiary under letters of administration for Mabel Maud Maycock, Spinster, who died ten years before. Elizabeth received less than £300 from this estate. It does seem odd that a four month old baby should warrant letters of administration, but it was obviously some sort of inheritance that Elizabeth had to claim. 

The Census Returns indicate a peripatetic life for Elizabeth. In 1861, she was in Scotland as a "visitor" at Fingask House in Aberdeenshire.  In 1871, aged 46, she lives alone as a "lodger" at 320 Elton Road, Clevedon, North Somerset, and is described as an officer's widow on a pension. Strangely, there is no other individual listed at that address, not even a servant, so one has to wonder if she was perhaps just a temporary minder of the house for somebody else.  Elizabeth can't be traced in the UK 1881 Census and perhaps she was abroad somewhere, but in 1891 she is a "boarder" in a boarding house with other single women in their sixties, at 10 Leinster Square, Paddington.

Visitor/lodger/boarder all seem to indicate a rather lonely wandering existence. Was she estranged from her sons, or did their army service (Stewart MacMurdo spent several years in Canada) mean that she rarely saw them?

We can only speculate as to the state of her mental health after all she had endured. One hopes she had support mechanisms - possibly religion - in that age when a stiff upper lip was mandatory. It also serves to remind those of us who live in modern western societies that we should be eternally grateful for the medical advances that led to inoculations and antibiotics that have almost guaranteed that no mother has to bury child after child or lose a husband at a relatively young age.

One irony is that 70 years after Elizabeth Maycock lived in Elton Road, Clevedon, Somerset, that same road was home to the Naval Laboratories where penicillin was developed.

Elizabeth died in 1892 in Reigate, Surrey, and where she is buried.

There is no image of Elizabeth to be found online, but this painting entitled "The Widow's Prayer" by Frederic Leighton seems to capture something of the all-encompassing grief she must have endured in her younger years.

Cecil French Bequest

 It has also been recorded on the Gravestone Project website here

^ Who also has a plaque in Bath Abbey detailing his achievements in Barbados. See here

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Bligh Women

William Bligh, 1814.
State Library of New South Wales
History is full of individuals guaranteed to create heated debate whenever they are discussed and one of the most famous is Captain William Bligh who has been the subject of numerous biographies and much historical analysis, including caricature at the hands of Hollywood, although his actions trying to control the corrupt maverick New South Wales Rum Corps have never been given quite the same world-wide attention that the Mutiny on the Bounty has warranted.

But what is known of the women in his life?

In 1780, soon after Bligh returned from the final voyage of Captain James Cook during which he was Master of the Resolution, he met Elizabeth (Betsy) Betham, the Glasgow-born daughter of the collector of customs and water bailiff at Douglas, Isle of Man. It seems there was instant mutual attraction and the couple were married at the parish church at Onchan on 4 February 1781. (The original church was replaced early in the 19th Century.)

Betsy was a refined, cultured and well-educated woman with family connections that would prove a great asset to Bligh’s career. She was the niece of Duncan Campbell, an influential merchant and shipowner who was the overseer of the convict hulks anchored in the Thames and who was also instrumental in the establishment of New South Wales as a penal colony.
It is most likely that it was Campbell who recommended to Sir Joseph Banks that Bligh be appointed for the infamous breadfruit expedition that would eventually lead to the Mutiny. (Bounty had been one of Campbell’s own vessels, a collier named Bethia)

Other individuals known to Betsy and her family who became involved with the Bounty included Thomas HaywardPeter HeywoodJohn Hallett and Fletcher Christian, with whom Bligh had sailed twice to Jamaica prior to the fateful voyage to the South Pacific.

Betsy had eight children in total, including two sets of twins – one set being her only sons, William and Henry, both of whom tragically died shortly after birth in 1795. Her daughters were Harriet, Mary, Elizabeth, twins Frances and Jane, and Anne – allegedly an epileptic and mentally incapable.

Elizabeth (Betsy) Betham Bligh
Pitcairn Islands Study Center

She [Betsy] was probably Bligh’s only friend in life. He had two patrons who stood by him: Betsy’s uncle Duncan Campbell and Sir Joseph Banks, but, as far as we know, he had no friends. Bligh did not have the kind of personality required to keep a friend; he was far too preoccupied with proving his own excellence and lack of faults to engage in the giving part of a give-and-take friendship. 
Betsy, however, was devoted to him and stood by him through thick and thin. When stories began to arrive from New South Wales that were uncomplimentary to Bligh, to say the least, she actively campaigned on his behalf writing letters right and left to persons with influence, especially of course to Banks.
Most of their married life they had been apart from each other. When Bligh came back from New South Wales in 1810, his active career was finished and the two of them might have looked forward to spending his retirement years together. But Betsy’s health was broken – some say as a result of the agony she had experienced when faced with stories about her husband which she could not or would not believe. 
She died on April 15, 1812, at the age of fifty-nine, and was buried in the family grave in Lambeth Churchyard where Bligh was to follow her five and a half years later.
William and Betsy Bligh had many descendants including quite a number of Australians.

The same autocratic gaze of her father
Mary O'Connell, daughter of  Captain William Bligh, c 1847
National Library of Australia

Mary Bligh Putland had married Maurice O’Connell in 1810,  her second marriage. She was also the subject of a historical novel by Penelope Nelson and these paragraphs about the book make Mary sound like a woman who knew her own mind and would not be crossed!

Mary caused a sensation one Sunday when lace pantaloons were visible under her sheer muslin dress. She nursed her dying husband at Government House (he had tuberculosis) and was widowed just three weeks before the Rum Rebellion.
She outlined the colony’s growing political tension in letters to her mother. On 26 January 1808, she tried to repel 400 armed soldiers – their bayonets were drawn - with insults and a parasol. She spent a year under house arrest with her father in Government House and shared Bligh’s incarceration at the Barracks in January 1809. Later that year Mary endured cold months marooned at the mouth of the Derwent [river in Tasmania] on HMS Porpoise.
On her return to Sydney in early 1810 she was befriended by Elizabeth Macquarie [wife of the next Governor] and courted by Colonel Maurice O’Connell, Macquarie’s deputy. Despite her father’s initial disapproval, she married O’Connell, and became the mother of a large family. After serving in Ceylon and Malta, the O’Connells returned to Sydney in 1838, living at Tarmons on the Darlinghurst Estate (now St Vincent’s College, Potts Point). After the death of her husband, many years her senior, Mary lived in Paris.

Tarmons, Woolloomoloo, Sydney 1845 (State Library of NSW)
More detail can be read in an article about Mary and her role in the Rum Rebellion by Shirley Seale for the Hawkesbury Historical Society and that has Mary’s contemporaries describing her as:
"... sauciest, daintiest and most determined little spitfire ever to preside at Government House ..." 
"... conceited and extremely affected and proud ..." 
"Extremely violent and passionate, so much as now and then to fling a plate or candlestick at her father's head."
And so it would seem that Mary was definitely a chip off the proud and irascible old block that was her father!

Caricature of Bligh being dragged out from under his bed by officers of the Rum Corps
1808. (State Library of New South Wales)

The name of Bligh can still arouse political controversy today in Australia. Another descendant who learned what it is like to be deposed is the former Premier of the State of Queensland, Anna Bligh, Betsy and William Bligh’s great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter - the direct descendant of Elizabeth, who married her own cousin, Richard Bligh, thus preserving the name.

Campaign advertisement Anna Bligh

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sister Janet, nurse and heroine

When it comes to the history of nurses, everybody knows about Florence Nightingale and the Crimean War.

But how about Janet Wells (later King)? Before she was twenty years old, she had not only served as a Superintendent of a hospital at Newcastle, she had experienced two dangerous nursing adventures in the Balkans and in South Africa where she was the only British nurse to serve at the front during the Anglo-Zulu War, its most famous battle of Rorke’sDrift immortalised in film and in legend.

During her lifetime, Janet was as revered as Florence and the second nurse to receive the Royal Red Cross, yet her star faded until recently when her scrapbook was rediscovered by her great-granddaughter who brought it to the attention of an Anglo-Zulu historical group. With the publication in 2006 of this book about her by Brian Best and Katie Stossel finally her story had the potential to reach a wider audience.

Not many eighteen year olds – then or since – and raised in a genteel world of music and middle-class comfort would have the maturity to handle death, atrocities, disease and starvation on two contrasting battlefronts with such determination and confidence. In this biography, Janet comes across as a warm, calm and self-reliant young woman who would have been a credit in any field of endeavour.

The book also describes in detail the little-remembered Russo-Turkish War with its ghastly casualty rate and callous treatment of men, and also the fact that Sister Janet did not take sides and that she treated all her patients equally, including Zulus and even the imprisoned Chief Cetshwayo himself. There is also enlightening discussion on the early days of the Red Cross and how politics, personalities and competition affected the various nursing bodies.

Although she did not actively nurse after she was married, like her more famous contemporary Florence, Janet always campaigned for military authorities to give more attention to medical supplies and support although it would take many more years before these matters were seriously attended to.

The book’s illustrations include scenes from her life, including poignant na├»ve sketches by a soldier admirer of hers, flowers and mementos that she collected from the battlefields, and beads given to her by Cetshwayo.

Certainly an inspiring woman who deserves to be much better known.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Remember to call at my grave ... Nokutela Dube

This story on BBC Magazine  brings to light a woman who has been too long forgotten even in her homeland, but at last Nokutela Mdima Dube is getting the attention and credit she deserves for the work she did on behalf of her nation.

As the first wife of John Dube,  the founder of what would become the African National Congress, she is every bit as important in the development of modern South Africa as her husband and the men who came after him like Nelson Mandela.

Nokutela was born in 1873 in Inanda, Kwa-Zulu Natal, and educated at the Inanda Seminary, founded by the American Board of Missions in 1869.  Inanda also has links to Mohandas Gandhi and is located in the beautiful Valley of a Thousand Hills.

Inanda early buildings,
Teachers at the Seminary who would have known Nokutela,
After teaching at the Seminary herself for several years, Nokutela travelled to the United States where she received further training at the Union Missionary Training Institute in Brooklyn, New York, specialising in Home Economics and Music. Together with her husband she authored A Zulu Song Book published in 1911 and helped to popularise the national song of Africa, Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika 

The couple received no local support for their work in helping with African education, so they travelled many times to the United Sates to gather finances for their projects, modelled on those of Booker T.Washington,  founder of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. While her husband John would speak about his plans to lift up his people, Nokutela would dazzle audiences with her amazing singing voice that included click songs and piano playing.

Sadly, her private life turned sour because she remained childless at a time when it was considered a shame for an African woman to be unable to have children. Her husband took a second wife with whom he had several. Nokutela died of a kidney complaint aged 44 in 1917 and was buried in an umarked grave in Johannesburg under a number and the derogatory term of “Christian Kaffir”. In 2013 her grave was fully restored.

A stark image for thought (copyright

Professor Cherif Keita is an academic involved in giving Nokutela her rightful place in history and he has made a TV documentary about her. He says:
Nokutela’s courage, self-sacrifice and leadership were a great source of inspiration to many in her lifetime … an extraordinary African woman and pioneer, whose name, because of a cruel irony of biology (she could not bear children) and injustice of human history (colonialism/apartheid and the patriarchal system was so dominant at the time), was wiped out of our collective memory.

Click here to see the moving trailer to Professor Keita’s documentary, and below is the poem by the South African author Don Mattera that he mentions in this article about Dube and Mandela and that is also relevant to Nokutela.

Remember to call at my grave
When freedom finally
Walks the land
So that I may rise
To tread familiar paths
To see broken chains
Fallen prejudice
Forgotten injury
Pardoned pains.

And when my eyes have filled their sight
Do not run away from fright
If I crumble to dust again.

It will only be the bliss
Of a long-awaited dream
That bids me rest
When freedom finally walks the land.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Lady from Beyond the Blue Waters and Sacred Waving Feathers

Apart from the (usually) privileged wives and daughters of administrators and governors, there are many others who had to suffer considerable hardships in the development of the British Empire.

Books such as Joanna Trollope’s book Britannia’s Daughters – Women of the British Empire, also Voices and Echoes – Tales from Colonial Women by Joan Alexander and Pat Barr’s The Memsahibs – The Women of Victorian India are just a few of the interesting sources in finding out about some of them.

The long-suffering missionary wife is perhaps best known and represented in Mary, the wife of the African explorer David Livingstone, but Eliza Field’s story is another inspiring example.

Eliza Field, Portrait by Matilda Jones, 1833

At a time when native and “half-caste” people were often seen in European eyes as inferior and to be kept apart socially, Eliza (born in 1804) created a sensation when she took the extraordinary step of marrying one of them.

One look at the portrait of her future husband and one can see why. Even allowing for the usual licence taken with most historical portraiture, he was certainly handsome but it is the sympathy and dignity reflected in the face that makes him even more attractive.

He was the Reverend Peter Jones, a half-Welsh half-Ojibwa missionary, whose prosaic English name isn’t a patch on the lilting Ojibwa one of Kahkewaquonaby - in translation, “Sacred Waving Feathers”.

The story of their romance and life together is worthy of a novel or HBO mini-series at least. One can only imagine the June day in 1831 when the devout Eliza visited friends in Bristol and met this exotic young man who had been staying with them while touring England to raise money for the North American Christian missions.

Was it love at first sight? More than likely as, within months, Peter was visiting Eliza at her home in Lambeth but, also as might have been expected, her family and friends were greatly alarmed at such a match and it was only through her own determination and some fierce lobbying of his good name by others that the objections of Eliza’s parents were finally overcome.

Peter returned to Canada in 1832 but it was to be over a year before the couple were reunited in New York, where they were married in September 1833. Their first home together was in a tiny cabin on the Credit River Mississauga Indian Reserve near Toronto. 

Sketch of Credit River by Eliza Jones, c 1833

The marriage had gained some notoriety in the North American newspapers, and the reaction there was much as had been experienced in England. Adding to the unwelcome attention, Eliza’s early years were a struggle both physically and emotionally. She had lived a comparatively luxurious life before her marriage and now she had to face the realities of tough Canadian winters in a rough, basic cottage on an Indian reserve with its grinding poverty, poor hygiene, and recalcitrant attitudes towards religious conversion and “Europeanisation”.

Fevers plagued Eliza constantly and she suffered miscarriages and two still births and it was only after she had returned to England in 1837 on a recuperative holiday that her health improved and on her return she gave birth to the first of her four sons to survive infancy.

In 1841, Peter was sent to Muncey, near to London, Ontario, where they spent eight years before finally moving into a substantial brick house called Echo Villa in Brantford in 1851. Peter died there five years later worn out after a lifetime of service to his people and to his God. 

Eliza was an accomplished writer, diarist and water colourist. She also contributed to a magazine under her Ojibwa name of Kecheahgahmequa or, “The Lady from Beyond the Blue Waters”.

Two years after Peter’s death, Eliza married John Carey, a farmer originally from New York who had once been a school teacher at Muncey. But apparently the marriage was not a happy one and sources suggest Eliza may have left him as Carey did not have Peter’s “natural refinement and amiable qualities”.

For the rest of her life, Eliza continued with her writing and painting and made trips to England, but became blind in 1880 and her last years were spent in Brantford where she died on 17 August 1890.

Follow these links in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography for more detail on Eliza and Peter and their son, Peter Edmund Jones, who was a Mississauga Ojibwa chief.

Eliza, Scotland, 1845

Echo Villa today

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Wives in the Shadow (2) - the other Ladies Swettenham

Lady Swettenham #2 (second wife of Sir Frank) is another elusive woman. She was born Vera Seton Gordon in 1890. Her first husband, Captain John Neil Guthrie, was killed during WW1 and, after living with him for many years, she finally married Sir Frank in 1939.

The 40-year age difference must have been a challenge even if Sir Frank continued to be an active and "witty raconteur" well into old age. Given his treatment of Lady #1, he was no doubt extremely controlling too. With the exception of some fuzzy wedding photographs taken outside Caxton Hall at the time of her marriage, there is nothing easily accessible that shows what she looked like. (See Straits Times archives here.)

After her death in 1970, some of her fashionable beachwear found its way into the collections at the Victoria & Albert Museum (all images copyright V&A)

Was Lady Vera just a shallow society gal at heart, content to be an accessory to a rich and powerful husband - a lower-status Duchess of Windsor? Or was there more substance to her? With little on the public record, it is impossible to say.

The third Lady Swettenham was born Mary Emily Copeland at Kibblestone Hall in Staffordshire in 1875, a descendant of famous families connected with the potteries, her mother a Wedgewood.

She was the sister-in-law of the obnoxious Sir Frank, and again the much younger wife of Sir James Alexander Swettenham, a man who put his foot in it well and good when he was the Governor of Jamaica and caused a diplomatic incident in upsetting the Americans who had arrived on that island in the wake of a massive earthquake in 1907 with the intention of helping out. Described by an observer as "nervous, irascible, stubborn and prone to fly off on a tangent", Sir Alexander saw it as bad manners for them to barge in without being formally invited, or perhaps he thought it was an excuse for some form of invasion in disguise. In any case, he gave them a frosty reception and the Americans took umbrage. Sir Alexander was hauled over the diplomatic coals. [This extraordinary episode is detailed in my other blog Digging the Dust.]

Lady Mary, however, gained better attention by helping out with the injured and homeless after the massive earthquake and rated highly with the Americans compared to her husband.
Lincoln County Leader April 26, 1907
Sir Alexander retired shortly after this fracas and from what little there is to be found on him, for the rest of his life he flitted between England, the South of France and Jamaica where they continued to live for much of the time. He died in a clinic in Switzerland in 1933.

Although factual reports are hard to find, apparently Lady Mary continued to be involved in hospitals and nursing, especially during the First World War. She outlived her husband and died in 1953 in the world-famous Empress Hotel at Victoria, British Columbia where she had lived for some years. 

This report of their marriage 1905 in the Straits Times shows that Sir James changed the date to avoid a solar eclipse as perhaps he thought it would cast a shadow over their marriage! There are more photographs of Lady Mary Swettenham in the National PortraitGallery, but they are not available to view online.

As with Ladies #1 and #2, Lady #3 had no children. With the insanity case against Lady #1 being brought initially as a result of her getting pregnant to another man, one has to wonder if both men had a fertility problem or there is some other reason for their lack of progeny. 

Given that Lady #3 was around 30 when she married a stuff-shirt man twice her age it was hardly likely to be a passionate love match and one can speculate as to her motivations. It was not at all unusual for middle-aged prominent men to marry in order to disguise sexual orientation or for women to go into such arrangements as a guarantee of future financial security for themselves. As her husband's British Probate astonishingly shows a measly five hundred odd pounds left to her in his Estate, one wonders if Lady Mary had to rely on her potteries family resources to get by for the next twenty years of her life.

Since my previous post on Lady Swettenham #1, I have found this interesting article - with a hitherto unseen photo - about her in another American newspaper of August 12, 1903

Note she is described as a "clever Englishwoman" and there is nothing in the slightest to give any hint of her impending insanity in the report .

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