Saturday, August 13, 2022

ADA UNCOVERED! or the postscripta of publication.

When you have spent more than twenty years researching and writing a book, when you have lived and breathed the life of your biographee day in, and day out, trudged round the world from library to library, and to ephemera shops from Hampstead to Hokitika to Hitchin, I think you have a right to be proud of the vast, thickly-illustrated, 1500 pages that are the result. It's done. No one could ever do it more doggedly, in more (primary-sourced) detail, I thought ...

Then someone invented the Internet.

And, as I hav'n't stopped investigating anything and everything relating to the lady who was my companion for so many years, while I research the lives and works of many of her theatre contemporaries ... comes a time, fifteen years on, when you come upon something and sigh 'bugger, I could have done with that snippet, or with that photo' for the Book. It's not that I've made errors (as far as I know) but things that, 20-30 years ago, I dubbed unsolvable, I have now solved and occasionally a treasure turns up.

Well, my newest treasure is named Ethan Crenson. He lives in the US of A. And he is a great x 2 or 3 grandson of the splendid Charley Campbell, Emily's leading man. Ethan has got quite a bit of Charley's Nachlaße and he has ever so kindly shared it with me. And allowed me to use it. I used his photo of the man himself (original cast of Trial by Jury) in my last book ..

and yesterday he sent me some more pictures from a mostly unidentified folder ... I went off like a train-whistle.

Emily's 'tour of the world', one of the highlights of her career and an historical undertaking, started out from England.

3 November 1876 her troupe set out from Liverpool with an effective including femininely herself, one soprano, one sister, one wardrobe mistress and ten chorus girls/bit part players/dancers/etc. And an intermittent feature dancer.

Well, the book (Volume I) includes photos of soprano 'Rose Stella', of sister 'Clara Vesey', of principal dancer 'Florence Slater' (who married the conductor), of the glamorous 'Cissie Durrant' who married Heaps of Money, of Eugenie Nicholson (Mrs Charles Campbell), Julia Barber ('wife' of the stage manager), Nellie Beaumont and Marie Ferrara. Which left me with Ada Moxon, Una Brooke and Annie St George (wife of a male chorister). Others, such as Alice Norton (photo got) were temporary additions. But the main changes came when, after a July season in San Francisco, the company set out for Australia. Eugenie went home, the Americans stayed in America, and two locals, Ella LeFevre and Mattie Daniel (photo got) topped up the chorus.

So, Moxon, Brooke, St George, Le Fevre. Four needed to make up the set.

From today it's three. Amongst the better-known portraits -- from Emily herself to Elsie Cameron (affectionately inscribed) -- was one seemingly labelled ADA MORON. Gotcha girl! After 30 years ..

Having such a beautiful picture, I thought she deserved a new effort at 'identification', so I dove into the bowels of the Internet ... nothing. Then I checked my decades-old notes. Boy, I was thorough in those days!  And I found what I was after. 'Ada' stayed in Australia, and in 1883 married what I now know was a fellow supporting operatic performer, George Ernest Haswell, of Liverpool. 

Ada, herself, was no Ada. She was Elizabeth Moxon TOMLINSON, born Leeds 16 April 1849, 
daughter of painter John Hirst Tomlinson (d 16 May 1877) and his wife Rebecca née Simpson 'of North Cave'. I see that in the 1871 census she was already listing herself as 'actress', but she doesn't appear in my periscope till she joins Emily in 1876. She remained with the Soldene company throughout the whole of the tour, but when Emily returned to Britain, she -- like several others of the company -- stayed in Australia. She played with George Musgrove's company in a series of comic operas between 1880 and 1883, there met and married Haswell, and then joined Emelie Melville's troupe, playing 'as cast' in an even wider repertoire of pieces (Patience, La Mascotte, Fatinitza, The Royal Middy, La Périchole, The Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore, La Belle Hélène, Giroflé-Girofla, Maritana, La Fille de Madame Angot, Madame Favart, Olivette) in Australia and a hectic and too often financially fatal tour from Calcutta and Bombay to China, Japan, Manila as the company took on various shapes, sizes and managements. The shoestring affair lasted, however, some four years, but the papers reported that Ada and George had 'got away' and were playing with a Mikado company in America. I see the couple next playing with the company headed by Florence Seymour and Willie Walshe (1889), and then with the Montague-Turner combination, and when Soldene tried again, too late, to play Sydney again, Ada was in the chorus (1892). She also played small parts in the George Walton season which replaced that production (Mrs Dingle in Skipped by the Light of the Moon). My last sighting of her is in 1894, playing the character part of the Marchioness in Maritana and Sally Fox in Martha with Montague and Turner. Her husband is the Alcade and 'a servant'. And then I lose her.

I assume that the George Ernest Haswell (how many of them can there be?) who set up as a merchant in Auckland in 1896 is our George. If it is, he had a wife named Ada Forgie who died in childbirth in 1904. So I suppose our Ada has gone. Ah! Is she the Ada wife of George E Haswell who died 15 June 1902 'buried at Purewa'?  George lived in Auckland for the rest of his life and died there 2 September 1922. 

Her grave says she was 50. Well, a little more!  RIP Ada. Now maybe I should have a go at Una?

Blogger me!

Here's Una!

Nestling in the collection of my old chum John Culme ...!

Unfortunately I don't know her story. She became a Soldene chorine as early as 1873 and fulfilled five years as a step-out girl with Emily's companies. She stayed in Australia after the end of the enterprise in 1878, and worked steadily with all the important managements for the next five years, after which I see her no more. She made the news -- or the gossip pages -- only once that I can see, when she and Fanny Morrell got involved somehow (or alternatively) with the young manager, George Musgrove (1881) during the record-breaking production of La Fille du Tambour-major. Since Una was still working with Musgrove and Williamson in 1883, I imagine there was no harm done.

Una never got beyond step-outs, but she was much liked, and in 1912 (25 August) when the Sydney Sun featured a group of stage beauties of the past, there was a grainy picture of Una! 

So, where did she come from? Where did she go? Who was she? I'm not there yet!

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Emily: a little shaft of starlight


It has been a horrible, horrible couple of months. Yes, Wendy and I, having escaped the much-mediatised 'Covid', both came down with its virulent successor, the Jacinda Ardern flu. And as if that weren't enough, there has been one trouble after another in every department of my life. 

Brother John's car exploded in Leicestershire, and when I tried to send him money to buy a replacement, the bank Fraud Squad closed down my account. Twice. The onward going battle against Ms Ardern's agents continued. She has used the former Dun and Bradstreet (private debt collectors) to threaten those who have challenged her illegal charges with expensive lawsuits (at public cost) while she goes off on her 'rainbow tour' ...  and that's just the beginning. Coping with the faceless horrors heaped on one - especially the elderly - in the 2020s is terrifying. Getting aid to fight the lying, cheating bastards is either impossible or expensive. 'Officialdom' sends you threats or faits accomplis by email, with a no-reply address and a telephone number. So you ring the telephone number: press this button, that button, 'we are helping (!) somebody else, please hold'. So you hold and hold for 30 minutes until the voice says 'we're not available' and you get cut off. Today I await a parcel by courier from town. Email saying 'we tried to deliver ...'. I rang the parcel's sender. The parcel was awaiting collection from them. Scam.  Why? And all this while, suffering from this dreadful flu and its aftermath, I have had two TIAs. It has been too much. I can't cope with 2022.

I called my lawyer and titivated my will. I wondered for how long I would have to not-eat (I have lost 1/10th of my bodyweight) before I went to sleep and didn't wake up. I couldn't write ... so there was pretty well nothing cerebral left in life ... then this week the winds came, and blew over three mature trees, crushing fences and rails .. and the rain, turning our tidy paddocks into a quagmire ... the creek behind my house burst its banks ..  Wendy worked on, how she did it, I know not. And, while she did, the kittens kept an eye on me and the strychnine bottle ... and the whisky bottles. They napped quite a bit.

From my bed, I can see the night sky. Glowing moon, and patterns of stars. Russalka, Vetter aus dingda, Lionel Monckton, Don Maclean ..  'Golly', I though 'I could do with a little bit of starlight'. 

I mustn't paint a unblemishedly hellish picture of the last months. A little bit of light has shone on us. We were introduced to Heather, who came and started on the cleaning of the Palace of Gerolstein. Oyyyyy! She is now part of the family. But the big boost for our hearts and souls was ... EMILY!

I chronicled the splendid debut of our little filly ...

before the dreaded lurgie struck us. She followed up with two unlucky runs where she finished just out of the money, and then the real racing season closed and activity shifted to Addington Raceway, which has, these days, appropriated to itself all the 'winter' racing. So masked and woollied up, we headed for town. With rather better luck in the running, she finished a sound third and then ... then came my attack of the lurgie. So I wasn't at the track to see her follow up with another good third place ...

Next time up, she drew the extreme outside, was forced to tail the field, pulled out in the home straight and started her run ... when ...  she stopped. Driver Jimmy had lost his steering. Incomprehensible. And still uncomprehended, by everyone. ... Six races with perfect manners then, this. Was she ill? No. She was bouncing round her paddock the next day. Something had to be wrong. But ... well ... try again and see ... 

I was at the nadir of my 'recovery' period. And to make things much, much worse, Murray Edmonds, Emily's and our trainer, since forever, had just been taken into hospital with a brain tumor. I didn't feel much like going to the racetrack. But my friend Robin (whose horse had won a few days previously) said 'you have to go, to support Murray and Emily'. So off we set, me glamorously clad in an outfit (!) by Warehouse out of Ohoka Market, to Addington Raceway.

We joined Frank, John and Jan, and Auntie Faye at our 'usual' table by the ground floor bar window. Ground floor is pretty well my limit, and, anyway, in the turmoil, I'd left my walking stick at home. Didn't want to risk going among the horses. So, Wendy and Faye went to visit the wee girl ... while I sipped a warming black beer and gazed at the screens. The tipsters had been pretty lukewarm about Emily, so I wasn't surprised to see her on about the third or fourth line of betting ('multiples option'). But, as I watched, something odd happened. She began to creep up the board until -- good grief -- she was favourite!

Why? There was the 5-year-old debutante With Purpose, a daughter of the grand race mare, Some Direction, Rakero Warrior whom the tipster described as 'impressive', Mighty Logan who the same feller described as 'classy', while we were rated merely 'multiples option'. Someone knew more than I did!

Driver Tim got the wee girl safely away and headed for the lead on the first bend. And she threatened to pace and then galloped. Tim gave her a whack and she immediately became sage again, but was back in the field. With Purpose, left in front, didn't live up to her name and dawdled along so Tim gave Emily another tap, and she zoomed around the field to take the lead!  

'It would have been easier 600 metres earlier' ironised the commentator!  Well, they never looked like catching her ...

She won, from her Edmonds stablemate, Ha'penny Bridge, with Tim looking over his shoulder ...

In a quarter of a century of racing, and 54 wins, I have never won a race at an Addington full-scale meeting. The après-race hospitality was delightful ...  The evening would have been a wild success, except ... Murray was not there. He watched, with his wife, from his hospital room ... while Brett, his caretaker for the nonce, led the jubilation on course ... and I in my Warehouse-best costume ..

But it was a shaft of starlight in an otherwise black, black sky ...

And like the light of those 4am stars, it didn't last.  Emily has gone sore and is out for a spell. Murray's tumour was diagnosed inoperable and he is now undergoing chemo and radio treatments. To have some peace of mind, I gave in and paid the goverment their unearned income, and guess what: they immediately send me more demands ...  The prime minister is determined to get back from 'her' citizens the money she has wasted on panem e circenses and rainbow tours. They still owe me the unrightfully held-back pension payments from COVID days. New Zealand 2022 ... it's getting more and more like Germany 1940 ...  a country going backwards with an megalomaniac driver at the wheel ... 

Sigh. Thank goodness for the Emilys and the Murrays of this world ... get well soon, my dears. We need you good guys and good girls around ...

PS John's money got through at last ... and he's spent it! Suitable vehicle for a little brother of 72?

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

London's first 1000th night souvenir merchandise


Our Boys 

The first play ever to notch up 500 consecutive nights in London's West End eventually ran for 1382 performances at the Vaudeville Theatre.

This week, I came upon this interesting piece of merchandising marking the 1000th night on 19 February 1878 ...

Now, I don't know the play intimately, but the plot has the conventional 'stern' fathers (one aristocratic, one in the butter trade) of two feckless young men who each falls in love with the girl (one an heiress, one her poor cousin) intended by position and money for the other.  A bit of French farcical business with auntie's bonnet ... and that's really it. Of course, it was what went into that frame which made the play the record-breaking hit that it became.

The best roles were, naturally, were those taken by the theatre's managers, David James (as the untutored nouveau riche), and Tom Thorne as the aristocratic sprig in love with the poor cousin. Both of course were still there on night 1000 and well beyond ..

Nice ... but .... one, two, three ....

Starting from the left we have Cicely Richards as Belinda (standing), Sophie Larkin as Miss Clarissa Champneys, the auntie with the bonnet (seated), David James as Perkyn Middlewick, William Farren as Sir Geoffrey Champneys, Kate Bishop as heiress Violet Melrose (seated) and tall Tom Thorne as Talbot Champneys. All original cast.

However, by the 1000th performance Charles Warlhouse Garthorne (brother of W H Kendal, ie Grimston) had taken over the part of Charles Middlewick ... and where is Mary Melrose? If the right-hand lady is supposed to be she, why is she 3/4 back on? I'm pretty sure it is not the original Amy Roselle who, in any case, would have had the right to a display equal to that of Miss Bishop. But there are only four women in the cast ...

Well, on the bottom of the card someone has pencil scribbled ... why, they're initials. Almost illegible but ... yes CR=Cicely Richard, SL=Sophie Larkin ...  and, ahha, CGW. Charles Warner. 

And ?N W.  Ah-ha! Miss Nellie Walters (a member of the Vaudeville Company) persisted on the bills during the run. I think we have an understudy situation. Which would explain why her face is hidden.

Given the amount of shekels James and Thorne made from the play you would think they could have afforded an up-to-date photo for this occasion: Garthorne, Bessie Hollingshead. Or maybe this wasn't Official Merchandise? Just a souvenir stuck together by an entrepreneur ... 

Heigh ho!

Monday, July 25, 2022

Who am I? What am I? When was I? Where was I?

I can only guess.

Paris. Clearly.

Early 20th century.

There is a suggestion that it is a version of Aladin ... but I don't see any lamps or genies.

'Rip's Parisian art-nouveau `opérette féerie' Aladin with music by Willy Redstone and décors by Bakst (Théâtre Marigny, 21 May 1919)?'  Doesn't look very Baksty to me. The burlesque of 1912?  

Any ideas?  Anybody recognise a performer?

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Theatre photos ... from sopranissimo Americano to the murderer's bride

I have a habit, as I wander the web, of gathering up un- or ill-identified C19th theatre photos ... and then trying to put precise captions to them.

The box of bits sometimes grows a bit, and has to be emptied ... and today (since I don't have the energy for much else) seems like a good day.

This is my prize find. I searched everywhere for a photo of the American soprano Laura Harris, to use in my book Victorian Vocalists, in which she is one of the 100 featured artists, back in 2017. No luck. But now ...

'HARRIS, Laura (b New York, c 1846; d 13 Emmanuel Avenue, Acton 19 July 1917)The early 1860s saw the emergence, in America, of a group home-grown prime donne who – following in the footsteps of such as Cora de Wilhorst, Lucy Escott and Virginia Whiting Lorini -- would make themselves celebrated on an international basis.

 Apart from the American-bred, but not -born, Adelina Patti, the name which has survived down the years, to the virtual exclusion of all others, is that of Clara Louise Kellogg, but Miss Kellogg was certainly not alone among American women in establishing herself as a leading soprano on the European opera circuits, in these years. Indeed, there was one lady, in particular, four (?) years Kellogg’s junior, who ultimately achieved considerably more on the stages of the old Continent than her countrywoman did. And that was the now forgotten Laura Harris.'

There follow eleven pages of minute details of her career and life which, now that Victorian Vocalists is out in paperback, anyone who wishes can read at reduced price!  But no photo. Which, herewith ...

While we're on soprani, here's one thoroughly well-known, and many times photographed one. The famed Euphrosyne Parepa. I popped this in the box because it is such a pretty picture. Euphrosyne as a young vocalist before she fell prey to prima-donna-waistline 

 I was surprised to find another 'Miss Harris', but alas not a relation of Laura (whose parentage remains a mystery to me) but of 'Augustus Harris' who, of course, wasn't 'Harris' at all, but Glossop.

This is said to be Maria Elizabeth (1844-1904), daughter of ... I'm sure she had a career in the theatre ...

This one was not identified, but I wouldn't be the author of The Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre if I didn't recognise this scabrous wee scene ...

La Mascotte. Done a thousand times round the world in the 1880s. But this is the original Parisian cast. King Laurent (Hittemans) is having a worried scout to make sure his goosegirl, Bettina, isn't losing her virginity to the cute shepherd, Pippo. Because if she does, she stops being his 'good luck charm' ...

 And one from the ballet. Le Corsaire with Louis Mérante and Mlle Granzoff .. some time in the late 1860s. Mlle Granzoff made her first Parisian appearance in 1866, apparently coming from Russia. She was well-liked, but seems to have flourished only a few years. I wonder why so little seems to be known about her.

This is nice. A sort of cigarette-card, seemingly done on the cheap, featuring the original cast of the wonderful opéra-bouffe Chilpéric. 1868. 

"One of the most successful of extravagantly humorous full-length opéras-bouffes written and composed by the playwright/composer Hervé, Chilpéric went even further in its almost surreal burlesque humour than Meilhac and Halévy had done with their recent texts for Offenbach's La Belle Hélène, Barbe-bleue or La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein. Hervé went back to the medieval era, so successfully used by Offenbach and Tréfeu in Geneviève de Brabant, for his subject matter, and he alighted on the Merovingian King Chilpéric I of Neustria and Soissons, whose lastingest claim to fame (apart from this opéra-bouffe) seems to have been that he was the first monarch to construct a circus in Paris. Chilpéric’s life and career were decorated with murderous women. His second wife, Galswinthe, was murdered by Frédégonde, who became his third wife, and who subsequently came to clutches with Galswinthe's sister, Brunehaut. All these dangerous ladies turned up in Hervé's opéra-bouffe.

Frédégonde (Blanche d'Antigny, a late replacement for Oeil crevé star Julia Baron) starts the evening as an innocent little shepherdess, but she is spotted during the course of a hunt by the randy king (Hervé) and whisked off to court to be royal laundress etcetera. No one else is very pleased, not Frédégonde's peasant swain, Landry, nor Chilpéric's brother Sigebert (Berret), nor especially his brother's Spanish wife Brunehaut (Caroline Jullien), who had lined up her sister Galswinthe (Mlle Berthal) as a wife for the King, intending then to assassinate the royal couple and claim the throne herself by kinship. Since this Spanish marriage brings advantages of state, however, it is still on, and when it becomes imminent Chilpéric has to get rid of the slightly used Frédégonde. But Frédégonde has shown remarkable powers of adaptation in her swift transformation from shepherdess to royal plaything, and she doesn't let herself be evicted quietly. She screams, howls, and sings embarrassing top Cs all round the throne room. And now the murdering starts. Brunehaut has seduced Landry and persuaded him to kill Frédégonde, Frédégonde has attracted the court chamberlain, Le Grand Legendaire, and has asked him nicely to strangle Galswinthe on her wedding night, whilst Chilpéric has become deeply suspicious of Brunehaut's machinations and ordered the court doctor (Milher) to slip her something poisonous. Everything comes to a peak in the nuptial chamber on the royal wedding night, when the King has slipped out for a bit to defend his city against an irritatingly untimely attack by a disloyal brother. The three would-be murderers attack, the three women fight back, and in the dark it all gets very confused before someone presses a button which sends the whole lot of them -- and the bed -- straight down to the dungeons. Chilpéric wins his little battle, pops back home and sorts everyone out in time for a jolly finale with no deaths and only a little bit of stripping and whipping.

Hervé's lively score was as full of fun as his libretto, with Frédégonde being particularly well provided with an introductory waltz (`Voyez cette figure'), the pyrotechnic musical tantrums on her dismissal from court, and a lament in burlesque of the grand operatic (`Nuit fortunée'), whilst Chilpéric scored with his entrance number, the nonsensical Chanson du jambon, sung perched unhappily on the back of a real, live horse like the ones they use at the Opéra, and with his second-act butterfly song (`Petit papillon, bleu volage'). Galswinthe's boléro (`À la Sierra Morena') added a touch of the Spanish, whilst a basso druid (Varlet) opened proceedings Norma-like, invoking `Prêtres D'Ésus'.

This photo was just so appealing that I had to investigate ...

Her name was 'Millie Turnour' and she was one of the outstanding lady gymnasts-aerialists of the 1870s and thereafter. And when I went to delve in her doings ... well, she had quite a life.

Millie's real name was apparently Carlotta Amelia Turner, and she was born, it seems, in Portugal where her parents plied the family trade of gymnastics and associated circus feats. Father was Englishman Thomas Godfrey Turner (1811-1855), mother was Hephzibah Amelia née Drummond (1822-1903). 'Millie' is quoted as being born 3 May 1855, her sister in December 1856 ...  the Turners had been married in 1844, so there were elder siblings an, after mother Hepsy's remarriage to another athlete, Alfred Ireland aka Turnour (1859), younger ones. Eight in all, while still working the act. Tough, these acrobatic ladies.

Millie's adeptness for the family trade, her originality (she did her gyrations on the trapeze without holding the side ropes!) made her a feature at a young age

 I see her in 1868 performing at Tony Pastor's -- 'the female Leotard' 'the Spanish beauty and Queen of the Air' and in 1872 she was billed with Noyes' Circus. Another member of the company was former child somersault rider Alexander Wood[a]son Cook (b Fayette City 30 March 1852; d unknown) and in 1872 (26 March) the young couple were married at Shreveport. 'Wooda' and Millie continued their performing -- in America and Europe -- while Millie gave birth to a succession of babies over the next decade. And then something curious happened in Cuba. Apparently the pair were performing with Orrin Brothers Circus ..

and a report came through that Wooda had died of the fever. Other Havana folk confirmed it. But Millie wrote saying 'nonsense', he was alive and well. I wonder why he didn't write himself. But something wasn't 'well'. Millie gave birth to a daughter around this time -- back in Pennsylvania -- and no more Wooda! The family historians posit chastely that he died in 1881. But he didn't. In 1883 he can be seen playing at the Great Australian Circus at the Big Indian Wigwam on 35th and Broadway. In 1889 he applied for a passport from Berlin. And, yes, it is he. 'Born Fayette 30 March 1852..'. Curious. Ah! Here's a report in the US press. 1885. 'Divorced some three years ago'. 'Three children assigned to the wife'. Three? And here's a ship's manifest from 1875, Wooda Cook acrobat, wife Mabel, children Mabel and James ... that's two. Then Carlotte ... so is this saying that the sons of 8 January 1879 and 18 March 1880 and the 1881 daughter weren't his?  
Well, whatever was going on, in 1884 Millie married another acrobat, the pint-sized Achille Onofrio. The following year Onofrio struck the 9 year-old Lottie with a shovel when she failed to perform to his satisfaction on the tightrope. He was convicted of first-class murder, commuted to an eventual nine years in jail. And Millie went out and got herself another acrobat: John Daggert Ashby, and mothered two further children. There was a fourth husband to come. A rather younger one. Harry Boise Treadwell was born 19 August ... 1871. And Millie was performing with Ringling Brothers Circus. On her wedding banns she said she had been married twice before. So was Onofrio or Ashby the 'de facto'?

Harry Boise died in 1930. Millie survived him, and died in Valley Stream, Long Island 27 January 1939.

A full life. A busy one. Unconventional, to say the least. But, hey, the world of the circus was and is a law unto itself. And why not? Unless it turns to killing a nine year-old girl with blows of a shovel. 

Oh, Mr Onofrio apparently spent some of his time in gaol painting. There is an effort on the www. It is pretty unimpressive, but has zeroes on its price because of the attached story. Peuuugh!

Wooda Cook seems to be playing in variety as a 'Chinese acrobat' as late as 1908.

Yes, it is another world.


Saturday, July 16, 2022

The Aston families ...

I've been three weeks laid low -- really low -- by the Jacinda Ardern influenza epidemic. Never felt so ill in all my 76 years. Unable to eat, or even face the thought of food ... 10 kilograms disappeared from my bodyweight in just ten days. What hours of the day were not spent in bed, were passed in my LaZyboy, by the fire, surrounded by unsympathetic and joyous kittens. Feeling that "this is the way the world ends". A gradual fading away into inability to move, insufficient energy to do, or even think about doing, anything at all ... just "sleep some more" ...

Well, its Day 23 now, and I think I am on the mend. Wendy has persuaded a little food into me -- mashed potato was the breakthrough, then boiled eggs, a beautiful cheese omelette, white beans and garlic... I'm no longer repulsed by the sight of a crumpet, a little pasta ... but I'm not pushing it. I have the odd culinary whim, like a pregnant woman ... 

And milk has finally made way for wine ...

So, where's the energy? I may have to force it back. To get to my office I have to pass by the fire and the LaZyboy. Most of the time, I still flop into that chair. I mustn't! I must DO something. No matter how useless or insignificant... So I decided to play the game of 'Victorian photos'. Pick an old, ill-identified mid-19th-century photo from ebay and winkle out its background.

Just a easy one to start with. Not too much effort. Ah! Four little siblings photographed in Kensington:

Edith [Margaret], Eccles, Lucy [Alice] and Walter Aston. The four eldest (surviving) children of Mr James Jones Aston, barrister, QC, of the Middle Temple (and inventor of a mechanism for the propulsion of steamships), and his wife Sarah Margaret née Eccles of Walton-le-Dale. A little Arthur Thomas had already gone before ...

'One of my brothers ...'. There were to be several more. "S A"? I suspect that the penman here, or at least the initialler, was youngest brother, Stafford Aston (b 16 September 1875; d Barnet 15 November 1959). But the original inscription is, I believe, by an older sibling.

Anyway here they (almost) all are.

The Judge (1822-1885) ...

The Judge's sisters, Alicia Elizabeth (1839-1908) and Ellen Charlotte (1842-1898, Mrs Hadlow)

And, of course, the Judge's wife (I assume) (1835-1912)

and again, with her son Lawrence (1865-1951)

Right. One by one.

First, Edith Margaret. Spinster (b 11 November 1852; d 13 February 1945). Pictured above, and also

Second came Eccles (b 3 February 1858; d 15 August 1927), who seems to have wandered around the country clerking before marrying in 1913 and dying as anonymously as he had lived

"my eldest brother" .. OK, we'll get on to that later.

Then came little Arthur, who did not survive, followed by Lucy ...

Alas, Lucy did not have a long life. She died 21 October 1886 'at 8 Elsworthy Terrace, Kensington' aged 25. I wonder why. She left a will, not normal for a girl of 25, with sister Edith and brother Lawrence as executors. I suspect her other siblings were less reliable.

The next sibling was Walter (d South Africa 12 April 1909), pictured above. It is always unkind to lumber a child with a famous name ... and Walter followed the trend. He seems to have clerked here and there and ended up in the Cape Colony as a railway clerk. The Judge's sons were not upholding the family name.

Gerard didn't do much to help. He was intriguingly 'drowned in the Thames' aged 30.

There were some daughters thereafter, who were apparently connected with nursing, but the last son, Stafford, around whom this collection seems ultimately to have been axed, by inscription if nothing else, gave a taint of achievement to a family sadly, it seems, in decline from its days of QCs and barristers and a well-staffed house. This handsome wee chappie became County Chemical Analyst for Middlesex.

So, we can see that the collection ranges from the 1850s, and the childhood of Edith, to 1890 and Stafford aged 15. Somebody -- or more than one somebody -- hoarded the family photos through four decades and more ... 

Anyway, not a difficult family, it seems, to sort out. But.

Is this just a coincidence or ....

This group of photographs, for all that it has seemingly no connection with France or the French, was posted on ebay by a French dealer of high class who features a stock largely, naturally, French. So what was I to think when his offerings turned up five more Astons? I mean, 'Aston' isn't that common a name. So, are the two lots connected? The handwriting is different, the style is different, the second lot are from Birmingham rather than Kensington ...

George Lyttleton Aston (1839-1902), buttonmaker, and his wife, Sarah née Chippindale, banker's daughter.

And their children

[Emily Lucy] Ethel Aston (b 25 July 1865; d Solihull 13 March 1933) Mrs John Howard Heaton

[Georgiana] Maude Aston (b 30 June 1867; d Weymouth 29 April 1945). Mrs Hubert Wells Bayly Shewell

William Chippindale Manskopf Aston (b 1868; d Weymouth 20 April 1938)

Mary Augusta Meredith Aston (b Bennett's Hill, 7 December 1871; d Rowington 27 March 1921) Mrs Charles Madeley.

Well, I have looked. But I have found no connection. Perhaps I haven't looked hard enough ... 

But now I'm headed back to my LaZyboy. That's enough 'effort' for a first outing.