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Saturday, 29 June 2013


I have inherited books from my late father and my late uncle, and now have two copies of several volumes written by or about the family. Particularly well represented on my shelves is their only aunt, Emma Gurney Salter. They both adored her, my father particularly. Emma, who never married, was very fond of her nephews too, although that didn’t stop her warning my mother just before her wedding that my father might not be suited to marriage. (They divorced six years later.)

Emma Gurney Salter (1875-1967) in 1912 on the occasion of the publication of Nature in Italian Art (from the Illustrated London News)

She was an archetypically bookish maiden aunt, a scholar in the field of Italian ecclesiastical history. She was an authority on St Francis of Assisi, and in her publications she often blended medieval history and art – I have editions of at least eight of her works including two copies of Tudor England Through Venetian Eyes and three of Nature in Italian Art. The subtitle of Nature is “a study of landscape backgrounds from Giotto to Tintoretto” and it is a comprehensive survey of landscape, flora and fauna depicted by artists from all the Italian schools of art from 1250 to 1590.

My father’s copy of Nature was his father’s, signed “to F.G.S. with love from the author, April 1912,” a gift from sister to brother soon after its publication that year. Uncle John’s copy, “to John Gurney Salter from his aunt,” has a letter to him from her tucked inside the cover, in which she writes
I daresay you know it was accepted by Trin. Coll. Dublin as a thesis for their Litt.D.? I submitted also my earlier book on Franciscan Legends & an art. in the Edinburgh Rev. and some translations also.

Emma studied at Trinity College, Cambridge. Women had been allowed to take courses at Cambridge University, and even to sit exams, since 1881, but were not awarded degrees. Oxford finally recognised female graduates in 1920; Cambridge was then shamed into granting diplomas to women from 1921, but did not give women degrees until 1948.

At Trinity College, Dublin, however women had been eligible for degrees since 1904. From then until 1907, brilliant scholars like my Great Aunt Emma at both Oxford and Cambridge were able to sail to Dublin (then still part of the United Kingdom), where Trinity College was happy to recognise their studies in England and to confer on them the degrees which the English universities refused. These women became known as "steamboat ladies." Steamboating great aunt Emma’s Trin. Coll. Litt.D. was built on her Trin. Coll. MA.

I found my third copy of Nature in Italian Art in Cumbria around 2005 on the shelves of a relative stranger, the friend of a friend, who had bought it and a few hundred others from a second-hand bookshop purely for their decorative spines. My delight at finding Emma’s book was compounded when I took it down and read the flyleaf dedication, “to F. Reyner, from the mother of the authoress.” What a find – Frederick Reyner, Lancashire cotton magnate, was my great great uncle, brother of my great grandmother Jane Salter née Reyner, Emma’s mother.

Three copies of Nature in Italian Art by my great aunt Emma Gurney Salter, the former properties of three generations of my ancestors: my grandfather, my uncle and my great great uncle

Saturday, 22 June 2013


As I wrote in my last post here, Mary Carpenter and Deborah Castle grew up together in Bristol and shared a zeal for social and educational reform, influenced in large part by the teaching of Mary’s father the Unitarian minister Dr Lant Carpenter.

In 1869 the Misses Carpenter and Castle shared a stage in Bristol at the first Ladies Conference of the Social Science Association. Their contributions illustrated tensions within the Women’s Movement – should women simply take a greater public part in traditional feminine philanthropic “caring” roles? or should they campaign for greater rights?

Mary Carpenter (1807-1877) in c1870

Author Lawrence Goldman in Science, Reform and Politics in Victorian Britain describes events at the conference:
On 29th September Mary Carpenter, in the chair, told the congress was told that “they would keep clear of public or political subjects, and of what were called ‘women’s rights’, or their fancied wrongs,” adding later in the proceedings, “ladies should work modestly and quietly, and not seek after more publicity than is necessary to attain their object. She hoped that they would avoid political or religious discussions, women’s suffrage, or ‘rights’ … they were much safer in keeping to women’s work.”

The Ladies Conference met again on the following day, this time under the presidency of Lady Bowring, and it debated its raison d’être: “the question was whether that basis should be extended to the consideration of all subjects whatever in which women are interested, such as are treated of by the Congress in general, or whether it should be confined to the consideration of benevolent efforts and works by women, discarding political subjects such as Women’s Suffrage, the Married Women’s Property Bill, etc.”

Apparently “many ladies took a part in the discussion” and the majority favoured “the first proposition”, or what might be termed the political option. Miss Carpenter’s views had been overturned.

Lady Deborah Bowring née Castle (1816-1902) in 1864

It’s always difficult when friends disagree. At the same conference the following year, Mary did not attend; but Deborah spoke on topics ranging from the suffrage and married women’s property to education – all of them subjects dear to Mary and her inspiration, the Hindu social reformer Ram Mohan Roy. Roy was visiting Deborah’s cousin Catherine Castle (1812-1834) when Mary met him in 1833, and it is highly likely that Deborah met him too and was influenced by his convictions.

It could be argued that Deborah embodied both the philanthropic and political aims of the Women's Movement. Throughout her married life with Sir John in Exeter, and after his death, she was an active supporter of the local hospital and museum, and of education for girls in the city. And in 1871 Deborah became a vice-president of the Bristol and West of England Society for Women's Suffrage, an office which she held until her death. She has been described as an apt and dignified speaker who blended a good deal of humour with her shrewd and graceful remarks. Deborah made her last speech in support of the cause in May 1897.

At that 1870 Social Science Association conference Deborah touched on the divisions between politics and philanthropy in the Women’s Movement which the previous year’s conference had highlighted:
I do not doubt that there are those present who do not consider that purely benevolent action in the political area can be confined within such, or indeed, any limits, but would deem it needful to consider that it is ultimately associated with the attainment of the social advancement and proper position of women, and more especially that she should enjoy that absolute political equality with those of the other sex. Looking calmly and dispassionately at these so-called women’s rights questions, I cannot but imagine that a time will come when the justice of these claims will be recognised.

As Goldman points out, Deborah’s convoluted language suggests the delicacy with which she had to approach the subject. But although she added that the attainment of that equality “must necessarily be distant,” she is quite clear that absolute political equality is the goal. A hundred and forty three years later, I wonder how she thinks we’re doing.

Lawrence Goldman’s Science, Reform and Politics in Victorian Britain (Cambridge University Press, 2002), from which much of my information about Deborah Bowring’s work comes

Saturday, 15 June 2013


Much is still imperfect in the social relationship between the sexes. But the recent anniversary of the death of Women’s Suffrage campaigner Emily Davison should remind us how far we have come in the last hundred years. And the fight for electoral equality had already been underway for perhaps a hundred years when Ms Davison died from injuries sustained while trying to tie a protest scarf to the king’s horse during the Derby.

I recently came across a Bergen University worksheet of quotations from campaigners for women’s suffrage in 1878. With great pride I found that two of the thirteen voices cited were ancestors of mine of whom I have written here in the past.

Mary Gurney (1836-1917)

One was Mary Gurney, daughter of my great great great aunt Emma Gurney (nee Rawlings) and author of Are We To Have Education For Our Middle Class Girls? Mary wrote in October 1878:
If women householders were not, as at present, excluded from the parliamentary franchise, their influence would be of much value in securing attention in the House of Commons to measures affecting the educational interests of girls.

The other was my favourite forebear, my formidable great great great aunt Deborah Castle. In October 1878, according to the Bergen University document, she declared:
My view with respect to the extension of the franchise remains unchanged. I cannot but think that those women ratepayers who like myself take an interest in social questions, must, as I do, feel strongly the injustice that is done them in being called upon to share in the taxation, without participating in the advantages conferred by property on the other sex, of a voice in parliamentary representation.

Sir John and Lady Deborah Bowring, in 1864, by Disdéri Eugène (who made his name and fortune after photographing Napoleon III in 1859)

Deborah blossomed in middle age. Thwarted in unsuitable love as a young woman, she seemed condemned to stay at home dutifully caring for her aging parents. The death of her widowed mother in 1856 finally released her, and four years later she married the radical but elderly Sir John Bowring (1792-1872). As Lady Bowring, Deborah emerged from the shadows of spinsterdom to become a radical voice in her own right, speaking from platforms on women’s issues and the Unitarian Church, of which both she and John were followers. She grew a reputation as "a woman of vigorous grasp of mind and efficient action."

Deborah, eleventh of thirteen children, was christened in Lewins Mead Unitarian Chapel in Bristol in 1816, in a sort of job lot with her three older siblings Charles, Caroline and Ellen. (Her other siblings were also christened there in similar batches.) A year after her christening, the pastorship of Lewins Mead passed to Dr Lant Carpenter, a campaigning educationalist who had taught Deborah’s husband at his previous appointment in Exeter and whose sermons must surely have influenced her thinking as she grew up in Bristol.

 Dr Lant Carpenter (1780-1840), c1830, from the memoirs published in 1842 by his son Russell Lant Carpenter; and Mary Carpenter (1807-1877), c1870, by Cyrus Voss Bark

Dr Carpenter’s eldest daughter Mary, although nine years Deborah’s senior, must have been a friend. Mary is remembered today as a campaigner for women’s rights and a social reformer who founded the ragged school movement. Besides her father, a formative influence on Mary was a meeting with Hindu reformer Ram Mohan Roy, who had fought since the early nineteenth century for property inheritance for Indian wives, education for Indian girls and an end to the practice of Indian widows immolating themselves on their late husbands’ funeral pyres.

(Mary met Roy while he was staying in Bristol with “Miss Castle and Miss Kiddell.” Roy died of meningitis at Catherine Castle’s home in 1833, and Catherine died in 1834, her will the subject of much speculation by Deborah’s brother Charles in a letter about which I have written here before. Catherine’s mother was Catherine Kiddell, and by the will a Miss Kiddell, presumably a niece of the mother and cousin of Catherine Castle, inherited an eyebrow-raising £7000. Mary’s father Dr Carpenter was left £3500, while Deborah, Charles and their eight surviving siblings had to share a mere £11,000 between them!)

Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833)

I digress. Mary Carpenter and Deborah Castle shared with Mary Gurney a zeal for social and educational reform and in 1869 the Misses Carpenter and Castle also shared a stage in Bristol at the first Ladies Conference of the Social Science Association. Their contributions illustrated tensions within the Women’s Movement – should women simply take a greater public part in traditional feminine philanthropic “caring” roles? or should they campaign for greater rights? More on that clash of ideologies in my next post.

Saturday, 8 June 2013


Here’s another of my many ancestors called Austin Cooper. There are at least twenty-five even in my incomplete Tipperary Cooper notes, all ultimately named after the almost mythical Austin, the settler who brought the Cooper family to Ireland. I’ve written about some of them here – sea captains, tax collectors, artists, surgeons, murder victims. This one led an altogether less dramatic life, as the railway manager at Roscommon.

Roscommon Railway Station

It was then a very modern thing to be, of course. Austin was the eldest of three brothers, all of whom chose careers which simply weren’t available to their grandfather, Austin’s namesake the Irish antiquarian, or to the long line of landed Coopers before him. William was a chemical engineer in London, and John the youngest a telegraph engineer to an Ottoman Sultan. They had rather been forced into the modern world by the circumstances of their father.

Samuel Cooper had financial troubles: some of his Irish tenants (on the family estate at Kinsaley  north of Dublin) were withholding rent, and on top of that he was partly responsible for the debts of his late father. These troubles necessitated his living between 1832 and 1857 beyond the reach of the British legal system – on the Isle of Man at some stage, but chiefly in Brussels. (Brussels seems to have been popular with those on the run – the Rev Allan Macpherson, for example, brought down the Gotch Bank in Kettering from there at exactly the same time that Sam Cooper was an ex-pat resident.)

Matters were cleared up in the courts in 1851 although Sam didn’t return from Brussels until 1857 when his third wife died there. The railway came to Roscommon on 13th February 1860 as part of the Athlone-Westport branchline. I don’t know when Austin got the job as manager there, or even precisely what the position involved – was “railway manager” the same thing as “station master”?

Roscommon Railway Station – the stationmaster’s house is the two-storey building on the left

Was he required to live on-site, or did he live at Kinsaley? Roscommon was then a small village and even now as the county town of County Roscommon it has less than 2000 inhabitants. The station’s main business was not in passenger traffic but as a railhead for the transport of cattle and other agricultural produce. If Austin lived in the stationmaster’s house at Roscommon, there won’t have been much to do there except raise a family. But of his large brood born between 1849 and 1871, only one was definitely born in Roscommon, in 1868.

Austin died relatively young in 1874. He was only 49, and his life at a quiet country railway station can now be measured only in wives (2) and children (15). At least two of his offspring emigrated to New York, and I feel there must be more to tell. Quiet little Roscommon Railway Station only hit the news in 1881, many years after Austin’s death.

Roscommon Railway Station, 130 years after it last hit the news

In 1880 the Land League lead by Charles Stewart Parnell had found considerable success in parliamentary elections. It was waging a land war – boycotting profiteering landlords, withholding rent, and intimidating new tenants of land from which the previous tenants had been evicted for such actions. In October 1881 the British government decided to act, arresting many of the Land League MPs including James O’Kelly, Roscommon’s representative.

Late one night, the graphic illustrator and engraver Aloysius O’Kelly (not I think a  relation of the MP) was asleep in his carriage as it arrived in Roscommon Station. “I was suddenly awakened by the screaming and yelling of the crowd on the platform [and] the frequent cry of “Hurray for Parnell!” I was astonished to find the platform lined with soldiers, two deep, behind whom was the screaming mob. They were shouting, gesticulating and waving hats to several men who had been arrested and who were being put in the train to be sent to Galway Prison.

“It appeared that these men were the leading Land Leaguers of the town of Roscommon, who had been arrested during the day. There had been reason to suppose that unless the assistance of the military had been obtained there would be an attempt to rescue the prisoners on their way to the railway station. The soldiers therefore marched into the town that night just in time to conduct the prisoners to the station. No one was aware that the soldiers were coming, so the people were taken by surprise, and their little plan for a rescue was a failure.”

“The State of Ireland: Arrested under the Coercion Act – A Sketch at Roscommon Railway Station” by Aloysius O’Kelly

There must have been hundreds of such scenes around Ireland that month, and this one would have been much less well remembered had Aloysius’s impression of it not been published in the Illustrated London News on 3rd December 1881. What would Austin have thought?

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