ALBERTINA HERBERT in the occult world 1889-98.


This is an account of Albertina Herbert’s time in the Order of the Golden Dawn, which she joined in September 1889 and had to leave in November 1890. The events in it run concurrently with those in my file Fortune Tellers, Alternative Practitioners and First Moves into the Theosophical Society. There’s a third file: Canada, the Theosophical Society; and 1896-98.

The account is based on her diary, now at the National Library of Wales, where it’s catalogued as NLW18744B and that’s how I refer to it below. The first entry in NLW18744B was made on 1 June 1889, the last in June 1895.

On my work on the diary

I haven’t identified all the people Albertina refers to in the diary. Sometimes I couldn’t read her handwriting - particularly when she was in a hurry or writing in pencil, it could get pretty wild. I think I have identified most people though, and I’m fairly confident, with other members of the GD, that if they were in the diary, I spotted them.

Square brackets [] in the account below is me supplying further information about diary entries; or possible interpretations of Albertina’s scrawl.


Entry in diary NLW18744B for “Monday 10 June [1889]: Met [Samuel] Mathers in N Audley Street...”

I think it was Samuel Mathers – one of the three men who founded the Order of the Golden Dawn, who offered Albertina the chance to join it. He and Albertina Herbert are a very odd couple, though, and I was surprised to find that they knew each other before Albertina joined the GD. She was a wealthy member of the imperial elite whose life when in London barely moved outside Mayfair and Belgravia. He was the son of an office-worker; in 1890 he was working translating occult manuscripts at the British Museum and living near King’s Cross, where he couldn’t afford to pay for his own lodgings.

How and where could Albertina Herbert and Samuel Mathers first have encountered each other, in the London of the 1880s? It must surely have been at some kind of gathering of occultists.

The meetings of the Hermetic Society are one possiblity. Mathers was at several of its meetings in 1886 . I can’t prove Albertina went to any of its meetings, but she was acquainted with some people who were associated with it.


The Hermetic Society began in an informal way in 1882 with hermeticist and medical doctor Anna Bonus Kingsford talking to like-minded acquaintances in her drawing-room on her researches in western hermeticism; talks that were published in the books The Perfect Way, and The Virgin of the World. It was formally set up as a private members’ club in 1884; and held meetings during the social seasons (April to July) of 1884, 1885 and 1886. No list of its members was ever published but the names of some members are known; from the spiritualist magazine Light which printed the talks in full and named the speaker and some of those who took part in the discussion afterwards; and from Henry Olcott’s Old Diary Leaves because he was present at the meeting which formally founded it. The known members include two people who would join the GD in due course: William Forsell Kirby; and Anna Bonus Kingsford’s great friend Isabel de Steiger.

Whether or not she was aware of it, in the 1880s Albertina knew three people with connections to the Hermetic Society. Frankie and Mary Lloyd; and the Countess of Caithness.

The Lloyds:

NLW18744B diary entry “Wednesday 6 November [1889]… dined Franky Lloyds.” And for “Sunday 17 November [1889]...Franky Lloyd and [?Mary]”. Finally “Saturday 30 November [1889]...Poppy to tea and F Lloyd...”

At the meeting that founded the Hermetic Society, Francis Lloyd – known as Frankie (not Franky) to his friends - was elected its treasurer; and during 1884 the Society’s meetings were held at 43 Rutland Gate, where Francis and his wife Mary (née Gunnis) lived. Captain Francis Lloyd was in the same regiment as Albertina’s husband Ivor – the Grenadier Guards. Albertina had probably known Francis Lloyd since the late 1870s and his wife since they had married, in 1881. They may have told her about the Society and suggested she come along; or invited Mathers to their house to meet people like Albertina. On the other hand, they may never have mentioned the Society’s existence to her. The Hermetic Society was not a secret, but it was exclusive, and the Lloyds may also have not known Albertina might be interested.

Countess of Caithness.

Marie, widow of the 14th Earl of Caithness, probably didn’t go to any of the Hermetic Society’s meetings. Though she had lived in Scotland in the 1870s, by the 1880s she was living in France, in Paris in the summer and Cannes in the winter. However, her name was on a circular announcing the Society’s founding, as someone who would influence people to join it. She was a very well-known figure in European spiritualist and theosophical circles. She had written books trying to reconcile spiritualism, Catholicism and theosophy; and had been a vice-president of the British National Association of Spiritualists. She was also one of those people who knew everyone.

At different times Lady Caithness knew at least two other women who became GD members, and she also corresponded with a man who joined the Order. Anna Blackwell worked in Paris as a newspaper reporter from 1849 until the mid-1890s. She shared the Countess’ interest in the works of Allen Kardec, the leading light of spiritism, which attempted to combine spiritualism with reincarnation. And in 1894, after Albertina’s time as a GD member, future member Emily Katharine Bates was introduced to the Countess. Lady Caithness also corresponded with future GD member Edward Berridge, probably during the 1880s though the date of the letters isn’t known; it’s also not clear whether the two correspondents ever met. Their exchange of letters was about the teachings of the American mystic Thomas Lake Harris.

Though Albertina doesn’t mention Lady Caithness in diary NLW18744B, they were acquainted. In her memoir Ghosts I have Known Violet Chambers (better known by her married surname, Tweedale) says that she was first introduced to Albertina by Lady Caithness in the Countess’ box at the theatre in Nice. Violet doesn’t give a date for that (she’s bad on dates) but it was probably in 1888 or 1889. That may be rather late for Albertina to have found out about the Hermetic Society from the Countess. It all depends on how long it had been since Albertina and the Countess had met.

There are two routes for Albertina to take into the Hermetic Society; and thus to having Samuel Mathers as an acquaintance. She may not have taken either of them but in that case I can’t explain how she and Mathers met.


Why North Audley Street?

Short answer: I don’t know!

I still can’t shed any light on North Audley Street as a venue at which Albertina Herbert could meet Samuel Mathers. It is on the edge of Mayfair; but neither of them lived there. The person who was living in North Audley Street was a mutual acquaintance, obviously; but Albertina never wrote his or her name in her diary, nor did she note down the number of the house; so I’ve no idea who it was. After her initiation, in September 1889, Albertina didn’t mention going there again in 1889 or 1890; perhaps the mutual acquaintance had moved out. I do wonder if it was Violet Chambers, Albertina’s close friend; except that Albertina doesn’t mention Violet in diary NLW18744B until October 1889, when Violet had just moved into lodgings in Hill Street.

The full entry in NLW18744B for Monday 10 June 1889 reads: “Met Mathers in N Audley St. Decided.”

Becoming a GD Member

I take Albertina’s cryptic diary entry to mean that the offer to join had been made a short while before. Albertina had been keen enough to accept, for Mathers to set in motion the Order’s usual enquiries into a possible member’s background and bona fides, and perhaps to put the prospective member to a vote: all three of the Order’s founders – Mathers, William Robert Woodman and William Wynn Westcott - had to be agreed that the candidate was suitable before the person was allowed to join. The enquiries included scrutiny of the candidate’s natal chart, so Albertina would have had to give Mathers details of where and when (preferably to the minute) she was born. Perhaps on 10 June she went to meet Mathers having made up her mind; but certainly by the end of the afternoon, both parties were satisfied, and Albertina had set out on the road to initiation.

I think she was quite brave to do this. If Mathers had explained to her exactly what being an initiate would involve, Albertina would be aware that she would be taking some steps outside her comfort zone. If she was going to take her membership seriously she would need to do some sustained study, of texts that were often obscure and sometimes in languages she will have had to learn. It’s most unlikely that Albertina’s education will have prepared her for intellectual effort of that kind. And if she was going to attend the GD’s meetings she was going to encounter, and to need to treat as superiors and equals, people who were not of her class. The members of the GD were a very middle-class, if not lower-middle-class group; Albertina would be one of only a handful of upper-class members. Definitely a step into the unknown.

Entries in diary NLW18744B show that Albertina suffered from bouts of anxiety. If an event was approaching that she was worried about, she started to feel ill. She was ill at nearly every stage as she approached GD initiation: she was terribly nervous about it all.

A few days after the meeting with Mathers, Albertina went to a house called The Cliffe, in Staffordshire, to visit Henry Broughton and his daughter Saba. Diary entry for “Saturday 15 June [1889]: Back to London. Very seedy in train. Signed the paper.”

By ‘the paper’ I think Albertina must have meant the GD’s Pledge Form. The 1888 version of this stated the purposes of the Order; and required the initiate-to-be to state the motto they had chosen to be known by to other GD members, and to give an address for GD correspondence.

At least in theory, all interactions within the Order were to be made using mottos rather than people’s names. Latin was preferred by the GD’s founders, but not enforced to the exclusion of other languages including living ones. Most members chose a high-minded motto indicating their aspirations as initiates; phrases involving ‘deus’ (god) and ‘lux/lucem’ (light) were popular and also verbs indicating striving or hope. Albertina was the only GD member to opt for a motto in Welsh: Y Gwyr. Welsh was not a language she ever learned to speak, though her husband and children were all fluent. ‘Y gwyr’ did have great personal significance for her, nevertheless: it was a short-form of words that her husband Ivor (never a GD member) had caused to be inscribed into her wedding ring: Y Gwir en Erbyn y byd - Truth against the world.

When they signed the form, candidates also committed themselves to keeping secret the existence of the Order and its doings; details of who was a member; and such passwords as they would be given at different times. Aleister Crowley is well-known for having broken his word on this and it’s ironic that if he hadn’t done so, historians wouldn’t have known nearly so much about the occultism of the GD. Alas, though! – Albertina was with the majority, in taking the Pledge Form’s strictures very seriously.

A Magical Diary?

Albertina must have kept one.

It was all right, Albertina thought, to mention her meetings with Mathers between June and September 1889, and to note down the date of her initiation and where it would be held; because she was not yet a GD member. After she was initiated, however, virtually nothing about the GD appears in diary NLW18744B. On two days in 1890 she mentioned, in passing, GD-connected activities. And she noted down one more meeting with a GD member which was outside the normal GD arrangements. Only two GD members are mentioned by name; Mathers at that one more meeting; and Violet Chambers, a friend before and after the GD who was probably initiated in the same ceremony. Even before her initiation, Albertina never wrote down the Order’s name.

Albertina must have kept a magical diary, bought for the purpose and perhaps having a lock and key, because you never knew who might be unable to resist the temptation to look inside. Albertina lived and stayed in houses full of servants; and houses full of residents with little sympathy for the occult. And everything to do with the GD must have been in the magical diary, including venues and times of meetings – there are none that can be linked to the GD in NLW18744B. Albertina must have been to at least two GD meetings, at which her promotion to higher grades of membership would have been acknowledged. The Isis-Urania temple also had meetings once a month for all the members. In 1889 these were being held in a hired room at the Mark Masons’ Hall in Great Queen Street and I would love to know what Albertina made of such a place, and how many times she visited it. The temple’s smaller occasions – like initiations and achievements of grades – were held at a variety of venues in 1889, mostly ones that didn’t have to be paid for; so there would have been a lot of addresses for Albertina to remember.

No sign of the magical diary now, unfortunately. It is not at the National Library of Wales with the others; perhaps, at some point, Albertina made sure it was destroyed.

A few days after signing the Pledge Form, Albertina was in North Audley Street again, perhaps taking the form with her to be passed on to Mathers and William Wynn Westcott, who did the Order’s day-to-day administration. Two months then went by, during which Albertina was away visiting her in-laws, some friends and some relations.

Being Initiated

Diary entry for “Friday 20 September [1889]: Not very well all day. Miss Bergson’s Studio 17 Fitzroy Street.”

Albertina was very anxious to arrive at the right place for her GD initiation. Whenever she was visiting an address for the first time, she wrote the full details in NLW18744B; but the initiation venue is the only one she underlined. Albertina and probably Violet Chambers went through their initiation ritual amidst the paraphernalia of Mina Bergson’s work as a painter. That being so, it’s likely that not many people could fit into the room. The rules of the Order, being compiled by William Wynn Westcott, decreed that at least one of the three Chiefs must be present at all initiations and grade rituals. It’s most likely that Albertina’s Chief was Mathers, and only him. If Mina was there, this may have been Albertina’s first meeting with her; she married Samuel Mathers in 1890.

What Albertina Studied

On its Pledge Form the Order of the Golden Dawn reminded the initiate that it had been founded for the “Study of Occult Science; and the further investigation of the Mysteries of Life and Death”. When Albertina joined the GD it had only been in existence for 18 months but a basic programme of study for initiates had been worked out and new members were expected to get stuck into it unless they were already experienced occultists. They could expect to be tested on what they had learned; and if they satisfied their examiner they would receive further initiations to higher grades. Before she went to Canada late in 1890, Albertina had done enough occult study to reach the Theoricus grade 2=9. I’m very reliant on R A Gilbert’s GD Companion here, for what she would have had to learn to get that far; which she did do in just over a year while having many other calls on her time.

0=0 Neophyte

This was the lowest grade in the GD; and many initiates never got beyond it. To reach it, the initiate had to grasp the basics of astrology and the Kabbalah, and to learn the Hebrew alphabet.

1=10 Zelator

The focus to achieve this grade was still the Kabbalah but with texts in Hebrew as well as in English. The initiate was introduced to the Sephiroth, and the Tree of Life – both fundamental to so much of the GD’s magic. He or she was expected to learn some basic alchemy; and to take some first steps in Tarot. Albertina must have bought a Tarot pack; I wonder which one?

Occult work with Violet Chambers?

Just to make things clear, Violet Chambers married Clarens Tweedale in June 1891.

Violet was living in London during the autumn of 1889. Diary NLW18744B shows Albertina spending part of almost every day with Violet, either at Albertina’s house at 8 Herbert Crescent; or at Violet’s lodgings in Hill Street. Then from January to March 1890 they were both in the South of France, not staying in the same hotel but meeting very often. Albertina never says in her diary exactly how she passed the time with any of the people she knew, but the hours she spent with Violet during these months would have been a good time to work at the GD curriculum together. However, though they remained close friends for many years, there was a certain parting of the ways in 1889/90 over the GD: the GD’s records show that Violet never got beyond grade 1=10.

Violet’s main occult interest was spiritualism, not western hermeticism or eastern philosophy. Though she hadn’t tried being a medium herself by 1889, she was a great attender of other peoples’ séances. She believed she had The Sight; and she could see ghosts - she and her father Robert Chambers used to go on ghost-hunting expeditions together. As a Scotswoman and as her father’s daughter, Violet viewed her gifts as a kind of psychic inheritance, and as abilities that couldn’t be learned. Around the 1=10 stage of the GD she must have come to the conclusion that all this study of the western magical tradition was irrelevant; and might even have begun to wonder if the more book-learning she did, the less she’d be able to use her inherited skills. She stopped doing the GD’s study-work.

Albertina carried on on her own. She thought she had some psychic abilities; but believed that occult study would enhance them.

2 =9 Theoricus

Several of the topics covered for 1=10 were studied in a little more depth for the next grade: alchemy; the symbolism of the Sephiroth; and the Tarot cards. The occult attributes of the Planets were introduced and a start was made on how the symbolism of the Tarot cards and of the Sephiroth were connected.

Daily Life as a GD Member

What are those brief references in diary NLW18744B to Albertina as a trainee occultist? Some of my choices are a bit speculative, including this one as I’m not sure about the crucial word.

In early October 1889, Albertina went to visit her widowed brother-in-law Baron Wrottesley and his daughter Evelyn, who lived at Tettenhall near Wolverhampton.

Diary entry for “Wednesday 9 October [1889]: Spent day in Birmingham. Bought [?Dees] (sic) book 3.30.”

With GD on the brain I might well have misread the word I think is ‘Dees’. Does this entry mean that Albertina bought a book either by or about John Dee, in Birmingham? John Dee’s diaries had been translated into English by this time, so it’s possible in theory. Why note down the time, though? Exact times are rare in the diary. Maybe Albertina was going to try to do an astrological chart for the purchase; or – more likely at this early stage of her membership – she was going to ask someone else to do one.

A couple of weeks later, Albertina went book-buying again.

Diary entry for “Wednesday 30 October [1889]: Bought books at Bodley Head Vigo Street”.

Before The Bodley Head was a publisher it was a book shop. These books must have been new and may not have been anything to do with the GD; but up until Albertina was a member of the GD her diary contained no mention of any books or any book-buying at all.

A notable change in the entries in diary NLW18744B, that is the result of her being in the GD, shows that a few weeks after her initiation, Albertina had reached the stage of knowing some at least of the planetary attributes. On Saturday 20 November 1889 she began denoting the day of the week by the sign of the planet that governed it, in western astrology. Clearly it was something learned in the GD that she didn’t think needed to be confined to the magical diary. She kept up that practice for the rest of the entries in NLW18744B and all through the period of its sucessor, NLW18745B, the last entry of which was written in February 1898. It was part of the rhythm of her life even long after she had ceased to be an active GD member.

After spending January and February 1890 in the south of France, Albertina returned to London in mid-March, a few weeks before the English social season properly began; a pattern she had probably followed for the last four or five years, since Ivor Herbert had been posted to St Petersburg as a military attaché.

Diary entry for “Saturday 15 [March 1890]. Saturn. Cold wet day – worked at Hebrew.”

This entry offers one reason why Albertina had made an effort to get to know Samuel Mathers and why she joined the GD: she wanted to learn about the Kabbalah. Mathers had arrived on the London occult scene during 1886, making impressive remarks from the audience at meetings of the Hermetic Society. He was invited back to give two lectures, on the Kabbalah and on physical alchemy, and immediately gained a reputation amongst the Society’s members as an expert on the Kabbalah. The following year Mathers’ The Kabbalah Unveiled was published, a translation of part of the Kabbala Denudata of Knorr von Rosenroth which Mathers had collated with earlier texts in Hebrew and Chaldean. Perhaps Albertina bought a copy.

By March 1890, membership of the GD – perhaps attending some of its rituals - was opening up new vistas for Albertina. She was broadening her occult interests beyond the basic ‘grades’ curriculum:

Diary entry for “Thursday 24 [March 1890]. Jupiter. Spent day British Museum.”

I think it’s unlikely that Albertina had obtained a British Museum reading ticket and was working on occult manuscripts there. Though Ancient Egyptian symbolism and magic were very important in the GD, they didn’t yet figure amongst the subjects new initiates were taught. However, the BM’s Egyptian galleries displayed some of the objects which the GD’s ritualists and researchers were using as they developed new rituals for the Order. It made a nice day out for any GD member, particularly one whose husband had been with the army in Egypt quite recently.

It’s possible that Albertina had been to Egypt herself. Even if she hadn’t seen Egypt’s great sites, she will have heard and possibly read the accounts of many people who had. The cruise down the Nile was taken by very many wealthy British and Americans (including two who later joined the GD – Emily Katharine Bates and Marcus Worsley Blackden). And in the 1880s, many British service-men were being sent to Egypt and what is now Sudan, including Ivor Herbert, and his fellow Grenadier Guard Henry Edward Colvile of whom more below. Neither Ivor nor Colvile will have had much leisure for touring ancient sites – they were in Egypt with the expedition that failed to relieve the siege of Khartoum and rescue Charles Gordon – but surely they must at least have seen the pyramids and Karnak.

Circumstances Call a Halt

Diary entry “Saturday 12 [April 1890]. Saturn. Tried to see Blavatsky.”

Why did Albertina want to see the great woman of theosophy? Though Albertina did know one or two members of the Theosophical Society she was not yet a member herself. She may have met Helena Petrovna Blavatsky – Lady Caithness could have introduced them, having met both Blavatsky and Colonel Henry Olcott in 1884. But they can’t have been more than distant acquaintances – until this entry Albertina hadn’t mentioned Blavatsky in diary NLW18744B at all; she had also not mentioned theosophy once and continued not to mention it for several months more.

Since first reading about it, I’ve always taken Albertina’s apparently sudden need for a session with Blavatsky as a first indication of the big change 1890 brought to Ivor’s army career, and Albertina’s life. Most of the rest of the entries in NLW18744B for that year are taken up with the possiblity, and then the actuality, of Ivor being appointed to the top job in Canada, commander of all the military forces there. Unlike Ivor’s previous postings in the 1880s, the job in Canada was one that Albertina could accompany him to and in fact, at least to start with, they took their children, Fflorens and Elidyr, with them as well. Theosophy and the GD were all but swept away in the preparations to leave England; which the Herberts did on 20 November 1890.

Diary entry for “Friday 17 [October 1890]. Venus….Mr Mathers afternoon.”

The last few weeks before the Herbert family left for Canada were hectic and fractious. A terse diary entry for Tuesday 18 November 1890 ends “Kept my temper”! But in the midst of all her last-minute preparations, Albertina called on Samuel Mathers, or asked him to call on her. I’m sure they both wanted to say goodbye, and perhaps Albertina to say thank you. However, I expect she also wanted to know if there was any way she could continue with her GD studies on the other side of the Atlantic. The GD’s next grade up, 3=8 Practicus, involved a deep dive into symbolism and meaning in the Kabbalah, alchemy, astrology and the Tarot; some sacred geometry; and an introduction to geomancy. A problem that Albertina had certainly already come across, was going to get bigger. Nineteenth century occultists suffered from a lack of available texts and instruction manuals. William Wynn Westcott was lending members of the GD items from his own occult library as part of making up the deficit; students would write out their own copy of the text before returning the item to him. Westcott and Mathers were also giving teachings with the initiates taking notes. Eventually, a set of texts, originally handwritten, were prepared as course materials – the Flying Rolls - but the earliest one that’s dated is from December 1890 – just after Albertina left the country. It had started out as a lecture by Westcott, on alchemy, given to members at a GD meeting. And therein lay the snag from Albertina’s point of view. In its early years you did have to be around London to get the best from your GD membership.

That meeting with Mathers was the last reference I could find to the GD or its magic in Albertina’s diaries NLW18744B and NLW18745B. I think that if she had stayed in England, Albertina would have carried on with her studies and reached the level where she would be eligible to join the GD’s inner, 2nd Order, founded in 1891/92. As it was, while she was living in Canada Albertina focused her energies on reading theosophy, and in the years after she returned to England, it was her TS membership she followed up.

Diary NLW18745B, written in the late 1890s, shows Albertina being interested in auras and their interpretation; in crystals; and in skrying with a mirror. The GD had plenty of members by then who could have helped her to develop those skills. Instead, she seems to have tried to tackle them on her own.

Friends in and before the GD

As well as Violet Chambers, at various times Albertina did know several other people who were, would be or had been members of the GD. Did Albertina or any of the several others know of the other one’s connection with the Order? It was against the rules that Albertina kept to so strictly, of course, to mention the GD’s existence to anyone you were not certain was a member. But people will talk!

Theresa O’Connell

In 1897 Albertina acted as sponsor when Theresa O’Connell wanted to join the Theosophical Society. Theresa was already a member of the GD when Albertina was initiated: as a friend of Mina Bergson she had been one of the Order’s first recruits. Maybe she was present at Albertina’s initiation but even if she hadn’t been, they could have got to know each other as GD members, during the next few months.

Theresa doesn’t figure in diary NLW18744B as far as I can see, so Albertina’s friendship with her was confined to the GD’s meetings. Theresa was outside the usual social class of Albertina’s acquaintances. The family was Irish – obviously – but her father, a Daniel O’Connell, was a Captain in the British army, on half-pay by 1850 and probably dead by 1870. Theresa was born in Yorkshire in 1845; she was 9 years older than Albertina. She grew up in the Channel Islands, and was living in London by census day 1871. She inherited a small private income and eked that out with copying work; she may have copied manuscripts for the GD. When she was in the GD Theresa was living in Bloomsbury at 17 Ampton Street, way outside Albertina’s visiting districts.

In 1894, while Albertina was in Canada, Theresa was expelled from the GD after a row with Samuel Mathers, now Mina’s husband; those who argued with Mathers did not prosper. None of the sources I’ve looked at know what the row was about. Theresa asked to be let back into the GD in 1896. Mathers wouldn’t consider it, and she was never a GD member again though she was still in touch with William Wynn Westcott in 1898 after Westcott, too, had fallen foul of Mathers.

Did Albertina know about Theresa’s expulsion from the GD? Perhaps she and Theresa had written to each other while Albertina was out of the country. In sponsoring Theresa into the TS, Albertina might have been thinking Theresa had been hard done by, and was trying to make some amends.

By 1897 Theresa had moved, but only down the road to 13 Ampton Street, where she had rooms in a lodging house; she was still there on census day in 1911. Three weeks after census day 1911, Albertina’s daughter Fflorens got married. Unlike Gabrielle Borthwick and Florence Gennadius (see below for them) Theresa didn’t send Fflorens a wedding gift. Theresa, and Albertina and Ivor had all left the TS early in 1909, and perhaps they had subsequently lost touch.

The Colviles

During the time Albertina was writing diary NLW18744B and joining the GD herself, she knew two people who joined the Order some years after she left it. They were her husband’s fellow officer Henry Edward Colvile; and his wife Isabelle. Henry Edward Colvile was Ivor’s age and had joined the same regiment, the Grenadier Guards, a few weeks before Ivor did, in the early 1870s. They had known each other as fellow officers since then, though their careers had taken very different paths. The Colviles were enthusiastic travellers. In fact I shall describe them as explorers - they returned to England in June 1889 after a trip down the east coast of Africa and across Madagascar. On Thursday 4 July 1889 they came to dinner with Albertina and over the next year (with gaps for any or all of them being out of town) she saw them quite often, for lunch, afternoon tea or dinner; at her house or theirs. Despite the number of times they met, however, no closer relationship developed between the two women: Isabelle Colvile was known to her friends as Zélie but Albertina never writes of her in diary NLW18744B as anything other than “Mrs Colvile”.

The acquaintance between Ivor Herbert and Henry Edward Colvile was not close either, with both the men being sent abroad to different places. While Ivor and Albertina were in Canada, Henry Edward Colvile spent a short time stationed in Burma before being sent to a crisis in the newly-acquired territories which became Uganda. He caught a fever there and it was in November 1896, while he was recovering in England from the illness, that he and Zélie were initiated into the GD. I think they had got to know the GD’s Florence Farr. They got a lot further in the GD than Albertina had been able to: they were both initiated into its inner 2nd Order in 1898.

Both Ivor Herbert and Henry Edward Colvile left the army in 1901; Ivor of his own volition, Colvile taking the blame for one of the catastrophes of the Boer War. Neither they nor their wives kept in touch.

Borthwick and Kennedy

On my GD web pages you can find a biography of Gabrielle Borthwick; and one of Florence Kennedy up to 1900. Below I just concentrate on how they got involved in the occult world and how and when they might have met Albertina Herbert. Both were initiated into the GD while Albertina was in Canada.

Gabrielle Borthwick

The Borthwicks aren’t mentioned by Albertina in diary NLW18744B but it’s just one of those things that Albertina didn’t know them in 1889, as they moved in similar social circles to those she did herself. Gabrielle’s father, Cunninghame Borthwick, became a member of the Scottish aristocracy as the 16th Baron Borthwick; though he had made his money as a partner in the City of London stock-broking firm of Borthwick, Wark and Co and had married Harriet Alice Day, the daughter of a banker. The family lived in Mayfair – definitely within the narrow boundaries of Albertina’s visiting district. Gabrielle was the eldest of the Borthwicks’ children, born in 1866, so she was 12 years younger than Albertina.

Gabrielle’s father had interested in both spiritualism and theosophy and had many contacts in those overlapping social/spiritual circles. He knew TS founder Colonel Henry Olcott; Alfred and Patience Sinnett who were very active in the English TS’s oldest lodge, the London Lodge; and spiritualist Dr George Wyld. Olcott and the Sinnetts visited the Borthwicks at their Scottish home, Ravenstone Castle. Baron Borthwick was not so active in the social circles of freemasonry and western hermeticism, out of which the GD originally grew; but it was this side of the London occult world that Gabrielle chose to join, being initiated into the GD in July 1891. She took several years to reach the stage where she could join its 2nd, Inner Order, finally being initiated into it in 1897. That long delay is probably due to the life she had to lead after her father’s death in 1885. As the eldest daughter and later the only unmarried one, Gabrielle became her widowed mother’s support and companion – that was the Victorian convention. Once she was widowed, Harriet Borthwick chose to live for most of the year in Italy, returning to England only for its social season, so that Gabrielle’s active involvement in GD study and meetings was restricted. However, Gabrielle had one advantage Albertina Herbert had not had, living abroad. She could take copies of the GD’s Flying Rolls with her to study. The earliest of them started to circulate after 1890 and a number were written in 1893.

It’s not clear from the surviving records when Gabrielle stopped being an active member of the GD, but 1900 seems likely as it was that year – and not before - that she joined the TS. She gave an address in Florence; but it’s most likely that Albertina met her at a meeting of a London-based TS lodge during one social season (April-July). Gabrielle left the TS in 1909 at the same time as the Herberts; in April 1911 Gabrielle did send a wedding present to Fflorens Herbert, so they were still friends then.

Florence Gennadius

Florence Kennedy does not appear in Albertina’s diary NLW18744B so Albertina didn’t know her when she was a member of the GD. They were exactly the same age and were both from wealthy families, but Florence’s parents, Samuel and Mary Laing, didn’t move in the same circles as Albertina’s acquaintances; and her husband, Edward Sherard Kennedy, was a painter – artistic circles were completely outside Albertina’s knowledge.

Like Gabrielle Borthwick, Florence Kennedy was initiated into the GD a few months after Albertina left it; in May 1891, with her sister Cecilia Macrae, having found out about it through their friend, Florence Farr. The two sisters were very active members of the GD in the 1890s, but letters in the Yorke Collection show them getting increasingly worried in 1897 about its prospects of survival. Hedging her bets, Florence Kennedy joined the Theosophical Society in 1898. She became a member of its London Lodge; and Albertina probably met her there. Cecilia Macrae finally joined the TS in 1901; she doesn’t seem to have known Albertina.

Despite their misgivings Florence and Cecilia continued as members of the GD in the late 1890s – they were in Florence Farr’s Sphere Group from 1898 - but in January 1900 Florence Kennedy’s husband died. Though she remained close to Florence Farr, Florence Kennedy wasn’t active in the Order after that.

In December 1902 Florence Kennedy married the Greek patriot, anglophile and book collector Ioannes Gennadius, and as a couple they were friends of both Ivor and Albertina. Though Gabrielle Borthwick did not, Florence and Ioannes Gennadius went to a requiem mass held in London as part of Albertina’s funeral, in October 1929.

SOURCES SECTION for all sources other than NLW18744B

Hermetic Society and the Mathers connection

Samuel Liddell Mathers:

Sword of Wisdom: MacGregor Mathers and the Golden Dawn, by Ithell Colquhoun. Published London: Neville Spearman 1975: p63 for him living at in rooms on Great Percy Street King’s Cross 1885-90; and p72 for having his rent paid by the other founders of the GD, Dr William Wynn Westcott and Dr William Robert Woodman.

Kabbala Denudata: The Kabbalah Unveiled by S L MacGregor Mathers (sic). London: George Redway 1887. Mathers dedicated it to the founders of the Hermetic Society, Dr Anna Bonus Kingsford and Edward Maitland.

Francis Lloyd and Mary Lloyd née Gunnis:

The Man Who Ran London During the Great War by Richard Morris. Pen and Sword Military 2009 and based on family papers now at the National Army Museum. On p8 Frankie and Mary had their wedding reception at 43 Rutland Gate in 1881. It was the London home of the Gunnis family. On p15 just confirming that Frankie and Mary were living there when Frankie got back from Africa in September 1885.

Army List September 1889 p793 Grenadier Guards. Francis Lloyd had joined that regiment in 1874. He was now a Captain and had been made regimental adjutant on 7 May 1889.

Maria, or Marie, Duquesa de Pomar and dowager Countess of Caithness:

Wikipedia pages: hers and that of her second husband, James Sinclair 14th Earl of Caithness.

ODNB volume 50 p754 entry for 14th Earl of Caithness.

Times 5 November 1895 p5: obituary of Maria Countess of Caithness.

Confirmation from Violet Tweedale that Albertina knew Lady Caithness:

Ghosts I have Seen by Violet Tweedale. NewYork: Frederick A Stokes 1919: on p39, Violet’s father had known the Countess since the early 1870s; Violet’s parents had been at Marie’s wedding to the Earl of Caithness. On p47, the only mention of Albertina in the book; the Countess introducing the two women, who became great friends. No date but p32: Violet was in the south of France in the spring of 1888.

Anna Blackwell in Paris: entry in the Scoop! Database of 19th and 20th century journalists; British Library electronic resources. For Anna’s interest in Allen Kardec see my biography of her.

Kat Bates meets Lady Caithness: Kat’s Seen and Unseen. London: Greening and Co 1907: pp87-88. Kat was taken to Lady Caithness’ home in Avenue de Wagram, Paris, by a mutual friend; in the spring of 1894.

The Countess in correspondence with GD member Edward Berridge:

The Brotherhood of the New Life; an Epitome of the Works and Teachings of Thomas Lake Harris. Volume XII: The Inspired Word, or the Revelation of God to Man. Author given as Respiro; a writing name used by Edward Berridge. Published by another follower of Harris and member of the GD: C W Pearce of Glasgow 1915. Footnote p152 quoting a letter from the Countess in which she mentioned having read Harris’s Voice from Heaven (published in 1879).

Publications of Kingsford and Maitland:

The Perfect Way; or the Finding of Christ by Anna Bonus Kingsford and Edward Maitland. London: Field and Tuer 1882.

The Hermetic Works. The Virgin of the World translation of originals attributed to Hermes Trismegistus; with introduction and notes by Anna Bonus Kingsford and Edward Maitland. London: George Redway 1885.

Though the Hermetic Society’s founders were nearly all members of the Theosophical Society, the HS focused on western hermeticism.

The Hermetic Society:

Light: A Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research published by the Eclectic Publishing Company Ltd. Volume 4 1884 followed the setting up of the Society: p182 issue of Sat 3 May 1884; p186 issue of 10 May 1884 names the Society’s officers including Francis Lloyd. Its first talk had been held on Fri 9 May 1884 at 2030, at 43 Rutland Gate, lent by Francis Lloyd; on p198 issue of 17 May 1884 its official founding meeting, also at 43 Rutland Gate.

Mathers at the Hermetic Society; not mentioned until 1886:

Light: A Journal of Psychical, Occult and Mystical Research published by the Eclectic Publishing Company Ltd volume 6 1886 p207 issue of 1 May 1886 when Mathers, from the audience, gave “an admirable exposn of Kabalistic doctrine” in the discussion period after Kingsford’s talk on Bible Hermeneutics. On p253 Mathers and William Wynn Westcott as present at the meeting of 27 May 1886 when Arthur Lillie gave a talk on Rama. On pp283-84 text of Mathers’ talk on the Kabbalah, given 3 June 1886 on the Kabbalah. And p303 advert for Mathers’ talk on 8 July 1886 on Physical Alchemy. The text of this one was not published in Light, probably because he’d had so little time to prepare his talk.

Order of the Golden Dawn:

Problems of North Audley Street in Kelly’s PO Directory. I trawled through the list of residents at North Audley Street in Kelly’s street directory for 1889 and 1890 looking for names that rang a bell; but came up against the snag about that kind of street. North Audley Street was mostly shops with rooms for rent above; the PO only listed the name of the shop-owner.

Class analysis of GD members, October 2022. Hooray! Someone has now done some statistical work to back up my own feeling from the biographies that the GD were a middle-class lot. Wheeler’s A Note on the Social Demographics of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is on A PhD is also in its early stages mapping the GD members’ addresses onto class-based maps of Victorian London.

Albertina’s choice of motto:

Her motto: A Welsh/Engl dictionary gives several meanings for the word ‘gwir’, around the concept of ‘truth’.

Albertina’s wedding ring: The Cambrian 8 August 1873 p7.

Seen at the Celtic exhibition, British Museum October 2015 embroidered on a banner designed in 1896 by T H Thomas and now belonging to the Welsh gorsedd; the phrase ‘Y Gwir en Erbyn y Byd’ was translated by BM as ‘the Truth against the World’.

Egyptian magic in the GD. See Explore Bristol Research at //

PhD Thesis University of Bristol 2007: Paganism in England 1885-1914 by Jennifer Rachel Hallett. Chapter 5 is about the GD.

Albertina as a GD member:

The page numbers are from my paperback copy of R A Gilbert’s The GD Companion published Wellingborough: Aquarian Press 1986. Albertina’s initiation and Theoricus level: p143. Violet Chambers’ initiation and 1=10 level: p143. On p31 venues for early meetings of GD members.

On p2: setting up of the inner, second order 1892. On pp43-44 1888 edition of the Pledge Form.

On p46: that all three of the Order’s chiefs had to approve any candidate; and p47 that one at least had to be present at any initiation. On pp46-49 the early set of rules for the Order. Study and grades: pp90-93. Up to level 2=9 no study of ancient Egypt was necessary. On pp114-117: list of known Flying Rolls, mostly undated.

Initiation dates for Albertina’s friends: O’Connell p139 Kennedy p146 Borthwick p147.

Friends in the GD: Violet Chambers later Tweedale:

Ghosts I have Seen by Violet Tweedale. NewYork: Frederick A Stokes 1919. On p47: the only mention of Albertina in the book – I think Albertina was not especially sympathetic to Violet’s passion for ghosts. On p33 mention of two cousins that Violet introduced to Albertina.

Fflorens Herbert’s wedding presents: an exhaustive list was published in Abergavenny Chronicle and Monmouthshire Advertiser Friday 21 April 1911 the day after Fflorens married Walter Roch MP.

Henry Edward and Isabelle Colvile:

Round the Black Man’s Garden: An Account of Travels in Africa by Zélie Colvile FRGS. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons 1893. This hideously titled book is an account of the Colvile’s expedition down the east coast of Africa.

Army List to September 1889 p793 page for Grenadier Guards; p726 Henry Edward Colvile personal career so far.

Army List to March 1895 p66 his time in what became Uganda.

Theresa O’Connell:

RAG The GD Companion pp11-12.

Her father, another Daniel O’Connell: Army List 1850, 1870.

Gabrielle Borthwick:

Her father 16th Baron Borthwick:

See and Sessional Papers of the House of Lords 1869 p6: his successful claim to the barony of Borthwick.

Times Friday 6 July 1877 p10: his retirement from the stockbroking firm.

Times 29 December 1885 p8 obituary.

As a spiritualist and theosophist:

The Spiritualist and Journal of Psychological Science volume 10 January-June 1877 p139 mentions Baron Borthwick at a private séance in London; and as a member of the Psychological Society of Great Britain.

Old Diary Leaves 1883-87 by Col Henry Olcott. Theosophical Society Publishing Society Madras (Chennai) 1904: pp93-98.

Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnett seen online in an edition issued by the Theosophical History Centre, Gloucester Place London in 1986: p32.

Notes of My Life by George Wyld MD. London: Kegan Paul Trench Trübner and Co 1903 p42: Baron Borthwick as an old friend of Dr Wyld, persuading him to invest in railways.

Gabrielle in the TS: Theosophical Society Membership Register 1898-1901 p184.

Florence Kennedy:

TS Membership Register 1898-1901 p37 for her, p261 for her sister Cecilia Macrae.

Warburg Institute. Gerald Yorke Collection NS73: letters to (and occasionally from) Frederick Leigh Gardner.

Probate Registry 1900: death of Florence’s first husband Edward Sherard Kennedy.

Florence and Ioannes Gennadius at a requiem mass for Albertina Herbert, Baroness Treowen: Times 25 October 1929 p17c.

For more details of the resignations of Albertina and her friends from the TS, see my file Canada, the Theosophical Society; and 1896-98. And also:, the communiqué issued 1 May 1909 by the organisers of the effort to prevent Annie Besant from getting William Leadbeater reinstated.


13 November 2022

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Find the web pages of Roger Wright and Sally Davis, including my list of people initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn between 1888 and 1901, at: