Count Franz Otto BUBNA was initiated into the Golden Dawn in December 1889,
when he took the Latin motto ‘Nunquam dormio’.
By March 1892, however, his membership was described in the GD’s records
as “in abeyance”.
I was only able to find this
man on two censuses - 1891 and 1901 - and I think of him as a bird of passage,
living in the UK
for a short time only.
Count Franz Otto Bubna was a
member of the Austrian nobility by birth, born during the 1840s. When he joined the GD he gave 55 Egerton Gardens as his address and was still
giving it as his address in 1892. But on
the night of the 1891 census he was staying at the Brunswick Hotel at 51 Jermyn Street
Piccadilly, and by 1901 he, his wife Bertha and their son Egon had moved out of
London to Upton
Towers, in Upton St Mary near Slough. Their
staff at Upton Towers was a large one. The Count had his own valet - a male servant
who helped with his employer’s wardrobe and personal appearance; and Countess
Bertha had the woman’s equivalent, a lady’s maid. Only the wealthiest could afford to employ
servants of this kind. In addition to
those two personal servants, the household had a cook, a parlour maid, two
housemaids and two maids to help in the kitchen. Living in this kind of style in the country
required a carriage and horses, for the lady of the house to make her social
calls in, so the Count employed a coachman.
However, he did not employ a butler or a footman - rather a strange omission,
I think. I suppose one of the housemaids
answered the door when the bell rang.
Count Franz Bubna had moved
to work in the City. In 1891 he told the
census official he was a shipping agent; in 1901 he was still doing that kind
of work but had also started dealing in shares. His office in 1902 was at 76 Palmerston
Buildings on Bishopsgate Street. He was a well-known figure amongst the
Austro-Hungarian population in London. He attended dinners organised by the
Association of Foreign Consuls. At a
dinner organised by Austrians living in London
in 1893, Count Franz Bubna was second on its guest-list, immediately after the
imperial Consul-General. And in 1895 he
was serving on the committee of the Austro-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce in London. He was also enjoying the kind of leisure
pursuits where you meet the English upper-classes, attending the Brookfield
Stud sale (of racehorses) in 1895.
However, Count Franz Bubna’s
character had a more enquiring and reflective side and he joined the
Theosophical Society in London
in October 1889. Those wanting to join
the TS had to be recommended by two people who were members already. Unfortunately, Count Franz Bubna’s records at
the TS don’t say who his sponsors were.
However, Countess Bertha also joined the TS, in March 1890; her two
sponsors were her husband, and future GD member Frederick Leigh Gardner. Gardner
worked in the City, so that might be how he and Bubna first got to know each
During their first years in
the TS, Count Franz and Bertha were members of its Blavatsky Lodge, where
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky herself held forth.
There may have been conflict between the Count Franz and Blavatsky: A P
Sinnett says that the Count was a psychic who was “in touch with his Master Mahatma
Morya”, a channel of communication that Blavatsky liked to keep to
herself. Either because Blavatsky
disapproved of Count Franz’s claims; or because the Bubnas felt that Blavatsky
Lodge after Blavatsky’s death (in the spring of 1891) would never be the same,
by 1892 they had joined the London Lodge.
They were made welcome there and became members of its inner group, with
A P and Patience Sinnett, the Arundales and others. London Lodge held itself aloof from the TS
as a whole: it did not send in lists of members and subscriptions paid, and
these administrative records have now been lost. Consequently it’s not possible to say whether
the Bubnas were members of London Lodge during the years in which a bitter
argument was fought in the mid-1890s after someone else - William Quan Judge -
claimed to be in touch with the Mahatmas.
The Count did take up paying his subscription to the TS again when the
dispute was settled with the defeat of Judge’s followers. He continued to pay it until 1900; but by
1901 he (though not his wife) had joined the Society for Psychical Research,
which had investigated some of the spiritualist claims made by Blavatsky and
declared them fraudulent, to the fury of Blavatsky and her followers.
Count Franz Bubna and
Countess Bertha were not on the census for 1911. A note on their record at the TS indicates
that they had left the UK by
1903 and I presume they had moved back to Austria. I don’t know when the Count died.
Relatively few members of the
GD are described at all in someone else’s writings, but Count Franz Bubna is
one of them. In June 1895, the Count
called on Henry Olcott (the surviving founder of the TS) during one of Olcott’s
short stays in London. Writing up the social call in his diary,
Olcott described the Count as “tall and handsome”, so I’d say that the Count
had those features that the Victorians admired in a man: a moustache, possibly
even a beard, long sideburns, and a very upright almost military bearing. Olcott was sufficiently impressed with Count
Bubna to suggest (though apparently not to the man’s face) that they had both
known each other in previous lives. This
was the only mention of Count Franz Bubna in Old Diary Leaves so in
their current lives at least, the meeting didn’t lead to a lasting friendship.
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
Family history: freebmd;
ancestry.co.uk (census and probate); findmypast.co.uk; familysearch; Burke’s
Peerage and Baronetage; Burke’s Landed Gentry; Armorial Families;
thepeerage.com; 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.
Catalogues: British 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.
Count Franz Otto Bubna as a
prominent member of London’s
Austro-Hungarian community: Times Digital Archive.
Theosophical Society Members’ Books 1888-1900, held at the TS headquarters
building in Gloucester Place W1.
Olcott’s impression of the
Count: Old Diary Leaves: The True History of the Theosophical Society by
Henry Steel Olcott. 5th
Series published Madras:
Theosophical Publishing House 1932 but according to a note on p331 prepared for
publication by Olcott in 1903. The
Count’s call was covered pp328-34, during Olcott’s tour of Spain, France
in the summer of 1895. The call was paid
on 20 June.
Autobiography of Alfred
Percy Sinnett: unedited version
published Theosophical History
Centre Gloucester Place 1986 and now available
online. It’s based on the diaries of
Alfred Percy and Patience Sinnett: pp43-44.
Proceedings of the Society
for Psychical Research volume XV
1900-01 p490 shows Count Francis (sic) Bubna as a full member, at Upton Towers
Slough. He’s not in the list of members
in volume XI 1895.
Copyright SALLY DAVIS
26 May 2017
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: