Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Batman of Rorke's Drift and the Australasian Impostor; Arthur Howard (1851-1935) Brockley& Ladywell Cemetery


He must have thought that any part he played in the war against the Zulus had long since been forgotten. It certainly would never have occurred to him that he was in any way newsworthy and if he hadn’t been blind the 79 year old Arthur Howard would have been astonished to see a story about himself widely reported in the newspapers. Not least because it was his death on another continent that was making the news and, as far as he was concerned, aged and decrepit he may be but he was still alive and still living at 7 Harton Street in Deptford and was definitely not dead on the other side of the world in Sydney; 

A RORKE’S DRIFT HERO. Death of Natal Battle Survivor. SYDNEY, Monday (Reuter).—The death is announced of Mr. Howard, an Englishman aged 74, a survivor of the battle of Rorke’s Drift. Mr. Howard arrived in Australia in 1908. As recently as Friday he complained of an assegai wound received in the fight. In addition to Neuville’s famous picture of the defence of Rorke’s Drift, the Sydney Art Gallery has a picture showing Mr. Howard assisting and carrying a wounded man from a blazing hospital.
Portsmouth Evening News - Monday 10 February 1930

When word got out that Reuters was wrong a reporter from the Daily Mirror turned up at Deptford to interview the old war hero. "I have been living in Kent for 40 years, and never have been to Australia." be said to the reporter. "As you can see, I am quite alive. How the Sydney Art Gallery can have a picture of me leaving the burning hospital shouldering a man I cannot understand. It was as much as I could do to leave the building myself when the Zulus burned it, without carrying anyone. There were only 86 of us. And I cannot think of another Arthur Howard among the number." Arthur charitably assumed that it was a case of mistaken identity but there are a couple of details in the original Reuters’ report, the claim that Arthur had arrived in Australia in 1908 and that he had been complaining of an old Assegai wound as recently as the previous Friday, make it more probable that the news agency had been unwittingly duped by the death of an imposter.  Fake survivors of the heroic action were not uncommon; there were at least three known cases for example of impersonators who claimed to be John Williams, the only survivor of the battle to be awarded a Victoria Cross. A man convicted at Tredegar Court of burglary sought the mercy of the court saying he was the John Williams, the Rorke’s Drift survivor fallen on hard times (but received 14 days hard labour when his deception was discovered). Another man arraigned at Cardiff for theft also claimed to be Williams and said that if convicted he would lose his army pension; the sympathetic magistrate let him off with a caution and the malefactor promptly disappeared causing a minor scandal which the real Williams was obliged to clear up by getting a notice printed in the paper protesting his innocence.  In Australia the ersatz Arthur Howard presumably got away with 22 years of bragging about being one of the hopelessly outnumbered heroic 150 who had seen off 4000 Zulu warriors and had uncountable pints of warm beer bought for him by admiring Aussies after he showed them his appendectomy scar and gave them some cock and bull story about how he thought he had breathed his last when the biggest, toughest and strongest warrior of the whole lot drove his razor sharp assegai up to the hilt into his belly. No one had the faintest idea that he was a lying pommy bastard until his death was reported in the papers and over in Deptford the real Arthur Howard came forward to express his surprise at finding out that he had died in Sydney. 
    
The real Arthur Howard was born in 1851 in Eynsford, Kent, the son of an agricultural worker.  When he left the village school he worked on local farms eventually becoming a groom. At the age of 20 he decided to enlist and joined the Royal Regiment of Artillery at Woolwich Barracks. His military records show that he was just under 5 foot 7 and weighed a very modest 10 stone despite his muscular development being noted as good. He was posted to Newcastle in 1872 where he was admitted to military hospital for 10 days suffering from syphilis, presumably caught from some good time Geordie girl on a drunken night out on the town. In 1875 he was posted to Ireland and in 1877 he was transferred to the 5th Brigade as servant and batsman to Major Arthur Harness (the Major would have called him Howard and he would have called the Major Sir, preventing the confusion that sharing the first name Arthur could have caused in a more democratic institution).  In 1878 Arthur and Arthur found themselves aboard HMS Dublin Castle and on the way to active service in South Africa in the 9th Cape Frontier War and the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879.

Plan of Rorke's Drift showing position of hospital 
Following an order to move up country to Rorke’s Drift Arthur the batman, our Arthur, was admitted to the small hospital suffering from fever. During the legendary defence of the mission station Arthur was in the north-west corner room of the hospital with Gunner Evans and a borrowed rifle. The two soldiers took pot shots from the veranda and the window at the mass of Zulu warriors who had gathered in front of the building. When the Zulus set fire to the hospital roof the two gunners were forced to flee the burning building. Arthur, unfortunately, turned the wrong way when they ran out of the front of the hospital and found himself confronting a horde of enraged Zulu warriors. Left with little choice he leapt the defences and crawled into undergrowth where he found himself surrounded by dead horses, the victims of the first onslaught by the Zulus.  His greatest anxiety, he said later, was to hide the red stripes of his overalls which he thought might give him away even in the darkness. He also had a close call when a stray bullet mortally wounded a wandering pig. The dying animal, squealing piteously, settled down amongst the dead horses and expired very slowly and noisily, almost giving Arthur’s position away. Miraculously he managed to remain undetected until the following morning despite being almost trampled on several times during the night by successive waves of attacking and retreating Zulu’s.  Rorke’s Drift wasn’t the last action Arthur saw; he was also present at Ulundi, the last battle of the Zulu War. 

Sydney Art Gallery's painting of the defence of Rorke's Drift by Alphonse de Neuville
In October 1879 the Arthur returned to England on HMS Edinburgh Castle and was posted to Hillsborough Barracks in Sheffield. Whilst up north he met a pantry maid called Frances Bird who he brought back to London with him when he was transferred to the Cadets Academy in Woolwich. The couple were married in 1882 and had a daughter, Elsie, the following year. Elsie was barely six when her mother died in 1889 and was sent to live with relatives in Sheffield. The following year Arthur obtained his discharge from the army so that he could be with his daughter and was granted a pension of 11 pence a day. He moved briefly to Sheffield but then brought Elsie back to Woolwich where he had found a job at the Royal Arsenal as an ammunition case examiner and lodgings at Parry Place in Plumstead.  He died on 15th July 1935 at St Alfege Hospital in Greenwich; his death certificate stating that he died of senility. He was buried in Brockley Cemetery in an unmarked grave paid for by his Deptford landlord Walter Tanner. The headstone that now marks the grave was unveiled at a special ceremony in September 2012 presided over by the Mayor of Lewisham and HRH Prince Shange of Zululand following a campaign by Corporal Bugler Tim Needham of the Royal Marines to memorialise the graves of the defenders of Rorke’s Drift. 

Friday, 6 January 2017

The Changeling - fairy born and human bred; James Miranda Stuart Barry/Margaret Ann Bulkley (1789-1865) Kensal Green Cemetery


This is a well known story to which is hard to add anything new. There are at least four full length biographies of the cross dressing, duelling, pioneering surgeon Dr James Barry (the most recent published last year), a couple of novels, one successful stage play (starring Sybil Thorndike in 1918) an unsuccessful one (by the Irish writer Sebastian Barry, no relative), countless newspaper articles (the first published a few weeks after his death and continuing, more or less uninterrupted, ever since) and a projected film with actress Rachel Weisz signed up for the main role.

A portrait of the young James Barry
Outwardly James Barry lived a life of almost exemplary colonial dullness. When his biographies deal with the known facts of his life they generally make dreary reading; he studied at Edinburgh and became a surgeon, joined the army, served in South Africa, Mauritius, St Helena, Jamaica, Malta, Corfu and Canada, was dedicated to his job to the exclusion of almost all other activities, was promoted, never married or formed many close relationships and died in obscurity and genteel poverty in London. He was generally acknowledged to be a cantankerous and argumentative individual but one who was very good at his job. His greatest medical achievement was performing the first successful caesarean section in British medicine, the criteria by which success was judged being the survival of both mother and child. The operation was performed in South Africa where the usually staid progress of his life was interrupted in June 1824 when he became the subject of a scandalous libel written in large block capitals in a disguised hand and nailed to a post on one of the bridges over the canal at Heerengracht in Cape Town.

“A person, living at Newlands, takes this method of making it known to the public authorities of this Colony that on the 5th instant he detected Lord Charles buggering Dr Barry. Lady Charles had her suspicions, or saw something that led her to suspicion, which had caused a general quarrel….The person is ready to come and make oaths to the above.”  

Lord Charles Somerset
The libel caused uproar; the alleged buggerer was Lord Charles Somerset, 20 years Barry’s senior, the son of the Duke of Beaufort, Governor of Cape Colony and member of the Privy Council. Barry was his personal physician and everyone knew the two men were on exceedingly good terms with each other, they just hadn’t realised quite how warm relations between the two were. The scandal did not confine itself to Cape Colony, the news reached England and questions were asked about it on more than one occasion in both the House of Commons and the Lords. Lord Charles was eventually recalled to explain himself, which he evidently did to everyone’s satisfaction as no charges were ever proffered against either him or Barry. Barry eventually lived down the South African disgrace and carried on devoting his life to his career.  It was only when he died that a fact emerged which made the sodomy scandal pale into insignificance (or perhaps cast into a rather different light). A month after his death a Dublin newspaper, Saunder’s News Letter and Daily Advertiser, ran the story of the military surgeon who was, unbeknown to and apparently unsuspected by everyone who knew him (except perhaps for Lord Charles Somerset) a woman. The story was picked up by the English provincial newspapers which ran the Irish story word for word:
        
A STRANGE STORY.  An incident is now being discussed in military circles so extraordinary that, were not its truth capable of being vouched for official authority, the narration would certainly deemed absolutely incredible. Our officers quartered at the Cape between 15 and 20 years ago may remember a certain Dr Barry attached to the medical staff there, and enjoying a reputation for considerable skill in his profession, especially for firmness, decision and rapidity in difficult operations. This gentleman had entered the army in 1813, had passed, of course, through the grades of assistant surgeon and surgeon in various regiments, and had served such in various regiments, and had served as such in various quarters of the globe. His professional acquirements had procured for him his promotion to the staff at the Cape. He was clever and agreeable, save for the drawbacks of a most quarrelsome temper and an inordinate addiction to argument, which perpetually brought the former peculiarly into play. He was excessively plain, of feeble proportions, and laboured under the imperfection of a ludicrously squeaking voice. Any natural chaffing with regard to these, however, especially roused his ire, but was at length discontinued on his ‘calling out’ a persevering offender, and shooting him through the lungs. About 1840 he became promoted to be medical inspector, and was transferred to Malta. There he was equally distinguished by his skill and his pugnacious propensities, the latter becoming so inconveniently developed upon the slightest difference of opinion with him, that at last no notice was allowed to be taken of his fits of temper. He proceeded from Malta to Corfu, where he was quartered for years, still conspicuous for the same peculiarities. When our Government ceded the lonian Islands to Greece, and our troops, of course, quitted the territory Dr Barry elected to leave the army and take up his residence for the rest his days at Corfu. He there died about a month ago and upon his death was discovered to be woman! Very probably this discovery was elicited during the natural preparations for interment, but there seems to be an idea prevalent that either verbally, during his last illness, or by some writing, perused immediately after his (for I must still use the “masculine”) death, he had begged to be buried without post mortem examination of any sort. This, most likely, only aroused the curiosity of the two nurses who attended him, for it was to them, it appears, that the disclosures of this mystery is owing. Under the circumstances, the fact was deemed so important that medical testimony was called in to report and record its truth. By this investigation not only was the assertion placed beyond a doubt, but it was equally beyond a doubt brought to light that the individual in question had, at some time or other, been a mother! This is all that is yet known of this extraordinary story. The motives that occasioned, and the time when commenced this singular decoction, are both shrouded in mystery. But thus it stands indubitable fact that a woman was for forty years an officer in the British service, had fought one duel and had sought many more, had pursued a legitimate medical education, had received a regular diploma, and had acquired almost a celebrity for skill as surgical operator! There is no doubt whatever about the “fact,” but I doubt whether even Miss Braddon herself would have ventured to make use of it in fiction.— Irish Paper
Stonehaven Journal - Thursday 31 August 1865


No sooner had the story been published then individuals who had known Barry before his death rushed into print to let the world know that they had always had their doubts about the masculinity of the good doctor, a letter from a Dr McGowan of Paisley for example appeared in the Whitehaven News of 07 September;

THE LATE DR. BARRY. We have received the following letter from a medical gentleman resident at Paisley :
Dear Sir, ln reference to notice taken in your paper of a Dr. Barry, who has lately died, I would take it kind if you could give me some information of this extraordinary person, for I had the pleasure of knowing him intimately twenty-three or twenty-four years ago, in the Island of Trinidad, when he held the appointment of Inspector General Hospitals. He was always suspected of being female from his effeminate features and voice, and having neither beard nor whiskers. He was a very bold person, and challenged one or two of our officials for naming him a diminutive creature. He had a favourite little dog, which always carried about with him, and it was currently said that had made a will, leaving the dog all his effects, and Sambo, £100 as a legacy. He lay at the point of death one time, and gave strict injunctions to my friend, Dr. O’Connor, who attended him, not to allow his body to be inspected or disturbed in the event of his decease, but to be buried immediately with his clothes on. He always took care never to be seen . . . like any ordinary man. He was highly respected, and was a frequent attendant at the Governor’s levees. He was a strict vegetarian, and his regulation sword was as long as himself. He resided at a country house, a gun-shot from St. James’s Barracks, about two miles from Port Spain, in Trinidad, my native place.
You are at liberty to make use of this letter you please; and let me have your answer as soon as convenient. Meantime. I am, dear sir, yours very truly,
R. T. McGowan, M.D. Paisley, Sept. 2nd, 1865.
P S.-I may state that Dr. Barry was looked upon by some in the Island as the illegitimate offspring of some English nobleman, from the great influence and haughty bearing which he used to possess. R. T. McC.

James Barry by George Richmond
The story in Saunders News Letter was full of errors including fundamental ones like the location of Barry’s death.  He did not die, or even live, as the paper claimed in Corfu. Barry was living as a lodger in rooms rented from a dentist at 14 Margaret Street, just north of Oxford Circus.  Although he was living in straitened circumstances he continued to be attended, as he had been for the best part of thirty years by his faithful black valet. No one knew the valet’s name and he was dubbed Black John by the newspapers or Sambo by rude and ignorant individuals like Dr R.T. McGowan of Paisley. His valet was with him when he died as a result of chronic diarrhoea caused by dysentery at 4.00am on 25 July 1865. A woman called Sophia Bishop, a charwoman employed by the dentist’s wife, was asked to prepare Barry’s body for burial. Responsibility for his interment was taken by the army which bought a 3 guinea plot in Kensal Green to bury him in. They also bought a headstone, a plain inexpensive slab of white stone which they had inscribed with his name, job title (Inspector General of Hospitals) and the wrong date of death. It was only after the funeral that Sophia Bishop made her way to the office of the registrar and demanded to speak to the doctor who had certified Barry’s death, Dr D.R. McKinnon. It was only after the story broke in Saunders that the registrar general wrote to Dr McKinnon to ask him what he knew of the strange affair that the doctor related what he had been told by Sophia Bishop:

On one occasion after Dr Barry’s death at the office of Sir Charles McGregor, there was the woman who performed the last offices for Dr Barry was waiting to speak to me. She wished to obtain some prerequisites of his employment, which the Lady who kept the lodging house in which Dr Barry died had refused to give her. Amongst other things she said that Dr Barry was a female and that I was a pretty doctor not to know this and she would not like to be attended by me. I informed her that it was none of my business whether Dr Barry was a male or a female, and that I thought that he might be neither, viz. an imperfectly developed man. She then said that she had examined the body, and was a perfect female and farther that there were marks of him having had a child when very young. I then enquired how have you formed that conclusion. The woman, pointing to the lower part of her stomach, said ‘from marks here. I am a married woman and the mother of nine children and I ought to know.’    The woman seems to think that she had become acquainted with a great secret and wished to be paid for keeping it. I informed her that all Dr Barry’s relatives were dead, and that it was no secret of mine, and that my own impression was that Dr Barry was a Hermaphrodite.

The only known photograph of Barry taken with his valet and his dog Psyche at a studio in Kingston, Jamaica

Although it had been suspected for some time, research carried out by South African urologist Dr Michael du Preez,  published in his recent book “Dr James Barry: A Woman Ahead of Her Time”, finally confirmed beyond doubt that Dr James Barry was born around 1789 in Cork to Jeremiah and Mary Ann Bulkley and christened Margaret Ann.  As a teenager Margaret Anne was the victim of unwanted sexual attention, possibly from a family member, and became pregnant, giving birth to a daughter Juliana who was passed off their own by her parents. Jeremiah’s grocery business fell on hard times and he presumably fell into temptation regarding quick and easy ways to make money as the last known record of him is on a convict ship bound for New South Wales. Mary Ann took her daughter to London where she had a wealthy relative, the Royal Academician James Barry. She must have been in despair when her brother died but probably perked up considerably when she was told he had died intestate and therefore, as the only surviving relative, she had inherited his entire fortune. Quite why Mary Ann took her daughter to Edinburgh and went along with her plan to disguise herself as a man and enrol in the university as a medical student we will never know. It seems highly likely that not only her mother but several of her uncle’s influential friends including the Venezuelan General Francisco de Miranda and David Steuart Erskine, the Earl of Buchan, were aware of the deception and either encouraged or colluded in it. The plan may have been to qualify as a doctor disguised as a man and then move to Venezuela and practice as a woman but General Miranda’s early death put paid to that idea. Evidently Margaret Ann was comfortable enough in her role as a man to continue with it for the rest of her life. Her autobiography would be fascinating but colossal deceptions require absolute dedication to never breaking cover and no word regarding the truth of her sex or how she felt about her secret life ever escaped her lips.    

The grave in an earlier, more pristine, incarnationn



Friday, 30 December 2016

Severed; A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found - Frances Larson (Granta books, £9.99)



I have always thought of myself as more than averagely morbid, as you might expect from the author of a cemetery blog, but Frances Larson’s ‘Severed’ made me think that I’m not, perhaps, as morbid as I had fondly imagined myself to be. For one thing I had never given much thought to the cultural significance of severed heads. And secondly, unlike 30 million American adults, I have never watched, or even felt the inclination to watch, an on-line video of an Isis execution. Larson reveals that a survey conducted 5 months after the execution by beheading of US engineer Nick Berg in May 2004 found that 24% of all American adult internet users had watched on-line videos of his death, posted by his executioners, in May and June that year. “The Berg beheading footage remained the most popular internet search in the United States for a week,” Larson tells us, and “the second most popular throughout the month of May, runner up only to ‘American Idol’”. Until I googled ‘beheading’, looking for some tasteful 18th century etching or engravings of an execution to illustrate this post with, I had not realised how popular Isis executions were on the web. I was shocked to see hundreds of images of orange jump suited victims kneeling before their scimitar wielding executioners, or artfully posed, post decapitation, with severed head resting in the small of the back of the now headless torso. Seeing still images was bad enough, I am far too squeamish to want to witness the suffering and death of a fellow human being.

Oxford based anthropologist Frances Larson has written other books on the history of the Pitt Rivers Museum and of pioneering medic Henry Wellcome.  ‘Severed’ , her third book, is an excellently written account of the various causes of heads getting sliced off at the neck covering, as you would expect, executions and dissections, but also containing fascinating chapters on shrunken heads, trophy heads, framed heads and potent heads. Her prologue is an account of the peripatetic fate of Oliver Cromwell’s dead head but her most interesting chapter is on the lively late colonial trade in shrunken heads many of which turn out to be fakes produced by indigenous craftsman to supply the lucrative trade in trophy heads generated by western travellers, colonisers and tourists. “Of the ten shrunken heads on display at the Pitt Rivers Museum, two are sloth heads, two are howler monkey heads, and of the six remaining human heads, three are ‘fakes’, made for sale,” Larson says, which “tell of the nameless dead, the impoverished and outcast who, after their deaths, became the victims of an international trade in exotic collectibles that had little to do with the indigenous beliefs of the inhabitants of the Amazon jungle.”



Larson also deals with the taking of trophy heads in war, discussing in detail documented examples during the second world war of American’s taking Japanese skulls as souvenirs or using them as decorations on their jeeps or other vehicles including the famous Life Magazine picture of the week from May 1944 showing Natalie Nickerson, a Phoenix war worker, in the act of writing to her boyfriend serving in the far east, thanking him for the present of a Japanese soldier’s skull which she contemplates as she writes. The photo caused no outcry in the States but was greeted with horror in Japan. Trophy skulls were not taken by US soldiers in the European campaign. These examples, along with the Isis videos, shatter any illusions we have of moral progress over the last few hundred years. Beheadings and guillotining are not relics of a past that we have left behind us, scratch the surface of the average modern suburban American or European and a member of the mob that eagerly turned out at Tyburn on execution day is easy to see. Larson’s book is highly recommended.   

Life magazines picture of the week in May 1944 caused outrage in Japan 
  

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Spying in the free world; Moura Budberg (1892-1974) Chiswick New Cemetery

Moura's grave in Chiswick New Cemetery

In her final years Moura Budberg lived in a ‘large rambling flat’ in the Cromwell Road according to Michael Blakemore, who visited her at the request of Sir Laurence Olivier,  ‘attended by a female servant, also Russian…and equally cranky… Moura had on a long dress, by no means new, but appropriate to a countess, and her grey hair, its colour improved by the application of some silvery liquid was swept on top of her head. A tiny metallic trickle ran down the side of her face.’ According to other sources she was swollen and arthritic, kept a half bottle of vodka in her handbag, passed her time making small bets on horse races at Ladbrokes or watching Pinky and Perky on television and, as she was perpetually short of money, shoplifting (for which she was arrested at least once). The former beauty still craved company and in his memoirs Alan Ross recalls that her ‘entertaining, helped along by various Russian acolytes, was now much reduced but invitations were peremptory. Any excuses… were brushed aside as if of no account. “Just come in for a little moment,” she would wheedle in her husky voice, which remained distinctive and seductive long after all other physical charms had fled and she had become heavily square in shape.’ Another acquaintance, William Shier, tells us that two or three years before she died she was beginning to sort ‘through piles of material from cardboard boxes that littered the living and dining rooms of her house in Cromwell Road after she had given in to the pleas of her friends to write her memoirs.’  The much requested memoir was never written, ‘the work seemed sometimes to bore and exhaust her and she would telephone urging me to come over for tea and vodka.’ In 1974 Moura moved to Italy to live in the sun, with her son, but died a few months later. Her body was shipped back to England and after a funeral ceremony at the Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile at Emperors Gate (just off the Cromwell Road, close to Moura’s old flat) she was buried at the uninspiring Chiswick New Cemetery in a small patch of other Orthodox burials.  

The 'heavily square' Moura in old age at her Cromwell Road flat
The unwritten memoirs would have been fascinating, though not necessarily completely accurate; Moura was a great embellisher and an outright liar if it suited her. She lived an extraordinary life (she always said that her life was more interesting than she was) but was not, as the New York Times had it in her obituary, at ‘the center of London's literary and social life for nearly four decades’ she certainly knew a lot of famous or celebrated people.   As her headstone testifies she was born Marie Zakrevskaia in 1892, her father, Ignaty Platonovitch Zakrevsky, was a well heeled upper‐class Russian senator who owned land in the Ukraine. He encouraged his clever daughter to learn English, Italian, German and French, and at 18 married her off to an Estonian Count, Johann von Benckendorff.  A couple of years later her husband was killed in on his estate in Estonia, shot by one of his own peasants, a sign of the times. Moura was not heartbroken; she had been working in the Russian embassy in Berlin where she had met the dashing Englishman who became the love of her life; R H Bruce Lockhart.  The handsome Lockhart was a diplomat, sportsman, and author but less publicly was also deeply involved in espionage. He was in Eastern Europe keeping a close eye on the progress of the Russian Revolution. When Moura’s husband died he followed her to Moscow. The pair were both arrested and Lockhart was accused of spying and plotting to assassinate Lenin and incarcerated in the Lubyanka.  Incredibly Moura managed to engineer both her own and Lockhart’s release, possibly by allowing a senior Cheka official and later chief of the NKVD, Genrikh Yagoda, to seduce and recruit her as a Bolshevik agent.

A younger, more seductive, Moura photographed with two of her lovers, HG Wells and Maxim Gorky
Once released from prison Lockhart returned to the UK and the 20 year old Moura, whom he had no doubt tried to recruit to be a British agent, went to work for the writer Maxim Gorky as his secretary, probably at the instigation of Yagoda and the Cheka.  It was probably also with the urging of the Cheka that she became Gorky’s mistress. She lived with the writer first in the USSR and then in semi exile in Italy until 1932 when he returned to the Soviet Union at the personal invitation of Stalin (who probably had him assassinated 1936). Whilst with Gorky Moura had also started an affair with HG Wells when he visited the USSR in 1920 and the affair continued when she moved to London in 1933. She later told Wells that she had started sleeping with him at the request of the Cheka.
In London Moura managed, courtesy of Wells, to insinuate herself into the heart of the literary and political establishments. Graham Greene dubbed her Moura Bedbug in honour of her free and easy attitude to sexual morality.  She worked as a translator and a production adviser on the stage and screen, was Alexander Korda’s PA, and mixed freely in society but always under the scrutiny of MI5 who were convinced that she was a Russian spy. Many believed that she was a double agent passing information between NKVD and MI6; she was a friend of Guy Burgess. Long before he was outed as a Soviet mole by Margaret Thatcher in 1979 she was telling people that Anthony Blunt was a card carrying member of the Communist Party. When one of her friends, Klop Ustinov (spy and father of Peter Ustinov) said “I only know about him that he looks after the King’s pictures”, Moura retorted “Such things only happen in England”.
The inscription on Moura's grave

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

"Franz Kafka was my lover"; Dora Diamant (1898-1952) United Synagogue Cemetery, Marlow Road, East Ham



In the bed directly opposite me a woman lies dying. An older woman. She’s whimpering incessantly, trying to say something.  The nurses are trying to understand what she says. Earlier on she cried. She lay quite still and the tears flowed from her closed eyes down her face. A beautiful woman, fairly plump, checks a little pink, maybe she has a fever. What does she think? Does she know she is dying? She seems to be conscious. Then she certainly knows it. It is simply not something one cannot overlook. I was not as far gone a few weeks ago, but still I knew exactly how things looked....She is an Englishwoman so at least she is dying in her homeland. .......(Later, when the nurses had moved screens around the dying woman’s bed) I think it is the end over there. It is difficult to think about anything else. Now and then one hears laughter from the other end of the ward. On the whole most are quiet, not depressed, although they too think of nothing else it seems.
Dora Diamant, Plaistow Hospital April 1951

At 53 Dora Diamant was hardly old but she knew she was dying. She had been diagnosed with chronic nephritis, a condition which eventually causes kidney failure and for which there was no known cure. The disease could have killed her at any time; the only suggestion her doctors had to prolong her life was bed rest and a strict diet with restricted salt and protein. Even then they couldn’t tell her if she had years, months or just weeks to live. She was almost frantic with worry about her seventeen year old daughter, a beautiful but unworldly child who had spent most of her sheltered childhood in hospitals and boarding schools and was so shy that she could barely bring herself to speak to strangers. How would she cope with life without her mother to look after her?  Her other preoccupation were her memories of her first lover, Franz Kafka. Death would erase them unless she committed them to paper.  On March 4 1951 in black ink , she wrote across the front cover of a bright red Silvine school exercise book ‘To be given to Max Brod’. On the inside cover she wrote her address ‘Ward Pasteur 1, Plaistow Hospital, E15’ (Dora lived in Finchley and so can be excused not knowing Plaistow Hospital was in E13 not E15).  In the blank pages of the exercise book she took herself back to the summer of 1923 and the seaside town of Graal-Müritz on the Baltic coast, the place where as a 25 year old volunteer at the Berlin Jewish People’s holiday camp for refugee children, she had met and fallen in love with Kafka. 

A young Dora Diamant, a photo taken in Berlin in the late 1920's
Dora Diamant was born on 04 March 1898 in Pabianice near Lodz in central Poland. When she was 14 her mother died and her father Herschel remarried and moved the family to Bedzin in Silesia, near the German Border, a town where he thrived as a manufacturer of garters and suspenders. Although he was a successful, factory owning business man, Herschel was a pious Hassid, a follower of the Rebbe of Ger, R. Isaac Meir and his successors. Herschel was a learned man, he spoke Polish and German as well as Yiddish and Hebrew and his house was full of books in all four languages. Unlike their sons, who received only religious instruction, the daughters of Hassidim were often allowed a secular education (considered fit only to be wasted on girls) and so it was with Dora. When the teenage Dora became rebellious and refused to marry, Herschel sent her away to Krakow to study to be a kindergarten teacher.  But even Krakow was too provincial for her and without her father’s permission she ran away to Berlin. Hershel recited Kaddish, the ritual prayer of mourning, for his daughter and henceforth treated her as though she were dead.

In 1923 Dora volunteered to work for a Jewish charity which ran a holiday home for refugee children at Graal-Müritz in Mecklenburg on the Baltic coast. One of the other volunteers invited the almost unknown writer Franz Kafka, who was staying at the resort with his sister and her two children, to a Sabbath dinner at the camp. Dora had already glimpsed Kafka two days earlier, though at the time she was not aware of who he was. She had seen a family on the beach, the handsome father, as she assumed he was, sitting with his wife on covered beach chairs, indulgently watching the two children playing in the sand. On the night Kafka came to dinner Dora was in the kitchen cleaning and gutting fish, stripping off their scales and removing their heads as well as their bloody entrails. She recognised immediately the man from the beach when he stopped to talk to her; “such tender hands and such bloody work they do,” were Kafka’s idea of small talk. Dora soon learnt that the moody young writer (he remained eternally young, even at the age of 40 which was how old he was when Dora met him) was not in fact married and was staying in Graal-Müritz for three weeks with his sister. Kafka returned to the camp everyday mainly it seems to see Dora and very quickly passion blossomed between them in this unlikely setting. Dora later remembered the highlights “Franz helping peel potatoes in the kitchen. The night on the pier. On the bench in the Müritz woods.” Astonishingly in those three weeks (given his chronic indecisiveness particularly in relation to women) Franz came to a decision to leave his father’s house in Prague and move in with Dora in Berlin. Perhaps Kafka’s new found determination was given spurs by the knowledge that his tuberculosis was worsening and that he might not have long to live.

Kafka in his 20's - 15 years before he met Dora
By September 1923 Kafka was in Berlin living in a small flat with Dora and working on the stories that he would soon publish as “The Hunger Artist”. It was a short lived idyll as Kafka grew increasingly sick over the winter of 1923/24. By the spring of 1924 he was forced to return home to Prague leaving Dora, temporarily, behind in Berlin. She joined him in Prague in April and accompanied him to Dr Hoffman’s sanatorium at Kierling near Vienna. Only an open topped car could be found for the journey and soon after they set off driving rain set in. Dora devotedly stood over Kafka for almost the entire 330 kilometre trip holding an umbrella to try and keep him dry. She remained in Kierling, visiting him every day until he died on the 3rd of June. She wasn’t with him at his death, Kafka’s friend Robert Klopstock having sent her away on an errand so that she didn’t have to witness the writer’s final agonies. TB had made Kafka’s throat so painful and swollen that he could not swallow. Ironically, given that he was working on correcting the proofs of “The Hunger Artist”, he probably died of starvation.

Kafka famously left explicit instructions that all his unpublished manuscripts were to be destroyed after his death – he was confident that the few copies of his books that had been sold would find oblivion unaided – and even more famously his best friend and executor, Max Brod, after some agonised deliberation, not only ignored the instruction to burn Kafka’s papers but went on to publish many of them including all three of his novels. Dora was well aware of Kafka’s wishes – she had helped him burn manuscripts while he was alive and had promised him that she would do the same to the cache of notebooks and correspondence he left with her. Like Brod she couldn’t bring herself to obliterate Kafka’s last traces but unlike him she did not feel these should be shared with the rest of the world. Brod knew she had many of Kafka’s final manuscripts but she lied to him and told him that she had done what the writer had requested and destroyed them. Brod believed her. For ten years the Kafka notebooks went with Dora wherever she went. In 1933 they were with her when the Gestapo raided her apartment; the notebooks were confiscated and never seen again.

After Kafka’s death Dora’s life was swept into the maelstrom that was mittel European politics in the 20’s and 30’s. Back in Berlin, whilst working in the Yiddish theatre, she became a committed Zionist and found herself drawn into radical politics. In 1932 she married the editor of Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag), the communist party’s daily newspaper, Lutz Lask and two years gave birth to their daughter Franziska Marianne (not only did Dora name her daughter after Kafka, she brought her up to refer to him as her ‘other father’). As Nazi control over Germany grew Lask fled to the Soviet Union where Dora joined him in 1936. A year later Lask was arrested during the Stalinist purges and sent to exile in Siberia. Dora lived with her mother in law in Yalta until the summer of 1939 when she fled to England as a refugee, arriving shortly before Germany invaded Poland in September. During the war she was detained for over a year as an enemy alien in the Port Erin Detention Camp on the Isle of Man. When she was released in 1942 she and Marianne returned to London where they lived in a cramped flat in Broadhurst Gardens, West Hampstead NW6 apart from a short spell in Glenloch Road, Belsize Park when a bomb damaged Broadhurst Gardens. After the war she dedicated herself to fighting the losing battle of preserving Eastern European Yiddish culture alive in Whitechapel and was a founder member of the group, The Friends of Yiddish with the poet Abraham Stencl.

Plaistow Hospital where Dora died in 1952
Dora died of kidney failure in Plaistow Hospital in August 1952. She was buried in the East Ham Jewish Cemetery in Marlow Road on August 18, an unseasonably wet and cold day according to Marthe Robert, Kafka’s French translator, who was one of the few people who attended the ceremony. “Dreadful storms threatened England that day,” she later recalled, “black silhouettes sank in puddles up to their ankles under icy cloud bursts. One could only move forward by pulling hard on each leg to tear the feet away from the mud. The rain had only faces to batter in this treeless and naked field, nothing but faces already dripping wet, nothing but this face, next to me, streaked with black from the dripping head-covering made of newspaper, handed out at the cemetery door to serve as a hat. No writers or journalists attended her funeral. The news had not reached them; only those with whom Dora had worked, played and sang were now crying openly under the rain in the big East End Jewish Cemetery.” Jewish custom dictates that no memorial can be placed over a grave for at least a year; in Dora’s case it took 47, her headstone was only erected in 1999 by a group of family descendents living in Israel none of whom had known Dora personally. The inscription on her gravestone, “who knows Dora knows what love means”, is a quotation from a letter written by Kafka’s friend Robert Klopstock after the writers death, in which he described the devotion shown by Dora to the dying writer. After her mother’s death, and despite the best effort of Dora’s friends (who included George and Marianne Steiner) Marianne became increasingly withdrawn and strange, eventually developing full blown schizophrenia. In the worst crises of her illness, paranoid and distrustful of everyone, she shunned other people including her mother’s friends who tried to help her. She died alone in 1982, her badly decomposed body found by the police in her flat after neighbours complained of the smell.  

For more details of Dora's life see Kathi Diamant "Kafka's Last Love."

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Remembering the dead at St Brides, Fleet Street

Samuel Langby remembered in the church wall at St Bride's, Fleet Street. Perhaps the stone mason was pissed when he carved this; not only did he give Samuel an extra L in his first name, he also couldn't remember whether he 'decefed' in September or December.  

I don’t recall ever having seen this before – a grave inscription carved into the exterior wall of the church rather than on a headstone. There are just two at St Brides, one dated 1686, the other 1702, both inscribed shortly after Sir Christopher Wren’s church was completed in 1672. Perhaps the church authorities discouraged others from following the example set by the relatives of Samuell Langby after Nicholas Halgan buried his wife Margery here in 1702 and chose to remember his daughter Margaret, buried five years previously, as well as his spouse. Paying a mason to chisel a short inscription into the church wall would have been much cheaper than paying for a headstone and I’m sure the practice would have caught on if churches had allowed it.  Both inscriptions date from around the start of the graveyard memorial boom. Before the 17th century monuments and memorials for the dead were reserved only for the rich and powerful but in the late 1600’s marking burial place with something more durable than a simple wooden cross caught on amongst the middle classes. Carved and inscribed gravestones became a common sight in church yards for the first time. 

Margery and Margaret, the Halgan ladies immortalised. The capital M&B to the side of the inscription are probably graffiti.


St Brides, Fleet Street

Monday, 21 November 2016

How to Rise in Society, the Housemaid's Tale; Stephen Lancaster Lucena (1805-1876) and Anne Maria Lucena (1834-1908), Lavender Hill Cemetery, Enfield


This is not a well known memorial, perhaps because it is off the beaten track in the otherwise uninteresting late Victorian cemetery at Lavender Hill in Enfield. It is not listed and I had never heard of it until I came across it in Richard Barnes excellent book on sculpture in London cemeteries ‘The Art of Memory’ (with some striking photographs of it by Stiffleaf). Incredibly Hugh Meller fails to mention the memorial at all in his 200 word dismissal of Lavender Hill in ‘London Cemeteries’ despite mentioning 3 other, markedly inferior, tombs including Henrich Faulenbach’s which is barely 50 yards away. Its situation in the cemetery is so prominent that it is almost impossible not to see it; the only possible explanation for Meller’s omission is that at the time of his visit it must have been completely overgrown by holly and ivy. The memorial shows Stephen Lancaster Lucena’s second family in a sentimental grouping with the two children Stephen and Annie Elizabeth being read to by their mother Anne Marie, quite probably from the bible or some other religious book as the little girl is clearly praying. Even the dog seems attentive to the word of God. The domestic group was originally watched over by a pair of guardian angels but only one is now in situ, the other, toppled from its base, now lies headless and wingless behind the monument, the head is completely missing but the broken wings are tucked into a niche on the main memorial for want of any better place to put them.  The piety of the sculptured group conceals a series of late Victorian and early Edwardian scandals; both of the children were conceived outside of wedlock, their mother a household servant in their father’s house and in later life the praying little girl, Annie Elizabeth, went through a spectacularly messy divorce from an army major which resulted in the murder of her mother and the suicide of her ex husband.

Stephen Lancaster Lucena was born in London in 1805. His father, João Carlos Lucena, was a Portuguese born marrano, a new Christian, born into a family that may have continued being secretly Jewish since the 16th century.  If so their religion did not survive the family move from Portugal in 1761 to the then British colonies in North America, initially at Rhode Island where his father was granted a patent for the production of Castile soap.  The family eventually settled in Savanah where he married Joanna Lavien, the daughter of a prominent Jewish West India merchant. Joanna’s father left her extensive estates in South Carolina and Georgia in his will but these were confiscated when John Charles, as he was now known, remained loyal to the British crown in the American revolution. By the 1790’s John Charles was in London where he became the Portuguese Consul. In 1791 he married again, in Hampstead, to Mary Ann Lancaster (he had become a practising Anglican whilst in America) with whom he had four children.  He died in 1813 was buried at St Pancras Old Church.  He died a wealthy man, leaving an estate worth over £100,000.


Stephen Lancaster Lucena became a solicitor and in 1829, at the age of 24 married Susan Kite at Shifnal in Shropshire. They set up home in Enfield and had three children, William, Clara and Charles. Something was clearly not right in the marriage and by 1841 they were separated; Stephen was living alone in Enfield and Susan was a resident of Marine Parade in Dover with the three children. There was at least one temporary breach in what otherwise became a lifelong separation between the couple; in the 1851 census Stephen and Susan are declared as living under the same roof, back in Enfield, but interestingly none of the children are declared. They were probably in Shropshire with their grandparents as that is where they show up in the census of 1861. By that time the 56 year old Stephen was living at Rose Cottage in Enfield with just the company of a cook, the 64 year old Hannah Benn from Cranford near Uxbridge and a housemaid, Hannah’s unmarried 27 year old daughter Anne Maria. Hannah must have turned a blind eye to the romance that blossomed between the aging solicitor and her daughter, despite the age gap of 30 years and the fact that her employer was still very much married to his estranged wife. In 1865 Anne Maria gave birth to a son who was registered by both parents as Stephen Lancaster Lucena Benn and baptised at St Mary’s, Bryanston Square, just off the Marylebone Road, on 25 October. On the 1871 census Stephen was living at 42 Windmill Hill, Enfield, with the 5 year old Stephen declared as his son and Anne Maria as his housekeeper! The census does not mention the baby Anne Maria had given birth to the previous year, Annie Elizabeth Lucena born on 10 September 1870 and baptised at St Pancras Old Church on 7 June 1871.  Susan, the estranged wife was living as a lodger with a family called Boud in Penge according to the census but by October that year she was dead. Stephen seemingly did not rush to grasp the opportunity to regularise Anne Maria’s ambiguous position as housekeeper and mother to his two youngest children; the couple eventually did marry but not until 1874.  Two years later Stephen himself was dead and Anne Maria commissioned the splendid memorial at Enfield showing his loving family being watched over by guardian angels in hr husband’s absence. We don’t know how much the memorial cost but it would have taken a sizeable chunk from Stephen’s estate which Anne Maria swore was worth less than £4000 when she registered probate. Two years later she was forced to re-swear the vale of the estate at less than £8000 but even then she was almost certainly considerably under declaring her dead husband’s assets.

Anne Maria as depicted on the memorial
Anne Maria must have been a lively character. In 1879 the 21 year old Henry Hill Banyard paid for a marriage license to allow him to marry the 45 year old (and very wealthy) widow. The marriage never took place. Anne Maria consoled herself with property speculation; in November 1882 she bought the freehold of two plots on Kensington Road looking towards Kensington Palace.  In 1883-4 Holland and Hannen builders constructed an ornate mansion, Chenesiton House, with library, billiard room, morning and drawing rooms and a six stall stable, to the design of architect J.J. Stevenson (now the 5 star Milestone Hotel). In 1891, the year her 21 year old daughter Annie Elizabeth married the 24 year old soldier Henry George Coates Phillips, Anne Maria was living in some style at her luxurious new home with a staff of 7 live in servants including a butler. These were giddy heights to have reached for the girl from Cranford who had started life as a housemaid until she had the luck to be seduced by a solicitor more than twice her age. If she felt any hubris it was her son in law, Major Phillips, who was to prove her nemesis.  Her daughter’s marriage was not a happy one.  The young Welsh Guard had been made a Captain the year before the wedding and was often away from home on duty, serving in Malta and then in South Africa where he was present at the relief of Ladysmith in 1900. Whilst in South Africa, when not fighting he whiled away the time by conducting liaisons with local married women, eventually getting himself named as co-respondent in a divorce case at Witwatersrand Court where it was proved that he had paid the lady in question sums varying between £5 and £10 to entice her into “committing misconduct” with him to the eternal chagrin of her husband. These stories made their way back to England and the Major would have received a frosty reception from his wife when he finally made it home from the battle grounds of Natal.

Chenesiton House in Kensington Court, Anne Maria's palatial mansion

Annie Elizabeth and Major Phillips divorced in 1906; the case was widely reported in the newspapers.  According to the Dundee Evening News of 26 July 1906 “there was an aristocratic case in the London Divorce Court yesterday. The Court was crowded, and there was an impressive array of counsel. Barristers wandered in, too, from the duller courts to join in the throng of the curious. The petitioner, Mrs Phillips, said to be of independent means and living at Kensington, asked for a divorce from her husband, Major Henry George Coates Phillips, because of his alleged misconduct and cruelty.” The paper admiringly described Annie Elizabeth as “a tall, dark, handsome woman, with finely cut features, wearing a large black hat and costume, and a white fancy blouse with a bunch of roses.” In her divorce suit Annie Elizabeth alleged that her husband had been unfaithful with two women (apparently his South African infidelity was not mentioned) and in his counter suit the Major claimed that his wife had misbehaved herself with a Mr Eric Gordon. The first business of the court was to deal with the withdrawals of the allegations of adultery by both parties; instead the case revolved around two incidents which showed the Major’s cruel and unusual behaviour. The first incident took place in December 1904; the Major had knocked his wife down when they returned to their house from a ball leaving her with a bloodied head. As a result of this and other incidents she had taken out an injunction against him and he was ordered to keep half a mile away from her. The other incident took place in August 1905 when Annie Elizabeth had been staying with a friend, Daisy Ouchterlony, in Hampshire. The Major had broken into the house in the early hours of the morning, cut the communication cables so that the servants could not be summoned for help, and then made his way to the bedroom where his wife was sleeping. He woke her up and threatened her with a revolver, forcing her to sign a letter withdrawing the divorce petition. The Judge granted Annie Elizabeth a decree nisi but divorce was not to be the end of her troubles with her husband.

On 31 December 1906 the Major was bound over to be of good behaviour for 12 months at the Hampshire assizes in Winchester after being found guilty of attempting to commit suicide the previous day by suffocating himself with coal gas. He had broken into Annie Elizabeth’s house at Velmead in Church Crookham and tried to kill himself there. Exactly a year later the marital problems of Anne Maria’s daughter and the Major came to tragic climax on New Years Eve 1907. Annie Elizabeth and her mother were both at home at Velmead celebrating with Annie’s good friend Daisy Ouchterlony. The Tamworth Herald of Saturday 11 January 1908 described what happened next:
“A little before o'clock midnight she [Daisy Ouchterlony] and Mrs. Phillips went out to the steps of the front door see what the weather was like. Just as they were standing there, Mrs. Phillips's dog ran down the steps barking at something in the darkness. [Daisy] thereupon went to the bottom of the steps to see what the dog was barking at, leaving Mrs. Phillips standing at the top of the steps. In a second or so someone knocked [her] down. She became dazed with the fall, and when she came to herself she found she was lying on the ground at the foot the steps. At that moment she heard several shots in the hall. She got up and rushed into the house, and the first thing she saw was Mrs. Phillips running past the door leading into the kitchen. Then she saw Mrs. Lucena, Mrs. Phillips's mother, on the floor, and also Major Phillips and Mr. Smith, Mrs. Phillips's solicitor. Mr. Smith was calling to some one to bring a rope, so she rushed to the stables for assistance. Then she went back to the house, there were several people in the hall then. Mrs. Lucena was sitting in chair, and her face was being bathed. The Major was roped, and several people were watching him.”


At the inquest into her ex husband’s death Annie Elizabeth described hearing her friend ‘scramble’ in the darkness when she went to see what was causing the dog to bark. She had an electric torch and in its faltering beam she saw the Major emerge out of the darkness and spring up the stairs where he “caught hold her arm, dragging her into the hall. Holding a revolver to her head, he said, ‘This is your last chance, Liz.’ She said, ‘Do let me live; don't kill me.’ Just then the butler came in. The Major pointed the revolver at him and ‘You come a step nearer and I will shoot you dead.’” Annie Elizabeth tried to wrestle the gun from him but the retired soldier was too strong. Anne Maria then came into the hall from the library to see what all the commotion was about. Seeing his mother in law the Major let go of his wife and grabbed hold of her. “You have been the cause of all this,” he told Anne Maria, dragging her towards the drawing room. The terrified 74 year old pleaded for her life but the Major raised his revolver to her cheek and fired at point blank range.  He then shot another member of the party in the groin and tried to shoot his wife as she went over to their terrified 13 year old daughter Bertha Corysande, who had caught her dress on the banisters as she tried to flee the carnage. As she wrestled with the trapped dress Annie Elizabeth heard another shot and looked up to see her husband sink to the ground. He had shot himself in the head. Taking no chances members of the household staff tied him with rope from the stables. He wasn’t unbound until a doctor had certified him dead. Giving evidence at the inquest the doctor told the court that the Major had expanding bullets in his gun and that he was sure that he had died almost instantaneously. It took Anne Maria four days to die, no doubt in considerable agony. “The jury, after a deliberation lasting 55 minutes, found that Major Phillips committed suicide by shooting himself with a revolver, and they further considered that he was morbidly insane through his long brooding over the divorce proceedings and his long separation from his wife and child.”

A few days later Annie Elizabeth had to go over the traumatic events again at the inquest into her mother’s death. She told the court that the Major had previously “attempted to murder her mother. They were all living in London at the time at South Kensington. Early one morning—about 3 o'clock—her mother came into her room with him. Her face was blackened, and she stated that he had tried to kill her. She said that he had gone into her room and hit her over the head when she was asleep with a sand bag. He afterwards fell down by the side of the bed (her mother told her), and said, ‘I do not know what is wrong, and why I have done this.’ A specialist was consulted about this time, and he…. said the major was subject to homicidal mania. Major Phillips hated her mother. Her mother gave him £5,000 to go into Lloyd's, and she never had a penny back. She guaranteed him another £5,000. Mr. Gardiner: ‘Therefore she was his benefactress and not his enemy?’ Yes. The witness, continuing, said he was always saying he wished her mother dead before went to South Africa and after.” The verdict of the jury was that the Major had feloniously and with malice aforethought murdered Anne Maria. The funeral took place a few days later in Enfield, the vault was reopened and Anne Maria joined her husband and son (Stephen junior had died in 1900 at the age of 34). Annie Elizabeth never married and died in 1959 in Essex, at the age of 88.