Studied Monuments

Stories from a London cemetery

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Polly Newbury and Dean Wolstenholme: Music-hall singer and her husband

In January 1892 Percy Charles Courtenay, the husband of one of the greatest music-hall stars, Marie Lloyd, appeared at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court and was found guilty of assaulting his wife. Reports that he had threatened to ‘cut her throat and serve her as Polly Newbury was served’ were perhaps the last appearance in the press of the name of a much less well known music-hall performer.

A few months earlier, at the end of October 1891, Thornton’s Varieties in Leeds had put on a programme including the 29-year-old artiste known professionally as Polly Newbury (sometimes spelled ‘Newberry’). Born Mary Ann Carpenter, she was described in the show’s advertisements as a ‘burlesque actress’ – in those days ‘burlesque’ meant the parodying of well-known serious works, often to risqué effect – though she was usually described as a serio-comic singer and dancer, mixing both tear-jerking and comic material. In January 1890 the show-business paper The Era had described her recent act at the Queen’s Palace of Varieties in Poplar:

A refined and piquant singer is Miss Polly Newbury. Her first two songs, one about a sailor, and the other, ‘Only a tiny portrait,’ which is pathetic and sentimental, are both very pretty. She concludes her turn with a song containing this stirring appeal: – ‘Shout, hip, hooray, For eight hours a day, It’s quite enough in any occupation,’ a sentiment which Miss Newbury’s hearers appeared heartily to endorse.

The Era had first noticed her in December 1883, when it reported that, at Deacon’s Music Hall, near Sadler’s Wells, ‘Miss Polly Newbury’s songs described some of the pleasures of courting, a subject of interest to serio and other ladies; and the possession of a telling voice enabled her to give effect to her selections, with which she seemed to please her listeners.’ In May 1885 it commented that her ‘style is taking and attractive, and [she] knows how to dance,’ and in September 1886 that she had ‘made herself a pronounced favourite’. A year later she was ‘a spirited characteristic vocalist and dances admirably’. At the Phoenix Music Hall in Dover in the summer of 1888 she was ‘frequently recalled’. It was later reported that she was ‘said to possess considerable personal attractions’, and she seems to have been regularly in work and to have been well received, without managing to rise very far up the bill. In November 1890 the London and Provincial Entr’acte noted that, at the Middlesex Music Hall, in Drury Lane, ‘Miss Polly Newbury, after a well-rendered preliminary by the excellent band, takes the stage, and by her lively contributions puts the audience into good humour.’ That seems to have been a regular spot in the programme for her.

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A programme for the Empire Variety Theatre in Newcastle, probably from late 1890, showing Polly Newbury as the first act after the overture (by courtesy of Byrnice Reeds and arthurlloyd.co.uk)

 

While she was appearing at Leeds, her husband, Dean Wolstenholme – known as ‘Fred’ – decided to pay her a surprise visit. Wolstenholme was four years older than his wife, and since he was a boy he had worked as a dresser for the music-hall comedian Herbert Campbell, who in October and November 1891 was appearing in line-ups including Lottie Collins and Albert Chevalier at the Tivoli and the London Pavilion and in 1882 had begun a run of successes in the annual Christmas pantomimes at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, which lasted uninterrupted till his death in 1904.

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Harry Nicholls (left) and Herbert Campbell as the Babes, Crissy and Bertie, in Babes in the Wood at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in 1888

 

Wolstenholme and his wife had been married for seven years and had been living amicably together in rented first-floor accommodation at 2 Mylne Street in the Pentonville/Clerkenwell area of London, until he had recently learned that she was having an affair with someone variously known as Lane, Wallace, Walmsley or Courtnay, who was believed to be ‘a gentleman [who] spent his time in visiting music-halls’. Before Wolstenholme discovered the affair, in September all three of them had been staying in Ramsgate, and the two men were described as being very friendly and ‘like brothers’ then.

Wolstenholme was ‘nearly mad’ on finding out was was going on, and was about to start divorce proceedings until he evidently decided on a different course of action and went to Leeds with the intention of shooting his wife there. When he arrived at her lodgings, he was told that ‘Mrs Wolstenholme had gone out with her husband.’ When they returned, Lane took a revolver from him.

Wolstenholme and his wife had returned to London together, and on 6 November Polly had had her widowed mother, Emma Carpenter, send Lane a telegram to break off the relationship. Polly was then advertised to be appearing at the South London Palace of Varieties, in Lambeth.

The Wolstenholmes’ landlady, Mrs Harriet Probart, had found them to be quiet people as a rule, though now and then they ‘would have a few words’, and on the morning of Monday 9 November she heard Polly call her husband ‘a dirty thing’. Later that morning, Mrs Minnie Beavis, the landlady’s sister, called at 2 Mylne Street. She had known the Wolstenholmes for six years, and they had always struck her as being very happy together, but she had not seen them for some six months. It was Mr Wolstenholme who answered the door to her, shortly after 11 o’clock. When she went in she saw Polly, who, coming down the stairs, said , Fred is going to kill me.’ Mrs Beavis asked him, ‘Fred, you wouldn’t kill Polly, would you?’ and he answered ‘No.’ Polly said, ‘I have just burnt some poison,’ and clung to Mrs Beavis and begged her to stay. But Wolstenholme pushed the visitor out of the door, and she then heard four gunshots.

James Currie, who had lodged on an upper floor at Mylne Street since the beginning of the year, heard quarrelling on the stairs and Polly saying ‘Oh, Fred, don’t – ’ followed by two shots. As he hurried down he heard two more shots and reached Wolstenholme just in time to catch him as he fell and a revolver dropped from his hand: he had shot his wife and then put the muzzle of the gun in his mouth and blown his brains out.

Dr Isaac Scarth from nearby Amwell Street was called and found the two bodies lying in the hallway of the house. Wolstenholme, he later told an inquest on 12 November, must have died instantly when a bullet passed through his brain; but Polly, though shot in the head and unable to speak, was still alive, and Scarth had her taken to the Royal Free Hospital in Gray’s Inn Road, where, at about 4 o’clock, she died from her wounds.

Her lover, Lane/Wallace/Walmsley/Courtnay, heard at the hospital that she had died and went distraught to Mylne Street to pass on the news. Mrs Probart – who told the inquest that she had known him visit Polly while Wolstenholme was out, but had never observed any impropriety between them – sent him away. She held him responsible for all that had happened. Mrs Beavis saw him outside the house with his face buried in his hands and exclaiming, ‘My poor girl has gone, and that dirty scoundrel has killed her.’

After a brief discussion, the inquest jury found that Wolstenholme had wilfully murdered his wife and then committed suicide ‘whilst suffering from temporary insanity and mental distress’ on account of his wife’s infidelity.

He and his wife were buried together in a private grave, paid for by Emma Carpenter, in St Pancras Cemetery on 18 November. A large crowd gathered to watch the two hearses followed by two mourning coaches leave the undertaker’s in St John Street Road, with policemen posted to keep the way clear. Many music-hall artistes were present at the grave. No monument was ever erected over it.

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The site (outlined) of Polly Newbury and Dean Wolstenholme’s unmarked grave in St Pancras Cemetery

SOURCES

The principal sources for the circumstances of the murder/suicide and the preceding events are the witness statements at the inquest into the deaths, as reported (slightly differently) in the Islington Gazette and The Times on 13 November 1891.

Cardiff Times, 14 November 1891 (‘considerable personal attractions’)
Daily Telegraph, 10 November 1891 (‘Wife Murder in Pentonville: Suicide of the Husband’), 13 November 1891 (‘The Pentonville Tragedy’)
The Era, 22 December 1883 (‘pleasures of courting’), 9 May 1885 (‘taking and attractive’), 25 September 1886 (‘a pronounced favourite’), 17 September 1887 (‘dances admirably’), 2 June 1888 (‘frequently recalled’), 18 January 1890 (‘refined and piquant singer’), 24 & 31 October 1891 (ads for the Tivoli and the London Pavilion), 21 November 1891 (funeral)
• ‘Four Early Programmes for the Empire Variety Theatre, Newcastle in 1890/1891’ at arthurlloyd.co.uk
• James Hogg, ‘Campbell, Herbert (1844–1904)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, January 2011
Islington Gazette, 11 November 1891 (‘Murder at Pentonville: Suicide of the Assassin), 13 November 1891 (‘The Pentonville Tragedy: The Inquest’)
London and Provincial Entr’acte, 15 November 1890 (‘Music Halls: Middlesex’)
South London Press, 7 & 11 November 1891 (ads for the South London Palace of Varieties)
The Times, 11 November 1891 (’Murder and Suicide’), 13 November 1891 (‘Inquest’), 19 January 1892 (‘Police: At Bow-street’)

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E. A. and Cassie Maskelyne: Magic couple

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E. A. and Cassie Maskelyne (Getty Images (L) / State Library of Victoria)

 

Edwin Archibald Maskelyne – E. A. Maskelyne as he was known professionally, or ‘Archie’ to his friends – was born in London in the last quarter of 1879, the youngest (by some 13 years) of the three children of John Nevil (‘J. N.’) Maskelyne and his wife, Elizabeth, née Taylor.

J. N. had been born in Cheltenham in 1839, the son of a saddler of the same name, and claimed descent from Nevil Maskelyne (1732–1811), who from March 1765 was astronomer royal, and who had a crater on the moon named after him. J. N. was apprenticed to a local watchmaker, and as a boy was a keen amateur conjuror, giving a public performance of his own tricks at the age of sixteen.

In 1865 the famous American spiritualists Ira Erastus Davenport and his brother William Henry Davenport arrived in Cheltenham during a tour of England in which they claimed to communicate with the dead, who would manifest themselves through various physical means – such as playing and throwing of musical instruments – while the brothers were tied up inside a wooden cabinet. The brothers invited each town they visited to select a committee to view the proceedings at close quarters to detect any trickery, and in Cheltenham this committee included J. N. and his friend and fellow conjuring enthusiast George Alfred Cooke, a cabinet-maker. At what he judged a critical moment, J. N. had a sliver of light introduced into the darkened town hall where the Davenports were appearing, and this allowed him to see enough to declare that the brothers were frauds and that in three months he would be able to reproduce their effects by means of practice and dexterity, with no supposed help from spirits. And on 19 June 1865, in broad daylight at the Aviary Gardens in Cheltenham, J. N. and his friend did just that, defying all the audience members’ attempts to catch them out.

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The Davenport brothers and two of their associates in front of their ‘spirit cabinet’ in 1870 (Wikipedia)

 

The sensation that they caused prompted the friends to give up their steady jobs and take their magic on tour. And after a difficult couple of years they succeeded so well that in May 1873 they began a three-month London residency at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly – a residency which was extended until the building was demolished to make way for flats and offices in 1905.

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The Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly (victorianweb.org)

 

The hall became known as ‘England’s Home of Mystery’, and nurtured the careers of many illusionist who were booked as guest performers with Maskelyne & Cooke’s company – notably David Devant, whose Times obituary in 1941 reported the opinion that he was ‘not only the prime conjurer of his day, but the foremost magician of all time’. It was Devant who, in 1896, was responsible for the Egyptian Hall being among the first places to show moving pictures in the UK, using a ‘theatrograph’ machine bought from R. W. Paul in competition with the Lumière brothers’ shows at the Polytechnic Theatre in Regent Street.

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An 1876 poster for the Egyptian Hall (Evanion Collection, British Library)

 

The company’s acts had developed beyond ‘tricks’ to include sketches or playlets which included illusions as part of the plot, and in May 1898 the show-business paper The Era reviewed Trapped by Magic, ‘A Sensational Illusory Sketch’ by J. N. Maskelyne, and noted that ‘The part of a waiting-maid is brightly and piquantly played by Miss Cassie Bruce, whose fresh, tuneful voice and engaging style give charming effect to a well-written song, “Not at home.”’ The Morning Post, reviewing the same production, described how a pie appeared under a rolled-up piece of cardboard placed on an uncovered table and ‘The pie being opened, out jumps the lively Miss Cassie Bruce, wearing Japanese costume, and gracefully executes a pretty oriental dance.’

Cassie Louise Bruce had been born in London on 1 February 1875. Her parents were Henry Bruce – the newsagent son of the actors John and Louise Bruce – and his wife, Honora, née Neagle, the daughter of a greengrocer from Cork. Cassie and her twin brother, John, who died soon after birth, were the couple’s first children. Others followed in 1881, 1882 and 1889 – and possibly three more who did not survive until christening in the second half of the 1870s. The 1881 census records Cassie as living with her grandmother Louise (‘Actress’), Louise’s second husband, Edward Elton (‘Comedian’), their son, also Edward (‘Comedian actor’), and two of Louise’s children from her first marriage: Alfred (‘Comedian actor’) and Kathleen (‘Danseuse’).

Having been brought up in a household of performers, it is perhaps not surprising that Cassie also took to the stage, though her early career seems to have attracted little attention. On 9 February 1893 she appeared as Clara in a one-off matinee performance of T. W. Robertson’s School at the Opéra Comique theatre in London. In December that year she appeared as Fairy Brassfounder in a production of Cinderella that ran until the following February at the Lyceum. A year later she was Holly in the ‘Fairy Panto’ Santa Claus, again at the Lyceum. In November 1896 she took part in a matinee performance – the London debut – of Neville Lynn’s The Transferred Ghost at the Garrick, under the auspices of the Theatrical Choristers’ Association.

A couple of months after her opening in Trapped by Magic, in August 1898 Carrie was advertising her availability in The Era, but in December that year she was back  at the Egyptian Hall, in The Gnome’s Grot. The Evening Standard explained that

The grot, which is in Killarney, is inhabited by a hermit (Mr. J. N. Maskelyne), whose inclinations seem to lie less in the direction of religious observances than in the practice of magic. He is waited upon by a love-sick German tourist (Mr. Nevil Maskelyne [J. N.’s eldest son]), who, through a dream, has conceived doubts of the fidelity of his absent Gretchen (Miss Cassie Bruce). These doubts are cleared up … by a marvellous series of seemingly supernatural manifestations … Miss Bruce, who takes the dual part of Gretchen and the Oracle of Destiny, has a pretty soprano voice, by aid of which, in two or three dainty songs, she considerably enhances the charm and mystery of the piece.

The London and Provincial Entr’acte declared that Cassie was ‘good-looking, speaks her lines well, and, moreover, is endowed with a musical voice, which she uses with excellent effect in tuneful song’. And the Morning Post explained that the ’supernatural manifestations’ included the eponymous Gnome, ‘clothed in red and having a flowing red beard’, suddenly turning into ‘a pretty young girl, represented by Miss Cassie Bruce’.

Thereafter Cassie appeared regularly with the Egyptian Hall company, and also appeared in the company’s magic playlets which were filmed on the roof of the hall at the end of the century and which were distributed all over England and America.

In April 1900 she was the ‘shrewd and fascinating Madge Faulkner’ in A Twin Spirit, and ‘[sang] capably a well-written song to the pianoforte accompaniment of Mr. E. S. Elton’, her uncle. Two years later she ‘act[ed] with much charm and [sang] with rare verve’ in The Entranced Fakir. In 1903 she ‘employed talent, grace, and a charming voice with great effect’ in The Philosopher’s Stone, in which ‘as a materialised spirit [she] gradually appear[ed] out of nothingness and float[ed] in mid-air until she reache[d] terra firma’.

The Era described her appearance in that year’s Christmas show at the Egyptian Hall, Well, I’m ——: ‘Miss Cassie Bruce … mounts an apparently ordinary wooden table placed in the centre of the stage. A cloak is then thrown over her, a pistol fired, and Miss Bruce, who instantly disappears, exclaims within a few seconds at the back of the hall, “Well, I’m here.”’

In 1905, with the company – now Maskelyne & Devant, following the retirement of Cooke – in a new home at the refurbished St George’s Hall, in Langham Place, Regent Street, she ‘contribut[ed] a real character sketch of the cockney housekeeper whose love has been slighted by an impressionable policeman’ in St Valentine’s Eve and was ‘a pleasing and sprightly Dorothy’ in The Mascot Moth, in which a woman dressed as a moth with wings was seen in full view until dramatically disappearing when Devant approached her with a lighted candle.

In September 1906 The Era  judged Cassie ‘an interesting and attractive Patricia’ in Daylight Ghosts. Then in the following month Cassie partnered J. N. in A Side Issue, an illusion produced in response to a £1,000 challenge from Thomas Colley, Archdeacon of Pietermaritzburg, that Maskelyne – a continuing opponent of claims about the supernatural – could not reproduce the events that Colley said he had witnessed in 1877 at Bloomsbury séances conducted by the former Baptist minister and convicted fraudster Francis Ward Monck, when

there was seen steaming as from a kettle spout, through the texture and substance of the medium’s black coat, a little below the left breast, toward the side, a vaporous filament, which would be almost invisible until within an inch or two of our friend’s (the medium’s) body. When it grew in density to a cloudy something from which (and apparently using up which for the quick evolving of much white raiment) there would then stand, to step forth timidly, as did this little maiden, or in the same way boldly and naturally, to companion with us, other of our frequent psychic visitors. For as a cloud received One out of their sight, when the disciples of Bethany gazed on their ascending Lord, so, as from a cloud thus inexplicably evolved from the medium, came our materializing friends; and exhaling again to invisibility in a cloud (sucked back within his body) were they withdrawn from us wistfully gazing on their mysterious departure, and noting this or that particular phase of it within a few inches of the point of their inscrutable disappearance and evanishment.

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Cassie Bruce emerging from J. N.’s side in A Side Issue, their reproduction of the events of the séances described by Archdeacon Colley, with J. B. Hansard taking the part of Archdeacon Colley looking on (Illustrated London News)

 

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Cassie after she had completely emerged (Illustrated London News)

 

The press and public acclaimed the performances at St George’s Hall, but Colley refused to hand over £1,000, claiming the demonstration was inadequate, notably because Cassie had not been ‘sucked back within’ J. N.’s body as Monck’s manifestation had re-entered his side. And, as at St George’s Hall J. N. had handed out a pamphlet, The History of a Thousand-Pound Challenge, which included a denial of Colley’s right to the title of archdeacon, Colley sued him for libel. J. N. counter-claimed for the promised £1,000. (The naturalist and evolutionary theorist Alfred Russel Wallace testified that he had witnessed a similar manifestation from Monck’s side and believed it to be genuine and quite unlike J. N.’s performance.) J. N. lost and had to pay costs and damages – though he considered his total expenses of £1,143 good value for the packed houses that the trial brought.

By now Cassie had become more than professionally close to the Maskelyne family. The March 1901 census, taken a week before Easter, records her as a ‘Visitor’ at the home of J. N. and Elizabeth Maskelyne and their ‘Student’ son, Archie, at Bucklebury, a few miles west of Reading. (At the time of the 1891 census Archie had been at school in Margate.) Then on 27 June 1907 the Dundee Evening Telegraph and Post carried the following report:

Wizard’s Wedding:
Mr. Maskelyne to Marry the Disappearing Lady.

This afternoon at the Holy Trinity Church, Marylebone, will be celebrated the wedding of Mr E. A. Maskelyne, younger son of Mr Maskelyne, the famous magician, and Miss Cassie Bruce, the lady that has been connected with the Maskelynes for many years at the old ‘Home of Mystery,’ the Egyptian Hall.

Mr Maskelyne and Miss Bruce first met each other when they were about six years old [Cassie was in fact nearly five years his senior] at a Christmas pantomime, and Mr Maskelyne said to a press representative: –

‘I did not meet her after that for some time. I was busy studying Chemistry at King’s College for five years, but a year or two ago I left it to take up my position at the hall as business manager. There I met “Cassie.” We fell in love with one another, and I must admit that it was with some regret that I had during the course of the show to make her disappear.

‘A strange thing will take place at the wedding. After the ceremony we shall vanish, and next day reappear in Paris, where we shall spend our honeymoon.

‘One more thing. We have been engaged for five years, and I consider long engagements are the best.’

The Era, after reporting on the wedding and the entertainments at the reception in St George’s Hall, commented, ‘It is good news to hear that Miss Cassie Bruce, who is such a dainty little actress, does not intend to leave the stage.’

On returning from their honeymoon Archie and Cassie joined the company in a provincial tour that began in Ramsgate on 9 July, after which they lived at Cassie’s previous home, with her aunt Kathleen Bruce at 20 Upper Tollington Park, in Finsbury Park.

Archie had made his stage debut with the company at the Egyptian Hall in August 1904, alongside Cassie in Well I’m ——, and in the following year he had replaced his brother in The Mascot Moth. He also presented routines such as The Window of the Haunted House (1912) and The Yogi’s Star (1913), which included a telepathy illusion making use of wireless telegraphy. From July 1914 to June 1915, with just a week off in January, he led Maskelyne & Devant’s number 2 touring company around England, Wales and Scotland, in a new venue at least every week. Then from Christmas 1915 he was in The Philosopher’s Stone at St George’s Hall for six months.

In the spring of 1917 a new production opened at St George’s Hall, devised by Archie and with a script by his sister, Mrs Minnie Jane Mead. The Globe described The Four Elements of Alchemy as follows:

In full view of the audience, and apparently out of nothing, there come a munition worker, soldier, aviator, and sailor, representing earth, fire, air, and water, and combining to produce the spirit of peace [played by Cassie]. That they are real flesh and blood is clear when three of them step on to the stage and proclaim their patriotism. As for the other, the aviator, well he, after ‘awakening’ on earth, vanishes into thin air in a twinkling.

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Archie Maskelyne with his illusion The Four Elements of Alchemy (Magician Monthly)

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A St George’s Hall programme featuring The Four Elements of Alchemy (arthurlloyd.co.uk)

 

By the summer of 1919 Archie had contracted tuberculosis and was too ill to go to St George’s Hall. In September that year he went for treatment to a sanatorium at Matlock Spa, but a year later, on 26 September 1920, he died, aged 40. He was buried in St Pancras Cemetery on 30 September. The Magic Circular, in its obituary in its November issue, commented that ‘Everyone liked “Archie” … and everyone who knew him will long retain pleasant recollections of him. If one has to mention his outstanding attribute , it would be amiability, for Archie was always amiable, even under the sometimes trying duties of acting management.’

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Archie’s grave in St Pancras Cemetery

 

Cassie inherited a life interest in his shares in Maskelyne’s Ltd and his part-ownership (with Nevil) of the lease of St George’s Hall, and at a board meeting in January 1921 she was made the company’s supervisor of female staff at a salary of £10 a week (equivalent to about £440 p.w. today) – perhaps by way of a pension, or to make use of her experience, for she no longer appeared on stage. Two years later a board meeting was told she was taking £3,000 a year from the company, and this was reduced to £280 – which was nevertheless well above the average working wage.

J. N. had died in 1917 (he is buried in Brompton Cemetery), but Nevil and his own sons kept St George’s Hall going until 1933, when the BBC took it over as a studio and concert hall. (It was destroyed in an air raid in May 1941.) On 3 December 1937 Cassie was one of the contributors to ‘Entertainment at St George’s, 1867–1937: The Story of a London Hall of Entertainment through 70 Years ‘ on the BBC National Programme.

She died, aged 83, in the Whittington Hospital, Highgate, on 12 November 1958 – having been living at 20 Upper Tollington Park almost until the end – and was buried alongside Archie on 17 November.

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Cassie’s inscription on Archie’s monument in St Pancras Cemetery

 

SOURCES

• Anne Pimlott Baker, ‘Maskelyne, John Nevil (1839–1917)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, May 2011
• Anne Davenport and John Salisse, St George’s Hall: Behind the Scenes at England’s Home of Mystery (Mike Caveney’s Magic Words, 2001)
• Edwin A. Dawes, ‘Devant, David (1868–1941)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, January 2011
The Era, 21 May 1898 (Trapped by Magic), 13 August 1898 (CB disengaged), 21 April 1900 (A Twin Spirit), 9 April 1902 (The Entranced Fakir), 3 January 1903 (The Philosopher’s Stone), 26 December 1903 (Well, I’m ——), 29 April 1905 (St Valentine’s Eve), 12 August 1905 (The Mascot Moth), 8 September 1906 (Daylight Ghosts), 30 June 1907 (wedding)
Evening Standard (London), 4 April 1899 (The Gnome’s Grot)
The Globe, 17 March 1917 (The Four Elements of Alchemy)
• Susan Holt, The Story of a Theatrical Family
Illustrated London News, 4 May 1907 (‘Spooks in Court: The Famous £1000 Colley–Maskelyne Libel Case)
London and Provincial Entr’acte, 24 December 1898 (The Gnome’s Grot), 24 January 1903 (The Philosopher’s Stone)
• ‘Magic in 1918: An Interview with Mr. Nevil Maskelyne and Mr. E. A. Maskelyne’, Magician Monthly, December 1917
• Jasper Maskelyne, White Magic: The Story of Maskelynes (London: Stanley Paul, 1936)
Morning Post, 31 May 1898 (Trapped by Magic), 21 December 1898 (The Gnome’s Grot)
• Janet Oppenheim, The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850–1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985)
• ‘The St. Georges Hall, Langham Place, Regent Street, London’, at arthurlloyd.co.uk
The Times, 25, 26, 27, 30 April & 1 May 1907 (‘High Court of Justice, King’s Bench Division, Colley v. Maskelyne’), 14 October 1941 (David Devant obituary)
• J. P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1890–1899: A Calendar of Plays and Players (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1976)

 

Charles Collard: Have-a-go hero

At about 8.30 on the night of Friday 8 December 1854, Charlotte Bennett, a household servant working for a Mr George Moore at 73 Warren Street, London, opened the front door to two unexpected callers. One of them was a veiled woman, whose features Bennett could not make out; the other was a man whom she knew as someone who had previously come to repair equipment used in her employer’s soda-water business. His name was Emanuel Barthélemy.

Barthélemy was born in Sceaux, near Paris, in 1820. In 1839 he was imprisoned for shooting a police officer during an attempted republican coup against the French monarchy. He was released during a general amnesty in 1847, but in 1848 was imprisoned for his part in the French workers’ uprising in June that year. In the summer of 1850 he managed to escape to London, where he opened a fencing and pistol-shooting salon in Rathbone Place, at which Karl Marx, who had arrived in London in 1849, became one of his clients. A shared interest in revolutionary politics made Barthélemy a frequent visitor to Marx’s house, though according to Marx’s friend Wilhelm Liebknecht ‘Mrs. Marx did not like him – he was uncanny to her, his piercing eyes were repulsive to her.’

In September 1850, at a rowdy Communist League committee meeting, Marx was challenged to a duel by August Willich, who regarded him as a reactionary. Marx refused to give Willich satisfaction, but his lieutenant Conrad Schramm took up the challenge, and when Schramm and Willich left for Antwerp – duelling being illegal in Britain – Barthélemy went along as Willich’s second. And it was he who, back in London on the day after the duel, called at Marx’s house and announced that Schramm had a bullet in his head – though a day later Schramm himself turned up, having just ‘received a glancing shot which had stunned him’.

Two years later, at Englefield Green in Surrey in October 1852, Barthélemy shot dead a fellow Frenchman in the last fatal duel in England, following differences over republican politics. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to two months in jail, having already been in prison for over five months while awaiting trial.

 
On that night in December 1854, Bennett showed the two visitors into the back parlour – where Moore evidently received them as friends: three tumblers were later found on the table – and then went upstairs. Details of what happened next differ slightly in contemporary accounts, but it seems that after about 10–20 minutes Bennett heard a scuffling noise from below and came back downstairs, when she saw Moore pushing Barthélemy towards the front door. She was just opening the door and was aware of the two men struggling together when she saw Barthélemy put a pistol to Moore’s head and fire it, at which she ran out into the street. Barthélemy came out too, but seeing other people in the street he went back inside and bolted the door.

Among the bystanders was Charles Collard, who had a greengrocer’s shop next door. Collard, the son of a butcher, was 36 years old and had served as a soldier with the East India Company, but by the time he married Sarah Tourell in October 1850 he was a police constable. He spent only two or three years in the police force, but was so popular with his colleagues that when he left to set up business as a greengrocer he was appointed to supply several police stations with vegetables.

Bennett told Collard that she thought her employer had been shot. Collard ran round to the back of the house, in New Road (now Euston Road), where he saw Barthélemy climbing over the back fence and, with another passer-by, grabbed hold of him. Then Barthélemy’s pistol went off and Collard fell wounded to the ground. Barthélemy struck the other man under the ear with the pistol and ran off to the west, until someone else who had seen what happened caught hold of him and resisted efforts to beat him off until others joined him and overpowered the fugitive until police arrived and took him away. Barthélemy was found to have been carrying a pair of pistols, 24 cartridges, some percussion caps, a dagger with a 9-inch blade, 8½d. in money, 2 door keys, 3 cigars and a corkscrew.

The police also entered Moore’s house – let in by the occupant of no. 72, who climbed over the wall between their rear gardens – and found Moore dead by the front door. In the back parlour there were a broken chair and marks of blood on the wall and floor. On the body there were signs of a blow to the head as well as a pistol shot, but a surgeon later found a bullet in Moore’s brain and declared that this must have caused instantaneous death.

Collard, meanwhile, had been taken to the nearby University College Hospital, where he was found to have been shot in the belly, with the ball travelling through his body to within a quarter of an inch of his back. The ball was removed, but the wound was judged to be fatal, and Collard was told this.

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University College Hospital – the former North London Hospital (Wellcome Library, London)

 

Later that night a police inspector visited him and took down a statement of what had happened. The next day Barthélemy was taken to Collard’s bedside and identified as the man with the pistol. ‘Oh, you cruel man,’ said Collard, to which there was no reply. The statement made the previous night was read out with the addition of the identification:

I, Charles Collard, of No. 74, Warren-street, say that about a quarter to 9 o’clock p.m., this day, I heard the report of a pistol and a cry of ‘Murder’ in No. 73, Warren-street. I went there, and found a man attempting to escape. I prevented him. He then re-entered the house, and fastened the door in Warren-street, and got out at the back. I ran into the New-road, and caught hold of him as he was getting over the garden wall, when he pulled a pistol from his pocket, and shot me through, and I fell. The man ran away. Another man was standing near me at the time, who tried to hold him, but he got away. The man I now see is the man who shot me. I am certain of that. I have made this statement believing that I am dying.
Charles Collard, his mark.

Collard died later that day, about 24 hours after being admitted to the hospital.

On 4 January 1855 Barthélemy was tried for Collard’s murder – not for that of Moore – and was found guilty. Despite the jury’s plea for clemency – the defence counsel had argued that the killings amounted to manslaughter rather than murder – he was hanged in front of a crowd estimated at 8,000–10,000 in bad weather outside Newgate Prison on the 22nd. At his request, as the sentence was carried out he held in his hand a letter delivered to him a day or two earlier, which turned out to be written in French, signed ‘Sophie’ or ‘Jeannette’ (accounts differ), sent from Poitiers, and urging him to repent – though the press made much of his insistence that he had no religious faith. He was buried within the jail.

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The death mask of Emanuel Barthélemy, from The Zoist, vol. 13 (April 1855 to January 1856)

 

No explanation of Barthélemy’s quarrel with Moore was offered at the trial, but after the execution his solicitor reported part of a conversation in which Barthélemy claimed he was returning from an abortive visit to a shooting gallery which he had found closed when he had met his female companion – who disappeared at the time of the murders and was never traced, but who presumably was previously known to him. He had then accompanied her to Moore’s house at her request. Moore supposedly became aggressive when she read him a letter, in French, which he tried to snatch from her, and struck out with a weighted cane when Barthélemy tried to intervene. The gun had been fired when Moore continued to strike out as Barthélemy and his companion tried to leave. The Newgate chaplain was reported as saying that Barthélemy had said that the woman was an illegitimate child – the daughter of a Catholic priest according to one report – who used to receive money from Moore and who had gone to see him to collect arrears, which Moore had refused to pay, and that Barthélemy admitted that he had struck Moore with a weighted cane that had been lying on Moore’s table.

In his memoirs of his friend Marx, first published in 1896, Wilhelm Liebknecht claimed that Barthélemy had been en route to Paris (with a ‘lady friend’) to kill Emperor Napoleon III with deer shot steeped in sulphur when he remembered that Moore owed him money and an altercation ensued when he tried to claim it – though reports at the time of Barthélemy’s arrest claimed that he had been planning to travel to Hamburg on the day after the murders.

Later still, in his 1921 book Remarkable Rogues, Charles Kingston O’Mahony (writing as Charles Kingston) claimed that Barthélemy had said that he and his companion had gone to Warren Street with the intention of getting Moore to recognise the girl as his daughter and bestow an allowance on her before her marriage to the Frenchman. But no reference is provided for this, and a number of details in the author’s account differ from those in contemporary reports – not least that Moore was killed by the weighted cane, with no mention of a pistol shot.

Meanwhile, on 15 December 1854, Collard had been buried in St Pancras Cemetery. Some 400–500 people followed his coffin there, and the undertaker said he ‘never saw so much sympathy manifested on any previous occasion’. In January the St Pancras vestry voted to waive the fees for erecting a monument over his grave (with some reservations about the legality of the vestry as trustees giving away ‘the people’s property’). An appeal for support of his widow and two children raised some £700 or £800 (equivalent to about £68,000–£78,000 today), and in July there was erected on his grave a monument designed by Thomas Milnes, whose previous commissions had included a statue of Nelson in Norwich and one of the Duke of Wellington now in the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. It was reported that ‘the stone of which it is composed is of great durability, closely resembling marble, and the monument bears an appropriate inscription, referring to the horrible event by which the deceased met his death, but without perpetuating the name of the perpetrator’; now, however, over 160 years on, the wording is illegible.

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Collard’s grave in St Pancras Cemetery. ‘The design and execution of the monument, which had been entrusted to Mr. Thomas Milnes, of Judd-place East, Euston-square, is of a classical character, standing in the centre of a Yorkshire landing … Next to the landing is a noble plinth and sub-plinth, with neat mouldings supporting the pedestal, which tapers lightly towards the capital, but surrounded with foliage and scroll work, presenting a chaste appearance’ – The Observer, 16 July 1855 

SOURCES

• Richard Cohen, By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions (London: Random House, 2002)
• ‘Emanuel Barthélemy’, Old Bailey Proceedings Online
• ‘Emanuel Barthélemy’, Wikipedia
Evening Standard, 11 December 1854 (‘Horrible Murder in Warren-street, Fitzroy-square’), 16 July 1855 (‘The Late Murder in Warren-street’)
• Charles Kingston (pseudonym of Charles Kingston O’Mahony), Remarkable Rogues: The Careers of Some Notable Criminals of Europe and America (London and New York: John Lane, 1921)
• Wilhelm Liebknecht, Karl Marx: Biographical Memoirs (1896), trans. Ernest Untermann (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1901)
Manchester Guardian, 24 January 1855 (’Execution of the Murderer Barthélemy in London’)
The Observer, 10 December 1854 (’Horrible Murder in Warren-street, Fitzroy-square’, ’The Double Murder’), 17 December 1854 (‘The Double Murder in Warren-street, Fitzroy-square’, ‘The Double Murder’, ’The Double Murder in Warren-street, Fitzroy-square: The Inquest Resumed’), 24 December 1854 (‘The Double Murder in Warren-street’), 31 December 1854 (‘Central Criminal Court’), 7 January 1855 (‘St. Pancras Vestry: The Late Double Murder in Warren-street’, ’Central Criminal Court … The Murders in Warren-street’, ’The Double Murderer Barthélemy’), 14 January 1855 (‘Monument to the Late Charles Collard’), 21 January 1855 (’The Murderer Barthélemy’, ‘Execution of Barthélemy Tomorrow (Monday)’), 28 January 1855 (‘Execution of Emanuel Barthélemy’, ‘Alleged Confession of Barthélemy’), 16 July 1855 (‘The Late Murder in Warren-street’)
• James Straton and John Elliotson, ‘The Correspondence Between the Characters and Heads of the Two Murderers Lately Executed at Newgate’, The Zoist: A Journal of Cerebral Physiology and Mesmerism and Their Application to Human Welfare, vol. 13 (April 1855 to January 1856), pp. 202ff.
The Times, 9 December 1854 (’Horrible Murder in Warren-street, Fitzroy-square’, ‘The Double Murder’), 11 December 1854 (’The Murder in Warren-street’), 12 December 1854 (’The Double Murder in Warren-street, Fitzroy-square’), 5 January 1855 (’Central Criminal Court … The Murders in Warren-street’), 22 January 1855 (’The Murderer Barthélemy’), 23 January 1855 (‘Execution of the Murderer Barthélemy’)
• John Van der Kiste, Surrey Murders (Stroud: History Press, 2012)
• Francis Wheen, Karl Marx (London: Fourth Estate, 1999)

Mabel Beardsley: Actress and ‘her brother’s sister’

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Mabel Beardsley (1871–1916)

 

Mabel Beardsley was born in Brighton on 24 August 1871, the first child of Vincent Beardsley and his wife Ellen, née Pitt. At the time of their marriage in the previous October, Vincent was living on a private income; but while they were on honeymoon the widow of a clergyman made a ‘breach of promise’ claim against him, and to avoid scandal he sold some property he owned in London to buy her off. The result was that the couple were so stretched financially that they were living with Ellen’s parents and her two unmarried sisters. And this was still the situation when Mabel’s brother, Aubrey, was born a year after her.

In 1874 Vincent obtained a clerical job in London, and the family moved to lodgings in Notting Hill. They were to remain in lodgings for the next 20 years.

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Aubrey and Mabel Beardsley in 1875

 

In 1920, Ellen Beardsley recalled that

Mabel was a very brilliant child and a great reader. She read Dickens and Scott at a very early age. I remember her sitting up at the table beside me reading. Presently I heard a deep sigh. ‘What is the matter, darling?’ I asked. ‘Don’t you like your book?’ ‘No, mother,’ she said, ‘I really do draw the line at Carlyle.’ She was six years old.

Mabel did not only read Dickens: she was also encouraged to recite him, and she and her mother would sometimes dissolve in tears over a particularly sentimental passage – although her party-piece was the skating scene from The Pickwick Papers.

Her mother also recalled that on one occasion

[Mabel] went out to lunch alone at the house of some friends of ours who were very fond of her … Behind her as she sat at table was a portrait of Gladstone. My friends were radicals. ‘Look at the picture behind you, Mabel,’ said Mrs. —. ‘Do you know who it is?’

The little creature looked round for an instant. ‘Those are not my Mother’s politics,’ she said politely and with perfect finality.

Ellen Beardsley was an accomplished pianist, and gave private piano and French lessons to help make ends meet. But, for the good of Aubrey’s delicate health, early in 1882 she gave up her teaching and moved with the children to live in Epsom – again in lodgings – for two years, taking them walking on the Downs every day.

Mabel and Aubrey had learned the piano too, and, back in London, Mabel would play and recite at private parties.

In 1884 Vincent lost his job and struggled to find another, and when Ellen fell ill and had to enter a nursing home the children were sent to live with an unmarried great-aunt, Sarah Pitt, in Brighton. There they took to going by themselves to services at the Anglo-Catholic Church of the Annunciation, almost a mile away from their aunt’s house.

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Mabel and Aubrey Beardsley at the time they were living with their great-aunt in Brighton

 

When Ellen’s health recovered, early in 1885 Mabel returned to London while Aubrey stayed on in Brighton to attend Brighton Grammar School, at his great-aunt’s expense.

During the school holidays Aubrey returned to the family (now living in Pimlico), and he and Mabel began to put on plays, puppet shows and sketches in their lodgings, with their parents and perhaps a few family friends as the audience.

The Beardsleys now attended St Barnabas, Pimlico, one of the ‘highest’ Anglo-Catholic churches in London.

Details of Mabel’s subsequent schooling are unclear – in an interview in 1896 she said, “I educated myself principally, and then went to the high school’ – but she won the fifth place in all England in the Higher Cambridge Local Examination, on the strength of which she was offered a scholarship at Newnham College, Cambridge. She declined this, however, and in September 1900 she started work as a teacher as the Polytechnic School for Girls, in Langham Place.

One of her fellow teachers there, Netta Syrett, recalled Mabel as ‘rather a big girl, with a good, erect figure. She held herself well, but she could scarcely be called pretty. Her hair was red, the kind of red usually described as “ginger,” and she had a nice pink-and-white, slightly freckled complexion.’ Syrett also noted ‘the charming courtesy of her manner. It was extended to every one, including the not too refined girls in her class, though one of them … made a remark to me about her that I have never forgotten. “Miss Beardsley is awfully nice to us,” she said. “But you like to teach us, and she doesn’t!”’

Mabel also lectured – ‘principally upon art’, she said – at a Girls’ Guild mission in Whitechapel, where she found that ‘The girls were perfectly charming – as fine and sweet as you could wish to have them. I was very fond of them. They had received no impressions and they were wonderfully receptive.’ She took them to the National Gallery once ‘on a little pleasure trip and it was very pleasant’.

At weekends she joined Aubrey in his artistic exploration of London. Her mother thought it was Mabel’s red hair that gained them entry to Edward Burne-Jones’s studio when, in July 1891, they turned up there with a portfolio of Aubrey’s drawings for inspection, wrongly believing the artist held an open house on Sundays.

In December 1891 their great-aunt died, leaving them each a bequest of £500 (equivalent to about £57,000 today) payable when they reached the age of 21. (Ellen also received £500, and Vincent 19 guineas.) When Aubrey was commissioned to illustrate Le Morte D’Arthur, Mabel offered the support of her recently received legacy in urging him to give up his clerical job with the Guardian Fire and Life Assurance Company and devote himself to his art, which he did; and as he increasingly moved in artistic and bohemian circles, she entered this world too.

In the summer of 1893 Aubrey’s earnings and the bequests from Sarah Pitt made it possible for the Beardsleys for the first time to take on a lease on a house – again in Pimlico – and on Thursday afternoons Ellen and her children began to entertain. Though Ellen was the nominal host, Netta Syrett remembered Mabel there ‘in a dress that vaguely recalled a lady of the Italian Renaissance, seated in a carved, high-backed chair, from which she rose to receive each newcomer with graceful if slightly mannered courtesy’. Vincent, by this time, was never seen: it was rumoured that he was separated from his wife, that he worked in the City, that he was a drunkard forced to live out of sight in the basement, or that he was dead.

In 1894 Mabel gave up her job at the Polytechnic School. Syrett asked her about her plans:

‘What are you going to do when you leave?’ I asked.

Go on the stage, and become a society beauty, dear,’ she calmly and quite seriously replied. Privately, I wondered how she would achieve the latter ambition. But she did … A few years later, when she had become slim and willowy in figure, when, with a very little touching up, hair that had been a trifle too pale a red was warm and glowing enough to justify admiration for her ‘Titian colouring,’ she was really beautiful.

 

(c) DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Mabel Beardsley by Jacques-Emile Blanche (1895) (Art UK / Museums Sheffield)

 

In her last term at the school Mabel would sometimes relieve Syrett of the disliked chore of standing in for the often absent headmistress at morning prayers:

Mabel used to say, ‘Let me take prayers, dear. It gives me an opportunity to practise my stage walk and diction!’ It was difficult to keep a grave face while she proceeded to do so, moving majestically up the long room between the rows of standing girls, to the platform, where in a clear, histrionic voice she read the lesson for the day.

Her mother did not approve of Mabel’s choice of career. Ellen later admitted, ‘She was very self-possessed and unself-conscious. But I do not think she would ever have made a really great actress. She had not the temperament, or the health. Aubrey used to encourage her, but I used to tell her the truth about herself. She would cry and did not like it. But I had to tell her.’

However, the Beardsleys were friendly with Max Beerbohm and his mother, and through them Mabel went to see Max’s half-brother the actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree for advice on a stage career. He offered her a walk-on part in Once Upon a Time, an adaptation of a German play, which ran for 25 performances in March–April 1894. She then joined a touring production of Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance by a company run by Harry Morrell, a former secretary of Tree’s, through whom she had met him. It opened at the Assembly Rooms in Malvern on 3 September 1894, and when it arrived in Yarmouth later that month the London theatrical paper The Era commented, ‘Miss Mabel Beardsley makes an attractive Lady Stutfield.’

On 3 January 1895 Aubrey and Mabel were at the premiere of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband at the Haymarket Theatre. Aubrey had by now published his illustrations to Wilde’s Salomé and appeared in the first volume of The Yellow Book, which had made him notorious, and the fashion correspondent of The Lady noted ‘with special pleasure and a good deal of curiosity Miss Beardsley, the sister of the distinguished artist of The Yellow Book, resplendent in a pale mauve gown trimmed with bunches of pink heliotrope’. In April Mabel stood in for an indisposed Julia Neilson as Mrs Marchmont in two performances of An Ideal Husband, now at the Criterion.

In the following month, on 13 May, she was received into the Roman Catholic Church

In February 1896 the Morning Post praised Mabel as the ‘young lady whose presence, features, and mien give promise of a most charming actress’ in Dearest Mamma at a matinee in aid of St Anne’s, Soho, at the Royalty Theatre: ‘She had hardly thought out all the details of her part, and her want of experience was manifest at more than one point of the performance; but with sound guidance and devotion to her art, she might aspire to rise very high in her profession.’ But her career never really did take off. She received respectable reviews, but no one seems to have been thrilled by her, and the longest run she ever enjoyed was 59 performances in The Queen’s Proctor with Arthur Bourchier’s company at the Royalty Theatre in London in June–July 1896. Even then it was her costume rather than her performance that The Era commented on, noting that ‘A tailor-made costume of red serge admirably sets off the blonde [sic] beauty of Miss Mabel Beardsley, who later in the play wears an evening dress of yellow mirror moiré, with bodice of white satin, veiled with silver net, and sleeves of yellow tulle.’

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Mabel Bearsdley as Mrs Maydew in The Queen’s Proctor (1896)

 

In November she went to Canada and the USA with Bourchier’s company, and in December an interview with her appeared in the New York Times, under the main heading ‘Her Brother’s Sister’. The paper found her ‘an interesting young woman, with a complexion of peaches and cream, a delightful English voice and manner of emphasizing her words, and a reputation, she finds, for being her brother’s sister … She is not an outdoor English girl, does not “bike” or care for out-of-door sports. She is devotedly fond of music.’

After talking about her career, Mabel spoke of her brother:

There is not a year’s difference between us, and we are very proud and fond of each other. I don’t know as there is anything about me for him to be proud of, but he is very fond of me and I am very proud of him … He is very ill in the south of England now, and my mother is there taking care of him … He was very, very ill before I left, and I took care of him. He had very bad hemorrhages of the lungs.

When Bourchier returned to the UK in January 1897, she stayed in the USA with another company before returning to England at the end of May and travelling directly on to Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, where Aubrey was attempting to recover his health. Arriving on 4 June, she was amazed by an apparent improvement in his condition. After a week – during which they took communion together, as Aubrey too had become a Catholic during her absence – she returned to London and at the end of the month advertised herself as ‘disengaged’.

In July she was working at the Matinee Theatre and the Criterion, then in August she spent another week with Aubrey, now in Dieppe, and in October was again ‘disengaged’, before finding work at the Royalty in late November: in A New Leaf she ‘gave a boldly drawn sketch of a lady of easy virtue, with several redeeming points in her curious composition’.

On 3 March 1898 she opened in The Nettle at the Garrick Theatre, but on the 6th Aubrey – now with his mother in Menton – suffered a major haemorrhage and had clearly not long to live. Ellen telegraphed Mabel to urge her to come at once, which she did. After frequent further severe haemorrhages, during which two nurses were in attendance and Ellen and Mabel spent much time kneeling by his bedside, Aubrey died in the early hours of 16 March.

He was buried in Menton, after which Ellen and Mabel returned to London, where in May there was a memorial service at Farm Street church. Mabel then briefly collapsed. ‘A pile of rich red hair had been the most remarkable feature of this strange beauty,’ wrote Beardsley’s biographer Malcolm Easton: ‘from now on it would be her extreme pallor.’ Later in May probate was granted on Aubrey’s will, which left his sister all his property, valued at £836 17s 10d net (equivalent to about £98,000 today).

On his deathbed, Aubrey had written to the louche publisher Leonard Smithers urging him to destroy all his drawings and the prints made from them for an illustrated edition of Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata, about a sex strike by the women of classical Athens; he had come to consider his work obscene. Mabel was upset when she learned that Smithers had instead sold the drawings to a collector, and tried unsuccessfully to buy them back so that she might destroy them herself. She had not seen the drawings at this stage, but later she became blasé about the images and acquired her own set of the prints; and when the young actress Faith Stone was recovering from influenza Mabel loaned them to her, saying, ‘Are you, dear child, well enough to enjoy a book? I have brought something of my brother’s for you. Being just pictures, they will not tire you, as the printed word might.’

She and Aubrey had been discussing plans for a Catholic quarterly review shortly before his death, and she had already begun to try her hand at journalism, as one of the contributors to a discussion on ‘Is Bohemianism Extinct?’ in The Idler in April 1898. (‘The Bohemians of London are, as a rule, more remarkable for freedom of manner and costume than for the wild untameable spirit of genius which is usually supposed to justify eccentric behaviour and aloofness from Society. Bohemianism (so-called) will not become extinct in England for lack of professors; it is too useful an apology, too picturesque a pose.’) In June 1898 the subject was ‘Should Women Smoke?’ (‘Who will dare to attack a practice recommended to the greater approval of the country by its Chancellor of the Exchequer? Tobacco set far above tea by a fatherly legislation, which would place it within the reach of all; does that declaration contain a subtle appeal to the sex which holds tea in especial honour and favour?’) In January 1900 it was ‘Flirtation: Is It a Legitimate Amusement?’ (‘As in all games, the amusement is in proportion to the degree and interest with which it is played. It is not within the capability of everyone, but then neither is croquet – and to some it is hardly more amusing.’) She also wrote for the Saturday Review and The Rambler on occasions – the critic and poet Arthur Symons thought ‘A New Watteau’, her article on her friend the artist Charles Conder, which appeared in The Rambler in August 1901, had a ‘peculiar fantastic quality’.

In August 1898 she appeared with the Old Stagers at the Theatre Royal in Canterbury, and in December she ‘cleverly expressed the mental anguish’ of seduced then cast-off Grace in A Settlement in Full at St Leonard’s Pier Pavilion. She was also on tour in the new year, at venues including Kilburn, Bury St Edmunds and Colchester.

Later in 1899 she was engaged for the largest part she had so far undertaken: the Duchess of Strood in a touring production of A. W. Pinero’s The Gay Lord Quex. The Duchess, a former lover of the eponymous reformed Don Juan, insists on a potentially compromising farewell meeting with him before he marries someone else. On the strength of the press reports, when the London production opened in April 1899 the Bishop of Wakefield, Dr George Eden, condemned it as ‘the most immoral play that ever disgraced the stage of this country’ – which had an excellent effect on the box office.

When the touring production (rehearsed by Pinero himself) arrived at the Theatre Royal, York, in August the Yorkshire Gazette found that ‘Miss Mabel Beardsley deserves special mention … her fine stage personality and graceful and dignified bearing lending themselves in marked degree to her role.’ But in September she had to leave the tour when she became ill.

In November she appeared as the star-struck Lady Fitzroy in The Modern Craze at St George’s Hall, London. The Morning Post thought that she at times fell into ‘the cleverest possible imitations of Mrs. Patrick Campbell’, while the Pall Mall Gazette believed she gave a ‘delightfully natural imitation of Miss Ellen Terry’.

In early 1900 she was back with The Gay Lord Quex. When, in March, the production arrived in Hull the local Daily Mail found the play ‘not artistic … not beautiful … not wholesome’. The reviewer was particularly shocked by a scene in which ‘Lord Quex, much against his ideas of good sense, consents to say farewell to his old “flame” the Duchess in her boudoir (into which Mr Pinero very unnecessarily introduces a bed)’, especially when ‘the Duchess is made to retire to the back part of her boudoir, stand before her mirror, and – with the help of her maid – produce a representation of a particularly daring corset advertisement!’ It conceded, however, that ‘Miss Mabel Beardsley’s beautiful shoulders figure most effectively in the boudoir scene’, and thought ‘her impersonation of the Duchess of Strood is marked by power; what weaknesses there are are those of the character rather than of the interpreter.’

In April–May 1901 she enjoyed her second-longest London run – over twice the length of the third – with 55 performances in The Lion Hunters at Terry’s Theatre. Then, in a letter postmarked 5 September 1901, Max Beerbohm, recently arrived in Dieppe, wrote to his friend Reggie Turner, ’Miss Beardsley has also arrived, fresh from a provincial tour. She trails about, all day, in evening dress – low neck, no sleeves, and a train as long as the Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville, which she carries over her arm. She creates a great sensation.’ Later that month she again advertised herself as ‘disengaged’, and in October she stepped in for an actress with an ill brother in an amateur production of The School for Scandal in Tunbridge Wells.

Her 35 performances in 4 productions in 1902 included a one-off performance of The Finding of Nancy by her former colleague Netta Syrett at the St James’s Theatre. The role had been intended for another actress, but the theatre’s manager objected that she could not play such an unpleasant woman. ‘Mabel Beardsley would probably be very glad to do so,’ replied Syrett, refusing to rewrite the part. ‘Very well, get Mabel Beardsley!’ was the manager’s reply.

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Mabel Beardsley as Mrs Bennett-Boldero in The Degenerates at the Haymarket Theatre in 1902

 

In 1903 she was touring in South Africa in A Woman of No Importance and The Marriage of Kitty. Then, back in London, on 30 September that year she married George Edward Wright, an Old Etonian, six years her junior, who acted under the name of George Bealby; they had met in The Lion Hunters in 1901. Her father was a witness at what was one of the first weddings to be held in the new Westminster Cathedral. The marriage seems soon to have faded away, though George remained good friends with Mabel’s mother.

Thereafter Mabel appeared very little on the stage, at least in London: 4 performances in 1904; none in 1905; 23 in 1906, including a run of 21 in The Whirlwind at the Criterion; none in 1907–9; 1 in 1910; and none in later years. But she began to create a theatre of her own, hosting weekly lunch parties at which her guests might be of the distinction of J. M. Barrie, Henry James, Somerset Maugham, Mrs Patrick Campbell, and the Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott (who met his wife, the sculptor Kathleen Bruce, at one of these lunches in December 1906), as well as old friends like Max Beerbohm.

Many of Aubrey’s old friends found her warmer and more approachable than her brother had been. ‘Mabel must have known the worst of human nature and thought the best of every individual. Nothing startled her, nothing astonished her. She made allowances for all her friends. She credited them with beautiful natures,’ wrote their friend André Raffalovich in 1928. ‘Being Aubrey’s sister’, wrote the painter William Rothenstein, ‘little that is hidden to most young girls was unknown to Mabel, & there was nothing that cd not be discussed.’

In May 1910 Mabel attended an artists’ ball at the Grafton Galleries dressed as an Elizabethan page, and her friend Oswald Birley painted her in that role:

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Oswald Birley, Miss Mabel Beardsley as an Elizabethan Page (1910)

 

In 1912 Mabel was diagnosed with cancer, and by October that year she was confined to a Hampstead nursing home. Just before Christmas W. B. Yeats, who had known her and her brother in the 1890s, learned of her situation, and on 5 January 1913 he made his first visit to her sickbed. After it he wrote to his friend Lady Gregory:

She had all her great lady airs and asked after my work and my health as if they were the most important things in the world to her. ‘A palmist told me,’ she said, ‘that when I was forty-two my life would take a turn for the better and now I shall spend my forty-second year in heaven,’ and then emphatically ‘O yes I shall go to heaven. Papists do.’ … Then she began telling telling improper stories and inciting us (there were two men besides myself) to do the like. At moments she shook with laughter.

The old Beardsley circle that regrouped round Mabel’s bedside, exchanging stories and jokes and memories of outrageous behaviour in years gone by, appealed to Yeats. In a later letter to Lady Gregory he wrote, ‘How her life, her speech would horrify the pious Dublin people & yet how loose & dark they seem in contrast.’

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Mabel Beardsley with her mother in the Hampstead nursing home in 1913

 

Between 5 January and 18 February 1913 Yeats made four visits to Hampstead, and celebrated Mabel’s ‘strange charm’ and ‘pathetic gaiety’ in ‘Upon a Dying Lady’, a sequence of seven poems, of which the first is this:

Her Courtesy

With the old kindness, the old distinguished grace,
She lies, her lovely piteous head amid dull red hair
Propped upon pillows, rouge on the pallor of her face.
She would not have us sad because she is lying there,
And when she meets our gaze her eyes are laughter-lit,
Her speech a wicked tale that we may vie with her,
Matching our broken-hearted wit against her wit,
Thinking of saints and of Petronius Arbiter.

In July 1914 Mabel wrote to Robert Ross, commiserating with him for his problems as the literary executor of Oscar Wilde. In a postscript, she added, ‘I still go on, merely I believe to spite the doctors who gave me up long ago.’

Towards the end she was moved to the Holland Park home of her mother-in-law, where she continued to be watched over by her friends. Aged 44, she eventually died on 8 May 1916. She was buried in the Roman Catholic section of St Pancras Cemetery on 10 May.

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Mabel Beardsley’s grave in St Pancras Cemetery

SOURCES

• Ellen Agnus Beardsley, ‘Aubrey Beardsley’, in R. A. Walker (ed.), A Beardsley Miscellany (London: Bodley Head, 1949)
• Max Beerbohm, Letters to Reggie Turner, ed. Rupert Hart-Davis (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1964)
Daily Mail (Hull), 20 March 1900 (The Gay Lord Quex)
• Malcolm Easton, Aubrey and the Dying Lady: A Beardsley Riddle (London: Secker & Warburg, 1972)
The Era, 15 September 1894 (A Woman of No Importance), 6 June 1896 (The Queen’s Proctor), 4 December 1897 (A New Leaf), 3 December 1898 (A Settlement in Full)
Evening Post (Wellington, NZ), 10 June 1899 (‘A Remarkable Drama’)
Evening Star (Dunedin, NZ), 10 June 1899 (‘Footlight Flashes’)
• R. F. Foster, W. B. Yeats: A Life, vol. 1: The Apprentice Mage 1865–1914 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997)
• Alexander Michaelson [André Raffalovich], ‘Aubrey Beardsley’s Sister’, New Blackfriars, January 1928
Morning Post, 11 February 1896 (Dearest Mamma), 3 November 1899 (The Modern Craze)
New York Times, 27 December 1896 (‘Her Brother’s Sister’)
Pall Mall Gazette, 3 November 1899 (The Modern Craze)
• David A. Ross, Critical Companion to William Butler Yeats: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work (New York: Facts on File, 2009)
• John Russell Stephens, The Censorship of English Drama 1824–1901 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980)
• Matthew Sturgis, Aubrey Beardsley: A Biography (London HarperCollins, 1998)
• Arthur Symons, Selected Letters, 1880–1935, ed. Karl Beckson and John M. Munro (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1989)
• Netta Syret, The Sheltering Tree (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1939)
• J. P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1890–1899: A Calendar of Plays and Players (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1976)
——, The London Stage, 1900–1909: A Calendar of Plays and Players (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1981)
• W. B. Yeats, ‘Upon a Dying Lady
Yorkshire Gazette, 19 August 1899 (The Gay Lord Quex)

Alfred Arkell Hardwick: Adventurer and sales manager

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Alfred Arkell Hardwick (1878–1912), the frontispiece to his An Ivory Trader in North Kenia

 

Jean Baptiste de Manio and Max Cremetti – the subjects of two earlier posts – are not the only people who ended up in St Pancras Cemetery as a result of accidents in the early days of aviation. Another was Alfred Arkell Hardwick (or Arkell-Hardwick as his name was sometimes given). He used to say that he was too lucky to be killed in an aeroplane. He was mistaken, but it’s understandable that he should have thought that.

Hardwick was born in Dalston, in north-east London, on 14 January 1878, the son of Alfred James Hardwick, a silk salesman, and his wife of a couple of months, Louisa, née Green, who went on to have another three sons and two daughters. (Their third son, Albert, born in 1883, was in 1905 awarded the Royal Albert Medal, first class – the precursor of the George Cross as Britain’s highest gallantry award for civilians – for saving the life of an elderly woman who fell from a crowded platform at Finsbury Park station as a train approached; he jumped down after her and managed to position them both full length between the rails and the platform so that the train could pass safely over them.)

When he was 14, Alfred junior went to sea as an apprentice on an Australian liner and, according to his obituary, ‘spent three or four years knocking about the seven seas’ – surviving being washed overboard on one occasion – ‘and then turned up in Yokohama, and afterwards Beira [on the coast of Mozambique] and Capetown’.

From Cape Town, he and a friend decided to head north to Bulawayo in present-day Zimbabwe, to seek their fortunes where Cecil Rhodes’s British South Africa Company had recently taken over. He drifted into the British South African Police, and fought in the suppression of the Mashonaland revolt of 1896–7, when the pastoral/hunter Mashona people rebelled against those who had taken their land, coerced them into the workforce, introduced a hut tax, and usurped the authority of their chiefs.

Hardwick’s commanding officer, Inspector (later Colonel) Colin Harding, who adopted a controversial policy of dynamiting caves where rebels and their families were sheltering, wrote of him:

Hardwick was a typical Londoner, a type of man very hard to beat. He left a comfortable home in the North of London and joined the British South African Police, as he informed me to see life. I do not think he was disappointed, for everything he had to do, whether rough or smooth, he thoroughly enjoyed, and he was heard to exclaim to a fellow-trooper who was raving about the ‘Devil’s Pass,’ one of the most beautiful sights on the picturesque journey between Umtali and Salisbury [present-day Harare], ‘You may keep your “— view” but give me Hampstead!’ I have seen Hardwick clambering over a stockade far ahead of anyone else, and then with a captured Mashona gun much older than himself, return dirty and glorious to dream of fleeing Mashonas, in his service blanket under the starry canopy. A great lad was Hardwick.

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The Devil’s Pass, from H. C. Thomson, Rhodesia and Its Government (1898)

 

Hardwick was wounded, mentioned in dispatches, and awarded a medal and a bar for his part in the campaign.

He then worked on the railway being built to link Beira with Salisbury, before finding his way to Egypt, where he worked on the Nile boats and befriended an engineer in the irrigation department of the Egyptian government, George Henry West.

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George Henry West

In late 1899 Hardwick and West left Cairo intending to travel to Uganda via Zanzibar and Mombasa in the hope of finding engineering work. Having got as far as Nairobi, in June 1900 they set out with someone whom Hardwick’s subsequent memoir refers to only as ‘El Hakim’ (’The Doctor’) – ‘said to be one of the most daring and resolute, and at the same time one of the most unassuming Englishmen in the Protectorate; a dead shot, and a charming companion’ – on a five-month expedition in search of ivory and if possible to investigate a supposed great lake called Lorian into which the river Waso Nyiro discharged itself, but which a previous explorer had found to be only a swamp.

During the expedition, as Hardwick recounted in his memoir, An Ivory Trader in North Kenia, they arrived at a place they christened the Green Camp, about 3,500 feet above sea level. There

we felt that we should be content to remain where we were for an indefinite period. Game was more than plentiful, the climate was glorious, and we were free as the pure air we breathed. Only those who have been placed in similar circumstances can appreciate the full value of that word ‘free.’ We did precisely what seemed good to us in our own eyes. We rose early, bathed in the warm spring, ate our breakfast, and then went shooting, or, if disinclined for that, we sat in a folding-chair in the shade of the trees and read, or mended our clothes, ever and anon raising our eyes to watch the herds of game walking steadily past our camp on their way down to the river to drink. In time we got to know the various herds, and even to recognize individual members of the same herd … It was a perfectly Arcadian existence, which we left with very real regret when the exigences of travel compelled us once more to resume our weary march over the sun-scorched desert country down-river.

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The Green Camp

 

However, their appreciation of the wildlife seemed to have deserted them when they later arrived at a place where

Opposite us the cliffs of red gneiss rose to a height of over 300 feet. The face of the cliff was inhabited by thousands of monkeys and baboons, who chattered excitedly over our arrival, an excitement which was not allayed by a bullet I sent through a group of them, which flattened itself against the cliff wall with a sharp smack. They at once scattered to various places of safety behind the rocks, and from thence made rude remarks in monkey language.

Rhinoceroses could be ‘disgustingly frequent’, sometimes being hunted for food and sometimes taking against intruders into their territory:

I remember one rhinoceros which amused us very much. We were making our way across a belt of bush which somehow managed to draw sustenance from the sand, when the familiar but subdued shout of ‘Faru’ caused us to glance hurriedly round. Facing us ten yards away a large rhinoceros was stamping and snorting. In a few seconds he made up his mind to investigate, and charged down upon us. Something impelled George to place his fingers in his mouth and send forth a shrill ear-piercing whistle. The charging rhinoceros stopped suddenly in mid-career, so suddenly, indeed, that he almost sat on his hind quarters. Such a look of porcine surprise came over its ugly features that we involuntarily burst out into a roar of laughter, which apparently completed the ungainly brute’s discomfiture, as it turned and galloped away with every symptom of fear.

They enjoyed a friendly and trusting relationship with the chief of the M’thara tribe, ‘an old man named N’Dominuki. In his youth he had a great reputation as a warrior, and was commonly credited with the slaughter at various times of thirty-five men with his own spear.’ On one occasion

N’Dominuki came into camp with a chief named ‘Karama,’ who wished to make ‘muma,’ or blood-brotherhood, with me, to which I consented. It was rather a long affair. They brought a sheep with them, which was killed, and the liver cut out and toasted. Karama and I then squatted on the ground facing each other, while our men on the one side, and Karama’s friends on the other, formed a circle round us. A spear and a rifle were then crossed over our heads, and N’Dominuki, as master of the ceremonies, then took a knife and sharpened it alternately on the spear-blade and the gun-barrel, reciting the oath of ‘muma’ meanwhile. It was a long, rambling kind of oath … with divers pains and penalties attached, which came into operation in the event of either or both the blood-brothers breaking the said oath. At the conclusion of N’Dominuki’s speech the assembled spectators shouted the words ‘Orioi muma’ three times. Three incisions were then made in my chest, just deep enough to allow the blood to flow, and a similar operation was performed on Karama. N’Dominuki then ordered the toasted sheep’s liver to be brought, which, on its arrival, was cut into small pieces, and a piece handed to both Karama and me. A further recitation of the penalties of breaking the oath was made by N’Dominuki, and again the spectators shouted ‘Orioi muma.’ Karama and I then dipped our pieces of liver in our own blood, and amid breathless silence exchanged pieces and devoured them. This was repeated three times to the accompaniment of renewed shouts from the spectators. The remainder of the liver was then handed round to the witnesses, who ate it, and the ceremony was concluded, it only remaining for me to make my new blood-brother a present.

But relations with the tribespeople were not always so cordial, and after Hardwick and his companions had forcibly repossessed some trade goods stored in the village of Munithu they found themselves pursued by angry villagers. They reached a ravine, at the bottom of which was a small stream, with the edge of a thick forest opposite.

While George superintended the crossing of the men and animals, I and my two men squatted down in the bush at a turn in the path, about a hundred yards in the rear, and prepared a surprise for the enemy. They were howling in a most unmelodious key, and between the howls they informed us that they were coming to kill us, a piece of news which seemed to me to be quite superfluous under the circumstances … Our men in their turn inquired why, if they were coming to kill us, did they not come and carry out their intention? It appears that these exchanges of repartee are part of the ceremonial of A’kikuyu warfare, though at the time it seemed to me to be very childish. The enemy then shouted, ‘Resarse kutire mwaka,’ literally, ‘Your bullets have no fire; ‘meaning to say that they did not hurt – evidently Bei-Munithu’s [their chief’s] teaching. They were asked to ‘come and see,’ an invitation they accepted … and they were within twenty yards when I opened fire. Two of them were put out of action at the first discharge, and the others retreated in disorder, having learnt a wholesome lesson.

As for Lorian, having arrived at its supposed site the expedition found that

Not a sign of the swamp could be seen! The river, scarcely half a dozen yards in width, meandered eastwards, flowing smoothly and sluggishly between its low banks. On every side stretched the silent plains, in some places perfectly bare, and in others covered by patches of dried reeds, while a few solitary thorny acacias stood like ragged sentinels amid the general desolation.

Lorian had vanished!

Hardwick came to the conclusion that

In very wet seasons, or after a series of wet seasons, the Waso Nyiro overflows its banks and covers a portion of the Kirrimar Plain, forming a vast swamp, or more probably a chain of swamps, to which the name of Lorian has been given by the natives … After a long drought, by which the supply of water brought down by the Waso Nyiro would be materially curtailed, these swamps dry up, those lying up-stream, owing to their higher level, naturally drying up first, and consequently the western edge of the swamp, or swamps, called Lorian, would gradually recede more and more to the eastward as the drought increased. At the time of our visit in September, 1900, there had been no rain in Samburuland for three years … and it is therefore quite reasonable to suppose that Lorian, for the reasons enumerated, had receded many miles to the eastward of the point at which Mr. Chanler [the previous explorer] turned back, having satisfied himself that Lorian was merely a swamp and not a lake as he had supposed. It is quite possible that the swamp seen by Mr. Chanler may not have been Lorian at all, but may have been only one of the chain of swamps to the west of it and higher up the river, and which had dried up prior to our visit.

In December 1902 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society for his report on Lorian. In October 1904 he was reporting on the prospects for ‘Gold Dredging in West Africa’ for the African World:

The Ankobra is an ideal river for dredging purposes … The results, so far, have absolutely proved that gold in large quantities can be fairly easily recovered from both the Offin and Ankobra Rivers, and companies holding concessions on those rivers are to be congratulated upon their prospects. Neither the Offin nor the Ankobra Rivers will be worked out in this – and probably not in the next – generation. There is enough work to be done to fully employ 100 or more dredges on each river, and when it is realised that the return from a large dredge is equal to that from a 300-stamp mill, it is easily seen that, as a sound, payable proposition, dredging takes a high place.

Back in London, in January 1906 he married Adeline Kate Dorington, a pawnbroker’s daughter. They were to have three children.

In July 1908 he was interviewed by Central News as the London representative of the war correspondent and former soldier and barrister Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, who was prominent in a group of Englishmen who, in the hope of subsequently receiving ‘concessions regarding mineral rights and exploration and development generally, including the building of railways’, were supporting attempts by Mulai Hafid to depose his half-brother Abdul Aziz as sultan of Morocco. Later that year, with Mulai Hafid now in power, the journalist Lawrence Harris was sent to Fez to interview and sketch the new sultan for The Graphic. As he described in his book With Mulai Hafid at Fez, on arriving in Tangier he found that

Now, in the hotel there sat opposite me at table a quiet, mild-looking, blue-eyed Englishman. Amongst the cosmopolitan crowd who thronged the dining-room he was specially noticeable, for he seldom spoke to any one. During the first three days, beyond a brief ‘Good morning,’ we exchanged but few words. I gathered, however, that he intended going to Fez. I at once made direct inquiries in the right quarter and found that my vis-à-vis, for all his lamb-like appearance, was just such a man as I should wish to accompany me. An ex-member of the South African Police, he had seen service in the native wars in Rhodesia. As a big-game hunter and trader in ivory he had written a successful book on sport and travel in East Africa. He was, in fact, a wanderer of many years’ experience in most of the wilder parts of Africa. I approached him with a view to his accompanying me on my trip to Fez. He agreed at once. Thus began my acquaintance with Mr. A. Arkell-Hardwick. His knowledge of transport and camp equipment was invaluable. A good rider and an excellent shot, he proved throughout the expedition an ideal travelling-companion.

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Lawrence Harris in Moroccan dress

As they made their way to Fez, wearing djellabas and with ‘heads shaved and beards trimmed in Moorish fashion’ to avoid unwelcome attention, Harris and Hardwick witnessed the brutality of the sultan’s regime. As quoted by Harris, Hardwick had a low opinion of the Moroccans: ‘You cannot get them to like us, however well you treat them. Educate them, and you fondly imagine they will be grateful for showing them the advantages of civilization and their years of degradation; but nevertheless, they hate us, and – well, after all, why bother? … The east is east and the west is west, and never the twain shall meet!’

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Punishment for giving false weights at Fez: ‘From a wooden gibbet fixed in the wall, a man was hanging by one wrist, his toes just reached the ground. A crowd jeered around him, and gamins pelted him;, with stones and refuse. The agony depicted on the face of the sufferer was horrible to see. We reined in our horses and gazed with horror at the scene … Hardwick nervously fumbled with the butt of his revolver, and it was hard to have to ride by indifferently … It appears that a merchant had been accused of giving false weight. He had been seized and carried to the place of punishment, and from sunset to sunrise he would hang as we had seen him. He would then be cut down and his senseless body carried home by his friends. It was the usual method of punishment for giving false weights.’

 

The purpose of Hardwick’s trip to Fez is not clear, but on 1 January 1909 he left Harris there and set off back to Tangier with a friend.

In March 1910 he was sailing to America on the SS Friesland, in whose manifest his last permanent residence is said to be Southampton and his destination Chicago, although he ended up working with George A. Spratt, a Pennsylvania-based inventor and associate of the Wright brothers, in his experiments in aviation. Back in London again, he joined the Handley Page aircraft company as a sales manager, and ‘In his work’, said Flight magazine, ‘he was very popular, for with his organizing abilities he had an unvarying good humour.’

In May 1912 he was quoted on Handley Page’s having bought all the assets of the failed Aeronautical Syndicate Ltd, in advance of a proposed auction, in order to avoid a loss of confidence in the British aircraft industry. He complained that ‘Money does not flow into the aeroplane industry here as it does in France or Germany, largely because, with a few notable exceptions, the ordinary member of Parliament has not yet recognised the absolute necessity of a thriving British aeroplane industry to provide war material.’ He seems also to have made some input into design matters, and in the previous month it had been announced that he would be speaking on ‘Breaking Stresses’ as part of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain’s 1912–13 lecture series.

One of the machines to whose design he apparently contributed was the two-seater Handley Page Type-F monoplane, and both his father and one of his sisters had been given joyrides in this before, at about 11.50 a.m. on 15 December 1912 in a gusting south-westerly wind, it set out from Hendon Aerodrome in north London with the very experienced Lieutenant William Parke of the Royal Navy as the pilot and Hardwick in the passenger seat, intending to fly to Oxford.

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The Handley Page monoplane in which Hardwick was killed

 

The plane’s engine – a 70-h.p. Gnome – was not running well at take-off, and the plane had difficulty in leaving the ground and climbing. It continued to fly weakly, and appeared to be turning around to return to Hendon when, having just cleared a belt of trees on a ridge alongside Wembley Golf Club, it dived head first into the ground near the sixteenth hole of the course. The aircraft was completely wrecked, and both Hardwick and Parke were killed almost instantly. It was later concluded that the accident had been due to the failing engine combined with the loss of speed on making a sharp turn, aggravated by wind disturbances caused by the trees and the ridge on which they grew.

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The Handley Page monoplane in flight in November 1912

 

Hardwick was buried in St Pancras Cemetery on 20 December. A detachment of the Legion of Frontiersmen, to which he had once belonged, accompanied the hearse, and as the procession entered the cemetery a monoplane sent by Handley Page appeared overhead and made a circuit of the cemetery before flying off in the direction of Hendon. Two trumpeters of the Royal Horse Guards (one of them a brother of his), who had also accompanied the hearse, sounded the Last Post as his coffin was lowered into the grave.

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Hardwick’s grave in St Pancras Cemetery

 

SOURCES

• A. Arkell-Hardwick, ‘Gold Dredging in West Africa’, African World, 1 October 1904, quoted in C. C. Longridge, Gold Dredging (London: Mining Journal, 1908)
——, An Ivory Trader in North Kenia: The Record of an Expedition through Kikuyu to Galla-Land in East Equatorial Africa, with an Account of the Rendili and Burkeneji Tribes (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1903)
Daily News and Leader, 16 December 1912 (‘Two More Air Victims’), 17 December 1912 (‘Sailor, Soldier and Airman: Remarkable Career of the Dead Aviator’)
Flight, 27 April 1912 (‘Aeronautical Society of Great Britain’), 26 October 1912 (‘The Handley Page Monoplane’), 30 November 1912 (‘The graceful Handley Page monoplane in flight at the London Aerodrome last week-end’), 21 December 1912 (‘The Wembley Fatality’), 28 December 1912 (‘The Wembley Disaster’), 11 January 1912 (‘Report on the Fatal Accident … on Sunday, 15th December, 1912 … ’)
Glasgow Herald, 24 July 1908 (‘British Support for Mulai Hafid’)
• Colin Harding, Far Bugles (London: Simpkin Marshall, 1933)
• Lawrence Harris, With Mulai Hafid at Fez: Behind the Scenes in Morocco (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1909)
New York Times, 16 December 1912 (‘Two British Airmen Dashed to Death’)
The Star, 16 December 1912 (‘Fell Fifty Feet: Eye Witnesses’s Graphic Story of the Wembley Disaster’)
• Edward I. Steinhart, Black Poachers, White Hunters: A Social History of Hunting in Colonial Kenya (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2006)
The Telegraph (Brisbane), 31 January 1913 (‘Aviation Accident: Aeroplane Falls Like Stone’)
• H. C. Thomson, Rhodesia and Its Government (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1898)
The Times, 11 February 1905 (‘Court Circular’), 16 December 1912 (’Aeroplane Accident at Wembley’), 19 December 1912 (’The Wembley Aeroplane Accident’), 21 December 1912 (‘Funeral: Mr A. A. Hardwicke [sic]’)
Times of India, 3 May 1912 (‘Aeroplanes Sold: Syndicate’s Auction Averted’)

 

Michael and Bessie Gunn: Theatre people

As mentioned in an earlier post, when the actress Olga Brandon died in May 1906 and was buried in a common grave in St Pancras Cemetery, a friend of the writer George R. Sims was instrumental in having her moved to a private plot. On reflecting on this in his memoirs, Sims noted that ‘now the dead actress rests in a grave near that of Michael Gunn.’

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Michael Gunn (1840–1901)

 

Michael Ralph Gunn was born in Dublin in 1840, the second of eight children of Michael and Ellen Gunn, and was baptised on 31 May that year. His mother was a corset-maker, and his father was originally a piano tuner, before founding a company – M. Gunn & Sons – that sold pianos and sheet music.

Michael was helping his father in the business and also keeping its books by the time that, in April 1861, Michael senior was killed in a bizarre accident. He was one of the six passengers inside a Dublin omnibus which, having started its journey at about 9 o’clock at night, stopped at the Portobello canal bridge, to which there was a sharp ascent on both sides.

The driver pulled up to let out a passenger on the bridge. While the conductor was taking the fare the omnibus began to back down the incline towards Rathmines. In the effort to get on the horses, which were fresh and spirited, one or both became restiff, the pole got entangled in the harness, the driver lost control over them, the omnibus continued to back up on the road towards Portobello Barracks, and then, turning rather sharply round, it was pushed violently up the rising ground to the lock basin, bursting and passing through the wooden railing; and before any assistance could be rendered the omnibus, horses, and all were precipitated into the canal.

They had fallen into a lock chamber, and a witness told the subsequent inquest that, as efforts were made to rescue them,

To my great surprise I saw a great rush of water into the chamber. I went to the upper gate and met O’Neill, the lockkeeper, who had the key of the sluice-gate in his hand. I bawled out to him, ‘In the name of God, O’Neill, what have you done?’ ‘I’ll float the ’bus,’was his answer… He seemed unable to distinguish between a ’bus and a boat. It is a fact that the water rose rapidly and covered the omnibus.

In its verdict, the inquest jury declared that ‘We do not attach any blame to any of the persons concerned, believing that all exerted themselves to the best of their judgement on that occasion’; nevertheless, 50 years later ’Jimmy’ Glover, the master of music at the Drury Lane Theatre, who was born in Dublin in 1861, recalled the folk memory of the accident in these terms: ‘“Begorra!” shouted the bewildered lock-keeper, “I’ll save their lives by floating the ’bus,” which he immediately proceeded to do by opening the sluices, filling the lock and drowning all the passengers.’

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The fatal omnibus accident at Portobello, as envisaged by the Illustrated London News

 

In the following years Thom’s directory of Dublin listed Michael junior as a ‘professor’ (i.e. teacher) of singing, with his older brother, John, as a cello teacher and his younger brother James as a piano tuner. Michael was also a talented violinist and pianist, and in 1865 directed some of the music played at the reopening of St Teresa’s church in Dublin. He served on the municipal council in the late 1860s and into the 1870s, until the need to travel for his developing business activities made it impossible to continue.

He was a keen traveller and spoke French and Italian fluently, as well as some German, and it is said that ‘his experiences in France and Italy, with the various suggestions that from time to time reached the Corporation, suggested to him the building of a theatre in Dublin.’

In April 1871 he and his brother John received permission from the Letters Patent Office to establish ‘a well regulated theatre and therein at all times publicly to act, represent or perform any interlude, tragedy, comedy, prelude, opera, burlette, play, farce or pantomime’. The theatre, to be named the Gaiety, was designed by C. J. Phipps, who had already been responsible for three London theatres as well as the rebuilt Theatre Royal in Bath, and it was built in South King Street, Dublin, in just 28 weeks, at a cost of £26,000. It opened on 27 November 1871, when the actress Mrs Scott Siddons prefaced a performance of She Stoops to Conquer with

Scarce hath the earth her journey half way run,
In changing seasons round the central sun,
Since Art, obedient to the Muses’ call,
Laid the foundation of this Thespian Hall.
Then day by day, in fair proportions grew,
The beauteous fabric that now meets the view.
The graceful shafts with floral sculpture crowned,
Supporting tier on tier that rises round,
With many a rich device by genius planned,
Wrought by the painter’s brush, the carver’s hand.
’Till amid gleaming gold and flooding light –
Resplendent shines ‘The Gaiety’ tonight.

GaietyTheatre

The auditorium of the Gaiety Theatre (as redecorated by Frank Matcham in 1883), from the souvenir booklet produced for the theatre’s twenty-fifth anniversary

 

The new theatre was not without competition: the Theatre Royal (originally the Albany New Theatre) had been in Hawkins Street since 1821, and there was also the Queen’s in Pearse Street. However, the Gaiety differed from these in not having its own company but instead acting as a receiving house for visiting English companies with first-class productions of drama, musical comedy and opera. Thus the performance of She Stoops to Conquer (which was followed by the burlesque La Belle Sauvage) on the first night was given by the St James’s Theatre Company of Mrs John Wood. And the enduring tradition of the Gaiety pantomime began in December 1873 with Edwin Hamilton’s Turko the Terrible.

Earlier that year M. Gunn & Sons had been wound up, ‘a change having taken place in their Partnership Arrangements in consequence of the retirement of Mrs. Gunn, Senr.’, but in March 1874 the Gunn brothers expanded their activities by taking on the Theatre Royal, which was thereafter managed by Michael while John ran the Gaiety.

In September 1875 the Gaiety Theatre was one of the venues visited by a company whose programme included the first tour of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera – Trial by Jury – organised by Richard D’Oyly Carte. Michael Gunn took an interest in Carte’s ambition to set up a permanent home for light opera in London, and eventually became his business manager. It was he who sent out two touring companies of HMS Pinafore in the UK while Carte was in the USA to counter unauthorised productions there, and he was involved in Carte’s battles with the Comedy Opera Company in London when it tried to continue with Pinafore when its agreement with Carte expired. He also played a large part in realising Carte’s plans for a theatre of his own, the Savoy: besides investing in it himself, he helped Carte find other investors, and negotiated additional loans for the building. In a letter to his solicitor, Carte – who became a close friend as well as a business associate – later said of Gunn, ‘I have a greater respect and regard for him than I think for any man living except my father.’

The Savoy – claimed as the first public building to be lit by electric light – opened on 10 October 1881, and when, in the new year, Carte was again in America, Gunn took over its management, as well as supervising the G&S touring companies, which he continued to do until 1884. Thereafter he continued his association with Carte as a major shareholder and a director of the Savoy Hotel, which opened in 1889.

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Bessie Sudlow (1849–1928)

It was not only Carte’s plans for light opera in English that interested Gunn during the performances of Trial by Jury in Dublin in September 1875: it was supposedly then that he also took an interest in a member of the opera’s cast – Bessie Sudlow, who sang the part of the Plaintiff.

Sudlow had been born Barbara Elizabeth Johnstone (or, in some records, Johnston) in Liverpool on 22 July 1849, the daughter of George Johnstone, a captain in the merchant navy, and his Irish-born wife, Eliza, née Lee, who had been widowed by the time of the 1851 census. By 1870 Eliza had married Thomas Sudlow, from Liverpool, and she and Barbara were living with him and four other children in America. Barbara, using the name Bessie Sudlow, had already embarked on a career on the stage. In October 1868, commenting on the end of the run of the spectacle Undine at the Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote:

The lady who sustained the role of Undine, and whose singing has been especially noticed as the musical feature of performances, has shared the fate of Byron’s hero, of having her name spelled wrong in bills and newspapers. Her name is Miss Bessie Sudlow. She is a resident of Brooklyn, and has obtained some local celebrity by her musical talents. She gives promise of future eminence on the stage. She has all the advantages of youth, comeliness, a good voice well cultivated, and a graceful ease of manner.

A month later she appeared in The Lancashire Lass at the New Chesnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia and ‘acted well her part, but the “Grecian bend” which she affected was in shocking bad taste, and certainly out of date … The ridiculous postures of Miss Sudlow were received with such derisive laughter that it is to be hoped that this lady will conform her dress to the times.’ (A week later it was reported that the Grecian bend had been abandoned.)

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The Grecian bend (‘an affected carriage of the body, in which it is bent forward from the hips’ – Oxford English Dictionary) illustrated and deplored, from The Grecian Bend: What It Is (1868)

 

In January 1869 she appeared in the opening production of the new Tammany Theatre in New York: the burlesque The Page’s Revel, or the Summer Night’s Bivouac, an ‘exceedingly stupid extravaganza … in which some dozen or so … young ladies looked remarkably pretty’. Burlesques – usually parodies of well-known works, often risqué in style and featuring music and dance, with many of the male roles being played by actresses as breeches roles, to show off their physical charms – were to be a mainstay of Bessie’s early career, both in New York and on tour, including spells with Lydia Thompson’s celebrated ‘British Blondes’ troupe and with the Lisa Weber Burlesque Opera Troupe – ‘the raciest, jolliest little company of people in the country’, according to the Auburn Daily Bulletin. Productions in which she appeared included The Burlesque of Robinson Crusoe, The Forty Thieves, Sinbad the Sailor, Ixion (in which she ‘looked very well as Venus’), Bad Dickey (a spoof of Richard III, in which, as Catesby, she ‘had little else to do but look well, in which she was successful’) and Don Carlos (based on ‘one of Verdi’s last, feeblest and most worthless productions’ and in which she was ‘altogether a great attractive force to the company’).

She also appeared as a singer in mixed variety bills alongside the likes of Americus the child violinist and G. W. Jester, the Man with the Talking Hand. She was well received: in Baltimore, the New York Clipper reported in October 1870, ‘Miss Bessie Sudlow, serio-comic vocalist, has won golden opinions. Her rendition of “Sweet Spirit Hear My Prayer” and “By Killarney’s Lakes and Vales” is truly excellent.’ And as Mollie Malone in The Green Banner, or the Heart of Ireland at the Globe Theatre on Broadway in February 1871 she had ‘a new song, written and dedicated to Ireland’s exiled patriots’.

She became particularly associated with the Niblo’s Garden theatre on Broadway, where she was the Player Queen in Hamlet and later played Osric in Hamlet and Phoebe in As You Like It as part of a ‘Grand Shakespearian Combination’ starring Mrs Scott Siddons as Ophelia and Rosalind. In June 1871, announcing her booking for the Niblo’s summer season, the Brooklyn Daily Union commented that, ‘although her connection with the stage has not been more than two or three years, she has, by her talent, taken a high position in histrionic art, having appeared with marked success at Havana, New Orleans, St Louis, and most of the large cities in the States.’ And when, in December that year, she was one of the cast of some 200 in a revival of the ‘intricate and incomprehensible drama’ The Black Crook – a mishmash of Goethe’s Faust, Weber’s Der Freischütz, and other well-known work, and often considered to be the first piece of musical theatre that conforms to the modern notion of a ‘book musical’ – the Brooklyn Daily Eagle noted that

Miss Bessie Sudlow … has mounted continually higher on the professional ladder ever since she first went on the stage. Five years ago Miss Sudlow was a Brooklyn school girl, her parents still residing in this city. She had a very sweet voice, and for some time sang in the choir of St. Mary’s Church … She has been steadily improving until she can now vie with any actress on the Metropolitan boards.

During 1872–3 she took the title role in Jenny Lind (‘Jenny Leatherlungs’), which toured with Ned Buntline’s play The Scouts of the Prairie, featuring ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody and ‘twenty real Pawnee Indians’. She also appeared as the Indian maiden Dove Eye in the Buntline play, and it is said that during one performance Buffalo Bill propositioned her while on stage. She was so outraged that she hit him over the head with one of the war clubs lying about and, when he fell to the floor, she sat on him until she had composed herself sufficiently to leave the theatre.

bessie-sudlow

Bessie Sudlow in an unknown role

 

After spells in revivals of The Black Crook and Undine and other work including ‘a spectacular extravaganza in three acts and a prologue’ called The Children in the Wood, in which she was ‘encored every evening for the song “The Harp in the Air”’, in September 1874 it was announced that she was joining Lydia Thompson’s company at the Charing Cross Theatre in London, opening in H. B. Farnie’s burlesque Blue Beard, which had already been performed 470 times in America and proved a great success both in London and on tour.

In January 1875 she was in the pantomime The Yellow Dwarf at the Theatre Royal, Dublin – ‘a very graceful and attractive actress and sings pleasingly’ was The Era’s verdict – and in March she was in The Isle of Bachelors (an English version of Charles Lecocq’s comic opera Les cents vierges) at the Gaiety. Then in June she volunteered her services for a promenade concert held at the Theatre Royal in honour of the American team taking part in an Irish–American International Rifle Match in Dublin. Her performance of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ was so enthusiastically received that it took ten minutes for the applause to subside so that she could give an encore, and her success was reported in several papers in the USA. Although it is usually said that she met Michael Gunn when she returned to Dublin in Trial by Jury three months later, as mentioned above, it seems improbable that they would not have met during one of these earlier visits.

In October 1875 Bessie appeared in an English version of another Lecocq opera, Fleur de Thé, at the Criterion Theatre in London. As the actress and manager Emily Soldene recalled in her memoirs:

Miss Bessie Sudlow, as ‘Cæsarine,’ made an immediate success under peculiar and adverse circumstances. It seems the Lord Chamberlain at the last moment objected to the original cast, and said unless a certain character was cast differently the piece could not be played. Mr. D’Oyly Carte, in agony, wired Mr. Michael Gunn of Dublin. Mr. Michael Gunn sent on Miss Sudlow. She studied the part in twenty-four hours, played it in boots damp from Davis, in dresses that had to be pinned on her. She sang songs she did not know to tunes she had never heard, wedded to words improvised as she went along. But she was all right, ‘pulled through,’ as she says, by ‘that dear Goossens,’ the conductor. When the notices came out, Miss Bessie Sudlow found herself famous; she had captured the town.

She started 1876 back in Dublin, in Dick Whittington and His Cat at the Theatre Royal: ‘Her acting was as fresh as a daisy, and her sparkling vivacity and pleasant manner again won showers of applause and golden opinions,’ The Era reported. In the summer she was with Doyly’s Carte’s company in Manchester. Then on 26 October 1876 she and Michael Gunn were married in St Marylebone parish church, London – Bessie was given away by George Dolby, who had managed many reading tours for Charles Dickens, and Michael’s best man was Richard D’Oyly Carte – and in the following January the lord mayor of Dublin presented them with ‘an illuminated address and a valuable service of plate of solid silver’ on behalf of subscribers in honour of their marriage.

Thereafter Bessie appeared only occasionally on stage: in 1877 she again appeared as the Plaintiff in extracts from Trial by Jury at a benefit concert in the Theatre Royal; in 1878 she appeared there as Cinderella, then in an amateur charity performance of The Two Roses, as Lady Teazle in The School for Scandal, and as Ariel in The Tempest; in 1880 at the Gaiety she was Kate Hardcastle in performances of She Stoops to Conquer to mark the tenth anniversary of the theatre’s opening and Lady Teazle in some performances of The School for Scandal, and in 1887 she sang Azucena in extracts from Il Trovatore in a benefit concert there.

She and her husband eventually had six children. Three of them – Kevin, Haidee and Agnes (later Lady Webb) – had careers on the stage, and the fourth child, Selskar, had a distinguished international career in public health. Selskar was also a friend of James Joyce. In a letter to his friend C. P. Curran in July 1937, Joyce wrote:

Selskar Gunn (without an ‘e’) used to come with us to the opera … He is the son of Michael Gunn. The brother James was a good friend of my father’s … He [Selskar] told me his sister Haidée had drawn his attention to the many allusions to her father and mother (‘Bessie Sudlow’) in W.i.P. [Work in Progress, later published as Finnegans Wake].

Michael Gunn has been said to be a recurrent creator–father–god figure in Finnegans Wake, where he first appears as ‘Mr Makeall Gone’. He is also mentioned in a number of places in Joyce’s Ulysses – for example:

What had prevented him [Leopold Bloom] from completing a topical song (music by R. G. Johnston) on the events of the past, or fixtures for the actual, years, entitled If Brian Boru could but come back and see old Dublin now, commissioned by Michael Gunn, lessee of the Gaiety Theatre, 46, 47, 48, 49 South King street, and to be introduced into the sixth scene, the valley of diamonds, of the second edition (30 January 1893) of the grand annual Christmas pantomime Sinbad the Sailor (written by Greenleaf Whittier, scenery by George A. Jackson and Cecil Hicks, costumes by Mrs and Miss Whelan produced by R. Shelton 26 December 1892 under the personal supervision of Mrs Michael Gunn, ballets by Jessie Noir, harlequinade by Thomas Otto) and sung by Nelly Bouverist, principal girl?

Throughout his work with Carte, Gunn had remained involved in the Dublin theatre scene. Sir Charles Cameron, who for over 50 years was in charge of the public-health department of Dublin Corporation, recalled in 1913 that

The late Mr. Michael Gunn, one of the two brothers who founded the Gaiety Theatre, was much given to generous hospitality, in which he was assisted by Mrs. Gunn, one of the best hostesses I have ever been entertained by. There were few theatrical stars who visited Dublin who were not in their time entertained at dinner or supper by Mr. and Mrs. Gunn. To many of those entertainments I was invited, and in that way got to see the actors and actresses when they appeared as themselves and not as some other persons.

John Gunn died in 1878, and Michael was then responsible for both the Gaiety and the Theatre Royal. Artists who appeared at those theatres under his management included Sarah Bernhardt, Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and Beerbohm Tree, as well as many international opera stars.

In February 1880 the Theatre Royal caught fire shortly before a charity performance, and was burned to the ground with the death of the stage manager. While nothing was happening to its site, in the early 1880s Michael was involved in productions at the Olympic, Avenue and Lyceum theatres in London, as well as at the Gaiety, including an unsuccessful attempt to establish Edward Solomon and Henry Pottinger Stephens as a light-opera team to rival Gilbert and Sullivan. It was suggested in the American press – which continued to take an interest in her and often reported on her visits back to the States with her husband – that in 1883 Bessie was instrumental in getting her stepfather a job as the business manager of the Lyceum; he and her mother had divorced in 1877. Eventually, in November 1886, Michael opened a concert and meeting hall, the Leinster Hall, on the old Theatre Royal site, with Adelina Patti singing at the opening.

leinster

The Leinster Hall in 1887 (from The Graphic)

 

A concert at the Gaiety in November 1896 to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of its opening also marked the end of Michael’s management of the theatre. He was in poor health – he was not even well enough to attend the concert – and he handed over the running of the Gaiety to his late brother John’s son, also named John. The Leinster Hall was sold to a consortium led by the actor-manager Frederick Mouillot, which revamped it and opened it as a new Theatre Royal at the end of 1897.

mrsmichaelgunn

‘Mrs Michael Gunn’, from the souvenir booklet produced for the Gaiety Theatre’s twenty-fifth anniversary, in 1896

 

Michael and Bessie moved to London, though retaining links with Dublin – they were there at the time of the 1901 census, when Bessie’s mother was also part of their household. Michael died at his London home, St Selskar’s, Eton Avenue, Belsize Park, on 17 October 1901 from ‘a complication of diseases’, though it was stated that he ‘had been ill for some considerable time with diabetes’. He was buried in St Pancras Cemetery on 21 October, and left an estate in England of £17,489 (equivalent to about £1.9 million today).

Not long after that, John Gunn junior moved to Australia ‘to recoup his health’, and the Gaiety passed into the hands of the Associated Managers of the United Kingdom. Sometime afterwards, however, Bessie was appointed its manager, in which role she continued until May 1909, when it was taken over by the Theatre Royal Co. Ltd. She died in Hove, Sussex, on 27 January 1928, and was buried with Michael on the 30th.

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Michael and Bessie Gunn’s grave in St Pancras Cemetery

 

SOURCES

The Advocate (Melbourne), 14 December 1901 (‘Death of Mr. Michael Gunn’)
• Michael Ainger, Gilbert and Sullivan: A Dual Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)
Auburn Daily Bulletin, 26 May 1870 (Lisa Weber Burlesque Opera Troupe, Don Carlos)
British Newspaper Archive – various mentions of Gunn and Sudlow
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 9 October 1868 (Undine), 16 December 1871 (‘has mounted continually higher’)
Brooklyn Daily Union, 8 June 1871 (‘a high position in histrionic art’)
• Sir Charles A. Cameron, Reminiscences (Dublin: Hodges, Figgis & Co.; London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co., 1913)
Chronicling America website – various mentions of Gunn and Sudlow
1871–1971: One Hundred Years of Gaiety (Dublin: Gaiety Theatre / Eamonn Andrews Productions, 1971)
The Era, 17 January 1875 (The Yellow Dwarf), 2 January 1876 (Dick Whittington and His Cat), 29 October 1876 (‘Marriage of Miss Bessie Sudlow’), 28 April 1878 (‘Death of Mr. John Gunn’), 23 October 1909 (John Gunn junior to Australia)
Evening Express (New York), 5 January 1869 (The Page’s Revel)
Evening Freeman (Dublin), 2 March 1865 (St Teresa’s church)
Evening Telegraph (Philadelphia), 10 and 17 November 1868 (The Lancashire Lass)
Evening Telegram (New York), 11 February 1871 (The Green Banner)
Freeman’s Journal (Dublin), 27 February 1875 (The Isle of Bachelors)
• Kurt Gänzl, The Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre (Oxford: Blackwell Reference, 1994)
• James M. Glover, Jimmy Glover – His Book (London: Methuen, 1911)
The Graphic, 10 December 1887
The Grecian Bend: What It Is (New York: Grecian Bend Publishing Co., 1868)
• ‘Gunn, M. (& Sons)’, Dublin Music Trade website
• James Harty III, James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake: A Casebook (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015)
Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections – various mentions of Gunn and Sudlow
Illustrated London News, 20 April 1861
• James Joyce, Selected Letters, ed. Richard Ellmann (London: Faber, 1975)
• R. M. Levey and J. O’Rorke, Annals of the Theatre Royal, Dublin, from its Opening in 1821 to its Destruction by Fire, February 1880 (Dublin: Joseph Dollard, 1880)
National Police Gazette (New York), 29 December 1883 (Thomas Sudlow at the Lyceum)
National Republican (Washington DC), 2 May 1873 (‘twenty real Pawnee Indians’)
New York Clipper, 23 October 1869 (Ixion), 18 December 1869 (Bad Dickey), 15 October 1870 (‘golden opinions’), 20 December 1873 (The Children in the Wood), 10 February 1877 (‘an illuminated address’)
New York Herald, 27 November 1870 (‘Grand Shakespearian Combination’)
NYS Historic Newspapers website – various mentions of Gunn and Sudlow
• Robert O’Byrne, Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre: The Grand Old Lady of South King Street (Dublin: Gaiety Theatre, 2007)
• George C. D. Odell, Annals of the New York Stage, vols. 8 and 9 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936, 1937)
Old Fulton NY Post Cards website – various mentions of Gunn and Sudlow
• George R. Sims, My Life: Sixty Years’ Recollections of Bohemian London (London: Eveleigh Nash, 1927)
• Emily Soldene, My Theatrical and Musical Recollections (London: Downey & Co. 1897)
Souvenir of the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the Opening of the Gaiety Theatre, 27th November 1871, with Michael Gunn’s Compts (Dublin, 1896)
The Spirit of the Times (New York), 27 December 1873 (‘encored every evening’)
The Stage, 24 October 1901 (‘Death of Mr. Michael Gunn’)
• Adrian J. M. Stevenson, 13 Westland Row, Dublin website
• Colin Sudlow, posts on Ancestry message boards, February 2012
Thom’s Almanac and Official Directory for the Year 1862 (Dublin: Alexander Thom, 1862)
The Times, 9–12 April 1861 (omnibus accident), 10 February and 10 March 1880 (Theatre Royal fire)
• ‘Victorian Burlesque’ at Wikipedia

Thomas Simpson: Life-saver

highgateponds

Skating on the Highgate ponds in 1895 (Illustrated London News)

 

In a fragment of autobiography written by the critic and artist Roger Fry, he recalled that one day in January 1929 he was dozing when he suddenly had a vivid picture of his father ice skating:

It must have been somewhere in the [18]70’s about ’74 1 should guess and the place was one of the ponds in Lord Mansfield’s Park at Kenwood which is now public property but was then very private. Only when the ponds bore, the privileged families of Highgate of which we were one were allowed in by ticket … He [Fry’s father] was passionately fond of skating – it was indeed the only thing approaching to a sport that he cared for … He loved skating indeed so much that though he was a Q.C. in big practice he sometimes managed an afternoon off in the middle of the week so terrified was he of the frost giving before Saturday. It was the only interruption he ever allowed in the routine of his work.

If you were a member of one of the less privileged families of Highgate or its neighbourhood and wanted to skate, a popular place to go was the Highgate ponds, outside Lord Mansfield’s estate. Although these were then part of the estate of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and there was no public right of way, people constantly visited them without difficulty, especially when they were covered with ice.

On Saturday 24 January 1885 The Times reported that

The frost which set in on Monday night continues to be severe … So hard was the frost of Tuesday night that, with its continuance since, almost every pond in the suburbs of London, including those of Clapham-common, Hampstead, and Highgate, were frozen over. The ornamental water in St. James’s Park was fully coated with ice; and around the central island in the Regent’s Park lake ice, rather more than an inch thick, has formed … Should the frost keep sharp for two nights more the ice in St. James’s Park will be perfectly fit for skating. Last night at 8 o’clock 4deg. of frost were marked at the Hyde Park Receiving-house [of the Royal Humane Society, founded in 1774 for the recovery of persons apparently drowning], and on the southern shore of the Serpentine thin ice was beginning to form. The most experienced officers of the Royal Humane Society stationed at Hyde Park believed last night that all the atmospheric indications pointed to a continued frost.

Perhaps it was colder on the outskirts of London, or perhaps children were just impatient to get on to the ice. Whatever the reason, on Thursday 22 January 12-year-old Edward Banks had gone sliding on the ice of the Highgate No. 2 Pond – the present-day Men’s Bathing Pond – with two friends. Edward had ventured further towards the centre than the others, and the ice there gave way and he was drowned, his body being recovered only with difficulty and at some risk by a gardener named John Smith.

Despite this, there were people skating on the pond the next day, and at one point on Sunday the 25th there were reckoned to be up to 500 people on this and the two adjacent ponds, though the ice was no more than 2 inches thick, if that, and it gave way on several occasions, causing skaters to be immersed.

By 5 o’clock many people had drifted off to tea, but there were about 150–200 skaters left on No. 2 Pond when there was a sudden crash of breaking ice and, as the Daily News put it, ‘there arose loud shouts, and the skaters, as if impelled by one impulse, swept like lightning on to the banks’ – except for six or seven people who were seen struggling to stay afloat in a hole some 20 yards or so from the shore.

Several people rushed to their assistance. One took off his coat and extended it to a man in the water, who grabbed it and was pulled out. A rope brought from the bank by two skaters proved to be rotten and of little use. A policeman and three others fell in themselves while carrying out rescues. Charles Whyte, the swimming ‘professor’ at King Street baths in Camden Town, went into the water and rescued two people – for which he was later awarded the bronze medal of the Royal Humane Society. And Thomas Simpson, a casual labourer on Thomas Ward’s neighbouring farm, jumped in and managed to bring out one young man. He then went in again to try to rescue someone else, but the bitter cold of the water and the strain of his exertions resulted in he too beginning to struggle and sink. Seeing this, someone on the bank – a Mr Frank Pullen, of Brecknock Road – ran towards the hole, slid to the edge, and plunged in, managing to reach Simpson and, with difficulty, get him on to the ice. Efforts were then made to revive him, but eventually a doctor who had arrived on the scene – William Pepler of Mansfield Road, Gospel Oak – pronounced him dead.

wardsfarm

Ward’s Farm, Fitzroy Park (date unknown) by H. Hart (Public Catalogue Foundation / Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre). In the 1881 census Thomas Ward declared that he employed eight men and one boy there.

Simpson, who was aged 45 and lived at 6 York Place (probably the terrace of that name in what is now Kentish Town Road) in St Pancras, was a familiar figure thereabouts, and there were many expressions of regret at the death of a good-natured man. It seems likely that he was the same Thomas Simpson whom the 1881 census records as an unmarried agricultural labourer, then aged 40, lodging with a family in nearby Grafton Road.

There was some comment during the evening about the meagreness of the Royal Humane Society’s provision of life-saving equipment in the neighbourhood of the Highgate ponds. The 1879 edition of Dickens’s Dictionary of London noted that the society had drags and life-saving equipment stationed at Ward’s farm; but in the 1884 and 1885 editions the nearest equipment listed was in the police station at what is now the top of Highgate West Hill (no. 49). Police Inspector Goodwin of Y Division told the subsequent inquest that through some misunderstanding the Royal Humane Society had removed the equipment formerly kept at the ponds, and it no longer sent an officer to them when they were covered with ice. But on the day of Simpson’s death a police constable had been stationed there to warn people that the ponds were in a dangerous condition, and the ropes and drags that he had with him from the police station had proved valuable.

Recording verdicts of ‘death by misadventure’ on Banks, Simpson and another man, Francis Annett, whose body was recovered on the Monday morning, the inquest jury, under the direction of the coroner, added a rider that ‘The jurors having heard in evidence that the Highgate ponds are practically open to the public, would recommend that the Royal Humane Society be respectfully requested to consider the subject with the view of establishing at these ponds life-saving apparatus and drags; and that some authorised person should be stationed there to protect the public when ice covers the water.’

When, 14 years later, the stableman William French was drowned while trying to rescue a dog from the Highgate No. 3 Pond, animal lovers had his body buried in a private grave and paid for a handsome monument to be erected over it. Though Simpson’s death was quite widely reported, no such benefactors came forward for him, and on 3 February 1885 he was buried in an area of unmarked common graves in St Pancras Cemetery.

simpsongrave

The area of unmarked common graves in which Simpson is buried in St Pancras Cemetery

However, in 1908 a tablet bearing his name was unveiled in Postman’s Park in the City of London as part of the Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice, originally conceived of by the artist George Frederic Watts to honour people who died while saving the lives of others and who might otherwise be forgotten:

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Thomas Simpson’s memorial tablet at Postman’s Park in London. (Watts’s notes on which the Postman’s Park inscriptions were based were not always accurate.)

 

SOURCES

• A. P. Baggs, Diane K. Bolton, M. A. Hicks and R. B. Pugh, ‘Hornsey, Including Highgate: Public Services’, in A History of the County of Middlesex: vol. 6: Friern Barnet, Finchley, Hornsey with Highgate, ed. T. F. T. Baker and C. R. Elrington (London: University of London Institute of Historical Research, 1980)
Daily News, 26 January 1885 (‘Fatal Ice Accident at Highgate’)
• Charles Dickens Jr (ed.), Dickens’s Dictionary of London: An Unconventional Handbook (London: Macmillan, 1879, 1884, 1885 edns)
Evening Standard (London), 29 January 1885 (‘Inquests’)
Hampstead & Highgate Express, 31 January 1885 (‘Fatal Ice Accidents at Highgate’)
List of the Fellows, Members, Extra-Licentiates and Licentiates of the Royal College of Physicians of London (1887)
• ‘List of Tablets on the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice’, Wikipedia
Pall Mall Gazette, 26 January 1885 (‘Fatal Ice Accidents at Highgate’)
• John Price, Heroes of Postman’s Park: Heroic Self-Sacrifice in Victorian London (Stroud: History Press, 2015)
The Times, 24 January 1885 (‘The Weather’), 29 January 1885 (‘The Highgate Ponds’)
• Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry: A Biography (London: Hogarth Press and New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1940)
Yorkshire Gazette, 24 March 1885 (‘Bravery Rewarded’)

Henry Stevenson: Singing teacher

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Henry Stevenson (1835–1901), as depicted on his headstone in Islington Cemetery

 

The above genial portrait relief comes from a headstone in Islington Cemetery with the inscription

Sacred to the memory of
Henry Stevenson, G.T.S.C.
of Herne Hill, Surrey,
who died 9th December 1901,
aged 66 years.

‘G.T.S.C.’ doesn’t seem to be in any modern dictionary of abbreviations, but presumably stands for ‘Graduate of the Tonic Sol-fa College’, for Stevenson was an adherent of the system of musical notation now perhaps best known from Oscar Hammerstein II’s lyrics for The Sound of Music:

Let’s start at the very beginning,
A very good place to start.
When you read you begin with A, B, C.
When you sing you begin with do–re–mi.

Do–re–mi? Do–re–mi.
The first three notes just happen to be
Do–re–mi! Do–re–mi!

Do–re–mi–fa–so–la–ti …

To start at the very beginning for Stevenson, he was born in Eckington, Derbyshire, in 1835, the son of Ephraim Stevenson, a wood-cutter, and his wife, Sarah. By 1859 he had moved to London, for in March that year, in Islington parish church, he married Eliza Ann Champniss, a fishmonger’s daughter from Southwark.

Two years later, the 1861 census shows them living at Bemerton Terrace in Islington, with Henry working as a jewellery-case maker. By the time of the 1871 census they had moved to Red Lion Square in a household also including John Stevenson – eight years Henry’s senior; perhaps a cousin – his wife, Louisa, and their five sons, aged from 2 to 16. John was described as a jewel-case maker, employing 7 men, 3 women, 2 boys and a girl, and Henry as a jewel-case fitter. But ten years later Henry and Eliza were in Marlborough Terrace (later Shakespeare Road), Lambeth, and Henry was a teacher of singing.

In 1841 the Congregational Church had asked a young minister named John Curwen to devise an efficient method of teaching children to sing. Curwen was known as an excellent teacher, but his ignorance of musical notation meant that he had struggled to teach his own pupils more than simple tunes, and he found musical textbooks incomprehensible. But eventually he came across the simplified notation devised by Sarah Anna Glover for teaching her Sunday-school pupils in Norwich and in 1835 published as Scheme for Rendering Psalmody Congregational, and he adapted this to produce what he called the Tonic Sol-fa method, first outlined in articles in the Congregationalist Independent Magazine in 1842 and then detailed in a number of books. After he wrote a series of articles for Cassell’s weekly Popular Educator magazine, in 1852, the method became more widely known beyond Nonconformist circles, and in the following year it was estimated that there were 2,000 people studying it; in 1863 the number had increased to 186,000 in the UK alone, and its use by missionaries meant the method was also spreading to Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Americas. The Tonic Sol-fa Reporter (later renamed the Musical Herald) was established to popularise it, and in 1869 the Tonic Sol-fa College was founded to train instructors – of whom Stevenson became one.

In 1869 Stevenson was among those who were awarded a first-class certificate in the elementary musical composition exams of the Society of Arts with the help of tonic sol-fa courses of instruction.

In 1870 he began offering an elementary tonic sol-fa class at the Offord Road Chapel in Islington. He told the Tonic Sol-fa Reporter, ‘Our minister has promised to preach on the subject of praise the Sunday before the class commences. I have given him a copy of [John Curwen’s] “Music in Worship,” and hope he may catch something of its spirit.’

In January 1880 he conducted William B. Bradbury’s Esther, the Beautiful Queen – a piece written for community music-making which has been described as ‘arguably, the most popular large-scale choral work written by an American composer in the nineteenth century’ – in front of a ‘large and appreciative’ audience at the City Temple in London in a performance which the Tonic Sol-fa Reporter reckoned a ‘great success’. In June that year he was among the mourners at John Curwen’s funeral, at the City of London Cemetery, Ilford.

A year or two later he began teaching music to the children of Stockwell Orphanage, founded in 1867 by the preacher C. H. Spurgeon, whose immensely popular but very theatrical preaching style had been a target of the 1861 hit ‘The Great Sensation Song’, popularised by J. H. Stead:

Mr. Spurgeon ask’d me if
I’d like to be his mate, Sir,
He would preach and I should have
To go round with the plate, Sir,
To sing a comic song or two
To please the congregation.
‘Any dodge is fair,’ says he,
‘To raise a good sensation.’

The orphanage was the precursor of the present-day children’s charity called Spurgeons, and its choir regularly toured the country – and in 1896 a contingent even visited America – to raise money for it.

stockwellorphanage

Stockwell Orphanage, from Charles Ray’s The Life of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1903)

 

Stevenson was still teaching at the orphanage in 1899, when the Nonconformist Musical Journal described the music-making there:

As soon as [orphaned boys and girls] enter the Institution their musical education and training begins. Under the skilful tuition of Mr. Henry Stevenson, G.T.S.C., who has held the appointment for the past eighteen years, their progress is assured. Examinations for the Tonic Sol-fa College Certificates are held at stated intervals, the tests including time, tune, ear and sight singing, and the number of passes is most gratifying. For many years a large contingent has taken part in the Sol-fa Festivals at the Crystal Palace …

During the Jubilee Year 1897 Mr. Stevenson trained a choir of boys and girls for the competition at the Earl’s Court Exhibition. This was open to all England, and some of the best Board Schools, which have been competing for years for the Challenge Trophy, entered the list. The Stockwell choir came within two points of securing the Trophy, and was highly commended by the judge, who remarked, ‘I have no fault to find!’

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A photograph of Henry Stevenson from the Nonconformist Musical Journal

 

In June 1894 Stevenson conducted the orphanage children’s choir and the band of the Brixton police in ‘Prayer’ from Rossini’s Moses, the Musical Herald declaring the performance ‘excellent, the quality of the voices being full yet not strained’.

He also taught singing at the Licensed Victuallers’s School in Kennington.

He died of chronic bronchitis on 9 December 1901, and was buried in Islington Cemetery four days later.

In November 1902, at a concert of the Tonic Sol-fa Composition Club, the Peckham Tonic Sol-fa Choir began their performance with a glee he had composed, in his memory.

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Henry Stevenson’s headstone in Islington Cemetery

 

SOURCES

• William B. Bradbury, Esther, the Beautiful Queen, ed. Juanita Karpf (Madison, Wis.: A-R Editions, 2000)
• J. Spencer Curwen, Memorials of John Curwen (London: J. Curwen & Sons, 1882)
• John Curwen, The Standard Course of Lessons and Exercises in the Tonic Sol-Fa Method of Teaching Music, new edn (London: Tonic Sol-fa Agency, 1872)
• Frank Hall, ‘The Great Sensation Song’ (London: Foster & Co., [1861?])
Musical Herald, 2 July 1894 (‘Concerts’), 1 December 1902 (‘Tonic Sol-fa Composition Club’)
Nonconformist Musical Journal, March 1899 (‘Music at Stockwell Orphanage’)
• Bernarr Rainbow, ‘Glover, Sarah Anna (1786–1867)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, October 2008
• Bernarr Rainbow and Charles Edward McGuire, ‘Tonic Sol-fa’, Grove Music Online, Oxford University Press, July 2014
South London Press, 21 December 1901 (‘Deaths’)
• W. B. Squire, ‘Curwen, John (1816–1880)’, rev. Peter Ward Jones, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, October 2007
Tonic Sol-fa Reporter, 1 July 1869 (‘Society of Arts’ Examinations’), 1 January 1871 (‘Tonic Sol-fa Work’), 1 March 1880 (‘Concerts’)

 

J. H. Stead: ‘The Perfect Cure’

 

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J. H. Stead (1828?–1886), from a carte-de-visite image superimposing photographs of him in the costumes for his two best-known songs (© Victoria & Albert Museum)

 

Q: Why is J. H. Stead like Holloway’s ointment?
A: Because he is a perfect cure.

Readers of the 1863 edition of Riddles and Jokes. Collected by the Editor of ‘Every Boy’s Magazine’ might not have collapsed with mirth at that exchange, but they would almost certainly have understood it, for in the previous years the music-hall performer J. H. Stead had achieved an enormous success with a song called ‘The Perfect Cure’, which, as Alfred Rosling Bennett recalled some 60 years later, ‘raged through the land like an influenza’ and, the Oxford English Dictionary suggests, led to a vogue of using ‘cure’ – ‘apparently an abbreviation of curious or curiosity: compare curio’ – to mean ‘an odd or eccentric person; a funny fellow’.

Bennett saw Stead in action at the Crystal Palace in January 1861: ‘Then there was Mr. Stead, who sang and danced The Perfect Cure. And he was all that. He sprang a couple of feet in the air at every bar, and never paused for some ten minutes. The words [see below] were the merest drivel, the attraction consisting solely in the eccentric appearance of the singer, his antics, agility, and endurance.’ He kept his feet together, his arms at his sides, and jumped stiff-legged from his toes.

A couple of months later Charles Dickens saw him at Weston’s Music Hall, in Holborn, London. In an article describing the variety of entertainments on offer at these fairly new things called music halls, he described a ‘comic singer, … a slim inexhaustible man, who accompanied himself (if the expression may be allowed) by a St. Vitus’s Dance of incessant jumping, continued throughout his song, until the jumps were counted by the thousand: the performer being as marvellously in possession of his fair mortal allowance of breath at the end of the exhibition as at the beginning.’ That was Stead.

He was still at it 8 years later, when Henry C. Lunn of the Musical Times went to a ‘Comic Concert’ in St James’s Hall:

Mr. J. H. Stead … sang and danced the composition which has made his reputation – the ‘Perfect Cure.’ Mr. Stead is usually described as ‘the man who never stood still;’ and indeed, seeing that he has jumped into so good a thing, there is no reason why he should relax his efforts as long as the public will pay to see him, and his muscular system will hold out. Abstractedly, there is nothing either pleasing or amusing in seeing a full-grown man, in a striped suit and an eccentric cap, bounding up and down like an India-rubber ball, whilst he is trying to sing. But it is clever, nevertheless; and, although we do not sympathise with his ‘line of endeavour,’ as Carlyle says, we can at least praise him for his industry.

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The cover of the music for the ‘Song of the Perfect Cure’ (Spellman Collection, University of Reading)

 

James Hurst Stead was born in Hull, Yorkshire, in about 1828, the son of George Hurst and Grace Stead, who married in December 1830. After his death a correspondent to the show-business weekly The Era recalled seeing him in 1852 in a small concert room called the Military Arms in Portsea, Portsmouth. His comic-song repertoire then included ‘I’ve Joined the Teetotal Society’ and ‘The Cure’, which he sang wearing ‘a long black coat, large white neckcloth, gaiters, and large rimmed low black hat; in fact the costume of a French curé – the chorus being sung after the Quaker fashion, with the raising and lowering of the body. It was very funny, and he used to meet with great applause … His salary was then £1 a week [equivalent to about £125 today].’ In the following year The Era announced that ‘“Pop Goes the Weasel” has been introduced by Mr J. H. Stead in a laughable entertainment entitled What’s o’Clock’ at the Royal Colosseum, Bradford.

In 1856 Wilton’s Music Hall in London was advertising the ‘Engagement of the greatest Buffo Comic Singer in England, the celebrated Mr. J. H. Stead’. In August 1860 he was at Weston’s Music Hall, with which he would become particularly associated, and The Era commented that his ‘singular jumping song, which gives him the name of “the Cure,” would of itself afford the visitor a rare and peculiar treat’. The bowing French cleric of his earlier act had by now been replaced by the pogoing figure in a striped costume and dunce’s hat seen by Bennett, Dickens and Lunn.

The tune had been composed by Jonathan Blewitt (1782–1853), and was originally used in a song called ‘The Monkey and the Nuts’. Blewitt sold the copyright for 2 guineas, and so received none of the more than £2,000 that his music made with the words used by Stead. These told a cautionary tale:

Young Love he plays some funny tricks,
With us unlucky elves,
So gentlemen, I pray look out,
And take care of yourselves,
For once I met a nice young maid,
Looking so demure,
All at once to me she said
You’re a perfect cure …

I wasted on her lots of cash,
In hopes her love to share,
I with her used to cut a dash,
And all things went on square
Until I caught another chap
Who on his knees did woo her;
She cried as she my face did slap,
You’re a perfect cure …

I was laid up for sev’n long months,
Indeed I’m not romancing,
Which brought me on Mr Antinny’s dance,
That’s why I keep on dancing.
One day a Beadle call’d on me,
I felt alarmed you’re sure,
Along with me, come on, says he [spoken: ‘I know yer’],
For you’re the perfect cure …

He took me ’fore the magistrate,
And there stood faithless she,
An artful tale she did relate,
And laid the blame on me.
The case created lots of fun,
At my expense be sure,
Look out or else you may be done,
Like I the perfect cure …

Each verse was followed by

A cure, a cure, a cure, a cure,
Now isn’t I a cure,
For here I go,
My high gee wo [i.e. horse],
For I’m a perfect cure.

And there was a walk-around written in halfway through – perhaps to permit him to catch his breath.

Stead was, said The Era after his death ‘encored five times nightly as “The Perfect Cure” at Weston’s Music Hall, Holborn. On one occasion the jumps he took from the platform during the singing of this eccentric song were calculated to be only four short of five hundred, and this dangerous form of exercise he took each night for more than a year.’

In fact, as the 1869 Musical Times review demonstrates, he carried on performing this song for much more than a year. In 1881 The Era reported that ‘Mr J. H. Stead, whom we may call a veteran comic singer as compared with many, and who is as capable of amusing an audience as the majority of newer hands’, had recently concluded his act at the Bedford Music Hall with ‘his old, unique, and still popular performance as “The Cure”’, and in 1884 ‘a distinguished Philadelphia physician’, in an article on whether skipping over a rope damaged the health, reported that ‘Last year, when in London, I walked into Pavilion Music Hall one evening and my old friend Jimmy Stead was dancing “The Cure.” I don’t think it has shortened his life at all.’

Stead was not the first person to sing the song: Henri D’Alcorn, whose company had published it, recalled that the song was first performed at the Mogul Music Hall (later renamed the Middlesex), ‘and was sung before being taken up by the late J. H. Stead to a scissors grinding machine accompaniment, in lieu of the jumping performance’.

The tune was at some point adopted by fiddlers:

 

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A trick puppet, or ‘cure’, from the Tiller–Clowes troupe dressed as J. H. Stead performing ‘The Perfect Cure’. Its overall height expanded from 57 to 98 cm. (© Victoria & Albert Museum)

Stead’s act also influenced another branch of show-business. In nineteenth-century England, long before the arrival of films and television, puppet shows were a popular form of entertainment for adults, and several of them travelled around the country presenting shortened versions of London’s latest popular entertainments. In the 1860s, extending and contracting trick marionettes performed to the chorus of ‘The Perfect Cure’ in these shows, and became known as ‘cures’ themselves.

Stead’s other big hit was ‘The Great Sensation Song’, written by Frank Hall and – at least in the published version – commenting on theatrical regulations, conflict between the northern and southern states in America, fashions, the franchise, and popular preaching:

Up and down the blessed town
I run for information;
Trying to discover if
There’s any new sensation.
Politics and accidents
And scandalizing too, Sir,
Either’s all the same to me,
As long as it is new, Sir.

‘His “Sensation” song, and “The Cure,” are peculiarly his own; and in their execution Mr. Stead is unapproachable,’ declared The Era in August 1861.

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J. H. Stead on the cover of ‘The Great Sensation Song’

The census for that year shows Stead living in St Pancras, London, with his 61-year-old mother, and gives his occupation as ‘Comedian’. The 1871 census has him living at a different address in St Pancras – 3 Prebend Street, now Baynes Street, Camden Town – with Sophia Stead, some 20 years his junior and listed as ‘Wife’, and daughters ages 2 and 1, as well as a domestic servant. Burial records indicate that a 3-year-old son, Thomas Rushbrook Stead, had died nearly 4 years earlier. In 1881, at the same address, James and Sophia had a further four daughters and a son, but no servant now. Another daughter was born in 1883, but died when a month old.

Stead was a keen fisherman, and would often walk to his fishing ground as soon as his performance was over, to be ready for the first light of day. He would be seen on the banks of the river Lea with his friend the comic singer Billy Randall, ‘pulling out the roach’, a writer to The Era recalled in 1893.

In March 1885 The Era published a letter intended

to draw the attention of proprietors and managers of music halls, also brother and sister artists, to the case of our dear old friend Stead, the Cure. He has been an out-door patient of the Brompton Hospital for the Chest and Lungs during the last fifteen months, and as we all know that he has worked hard for the last thirty years and proved himself to be a faithful servant of the British public, also one of the first to assist at a benefit for a fellow artist, I beg to suggest that those of our creed with more influence than myself will form themselves into a committee, and take one of the popular halls, and give a substantial testimonial benefit to the grand old man.

In October it announced that ‘Mr J. H. Stead, the once famous “Cure,” we hear, is at present in the Hospital for Diseases of the Chest, Victoria-park, where he has been for the past five weeks.’

Benefit concerts were advertised and subscriptions invited, with the comment ‘It need only be mentioned that he has a wife and ten children dependent upon him for support, whilst there is not the remotest hope of his ever being able to resume his profession.’ (James and Sophia had 13 children in all, of whom 3 predeceased him.) One benefit took place at Shoreditch Town Hall on 30 November and included ‘a new overture called “The Cure,” arranged by Mr. G. W. Hunt’; performed by Miss Amy Vernon and Mr J. Baker, it was ‘most cordially received’. With subscriptions, £163 1s. 10d. was raised. Another benefit, on 2 December at the former Weston’s Music Hall, renamed the Royal, raised £104 5s. 4d.

And during the last quarter of 1885 James Hurst Stead and Sophia Elizabeth Rushbrook got married. It seems that she had hitherto been only his common-law wife, but the seriousness of his health had presumably prompted them to regularise their relationship.

Stead continued to decline. On 9 January 1886 The Era reported that ‘Mr. J. H. Stead, “The Cure,” last week alarmed his friends by exhibiting symptoms of serious mental aberration, and his removal to a lunatic asylum has been ordered by his medical attendant.’

Finally came the news that on 24 January 1886 he had died. Reporting his death, The Era noted that

Two benefits were lately given for his advantage, and the interesting fact was quite recently discovered that he had no less than £2,700 invested in the funds [equivalent to over £300,000 today]. As he at one time lost a large sum through the failure of a bank, he must have been a man of provident habits, especially as he had a large family to keep, and salaries at the time when he flourished were much smaller on the music hall stage than they are at present.

The Glasgow Herald commented, ‘This, and similar cases which have lately happened, may, it is feared, tempt the charitable to hesitate before relieving even real distress in the future.’

He was buried in St Pancras Cemetery on 2 February. An open hearse accompanied by three mourning coaches carried his body from Camden Town to East Finchley, where ‘a large number of residents of Camden-town also assembled in the cemetery.’ A month later his estate was valued at £3,134 17s. for probate purposes.

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Stead’s grave in St Pancras Cemetery. (His mother-in-law, Sophia Kate Rushbrook, who is mentioned on the headstone, is in fact buried in a public grave elsewhere in the cemetery.)

 

SOURCES

• Richard Anthony Baker, British Music Hall: An Illustrated History (Stroud: Sutton, 2005)
• Alfred Rosling Bennett, London and Londoners in the Eighteen-Fifties and Sixties (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1924)
• J. Blewitt and F. C. Perry, ‘Song of the Perfect Cure’ (London, 12th edn, [1865])
• Nick Daly, ‘The Chromolithographers of Modern Life
• Charles Dickens, ‘Managers and Music-Halls’, All the Year Round, 23 March 1861
The Era, 16 June 1853 (‘Provincial Theatricals’); 27 January 1856 (advertisement for Wilton’s Music Hall); 26 August 1860 (‘Weston’s Grand Music Hall’); 25 August 1861 (‘Weston’s Music Hall’); 21 May 1881 (’The London Music Halls’); 14 March 1885 (’J. H. Stead, the Cure’, letter from Charles Murray); 3 October 1885 (JHS in Victoria Park hospital); 7, 14, 21, 28 November 1885 (advertisements for benefits); 5 December 1885 (’The J. H. Stead Benefits); 12 December 1885 (results of Royal benefit); 9 January 1886 (JHS mental decline); 16 January 1886 (results of Shoreditch benefit); 30 January 1886 (‘Death of Mr. James H. Stead’), 6 February 1886 (‘Funeral of J. H. Stead’); 13 February 1886 (’The Cure’, letter from H. D’Alcorn); 20 February 1886 (‘The Cure’, letter from James Somers Dyer); 4 November 1893 (‘Random Recollections’, letter from J. P. Billings)
• Frank Hall, ‘The Great Sensation Song’ (London: Foster & Co., [1861?])
• Henry C. Lunn, ‘A Comic Concert’, Musical Times, 1 August 1869
Riddles and Jokes. Collected by the Editor of ‘Every Boy’s Magazine’, 3rd series (London: Routledge, Warne, and Routledge, 1863)
• Clement Scott and Cecil Howard, The Life and Reminiscences of E. L. Blanchard, with Notes from the Diary of Wm. Blanchard, vol. 2 (London Hutchinson, 1891)
• ‘Skipping the Rope a Good Thing’ (from the Philadelphia Times of 15 June 1884), Carroll Herald, 12 November 1884
• Victoria & Albert museum, notes on a ‘cure’ marionette from the Tiller–Clowes troupe

Charles Whyte: Champion swimmer and ‘professor’ of swimming

Charles Whyte (1835–1917) (from C. Newman, Swimmers and Swimming: or, The Swimmer's Album, 1899)

Charles Whyte (1835–1917)
(from C. Newman, Swimmers and Swimming: or, The Swimmer’s Album, 1899)

 

On 16 September 1865 an unusual contest took place in the river Thames when the London Swimming Club offered a gold medal valued at £50 (equivalent to about £5,600 today) to whoever could swim the furthest ‘without touching anything, and without taking any stimulant or refreshment’. Fifteen swimmers took part, with ages ranging from 15 or 16 to 40 or more. ‘Stripped to their slight bathing drawers, which [were] retained for the sake of decency’, they started from Teddington Lock and dropped out one by one until at Mortlake only three were left in contention: E. Rowley, C. Whyte and W. Wood.

Whyte had a fine lead, and from his being in the habit of bathing all the year round in the Serpentine, and being considered capable of bearing cold, his chance was thought to be exceedingly good. Wood of Huddersfield, though far in the rear, was swimming strongly, and being by far the fattest of the competitors [he weighed 18 stone], had a great deal in his favour. Whyte, on the contrary, was exceedingly spare [about 9 stone], and therefore likely to suffer soonest from the long immersion. About half a mile on the Middlesex side of Strand-on-the-Green, Wood was seized with cramp and had to call for assistance, but before it could be rendered he went on again as gamely as ever. Before reaching the Railway Bridge at Barnes Whyte and Wood had the race to themselves; the former was far ahead, but when about half a mile on the Hammersmith side of the bridge his powers gave out and he was got ashore in a fainting condition after swimming between 7 and 8 miles, and being in the water 3 hours 20 minutes. Wood, who was still strong, came gallantly up, and after passing about 20 yards beyond where poor Whyte was being rubbed on the bank, was hailed by the referee as the winner.

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An illustration of ‘an icy swim some winters ago’ accompanying an 1870 article which described Whyte as a regular participant in Christmas Day swims in the Serpentine. The Serpentine Swimming Club was founded in 1864, and still organises a Christmas Day race there.

 

Charles Whyte, who is buried in Islington Cemetery, was born in Marylebone on 31 July 1835, the son of William and Maria Whyte. William was a carpenter, and in the 1861–1901 censuses Charles gives his own profession as ‘Fret Cutter’ – i.e. he cut wood into ornamental designs with a fret saw. But he was also a professional in the relatively new field of recreational swimming.

From the 1830s, swimming in England developed from an activity practised by only a few individuals (mainly men) into a pastime in which millions of people took part. In 1828 St George’s Baths in Liverpool became the first indoor municipal swimming pool in England. In the late 1830s and early 1840s various London-based societies were formed to encourage swimming – notably, from 1836/7, the National Swimming Society, which organised races and offered some tuition and apparently in 1841 became the British Swimming Society, which aimed ‘to promote health, cleanliness, and the preservation of life by the practice of bathing and by teaching and encouraging the art of swimming’.

Swimming in the Serpentine was so common in the 1840s that the Royal Humane Society had boatmen stationed there to help those in difficulty in the water. The RHS estimated that over 8,000 people used the lake on very warm days in 1842 and 1843.

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The Royal Humane Society’s hut next to the Serpentine, Hyde Park, London 
(Wellcome Library, London)

 

From 1846 the Baths and Washhouses Act allowed local authorities in England to establish indoor baths and washhouses, laundries and open bathing places, and often led to the building of ‘plunge baths’ which were used for swimming. An amendment to the act in 1878 permitted the construction of indoor swimming pools, and access to these at affordable prices enabled swimming to become much more widespread.

In the 1850s and ’60s many swimming clubs sprang up, at first in London and seaside towns, but later in almost every town of any size. Among those in London, the Elephant Club was based at the St Pancras Baths in King Street in Camden Town, where in the 1860s Whyte was the resident ‘professor’, or coach, advertising himself as ‘prepared at any hour of the day to teach pupils’. He also taught swimming at Harrow School, where the 500-yard-long ‘Duck Puddle’ had been excavated in 1810/11, though it was not until 1857 that swimming competitions were held in it, and until 1876 that a swimming test was introduced.

Whyte continued to swim competitively, and, two years after losing to Wood in the contest to swim the furthest, in September 1867 he was similarly unsuccessful in a 5-mile race from Battersea Bridge to London Bridge against Ephraim Goodwin for a prize of £20: he had to be helped from the water near Hungerford Bridge. ‘Some slight solations’ for his defeat were offered by a benefit held for him at the North London Baths a couple of weeks later. But he no doubt derived more satisfaction from a return match in the following year.

Goodwin, a sawyer, was then 38 years old, 5 feet 6 inches tall, and nearly 12 stone in weight. Whyte, 5 years younger, was about the same height but some 2 stone lighter. Rain was ‘descending in torrents’ when the race began at 6.47 a.m. on 22 August. The two men struck the water together, but Whyte rose first and was soon leading by 10 yards, which he had increased to 20 yards by the time he reached Cadogan Pier. ‘Gaining at almost every stroke’, he passed under Chelsea Suspension Bridge in exactly 13 minutes, Goodwin taking 24 seconds longer. Goodwin then ‘put on a tremendous spurt and decreased the gap wonderfully, but just past Pimlico Pier he was taken into the slack, while his opponent, who went outside of a sailing barge which lay moored off the Stone Wharf, went rapidly away’ and Whyte was 40 seconds ahead at Vauxhall Bridge and 68 seconds ahead at Lambeth Bridge. Goodwin now made another desperate effort to catch up, but as an ‘immense crowd’ cheered them at Westminster Bridge – the 3-mile mark – Whyte’s time was 38 minutes 40 seconds to Goodwin’s 39 minutes 35 seconds At Waterloo Bridge Whyte’s lead was the greatest so far, but as he approached Blackfriars Bridge he made for the same arch as two barges, whose eddy ‘held [him] as in a vice’ and Goodwin pulled up to within 30 yards. But Whyte’s pilots directed him back on course, and at Southwark Bridge he was 30 seconds in front. Although Goodwin made several more valiant efforts to overtake, Whyte eventually won by 32 seconds, with a time of 1 hour 3 minutes and 38 seconds. Goodwin attributed his defeat to a severe cold from which he was suffering.

On 18 July 1870 Whyte took on Henry Coulter, a fellow member of the Serpentine Club, over the 5 miles from London Bridge to Greenwich Hospital for a prize of £50. Four years earlier Coulter had won £100 in a race with publican Ikey Coody from Sheerness Garrison Point to the Nore lightship, covering the 3¾ miles in an hour and three-quarters. He was 5 foot 7 inches tall, weighed 9 stone 10 pounds, and was 28 years old, whereas Bell’s Life in London regarded Whyte – 5 pounds heavier, slightly shorter, and almost 35 years old – as ‘now approaching the sere and yellow leaf as an athlete’, albeit ‘in excellent trim, considering’.

When, at 7.24 a.m., the two men stepped on a plank stretched across the bows of the steamer Falcon, ‘they were loudly cheered by the multitudes who covered the bridges, the shipping, and in fact every spot that commanded a view of the start, whilst the river was thickly studded with small craft, most of which were as full as they could be consistently with the safety of their occupants’. Before the race Sporting Life had announced the handkerchief colours for supporters: a white ground with blue spots and a blue border for Coulter, and a white ground with a ‘delicate scarlet border’ for Whyte. The referee gave the signal to start, and the men dived simultaneously.

Coulter first rose to the surface, and held the lead for about 20 yards, when Whyte shot past him and led at a tremendous pace for the first quarter of a mile. Coulter then by a well-timed spurt drew in front amidst the most tumultuous cheering, and thus early gave indication of the brilliant struggle that was to ensue. Whyte, however, would not let him have any rest, and at half a mile again resumed the lead, each evidently trying to race the other down, Whyte, to the surprise of even his warmest admirers, seeming to show fully as much speed as his opponent. A hundred yards farther on Coulter again dashed to the fore and showed the way by a yard until the first mile had been completed, this portion of the distance having been swum in the unprecedented time of 11 minutes 43 seconds!
Nearing Cherry Garden Pier [Whyte], urged on by his partisans’ cheering, showed slightly in front, but was soon forced to give way to Coulter, who coming with a long swinging side stroke led at a mile and a half by 3 yards. Time, 17 minutes 13 seconds.
Continuing to swim on his left side Coulter had increased his lead at the entrance to the Surrey Canal Docks to 5 yards. The Champion now began to decrease the gap, and at 2 miles Coulter was only a couple of yards in advance. Time, 23 minutes 26 seconds, an unparalleled performance.
Off the King and Queen Dockyard, about 100 yards farther on, Whyte gave his opponent the slip, but was almost immediately repassed by the Paddingtonian. Rounding the point by Canary Wharf … [Whyte] soon got into the full strength of the tide, and showed with a clear lead. By a desperate effort Coulter drew level with his antagonist at 3 miles, in the marvellous time of 35 minutes 28 seconds.
In a few more strokes the Paddington man again took the premier position, and passing the East India Railway Depot led by 10 yards, this being the greatest advantage Coulter ever gained. Coulter’s friends were now in ecstasies, but their hopes were soon blighted, for Whyte, through admirable steering, reached the Commercial Dock Pier a yard in advance. Time, 40 minutes 39 seconds.
Gradually increasing his advantage, despite the game efforts of his opponent, the Champion completed the fourth mile in 48 minutes 19 seconds, leading by 3 yards … A brilliant struggle now ensued and they passed Millwall Pier nearly abreast. Time, 49 minutes 50 seconds.
The fine staying powers of Whyte now proved of service to him, as passing Messrs Penn’s works he drew rapidly away from his game antagonist and for the first time in this magnificent contest held a decided lead of 10 yards, while at Pontifex’s he had increased it to a dozen. Just before reaching the Dreadnought Hospital ship Whyte turned to look at his opponent, who thereupon made a desperate effort and reduced the gap several yards.
Charley now swimming as strongly as ever, made his final burst, and went past the goal Champion of the Thames nearly 20 yards ahead of Coulter, who was dreadfully exhausted, and would have fainted had it not been for opportune assistance. Time, 1 hour 4 minutes and 23 seconds!

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Claude Monet, The Thames at London (1871), showing part of the course of the 1870 Thames race, with London Bridge upstream in the background (Public Catalogue Foundation / National Museum Wales)

 

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Preparing for the Monte Cristo sack trick, in which a swimmer escapes from a specially tied and weighted sack thrown into water (from F. E. Dalton, Swimming Scientifically Taught (New York and London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1918))

In 1874 Whyte became the swimming master at the new Paddington Public Baths in Queen’s Road, Bayswater, and on 5 June, at a ‘monster fête’ to celebrate the opening, he ‘went through a number of feats, as undressing on the surface of the water, swimming with the hands and feet tied, and performing what was termed the Monte Christo [sic] sack feat, besides showing the best methods of rescuing persons from drowning’. Rescuing persons from drowning was something of which he had practical experience: in 1865 and 1867 he had received testimonials from the Royal Humane Society for saving a woman from the Serpentine and a boy from the Regent’s Park lake, and in 1869 he was awarded the society’s bronze medal for rescuing someone in difficulty in Hampstead Ponds; he went on to win another bronze medal and another RHS testimonial for his life-saving activities.

In 1867 he had been a member of a deputation headed by George Cruikshank which met Sir Francis Goldsmid to discuss proposals to allow public bathing in the portion of the ornamental lake next to the grounds of Goldsmid’s residence, St John’s Lodge, in Regent’s Park, and in 1881 he sat on the first committee of the Professional Swimming Association.

For many years he organised annual swimming entertainments at the Paddington baths, sometimes involving members of his family. In 1853 he had married Emma Stone, a gardener’s daughter from Rickmansworth, and they went on to have 12 children, of whom Emma Jr and Charles Jr both taught swimming.

Whyte handbill (1894?)

A handbill for one of Whyte’s entertainments at Paddington Public Baths, probably in 1894 (Evanion Collection, British Library)

 

When his wife died, in 1906, she was buried in St Pancras Cemetery with six of the children who had predeceased her. The 1911 census shows Charles living with his daughter Emma and her solicitor husband, Thomas Crocker, in North Kensington, and Charles now finally gave his occupation as ‘swimming instructor’. When he himself died, on 31 May 1917, aged 81, there was presumably no space for him in the same grave as his wife, for he is buried in Islington Cemetery in a grave next to his wife’s and children’s just across the invisible boundary between the two cemeteries, and it is on the headstone on the St Pancras grave that his death is recorded – his own grave has no headstone, only plain edging stones, as far as can be judged from what is visible beneath the ivy.

whytegrave

Whyte’s grave in Islington Cemetery. His death is recorded at the very foot of the other side of the headstone visible in the background, which marks the grave in St Pancras Cemetery of his wife and six of their children who had predeceased her.

SOURCES

Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, 28 September 1867 (‘Swimming: Whyte’s Benefit’), 29 August 1868 (‘Goodwin and White [sic], for £20’), 20 July 1870 (‘Coulter and Whyte’s Gallant Race for £50 and the Championship of the Thames’), 30 July 1870 (‘Elephant Club’)
• F. E. Dalton, Swimming Scientifically Taught: A Practical Manual for Young and Old (New York and London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1918)
• Dave Day, ‘London Swimming Professors: Victorian Craftsmen and Aquatic Entrepreneurs’, Sport in History, 30:1 (2010), 32–54
• John Latey, Jun., ‘About Swimming: No. 1 – Great Swims’, in The Round Robin: A Gathering of Fact, Fiction, Incident and Adventure, edited by Old Merry (London: Frederick Warne, 1872)
• ‘Life Saving Medal Rolls and Citations’, Life Saving Awards Research Society website
Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 19 May 1867 (‘Bathing in Regent’s-Park’)
London Daily News, 28 July 1869 (‘Rewards for Saving Life’), 6 June 1874 (‘London Swimming Club’)
London Evening Standard, 29 September 1887 (‘Rewards for Bravery’)
• Christopher Love, A Social History of Swimming in England, 1800–1918: Splashing in the Serpentine (London: Routledge, 2008)
Morning Advertiser, 1 September 1841 (‘Prize Essays of the National, Now the British Swimming Society, on the Art of Swimming’)
The Observer, 17 September 1865 (‘Novel Swimming Match’)
Penny Illustrated Paper, 10 July 1869 (’Swimming and Drowning’), 24 December 1870 (‘A Christmas Morning Swim’)
Sporting Life, 21 September 1867 (’Five Miles Swimming Race in the Thames’), 16 July 1870
The Times, 6 June 1874 (‘London Swimmers’)
Yorkshire Gazette, 24 March 1885 (‘Bravery Rewarded’)