Mary Briggs was initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn at its Isis-Urania temple in London, on 16 December 1895.  She chose the Latin motto ‘Per mare ad astra’.  She worked through the necessary study quickly and was initiated into the GD’s 2nd, inner order on 1 April 1897.  W B Yeats regarded her as one of the best seers in the GD.  However, I believe she may have dropped out of the GD; possibly in 1900 when she married; but definitely after 1901 when she and her husband went to live in the United States.



I’ve said this in other biographies I’ve written on women members of the GD, though it actually applies to most Victorian men as well: they have left virtually nothing behind them which you can use to write about their lives.  In the case of the GD’s women, I’ve been reduced to trying to sketch out what they might have been like by using the sources that exist for the men in the lives.  That’s true of Mary Briggs.  Better than nothing, certainly; but I always end up feeling that I’ve missed the essence of them.



This update, with lots of extra information on Howard Swan, and on Mary Briggs’ father and his radical political connections, was prompted by Genevieve Kang of Sydney New South Wales.  She has been using the National Library of Australia’s on-line newspaper collection, and Pro Quest, to research the ramifications of her own family, the Fergusons.  She has also managed to establish contact with Australian descendants of Mary’s brother C T Briggs, as a result of which she discovered the existence of Mary’s daughter.  The connection between Mary Briggs and Genevieve shows how wide Genevieve has been spreading her net: Mary Briggs’ niece Amy Briggs married into a branch of the Ferguson family in the 1880s.  Many thanks to Genevieve for sending all that wonderful stuff on Mary, Thomas Briggs the first, Howard and his family, and Radia. 


THE BRIGGS FAMILY OF SALFORD and the family business

At the beginning of the 19th century, Manchester and Salford were a magnet for young people hoping to better themselves.  Thomas Briggs (born around 1809) was one of them, leaving behind the village of Milnthorpe in Westmorland to set up the business that was later called Thomas Briggs (Manchester) Limited.  Thomas Briggs was living and working in Manchester by the mid-1830s, and had probably founded the firm by then.  Later, production was moved out of the city to Richmond Hill and Springfield Mill in Salford.   The firm he founded made canvas covers for railway wagons, tarpaulins and oil cloth, using manufacturing processes which Thomas Briggs patented.  By the end of the 19th century it was also making hessian sacks for the transport of dry goods such as sugar and coffee.  Not glamorous or exciting products, but very necessary.   Thomas Briggs prospered: by 1851 the firm was employing 104 people, and Thomas had been able to move out of industrial Manchester and take on a farm at Great Warford Cheshire.  The farm wasn’t big - 68 acres - but employed three labourers and probably provided the family with a lot of its food.  I shall call this man Thomas Briggs the first as the tale is about to get complicated.


Thomas Briggs the first was married twice.  His first wife was Mary, a girl he’d known in Westmorland.  They had three children: James; Elizabeth; and (born 1836) the Thomas Briggs I shall call ‘the second’, who took over the running of the family firm.  Mary died in 1866, and at the end of the 1860s Thomas Briggs married a second time and had another five children, the youngest being born in 1877, about 40 years after his first.  The huge difference in dates of birth between eldest and youngest half-siblings meant that the youngest few had nieces and nephews that were older than they were. 


At some point during the 1860s, Thomas Briggs the first decided to step back from active involvement in his firm and hand over management to the second Thomas.  During the 1870s and some at least of the 1880s, Thomas Briggs the second ran the firm in partnership with his sister Elizabeth’s husband, John Breakell, and a third man, Andrew McQuade; and the three were also in partnership at Lees near Oldham, as owners of a cotton spinning mill.  However, it does seem to have been Thomas Briggs the second who had the major say in the oil cloth firm’s continued expansion and in the keeping up of the reputation it had established.  Amongst the firm’s customers by the end of the century were the War Office, for whom it made canvas tents, and some other government departments, which it supplied with sacking.  The second Thomas Briggs was also married twice.  His first wife was his sister-in-law Mary Jane Ellis, sister of his brother James’s wife Sarah Ann Ellis; they were the daughters of Samuel Ellis and his wife Jane, née Irlam.  Mary Jane died young, though, and then he married Emily Gittings.  Both marriages produced large families.  By the 1880s he, Emily and Thomas the second’s children by both wives were living at a house called Hazelslack, on Old Hall Road in the exclusive Salford suburb of Broughton Park.  The eldest of Thomas Briggs the second’s daughters was the Amy Briggs whose marriage (in 1883) led to Genevieve Kang getting in touch with me. Amy married Robert Ferguson Miller, of R F Miller and Co, chartered accountants in Salford.


Thomas Briggs the second died in 1894 and management of the firm passed into the hands of his son, the third Thomas Briggs, Thomas Ellis Briggs.  There doesn’t seem to have been any decline in the firm’s reputation and amount of business under the third generation’s leadership and in 1905, as well as its offices in Manchester and its mills in Salford, the firm had two depots in London and one depot each in Liverpool, Glasgow, Belfast and Dublin.



In 1868, Thomas Briggs the first got married for the second time, to a woman 30 years his junior, the sister of his daughter Elizabeth’s husband.  Sarah Jane Breakell had been born in central Manchester in 1839, to John and Mary Breakell.  John Breakell was a book-keeper and worked for the same firm - Samuel and Thomas Ashton, of York Street Manchester - for 42 years.  In 1841 he and his family were living on Regent Road Salford.  John was earning enough by this stage to employ one general servant.  However, he died in 1848, aged only 54 and there’s evidence that his wife and daughters may have struggled, financially, in the next few years.  In the early 1860s Mary Breakell was living in Southport, trying to make ends meet by taking in lodgers; but on the day of the 1861 census, no lodgers were living in her house at 11 Higher Bold Street, North Meols.  She got married for a second time in 1864, to a widower with the wonderful name of Caesar Lawson.


John and Mary Breakell’s son John William also trained as a book-keeper, and this is how he described himself to the census official in 1861.  By that time, however, he had married Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Briggs the first; and the marriage led in due course to his becoming a partner of his brother-in-law, Thomas Briggs the second, in the oil cloth and cotton spinning businesses.  Later, he ran his own quarrying and colour manufacturing firm although he did go bankrupt around 1890. 



Thomas Briggs the first had radical political views and had done some active compaigning in support of them even while still running the family firm.  He had been a member of the Anti-Corn Law League, through which he had met its leader in Parliament, Richard Cobden.  Thomas Briggs the first and Cobden had a lot in common: whatever education they had obtained, they had got for themselves; they had both built up businesses in Manchester from very humble beginnings; and they saw the repealing of the corn laws as only part of a wider campaign for the abolition of all restraints to complete free trade.  In this context, slavery was seen as a kind of protectionism.   Thomas Briggs was an opponent of slavery at a time when the British cotton industry was dependent on supplies of raw cotton from the slave-owning estates of the southern United States.  His views didn’t endear him to his fellow businessmen in Manchester, but they brought him into contact with many American anti-slavery campaigners including the political economist Henry George, their friendship lasting until Thomas Briggs the first’s death. 


With slavery abolished in the USA and the Civil War over, Thomas Briggs the first turned his attention to the need (as he saw it) for financial reforms in Britain.  Between 1868 and 1875 a series of pamphlets advocating free trade and direct taxation were published, based on talks given by Thomas Briggs the first at the annual congresses of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science (NAPSS) and at the East India Association.  Thomas Briggs the first also joined the Financial Reform Association, which in the 1890s and 1900s had as its secretary GD member James W S Callie.  The FRA was a protégé organisation of the Gladstone family and I imagine that as a member, Thomas Briggs the first became acquainted with Henry Gladstone and possibly even the Liberal Prime Minster, Henry’s brother William Ewart Gladstone.  Henry George was inclined to criticise the FRA and other British free trade campaigners for not having the courage of their convictions when it came to abolishing British laws protecting owners of property.  However, he exempted Thomas Briggs the first from this general criticism, saying that he had “constantly advocated the carrying of free trade to its final conclusions” - those conclusions being the complete abolition of private property.  A radical indeed! 



After their marriage, Thomas the first and Sarah Jane moved to Richmond, south-west of London, and never lived in Manchester or Salford again.  The GD’s Mary Briggs was the eldest of their five children.  She was born in 1869 and named after a number of Marys already in the family.  Her full siblings were John Frederick (born 1872), Maggie (born 1873), Frank Cobden (born 1875 and named in honour of his father’s friend Richard Cobden) and Charles Tennant (born 1877, the last of Thomas Briggs the first’s sprawling brood).


On the day of the census 1871, James Briggs and his wife and family were visiting Thomas Briggs the first and his wife and family at their house, Holmstead, on Sion Row in Richmond.  Despite the large number of people staying in his house on census day, Thomas Briggs the first was employing rather fewer servants than I would expect - just the two, and a nurse. James’ wife had given birth only a few days before and was not (according to the customs of the time) likely to be able to travel for several weeks.  However, James could spare the time for a long visit to his father - he had not joined the family business.  In a big step up the social ladder for the Briggs family, he had been ordained as a priest in the Church of England.  However, he was not working as a parish priest on census day and was, I suppose, maintaining his family with income from the family firm.  His health seems to have been uncertain: he died in 1874, in his early forties leaving a wife and seven daughters.


By 1881 Thomas and Sarah Jane had moved from Richmond to Dulwich and were living in Bela House, Allwyn Park.  Sarah Jane’s mother Mary (now widowed for a second time) and her unmarried sister Maria Abigail were living with them and the household now employed a nurse, a housemaid, and a dressmaker, though I find it a bit odd that they didn’t have a cook.  There was a governess, Anna Munkton (sic - there are so many different ways to spell this surname!) for Maggie, Frank and Charles; but neither John Frederick nor Mary was at home.  I couldn’t find Mary anywhere in the UK; perhaps she was at school abroad.  Back in Broughton Park Salford, Mary’s half-brother Thomas Briggs the second, his wife Emily and their children were already living at the house called Hazelslack.  Their next-door neighbours, George R Clayton and his wife Caroline, had some visitors: the writer and needlework expert Sophia Caulfeild and her journalist friend Dora de Blaquière.  Dora was initiated into the GD in 1888, six years before Mary Briggs was.  If Dora met any member of the Briggs family on that visit to the Claytons, she may have sought out the Briggs’s who lived in Dulwich when she and Sophia returned to London; so that Mary would have known Dora from her early teens.  Dora had recently moved to England from Paris and might have been looking to build up a network of acquaintances here.


I find it annoying and depressing how many male political radicals return home and leave their views behind them at the front door.  Thomas Briggs’ expectations for his daughters were limited to what was the badge of status of the middle-classes: a life of charity work, visiting, and social engagements while they waited to marry someone; then, the same life with the addition of child-bearing and household management, only dominated by a husband not a father.  His daughters were all educated to this very limited end.  Of course, Thomas Briggs and his wife were new entrants to the middle-classes, still finding their feet and probably anxious not to draw attention to themselves.  Mary and her sister may have been conscious, as a result, of needing to conform to some rather narrow preconceptions.  If Mary might have preferred a more challenging education and a different kind of life to the one her parents envisaged for her, I couldn’t find any evidence of it.  On the day of the 1891 census, Mary Briggs was carrying out at least one item on the normal programme for a young middle-class woman - she was visiting.  She had gone to see the family’s ex-governess, Anna, who had married Henry William Morris.  Anna and Henry William were living at 11 High Street, Thame Oxfordshire.  Henry Morris described himself to the census official as a chemist, which I presume means that he ran his own pharmacy in the town.  It’s probably not a coincidence that on census day Thomas Briggs and Frank were staying in lodgings in Christchurch operated by a Miss Mary Monckton; I found some information on the census to indicate that Anna Morris and Mary Monckton were sisters (despite their surnames being spelled differently by different census officials).  Sarah Jane Briggs, John Frederick, Maggie and Charles were at home, which by this time was 70 St Ann’s Hill Wandsworth, the address Mary gave when she joined the GD.


Until the late 1880s there had been a great deal of continuity in Mary’s life.  But a period of uncertainty had begun for her in 1887 with the death of her grandmother, Mary Breakell Lawson.  Then the businesses run by Mary’s aunt’s husband John William Breakell, went bankrupt.  By the early 1890s the health of Thomas Briggs the first was causing concern.  He was now over 80 and on the day of the 1891 census he was staying in lodgings by the sea in Dorset, probably on the orders of his doctor.  He died, of a chill that turned into pleurisy and pneumonia, at home in Wandsworth, in April 1892, worrying to the end about who would carry on the baton of arguing for free trade after he was gone. (No one in his family did, that I can see.) Thomas Briggs the second was one of his executors, representing the firm’s interests as well as the family.  Only a few months after her father’s death, Mary’s half-sister Elizabeth Breakell also died, aged 60 (Mary was 22 or 23). 


Now a widow, Sarah Jane Briggs was probably not short of money - she was even able to stay at 70 St Ann’s Hill for the next few years.  However, there was more change for the family to negotiate in the mid-1890s.  Thomas Briggs the second only survived his father by two years, dying shortly after he had completed the acquisition of the Barrow Flax and Jute Company Limited, which I imagine was meant just to be a particular high point in the expansion of the firm, not the end of his contributions to it.  Mary’s first cousin Thomas Ellis Briggs took over the business; but although Thomas Briggs the first had been buried back in Cheshire (in a family plot in the church at Prestwich), old ties with Salford were being replaced by ones in London and further afield.  Mary and Maggie, now in their mid-twenties, may have gained a little more freedom as a result of the years of upheaval and mourning; and it was in these changing circumstances that Mary joined the GD.



Mary was an enthusiastic GD member - witness the speed at which she got through the work needed to reach the 2nd Order.  The GD had given her intellectual challenges like she’d never been offered before; she got stuck into the required study with a will.  In 1897, although she was one of the 2nd Order’s newest members she was also one of the keenest, and took on the secretarial work of notifying members of forthcoming rituals.  Unfortunately, in July, she somehow left Frederick Leigh Gardner’s name off her list of members and didn’t send him the letter giving details of the ritual due on 7 August; and he was not the kind of person who would excuse her mistake as ‘just one of those things’.  He found out about the ritual through other GD members and wrote to Mary about her lapse in such language that she complained about it to Florence Farr, the current Praemonstrator.  For Florence this was the last straw, because Mary’s complaint was just the latest in quite a long line of them - many members found Gardner’s attitude was not what they expected from a fellow member of a magical Order.  Mary was not the only person hurt and offended by his abrasive and condescending manner; and Florence was getting fed up at fielding complaints about Gardner’s way of taking command of the rituals - more like a drill-sergeant than a celebrant.  In this way Mary contributed her mite to Florence’s decision to ban Gardner from taking any further part in Isis-Urania’s rituals; she told him to go to the Horus Temple in Bradford and join in their rituals instead. 


The incident with Gardner was upsetting but in general, Mary’s experiences in the GD were very positive and she was seen as a productive and skilled member.  It’s infuriating but I haven’t been able to see a very good piece of evidence for the kind of thing Mary Briggs was doing when she was in the GD: it’s a manuscript called (in a kind of shorthand) Visions on The Paths, Explorations of Paths in Tree, now in the Yeats papers in Eire.  The manuscript was Mary’s notes on a series of visions she had between 8 July and 21 September 1897 in which she focused her attention on the Kabbalistic tree of life - presumably that part of the GD syllabus for study that most appealed to her.  She showed the results of her visions to Yeats (and probably others), and Yeats was particularly impressed by one vision, in which the Ark of the Covenant gave Mary details of how to use the image of the sphinx to search out past and future lives.  Mary showing Yeats the results of her visions was timely, because Yeats was trying to get a project started on the theme of re-visiting and re-creating Irish myths.  He asked Mary to be a member of a small group he was forming to do some astral travelling and see what they could en-vision in the way of old Irish gods and goddesses.  Writing to GD member Dorothea Hunter, asking her and her husband Edmund to join the group as well, he described Mary as “one of the best of our seers”.  Mary was delighted to be asked and suggested to Yeats that she and Dorothea spend an evening, just the two of them, working on “some visions of the Divine World”.


Yeats’s en-visioning group of GD members held their first session on 29 December 1897 in the 2nd Order rooms at 36 Blythe Road Hammersmith.  Yeats, Mary, Ada Waters, Dorothea Hunter, Dorothea’s husband Edmund, and William Forsell Kirby were all there. There was a second session, round the table at the Hunters’ house in Chiswick on 1 January 1898, with more or less the same people present except that Ada Waters couldn’t go, and Florence Farr did go.  Mary acted as scribe at least at the second session and probably at both of them, writing down what everyone saw in them, even drawing little sketches of the gods and goddesses who appeared in their visions.  No more sessions took place, however, and although Yeats kept writing to people about his Celtic project for several more months in early 1898, and went to see the Mathers about it in Paris, the scheme seems to have petered out for some reason.  Mary must have been disappointed.



I think of the GD, and late 19th-century science, as having more in common than either side would have liked to admit: they were both searching for explanations of how the universe worked, particularly the universe that no one could really see but which was obviously acting on the world that people could experience.  Magic, theosophy, even spiritualism thought of this world beyond sight as full of beings with powers that - perhaps - people could access or even use.  Some GD members even believed that when human beings died, they were reincarnated as those beings: this was the essence of ‘spiritism’, a version of spiritualism put forward by the French psychic Allan Kardec.  GD member Anna Blackwell translated Kardec’s major works into English in the 1870s and was widely known as his most active English-speaking defender. Such beliefs also informed the visions and visionary writings of the American Thomas Lake Harris; GD members Edward William Berridge, Charles W Pearce and Isabella Duncan were followers of Harris.  Science rejected the idea of a universe full of beings with amazing powers, of course, preferring explanations involving forces like electro-magnetism and chemical elements.  But by the 1890s scientific discoveries were challenging old theories.  What were X-rays? - discovered by Wilhelm Roentgen in 1895.  Or radio-waves? - Heinrich Hertz demonstrated that you could detect them and even produce them, in experiments between 1888 and 1894.  GD members might have considered that x-rays and radio-waves could be thought of along lines that Arthur C Clarke later formulated into his Law that any sufficiently advanced technology looks like magic.


Mary Briggs’ life in the 1890s was balanced between the two approaches.  On the one hand there was the GD, where rituals were carried out to offer the opportunity for beings from the world beyond sight to bring new knowledge to suitably prepared magicians.  On the other hand there were Mary’s brothers, who had inherited the technical interests of their father and chosen to work in contemporary science.  Perhaps Mary had inherited these interests as well; but as a woman, she was given no chance to follow them up through a career in science, or even - probably - by studying them seriously.  Only magic was open to her and at least it made good use of her psychic and artistic talents and her imagination.


The eldest of Mary’s three brothers, John Frederick, trained and worked as an analytical chemist: that is, he studied the properties of chemicals and the way complex chemicals were put together from simpler elements; and worked out how chemicals could be used in the service of Man.  I haven’t found out where John Frederick studied chemistry, but he joined the Chemical Society in 1893 in the same batch of newly-qualified men as Julian Levett Baker, who had trained at Finsbury Technical College.  Baker and his close friend, chemical engineer Cecil Jones, had one foot in each camp as regards explanations of how the universe worked: although trained as chemists in the latest manner, they were both interested in the subject’s roots in medieval alchemy; and both joined the GD. Baker was universally friendly; it seems inconceivable to me that he didn’t know John Frederick Briggs, at least as a professional acquaintance; and Mary may have met Baker through John Frederick.  At the very least Mary would have been aware of chemistry as a descendant of alchemy, and as an alternative to the GD’s magic, in explaining the universe’s mysteries.  However, John Frederick was never in the GD himself: by 1893 he had moved to Madras (Chennai) to work for Parry and Co.


Mary’s younger brothers both became engineers.  Frank Cobden Briggs died in 1904.  After training as an electrical engineer, Frank had gone to work for the electric lighting department of the Postal Telegraph Factory.  He was elected an Associate of the Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1894.  I think he was still in the same job on census day 1901, living in the Midlands.


Mary’s brother, the youngest child of Thomas Briggs the first, was Charles Tennant Briggs, better known as C T Briggs.  He specialised in mechanical engineering and there is a biography of him that focuses on his contributions to the technology of coal-fired power - the GD’s Cecil Jones was doing similar work in the 1890s.  Charles was working in the north of England around 1904 - at the end of that year he married Clara Clark in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  They emigrated to Australia around 1910, probably to South Australia where he was employed by Messrs Charles Atkins and Co Ltd of Adelaide in 1919.  Later, he was one of the first employees of the Australian State Electricity Commission and remained on its staff until 1943, when he went into private practice.  He died in 1954 in Mornington, south of Melbourne, Victoria.  He and Clara had a large family and he has descendants in Australia, including his biographer.


Even Mary’s brother-in-law was a scientist.  Mary’s sister Maggie married Sydney George Starling in 1899.  He was a physics teacher, employed by West Ham council at least until 1911.  He had a long parallel or second career as a writer of physics and maths textbooks for Longmans and Macmillans.  Some of the books originally written by him and his co-author John Duncan were still in use in the 1950s, re-written several times to take account of the extraordinary developments in the subjects during the first half of the 19th century - the work of Einstein and the quantum theorists and the splitting of the atom, to name three. 



It’s very likely that it was through her brothers’ friends that Mary Briggs met her future husband, Howard Swan, who was trained as an electrical engineer, and also a member of the Society of Telephone Engineers; although he doesn’t seem to have worked as either for more than a short time.  Howard was over a decade older than Mary’s brothers and perhaps more en-meshed in the mid-Victorian certainties: his writings in the 1890s show him trying to maintain his Christian belief in an age increasingly dominated by the scientific-materialist view of how the world worked. Mary may have known these religious struggles in her own life.


Howard Swan, his sister Mabel and his brother Godfrey, were children of Henry Swan and his wife Emily Elizabeth, née Connell. Both his parents were Quakers, and they had met in London in the 1850s, where Emily’s family lived and Henry Swan had moved to train as an engraver. While he had been in London, Henry Swan had attended some of the classes Ruskin taught at the Working Men’s College, and the two men had become friendly despite their very different backgrounds.  Impressed by Henry Swan’s skills, Ruskin asked him to engrave some of the plates for his book Modern Painters; once qualified, Henry also worked for Isaac Pitman.  His interests spread a lot wider than his work, however: he experimented with photographic techniques; and invented a system of musical notation and one of writing English phonetically.  Though he was better at inventing things than he was at publicising them and earning money from them.  After Henry and Emily were married in 1859, they moved to Sheffield, where Henry set up in business there. Ruskin often visited them there, so Howard must have known him quite well.  During one particular visit, in 1875, the idea was born between John Ruskin and Henry Swan of creating a museum that would focus on the history and traditions of iron-working in the area.  Later that year Ruskin bought a cottage in the village of Walkley, within walking distance of the city, and gave Henry Swan the job of curator at what became known as St George’s Museum.  Henry, Emily and Howard moved out of Sheffield to rooms at the Museum.  Henry Swan was a diligent worker and the number of exhibits rapidly outgrew the space available in the cottage; so that Howard’s teenage years were spent in the midst of an increasing clutter of industrial artefacts and of building work, as extensions were added to the original cottage.


The life of Howard Swan deserves a biography; though as he was never in the GD, I’m not going to do one myself.  His interests and talents were as wide and multifarious as his father’s and he clearly inherited many of his father’s skills.


By 1881, Howard had left school and begun work as a clerk at a Sheffield steel works.  However, within a few years (probably by 1886) he had left office life behind and moved to London in search of new scientific skills, particularly those connected with lighting.  One source from his later life seems to suggest that he’d got this technical education at the City and Guilds College in London, now part of Imperial College London. 


Howard Swan was certainly living in London by 1889.   In the late 1880s he and John Ruskin were working together on a catalogue of St George’s Museum, which was published in 1888, a few months before Henry Swan died.  As well as working on that catalogue, Howard was a member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers and assistant editor of its magazine and was also employed as a demonstrator at University College London.  Comments he made in 1899 and 1890 on two papers heard at Institution meetings led to his being involved in two important publications: Electrical Distribution, its Theory and Practice published in 1893; and the first volume of Practical Electrical Engineering: A Complete Treatise... published in 1894; though he was not the main author of either work.  As late as 1897, by which time he was very very busy with other projects, he still found time to do some work on how the eye reacts to light and to sound.  And he continued to keep up with scientific publications into the early 1900s.


It was probably because works on the fast-moving fields of electricity and engineering were being published as much in other languages as in English that Howard first became interested in learning the basics of a foreign language quickly.  He himself had already learned two foreign languages - one dead (Greek, for bible study) and one living (French).  In 1891 or 1892 he met François Gouin (1831-96) in Paris, while on an assignment for the Institution of Electical Engineers to cover an exhibition for its magazine.  Gouin was developing a method of quick language-learning where students learned to remember foreign words by associating them with particular objects, pictures and even gestures; for this reason it was often referred to as the ‘psychological’ method of language learning. By the early 1890s Gouin already had one man, Victor Betis, working for him; but he authorised Howard to write the preface to the first translation into English of his book L’art d’enseigner et d’etudier les langues - the art of teaching and studying languages, published in Britain in 1892.   The book launched Howard on a third career (he was just over 30), as a promoter - some commentators even called him a disciple - of the Gouin language-learning system.  An important step along the way was taken when Howard cornered the journalist W T Stead in the office of Stead’s magazine Review of Reviews, and persuaded him to write an article publicising the Gouin system.  He also lectured widely on the subject - George Bernard Shaw went to hear him at the Latin Hall in Gray’s Inn in May 1892, and going to one of these lectures might have been another way in which Mary first came across him.  The lecture Shaw went to was aimed at the general public, but Howard also spoke to teachers and later became an advisor on language teaching to the London School Board.


Howard and Victor Betis went into partnership.  As a result of their work, Gouin’s methods of language learning became very popular in the UK and the USA in the 1890s and 1900s, with the 1892 translation in its sixth edition by 1906, and schools teaching languages using the Gouin method opening in London and several American cities.  Howard and Betis collaborated on two different series of textbooks.  One, with the overall title Facts of Life, purported to translate a Gouin original; but a reviewer in the magazine Education Outlook commented that Howard Swan and Victor Betis were no longer sticking religiously to Gouin’s methods - they had begun introducing their own improvements to his ideas.  A slightly different series was the one with the over-arching title Travellers’ Colloquial..., the sort of handbook a tourist could use, beginning with a volume for Italian and including one for Spanish although Spain was not yet a popular tourist destination.


The Central School of Foreign Tongues was founded in London to teach the Gouin method, with Howard Swan and Victor Betis as joint owners; though in 1896 Betis went to Boston to set up the first Gouin school in America, leaving Howard as sole director of the London School.  The School’s address in 1894 was Howard House, Arundel Street in the Strand.  Courses lasted two months and by 1896 the curriculum had broadened out from the original French classes to include German, Italian and Greek.  Perhaps Mary took some classes at the School.  Howard also founded a school to teach Classics using the Gouin method.  The school was open to boys and girls and was in Bedford Park in West London, where several GD members lived.


In the late 1890s - at the time that Mary Briggs was most involved with the GD - Howard Swan was getting through an amazing amount of work.  1899 was an annus mirabilis for him with a novel set in South Africa; two poems for children; a play about the Dreyfus case; a ‘fairy tale’ about Old Age pensions; several works on the the Boer war; and a religious work published.  His Quaker beliefs informed his politics and some of his published works; and he was a member of the Fabian Society.  He still made time to attend Quaker services where people came together in silence to contemplate God’s word.  An article by Howard appeared in 1900 in which he talked of how important the Quaker habit of silent devotion still was in his life.  The GD also emphasised the importance of silent focus on the end in view, so the Quaker way was something Mary Briggs would have been able to appreciate; although I’m not sure from the sources I found that she went so far as to join the Society of Friends.  Nor could I find any evidence that she was a Fabian - at least, not from sources available on google.


Howard’s answer to the problems of Christian belief in the era beyond Darwin and Lyall was to attempt to do what one reviewer called a “retranslation” of parts of the Bible he thought could still be relevant in an increasingly science-based and materialist age.  His book The Voice of the Spirit was published in four volumes in 1898.  The 4th volume presented Howard’s modernisations of the Gospel of St Matthew and the Letter of St Paul to the Galatians; translated from the Greek.  In a long preface, Howard spoke particularly to scientists, urging them not to limit their imagination to what they could see or prove, to accept that Man was Spirit as well as Body and that the Spirit was a Force of nature which was governed by laws which could be used if understood.  Like many authors either in the GD or known to members of the GD, Howard was sure that Man was on the threshold of some great revelation, that the “final Unveiling” of Jesus’ Truth was near at hand.  He quotes St John’s Gospel (the most gnostic of the four) and Plato in his Preface and I thought I could detect some theosophy in his argument though he wasn’t a member of the Theosophical Society as far as I know.


Perhaps the arguments of people like Percival Lowell that there was intelligent life on Mars added to Howard’s feeling of being on the threshold of something.  He used his electrical engineering knowledge in an article for Anglo-Saxon review in which he speculated on what sort of message intelligent Martians might send to Earth and how they might send it.  Geometry, and radio waves were his answer. 


I wonder if Howard introduced Mary Briggs to John Ruskin?  I haven’t discovered any GD members so far (May 2014) who knew the grand old man of art criticism and I’m afraid that it’s not likely that Mary did.  By the time Mary and Howard met Ruskin was in poor health, living a retired life at his house in Coniston.  He died there in January 1900, a few months before Mary and Howard Swan were married.  Their marriage led to a further opening up of both their lives though they both had to leave a great deal behind as well, including Mary’s involvement in the GD.  They were still in England on the day of the 1901 census but I think it can’t have been very long after that day that they went to America; they might even have been and returned already.  Howard certainly got some higher qualifications in the United States, and Mary would have broaden her outlook; though as I mentioned above when talking about the education she is likely to have been given, her life as a married woman was dictated by her husband’s work and the places he was employed in.  Of course, she may not ever have thought of it in those terms.  On the contrary, she may have seen her marriage as liberating, especially if she had always wanted to travel.  Once married, travel she got, in full measure.


Howard and Mary went to the USA so that Howard could do postgraduate study at Harvard and at Berkeley universities.  He studied language and linguistics, rather than electrical engineering.  It may have been at this time that he got his qualification in teaching English as a second language; and when he first began to learn Esperanto - which I should think he found fascinating, as a recently constructed language.  When Howard had completed his studies to his satisfaction, he and Mary spent a short time back in England before going by sea from Southampton via Vancouver BC to Japan.  It’s not clear whether Howard had a job to go to before they set sail, but once in Japan, he became a professor at the University of Tokyo.  Part of his job there may have been preparing the book published as Thesaurus of Everyday English in 1903, one of the earliest aids to learning English for Japanese-speaking people; he worked on this with Senkichiro Katsumata.  Howard also wrote a travel book, covering the long voyage to Japan and some tales of his and Mary’s life there: Flashes From the Far East was published in 1902 in America but probably not in the UK.  Subtitled ‘book one’ it was meant to be the first part of a series, but I haven’t found any evidence that any sequels were published. 


The job at Tokyo university seems to have been a temporary contract.  After about two years in Japan, Mary and Howard went on to China.  If Mary had wanted to see what life was like on the edge, China was a good place to go.  As in Japan, Mary would have found herself in a situation that mirrored her family life in the 1890s - ideas ancient and modern jostling for position, co-existing uneasily.  However, while Howard could still associate Japan with Gilbert and Sullivan (in his travel book he calls Japan ‘Mikado land’), as the Qing dynasty staggered towards its end, China was an increasingly unpredictable and lawless place to live.  Howard got a job for six months in Suchow/Soochow - now Suzhou - the trading city in the delta of the Yangtse River.  After six months there, he and Mary moved on again, when Howard was offered a job for six months at a college in Taiyuan-fu, Shanxi province, setting up an English language course.  He and Mary must have known Taiyuan-fu’s recent history; I’m not sure whether they were brave or foolhardy, being willing to move there.  In the 1890s Taiyuan-fu was a centre of baptist missionary work in China.  In July 1900 the city’s governor took advantage of the breakdown of law and order resulting from Boxer rebellion to do his best to eliminate the missionaries - 45 were murdered in Taiyuan-fu on his orders.  In 1901 once the authority of the Qing dynasty government had been restored, compensation was levied on the whole province as a punishment.  Some of the money was used to found the Shanxi Imperial University, which may have been where Howard was employed; although there was also a Western College in the city.  Both institutions were headed by a baptist minister, Rev Timothy Richard.


After the end of the job in Taiyuan-fu, Mary and Howard went to Peking.  Howard had heard rumours of a job being available at the university there, and on 21 September 1904 he called on the very influential British diplomat Ernest Satow to put himself forward for the post.  Making a note in his diary about the interview, Satow was not overly enthusiastic: he wrote that Howard had been “Very full of his way of doing it”; but he had decided that Howard was a good person to recommend for the job, and had asked Howard to call back a few days later to pick up a letter of recommendation.  The episode resulted in Howard being appointed a professor at the Imperial College of Languages in Peking; a job he held until early 1906. 


Control of Peking, of course, had been a main target of the Boxer rebellion forces.  European residents of Peking and a large number of Chinese converts to Christianity had been besieged for 55 days in the foreign quarter of the City in 1900 by forces taking part in the Boxer rebellion.  The siege had been lifted not by the imperial army but by a force of western troops.  The rebellion had eventually fizzled out but foreign residents of China were still not very safe - the Qing dynasty had given tacit support to rebel attempts to rid the country of their presence.


It was possible that while Mary and Howard were living in Peking Mary met (or met again) GD member Vyvyan Dent; though whether GD members knew each other outside GD rituals and meetings is always difficult to tell and tends to depend on the individuals involved.  Vyvyan Dent had been born in Shanghai.  He worked for the Imperial Maritime Customs department and was stationed in Peking in the early 1900s though I haven’t been able to ascertain exactly when he was there.  As an old China hand (he had been born there) and a collector of Chinese Buddhist artefacts, he would have been a good guide for Howard and Mary to the districts of Peking outside the foreign enclaves, if they had wanted to visit them.


Though teaching at the Imperial College of Languages was probably in English, Howard had already picked up enough Chinese to read Confucius and to read and try to translate Laotzu - his work with those classical Chinese philosophers was part of his calling-card when meeting with Ernest Satow.  From classical Chinese, Howard duly moved on, to take an interest in Chinese dialects.  And after his American training in the building-blocks of language, he was developing a method of transliterating the characters of Chinese language writing into the western alphabet. 


How did Mary manage? - having been married for four years by the end of 1904, she had lived with her husband briefly in England, on the east and the west coasts of the United States, in Japan and in Tokyo.  Living in her mother’s household until her marriage, she perhaps lacked experience in the decision-making of running her own household, and those years of continually packing up and moving on were not an ideal way to learn.  Her households in the Far East probably had more servants than she had ever had to deal with before - salaries going a lot further in Japan and China - but they were servants whose command of English may have been as slight as Mary’s command of Japanese and Chinese.  Mary can scarcely have had Howard’s ability to learn foreign languages - very few people are blessed that way - but she will have needed to pick up enough Chinese to get by, even if all she could manage was giving orders to the servants.  And - with her husband either studying or working - how did she spend her days?  The end of 1904 may have been a difficult period for her, after the news had reached her of her brother Frank’s death: she must have felt particularly cut adrift as she mourned him.


On the other hand, maybe she enjoyed every minute.


By having moved on from San Francisco by 18 April 1906 Mary and Howard missed being caught in the San Francisco earthquake.  However, they had friends in the town about whom they were very worried as the extent of the devastation became clear.  They had a photograph of themselves taken in Peking by the Japanese photographer S Yamamoto, and sent it to their friends the Nash family - Mr, Mrs, and their daughters Fredericka and Carolyn - to say how glad they were to hear that the Nashes were all still alive.  The photograph shows Mary and Howard in the company of several men in Chinese dress; perhaps some of Howard’s colleagues at the College, or Mary’s household servants. 


Shortly after the photograph was taken, Mary and Howard were on the road again - back to the USA, though not to San Francisco.  In June 1906, a profile of Howard appeared in the Los Angeles Sunday Times, as a newcomer to the town.  Howard doesn’t actually seem to have had a job to go to when he and Mary arrived - he had told the newspaper that he was intending to stay in Los Angeles for about a year, campaigning for a reform of language teaching.  Howard quickly made contact with James Main Dixon of the University of Southern California, who arranged for him to deliver a series of lectures on Esperanto.  Los Angeles had an active Esperantist Society and by the autumn, the YMCA had been persuaded to set up a course for beginners in Esperanto, which Howard taught during the academic year 1906-1907.  He also taught French, English as a second language, and a specialist class for language teachers who wanted to use the Gouin method.


It was during the time that she and Howard were moving from China back to California that Mary became pregnant.  Her only child, a daughter, was born in Los Angeles in December 1906, and given the modern and signficant name of Radia. 


In the years 1901 to 1907, Mary Swan became one of the most widely-travelled members of the GD.  It’s such a pity she didn’t write up her experiences; but I suppose she never thought to do so.  Her world travels ended in 1908.  She and Howard were back in England early that year, when an advert for Howard’s Gouin school in London - which had been going throughout Howard’s long absence - advertised him as a teacher not just of languages, but of psychology, phonetics and teaching method.  Family concerns may have played a part in the decision to return home.  Howard’s mother Emily Swan may never have felt particularly settled in Yorkshire: after her husband’s death she had moved south again and by the early 1900s she was living in north London.  Over the next few years, however, Emily’s mental state had declined to the point where she needed professional care.  On their return from China, Howard and Mary set up home in Ilford, near where Mary’s mother and sister both lived.  A place was found for Emily Swan at the Quaker mental hospital The Retreat in York; where she died in January 1909.  Mary herself may have been ill by 1908 - another reason to return to England.  Perhaps she had not recovered well after Radia’s birth - she was 37 when her daughter was born.  She died on 30 October 1909 at Lausanne, Switzerland, at the age of 39.



Information on Howard Swan and Radia Mary Swan after Mary’s death has been hard to come by.  Most of what there is has been found for me by Genevieve Kang.  Howard did at least one more, small, piece of language work, writing a preface to Fannie Ball Perrin’s The Method of the Whole Series (a book about the teaching of English grammar) in 1911.  I think it must have been in connection with Fannie Ball Perrin’s book that he was in St Louis Missouri in April 1910 - he appears on its list of residents on the day of the 13th United States census. 


Perhaps feeling that as a widower he was unable to take proper care of his daughter, Howard allowed Radia to be brought up by a couple in Cincinatti; though she kept her original surname and he was living near her while she was at school in Cincinatti.  He died in Hamilton Ohio in 1919; Radia was living and teaching in Hamilton in 1930.  Radia had the kind of education that Mary Briggs could only have dreamed of: a university degree and a masters in fine art and literature.  Like two of her female relations, she had considerable talent as an artist - works by her can be seen on the web and are in a number of American galleries.  She kept her painting as a leisure-time pursuit and then a retirement interest, however; she was a career teacher.  She married Erwin Pfingstag in 1933 but they don’t seem to have had any children.  Radia kept in touch all her life with her first cousins in Australia, the children of Charles Tennant Briggs.



BASIC SOURCES I USED for all Golden Dawn members.


Membership of the Golden Dawn: The Golden Dawn Companion by R A Gilbert.  Northampton: The Aquarian Press 1986.  Between pages 125 and 175, Gilbert lists the names, initiation dates and addresses of all those people who became members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or its many daughter Orders between 1888 and 1914.  The list is based on the Golden Dawn’s administrative records and its Members’ Roll - the large piece of parchment on which all new members signed their name at their initiation.  All this information had been inherited by Gilbert but it’s now in the Freemasons’ Library at the United Grand Lodge of England building on Great Queen Street Covent Garden.  Please note, though, that the records of the Amen-Ra Temple in Edinburgh were destroyed in 1900/01.  As far as I know, the records of the Horus Temple at Bradford have not survived either.


Family history: freebmd; (census and probate);; familysearch; Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage; Burke’s Landed Gentry; Armorial Families;; and a wide variety of family trees on the web.


Famous-people sources: mostly about men, of course, but very useful even for the female members of GD.  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  Who Was Who. Times Digital Archive.


Useful source for business and legal information: London Gazette and its Scottish counterpart Edinburgh Gazette.  Now easy to find (with the right search information) on the web.


Catalogues: British Library; Freemasons’ Library.


Wikipedia; Google; Google Books - my three best resources.  I also used other web pages, but with some caution, as - from the historian’s point of view - they vary in quality a great deal.




London Gazette 12 March 1872 p1416 patents number 2971 held under the Patent Law Amendment Act 1852.

London Gazette 11 October 1878 p5524 patent number 3508.

The fiirm advertised regularly in Bradshaws Railway Manual Shareholders Guide... at least from its 1881 issue.  You can see some of them at, though they were difficult to date.



Works by him in the British Library catalogue:

1868    edition of 2 papers by Thomas Briggs.  First is: Proposal for an Indian Policy under the New Reform Parliament...  Second is: The Development of the Dorman Wealth on (sic) the British Colonies...; this paper was read at the NAPSS annual congress 6 October 1868 and then pubished in London for NAPSS by W W Head.

1868    a second copy of the Proposal For an Indian Policy....  It was originally a paper read by Thomas Briggs at the meeting of the East India Association at Caxton Hall Westminster on 1 February 1868.

1869    Paper on the Relations of the Colonies to the Mother Country...  Read at the NAPSS by Thomas Briggs and published by NAPSS.

1874    The Peacemaker: Free Trade, Free Labour, Free Thought; or Direct Taxation the True Principle of Economy.  By Thomas Briggs.

1875    entitled Poverty, Taxation and the Remedy but apparently a reissue of the 1874 volume.  This time published by W Reeves.  There were two subsequent editions of this paper, published in 1882 and 1884.

East India Association: see

Henry George:

At what looks like verbatim coverage of a speech given by Henry George at a meeting on financial reform in Britain, held at Liverpool Rotunda and published in

The Standard of 10 August 1889.  The website quotes it from Kenneth C Wenzer’s An Anthology of Henry George’s Thought: University of Rochester Press 1997 p26.

At, the Library of Economics and Liberty, what seems to be extracts from memoirs of Henry George 1839-1897.  Published New York: Doubleday, Page and Co 1905.  In Chapter 29, p28 and p28 note 39.

The Financial Reform Association which GD member James W S Callie worked for:

On the website, reproductions of their The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout; Volume 14.

Thomas Briggs the first gets a brief mention on wikipedia’s page on William Ewart Gladstone.


Profile/obituary of Thomas Briggs the first, sent to me by Genevieve Kang: Pall Mall Gazette 25 April 1892.



Rev JAMES BRIGGS 1830-1874

Marriage notice and death notice, both sent to me by Genevieve Kang:

Herald 18 June 1859.  Sarah Ann Ellis was the daughter of Samuel Ellis of Barr Hill House, Pendleton Bucks.

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 28 September 1874.

James Briggs married Sarah Annie Ellis, daughter of Samuel Ellis and Jane Irlam. Her sister Mary Jane Ellis married his brother Thomas Briggs junior.

James and Sarah Ann’s daughter EMMA IRLAM BRIGGS (1897-1950) became an artist, usually known as Irlam Briggs.  Information again from Genevieve Kang: see

Genevieve Kang knows of one painting by her, owned during his lifetime by Robert Ferguson Miller but bequeathed back to Irlam Briggs at his death in 1937.  There are also images online of  Emma’s painting of her sister Agnes playing the violin.


THOMAS BRIGGS THE SECOND with information about the family firm.  Sent to me by Genevieve Kang.

Manchester Courier 14 July 1894, obituary of Thomas Briggs JP who had died on 6 July 1894.


Details of his will published in Dundee Evening Telegraph 8 October 1894.  He left over £166,000, a very big sum in those days; and was unusually generous to his daughters with it.


Genevieve Kang’s interest in the Briggs family came through Thomas Briggs the second.  I quote an email from Genevieve, October 2014: “My interest is through the marriage of Robert Ferguson Miller to Amy Briggs, the oldest child of Thomas Briggs junior...Robert Ferguson Miller... belongs to a branch of my Ferguson family tree, [and] was an accountant in Salford. Although he died in 1937 without leaving any children, R F Miller & Co, Chartered Accountants operated using his name until 2005.


He married Amy Briggs on 6 December 1883 at St John’s Church Higher Broughton Manchester, Robert Ferguson Miller, eldest son of the late Joseph Miller, Newcastle on Tyne, to Amy, eldest daughter of Thomas Briggs, Hazeldock, Broughton Park, Manchester.”



I wasn’t very successful finding this family on the census; due, I think, to the number of ways you can mis-hear or mis-spell that surname.

At, the Lancashire Online Parish Registers Project: baptism record for Maria Abigail Breakell (1837).  I couldn’t find any baptism records for Sarah Jane or for any of her other siblings.

Sarah Jane’s father: a brief death notice sent to me by Genevieve Kang, from Manchester Courier 11 March 1848.



The Magicians of the Golden Dawn: A Documentary History of a Magical Order 1887-1923 by Ellic Howe.  London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1972 p181-182.

Women of the Golden Dawn: Rebels and Priestesses by Mary K Greer.  Rochester Vermont: Park Street Press 1995: p195-98.

Yeats and Women edited by Deirdre Toomey.  2nd edition Macmillan Press Ltd 1997.  Chapter 3: “The Music of Heaven”, by Warwick Gould, about Dorothea Butler Hunter, was based on Dorothea’s reminiscences of her time in the GD.

The Letters of W B Yeats which is a selexction, not the full set; edited by Allan Wade.  London: Rupert Hart-Davis 1954.  There were no letters from Yeats to Mary Briggs in this volume but she was mentioned in letters to Dorothea Hunter: p264-65, p293-94, p296, p300.

Collected Letters of W B Yeats Volume II 1896-1900 is the full set of those that still exist.  Editors Warwick Gould, John Kelly and Deirdre Toomey.  2001: Yeats Annual volume 14: p51 note 4 and p109 note 1 about Mary Briggs’ notebook; p151; p665.

More generally on Yeats and the GD: Yeats’s Golden Dawn by George Mills Harper.  Northampton: The Aquarian Press 1974. 



For general information on Ruskin, there’s a detailed page on wikipedia.

Genevieve Kang found a long and detailed obituary of Howard’s father Henry, in the Sheffield Independent of 30 March 1889.  There are some very personal details in it and an emphasis on Howard’s rush from London to the dying man’s bedside; so the obituary is probably based on information from Howard.

Preliminary Catalogue of the St George’s Museum, Walkley Sheffield... by Howard Swan “A. S. Tel Eng” and John Ruskin.  Sheffield: W D Spalding and Co 1888.

The Life of John Ruskin volume 2 covering 1860-1900 by Edward Tyas Cook.  London: George Allen and Co 1912 p350 footnote 2.

The St George’s Museum at Walkley still exists.  It’s now run by the Corporation of Sheffield: see  The information on the website is taken from Ruskin at Sheffield by Janet Barnes, published Sheffield: Arts Department 1985.


HOWARD’S SISTER AND BROTHER again with information found by Genevieve Kang:

A handwritten note of Godfrey Swan’s time as a freemason from the records of Stope Lodge of Gardner, in Worcester county Massachusetts.  Godfrey Swan was initiated into the lodge on 21 March 1911.  He was working as an engineer.  Date of birth 28 January 1862 in Highgate UK.  He died 13 June 1913.

Incoming passenger lists show that Godfrey first arrived in the US in 1887.

Incoming passenger lists: Mabel Swan born 1860 arrived in the US in July 1912.  Passenger details show that she was unmarried and living in London where she was working as a teacher.

There’s very little else on either of them and it’s reasonable to assume that neither ever married.




See article on chemist Henry Edward Armstrong (1848-1937) who taught there from 1879 to 1884.  Armstrong was a close colleague of GD member Julian L Baker.


British Library catalogue has no works by Mary Briggs.  Here’s a selection of some of Howard’s.

The 1899 works, all published London: Samuel Baxter.

-           The Great Battle: War News from the Chronicles

-           Alice’s Puppy Dog

-           Dreyfus and the Army.  A tragi-comedy

-           Paul and Joseph.  Or God and Mammon in the Transvaal...An unfinished drama.

-           The Man from the Clouds...A Fairy Story

-           South Africa Up to Date.  The Manifesto of Peace: The Letter of Paul to the Trekkers.  The author of this is S J P Kruger President of the South African Republic.  Howard is named as a contributing author

-           The Sad Story of Jack and His House, and Old Age Pensions.  In verse.

And the popular series of phrase books, which are original works, not translations of Gouin:

Travellers’ Colloquial....  volumes are all published in London by David Nut.  Italian 1892.  French 1897 and later editions.  German 1897 and later editions.    Spanish just the one edition 1903, perhaps it was a bit soon for Spain.   



Earliest evidence of Howard’s involvement in the electric supply industry is an advert spotted by Genevieve Kang; probably sent to the Sheffield Daily Telegraph of 6 January 1886 by Howard and giving his (obviously temporary) address as the Wharncliffe Hotel, Sheffield: “Of 15,000 Lamps in the Inventions Exhibition, 12,000 were supplied to the Commissioners by The Edison and Swan United Electric Light Company, 57 Holburn Viaduct E.C”.

Telegraphic Journal and Electrical Review volume 20 1887 ?p474 and Electrical Engineer 1888 both refer to an article by Howard: Artistic Electric Lighting.

At there are back-copies of the journal Electrical Engineer, the journal of the Institution of Electrical Engineering.  Howard Swan was its editor at least during the 1890s and there were also two other mentions of him:

-           Electrical Engineer volume 18 number 78 1889: 147-60 article Remarks on Mr Kenelly’s Paper “On Certain Phenomena Connected with Imperfect Earth in Telegraph Circuits”.  Howard was amongst many members commenting on this paper.

-           Electrical Engineer volume 19 number 89 1890: 594-606 article The Working Efficiency of Secondary Cells.  Again Howard was one of many members commenting on this article.

Electrical Distribution, its Theory and Practice.  This is a 2-volume work.  Part 1 is by Martin Hamilton Kilgour only.  Part 2 is by Howard Swan and C H W Biggs.  London: Biggs and Co 1893.

Telephone Magazine: An Illustrated Monthly Mag volume 1 1893 p266: lecture by Howard Swan: The Series Method as Applied to the Technical Professions.  Given 22 February [1893] at the City [and] Guilds Institute Old Students’ Association. 

Practical Electrical Engineering: A Complete Treatise... Volume 1.  Main author is William Worby Beaumont.  Other contributors include M H Kilgour, C H W Biggs and Howard Swan.  London: Biggs and Co 1894. 

Anglo-Saxon Review volume 9 issue of June 1901 p108-09 article by Howard: Signalling to Mars.  Managed to see the article at though the grammar was scrambled and there were mis-spellings throughout


HIS EYE EXPERIMENTS, following on from his father’s interest in photography and vision.  These were the scientific work by Howard most mentioned in other publications:

Scientific Corroboration of Theosophy by A Marques.  London: Theosophical Publishing Society 1908.  On p91 a reference to a work by Howard published Electrical Engineer in 1897 in which he reported on experiments to find out what goes on inside the eye when people are listening to words and music.

The experiments also got a mention in Musical News volume 13 1897 p579.

Electrical Engineer volume 21 1898 also mentioned “some experiments of Mr Howard Swan on the interrelation of thought and light waves” and said that his conclusions had since been verified by work done independently in the USA.

The Theosophic Messenger volume 13 1912 published by the American Theosohical Society.  On p666 ((!!)) the conclusions are described as: “thoughts cause light-forms to be created in the eye.  Tesla mentions the same fact”. 


LANGUAGE TEACHING and the GOUIN SYSTEM, which is still in use, see its English-language website at //

Its methods are criticised in Modern Language Teaching by Charles Hart Handschin.  Yonkers: World Book Co 1940 p62-64.

A modern reference to Gouin:

Britain and Scandinavia in the Modern Language Teaching series volume 4.  A P R Howatt and Richard C Smith.  Routledge 2013: px.

The Art of Teaching and Studying Languages first English language edition.  Translated by Howard Swan and Victor Betis.  London: G Philip and Son 1892: particularly pxiv. 

Aspects of Education: Journal of the Insittute of Education, University of Hull volumes 23-26 1980 p4 confirming that Howard’s edition of Gouin’s book was the first in English.

Bernard Shaw: The Diaries 1885-1897 in 2 volumes, annotated and edited by Stanley Weintraub.  University Park Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Univ Press 1986.  Volume 1 p496 in a note; Volume 2 p816.

Howard’s visit to Stead: Maiden Tribute: A Life of W T Stead.  Article by Grace Eckley in Journal of the Society of Psychical Research number 895 2009 p199.  The result was article by Stead: How to Learn a Language in Six Months, published Review of Reviews volume 5 1892 p511. 

British Books volume 8/ 61 1894: earliest advert I found for the Central School of Foreign Tongues.  Directors Victor Bétis and Howard Swan; address Howard House Arundel Street, Strand London WC.

The Academy and Literature volume 50 1896 p370 names Victor Bétis as director of the Normal School of Languages based in Boston Mass.

The Literary World volume 53 1896 p518.

Review of Reviews volume 13 1896 p515 earliest advert I saw for Howard Swan’s translation of Gouin’s Facts of Life language-learning series.

British books volumes 11-12/64-65 1896 in the Publishers’ Circular section: Swan and Betis were suing a publisher for infringement of copyright.

Journal of Education and School World volume 29 1897.

Report of the British and Foreign School Society volumes 94-96 1899 p97.

The Education Outlook volumes 53-54 1900 p455 review of The Facts of Life Part 1: A Text-Book for the Methodical Study of the German Vocabulary. 

Journal of Education volume 22 1900 adverts on p411, p579 and p718

The Practical Study of Languages by Henry Sweet.  H Holt and Co 1906 p86.



Journal of Education volume 30 1908 p530 a revised advert for Howard’s Swan’s Central School, now at 1 Albemarle Street.  Gives an impressive list of Howard’s credentials.



Found via but the British Library doesn’t have a copy, so I haven’t been able to read it: Flashes from the Far East: Book 1 to Mikado Land by Howard Swan.  Tokyo: Hakubunkan 1902.  The only knowledge I have of what was in the book comes from the newspaper website, which has a one-paragraph review of it from the Brisbane Courier 27 September 1902 p13.

Thesaurus of Everyday English for Japanese-language speakers.  Howard and Senkichiro Katsumata as co-authors.  Tokyo: ABC Publishing House 1903.

Sir Ernest Satow’s Peking Diary Volume II 1906-04 by Satow, Ian Ruxton and Ian C Ruxton.  Morrisville North Carolina: Lulu Press 2006.  P112 diary entry for 21 September [1904].

At there is a reproduction of pages from a publication issued by the American Women’s League and the People’s University.  From the web page I couldn’t work out what the publication was, nor what date it was; but Howard and Fannie Ball Perrin are both listed on the same page in it, with details of their past and current employment.  Although I couldn’t find a date, I believe that it’s from the period 1908 to 1912, partly because of information on Fannie Ball Perrin I found at an abstract of the PhD dissertation for the University of St Louis Missouri 1997 by Laura Kelley Fisher entitled Historical Documentation of Teaching Careers: A Legacy that Strengthens the Teaching Profession.  Fannie Ball Perrin was one of the 4 subjects of this PhD.  She taught at Principia Upper School St Louis Missouri from 1898 to 1912.



Sir Ernest Satow’s Peking Diary Volume II 1906-04 by Satow, Ian Ruxton and Ian C Ruxton.  Morrisville North Carolina: Lulu Press 2006.  P113 diary entry for 27 [September 1904]. 

American Anthropologist volume 7 1905 p741 article by Howard: A Systematic Arrangement for Recording Dialects.

American Review of Reviews volume 37 1908 p213 article by Howard: China and the Language Question.

The photograph: at, as now in the library of the California Historical Society in San Francisco as catalogue number 82544600; dated “[ca 1900]”.  Of course, the date’s out by six years; the photograph has to be from later than the day of earthquake.  I haven’t actually seen the photograph! It’s only available to readers in the library.



October 2014: I knew nothing about this time spent by Mary in LA until I was contacted by Genevieve Kang.  The newspaper extracts below were all found by her using Pro Quest.

LA Sunday Times 17 June 1906 p8 in their “Among Men of Action” column.

Los Angeles Times 29 July 1906.

Los Angeles Times 8 September 1906.

Los Angeles Times 11 September 1906.

Los Angeles Times 29 January 1907.



The Voice of the Spirit: Literary Passages from the Bible Rewritten, Idea for Idea, in Modern Style by Howard Swan, as Principal of the Central School of Foreign Tongues.  London: Sampson, Low, Marston and Co 1898.  The British Library only has the 4th of 4 volumes which make up the total work.  On pii the 4 books in order are: 

1 =       Afflicted - Job

            The Spirit Uplifts - Joel

            Songs of Beloved - Psalms LXIX and XXII

2 =       Spirit is Safety - Isaiah; subdivided into Distress; and Comfort

3 =       Uplifting is Strength - Ezekiel

            Song of Solomon

4 =       The Glad Message according to Matthew; which when you reach the title page, includes A Spiritual History with an Inner Meaning, by John of Patmos; originally in Greek and published in Athens

            Letter of Paul to the Galatians

            Notes on the Greek Text. 

The Academy volume 53 1898 p500 has a scathing reference to The Voice of the Spirit, as “a retranslation” of the Book of Job from the Quaker point of view.


Via to The Friend: A Religious and Literary Journal volume LXXIII published Philadelphia 1900.  On p20 there’s a reprint of an article by Swan originally in the London Friend: Silence in Our Meetings.

Friends’ Intelligencer volume 74 1917 published by the (American) Society of Friends: p541 Howard Swan is listed as present at a Quaker meeting in Cincinatti. 



Fabian News volumes 10-17 originally 1900-07 republished 1971 p26 “Howard Swan has married Mary Briggs”.  I’m not quite sure whether to read this as meaning Mary too is a Fabian Society member.



The Annual Monitor for 1910: Obituary of Members of the Society of Friends of Great Britain and Ireland covering period 1 October 1908 to 30 September 1909.  London: Headley Brothers 1909 for the Society: p173.



Details of Radia’s life were found by Genevieve Kang; the source isn’t given but the piece has the air of being an obituary from a paper published where Radia died, in the town Montgomery, in Hamilton county Ohio.  The date isn’t given either but must be after 1995.  In an interesting departure from the views of both her birth parents, Radia was an active member of the Presbyterian church in Montgomery; she was not a Quaker or a Church of England equivalent.

That Radia was always in touch with some at least of the children of Charles Tennant Briggs: emails to Genevieve Kang October 2014 from members of the Block family.


Genevieve Kang found an index of death registrations for 1919 in Hamilton Ohio.  They included one for a Howard Swan who died on 27 July 1919 at Hamilton.





At paper by Anna Simmons of the Open University read at 6th International Conference on the History of Chemistry: Working in a Transitional Territory?  Chemical Consultants in the UK 1870-1914.  I think the publication is called Neighbours and Territories: The Evolving Identity of Chemistry pp555-563.  The article is mostly statistics and tables but on p562 John Frederick Briggs 1871-1963 is cited as an example of a typical career. 

At, Proceedings of the Chemical Society of London volume 9 no 119 issued 9 February 1893: list of certificates being read: John Frederick Briggs is c/o Messrs Parry and Co of Madras; next in the list is Julian L Baker at his home address.

Proceedings of the Chemical Society volume 9 number 124 1893 p117 rpt of a mtg of the Chem Soc w Dr Armstrong in the chair; held 4 May 1893: a list of those elected fellows of the Society at that meeting began with John Frederick Briggs and Julian L Baker. 

Madras Tercentenary Commemorative Volume published 1994 p270 firm founded as Chase and Parry.  The ‘parry’ is Thomas Parry a son of Edward Parry of Leighton Hall near Welshpool.  Thomas Parry arrived in Madras in 1788 and set up an import/export business which later moved into industrial production.  In 1803 Thomas Parry bought the land in city of Madras (Chennai) now known as Parry’s Corner.

Chemical News and Journal of Industrial Science issued 1918 p141 report of the meeting of the Society of Public Analysts held 6 March 1918.  John Frederick Briggs was in a list of people whose Certificates had been recently been approved by the Society.

Probate Registry 1963: John Frederick Briggs died in June 1963 and left personal effects to the value of £118205/0/11. 



British Library: works by S G Starling as sole author and with co-authors

1904    Preliminary Practical Maths.  Starling and Frederick Charles Clarke as co-authors.  E A Arnold in Arnold’s School Series.  Another edition 1910.

1912    Electricity and Magnetism: For Advanced Students.  Starling as sole author.  Longmans. 

Later editions from 1916, 1920, 1924 reprinted 1925, 1929, 1932, 1937; 1943.  And some daughter publications, also with Longmans Green and Co:

            1920    Electricity and Magnetism.  Another ed 1943. 

1931    Electricity and Magnetism for Higher School Certificate and Intermediate Students.  Another edition “1949 [1951]”.

1919    A Textbook of Physics: For the Use of Students of Science and Engineering.

John Duncan and Starling as joint authors.  Macmillan and Co.  Later editions 1922, 1939, 1948, 1950, 1963.  And a series of rewrites:

            1933    A Textbook of Physics Parts III and IV: Light and Sound.  2nd revised edition.

            1948    A Textbook of Physics Part V: Magnetism and Electricity.  2nd completely revised edition.

            1950    A Textbook of Physics Part IV: Sound.  Revised edition.

1921    An Introduction to Technical Electricity.  Starling as sole author.  Macmillan’s Life and Work Series.

1922    Science in the Service of Man.  Electricity etc.  Starling as sole author.  Longmans.  2nd edition 1949 revised by H J Grey. 

1922    Electricity.  Starling as sole author.  Longmans.

1923    Elementary Electricity.  Starling as sole author.  Longmans.

1935    The Mechanical Properties of Matter.  Starling as sole author.  Macmillan and Co.

1937    A renamed and revised version of Electricity and Magnetism, this time For Degree Students.  Further editions of this: 1945, 7th edition 1948, and 8th edition 1953 revised by Starling with A J Woodall 

1949    Electricity in the Service of Man.  Starling as sole author.  Longmans.

1950    Physics.  Starling and A J Woodall as co-authors.  Longmans Green and Co.


Starling also held a couple of patents. 

At patent application US1377032-A filed December 1918 by inventors Sydney George Starling of Forest Gate and Arthur Joseph Hughes of London.  The patent was for a new design of aneroid barometer.  Further details on this website.  Once granted, the patent assigned to Henry Hughes and Son Ltd.

At patentimages, details can be seen of another patent applied for jointly by Sydney George Starling and A J Hughes this time in 1919: US 1307935.


On the strength of all these textbooks, Sydney and Maggie were able to retire comfortably to Chislehurst.  Maggie died in December 1950, Sydney in 1955. They had two children.




Found on the web October 2014 by Genevieve Kang: Institution of Electrical Engineers Membership Record Book: Frank Cobden Briggs’ election as an Associate in March 1894 is on p279; with details of his current employment.  The entry is signed by one of the Institutions’s senior members: the name looks like “Alec Siemens”.

Via to Journal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers volume 23 1894 p8 where he was in a list, presumably of current members.

Via to Journal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers volume 32 1902-03 p8 report of the meeting of the Institution held 4 December 1902: Frank Cobden Briggs was one of those elected Associate members at that meeting.



At, the sets of electoral rolls indicate that Charles moved around a lot between the earliest issues and his death.  His earliest appearance on an electoral roll in Australia that I could see was 1916 in Perth WA.  He was in Victoria by 1924, but still moving regularly until the last listing, in 1954 in Flinders VI.

Journal of the Junior Institution of Engineers of London volume 29 1919 p181 Charles T Briggs is listed c/o Messrs Charles Atkins and Co Ltd of Adelaide SA. 

He’s listed in the Transactions of the Institution of Engineers Australia volumes 1-2 1921.

There’s a biography but I couldn’t find a copy either at the British Library or on A Biography of Charles Tennant Briggs 1877-1954: Coal Machine Power by Phillip Block 1912.  Block was a descendant of C T Briggs’ daughter Phyllis.

These sources were sent by Genevieve Kang using the newspaper archive at

Retirement notice: The Argus 13 September 1944.

Death of C T Briggs at Mornington: The Argus 24 July 1954.

Coverage of the funeral: The Argus 26 July 1954.




14 May 2014

25 October 2014 incorporating the family history research of Genevieve Kang of Sydney NSW.


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: